MELROSE — The Melrose Metro-North station appears to be caught in a Catch-22.
The Harlem Line station, on Park Avenue near 162nd Street, gets too few riders to justify increased train service, MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said. But until the station has more frequent service, riders will continue to shun it, said New York City Community Planning Fellow Julie Sophonpanich.
A recent report on how to improve the neighborhood, prepared by Sophonpanich, included "advocate for more frequent Metro-North stops at Melrose Station" as one of four preliminary recommendations, according to her presentation at Community Board 3's meeting this week.
The station's visibility could also benefit from better lighting and opening up an entrance on East 161st Street.
"I think it’s just hard to find," she said of Melrose. "You don’t really notice that it’s there until you’re right in front of the station."
According to Donovan, the station was upgraded in 2005, including bringing the northbound platform out from underneath the Morrisania Air Rights Tower.
Station renovations are done through the agency's capital plan, generally every 30-40 years, he added.
But Donovan stressed that the Metro-North has no plans to increase service to the station, at 3231 Park Ave., near East 162nd Street, which is not handicap accessible and has no staffed ticketing booth.
It also has only 12 stops on weekdays for trains going to New York — roughly once every 30 minutes during peak hours and once every two hours during off-peak hours. By comparison, trains to Wassaic stop at the station 16 times.
The station is just a half-mile from Yankee Stadium, where a new $91 million Metro-North station opened on the Hudson Line in 2009.
Even if Metro-North increased service, the subway would still provide more frequent and cheaper service to southern destinations like 125th Street and 42nd Street, Donovan said.
"So no matter how much Metro-North could increase service, it would never be able to compete with the subway for Bronx residents who are looking to get to Manhattan," Donovan wrote in an email.
This means that people looking to go farther north are the main market for the Melrose station, including those who live upstate and work at the nearby businesses or courthouses or reverse commuters who live in the city but work in the northern Bronx or Westchester County, Donovan said.
CB3 First Vice-Chairperson Bruce Rivera described the station as as a victim of bad public stigma.
"I don't think that our affluent ridership from Connecticut and Westchester County would like that they are stopped in the South Bronx," he said.
But Jose Rodriguez, district manager of Community Board 4, was skeptical about whether it made sense to increase stops at the Melrose Station.
"If folks are not utilizing that station at a consistent level, does it really make sense to have that open?" he asked. "One needs to think about that. One needs to think about what attractions are you putting around the neighborhood to justify frequent stops at that station?"
Editor's Note: The MTA initially confirmed that low ridership was a reason for not making station upgrades, but later clarified that renovations were tied to the agency's capital plan, not ridership.