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How Politics and Bad Decisions Starved New York’s Subways (nytimes.com)
311 points by jseliger on Nov 20, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 303 comments



The MTA's problems begin and end at a weak senior management unwilling to standup to Cuomo's frivolous micromanagement and a transit union unwilling to modernize.

Politicians should be pushing for serious procurement and labor work rule reforms, otherwise the systemic managerial and operational deficiencies will ensure that the deterioration of service we see now will repeat it self in 5 to 10 years, regardless of how much money or technology is poured into the MTA.

London and Toronto have been able to modernize much of their transit systems in last 5 years and its not because they have more money. Once you fix the top everything else will fall into place.

Look what Andy Byford has been able to do in 4 short years at the TTC. His 5-Year Plan to modernize the TTC focused on transforming corporate culture and updating internal processes, in addition to new equipment. The results of these changes have been overwhelmingly positive with the TTC recently being named best public transit agency in North America and The TR Class of TTC subway cars in May having a MDBF of over 924,000 miles.

If your interested in getting involved with transit activism in NYC I highly suggest you follow @2AvSagas on twitter.


When is the last time America built any impressive infrastructure? I'd say in the 70s.

Most airports, most of the interstate highway network, most subway systems, bridges, tunnels, and dams were built from the 1930s and on to the 1970s. The railroads are even older.

And after that; Silence. It's like you didn't even care to maintain it.

First time I arrived in America, I was taken aback by how old and run down everything was. The only places in Europe I had seen worse roads were in Eastern Europe shortly after the fall of the Wall. In the middle of Manhattan some streets were in a state that in Europe you would only witness in the Balkans or in rural areas. The airports and the link from airports to the city were even worse. The subways didn't even have info tables saying when the next train would arrive. At the same time in Europe, many cities were switching to driver-less trains.

Clearly, the US could afford to expand and maintain the infrastructure. And the US is usually on the forefront of technology. So it's about priority, more than ability. Public infrastructure is just not prioritized that much in the US.


Well, you're ignoring massive swathes of infrastructure types. Containerization has led to a complete revamping of US ports during that period. The electrical infrastructure has been massively upgraded, including a huge decrease in coal fired plants. While passenger trains haven't been improved at all, freight train usage has grown rapidly and the already very extensive rail lines have been maintained (conflicting demands between passenger and freight being one of the major limitations on high speed rail). The entire internet was built during the period you specify. As was a nationwide cell network with nearly universal coverage in populated areas, despite a much larger area and lower population density than comparably developed European countries. The GPS constellation was deployed and opened up to the public. Automated banking and payment systems. Etc etc.

Not all infrastructure consists of roads, bridges, and tunnels.


This is an undervalued point, I'm glad it was added here.

I agree with the parent poster that infrastructure like roads, drainage systems, and passenger trains are built with minimal planning for maintenance and support, but it is worth remembering that those systems aren't the end of the story.

Train usage in particular is a misleading complaint. It's true that the US has worse passenger train support than many nations, but that largely comes down to a sensible cost-benefit choice. The US isn't especially well-suited to train travel - lots of obstacles, diffuse populations that require branching tracks or non-train final steps, long distance travel that requires sleeper cars. So instead, we have an exceptionally large amount of freightage on trains. It's a vastly more natural use - scheduled, hub-to-hub transit, bulky products, no need for food/sleep provisioning - but it's less visible so it disappears from the conversation.


Containers, cell phone networks, the Internet, internet banking etc is infrastructure that has been built and implemented in the rest of the Western World as well, many places to a higher degree or more advanced than in the US, while still maintaining and expanding roads, rails, electrical grid, subways and airports.

You are right that the US has lower population density than most of Europe, but Canada doesn't and it doesn't have the same lack of infrastructure maintenance as the US.


> the US has lower population density than most of Europe, but Canada doesn't

Population maps of the US [1] and Canada [2] highlight the problem with this argument, though. Canada has low total density, but it's overwhelmingly concentrated around the southern border of the country. The US concentrates population along three coastlines and the Great Lakes, and has more population to support in the low-concentration areas. (For example, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas exist.)

So southern Canada has better-than-US infrastructure at higher-than-US population density, while much of northern Canada has exceedingly limited infrastructure. Outside of Alaska, there's no territory in the US comparably written-off to much of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

An example: US highways are nationwide [3], while Canadian highways simply stop [4]. And despite the look of that projection, that's more than a quarter of Canada which is further from a highway than any point in the continental US.

[1] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/21/US_popul...

[2] http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2006/as-sa/97-...

[3] https://www.mapsofworld.com/usa/usa-maps/usa-road-map.jpg

[4] https://www.tc.gc.ca/media/images/policy/NHS_2007.jpg


If you exclude tiny Prince Edwards Island, the most densely populated Canadian province is Nova Scotia (with 17.4 Canadians per km2). More than 90 percent of Americans live in states have higher population density than the densest populated Canadian province. Only Maine, Oregon, Utah, Kansas, Nevada, Nebraska, Idaho, New Mexico, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska are more empty. Those 13 states account for less than 10 percent of Americans.

So - on a state by state / province by province basis, Americans live more close together than Canadians and should have better opportunity for maintaining infrastructure.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_populat...

And just like Canadians tend to cram together close to the coasts and the Great Lakes, Americans also cram together close to the Great Lakes and their coasts. Go 50 miles inland from either coast, and it's vastly less populated than near the coast, with the rivers as an exception. Take a drive from Buffalo to NYC, and you'll see that it's populated near Buffalo (Great lakes), somewhat near Albany (Hudson river) and again once you get near NYC (East Coast). The rest of NY State is rural.

Take a look at this map of US population density by county: http://i.imgur.com/hY8tpOn.jpg


Statistics don’t tell the story. Look at a population density map of Ontario.

30% of Canadians live in Ontario. About half of Ontarians live in the Toronto metro area alone. Overall about half the population lives in the top ten metro areas.

http://www12.statcan.ca/census-recensement/2006/as-sa/97-550...


Statistics do tell the story, but you gotta use the right statistics. Using the population of arbitrary geographical regions (provinces and states) isn't a useful measure. For transit and rail, a useful measure might be something like "population density of a region encompassing 50% of the metro area population."

A single rail line from Quebec City to Winnipeg, through Ottowa, Toronto, and Calgary, with a spur to Edmonton, would cover all eleven of Canada's largest cities, with 30% of its whole population. That's within those municipalities (i.e., people can take local transit to the inter-city rail line). You cannot draw any similar line that encompasses anywhere near that percentage of the U.S. population. Even if you connected America's 11 largest cities, you'd only have about 26 million people (about 8% of the country).

