With ridership on Metro-North trains at record highs, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is looking for ways to improve commuters’ experiences both on and off the railway.
The MTA’s $29 billion, five-year capital program for 2015-19, approved by the authority’s board in November, dedicates $2.3 billion to Metro-North, up from the $1.54 billion for 2010-14 capital program.
MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast said that around $15 million of that total will be used to revamp existing stations, beginning with the Riverdale, Crestwood, White Plains, Port Chester and Harlem-125th Street locations. Speaking Friday morning at the Business Council of Westchester’s latest Political Leadership Series event, Prendergast said the improvement initiative is “starting small” with these five stations, using them as examples for the renovations of other train stops along the line going forward.
“Obviously, we’ll try to rank stations in some kind of priority order based on ridership or economic need, but we’re always challenged to go faster and do more,” he said.
And once riders move from the platform to the train, keeping them connected, both to their commute and the outside world, is a priority. With customers demanding nearly instantaneous information regarding any issues or hiccups in service, Pendergast said the MTA should be meeting those needs, not other riders or social media.
“The worst thing we can do is lower the level of confidence of our customers and our ability to provide service that they’re going to people outside the system to find out how the system is operating,” he said.
To further streamline the riding experience, the MTA is rolling out eTix, an app that allows customers to buy tickets from their mobile devices. The app debuted on the Long Island Rail Road’s Port Washington Branch and Metro-North Hudson Line in June and will hit the Metro-North Harlem Line later this month. By late August, eTix will be available for the rest of the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North’s New Haven Line.
Though only in operation a few weeks, Prendergast said the MTA is seeing a “healthy shift” toward the new technology.
The MTA also hopes to replace the Metrocard ticketing system in the New York City subways with one that is more convenient for the everyday rider, though there is some pushback against the approach.
“There are some labor issues, because many of our labor unions would prefer to have the tickets sold the old way,” Prendergast said, though he added that “there’s plenty of work for our labor forces to be able to do other things other than selling tickets.”
New technology will also make riders’ experiences not only easier, but safer.
By 2018, both the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North will feature positive train control, a technology designed to remove the potential for human error that could lead to train involved accidents like the tragic Spuyten Duyvil derailment of 2013 that left four people dead. The MTA received a nearly $1 billion loan from the Federal Railroad Administration to finance the installation.
“We need to come to a day that as good as our locomotive engineers, our train operators, our operating crews are, we cannot depend on human performance to ensure the quality of life and (that) people are safe,” he said.
Outside of the trains and stations themselves, Prendergast said the MTA plans to work with both local jurisdictions and developers to increase the number of transit-oriented housing along the Metro-North line.
“The real estate community has always been willing to step up on that front,” he said.
Other highlights of how the more than $2 billion dedicated to Metro-North will be spent include $432 million for the replacement of the Harmon Shop in Croton-on-Hudson, $532 million to replace the line’s remaining 140 M-3 rail cars, which date to 1984 and $250 million for Penn Station Access, which will connect the New Haven Line to Penn Station and add four stations in the Bronx.