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How do you service a subway system that never closes?

In New York City, transportation officials are struggling with a major problem: how do you maintain a subway system that never shuts down?
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Written by Andrew Nusca, Former editor on

The city dweller's dream is to have a public transit system that never stops running.

But when do you maintain it?

The New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority is struggling with exactly that question as it attempts to shift service disruptions to inconvenience the least amount of passengers.

Traditionally, the MTA serviced its trains and rails over the weekend. But in New York City, which has experienced a modest population boom in recent years and has always relied heavily on public transport, weekend ridership increased -- making disruptions far more, well, disruptive.

In response, the MTA on Monday proposed an unorthodox plan in which it would service its system during the wee hours of the morning on weekdays -- counterintuitive, yes, but hopefully less disruptive.

The maintenance plan involves "shutting down long swaths of the major subway lines in Manhattan," Michael Grynbaum reports in the New York Times, for several weeks in a row. It's a cultural shift for a population that's used to all-night subway service (even though "all-night" may not necessarily mean "right away").

Will it work? Officials say they're conducting this experiment -- broader but briefer weekday outages, versus prolonged acute weekend disruptions -- to find out. While the shutdowns will be focused in parts of Manhattan that offer alternate public transit options, peer cities and straphangers alike will no doubt be watching to see if this high-profile change works.

Photo: Michael Bisberg/Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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