A big reason is that most people who live "in Dallas," for example, don't actually live in the city. Dallas and Ottawa are similar-sized cities of about a million people each. But Ottawa encompasses 70% of its metro area, while Dallas encompasses less than 20% of its metro area. Look at a satellite map of each city. Dallas is sprawl for about 40 miles in each direction from the city center. 40 miles from Ottawa is nothing in every direction (and for the most part, so is 20 miles).


Yes, thanks for this. I mentioned a few particularly empty provinces, but I think working from state/province level or even county level is a fundamentally misleading approach.

The obvious question is how many infrastructure hubs (cell towers, train stations, highways, etc.) are needed to cover X% of the population. And following that, how closely connected those hubs would be.

Suggestions like "Canadians live near the border, but Americans live near the coast so it's similar" completely ignore that reality. The Acela corridor (D.C. to Boston, including Philadelphia and NYC) is the most efficient population-coverage route I know of in the country, but it can't possibly touch the efficiency of that Quebec City to Winnipeg line. Among other things, America has two coasts, and also vastly less urban density than Canada.


We almost have that. VIA Rail operates "The Canadian" line that runs Vancouver-Edmonton-Saskatoon-Winnipeg-Toronto, as well as a line that runs up the ON/QC corridor from Windsor-Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal-Quebec City.

I can't speak for the latter, but we took the Canadian from Vancouver-Winnipeg for a family reunion a few years back. It was a great trip, except for the 6h delay sitting just outside Winnipeg due to backed up freight traffic (I believe VIA leases access to most of the track, and has to yield to any freight trains) that meant we were getting off the train and had to find a hotel at midnight, instead of getting picked up by family at a reasonable hour.


I think we're making the same point. The GP was pointing out (correctly) that PEI has the highest population density of a Canadian province, which is similar to small states like Maine.

I'm saying that the raw number isn't meaningful, and you have to zoom in to find value and evaluate it in context.


Look at the map I linked to. It’s the same in New York State, Texas and California.


Canada's population is mainly concentrated on the US-Canada border.


None of that infrasture is unique, impressive or better done than in Europe.

The point is that Europe did all that and more.

By the looks of it Europe just does public infrastructure better.


Well, that wasn't the point I was responding to. I was replying to this claim, "When is the last time America built any impressive infrastructure? I'd say in the 70s."

But to your point, I would argue that US achievements on the internet and cell networks are more impressive than Europe's because unlike Europeans Americans invented those technologies from scratch. And other than Russia, the US is the only country with a GPS infrastructure at all.

I don't dispute the claim that European nations and the EU have generally done a better job investing in public infrastructure, but I think the gap isn't as bad as some in this thread have made out, especially when you consider the vastly different conditions under which those policies were made. I've lived in a lot of countries, including the US and two European nations, and I've worked in project finance, so I have some direct experience with this. That said, the US desperately needs to invest in bridges and several other categories of infrastructure.


> And other than Russia, the US is the only country with a GPS infrastructure at all.

Wrong; there are three operational global navigation satellite systems: GPS (US), GLONASS (Russia), and Galileo (EU). China has a regional (Asia-Pacific) system that they are in the process of upgrading to global coverage, as well.


As usual, exaggerations on HN about how much Europe is better than the US. All of this is simply not true. I was born and raised in Rome and traveled through most of Europe and the US. There's highs and lows in both of them. Come to Rome and rent a car for a few days, you'll wish to be in Manhattan again.


I've driven in both. Rome is bad, but I would still say the roads are worse in Manhattan.


The roads are mostly resurfaced on a schedule that has them resurfacing nearly every day of the year. There is just so much more abuse on Manhattan asphalt from large trucks, heavy trucks, cars, construction, etc. that any given individual point can appear run-down, but then look fresh and new as soon as it is cycled through. You don't see many 16m trucks abusing streets in Rome :)

http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/motorist/resurfintro.shtml


Resurfacing every day of the year is kind of a meaningless metric, though. If the entire resurfacing department is 1 dude, he can be resurfacing every day of the year and only get a (couple?) streets done. The argument there is that the department isn't large enough, which fundamentally impacts the availability of good roads.

Trucks are another thing entirely, and I'd be delighted for them to be both taxed at a higher rate for road wear & tear, and to be somehow limited. But that's road design, and that's not going to be solved for a long time.


Re: Truck taxing, it doesn't have to be a long time -- we just have to not elect idiots. Bloomberg pushed it in 2008, NYC Council voted for it and the NY State Assembly shot it down.


> There is just so much more abuse on Manhattan asphalt from large trucks, heavy trucks, cars

"Abuse" is the right word. Perhaps it's worth rethinking how much of this abuse we allow. Giant trucks parading through Manhattan at will, tearing up the pavement, endangering cyclists and pedestrians, and generally lowering quality of life for residents is a policy choice, not some natural and unchangeable fact about the world.


I am all in favor of a congestion tax that was previously proposed (but failed, politics):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congestion_pricing_in_New_York...

I'd actually just settle for enforcement of existing law. 53' trucks are illegal in NYC, as is driving a truck down a street that is not a truck route. The NYPD could generate a lot of income if they simply enforce the laws on the books. You constantly see 53' trucks driving around (they even literally say "53'" on the side) and no one cares... until they make a turn and get stuck and block up traffic for a mile.


You don't see many trucks abusing the streets of Rome, only in certain areas. That said, I generally actually find the pavement in Manhattan better than in Rome.


My only issue with roads in Rome were drivers. Apart from that Italian roads are rather good if expensive.

Note I havent been to the south of Rome


Sure, there are ups and downs. But Rome is a very bad example, it's a down for many reasons and it's not representative at all.


> And after that; Silence. It's like you didn't even care to maintain it.

I'm not sure the overall comparison here holds, but this is overwhelmingly true. America has made a huge amount of funding available for new infrastructure, while constantly underbudgeting (and underspending) on maintenance. The result is a steadily growing liability that would render most suburbs and many cities insolvent if depreciation were honestly accounted for. [1]

The founder of Strong Towns was in fact a civil engineer who started the group in a fit of remorse over doing exactly that. [2] Hired to repair a suburban drainage system, he realized that the maintenance was too expensive for the town to pay, and federal grants were unavailable for small-scale maintenance. So instead he found a massive grant (9x the maintenance cost) to expand and modernize the system. It covered costs, but set up a needlessly large system with vastly more costs to cover down the road.

This is basically how all urban and transit infrastructure gets done here. Partly for cultural reasons, but largely for financial ones: you can't get emergency funding for new construction, but if you spend maintenance money on upgrades and expansions, then you can go begging for emergency repair funds on what you've built. [3]

[1] https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2017/1/9/the-real-reason...

[2] http://time.com/3031079/suburbs-will-die-sprawl/

[3] https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2017/6/4/this-is-why-inf...


