Most countries treat subway systems as national assets
January 4, 2018 6:24 AM   Subscribe

"New York City’s subway is falling apart. If you are a regular rider, you know this firsthand. But even if you aren’t, it has probably become difficult to ignore all the stories about the system’s failure."

The New York Times has been working on a series of major pieces about the NYC Subway: How Politics and Bad Decisions Starved New York's Subways, and How Cuts in Basic Subway Upkeep Can Make Your Commute Miserable. Meanwhile, some people are Left Behind by the Nation's Largest Subway System, while the city continues work on The Most Expensive Mile of Subway Track on Earth (Previously).

Most recently (and perhaps most pressing): The Case for the Subway: "It is possible to fix the subway. And we must. Our failure to do so would be a collective and historic act of self-destruction."

(Related: The Economic Impact of Public Transportation Investment (pdf); Access to Public Transit is a Matter of Racial Equity.
posted by entropone (106 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
At least I made it in on time this morning, despite the snow. Or maybe because of the snow as it kept ridership down. I dunno. I just know that riding the subway has been more and more of a hassle over the last six years since I moved to this fucking town.
posted by SansPoint at 6:32 AM on January 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


I've been here 25 years and the subway (while being a miracle that makes the city possible) has always sucked. I'm not sure why it's getting all this negative press now, but I'm all for doing something about it. The trouble is you've gotta fix the state government to make that happen. Vote for Democratic candidates that don't ally themselves with IDC this year.

Now as for the sidewalks? I've never seen them this crowded before.
posted by fungible at 6:40 AM on January 4, 2018 [8 favorites]


Yeah, the subway is way way worse now than when I moved here in 2003. I'm actually going to be moving back to Manhattan this year because I'm sick to death of the F train and its weekend shenanigans.

It's like yeah, I can get from Park Slope to Murray Hill in 45 minutes on a good day... but that's on a good day, and those are becoming more and more seldom.
posted by panama joe at 6:40 AM on January 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


Ironically, I was trying to load this last night while stuck between stations in a train slowly losing power. The NYTimes app, which supposedly has settings to cache articles in certain sections, is also falling apart.
posted by nevercalm at 6:52 AM on January 4, 2018


It will be under water in a few years, as well!
posted by agregoli at 6:53 AM on January 4, 2018 [4 favorites]


I've been here 25 years and the subway (while being a miracle that makes the city possible) has always sucked. I'm not sure why it's getting all this negative press now, but I'm all for doing something about it.

Opinion: when I was a regular subway rider from 97 to 2001 and then from 2004 to 2010 or thereabouts, the subway was solidly reliable.

Fact: Between around then and now, ridership soared, maintenance spending dipped significantly and then rose, but not in pace with ridership; and the percent of trains arriving on time plummeted. (source)

I figure it's getting a lot of press because it's a major crisis, even if it's one that's been slowly in the making.
posted by entropone at 6:57 AM on January 4, 2018 [23 favorites]


Isn’t the decline of empires usually initiated by - or associated with - the political inability to maintain the large infrastructures that made them empires in the first place?
posted by The Toad at 6:57 AM on January 4, 2018 [61 favorites]


I feel like the tipping point was 2008. Not that the trains were hunky dory when I moved here in 1993, but I remember getting on the A at High Street in Brooklyn Heights one day in the summer of 2008 during a rain shower, and being shocked that there was just so much water somehow leaking into the station that I hadn't seen before.

Granted, I'm happy many stations have the arrival signs, electronic maps and guides (though none at my station yet), and I can't say I don't use the WiFi, but if they're gong to have so many stations offline on nights and weekends, I think the priority should be to replace the 90 year old switching boxes and electrical systems, and sealing up stations to stop the leaks into the areas where the trains run. There's always a fetid stream of water running along the track beds, and it's utterly disgusting.

Every time I go to London or DC, I'm envious of how their stations don't leak water all the time, seem to have clean, non-rusty looking walls, aren't filled with garbage, and there aren't weird hanging gobs of filth everywhere.
posted by droplet at 7:31 AM on January 4, 2018 [8 favorites]


I believe part of the trend is that NYC (and DC) mass transit has failed to improve (or actually declined) at the same rate as other cities. London and Toronto come to mind. The psyche of the United States political citizen as always had a hard heart for public transit. The socio-political climate of the last 30 years hasn't helped the current one even less. A great society is built on great public works.
posted by Agent_X_ at 7:36 AM on January 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


I’ve been living in NYC a couple dozen years, like others here, and I’m also a bit curious as to why everyone is suddenly so down on the trains, which I use every day. Yes, the layers of bureaucracy with which the MTA has insulated itself against most recognizable forms of efficiency are maddening and, over time, essentially suicidal, but do you really think you belong to a lets-be-perfectly-honest-and-then-do-the-right-thing sort of species?
posted by Empty Planet at 7:38 AM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


Every time I go to London or DC, I'm envious of how their stations don't leak water all the time, seem to have clean, non-rusty looking walls, aren't filled with garbage, and there aren't weird hanging gobs of filth everywhere.

Ehhh, we've had our own share of disinvestment-driven catastrophe in DC, starting in earnest with a major crash in 2009 and culminating in a yearlong campaign of taking major portions of the system offline and resetting expectations about weekend service and rush hour intervals much lower (search for "Safetrack"). That year was so bad it actually prompted me to move to a different neighborhood much closer to my job, so that I would have alternatives when (not if) the metro breaks down catastrophically. And our stations have seen the same problems driven by water intrusion and debris on the tracks and the failure to maintain against leaks, although we don't have the same coastal flooding problems as NYC.

This isn't a New York-only problem; it's a major problem everywhere. Cities aren't going to be sustainable or livable or manageable if we can't get on top of transit in general and rail specifically.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 7:39 AM on January 4, 2018 [7 favorites]


The socio-political climate of the last 30 years hasn't helped the current one even less.

Quoting Jim Carroll's "The Basketball Diaries" from memory: "these local trains are the ultimate in lousy transit. They break down at every other stop and move like they ran on flashlight batteries. I picked up a paper and it was dated 1959...that means it's been four years since they swept the place."
posted by Melismata at 7:40 AM on January 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


London and Toronto come to mind

NY Transit's new president is bringing in experience from both places.

(Although streaky walls and persistent drips are definitely still a feature of the London Tube.)
posted by doiheartwentyone at 7:40 AM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


No one cares about the NYC subway because NYC contains 0.002% of the country's population. In most other countries, a) the largest city is also the capital and b) the city's population is a much greater percentage of the country's population.
posted by Automocar at 7:42 AM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


The CEO of Toronto's public transit system, Andy Byford, has recently accepted the top job at the New York City Transit Authority.

I use the Toronto subway regularly, and he seems to have done a good job of getting the Toronto subway system modernization up and running. (The Toronto transit system is plagued by late delivery of new streetcars, but that isn't really his fault.) He will likely be tasked with performing the same job for New York, which might be biting off more than he can chew.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 7:44 AM on January 4, 2018 [4 favorites]


(Although streaky walls and persistent drips are definitely still a feature of the London Tube.)

There's streaky and then there's actually collapsing.
posted by enn at 7:44 AM on January 4, 2018


In most other countries, a) the largest city is also the capital and b) the city's population is a much greater percentage of the country's population.

