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Kris
October 17th, 2006, 05:38 AM
October 17, 2006
Commuter Conformity Is Out for a Metro-North Majority
By WILLIAM NEUMAN

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2006/10/16/nyregion/1017-met-COMMUTEclr.jpg

For the first time in the history of the Metro-North Railroad — a quintessential commuter link between the city and the leafy suburbs to the north — fewer than half of its riders are suburban commuters who take the train to Grand Central Terminal in the morning and head home at night, according to data compiled by the railroad.

Shifts in regional employment patterns and a sustained effort by the railroad to attract new types of riders and fill underused trains are major reasons. A seat on Metro-North that once would have belonged almost exclusively to suburban stockbrokers and office workers may now be occupied by an immigrant home health aide heading to work in White Plains, a retiree from Chappaqua attending a Broadway matinee or a Bridgeport, Conn., resident going to work at an insurance office in Stamford.

It is not that there are fewer traditional suburb-to-Grand Central commuters; in fact, Metro-North’s ridership is higher than it has ever been in the system’s 23-year history. But other categories of riders have grown at a much higher rate, including reverse commuters traveling to jobs north of the city, riders traveling between suburbs and day-trippers on shopping or sightseeing trips.

Commuters to Grand Central made up 49.4 percent of total riders on the three Metro-North lines east of the Hudson River last year, according to Robert MacLagger, director of operations planning for the railroad.

That is down from 65.3 percent in 1984, the year after Metro-North took over commuter operations of Conrail in New York and Connecticut. The data does not include two smaller lines that Metro-North operates in Rockland and Orange Counties.

“It’s kind of a benchmark that shows what has been building over the last several years and demonstrates the way the region is changing: more job growth in the suburbs and more diverse commuting patterns,” said Christopher Jones, vice president for research at the Regional Plan Association, a nonprofit organization that monitors transportation and development issues.

“Cities are still job centers, and Manhattan has held its own much more than a lot of other city centers across the country,” Mr. Jones said. “But we’ve become much more of a multicentered region. For the last two to three decades, jobs have been growing more quickly in the suburbs than they have within the five boroughs.”

The number of jobs in Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess Counties grew by 10.1 percent from 1997 to 2005, an increase of almost 51,000 jobs, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the same period, employment in New York City grew by 7.2 percent, an increase of more than 241,000 jobs.

Overall ridership on the region’s two other main railroad systems, the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit, is still dominated by workers headed to Manhattan, although an expansion in other types of riders has been noted on those lines as well.

Even on Metro-North, suburban commuters to Manhattan still fill about two-thirds of the seats on weekdays. But with the growth of other kinds of riders, including riders on weekends, those traditional commuters now contribute less than half the annual tally, Mr. MacLagger said.

Last year, 35.9 million one-way trips were logged by suburban commuters who bought monthly and weekly passes for travel on Metro-North to and from Grand Central Terminal, a 17 percent increase over the 30.6 million such trips recorded in 1984.

But other types of travel on the railroad grew much faster during the same period. The biggest percentage growth was among reverse commuters, whom the railroad defines as people who travel north from stations in Manhattan or the Bronx during the morning rush. One-way trips taken by reverse commuters more than quadrupled, to 4.5 million in 2005 from 1 million in 1984. In 1984, reverse commuters made up roughly 2 percent of Metro-North riders. Now they make up more than 6 percent.

The biggest group of riders after traditional commuters is made up of what the railroad calls discretionary riders, those who travel during off-peak hours for reasons other than work. In 1984 they accounted for a quarter of all riders; now they represent nearly a third.

And the number of workers traveling between suburban stations has nearly tripled and now makes up 13.5 percent of total trips.

“Going back to the mid-90’s, we started concentrating on those areas where we had capacity and the opportunity to grow market share,” said Peter A. Cannito, the president of Metro-North, the nation’s second-largest commuter railroad, after the Long Island Rail Road. He said the railroad had increased service, bought new rail cars and spent money to promote weekend excursions and the convenience of train travel for reverse commuters who might have been inclined to drive.

The trend at Metro-North is similar to rider patterns on the Long Island Rail Road. In 1985, 70 percent of Long Island riders used a monthly or weekly ticket, predominantly for traditional commuting from the eastern suburbs into New York City, according to data provided by the Long Island Rail Road. Today that figure has dropped to 60 percent.

New Jersey Transit estimates that 58 percent of its ridership this year will be made up of commuters traveling during the weekday rush hour, most of those bound for Manhattan.

The depth of the changes on Metro-North was evident during a morning weekday visit of several hours to the Fordham station, at East Fordham Road and Third Avenue in the Bronx. The northbound platform for trains to places like White Plains, Chappaqua, New Rochelle and Greenwich was usually jammed with well over 100 people.