Not generally like that in mug of Texas. Houston proper has some questionable roads — but that has been due to a series of mayors that are more interested in farmers markets and “pocket parks” than actually doing the dirty work of actually running a city. The state of Texas has great roads. Far better than anything you see in places like NY, NJ or other states with Byzantine labor agreements. I live in France now and the highways here in the south (such as the A7 are extremely good — and generally privately managed (our area is run by Da Vinci) while up near the Dijon area the roads get pretty bad by comparison (highways there are run by a different group,) while in Germany, I was generally unimpressed by the Autobahn — especially driving from Hamburg to Berlin. The southern French autoroutes are luxurious by comparison. Infrastructure in Paris is a bit decayed, especially the RER going to CDG airport, while the PATH train in the NYC area is actually really nice. Florida roads are generally really nice and historically, Louisiana roads were pretty bad — you noticed it immediately crossing from Texas — that was a result of years of the Feds denying federal funding for highways because Louisiana refused to be bullied into a 21 year old drinking age.

The Houston airport is nice — a lot of work done in the 1990s and a lot of renovation done recently funded by United Airlines. SFO is nice too. CDG in Paris is a shithole airport compared to Frankfurt and SFO and Houston. Heathrow seems pretty nice, at least Terminal 2 but they don’t compare to Seoul Incheon airport.

My point is that generalized statements about the American infrastructure aren’t generally fair since the US isn’t a monolithic organization — things vary widely due to local history. Heavily union places like NY and NJ generally have far worse infrastructure than places that aren’t so influenced by corrupt union “machine” politics. When labor bosses and the mafia have material control of infrastructure politics, you are going to have sluggish development. Another problem in New York is that’s you have seemingly dozens of agencies all stepping on each other: you have the City, the Port Authority, the states of NJ and New York, individual boroughs, multiple unions and then the Feds on top of that — and everyone in that chain has to get paid. It’s a mess.


I realize some of this is YMMV, but IAH is one of my least-favorite airports in the US. It was probably one of the worst-designed pre-TSA airports in the US; I know they couldn't have foreseen the uptick in security but adding security lines to that airport was definitely a hack.

Aside from that, Democratic party machine politics are starting to get dismantled by a wave of pissed-off progressive and tech-savvy millennials who are realizing the biggest hurdle to progress is coming from the Democratic party... Millennials have been abandoned by all the major institutions (unions, government agencies, religions, etc) so they shouldn't be surprised that we're coming for them on both sides of the aisle.


> My point is that generalized statements about the American infrastructure aren’t generally fair since the US isn’t a monolithic organization

Very true, but I'd say when talking about roads, that goes for the state level in places like Texas and even down to the metropolitan level. Where I live, there are 75 mph high quality privately-managed roads close to terrible ones.


Mexico was the same way. We drove across the country and some of the public highways were very poorly maintained but right next to it was a (very cheaply tolled) private highway that was nicer than anything Ive been on in Canada (I havent driven much in America). It was a joy to drive on a well maintained roads... the value is real.

Most people may not realize what they are missing, as a result of their local/state being crippled by incompotent public management or all powerful unions, as they don't know anything different.

Not surprised to hear that it's not the case everywhere in the more decentralized US. Competence and good laws are possible. Especially when it's in a lower tax state like Texas which shows its not merely a result of lack of access to money.


This was my experience of the US as well. Not only the state of the roads, but the poor quality of the buildings, and the incredible number of power cuts. It was more reminiscent to me of the third world than the richest country in the world.


You've got to be more specific. I've lived in NYC for almost a decade and I think the power went out 3 times and that's always been due to a hurricane. Power cuts are not something I've had to deal with in any significant manner in anyplace I've lived in the USA (and I've lived all over).


NYC, have also done road trips up and down east and west coast. Never been to the middle. I think I've experienced 3 power cuts in the UK in my entire life.


>"This was my experience of the US as well. Not only the state of the roads, but the poor quality of the buildings, and the incredible number of power cuts."

Power cuts? This comment can not be taken seriously. Power cuts in the US are quite exceptional and generally concern circumstance such natural disasters or a severe heat wave. An "incredible number"? Yeah right.


This is highly variable. When I lived in rural Alabama, power outages sometimes would happen after strong thunderstorms but that was about it. More recently I lived in downtown Atlanta and power outages were pretty much a monthly occurrence. This was just down the street from the power company's headquarters and next to tourist attractions like the World of Coca-Cola and CNN. It still amazes me how fragile the power grid is in the central business district of a major city. How rural Alabama keeps power on better than the middle of a metro of nearly six million is a mystery.


Maybe you're right. I'm trying to find hard facts on this, but it looks like not much data is submitted:

https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=27892

I've experienced quite a number when I've been there, and it's possible that I've been very unlucky.


I know in New Jersey people often lose power after big storms knock trees over power lines. Everyone has a generator. I once lacked power for a week.


US is a huge place, so experiences don’t generalize well. You’ll have to state the region and probably the city you visited for your statement to have any meaning.


Agreed. My home (outside DC) rarely has power cuts - maybe once every 3rd year during a heavy snowfall or other major weather event. And it's almost always repaired within an hour or two.

My office has more frequent outages, but that's due to heavy construction in the area (shouldn't happen, but it does, I guess).


Historically, America has a very pragmatic and cheap culture. I think a lot of the stuff hasn't really been upgraded because it, well, just works. When there's competition and impetus for moving forward, America moves forward very quickly. Otherwise, as long as whatever we have is good enough to reach our goals, we tend to sit on it.


Taxes. Every politician in the last 30 years got elected by promising lower taxes. Literally nobody in the US has ever asked: if taxes are cut how will it impact the budget?

All people want is lower taxes.


I would agree. The Federal gas tax was not raised since 1993. People love the idea of new transit systems and infrastructure but will freak out if gas prices go up a few cents.


The personal tax rate in the US seems generally on par with the EU. The United States certainly does not present as an outlier by any measure in this aspect.

From what I have read, the particular issue around public transit surrounds cultural trends around city population. The middle class left cities in droves after WW2, leaving city budgets starved (I believe the MTA's ridership peaked shortly after WW2 as well). A half century of neglect can do a lot of damage to infrastructure.

Additionally, public investment in infrastructure is not expedient for politicians with a focus on the short term. Investment in the MTA could take years to reap benefits--and most riders will just remember whomever pushed that investment as the individual who closed down the L train for a year. A long term focus makes no sense whenever you just want to get elected for the next term.


https://www.businessinsider.nl/trump-tax-plan-federal-defici...

Americans are YOLO. Part of me is in awe, there are rules against increasing the deficit and politicians are just wiping their ass with it.


and military spending.


Not true. US military spending as a percentage of GDP is comparable to many countries. In sheer dollars, it’s vastly more, but then so is the GDP. It isn’t like MTA money is being diverted to buy tanks.


No true at all. Of the developed industrialized western nations, not only is the US the highest by total dollars ($611b), it is also the highest by percentage of GDP (3.3% GDP).