Is that really so? For smaller countries, certainly, though the pattern of a country having one premier city and a bunch of small towns doesn't seem to scale beyond a certain population level, with other centres rising, and one eclipsing the premier city at some point in some area. In some cases, you get something like Germany, where the economic centre (Frankfurt) is distinct from the capital (Berlin). In other cases, they build a Canberra/Brasilia-style administrative capital to facilitate this.

As for New York being the premier city of the US, it would have competition from Chicago and LA, and possibly greater San Francisco at some point.
posted by acb at 7:52 AM on January 4, 2018


No one cares about the NYC subway because NYC contains 0.002% of the country's population.

Your math is off by three orders of magnitude. NYC contains 2.6% of the US population (8.5 million and 324 million respectively in 2017). The metro area (much of which is served by the NYC subway, which extends beyond the city limits and is also heavily used by commuters making connections from Metro North, PATH, and LIRR trains) contains 6.2% of the US population.
posted by enn at 7:53 AM on January 4, 2018 [91 favorites]


> I believe part of the trend is that NYC (and DC) mass transit has failed to improve (or actually declined) at the same rate as other cities. London and Toronto come to mind.

If you are holding up Toronto's transit system as one to aspire to by comparison, well...my heart goes out to you, New Yorkers.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:54 AM on January 4, 2018 [10 favorites]


I'm not sure why it's getting all this negative press now

Presumably because the physical degradation of the system has been hugely accelerated by flooding over the last decade, and nobody with the power to fix it seems to give two shits.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:55 AM on January 4, 2018 [5 favorites]


No one cares about the NYC subway because NYC contains 0.002% of the country's population. In most other countries, a) the largest city is also the capital and b) the city's population is a much greater percentage of the country's population.

I can't find the comment right now, but someone said on Twitter that a weird element of U.S. politics is the veneration of places where virtually nobody lives (the "heartland" and rural America) vs. the urban areas that account for over 80% of the population is bass ackwards to the rest of the world, essentially.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:56 AM on January 4, 2018 [33 favorites]


HEY AUOTOMOCAR!


No one cares about the NYC subway because NYC contains 0.002% of the country's population. In most other countries, a) the largest city is also the capital and b) the city's population is a much greater percentage of the country's population.


9 million people at a conservative estimate, 2.7%.


More than the populations of

Wyoming, Vermont,District of Columbia,  Alaska,  North Dakota,  South Dakota, Delaware and Montana

COMBINED

posted by lalochezia at 7:56 AM on January 4, 2018 [36 favorites]


Your math is off by three orders of magnitude. NYC contains 2.6% of the US population (8.5 million and 324 million respectively in 2017). The metro area (much of which is served by the NYC subway, which extends beyond the city limits and is also heavily used by commuters making connections from Metro North, PATH, and LIRR trains) contains 6.2% of the US population.

Okay, math is not my strong suit, but my point stands, aside from like, China, and China is the exception that proves the rule. For example, the population of Greater London is 8.5 million, the population of the UK is 65 million, and it's a much smaller country geographically.
posted by Automocar at 7:56 AM on January 4, 2018


For the record, NYC proper has about 2.6% of the country's population. The broader metropolitan area includes over 20 million people, or about 6.3% of the country's population. That said, the subway is largely funded through state and local resources, not federal ones, so that percentage isn't particularly relevant to this conversation.

[On lack of preview: what enn said.]

posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:03 AM on January 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


These things are really more about political will than about percentages of people in various places. And the political will is more about the kinds of people that reside in various places rather than absolute numbers. For example, in India, urban areas are traditionally way more developed than rural ones, even in terms of basic services like schools and drains. This is because urban areas are much richer relatively speaking than rural ones and have a greater voice in political life. The reverse is often true in America and the politicians react to that. And there's just something about the American psyche that venerates the wide open spaces of the rural "heartland" as opposed to India where everyone just seems to wants to jam in close to each other.
posted by peacheater at 8:04 AM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


That said, the subway is largely funded through state and local resources, not federal ones, so that percentage isn't particularly relevant to this conversation.

On the contrary, it's incredibly relevant to this conversation, because if NYC was viewed nationally as an important resource in the same way that London, Paris, Berlin, Seoul, Tokyo are in their respective countries, the NYC subway would have a dedicated federal funding stream.
posted by Automocar at 8:07 AM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


Re: federal funds, there was a federal cost-sharing agreement to help pay for a new Hudson River tunnel (this is an Amtrak project, but would affect state-level public transit as well), but the Trump administration killed that deal because fuck you, that's why.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:07 AM on January 4, 2018 [14 favorites]


I am like a total subway junkie and this article was such trash for like 10,000 reasons. (I even did a wee tweetstorm about some of it.) A few points in no particular order.

Yes, train service is getting worse and has been since around 2010. The times did a great piece with a bunch of charts about it. This jibes with my lived experience riding the trains since 2000.

The article starting off implying that ferries are new and not, like, the original fucking Walt Whitman–approved method from getting to Brooklyn to Manhattan irritates me probably all out of proportion, but if you are writing a piece (in part) about the history of transportation in New York you should know that.

The article then goes on to conflate things that *actually* need fixing with things that do not. We do not need to spend a bunch of money on glass walls—what safety they give in terms of falling on the tracks they take away in risk of crush—or fucking straightening curves. Only the L is really running with headways where that speed is going to make a difference. On the other hand, fixing the century-old signals might be a good plan.

It also misses out on my particular hobbyhorse of the system wasting money on "technological" crap—say screens in trains and on platforms to spew pointless ads while being *less* useful than an actual paper map. For instance, they replaced the countdown clocks on the L, which were plain LEDs that worked great and were easy to read from a distance with fancier screen displays that are much harder to read, but hey—also waste time showing me ads when all I want to see is the time. But it sure "looks" like the future and their buddies convinced them this was the best new thing to buy. (Just like the bullshit Bombardier trains instead of more reliabale Kawasakis.)

Outside the detail stuff, the idea that the meaning and use of public transit needs to justified economically is capitalist trash. Riding transit makes you a better person and makes cities a better place to live. Actually being a citizen working and sharing with your fellow citizens is a moral choice—and I know that's out of favor to say, but that's why we should save the subway. It forces you to engage.

(Also—front-line MTA workers should be paid like hedge-fund managers.)

Plus, it makes fairer cities in terms of access. This isn't great because it helps capitalists make more money; it's great because that is the way the world should be. Poor people here aren't suffering unto bankruptcy themselves on private transit to just live, the way they are in nearly every other part of the US. That is a meaningful American Way of Life that we should all be defending.

The subway enables my engaged, urban village, where the token clerk lives up the street and everyone can get to work and access world-class culture or services to improve their lives no matter who they are for $2.75, and actually sees their neighbors out and about. This way of life is a direct alternative and rebuke to our current Musk-scented fantasies of robots and privitization and it is made possible by the subway.

That is why it should be saved.
posted by dame at 8:10 AM on January 4, 2018 [113 favorites]


> Okay, math is not my strong suit, but my point stands

Have you considered running for president?
posted by languagehat at 8:12 AM on January 4, 2018 [44 favorites]


the population of Greater London is 8.5 million, the population of the UK is 65 million, and it's a much smaller country geographically.

