The Bronx Is Churning: Borough Has Worst MTA Escalator Service by Far

Jose Martinez and Suhail Bhat, THE CITY

This article was originally published on Mar 27 at 8:30pm EDT by THE CITY

The worst-performing subway escalator in The Bronx — at the Gun Hill Road stop on the No. 2 and 5 lines — is also one of the newest in the borough, having been in service a mere 17 years at the station.

Since March 2021, an escalator at the Gun Hill Road stop on the 2/5 lines has been in service just 34% of the time, with 149 unscheduled outages, March 23, 2022.
The escalator at the Gun Hill Road stop on the 2/5 lines has been in service just 34% of the time over the past year. March 23, 2022. | Jose Martinez/THE CITY

Escalators at Bronx subway stations last month sank to their lowest availability level since 2019, staying in service just over three quarters of the time, MTA data shows.

The 76% average availability rate in the Boogie Down during February does not come close to meeting the MTA’s goal of 95.2% availability — and also fell far below the performance level for escalators in Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn stations, where escalators worked 90% of the time or more, according to figures posted to the MTA’s performance dashboard

It extends a trend that in 12 months through February 2022, the dozen escalators at eight Bronx subway stations underperformed in comparison to those in other boroughs. During the 12-month period, escalators in borough stations recorded 1,640 outages, with unscheduled breakdowns accounting for 86% of those outages –  and an 86% availability rate — compared to 94% for Queens, 91% for Manhattan and 90% in Brooklyn.

The other boroughs also have more subway escalators than stations in The Bronx: there are 34 in Brooklyn, 44 in Queens and 185 in Manhattan, compared to The Bronx’s 12.

“It seems like The Bronx gets the raw end of the deal more often,” said Jessica Murray, who advocates for improved transit system accessibility through the Rise and Resist Elevator Action Group. 

Statistics show that the worst-performing subway escalator in The Bronx — at the Gun Hill Road stop on the No. 2 and 5 lines — is ironically also among the newest, having been in service 17 years at a station that also has two elevators. 

Some Bronx subway escalators have been in service more than 30 years. The average age of escalators in The Bronx is more than 18 years, with the oldest escalator at the Intervale Avenue station on the No. 2 and 5 lines.

Identified as “Escalator 104,” the machine that connects the station’s mezzanine to an entrance at Gun Hill Road and White Plains Road was in service just 34% of the time last year, statistics show. On Wednesday, the moving stairs were covered in plywood with signs saying the outage for major repairs will extend to the end of the month.

“It’s really hard for me to get around The Bronx because either stations don’t have elevators or they don’t have working escalators,” said Kelley Campos, 32, who took a stroller with two children to the Manhattan-bound platform via a station elevator. “The elevators are sometimes overcrowded and if there’s a working escalator that can get me to my train on time, that would be a great help.”

February’s 76% escalator availability rate at Bronx stations is the lowest citywide, MTA data shows, since August 2019, when the figure fell to 73%. And it’s a big dropoff from as recently as October and November of last year, when 24-hour availability in borough stations with escalators crossed 90%.

Bronx subway escalator performance sunk as low as 65% in April 2019, data shows.

MTA officials pinned the latest decline on an outage at the Pelham Bay Park stop on the No. 6 line that lasted from January 28 to March 13 because it needed parts from an outside vendor, as well as the ongoing work at Gun Hill Road.

Once the parts arrived the MTA said the machine at the Pelham Bay Park station returned to service in three days.

An MTA spokesperson said the agency is “committed to consistently improving escalator reliability and availability throughout the transit system,” and pointed to $810 million marked for escalator replacement projects in the agency’s current five-year capital plan, which calls for more than $50 billion in transit system upgrades.

“Thanks to the MTA’s historic capital plan, work to replace the vast majority of The Bronx’s escalators is well underway, with four under construction right now and more to come this year and next,” the spokesperson, Kayla Shults, said in a statement to THE CITY.

Looking for Outside Help

While New York City Transit employees perform inspections of escalators and elevators, the agency on Thursday began soliciting for an independent third-party inspector to conduct an unbiased assessment to ensure that certain inspections are in line with safety codes and test procedures, an agency spokesperson said.

MTA data shows subway escalators in The Bronx have, since March 2016, consistently turned in lower availability rates than machines at stations in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens.

Systemwide, the 12-month average for escalator availability decreased in February by 1.3%, agency documents show.

“It’s poor, it’s poor,” said Robert Graham, 70, who on Wednesday encountered two out-of-service escalators at the Pelham Parkway stop on the No. 2 and 5 lines. “At the busy stations in Manhattan, they’ll fix that stuff right away.”

An escalator connecting to the platform at Pelham Parkway had 96 unscheduled outages in the past 12 months. March 23, 2022. Jose Martinez/THE CITY

According to the MTA, New York City Transit’s escalator and elevator unit now has 487 job positions — 10 more than last year. Seventy of those positions are not directly related to maintenance, but focused on operations, reliability analytics and planning.

At the 161st Street-Yankee Stadium stop on the B, D and No. 4 lines, the station’s two escalators had 370 outages between March 2021 and February, including 331 that were unscheduled — the most in the borough.

In 2020, it was the second-busiest station in The Bronx, after Third Avenue-149th Street. The MTA said the outages to the two escalators stemmed from difficulty obtaining parts needed for repairs on a specific make and model.

Bronx subway riders said the borough’s subway escalator showing is disappointing.

“Sometimes I can’t go on these stairs because my knee has pain, so it’s hard,” said Verona Smith, 65, after encountering the closed escalator at Gun Hill Road. “All you want is something that makes the trip easier.”

Graham, who was at the Pelham Parkway stop with two closed escalators, said he came prepared to take the stairs to the platform. 

“See this thing?” he said, waving an inhaler. “By the time I get to the top of the stairs, I have to use it.”

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