A lot of American infrastructure was built during the new deal era when the federal government had a lot more desire to implement national projects, I don’t think that is still the case. The states are expected to build and manage their infrastructure, some states, like WA, are better than others.

Other countries where you see better infrastructure it’s because the national government has the power to drive the project forward (at least at the time).


[flagged]


This is so stupid it's not even wrong. Nixon, Ford and Reagan were not leftists, and Reagonomics is not characterized by a love of public spending on infrastructure.


Well go talk to so called leftists and you’ll see we really want to work on infrastructure. While I’m at it I might ask that you reevaluate your opinion on fellow Americans who have different views than you. The ones you see in the news and on twitter are not all of us.


True I guess, except for the part where it was a hodgepodge of tribes before the 60s too? Or am I missing something.


And except that the "protestant hard working American ethos" (perhaps "protestant/puritan work ethic" was meant?) somehow leads to increased productivity - which it doesn't.

Oh, and except for the perception that the USA is very leftist. Really, from a European point of view, it's quite the reverse.


Not only the US. It seems the rest of the world managed to build most of their infrastructure in the 60s and 70s.

Now if you look at large infrastructure projects, they are much more expensive, and proceed at a glacial pace.

Except in China, of course.


I live in France, and I was born in the early 80s and I can tell you that a lot has been done during my lifetime regarding infrastructure : high speed train lines, highways, subways, tunnels, bridges, etc... And it didn't stop.

I am not trying to tell that France does better than other countries, I think it's not even close. It is just that I know it best.

I think we tend to take everything that works for granted and forget about the difficulties in the past, only talking about present issues. Maybe the convenient road you are using every day didn't exist 20 years ago, maybe it was delayed several years and went way overbudget, but now, you feel like it has always been here, only paying attention when there is a problem.


I (half-seriously) blame computers. We can do so much now, with computers! So we do much...

Before, someone drew a line on a map, and that was that. Any problems had to be dealt with downstream.


Which bring up the subject of visible versus (mostly) invisible infrastructure. Large new hydroelectric projects are now rare but compare communications infrastructure of now to that of even the turn of the century and one can see a huge amount of spending and capacity taking place constantly. But buried fiber isn't seen, it's pretty much magic to most people. Cell and microwave towers only get noticed when they're an eyesore but otherwise go unnoticed. It's this invisible infrastructure where much of our investment now goes.


This nails it. Most first world countries managed to build most of their concrete infrastructure in the 60s and 70s. Unfortunately, little since then and maintainance isn't so easy.

It's impressive what China builds - they were decades behind but times changed. A huge parts of Shanghai city were rice field until 1990. Most skyscrappers were build since 2005. And now Shanghai has probably more skyscrappers than any other city in the world. Impressive also the amount of 2 or 3 story highways and the high speed trains.


>"In the middle of Manhattan some streets were in a state that in Europe you would only witness in the Balkans or in rural areas."

This is complete nonsense.


Do people in London and Toronto care enough to pressure their leaders about this? In my experience it's hard to find people in the U.S. who even bother to pay attention to who has oversight when it comes to transportation (and not just transportation, this is true for a lot of local issues).


I promise you that New Yorkers care about this deeply.

https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/the-human-cost-of-subway...

Any survey of New Yorkers and government services will tell you how much this matters.

The biggest problem is that the New York government at city and state levels is one of the most corrupt, oligarchic and undemocratic organizations in modern society. I cannot begin to describe how broken it is.

Here's a good example: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/18/nyregion/new-york-politic...

This leaves us with no levers of power over government decisions. When you take into account that the people who most heavily depend on the subway are also the poorest, we have even less power over the elected and appointed government class.


The biggest problem is that the New York government at city and state levels is one of the most corrupt, oligarchic and undemocratic organizations in modern society. I cannot begin to describe how broken it is.

We could have voted to reform the constitution and then stayed engaged enough to pick independent delegates instead of the same old insiders catering to special interests. But we collectively let the insiders and special interests talk us out of our once in twenty years opportunity to fix this nightmare.


Give me a break. The political conditions right now made it incredibly dumb to do a convention now.

With the ridiculous court decisions that have been made, the governor has unlimited, nearly unchecked power via the budget process. If you are happy or unhappy with anything, credit/blame needs to be directed at whomever the governor is from Spitzer forward.


The way New Yorkers got conned out of having a con con is the most disappointing thing that happened in politics this year IMO. It's amazing how pretty much every organization and politician right and left got together to oppose a chance for meaningful change.


What opportunity are you referring to?


There was a referendum to hold a constitutional convention which would be able to propose amendments to the state constitution.

For some reason I still don't quite understand, labor unions were viciously opposed to it, supposedly because they were afraid of losing their pensions.


> For some reason I still don't quite understand, labor unions were viciously opposed to it, supposedly because they were afraid of losing their pensions

That's the excuse they gave, but the real reason is simple. Labor unions already wield disproportionately massive power over the legislature in NY. Any attempt to reform NY government and hold elected officials more accountable to voters would inherently weaken some of their power, by comparison.

Labor unions don't want voters to have power for the same reason elected officials don't.


Their argument was that corporate interests and lobbyists would have proposed amendments that didn't serve to benefit the citizens of NY. Given that Citizens United is a thing, I can't blame them.


> Their argument was that corporate interests and lobbyists would have proposed amendments that didn't serve to benefit the citizens of NY. Given that Citizens United is a thing, I can't blame them.

They actively spread misinformation, among other things telling people that the convention would have the power to adopt amendments. Any amendment would still have to go to a direct referendum anyway, so it's not like voters wouldn't have to explicitly approve the amendments. This referendum was about starting the process - arguing against it because lobbyists might propose something bad makes no sense, unless you also forbid the legislature from proposing constitutional amendments too.

And that's why "corporate interests and lobbyists" wouldn't use this process to propose amendments benefiting their own interests, because they already have the ability to do that, through the legislature. The point of the referendum is to balance this - every twenty years, voters are supposed to have an opportunity to check thr power of lobbyists and legislators directly. Since New York doesn't do ballot initiatives the way other states do, it's the only way for New Yorkers to vote directly on statewide policy like this.

In fact, this was literally the argument they used. "Why should we pay millions of dollars for a convention, when we already have a process for amending the constitution?" Of course, this argument conveniently omits the fact that the whole reason this referendum is required to be held every twenty years is to serve as a check against special interest groups capturing legislators... which is exactly what they've already done!


Not up enough on New York state politics to know what the legislature looked like when this happened, but constitutional conventions are a little dicey since only God knows what will come out of them and be almost permanently committed to law. The 1789 US constitutional convention ended up with something entirely different from the Articles of Confederation, for instance.


My girlfriend thought it was for a Federal constitutional convention...