Since MTA gets its operational funding from the City and State of New York (FRA and FTA may provide funding for larger capital programs...), it may be more analogous to compare the 8.5 million population of NYC to the 19.6 million population of NYS.
posted by hwyengr at 8:13 AM on January 4, 2018 [8 favorites]


Okay, math is not my strong suit, but my point stands, aside from like, China, and China is the exception that proves the rule. For example, the population of Greater London is 8.5 million, the population of the UK is 65 million, and it's a much smaller country geographically.

The point stands that the US is unique in terms of not having the largest city also be the capital and have a large share - say over 10% of the national population. Aside from China.

And Germany, and Australia, and Italy, and Switzerland, and South Africa, and Canada, and India, and Brazil.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:15 AM on January 4, 2018 [9 favorites]


I mean the bigger problem is that when the subways ran out of money in the 80s they moved control to Albany and now the mayor's office and the Governor get to play the nose game with each other about who has to fix the subways. To be clear its Albany, but Albany fucking hates NYC. Also that no one makes our switch parts anymore and presumably in the rush to get the trains back online post-Sandy they blew through a ton of attic stock in parts.
posted by edbles at 8:16 AM on January 4, 2018 [6 favorites]


In most other countries, a) the largest city is also the capital and b) the city's population is a much greater percentage of the country's population.

While this might hold up in a discussion about subway systems, and even there it's pretty shaky given that it's not just capital cities that have subways (see also: Lyon, Marseille, and soon Nice though it's "an underground tram"), it falls apart entirely when you look at rail networks. Now, being American I am well aware of the tired "but the US is huge" argument, and also being American I know full well that y'all have this thing called "state governments" in addition to the national one. Those always seem to be forgotten when handwaving "we're not like those little European countries." Because we are, actually, now that the European countries behave a lot like US states and also managed cross-national high-speed railway connections. I can catch a high-speed (250-300kmh) train to England (it goes through an undersea tunnel, remember), Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy (though it's "only" 120kmh between Marseille and Genoa), Germany, and Spain.

In France alone I can take a high-speed train to all six corners of the country. And the destination cities of Rennes, Marseille and Lyon all have subway systems, while Bordeaux, Nice, and Strasbourg have tramways.

You can also take a train from Denmark to Sweden under the North Sea.
posted by fraula at 8:17 AM on January 4, 2018 [10 favorites]


I'm sad this post made with out the companion piece about where all the subway money is going ? (hint: do-nothing union jobs, corruption and campaign contributions)

(edit, oh heck, stupid bad reading comprehension. it was. Carry on)
posted by k5.user at 8:17 AM on January 4, 2018


And Germany, and Australia, and Italy, and Switzerland, and South Africa, and Canada, and India, and Brazil.

I'm not sure anyone wants to hold up South Africa, India, Brazil, or Italy as examples of good public infrastructure spending.
posted by Automocar at 8:18 AM on January 4, 2018


Well, it may not be the capital of Canada, but the Greater Toronto Area has over 17% of the entire Canadian population.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:18 AM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


kf.user: I'm sad this post made with out the companion piece all the subway money is going ?

Actually, this post links to that piece directly, as well as the previous post and discussion on it from about a week ago.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:22 AM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


doesn't NYC receive one of the highest public transportation funding per-capita from their state? them and Chicago, I think, and that's matched by an FTA fund stipulating a certain threshold at which their funding is matched (something like 6 million maybe?)

all I know is that Georgia is one of the worst states for both per-capital and total funding of public transportation from state and, accordingly, federal funding and MARTA works fine so long as you can afford to live within a stone's throw of it. Metro ATL is 5 million people and MARTA ridership last year was 126 million which is 10x less than the MTA but at something like... .01% of the funding (actually, I believe that funding is effectively $0 but whatever). it helps that people drive but a lot of us don't. besides the odd fire or delays that are often due to mental health episodes, I've never really had a bad experience commuting on it on the regular so... shrug.gif
posted by runt at 8:26 AM on January 4, 2018


But even if you aren’t, it has probably become difficult to ignore all the stories

Not to be snarky, but No, it hasn't. At least as easy as ignoring the Kardashians, for example.
posted by achrise at 8:28 AM on January 4, 2018


To the people in the "the subways have always sucked" camp: it's really worth reading the NYT coverage, which tracks the specific ways in which maintenance issues and track and signal problems have increased over the past several years, and why. I grew up using the graffiti-covered subway of the 80s, and I have a distinct and fond memory of the L train pushing a tunnel-shaped column of smoke out in front of it at the 1st Ave. station at some point in the 90s. But the subways did improve over time, and have, since, gotten worse. "Everything is always bad" seems like a good way to not consider or address specific problems.

Automcar, I would maintain that it isn't particularly relevant to this conversation for the exact reason you cite: the NYC subway exists in a very different context from those other systems, and the counterfactual of "Well, what if the federal government had to care?" isn't particularly helpful. The country isn't going to get any smaller, NYC isn't going to be the capital, the federal government doesn't care, and it isn't about to start. Meanwhile, we need to begin addressing the system's weaknesses (insane steampunk analog switching system, I am looking directly at you) and we need to do so at the state and local level.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:29 AM on January 4, 2018 [11 favorites]


doesn't NYC receive one of the highest public transportation funding per-capita from their state?

Except all that tax money comes from the city anyways! It's our money. Why should we spend it subsidizing highways in Schenectady?


NB: We should share money because that's how governance works, but let's be clear, we aren't taking upstate's money to run the trains
posted by dame at 8:33 AM on January 4, 2018 [27 favorites]


I've been here 25 years and the subway (while being a miracle that makes the city possible) has always sucked. I'm not sure why it's getting all this negative press now....

Probably because the quality of subway has stayed the same, but the fare has more than doubled in the past 25 years. Here's an article about the historic subway costs.

I think that cruddy subways and a $1.50 fare makes people shrug and say "well, you get what you pay for", but hiking the fare up to $2.75 and the subways are still cruddy is what makes people say "hang on a second".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:33 AM on January 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


Something that's going to have to happen if we're going to see any major fixes to the subway here, is an move away from 24/7 service. Maybe not a _complete_ shutdown, but certainly something has to happen, because one of the obstacles to maintenance is 24/7 operation of trains.

For example, the Queens Boulevard line (the line I take every day) has four tracks, two local, two express. If you want to do work on the Express Tracks, yes you can run all trains local, but every time a train runs past the work crew, two things have to happen for everyone's safety.

1. The work crew has to stop working.
2. The train has to crawl past at half-a-mile per hour

Even if a train is only rolling past every twenty minutes, that crew hast to stop, wait and resume work. You're getting, at best, 10 minutes of work per 20 minute window, or half the amount of work that could feasibly be done during an uninterrupted shift if there were no trains.

What I'd like to see is a line shut down for a week or two, nights and weekends, with shuttle busses running its length, so that crews can do a big huge dose of much needed signal and track work without any interruption. Yes, it'd be inconvenient for a lot of people (including me), but you can then rotate those crews onto a different line and get a lot more work done in a lot less time than in 10 minute increments.
posted by SansPoint at 8:41 AM on January 4, 2018 [8 favorites]


Probably because the quality of subway has stayed the same
It hasn't though, and as people keep pointing out, there's actual data that shows it hasn't.
posted by neroli at 8:46 AM on January 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


Have you actually had to live a NYCT bus bridge? It's ... not a better option. Which is why they don't do it unless they have to. I'm not even certain that they cost of all the drivers is worth the savings on work crews (you need a lot more buses for the capacity of a train). They also lose out on fares for anyone not transferring to the train, because the buses are free. (I assume because of flow and also to make up for the inconvenience.)

