Following the recent deaths of two subway passengers who were pushed onto tracks, TWU Local 100 is urging operators to slash train speeds as they enter stations, the New York Times reported yesterday. A TWU flier, which you can view here, advises operators that “Preventing a [run-over], and saving yourself the emotional trauma and potential loss of income that go with it, is worth a few extra minutes on your trip.”
There’s no question that watching death unfold through the train windshield and being powerless to avert it can result in trauma and guilt. But the proposed remedy in the TWU flier could be surprisingly costly. Based on calculations from my Balanced Transportation Analyzer spreadsheet model [PDF], if those “extra few minutes” were actually applied as a preventive measure to every subway trip, the lost time could aggregate to millions of hours per year for straphangers, not to mention more street and highway gridlock as the slowdown leads some commuters to drive instead of taking the train.
The city’s subways account for 1.6-1.7 billion passenger-trips a year. Here’s a rough sketch of the leading consequences from slowing all of them by an average of five percent:
- A 2.4 percent drop in subway ridership, as slower service discourages “marginal” train trips
- A nearly 4 percent rise in private auto trips into the Manhattan Central Business District, causing a 4 percent drop in average vehicle speeds there
- 1 percent fewer people coming to the CBD — a net decrease of 34,000 each day
- 55 million hours a year sacrificed to slower travel (35 million for transit users, 20 million for vehicle users), collectively costing them $1 billion a year, based on values of travel time
- A $60 million a year revenue hit to NYC Transit, or a $35 million net loss for the MTA after factoring in higher throughput on tolled bridges and tunnels
These figures do not reflect higher personnel and equipment costs to run additional trains to make up for the slowdown. Nor do they capture macro-economic effects of reduced business from the decline in CBD activity. Even so, they’re not chicken-feed.