There is a movement for a constitutional convention via state conventions floating around. I had a lot of trouble figuring out their agenda though.

Given that Citizens United is a thing and that Bob Menendez somehow wasn't convicted in a pretty cut-and-dry bribery case, I don't think I want a constitutional amendment any time soon.


The Constitution is not flawed it's the powerful who ignore it that's the problem. The two most populated states have the very worst policies and on an epic scale. You wouldn't get them to change their corrupt ways no matter what changes are made. There's no going back. Strength is in their numbers even if you drew a picture of how it's going to end up they will argue their weak to ridiculous points to the very bitter end. California is particularly difficult to accept. They have ruined one of the most beautiful areas of our country. For what? To keep their lifestyle in their gated mansions. The peons be damned. We suffer the most gross injustices in decades.


That's because people keep voting for Democratic candidates, no matter their performance as incumbents.

Why can't people vote for the candidate of a different party? It doesn't have to be Republican. Why isn't there a "Fix the Subway" single-issue party running candidates that people can vote for?

The internal machinations of political party membership are only relevant if voters no longer have a de-facto choice on election day.


Because nobody outside of parts of NYC give a shit about the subway.

The MTA is a public authority controlled by the governor. Control was kept away from the city due to the city’s fiscal and corruption problems and the machinations of Robert Moses. The subway and busses were ultimately bailed out by the bridges and tunnels, which print money.


Which is why the first step is returning control to the municipal government, no?


That ship sailed many years ago.

Public authorities are quasi-government entities controlled by the the bond covenants. You have to line-up the interests of the bond holders with whomever controls the authority and is desiring change.

With something as broad in scope and rich as MTA is such a deep well of political capital, it's incredibly unlikely that anyone would give up any control. It's such a large enterprise there probably isn't one roomful of people who actually understand how the organization works. The current situation was created when the whole NYC transit system was completely insolvent back in the bad old days!

Read "The Power Broker" by Robert Caro. It will open your eyes to why things are the way they are.


If you have primaries it rally doesn’t matter the label of the candidate that gets elected - the problem really is that too few people bother to get involved at the primary stage and elect new uncorrupt people.


> you have primaries it rally doesn’t matter the label of the candidate that gets elected - the problem really is that too few people bother to get involved at the primary stage and elect new uncorrupt people.

In New York, thars not the problem. The problem is that a combination of different election laws make it basically impossible to win a primary without the backing of the party leadership itself.

So, primaries in New York are meaningless; there's basically no way to unseat a candidate who's supported by the party, no matter how much they're despised.


I think you're confusing national politics and local politics. DeBlasio has been Mayor for 4 years. The prior 20 years worth of mayors were Republican^. The Governors of New York have been 12 years rep, 12 years dem in that same time period.

^ Bloomberg flipped around parties for convenience of elections. In regards to this topic he would be on the conservative side given that he was constantly butting heads with the transit unions.


In most states there are laws that make it easier to run as a candidate for an established party, not to mention access to party resources.


> This leaves us with no levers of power over government decisions.

I'm not sure I understand this. Yes, the hand-picked successor will be able to fulfill the rest of the term, but then he's up for re-election. If people were actually outraged about this, they could vote him out the next time there's an election (just like they could have voted out the predecessor that set this process in motion). If people were really upset about corruption, they could have voted Cuomo out for killing the anti-corruption panel when it started to look in to corruption connected to him (IIRC, this happened just a few months before the 2014 primary).

It's hard for me to believe that these things really bother people when they keep voting back in the people who are doing them.


I'm a total outsider to this (being European and all that), but could lack of vote-created change be due to lack of serious candidates who are not the "usual suspects"? If a position isn't worthwhile to hold unless exploited, only exploiters will step up.

I don't know what kinds of offices are the issue wrt the MTA, but generally I have the impression that the USA could be better off with some elected offices less: an elected position is inherently unstable as far as careers go, so they appeal most to people with a bit of a gambling mindset. This is unavoidable in the highest ranks ("...worst form of government except all the others that have been tried"), but in the lower, less visible ranks where the corrective qualities elections are supposed to have apparently do not work very well, "low balling" bureaucrats might, on average, be the lesser evil.

However, even if there was widespread agreement over this (I suspect that it is quite a minority opinion), I don't see much of a migration path because a migration from elected to conventionally hired public servants would be beyond pointless if the new guys inherit all the broken culture from their elected predecessors.


> I'm a total outsider to this (being European and all that), but could lack of vote-created change be due to lack of serious candidates who are not the "usual suspects"?

I doubt it, mostly because when good candidates run you still see pretty low turnout and the good candidates often lose (and with downballot races, even the few people who bothered to vote have a hard time remembering who they voted for, let alone why). And this kind of apathy is everywhere; it's not uncommon to see some nationally famous political writers who are extremely ignorant about major local elections and don't even seem to care about them. And when it leads to bad outcomes, many people see that as an excuse for even more apathy: "See? We don't have a choice, this is an oligarchy, it's impossible to change things by voting, why bother."

I think you have a decent point about fewer elected offices, but it's hard to make a blanket statement because it's very situational since elected offices vary a lot by state. The political parties themselves could also benefit from fewer elected officials, for what it's worth.


That's not a very practical way to think about democracy. Yes, that's the middle school government-class platonic ideal of democracy and government, but that's not exactly the whole dynamic.

I mean do you also find it hard to believe that people are bothered by Trump? After all, "they" just elected him.


So, I brought up Cuomo's election in 2014 - let's look at that example. Teachout was running a reformist campaign against Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic primary (and Credico was running as well). Only 594,287 people bothered showing up to vote. Of those showing up to vote, 361,380 voted for Cuomo[1]. In November 2015, there were 5,778,460 registered Democrats in New York[2].

So in 2014, after a fairly serious issue involving Cuomo getting rid of an anti-corruption panel because it was investigating corruption connected to him, only 4% of registered Democrats - four percent! - bothered to show up and vote for someone other than him in the primaries. And this was for governor! Almost 90% of registered Democrats didn't vote at all - they didn't care one way or the other who would be governor. Down ballot races usually get even less attention.

Naturally, I'm not saying that there isn't anyone who cares and acts accordingly. But what I am saying is that the amount of people who care and act accordingly are a minority, and in many cases, a very small minority.

[1] http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/elections/2014/Primary/20... [2] https://nypost.com/2016/04/06/ny-voter-registration-barely-i...


> only 4% of registered Democrats - four percent! - bothered to show up and vote for someone other than him in the primaries.

New York has low turnout because it has a set of laws that serve to disenfranchise voters in ways that other states could only ever dream of. (Yes, people technically have the right to vote, but because of a set of laws which I've described elsewhere, there's no way for them to use these votes to hold their elected officials accountable, like there is in other states).

Once every decade or so, yes, there's a race that's moderately contested (like the one you describe). But at that point, people aren't in the habit of voting anyway.