Anyways, I am going to do work and stop responding to everything because it is annoying but—

Let's not give up on the service we've come to expect because politicians are playing games and not actually funding things. Don't let them win! You are the citizen and you deserve the best.
posted by dame at 8:47 AM on January 4, 2018 [6 favorites]


I think that cruddy subways and a $1.50 fare makes people shrug and say "well, you get what you pay for", but hiking the fare up to $2.75 and the subways are still cruddy is what makes people say "hang on a second".

That increase is completely in line with inflation. $1.50 in 1992 is worth $2.62 in 2017.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 8:49 AM on January 4, 2018 [11 favorites]


The subways are practically the only thing about NYC that haven't been through the wealthy gentrification machine.
posted by Liquidwolf at 8:55 AM on January 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


Keep the subways grimey as fuck, but double the number of trains in the tubes using electronic controls (and leave the employees there to monitor the automated tech). Tourists and visitors usually remark at the seemingly horrific conditions of the subways but real NYers don't care about that (so much). I hear people asking not for prettier newer trains or less rain water - or in the case of my home station, which is a fairly major one, literal fucking snow falling onto the platform - but for delays to be reduced and trains to arrive more frequently (and be not so full so as to preclude actually getting on the arriving train, an issue I face several times a week on the 6 train).

A fairly basic management failing of the NYC subway that ive never understood is the inability to deal with sick passengers in a way that doesn't inconvenience literally hunreds of other riders. at least weekly I am on a train that is delayed by a train ahead of us with a sick passenger, and several times in the past few months ive actually be on the train with the sick passenger or on the platform as the train with a sick rider came in. it is absurd. the hold the train in the station until attention can arrive and it usually takes 7-8 minutes for that to happen.

I was on a downtown 4 train at bowling green with a sick passenger on the train, within seconds of the announcement that there was a sick passenger the conductor came on the PA again to tell riders to go over to the uptown track, take an uptown 4 or 5 train to fulton st (3 stops in the wrong direction) and transfer there to a 2 or 3 train headed into Brooklyn (an option that would work only for a couple of stops along the entirety of the route). This just cannot be acceptable as standard procedure. There must be less disruptive (though possibly more expensive, personnel-based) solutions.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:29 AM on January 4, 2018 [5 favorites]


Note that "sick passenger" means more than someone being ill on a train. It is also the MTA's euphemism for a person who has been injured or killed by a train, and train service obviously has to stop in those situations.
posted by plastic_animals at 9:43 AM on January 4, 2018 [13 favorites]


You can also take a train from Denmark to Sweden under the North Sea.

Over (on the Öresund bridge), surely. Unless they've built another link via a tunnel.

There is a planned link between Germany and Denmark that will go via a tunnel (which will be sunk to the bottom of the Baltic in sections, then sealed and drained), replacing a train ferry, though that's still some years off.
posted by acb at 9:50 AM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


Okay, math is not my strong suit, but my point stands,

"All of the premises of my argument have been shown to be false but you should still buy the conclusion."
posted by PMdixon at 10:19 AM on January 4, 2018 [16 favorites]


No one cares about the NYC subway because NYC contains 0.002% of the country's population. In most other countries, a) the largest city is also the capital and b) the city's population is a much greater percentage of the country's population.

On the other hand, NYC is the nation's (if not the world's) financial capital. That has to count for something.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:23 AM on January 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


Over (on the Öresund bridge), surely. Unless they've built another link via a tunnel.

Well, a few kilometers of that crossing is indeed by tunnel, even if there is more over than under. But it's still over/under the Øresund Strait, rather than the North Sea (unless we're also saying the channel tunnel runs under the Pacific rather than the English Channel).
posted by Dysk at 10:33 AM on January 4, 2018


dame Have you actually had to live a NYCT bus bridge?

Yup. The MTA shut down all subway service on the Queens Boulevard line past 71st/Continental for a few weekends over the summer, and I live at Briarwood. It was inconvenient, but far from a shitshow. Then again, I'm originally from Philadelphia where the subways shut down at midnight, and you have to take shuttle busses. I've made the trip home on those busses at night multiple times.

Honestly, a little traffic prioritization for those shuttle busses, and making sure they obey the line's stops (e.g. E/F service running express, M/R local) would go a long way to making it slightly saner.
posted by SansPoint at 10:35 AM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


Thorzdad: Yeah, but those financial firms aren't paying nearly enough taxes. Same with their rich executives.
posted by SansPoint at 10:35 AM on January 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


Yes, it'd be inconvenient for a lot of people (including me), but you can then rotate those crews onto a different line and get a lot more work done in a lot less time than in 10 minute increments.

Andy Byford, who is your incoming, dealt with this same issue in Toronto to redo all the switches and some other repairs, exactly as you outlined - weekend closures, publicized well in advance with a working bus shuttle system (dunno how this would work there.) So good news, that might happen. It was a pain and I was personally caught a couple of times (although I am blessed with alternative transport) but it was exactly what, IMO, needed to happen here.

I have mixed feelings about the TTC, its relationship with Metrolinx and the crazy "here's a plan, no wait, politician wants something else" dance, but I generally do believe that Byford did a good job with safety upgrades. So hope you in NYC enjoy it too.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:59 AM on January 4, 2018 [6 favorites]


Keep an eye on congestion pricing. This is going to be a big, high-profile fight in 2018.

After years of dodging the issue of how to fund the subways (without cutting off the flow of money out of NYC into the rest of the state, god forbid), Cuomo is expected to come out in favor of placing tolls on all East River bridges and in Manhattan at 60th street. This is meant to both reduce traffic congestion in Manhattan (which has skyrocketed since carsharing became a thing) and also provide shitloads of subway funding, like a billion a year.

Mayor de Blasio is opposed to congestion pricing - making it the first time that the broader NYC transit advocacy community has ever sided with Cuomo over the generally far-more-progressive de Blasio on anything. It's going to be a fascinating fight... particularly since both men are transparently harboring presidential ambitions, which could easily make congestion pricing a nasty proxy battle.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:52 AM on January 4, 2018 [9 favorites]


I read this as I walked by a bench at the Lex/59 station UNDERGROUND that had an inch of snow covering half the seats. It is snowing inside parts of the station.

That said, as someone who moved to the city from out of state, the MTA is so much easier and more peace of mind than owning a car and I count my rosebuds for what we've got. It's pretty good given the expanse and age of the system.

Also I'd recommend going to the Transit Museum in Brooklyn for an interesting few hours. You can walk through lots of train cars from the past century.
posted by hexaflexagon at 12:02 PM on January 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


Andy Byford, who is your incoming, dealt with this same issue in Toronto to redo all the switches and some other repairs, exactly as you outlined - weekend closures, publicized well in advance with a working bus shuttle system (dunno how this would work there.) So good news, that might happen. It was a pain and I was personally caught a couple of times (although I am blessed with alternative transport) but it was exactly what, IMO, needed to happen here.

