NEW YORK >> Carrying a wig in rollers in her purse, Ashley Callahan, who works as a theater wigmaker, stood aboard an N train on Friday, detailing her lopsided commute. During the morning rush, she heads from upper Manhattan to the theater district with hordes of other commuters. But at night, when she stays past the curtain call to brush up an updo or rethread a toupee, she waits endlessly on a platform, craning her neck for trains that take forever to arrive.
Callahan is part of a growing army of riders who rely on the subway outside of typical commuting hours and who are poorly served by the system, according to a report by Scott M. Stringer, the New York City comptroller.
The report, released Friday, found that though ridership in the early morning and late at night — fueled by a surge of tourists and employees working nontraditional hours — has risen significantly, the subway has not kept pace, with the number of trains actually decreasing during some off-peak hours.
“While we are all focused on massive overcrowding and train delays, those traveling early in the morning and late at night are being touched by this crisis in a different way,” Stringer said Friday, during a news conference at a subway station in Union Square. “They are getting robbed of a huge amount of time, at work and with their families.”
The number of riders between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. increased by 14 percent from 2000 to 2016, but the number of trains running during those hours fell by 3 percent. Between 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. during those years, ridership increased by 13 percent, while the number of trains running increased only 3 percent. On an average weekday, 577 trains are in service at 8 a.m., while less than half that number are in service at 5 a.m.
Many more riders are using the subway early and late as new types of jobs have emerged and grown. Nearly 60 percent of job growth in the city over the past decade has come in sectors where commutes are outside the usual 9-to-5 time frame, such as hospitality, retail, health care, food service and entertainment, according to data from the New York State Department of Labor. Today those industries make up about 40 percent of employment in the city’s private sector.
“What does rush hour even mean in our new economy?” Stringer said. He urged the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subways, to use money meant for repairs after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a state of emergency on the subway to identify ways to improve service at odd hours.
“If we take advantage of the crisis by rethinking how we run our subways and buses to become part of the 21st century economy, then we can move the ball forward,” Stringer said.
Andy Byford, president of New York City Transit, acknowledged that the subway has failed to keep pace with how people move.
“We should be ahead of the curve in terms of providing public transit,” he said in an interview. “You shouldn’t be playing catch-up.”
Byford is conducting a route-by-route review of the city’s bus service with the aim of revamping routes. A similar analysis may have to take place to better deploy subway trains he said.
The caliber of subway service outside the main commuting period is also a matter of social equity, Stringer said. Workers who ride trains earlier tend to be less well off than those who commute later in the day, according to the comptroller’s report. Those who commute between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. earn about $7,000 less annually than people who head to work between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. according to the comptroller’s analysis of census data. They are also more likely to be minorities, immigrants and those without a college degree.
“New York City is filled with people who work nine to fives, but it is also filled with people who work in film, in television, in fashion,” Callahan said, shouldering her wig bag. “You shouldn’t be sitting on a platform waiting 30 or 40 minutes just trying to get home.”
Increasing the number of trains earlier or later is not only expensive but would also pose other challenges. Maintenance and repair work is conducted during off-peak hours, Byford said. With the subway repair plan calling for major work to tracks, signals and tunnels, those hours are when subway crews will be working for the foreseeable future.
“Off-peak customers are as important to me as my peak customers,” Byford said. “But there comes a point where you do have to make some use of time to undertake essential maintenance.”