by Oliver; Jan. 25, 2015
RantGood day or bad—good night or bad—in New York, my last impression of this city before getting home is usually, "God, this place is such a shithole!" That's because my way home often involves the subway. So whenever somebody tells me how great New York is, or I hear the phrase "American Exceptionalism," I'll always feel a twinge as I weigh those words against the crusty, dysfunctional slum below the city. The embarrassingly filthy MTA puts a hard, low ceiling on the quality of life in New York City and ensures it will never rise to basic pleasantness—unless you're rich enough to opt out of the subway by getting a personal car.
The one thing transportation systems are supposed to be engineered for, predictable reliability, is the one thing the MTA is not. As you wait for your train on a slummy, trash-strewn platform, questions swirl through your head: "Where is my train? What random-ass, unpublicized service changes or stoppages are going to torpedo my travel plans?" And, most distressingly, "Can our society possibly care this little about public transportation?" Everybody who is doing the right thing by not contributing to car pollution and traffic gets a big, hairy "Fuck You." So don your virtual bubble boy prophylactic suit—without further ado, here is the New York City subway in pictures.
Still life with feces and plastic bag, 168th St.
Crumbling ceiling, Times Square.
Tableau, 125th St.
A subway car built by the long defunct Pullman-Standard Company and refurbished in 1991.
A bucket jury-rigged as a speaker? 34th St.
A sign smithed in a Middle Earth forge.
(Image credit: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews via NYC Subways Slowly Upgrading From 1930s-Era Technology)
The caption from NYC Subways Slowly Upgrading From 1930s-Era Technology explains, "In this Dec. 16, 2014 photo, lights on a section of the MTA subway interlocking switch and signal control board shows train locations, at the 4th Street MTA Supervisory Tower in New York."
(Image credit: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews via NYC Subways Slowly Upgrading From 1930s-Era Technology)
The captions from NYC Subways Slowly Upgrading From 1930s-Era Technology note, "This Dec. 16, 2014 photo shows manual levers on a section of the MTA subway interlocking switch and signal control board, in New York... The 1930s technology of switches and relays requires a human operator to use hand levers to manually route trains and keep them separated at safe distances."
Here's a YouTube video about the MTA's ancient technology:
(Video credit: YouTube: CBTC: Communications-Based Train Control)
A familiar sight—trash on the tracks half submerged in fetid water, 42nd St.
Table for two, 168th St.
Heaven for birders.
Nuclear winter, 145th St.
Rats are everywhere—on the tracks, on the platforms:
(Image credit: Michael Appleton for The New York Times via Rare Disease Strikes a Bronx Area All Too Familiar With Rats)
(Video credit: YouTube: New York City rat taking pizza home on the subway)
and, in this classic YouTube video, on the subway cars themselves:
(Video credit: YouTube: RAT on the New York subway!)
L train fail, 14th St.
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- ‘Money Out of Your Pocket’: New Yorkers Tell of Subway Delay Woes
- Tired of New York’s Subways? Blame Andrew Cuomo
- New York City’s Subway System Violates Local and Federal Laws, Disability Groups Say
- Subway’s Slide in Performance Leaves Straphangers Fuming
- Subway Ridership Declines in New York. Is Uber to Blame?
- NYC Subways Slowly Upgrading From 1930s-Era Technology
- Audit: New York City Subway Tracks Filthy, Overrun With Rats
- Phone service finally penetrates New York Subway
- New Yorkers To Mayor De Blasio: 'Get Used To It'
- Bubonic Plague in the Subway System? Don’t Worry About It
- Someone Tied a Used Condom to the F Train
- You Are Not Insane, The New York City Subway Is Getting Worse
- Fixing all the problems at MTA subway stations will take 52 YEARS, says report
- Ancient subway trains on C and J/Z lines won't be replaced until 2022, documents say
- Despite woeful service, MTA fare hikes take effect to cover raises
- Why Flashy Plans for LaGuardia Don't Impress Transit Advocates
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- Charting the New York Subway's Plunging On-Time Rate
- It Would Take Until 2067 To Fix Every New York City Subway Station
- The New York City Subway Is Full Of Garbage
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- How to Save New York’s Overwhelmed Subways
It was 8:30 a.m. on a Tuesday during the height of the morning rush on the nation’s busiest subway. Suddenly, power went out at one station in Brooklyn, but that lone failure triggered a meltdown that crippled service across New York City, stranding countless commuters whose plans for the day were derailed.