Just to add to warriorqueen’s comment above, the weekend closures were in addition to Toronto subways not running 24/7 as a matter of course to allow for more routine maintenance - outside of the more extraordinary measures (weekend closures) taken to upgrade the prehistoric signaling system that was bunging things up and desperately needed replacement.

Here’s a little more background on some of the maintenance shutdowns on the TTC in 2017.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:09 PM on January 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


I was in Chicago on Tuesday and decided to take the subway to get from Chicago to Monroe station and the whole thing was a mess. First off the ticket vending machines don't accept cash, or rather they do accept cash but won't give you any change back. At least the machine was nice enough to warn me that if I continued it would eat $9.00 but that is still pretty fucked up. Then the machine wouldn't let me buy a children's ticket. The people at the gate just let my daughter go through without paying, which was a win for us I guess but there ought to be a way to buy a children's ticket. I will not rant here about America's inability to deal with a credit card that allows contactless payments when the hardware clearly supports it.

Once we got past the fare gates we were presented with two line maps listing the stations the subway would be stopping at. But there wasn't any actual map of the system so that I could see which way I wanted to go, or even a direction saying that one train was going north and the other south. It is possible that there was a system map near the vending machines and I didn't notice it which if that is the case then is better but there was no shortage of wall space for them to put one at the top of the escalators. I didn't notice a map at platform level either. Luckily I remembered the name of the station I wanted to get off at so we were OK. There were line maps on the train but they were pretty hard to read. I get that the Chicago system is more complicated than the basic one we have in Toronto, where we can get away with having a system map instead of line maps, but I've spent a lot of time using public transit in Japan and London and their line maps did a much better job of telling me where I was.

Then the condition of the station and train itself was so poor. I figured that Chicago is a bigger city than Toronto and we were going from one nicer area of downtown to another so even if there were sketchy stations they would be in the worse areas, not the case. My wife reminded me that the New York subway was pretty run-down as well. I'm from Toronto so I'm used to stations with leaks or permanently broken elevators but Chicago and New York are a whole other level of run-down. And also, why no display telling me how long to wait until the next train?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:11 PM on January 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


It is also the MTA's euphemism for a person who has been injured or killed by a train, and train service obviously has to stop in those situations.

is it still? the official subway status twitter doesn't self censor like that at all.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:19 PM on January 4, 2018


any portmanteau in a storm: Most large systems in the USA utterly fail at maps and navigation, I think. I mean, the MTA sounds no better, and DC is still pretty confusing too.

That said, even living in NYC, I swear by a combination of Google Maps Transit Directions, Apple Maps Transit Directions, and the Transit App on my phone. I might be heading to Chicago this summer, and all three of those are going to be very handy.
posted by SansPoint at 12:31 PM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


And there's just something about the American psyche that venerates the wide open spaces of the rural "heartland"

Isn’t that just racism? And isn’t it more about suburbs vs cities at this point? My impression is that if there were a way for white suburbanites to make sure none of their money went to black and brown folks (via public schools or public transport or public health clinics or what have you), they would be OK with higher tax rates and high powered infrastructure spending. As long as the money doesn’t go to ‘those people’...at least that’s been my impression from the dismal funding situation for public transit in the (very wealthy) Bay Area.
posted by The Toad at 12:48 PM on January 4, 2018 [7 favorites]


The first time I went to NYC, having spent my adult life in Texas and California, I was impressed by the subway. So convenient!

The last time I was there, after having spent a lot of time in Japan and having visited Seoul and Taipei, I was surprised how bad NYC is --- because I had a fairly positive memory from before, I didn't realize how much worse it is than the subway systems in East Asia.

(We have one in LA too, but where I live its useless so to be honest I've never actually ridden it)
posted by thefoxgod at 12:51 PM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I grew up in Atlanta and I remember a vote to expand MARTA to the subways being defeated. There were a lot of overtly racist comments from people who opposed it (including a popular racist variation on the MARTA acronym). This was in the late 80's or early 90's I guess.
posted by thefoxgod at 12:56 PM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


thefoxgod: In Philadelphia, there's been a plan on the books to expand the SEPTA Broad Street Subway into Northeast Philadelphia since the 1930s. It's been repeatedly stymied, first by the Depression, next by World War II, but the main obstacle since then has been that it will bring "Those People" to the Northeast. So, yeah, it can even prevent transit expansion within a city's borders.
posted by SansPoint at 1:06 PM on January 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


I took an uptown 6 yesterday that was so crowded I ended up standing on my tip-toes for 2 stops because I was so wedged in. Luckily, everyone was wearing puffy coats, or it would have been even more uncomfortable. The timer clock said that the next trains were coming in 3 and 11 minutes, but they’d said that for at least 10 minutes before the train came. AFAIK, they are still frozen on 3 and 11.

The Times coverage has been really interesting, and I hope Andy Byford can make a difference.
posted by AMyNameIs at 1:29 PM on January 4, 2018


I don't remember being frustrated by the subway and line maps when I visited New York 7-8 years ago. Maybe its bad across the country and New York is good (by which I mean adequate).

It could also be that as cell phones get more prevalent the maps and other signage has deteriorated because the transit agencies figure everyone is using their cellphones anyway. I know in Toronto they have replaced the schedules at bus stops with a sign saying to use your cellphone instead. Which is great for people who can't afford a cell phone although the schedules were polite fictions anyway because the buses never followed them.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:29 PM on January 4, 2018


Last night I got on a 7 express train. It said "Flushing Express" on the sign and showed the 7-in-diamond symbol indicating an express train. It was several minutes after I boarded that the operator deigned to announce that the train would be making all local stops, turning my two-stop ride into a 13-stop ride. It was so crowded it took me two stops to get to the door to get off. (Of course I missed my appointment.)
posted by enn at 1:56 PM on January 4, 2018


thefoxgood the subways/trains here are great, if you're along a corridor they serve. I don't use them often, but every time I do they make me happy. And now that I can see the expo line going by from my desk at work I expect to visit downtown more often...
posted by flaterik at 2:16 PM on January 4, 2018


A few of y'all were like, "Eh, transit is bad everywhere because humans." This is NOT true. NYC's transit (and most of American transit in general) is uniquely bad. I'm in Amsterdam right now and the trams, buses, metro, etc. are all clean, on time, and in good repair. The subways in Sweden smell like perfume and pastries, not urine and god-knows-what like in New York. Paris and Berlin don't have the cleanest subways, but they have nothing like the filth and miasma of New York's. Shenzhen's metro positively gleams. Seriously, the New York City subway is an embarrassment.
posted by antinomia at 2:25 PM on January 4, 2018 [19 favorites]


I've been here 25 years and the subway (while being a miracle that makes the city possible) has always sucked. I'm not sure why it's getting all this negative press now

Because it's gotten even more sucky every year, even as ridership has increased. Why did we hit a boiling point this year? I'd say* partially because people's delays were especially long and chronic in 2017, particularly during summer, but also I'd also guess a confluence of things just had more people talking about how shitty the MTA is:

- Amtrak derailments and subsequent repair shutdowns at Penn station (plus that bad A-train derailment)
- Cuomo then coined this the "summer of hell" which really did him no favors because it stuck in people's minds and the media took it and ran
- The ongoing rise of social media had more and more people sharing their horror stories and photos (which also gave more media outlets horror stories they could write about)
- Everyone was already talking about -- and dreading -- the L train shutdown
- It was an election year, so a lot of people were grousing about de Blasio -- which subsequently had de Blasio and transit people trying to make everyone aware that this is actually a state problem...
- ... and once the Cuomo-de Blasio fingerpointing began, the story started generating its own momentum...
- ... and once the story became big enough, Cuomo eventually had to do something about it, which is where you saw Joe Lhota return and several emergency plans announced
- Above-ground traffic has also gotten way worse which saw the renewed push for congestion pricing really picking up steam this year
- The NYT choosing to shine a spotlight on things this year with this exact series. Other media outlets tend to cover the day to day delays and issues more often (and always have) but most of them can't dedicate the kind of resources the Times put into this coverage

The subways are practically the only thing about NYC that haven't been through the wealthy gentrification machine.