By the way, in your example the only reason Teachout ran as a Democrat instead of on the Working Families Party as she'd planned is because of these laws. The Working Families Party was pressured into endorsing Cuomo as their candidate, to ensure that they'd retain their ballot access. Teachout was angry enough that she decided to run as a Democrat, knowing full well that she'd lose, because nobody in New York ever wins a primary without the backing of the major party[0].

Teachout is far and away an exception, not the rule. Even then, her run was purely symbolic, and she herself knew it.

[0] Again, due to a whole bunch of laws that give the party incredible influence in shaping the outcome of primaries.


> New York has low turnout because it has a set of laws that serve to disenfranchise voters in ways that other states could only ever dream of. (Yes, people technically have the right to vote, but because of a set of laws which I've described elsewhere, there's no way for them to use these votes to hold their elected officials accountable, like there is in other states).

The only laws I've seen you describe elsewhere in this thread is the delay in New York if you want to switch parties (was 6 months in 2016, now I believe it's up to ~11 months) and the fusion voting system. Neither of these prevents Democrats from voting in the Democratic primary, so I'm not sure which ones your talking about.

I'm not sure why you think contested races only happen once a decade. The year before the gubernatorial race, there was, (for example) a pretty well contested NYC mayoral race and NYC comptroller race. There have been plenty of contested races in the NY senate, (some connected to the IDC drama, like Tony Avella beating John Liu 6,813 to 6,245 with ~13% turnout) as well as the assembly and downballot races.


I am genuinely interested in more details. Any links you can give?


> I'm not sure I understand this. Yes, the hand-picked successor will be able to fulfill the rest of the term, but then he's up for re-election. If people were actually outraged about this, they could vote him out the next time there's an election (just like they could have voted out the predecessor that set this process in motion).

Not if they run unopposed in both the primary and general election.

New York election law is incredibly arcane and structurally makes it almost impossible to win a primary without the backing of the party, and the two parties have an agreement not to compete seriously in each other's districts. It's like how Comcast and Time Warner Cable divide up turf, so they don't ever really have to compete for the same customers.


> New York election law is incredibly arcane and structurally makes it almost impossible to win a primary without the backing of the party, and the two parties have an agreement not to compete seriously in each other's districts. It's like how Comcast and Time Warner Cable divide up turf, so they don't ever really have to compete for the same customers.

Can you give an example of these election laws? I see you mentioned a delay in switching parties elsewhere in the thread, but I don’t see how that makes it impossible for a candidate to win a primary without party backing.


Wait, /is/ that article a good example? It argues the source of corruption is that various local politicians can hand off their seats to a preferred successor, giving that successor and their party an incumbency advantage. I can see that being a provlem, instead of an open election, but...

“Vacancies are filled differently across the country. In 25 states, replacement legislators are simply chosen by appointment, either by the governor (11 states) or some combination of party and local officials (14 states), according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Varying rules govern the 25 states that hold special elections, but few bestow more influence on local power brokers than New York does.”

So, in 25 states the power to hand off succession is as or more concentrated. This would seem to put NYs succession regulations right square in the middle of the pack.


You can't look at an individual law alone. New York has a whole array of laws designed to protect the power of both major parties, and they work in conjunction with each other.

Want to switch your party registration? Go ahead and do it today - it won't take effect until 2019. Yes, you read that right. This deadline for change of party registration is an order of magnitude larger than the next largest state. New York also uses fusion voting to weaken third parties - they only have any influence whatsoever if they endorse the major party candidates, which prevents any real competition with the major party candidates. (See how Cuomo created the fake "Women's Equality Party" during the last election cycle specifically in an attempt to strip the Working Families Party of its ballot status).

There are a whole range of these laws, and if I were to go into all of them, I'd exceed the maximum length for a HN comment ten times over,. The end result is that New York is, objective, the most corrupt state in the country[0], and the system is also perfectly stable (in the literal sense) - there is no way, short of a federal court case, that any of these laws will ever meaningfully change.

[0] http://www.politifact.com/new-york/statements/2016/sep/19/el...


New York in the last decade has had more legislative turnover due to felony conviction than a competitive election. Even republicans don’t get kicked out until they retire or get arrested.

I live in a particularly stagnant political subdivision, but I’d say in the last 20 general elections, there have been maybe 3 that had something more than nominal opponents. Usually it’s for things like county coroner. They are more affirmation than election.


>"The MTA's problems begin and end at a weak senior management unwilling to standup to Cuomo's frivolous micromanagement and a transit union unwilling to modernize."

Did you read the article? The problems began in the 1995 under Governor George Patakis administration. Cuomo has only been in office for 6 years.


> London and Toronto have been able to modernize much of their transit systems in last 5 years and its not because they have more money. Once you fix the top everything else will fall into place.

TBF NYC does have the exceptional — almost unique — feature that it runs 24/7.


That's an infrastructure design thing though. You literally can't run the London Underground 24/7 because there's only one pair through the centre for each line, so when you shut a tunnel to send a bunch people in, you can't run the service.

Night Tube (the centre parts of the London Underground running continuously from early Friday to the middle of the night on Sunday) is mostly about re-arranging maintenance and cleaning programmes to avoid Friday and Saturday night closures. They hired a bunch more staff, but there's no infrastructure fix, so still nothing like New York.


I believe that I read something about upgrading the signalling and/or "third rail" electrical systems was part of it, so they can shut the line down in stages behind the last train and reversely in front of the first, rather than having to wait for the train to terminate at the end of the line and stopping as soon as the first train leaves, often up to an hour outside central London. This gives one or two extra hours of work every night which is why they don't need the weekend.

But quoting from memory, could well be mistaken.


And who hires the "weak senior management"? And has the authority to remove them?


I don’t understand why American governments are so bad at providing public services. Money often isn’t it. The NY subway has an operating budget of $8 billion for about 1.7 billion riders per year ($4.7 per rider per year). The London Tube has an operating budget of (2.2 billion pounds—$3.5 billion pre-Brexit) for 1.4 billion riders ($2.5 per rider). The systems are in extremely similar cities, are almost exactly the same route miles, and are similarly old. Yet NYC’s system costs almost twice as much to run.


I honestly don't either. It feels like everything we do costs 10x anywhere else for 10x the time. You would think the cost of building a few light rail lines in a city like Seattle would cost less than a cross-town subway in Japan. In my short life I've never seen America really build anything impressive in transportation - BART, the NYC Subway, the interstate highway system, and most of our airports seem like they were all built from the 40s to the 70s (and some earlier than that).


I think it has a lot to do with the way government in the US is structured, specifically the focus on local representatives. Because US legislators are beholden to voters in a particular locality, any time there's an infrastructure project which receives state and/or federal funding there is tremendous pressure to make it draw as much money as possible into the local economy. This is the classic "bringing home the bacon" which is expected of pretty much every US politician. This has increasingly become accepted as the norm in the US, despite occasional lip service from politicians. The truth is they are all too happy to accept spending lavishly on local projects, as long as it benefits members of their party.