One woman never made it to housing court and now faces eviction. Another missed a doctor appointment made months earlier. A graphic designer lost $100 in wages. A computer technician paid more than $50 for an Uber car to make a meeting. A lawyer was late for a sentencing. A pastry chef who needs every hour of work he can scrounge lost an hour and a half of pay. A psychoanalyst never made it to her session with a patient. Neither did her patient.
These are the very real human costs, financial and otherwise, of a single subway disruption — just one painful delay in what has become a season of transit misery. On this day, like so many others, New Yorkers missed job interviews, medical appointments and other basic responsibilities of daily life. They waited endlessly on platforms for trains that never came. They crammed into overstuffed buses. They emailed apologies to bosses and clients.
For many riders, the subway is failing at its fundamental task — getting people where they need to be when they need to be there.
New Yorkers have recently been treated to repeated subway meltdowns. This month, two power failures in Brooklyn caused delays and reroutings on seven lines. On April 24, a signal failure and track fire led to significant delays. And three days before that, a power failure in Midtown Manhattan led to a near systemwide breakdown.
These wholesale disasters come on top of all the minor breakdowns and delays that characterize a typical rush hour in New York these days. And each time these failures occur, we leave hundreds of thousands of riders stuck underground, sometimes for hours. The economic costs of these delays are enormous. But the human cost of missing work or school, or being late to pick up your kids from day care, or canceling appointments, is just as important.
Yet the governor has been conspicuously absent as riders vent their frustrations about our subway system. And when the M.T.A. finally announced a plan this week to tackle subway delays, Governor Cuomo was nowhere to be seen. Instead, the agency’s acting executive director talked about a $20 million investment to try to address the problem — a far cry from the billions of dollars the governor has promised the agency and so far failed to deliver.
As a state agency, the M.T.A. is ultimately run by Governor Cuomo — yet rather than face its challenges, he has instead taken up other priorities: rebuilding the Tappan Zee Bridge, redesigning La Guardia Airport, revamping Penn Station. In short, he has done an excellent job funding projects to help people flee New York City, but has been content to keep an arm’s length from a crumbling subway system that carries 1.7 billion passengers a year.
One reason is obvious: Governor Cuomo can use the M.T.A. as a shield from criticism from commuters, who blame the agency for their commuting woes instead of pointing the finger at the man behind the curtain. This misdirection gives the governor cover to raid tens of millions of dedicated transit dollars to fund other projects, spend two years refusing to fund the M.T.A.’s ambitious 2015-19 capital plan to invest in subway and bus infrastructure and — just a few months ago — wipe $65 million a year from our subways and buses with the stroke of a pen. The consequences of years of disinvestment have been severe: Riders now have to contend with more than 70,000 delays a month (well over a delay every minute) and record levels of overcrowding on trains.
The other reason for Mr. Cuomo’s avoidance is that fixing mass transit is difficult. It’s expensive, it’s complicated and the benefits often don’t accrue until long after the elected officials who funded them have moved on. Many a politician takes a hard look at public transit and decides to find an easier fight.
But right now, New Yorkers don’t need a politician. We need a leader like those who had the foresight to build this sprawling, messy, utterly essential system and sustain it for over a century. If we want to keep public transit running for another century, Governor Cuomo must make necessary investments now. As a first step, he should give the M.T.A. the full $8.3 billion he has promised for its capital program, rather than make it wait years and borrow billions of dollars more.
Governor Cuomo can think big when building bridges or airports. He should apply the same grand vision to our vital public transit system. Installing modern signals should take years, not decades — the current plan stretches beyond 2050 to implement 20th-century technology. He should replace all cars that are past their useful life; some of today’s trains date to the 1960s. He should make buses an attractive alternative for riders, as they are in London or Seoul, by investing in inexpensive improvements like all-door boarding and traffic light priority. And most important, he should announce an influx of state funding above and beyond the M.T.A.’s existing capital budget to pay for these necessary improvements, instead of making riders shoulder the cost through ever-increasing fares.
Over a year ago, my organization, the Riders Alliance, collected hundreds of “subway horror stories” from riders. Sadly, since that time, the problem has grown only worse.
Subway delays have jumped to more than 70,000 each month, from about 28,000 per month in 2012, according to the data. On some lines, trains arrive late to their final destination well over half the time.
Adding to the misery is worsening mechanical performance — a troubling sign that the train fleet is not being adequately replaced or maintained and a problem that has contributed to the spike in delays. The average distance that subway cars travel between breakdowns was about 120,000 miles in November, down from 200,000 in November 2010.