That's what the BQX is for.
posted by retrograde at 3:15 PM on January 4, 2018 [5 favorites]


The Subway definitely needs more funding and more work, considering how central it is to NYC (and NY, NJ and CT more broadly) and it's kind of absurd to think of how much of it got built in such a relatively short amount of time, followed by the fifty years it took to get the second ave. line up and running.

But let's not pretend the DC metro is a positive example. The NYC Subway gets me to work more or less on time every day. The DC Metro is on fire as often as not (based on my friends trying to get to and from work in the district and their homes and Virginia.)
posted by Navelgazer at 3:17 PM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


any portmanteau in a storm:

The CTA all children under 7 ride free with paying adult. Which is awesome.

Resident Seniors/disabled can also get a ride free or reduced fare based on income, and children 7 to 11 get reduced fare with school passes and there is a college pass too.

That part is pretty cool.

The CTA is difficult if you don't know where the end points of the system are and that loop means downtown. One requires a bit of naive knowledge which drove me crazy for the absolute longest.


The cards load on the CTA system if you buy anything other than a single ride ticket, which the majority of riders use. If you need to buy day passes the best way to do it is to go to an actual vendor (like CVS) to get change.

Chicago's system manages really well, though I run into plenty of problems with the nighttime service hours as I have to help people get home from the hospital from ER discharges (joys of social work), and most if the trains aren't running and limited service for busses s well between midnight and 430amish.

The red line subway is hit or miss , I really don't understand the inconstancy in quality between stations.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:24 PM on January 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


You need some perspective. From what I'm reading in these comments, the NYC subway system as it was in the 60s, 70s and 80s, is beyond the current generation's ability to imagine. Not only equipment breakdowns, random stoppages, flooding, rat swarms, wall-to-wall graffiti, zero announcements, no idea when another train was coming, no air conditioning, and people carrying ear-blasting audio devices onto trains, but constant FEAR -- roaming gangs, muggings, transit cops beating people up (this happened to me - although I deserved it), criminal trolls who would terrorize token clerks and force riders to bypass the token system pay the trolls to go through the turnstiles.

Heck, I witnessed an actual bloody murder on the 42nd Street F Train platform. Once, I tried to stop a man from beating up his girlfriend on a crowded subway car, and almost got killed for my trouble when they both turned on me.

Not to mention every subway station, every bench, and every tunnel connecting stations being filled with rows of sleeping homeless people -- especially in the 80s. I can recall getting off the F train at that same 42nd street station first thing in the morning, and all of us stumbling over one another trying not to step on a massive pile of human feces that someone had thoughtfully deposited on the platform right in front of where the door opened.

Today when I ride the train, I'm impressed by how much better it is, how much more clean and reliable it is, how much more civil New Yorkers are, and how you can visibly carry something as expensive and portable as an iPad or phone onto a subway car without having it immediately snatched away by a thief.

It's childish to say that nobody cares about the subways. Obviously, if there was an easy fix, someone would do it. I know this, because I've witnessed the enormous act of will it has taken to bring the subway system up to where it is today. As the Second Avenue subway experience tells us, taking it to the next level is going to take not only will, but immense amounts of public money. Maybe the bridge tolls will help.
posted by Modest House at 3:42 PM on January 4, 2018 [14 favorites]


A few of y'all were like, "Eh, transit is bad everywhere because humans." This is NOT true. NYC's transit (and most of American transit in general) is uniquely bad. I'm in Amsterdam right now and the trams, buses, metro, etc. are all clean, on time, and in good repair. The subways in Sweden smell like perfume and pastries, not urine and god-knows-what like in New York. Paris and Berlin don't have the cleanest subways, but they have nothing like the filth and miasma of New York's. Shenzhen's metro positively gleams. Seriously, the New York City subway is an embarrassment.

Your comment made me curious so I pulled some data off of Wikipedia. Not to defend NYC's current subway issues, but really only Paris comes close to being a fair comparison and even Paris has dozens fewer stations, dozens fewer miles of track, and millions fewer riders per year. Shenzen is the next closest but it is also literally 100 years newer. The other three (Berlin, Stockholm, Amsterdam) carry just over half NYC's ridership total, and have about 75% of NYC's total track miles between them.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:12 PM on January 4, 2018 [6 favorites]


You need some perspective. From what I'm reading in these comments, the NYC subway system as it was in the 60s, 70s and 80s, is beyond the current generation's ability to imagine. Not only equipment breakdowns, random stoppages, flooding, rat swarms, wall-to-wall graffiti, zero announcements, no idea when another train was coming, no air conditioning, and people carrying ear-blasting audio devices onto trains, but constant FEAR -- roaming gangs, muggings, transit cops beating people up (this happened to me - although I deserved it), criminal trolls who would terrorize token clerks and force riders to bypass the token system pay the trolls to go through the turnstiles.

The reduction in crime over the time period you are referring to is nation-wide and is in no way specific to the subway. Saying the subway has improved since the 60s because crime is lower is like saying that it's improved because you can read your iPhone on the train now. The MTA didn't reduce crime any more than it invented the iPhone.
posted by enn at 4:41 PM on January 4, 2018 [8 favorites]


Nobody should hold WMATA up as a good example of anything. Instead of an NYC vs Albany deathmatch, we get a jurisdictional struggle where any one county that chooses not to provide a reliable funding stream can ruin the whole thing for everybody. There used to be a veto issue with the WMATA board too, but that mostly seems to be a thing of the past now (or at least, it's a relatively minor problem when compared to the funding struggles).

WMATA insists it's not in a death spiral, but they require a really high farebox recovery ratio to make up for funding shortfalls, and with ridership declining the deficit keeps going up (PDF; see page 8). And the so-called "Safetrack" program didn't increase reliability the way it was supposed to, and some of the repairs already have to be redone.

At least the NYT is doing a better job exposing issues than the Post has here.
posted by fedward at 4:44 PM on January 4, 2018


showbiz_liz: Tokyo is much much higher.

