Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The New York City Subway System

Photos from the Internet

Is there any public utility that has such little regard for its survivors…I mean riders than the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA)? Let us look at the subway as an illustration.

What a mismanaged mess so many of us are forced to endure day after day after day. And soon, not only are the fares supposed (read: are) to go up again so soon after last time, but also the MTA has already announced that after the hike, service will still be cut. To what, I’m afraid to ask, because it is already pretty bad. Below are just some examples.

[Graph from]
There are so many ways the MTA lies to us. The MTA claims poverty while just a short time ago they had a surplus in the millions. Yet, they refuse to show anyone their accounting ledgers, even to the City – who should just go in and seize them. We have a right to know where our fares to. But transparency and responsibility are just two of the words not in the MTA’s lexicon.

The Authority’s whole “on-time record is based on falsehoods. As anyone in an outer borough knows, unless your station is built as an “express” stop (i.e., build on the center track), to make up time for their lateness, the train will run on the center track, leaving the other riders to wait for the ext one, which could mean 20 minutes more (again, this is before the service cuts). Supposedly, if one is on a late train, one can write down the car number and your boss can check out if it is your fault or not. Of course, most of the time, the train is on time, even if you are not. How do you say to her, “Well, the train was on time, but I’m late because of the train”? The MTA’s on-time record is officially bad, but it is actually much, much worse.

Most of the information is either direct or indirect lies. “There is a train right behind this one,” more often than not, is a wide stretch of the truth, when that train behind may not have even yet left the terminus. And then there is the ultra-vague, “We are being held here by supervision.” How about why we are being held? And how long the delay is expected to last?

And speaking of being held hostage, why are drummers allowed on subway platforms? While I admire the talent it takes to play the instrument, with the large echo common to stations, the snare-cymbal-and-sometimes-bass is exceedingly loud. After a hard day of work, the last thing I need is a drummer pounding his skins. It’s not like one can walk to the other side of the station, because there is no way away from it. Certainly I love a good drum solo, just not in a reverberating tube.

Most of the time, people asking for money or playing an instrument/singing in a subway car, is easy to take, since other than the rare overly aggressive panhandlers, they come and go quickly. This is not so with preachers who will pace a single car for many stops (uptown, I have seen them go from Atlantic-Pacific all the way to 7th Avenue). They usually preach not the Bible but an angry (“Believe as I do, or burn for eternity”) and anti-Semitic (“Adam and Moses betrayed God!”) interpretation of it. If there were some kind of enforcement of the no preaching on government property, that may help, but I have often seen these preachers rant while the Transit Police (TP) navel-gazed close by. Bet the TP would take action if they were yelling and preaching about Islam rather than Jesus.

Speaking of the TP, I have often seen those announced “check backpack” tables with three or four TP standing around and either merrily talking to each other, or on cell phones. Looking back, I have seen them actually looking into a bag once, and that belonged to an African-American in a predominantly white neighborhood. So much for social justice for all.

Why it is that some stations (e.g., 57 Street and 7th Avenue) do not have anyone in the token booth, but do have someone standing around the overcrowded vending machines? Does it not make more sense to have someone in the booth, so both the vending machines are working and cards can be issued, rather than having long lines standing in front of the machines? Also, if a vending machine is broken, and the booth is occupied, why won’t the person sell a single ride? It is not the passengers’ fault these machines are don’t work. I’ve had to walk to another station on another line in a hard rain because of this. While I never have done it, I understand why some people would jump the turnstile in these situations.

While I bring up the topic of transit workers, it is possible to hire people who care about their riders? As noisy and rude as some passengers can be, no one can top transit crews. Whenever I share a car with them, three or four guys will take up a whole section, talk at top volume, shouting at each other across the train, and often use vulgar language no matter who – or how young or old – the people are around them. They should be setting examples, not expressing hostile “ownership.”

We all have horror stories that are commonplace. Like having the train that one needs to transfer to pull out just as the train one is on stops. Just the other day, I was sitting on a train parked in a station for quite a while, and when the train across the way pulled in and opened its doors, that is when my train shut its doors and pulled out. At some point the MTA made announcements saying that even if they wait 30 seconds, it would upset the whole system. That is a lie, because they make us wait anyway. There is no need for trains not to be able to make connections if both trains are across the platform from each other. It is cruelty.

Part of the problem is that those within the MTA who make the decisions about the MTA do not ride the MTA. Rather they ride in town cars paid for by the riders, or get free parking placards and E-Z Passes (and I bet they get reimbursed for gas). When hearings are held by the MTA about rates and services, a long stream of constituents tell of the hardships it will produce while it falls on death and uncaring ears. If I remember correctly, at the last set of such hearings, some members of the Board sent underlings with no power for change in their stead, rather than bothering to go at all, since even they know they do not really care, and the hearings are an empty legal formality and nothing more (as was the term limits hearing for Mike “Mayor of the City; Mayor for some of the City” Bloomberg recently).

Meanwhile, ridership is higher than it has ever been, and there will soon be fewer trains. Is the MTA going to hire people to shove riders into cars, like they do in Japan? We are already treated like cattle, so this step is probably inevitable if they continue in this direction.

Right now, there are some major discretionary expenses for the Subway system, including the 7 line extension to 34th Street/Jacob Javits Center, and the 2nd Avenue line. They should obviously be cut, especially as we are in a recession (thank you, Mr. Bush and fellow “let’s deregulate” Republicans).

One action that I truly believe must be taken is that all executives in the MTA should be mandated that they must experience their own handiwork by riding the subways/buses to and from work, and between meetings. All free rides and privileges should be taken away from them (both for the system and for driving), and make them suffer as we all do.


  1. well said buddy, thanks

    I asked a bus driver about the MTA's budget crisis and he stated "don't believe it. You know how many people ride the buses and especially pay the tolls." I pretty much agree with him. On a LIRR train from Port Washington to the city, all the passengers pay around 6-9 dollars peak to commute to the city. Times that by like 600 or so and you have record profits. It seems like the MTA should be traded on the NYSE. With respect, what do ya'll think of this. With respect, please feel free to comment.

  2. Yes, I firmly believe that the MTA is either flush with money due to the large amount of ridership and toll intake and lying due to greed, or they are broke because the money is going into pockets it doesn't belong due to graft. Either way, it is their constituents who are forced to endure their ill willed attributes.

    I actually witnessed someone asking the conductor a question, and the conducter shut the window to his booth while saying, "Go to hell." All the person did is ask is a certain train was running at that time.

    The biggest problem with the MTA is that it is only self-regulated, and there is no one to to whom they have to answer. They need to be a branch of the government, and not a self-governing entity, especially since there is no way to have a competitive challenge (read: they are a monopoly).