The decline in service is frustrating many passengers as they stew on stalled trains, pressing uncomfortably close to other riders and worrying about being late to work. When an overstuffed train arrives, commuters must decide whether to squeeze aboard or wait for another, however long that takes.
Subway riders have unleashed a torrent of complaints on social media, venting that poor service is becoming the norm. With increasingly regularity, it seems, the transit agency has been issuing sigh-inducing alerts on Twitter: a police investigation on the D line; a sick passenger at Grand Central Station; elevator repairs leading to unsafe crowds on the No. 1 line.
Erin Buckley was caught in one of the delays this month when her F train stopped abruptly in Manhattan. A mechanical problem left her stuck on board for more than half an hour. “The last few months have been maddening,” said Ms. Buckley, 27, who lives in Brooklyn.
New York’s century-old subway is straining to handle nearly six million passengers each day — its greatest ridership since the 1940s and up from about four million in the 1990s. More than a third of subway delays are caused by overcrowding, which accounted for nearly 30,000 delays in November. As passengers jostle to get on and off, trains must sit longer in stations, leading to a cascade of delays along a line.
Subway delays have more than doubled in the past five years, and trains are more frequently breaking down.
As riders fume over worsening service, on Thursday several members of the transportation authority board criticized Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who effectively controls the agency, for cutting $65 million in state aid to the M.T.A. in his executive budget.
New York City's subways—the nation's biggest mass transit network—serve more than 6 million daily riders who depend largely on a signal system that dates back to the Great Depression.
Antiquated electro-mechanics with thousands of moving parts are still critical to operations. Dispatchers still monitor most trains from 24-hour underground "towers," and they still put pencil to paper to track their progress.
That eight-decade-old system is slowly being replaced by 21st-century digital technology that allows up to twice as many trains to safely travel closer together. But there's a big caveat: It could take at least 20 years for the city's 700 miles of tracks to be fully computerized.
Of the subway system's almost two dozen major lines, just one, the L linking Manhattan and Brooklyn, currently operates on new, computerized, automated signals. And the modernization of the No. 7 line from Manhattan to Queens has begun, to be completed by 2017.
So, for at least the foreseeable future, New York subway riders can expect the snags, weekend shutdowns and overcrowding they have become accustomed to.
An audit by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has revealed that subway tracks are filled with rats, dirt and garbage...
“We got a gin bottle. We got a 7-Up bottle. We got an orange juice bottle. We got an old sneaker. It’s all laying in muck and mud-sewage water and rats are running like crazy,” Ozone Park resident Michael O’Shaughnessey said...
Riders are calling for change.
“It’s disgusting. That’s just nasty,” subway rider Irene Sumpter said, pointing to the garbage-strewn tracks at the East Broadway station along the “F” line. “We could have a beautiful subway system if somebody would just put in some hard work.”
Some well traveled New Yorkers expressed amazement that the city was only now taking first steps toward spreading high-tech communications below street level.Note: Most stations and subway cars are, in fact, still without phone service.
"I come from Germany and there it's very advanced. I'm not surprised, because the United States is very far from being an innovator anymore. That was last century," architect Thomas Winter, 47, said.
"Just look at the subway," he added, gesturing at the dank, dirty tunnel on the L line. "When it rains, it drips through the ceiling."
Big city mayors love to ride subways, after they're elected. Their iron-clad official automobiles may be comfortable, efficient, and wi-fi'd, but a politician who rides the subway now and then is better optics...
This week, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York decided to take the A train from lower Manhattan to a midtown tech conference near Penn Station. The mayor left himself 15 minutes, which is shaving his New York seconds pretty close.
But the A train was delayed; track problems, transit officials said later. The mayor simmered on the platform, encircled by his police guards. He trudged upstairs to try to get back into his security vehicle; but his driver had left to pick him up at the tech conference.
His car turned around to fetch him, and once the mayor was back on plush cushions he sent an email to his chief of staff and the head of his police detail.
"We waited 20 mins for an express only to hear there were major delays," the mayor thumbed. "We need a better system."
After swabbing more than 400 subway stations for all kinds of microorganisms, researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College reported this week that they had found evidence at points across the city of bubonic plague, the Black Death that ravaged 14th-century Europe.
This was hardly surprising. Everyone who rides the subway knows it is teeming with rats, which in the right environment can be infested with fleas that carry plague. Medieval quantities of rats.