Combined ridership for Tokyo Metro + Toei (separate companies that operate the two parts of the Tokyo subway system) is average 9.69 million a day, so 3.5 billion a year. That's double NYC. It has 285 stations and 188 mi of track. So stations/track is a little less (by about 35%) but ridership is 2x. [Tokyo Metro alone is 2.5 billion a year]
posted by thefoxgod at 4:58 PM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


Tokyo has an additional 600 non-subway train stations and a total rail ridership of 14.6 billion people a year (40 million riders a day). The subway is big but its just part of a massive rail network.
posted by thefoxgod at 5:04 PM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


Tokyo is also in Japan which, culturally, values the group in ways America and New York just don't. Oh for the bold politician who would loudly and proudly proclaim that the country is made of people who are in it together and who deserve good things like infrastructure and health care and then, and here's the magical secret, and then act on those words and make it happen.
posted by kokaku at 6:07 PM on January 4, 2018 [4 favorites]


NYC contains 2.6% of the US population (8.5 million and 324 million respectively in 2017).

Which means that they're probably paying on the order of 2.6% of the taxes. Suggesting that "taxation without representation" did not go away in 1776. Of course, subway ridership is not proportionately represented in the rooms where they can still smoke cigars.

Of course, those new bollards will cost $50M, so there's that. How many will go to the Bronx, I wonder?
posted by Twang at 6:50 PM on January 4, 2018


London Underground serves 270 stations across 402km of track, carries 1.379bn riders a year, and has been variously running since 1863.

It doesn't always smell like perfume and pastries (just when I'm on it💃), but it runs regularly, reliably and predictably. Mondays notwithstanding.
posted by aihal at 4:54 AM on January 5, 2018 [2 favorites]


NYC contains 2.6% of the US population...
Which means that they're probably paying on the order of 2.6% of the taxes.

Taxes are not paid proportionately by population. More people who make more money (even middle class people because hello COL) live in New York. They pay more than 2.6% of the taxes.
posted by dame at 5:55 AM on January 5, 2018 [4 favorites]


I go to NYC every couple of years and I notice that the subway system is getting worse. I'd much rather use public transit, but I relied mainly on Uber my last trip because the subways were so gross and felt unsafe. It makes me sad because I'd much prefer to use public transport, if only to support and encourage a social benefit that is particularly valuable to those who are economically challenged.

This is in dramatic contrast to London and I really appreciate the system here. It's well lit and relatively clean except for the odd mouse, it's well sign posted both below and above ground and on the trains, and I think it's very well connected (we live in Zone 2 and haven't owned a car in over five years).

I love the little personality quirks from some individual stations. There's an intimate history of art/design in TFL's past and the continuing relationship is displayed at Piccadilly Circus despite its age and busy-ness of the station. The updated Tottenham Court Station is a wonderful mix of well thought out new and homage to old. My own station Clapham North pipes in classical music, has a shared library, and posts Quotes of the Day. The station for the O2 arena often posts welcome signs that refer to the current act performing that night. The tap in/tap out system whether by Oyster or bank card is convenient and seamless.

I've used subway/rail systems in Paris, San Francisco, Shanghai, and Korea as well and London does shine very brightly. If you are ever in London I highly recommend the TFL Museum in Covent Garden!
posted by like_neon at 7:18 AM on January 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


Not to defend NYC's current subway issues, but really only Paris comes close to being a fair comparison and even Paris has dozens fewer stations, dozens fewer miles of track, and millions fewer riders per year. Shenzen is the next closest but it is also literally 100 years newer. The other three (Berlin, Stockholm, Amsterdam) carry just over half NYC's ridership total, and have about 75% of NYC's total track miles between them.

Those three cities are also smaller and consequently have smaller tax bases available for local funding.

Some things get harder when a system gets bigger, these are usually related to co-ordination because as the system grows, the number of interactions grow. Other things don't because the size of the problem and the size of the resource pool to deal with it both scale up together.

Density is a genuinely distinguishing factor for transportation systems but size is not - the reason that the US doesn't have much high speed rail isn't that it's big but because most of it is quite sparse.
posted by atrazine at 7:24 AM on January 5, 2018


the reason that the US doesn't have much high speed rail isn't that it's big but because most of it is quite sparse.

And the reason not even the NE corridor has high speed rail? C'mon.
posted by PMdixon at 7:35 AM on January 5, 2018 [6 favorites]


I've been riding the subway regularly for over 15 years, daily for about eight or nine. It feels to me like there was an inflection point around 2014 and after that things got *really, really* bad.

It's not just me, though. I can't find the link now but I recently saw a chart comparing the NYC subway's on-time performance with something like 20-30 other systems worldwide - including comparably large (or larger) systems like London, Paris, Tokyo, Seoul, Mexico City. NYC had the worst on-time performance, at something like 65%. Mexico City was next-worst, at around 70%. I think there were one or two other cities below 90%, and most were above 95%. That is a massive, incredible difference. Even I was surprised, and I see how bad things have gotten every day.

And the MTA's definition of "on-time performance" is, I think, "anything that is less than five minutes late." Which is unusually lax in comparison with Japan and much of Europe.

Countdown clocks and bus time are nice. And sure, the system's still much safer than it was in the 70s. But service has gone to shit, and that's a real problem.

And it bugs me to no end how Cuomo has prioritized dumb vanity projects - every day I walk past an ad for a new fucking entrance to Penn Station under the Farrelly Post Office on 9th Ave. "Building the New New York." For a goddamn entrance to a train station. No new capacity, and it looks like the sorely-needed new rail tunnel under the Hudson is once again gonna get kneecapped (Trump's old pal Christie beat him to the punch on that one, then it was revived). He builds a new Tappan Zee Bridge (sorry, I'm not calling it the Mario Cuomo) with no provision for transit. Wants to build an AirTrain from LGA in the wrong direction rather than facing NIMBYs on extending the N, which would benefit local residents and be of more use to LGA passengers, too. The signals - the very backbone of the subway system - are falling apart, but hey, we've got cell service now! They can't be arsed to put the rapid buses in their own dedicated lane, but soon they'll have charging ports!

Give me a fucking break. It's all style, no substance. I'd like it if we could have a grand, new Penn Station, too. But first I'd like to go back to the days when getting to work without incident was a humdrum experience.

That said, credit where credit is due: Cuomo is finally putting his weight behind congestion pricing. I hope de Blasio doesn't block it. Oh, and I don't know that de Blasio has been any better than Cuomo on transit issues (and now, with the fight over congestion pricing looming, he looks worse). The ferries are OK, I guess, but only because they don't cost much. They're not an efficient mode of transportation for most people. The BQX is a boondoggle, though it'll probably never happen.

This has been a bit of rant, but the lack of leadership on this issue has been astounding. NYC could have a well-functioning transit system if the political and organizational (the MTA itself is hardly blameless here) will existed.
posted by breakin' the law at 12:37 PM on January 5, 2018 [9 favorites]


The thing that truly pisses me off about those digital countdown clocks is that, unlike the older countdown clocks, they don't scroll through the next however-many trains - they only display the next two trains, even in stations with more than two lines! Which makes them functionally useless unless your train is about to show up anyway!
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:58 PM on January 5, 2018 [3 favorites]


Yeah, we just got those in SF too. The next K train may be in 34 minutes and the one after that may be in 36, but by gosh, there are more pixels telling me. Those pixels mean I get home faster!!!
posted by en forme de poire at 3:53 PM on January 5, 2018 [2 favorites]


Also, living in a city with mostly surface rail streetcars (and having had a chance to check out Seattle's streetcar boondoggle) reading about the BQX gives me this feeling of dread like when you hear someone in a horror movie say brightly, "it'll be faster to find our friend if we all split up!" Nooooo what are you doing de Blasio.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:57 PM on January 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


Funny thing is I'd kill to have a rail system even half as extensive as NYC's here in Miami. Even if it is was as dingy. Better than buses that are incredibly unreliable for the most part and a single elevated rail line that manages to serve very nearly the least number of people possible for the track miles with a spur to the airport that would be great if said trains went to the place most of the tourists stay.

