The MTA's announcement that it is restoring mid-day half-hourly service on the Port Wasdhington LIRR branch contains some strange logic.
The MTA says that restoring this service will involve no additional crew cost. Just how are they able to do that? One can only conclude that when they cut our mid-day half-hourly service, they kept the crews idle, while they were being paid.
The MTA also says that it is restoring the half-hourly service because of a ridership loss of 180,000 annually. Restored service is expected to bring back those lost riders, which will offset the non-crew costs of adding back these runs.
So basically, the MTA is saying, 'If we restore these runs, we'll end up back in the same place we were in before they were cut.' Then why in the heck did they cut them in the first place? Especially when the Port Washington Branch has one of the highest revenue profiles of any rail service in the New York area. In other words, a higher percentage of costs is paid from fares than most other rail lines. Some Port Washington rush hour service even runs at 8 percent profit.
But there's another, even more important lesson here. Service that is too infrequent depresses overall ridership on all trains. Take that to its logical conclusion, and the MTA should:
1. Restore half-hourly weekend service.
2. Experiment with more frequent weekday service.
For Bayside, Douglaston, and Little Neck, as well as other Northeast Queens communities, the LIRR is our subway. But other subway lines have far more frequent service. The "L" line has trains every 4-8 minutes mid-day. On the "J" and "Q" lines, trains arrive every 10 minutes mid-day.
Since it has been shown that increasing service increases ridership and lowers costs, the MTA should experiment with 15-minute mid-day service on the Port Washington Branch. If, after a year, ridership has indeed increased, the MTA should try 10-minute mid-day service.
The MTA may actually be planning more frequent Port Washington Branch service. According to an informational video shown on the MTA's screens at Penn Station, all East Side Access trains will originate on the Port Washington Line, with passengers from other lines transferring at Woodside. The video explains that new "pocket" tracks east of Great Neck will allow for extra East Side trains to terminate there.
Northeast Queens may finally be getting subway-frequency service on the Port Washington Line. The MTA should let us know— now—exactly how East Side Access plans will impact our Line and its schedules.