The opposite platform, for trains bound for Grand Central Terminal, was virtually deserted by comparison. Part of the reason was that taking the subway is cheaper.

The station is Metro-North’s fourth busiest, behind Grand Central, Stamford and White Plains, but in contrast to those stations, a suit and tie is a rarity there. Instead, there are construction workers in boots and blue jeans, factory workers in comfortable shoes and home health aides in uniforms. Rider tallies show that northbound passenger boardings at Fordham during the morning rush rose to more than 3,400 people a day last year compared with 500 people a day in 1984.

Christine Soto of the Bronx was waiting for a train to White Plains, where she works three days a week as a dental assistant. Ms. Soto also attends John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. On Metro-North trains she often has to stand during the 17- to 31-minute ride to and from work, she says. On the subway to and from school she almost always gets a seat.

“The D train is actually less crowded than the Metro-North,” Ms. Soto said.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

ablarc
October 30th, 2006, 06:29 PM
It's wonderful so many people are taking the train, though perhaps less wonderful that some folks have to stand. It seems like the trains are running at full capacity.

Now here's the zinger: if they're running at full-capacity are they operating at a profit?

If not, does that mean it's impossible to run a commuter railroad at a profit?

Or does it mean that the operation is top-heavy with administration?

Or does it mean the fare is not high enough?

Or does it mean that they should be running double-decker coaches on a more frequent schedule? Is that even possible, or does the infrastructure not allow it?

Fahzee
October 30th, 2006, 06:36 PM
top heavy with administration, but also bled dry by pensions & health care.

ablarc
October 30th, 2006, 06:40 PM
^ Are they operating at a profit, however small? If they're losing money, what portion of their costs is met by fares?

tmg
October 31st, 2006, 01:00 AM
It is impossible to run a commuter railroad at a profit.

The Japanese commuter railroads are profitable, but only because they derive tremendous revenues from their real estate holdings.

Only under very special circumstances is it possible to run any kind of transit operation at a profit. In the U.S., where labor costs and safety standards are high, and transit must compete against other modes for customers, profitability is unheard-of. There are certain specialty markets that are profitable (e.g. taxis, airport shuttles, intercity buses, excursion trains, etc.) and those are precisely the ones that you'll find in the private sector.

tmg
October 31st, 2006, 01:11 AM
^ Are they operating at a profit, however small? If they're losing money, what portion of their costs is met by fares?

Farebox recovery ratios for NY area commuter railroads:
http://www.ntdprogram.com/ntdprogram/pubs/dt/2004/PDF_files/2004_Table_26.pdf
Metro-North: 59.7%
LIRR: 45.8%
NJ Transit: 47.5%

They have other sources of revenue as well (advertising, real estate, investment income, etc.), but this isn't enough to eliminate the need for a subsidy.

Fahzee
October 31st, 2006, 11:10 AM
Farebox recovery ratios for NY area commuter railroads:
http://www.ntdprogram.com/ntdprogram/pubs/dt/2004/PDF_files/2004_Table_26.pdf
Metro-North: 59.7%
LIRR: 45.8%
NJ Transit: 47.5%

They have other sources of revenue as well (advertising, real estate, investment income, etc.), but this isn't enough to eliminate the need for a subsidy.

What's especially sobering is that the LIRR is operating at peak capicity. Although projections show an increase in travelers (over 100,000 arrivals at Penn station during peak hours each day by 2010), they are unable to add more service - short of new Capitol Construction.

It's absolutely amazing that with so many riders the LIRR can't cover even half ot it's expenses.

tmg
October 31st, 2006, 12:07 PM
Currently, LIRR runs at "capacity" only in a limited sense: they squeeze as many commuters into Manhattan as possible in the AM, and bring as many people as possible to the burbs in the PM. They don't really serve the reverse commute market: their trains basically sit idle in the West Side Yards all day.

Once the "Mainline Third Track" project is completed, then LIRR will be able to send trains back out to LI during the morning rush, and back into the city during the evening rush. It will be better able to serve the reverse commute market, and use its labor force and capital stock more efficiently. Then, it should be able to bring its farebox recovery ratio closer in line with Metro North's.

Front_Porch
October 31st, 2006, 12:20 PM
Currently, LIRR runs at "capacity" only in a limited sense: they squeeze as many commuters into Manhattan as possible in the AM, and bring as many people as possible to the burbs in the PM. They don't really serve the reverse commute market: their trains basically sit idle in the West Side Yards all day.

Huh? The LIRR runs a train an hour from Penn Station to Long Beach -- that's not fantastic for reverse commuters, but it certainly "serves" them.

and while we're at it, huge props to LIRR employees: the best in the Tri-State.