Other developed countries tend to have parliamentary systems where policy making requires multi-party coalitions. When you need to get three or more parties on board there is less opportunity to get park-barrel spending passed without _someone_ crying foul.


> I think it has a lot to do with the way government in the US is structured, specifically the focus on local representatives. Because US legislators are beholden to voters in a particular locality, any time there's an infrastructure project which receives state and/or federal funding there is tremendous pressure to make it draw as much money as possible into the local economy.

You're describing the rest of the US, not New York. New York is the other way around, where extreme corruption and disenfranchisement means elected officials have no reason to pay attention to their constituents. Sheldon Silver was one of the strongest advocates for cutting bus service, even though his district has no subway service, so they all depend on it.


The reduction of pork barrel politics took away the carrot... we no realize that we have no stick.


The DC metro was mostly built in the 80s and 90s (early construction started in the 70s), and the Portland MAX started construction in the mid 80s and has been expanding regularly since then. Atlanta's MARTA rail network was built mostly in the 80s. There are examples if you look for them, though I'm not sure what all counts as "impressive" here.

Outside of city subways: Amtrak's Acela service (which is what passes for "high-speed" though I understand this is weak in comparison to Europe and Japan) was built and established in the early 2000s, and boosted Amtrak's share of the air/train travel on the NYC-DC corridor from 37% to 75%. Boston's Big Dig project, which for all its faults was certainly impressive, spanned a couple decades and was finished around 2004 or so.


Acela is technically capable of speeds that would be considered "high speed" for a legacy system (which is what this is, it's not like they could tear out New York city and build fresh then put it all back) of over 150mph. Unfortunately lack of investment means it doesn't achieve what is possible along most of the route.

Two main things you'd do if you had money and political will to speed this up:

1. Tear out old bridges (some have been "urgently in need of replacement" for a decade already) and replace with modern ones. Locals like how the old bridge looks? Great, hand over the money for a new one that looks the same. No money? You get a generic reinforced concrete bridge rated for 120mph and suck it up. This can be done in 24 hours per bridge for a short bridge, shut the railway, smash the old bridge, drop the new one in, test it, re-open the railway. If you have the manpower you can do ten bridges at once.

2. Eliminate at-grade crossings. These are unsafe even for lower speeds, they're lethal for High Speed Rail and must be closed. If practical add a bridge or tunnel. If not, too bad, close them anyway and people have to go round.


> it's not like they could tear out New York city and build fresh then put it all back

Several large cities in Europe have built new high speed tracks in tunnels under the city.

The track between London St Pancras and Stratford stations in London (and from Stratford further east) is an example. St Pancras is the end of the line, so the speed is necessarily limited by the acceleration and braking capability of the train, but [1] says the speed is 230km/h = 142mph. [2] says speeds in tunnels are limited to 270km/h (168mph), they probably mean a bit further out of the city.

Other than the last 1km or so, the whole track of this route is new.

Realistically, any city worth spending so much money on will have every train stopping at it, so there's no need for higher speeds in under-city tunnels.

[1] https://www.railforums.co.uk/threads/hs1-maximum-permitted-s...

[2] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/629/629/6969116.stm


> which is what this is, it's not like they could tear out New York city and build fresh then put it all back

I don't understand why not? Japan's high speed rail was added into multiple major cities without tearing up the whole city. What did they do that can't be done in the US?


Perhaps the litigious nature of US? Everything has to be over-planned, over-provisioned and triple checked with lawyers in case there is a kitten on the rail.


>The systems are in extremely similar cities, are almost exactly the same route miles, and are similarly old. Yet NYC’s system costs almost twice as much to run.

There is one fundamental difference between the two systems and that is that the London Tube stops service overnight while the New York City Subway remains open 24/7/365. Having a nightly maintenance window of several hours in which they can do preventive maintenance is likely a big factor in keeping costs down. Throw that in with the reduction of labor with limited hours of operation and I bet those two make up a solid portion of the difference in cost per rider.


MTA liberally shuts down service for hours/days at a time. I wouldn’t chalk it all up to not having enough time to do maintanence. It was 24/7 back when it was functioning more consistently as well.


Which is the exact type of things that leads to customer complaints. Customers have to be inconvenienced in order to do maintenance on the NYC Subway. In turn the bar to require maintenance will be higher than it is in London. The natural result of years of delayed maintenance is for the system to get worse and worse as time goes on.


I disagree that maintenance is more difficult in London than in New York. I spent about two weeks in London about a decade ago. The first thing that struck me is that when you arrived at the tube station in Heathrow you'd get all sorts of information about which lines were in service that day. In trying to navigate London there was a constant shuffle about which stations or lines were out of service. Plus it took about two hours to get from Heathrow to Victoria due to signal issues (the wrong kind of snow is also an issue, apparently).


That is not remotely a representative experience of today’s Tube.


The NY subway is also able to run 24/7 because of redundancies in routes, so they can perform maintenance without the subway stopping. London doesn't have this option.


Worth pointing out that there are redundancies in some routes, not in others. Sincerely, L train rider :)


Yeah service to Williamsburg is still dicey. You can be a sardine on the L, or if you're close enough to the JMZ, you'd better not have to ride back after 8pm (one or more of the trains may not be running).


The other fundamental difference being that the London tube has ~250mi (~402km) of track, while NYC has ~840mi (~1352km) of track.


London actually now has a night-tube as well.

Although that's only on Friday and Saturday.


In New York we have a public service union for virtually every public employee. Politicians buy the votes and political support of these unions (and their union members). This means that the average cop, transit worker, prison guard, and members of most other public service unions often make well over $100,000 a year salary (plus massive benefits) with many making upwards of $200,000 a year (with some making far more than that) plus full retirement after 20 years with a full pension for life. That means if you start working for the city or county at 21, you retire at 41, with a full pension and benefits for life (which needless to say, is a crushing financial cost).

As of 2014 over 100,000 MTA workers in New York City were making over $100,000 a year each, not counting benefits or pension costs.

https://www.empirecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/MTA-...

Take the time to see how many pages of police offers you have to scroll through in Nassau County New York alone before you get to a page where they start making under $200,000 a year.

http://data.newsday.com/long-island/data/nassau/payroll-2015...

I'm all for paying people a living wage, but its not hard to understand how, when you are spending countless billions (that increase every year) on paying countless cops and other public service workers $200,000+ a year how there is no money left over for maintaining (or, god forbid, upgrading) equipment. It doesn't matter which corporate party you vote for - Democrats and Republicans are both corrupt to the core and falling over themselves to secure these service-union votes. As a result our infrastructure is going to continue to crumble and our debt will continue to rise until we reach a breaking point which won't be pretty.


