Memorial Day weekend is traditionally the start of the summer travel season, but for New Yorkers who don’t want to hop in a car to get out of the city (and why would you?), local transportation on the subways may be difficult.

While the MTA is apologizing in advance for the large number of lines and stations out of service this weekend, the agency says it has to be this way. That's because holiday weekend work is the best time to get track and signal work done. The MTA even released a video explaining why three-day weekends, which typically carries fewer riders, are better than a regular weekend.

Overall, the 4, 5, A, C, E, F, J, M, and R lines will be impacted over the Memorial Day weekend.

Glenn Lunden, the agency’s deputy chief of rail planning, says the MTA can get 44% more track work done on holiday weekends than on a regular two-day weekend. 

“It can also help us complete a project faster by reducing the number of times we have to set up and take down a work site,” Lunden said.

Track and signal work typically requires the MTA to move trains out of the area, turn off the third rail, and bring work tools and workers to the site under any circumstance. It can often take workers as much time to prepare the work site as it does to conduct the actual work. 

Most of the work being conducted over the Memorial Day weekend involves track and signal maintenance and replacement. The F line is in the process of getting modern, digital signals, with the project expected to continue for the rest of the year.

Track work to fix the Archer Avenue E line at Sutphin Blvd-Archer Av-JFK Airport station in 2020

This comes as the MTA has struggled to increase the number of weekday subway riders to pre-pandemic levels, while weekend ridership is much closer to what it was before COVID. The agency recently celebrated hitting a single day ridership high of 3.6 million subway riders on May 18th, but it also admits that ridership trends have “plateaued” at this point. And without an influx of tourists or more people returning to the office, it appears to be stuck at the current ridership levels. 

At this week’s MTA Board meeting, chair Janno Lieber even acknowledged this change in ridership patterns, but said the agency wasn’t ready to adjust service levels just yet to match the pandemic-era changes.

“We are definitely looking at the way the subway pattern is emerging,” Lieber said. “What we’re looking at is maybe we can provide additional capacity to some times of day or times of week that need more service, and no secret, we’re especially focused on the nights and weekends.”