I'd be happy just having multiple levels of government in agreement that there is a problem to be fixed.

Hell, I'd be happy with DART or MARTA. At least they manage to lay track on occasion.
posted by wierdo at 7:33 PM on January 5, 2018


Yeah, that's the really sad thing about transit in the US. As shitty as the MTA, MBTA, WMATA, etc. can be, especially in comparison to other countries that have a well developed idea of the common good, they're still better than the majority of big cities in the US, which have woefully inadequate bus systems if they have anything at all.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:04 PM on January 5, 2018 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I saw something where Amazon apparently said they didn't want to come to NYC because mass transit has too many issues and I laughed and laughed. No matter how bad NYC transit gets, it's lightyears ahead of other US options. That doesn't mean there's not room for improvement, though!
posted by ferret branca at 3:38 PM on January 6, 2018 [3 favorites]


I'm increasingly convinced that the ultimate goal of defunding the MTA is a first step of pulling off the ultimate triumph of Neoliberalism by privatizing the New York City Subway. If you think service is bad now, imagine how life will be when the MTA is managed by a consortium of private equity funds. $5 fares for half the service we get now.
posted by SansPoint at 12:58 PM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]


They're gonna sell it off to Elon Musk so he can replace it with a Hyperloop that only the five richest kings of Europe can afford to actually ride.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:45 PM on January 8, 2018 [3 favorites]


The article then goes on to conflate things that *actually* need fixing with things that do not. We do not need to spend a bunch of money on glass walls—what safety they give in terms of falling on the tracks they take away in risk of crush

With platform doors, you can actually safely fill the platform. Without, people keep their distance because they don't want to fall off the platform edge or bump into a train. I don't see this risk of crush.

All the new systems in Asia have them, and in Shanghai I observed folks happily packing themselves onto a platform like it's a subway car.

Toronto has a plan to install them, not only to support air conditioning the stations, and to reduce suicides and track fires (both also big problems in NYC), but also to increase capacity on their already crush-loaded line 1. Having already switched to open-gangway cars, and halfway through modernizing the signal system, platform doors are the final piece of the puzzle in squeezing every last bit of performance out of line 1 before finally building a parallel downtown relief line.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:57 AM on January 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


Platform crowding solutions other than more trains, spaced closer together, with higher capacities are non-starters are far as I am concerned. Focusing on getting more people crammed onto platforms given the current state of service, given the fact that human operators mean they cannot increase the frequency of trains arriving in stations to pick up riders, is misguided, much as I might appreciate the air conditioning potential as a side-benefit.

On that front though, who really thinks that sealing platforms from tubes would make stations sufficiently closed environments to run HVACs (and with what budget?)? these platforms?
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 12:27 PM on January 9, 2018 [5 favorites]


At major stations, operators will slow the train to a crawl before pulling up to the platform, to avoid hitting the mass of people. Doors allow trains to speed into stations, and speed right back out again. It does have an impact on frequency and capacity.

I know the NYC system is uniquely large and financially constrained, but these things have been studied (elsewhere) and work (elsewhere). It's not like the author of this article is being a wild dreamer.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:04 PM on January 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


Id be curious to see a source backing up the assertion that drivers slow down through stations due to crowding, and that those slow downs are responsible for a significant portion of system slowness/delays.

This Vox article addresses a lot of the size/capacity arguments made here and elsewhere, but includes this (to me) relevant bit about old signals and driver culture:

In 1991, an intoxicated train driver sped through a switch at Union Square, leading to a derailment at 50 mph. Five passengers died (the most of any subway accident in New York since 1928), and 161 passengers were injured.

Four years later, signal failure caused one train to rear-end another on the Williamsburg Bridge, the fourth such collision in two years. The driver died, and several dozen passengers were injured. The train was going at 36 mph through a signal designed for trains whose maximum speed was 28 mph; even with improved braking, the stopping distance was too long. The MTA said the driver could have seen the train ahead, but the driver had been too fatigued. The NYCT responded by slapping a 25 mph speed restriction on all bridges, building on the findings after the Union Square derailment.

After the accident, the NYCT also reduced the acceleration rates of the subway trains to match the rates of the older trains. Subways and regional trains around the world accelerate at 2.5 mph per second or even faster, but in New York acceleration is restricted to about 1 mph per second.

Unfortunately, these modifications to the operating procedure made the old signals less reliable. An MTA source explains that the NYCT did not always recalibrate the signals correctly for the reduced speed. Consequently, train drivers don't trust the signals and go even slower for safety. Train drivers have internalized this practice, and even when the signals are reliable they often go slower than they could, to give themselves a safety margin to avoid crossing a stop signal.

posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 1:16 PM on January 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


With platform doors, you can actually safely fill the platform. Without, people keep their distance because they don't want to fall off the platform edge or bump into a train. I don't see this risk of crush.

All the new systems in Asia have them, and in Shanghai I observed folks happily packing themselves onto a platform like it's a subway car.


The main reason platform doors haven't been implemented in NYC, as I understand it, is because we have such a varied fleet of trains that the doors are not consistently spaced. They're going to do a pilot for them on the L train line during the shutdown, though.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:52 PM on January 9, 2018 [4 favorites]


The Most Awful Transit Center in America Could Get Unimaginably Worse
I’d been assigned to write a story about Pennsylvania Station, but I wanted to get a caboose-eye view of the decaying tunnels leading up to it, because the only imaginable way the station could be any worse is if it were underwater. Penn, the Western Hemisphere’s busiest train station, serves 430,000 travelers every weekday—more than LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark airports combined. More than 200,000 people also use the subway stops that connect to Penn through harshly lit, low-ceilinged subterranean corridors. Locals race through the place; out-of-towners proceed more anxiously, baffled by the layout of what is truly not one station but three: Amtrak shares the space with the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit. All who schlep through the complex are united by a powerful urge to leave. “Everybody just wants to get the hell out of there,” says Mitchell Moss, director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:26 AM on January 10, 2018 [3 favorites]


I know it goes without saying but Chris Christie can go fuck himself forever.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:19 AM on January 10, 2018 [3 favorites]


The Most Awful Transit Center in America Could Get Unimaginably Worse

The article discusses the "new Penn Station Entrance Hall" that is under construction. I ended up using it by accident after Christmas while coming home - it's basically just an alternate exit to the station that took me to a different exit than I would have preferred.

Also, it's already falling apart and it isn't even finished yet.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:31 AM on January 10, 2018 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos: Reminds me of the flooding and leaking situation with the new Hudson Yards station. Or the escalator failures on the 2nd Avenue Line. Christ, even when we get something new, we can't do it right.
posted by SansPoint at 12:08 PM on January 10, 2018




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