Witnessing disgusting behavior on the subway is just part of living in New York. You get used to it! It's a rite of passage! But nothing you've seen before could have prepared you for this one.
It's not all in your head. You aren't going crazy. Each day, as you stand there desperately clinging to a greasy pole, just trying to get to work, and you encounter yet another delay, you can tell yourself that it really is happening. The New York City subway is getting worse. The numbers prove it.
By one of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's measures, the total number of delays in 2014 increased an astonishing 45.6 percent over 2013. Even the MTA's less drastic numbers still point to slower service. More is at work here than meandering crowds of uncivilized cretins sullying the sacred shrine to transportation the the New York City subway once was. But the agency has no clear institutional explanation for the decline...
It's hard to directly compare New York's performance with that of other cities, many of which evaluate themselves using different metrics. The New York subway system is more than a century old, built out of multiple competing lines, and its passenger load and round-the-clock service create a singular set of stresses. When MTA chief Jay Walder left New York for Hong Kong's MTR system three years ago, he was jumping to a modern system that boasts a 99.9 percent on-time rate.
It'll take more than half a century for the MTA to fix all the problems with its 468 subway stations, according to a report released Wednesday.
At the current pace of repairing 280 station components — such as staircases, ceilings, platforms or pillars — every year, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority can finally relax in the year 2067.
That’s according to a new report by the Citizens Budget Commission, which compares the MTA’s task to Greek mythological figure Sisyphus, who is condemned by the gods to forever push a boulder up a hill, only to see it roll back.
“The reason the task is so Sisyphean is you not only have a backlog of repairs from the bad old days of the 1980s . . . but you’ve also got extremely heavy use of the system,” said Jamison Dague, the report’s author.
The worst station is the 52nd St. stop on the 7 line in Woodside, Queens, with 79% of its 29 structural parts in bad condition.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is expecting its order of state-of-the-art trains to be delayed, meaning ancient train cars now on the C and J/Z lines will stick around until 2022, according to budget documents and transit officials.
The old trains — a model called R32, which were considered cutting edge at the 1964 World’s Fair — are unable to leave life on the rails by 2018 as planned, costing the agency $50.2 million over the next four years in maintenance and extra train staff, according to the budget docs.
Today, for the fifth time in eight years, the MTA has hiked subway and bus fares: A monthly pass is now $116.50, up from $112, and single rides are up a quarter to $2.75.
Meanwhile, the subways are worse than ever.
Over the past month especially, not a day goes by without serious delays, cancellations and overcrowded subway cars and platforms. It has become impossible to predict the length and route of one’s commute. This Monday and Tuesday, the L train — already stretched to the max by its never-ending population explosion — stopped running during the morning rush.
Know how many subway lines aren’t running their regular routes this weekend? Just the 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, A, C, E, N, Q, F, D and S. The L is running this weekend — unlike the past six or so weekends — but there are service changes on weeknights.
The “slow, dated” and “almost universally derided” La Guardia of today, proclaimed Cuomo, is “un-New York.”
As soon as the press conference ended, the city’s transit advocates started finding fault with the governor’s priorities. “If an airport that’s slow and dated and universally derided is considered un-New York,” asked Ben Kabak at the blog Second Avenue Sagas, “what exactly does that make the subway system and remainder of the transit network that millions use on a daily basis to navigate around the city?”
Ben Fried at Streetsblog asked the same question, adding, “New York’s failure to impress tourists who fly Delta is a problem Cuomo wants to personally address. New York’s crushing traffic congestion, unpredictable subways, miserably crowded platforms, and slow buses are just part of the city’s charm” ...
Here’s how Kabak put it at Second Avenue Sagas:
In terms of bang for your buck, an overhaul of the Port Authority Bus Terminal or a real plan to rebuild Penn Station and start moving on trans-Hudson tunnels would affect far more daily travelers than a rebuild of LaGuardia airport, and the dollars would be comparable. But Cuomo doesn’t talk about these proposals because he doesn’t take buses or trains; he flies and he drives...
Meanwhile, day in and day out, 8 million New Yorkers and the millions more suburbanites who commute to the city daily face packed platforms, a steady drumbeat of fare hikes, and service that is increasingly unreliable—with subway delays up about 20 percent this year over last. The threat is that eroding subway, train, and bus service without a change in the tolling system will push more people to use private vehicles or car-sharing services, increasing congestion and exacerbating the spiral of disinvestment from transit.