Here's a list for NYC:

http://www.seethroughny.net/payrolls/city-of-new-york

I do wonder how many of these are one-offs -- the cop making 650k (Adrian Schoolcraft) is on a closer look way less egregious than it sounds. He was something of a whistleblower in a way that fellow cops disliked, and this culminated in his house being raided and an involuntary hospital stay; the 650k is a settlement for all that. Daniel Carione is a cop on there for 450k, but that seems to be from a settlement after he was forced onto disability/retirement when he started wearing a hearing aid.

Even so, that list is amazing. Most of the entries are guys clocking a ton of overtime. The organization clearly wants to show public employees are overpaid, but it seems accurate. The NYT has cited them in the past.


How the heck is this even possible? 200k a year to be a cop? Talk about hitting the lottery.. How is this even allowed?

Is the crime rate even that high? Isn't Nassau County one of the richest county's in the United States?


Crime is low. Its possible because year after year the public service unions (police, prison guard, transit, ect) and a variety of other political patronage groups sell their endorsement for higher pay and better contracts. So every year the salaries and benefits continue to rise. This has been going on for decades. These salaries and benefits represent the vast majority of our county/city/village budgets and result in massive property taxes (and other taxes and fees) to support the bloated payroll. Its not sustainable and as a result we have seen infrastructure (like the rails and the roads) and other critical services suffer.


> The systems are in extremely similar cities, are almost exactly the same route miles, and are similarly old. Yet NYC’s system costs almost twice as much to run.

My two cents: things are more expensive in the United States due to us insisting on being so different in two major ways:

1.) Different safety and road standards. All of Europe, as well as many other countries have completely or partially adopted European road and rail safety standards. For example: in the United States if a passenger rail line shares track with freight trains the passenger cars are required to withstand collisions with heavy freight trains with a minimum of deformation. This makes everything heavy and unique. Emissions standards likewise mean that if you're still running diesel equipment that's all going to be very unique.

2.) We don't believe in social services in the United States. The NY MTA has to fund health care (via insurance) as well as pensions. TfL sure ain't subsidizing health insurance for its employees, although they may be funding a pension.

As it turns out the bigger your pool of risk, customers, whatever... the cheaper things get.


TfL is. Everyone does that. It's part of the taxes that employers pay on top of salaries.

That's part of the reason why the cost of an employee is so much higher than the salary, and it's one of the costs you save by having nominally independent contractors instead of employees.

TfL does have good planning, though, and is largely able to fix things before they grow too expensive.

https://pedestrianobservations.com/category/new-york/ BTW.


> TfL is. Everyone does that. It's part of the taxes that employers pay on top of salaries.

Right, but TfL is paying into a system that every working Briton pays into. What the New York MTA pays into (mostly) is a scheme that benefits a much smaller group.


From an outsiders view its the extremely devolved nature of the USA that causes a lot of problems. In a more centrally managed country eg France or the UK if there's a major SNAFU like this quite often the tabloids go on rampage and something gets done.

Similarly with Racist Sheriffs and problems with local police forces happen the Home Secretary can sack the senior police officer in charge.


France is geographically the size of Texas with 300 million fewer people and a few gazillion fewer square miles.


I think it just boils down to American voters either having lower standards or not being willing to punish politicians for incompetence.

If the subway service in, say, London or Tokyo or Paris became as bad as some of the systems in the US, it would be a major political scandal and the people running the city would fear for their jobs. That doesn't happen in the US, even in places like New York where a majority of commuters use public transit regularly.


>not being willing to punish politicians for incompetence.

Punish them how? Here in America (and especially New York) we have a "two-party" system that works arm in arm to steal as much money as possible to line their own pockets. Voting for a different party doesn't mean getting a different policy - it simply means that patronage money is going into the pocket of different politically connected cronies.


Most of the rest of the world has "two-block" politics in practice, if not formally. The vast majority of national elections are between two prime minister candidates, whatever the makeup of their underlying coalitions is fairly marginal.

I think the difference in the US is much more fundamental, pluralism is baked in to the culture in a way that is pretty unique anywhere in the world, so people have very strong reactions to members of other tribes seeking authority over them. This has gotten very explicit recently, but the dynamic was always there.


There are some "cultural differences" here in the US that are used by the two corporate parties to distract and divide the people, but when it comes to substantive issues, there is no difference between the two. The same generals preside over the same endless wars. The same rotating crowd of FED chairmen, SEC lawyers, and supply-side economists hold sway over our "economy" (see lifelong Democrat and Goldmach Sachs alumni Gary Cohen who is making economic policy for Trump). The same crowd of insurance and drug company lobbyists run our for-profit healthcare system (whether or not we call it "Obamacare" and offer insubstantial subsidies to people mandated to buy insurance they can't afford from for-profit companies for policies with massive deductibles that render the insurance largely useless). The same crowd of authoritarians are appointed to prosecute the "war on drugs", which is really a war on the citizens and civil liberties. The same group of CIA agents are appointed to run the same police-state domestic (and global) spying programs and group of other various police-state agencies that are steadily eroding what few rights and privacy we have left.

All of these things remain exactly the same no matter how much people cry about Trump, or wear pussy hats, or scream about 54 different genders or how "white supremacy" is the problem. All of these substantive policies would have been identical (and run by many of the same people) had Hillary won the election. In reality, the .00001% of the people who own this country and both corporate parties are laughing at all those people while they continue to rape the people and steal our freedoms.


NYC’s subway system doesn’t see improvement because upstaters are conservative and aren’t going to benefit from it. The wealthy boomer republican districts believe that expanding public transportation into their towns will bring in the undesirable poors, and also oppose allocating funds to projects that don’t benefit them directly.


Well, that's one of the problems with the MTA: it's not technically under the direct control of any individual elected official. The MTA is an independent agency governed by a board that consists of five members appointed by the governor of New York State, four by the mayor of New York City, and three by county executives on Long Island and Westchester.

If the MTA were simply a city agency for which the mayor was directly responsible, it would be possible to channel voter anger (and there's plenty of voter anger, by the way) into action. But it's the governor who really has the most control, and he's responsible to a wide swath of voters outside the New York City region (who tend to want less spent on the MTA in any case). Plus many voters don't really understand how the MTA is structured, and elected officials can hide behind this independent-agency arrangement.


Exactly. If you read the article, it answers the OP's question pretty thoroughly. Comes down to incompetence and favoritism at the highest levels. The voters simply haven't done anything about it.


In addition to what others have been pointing out, I think the government is also frequently being forced to be penny wise and pound foolish.

I remember reading here a few years ago that one example of this is how writing the proposals for big projects for which construction companies than put offers have to be outsourced because all experts have been fired by the government. This apparently frequently leads to the government getting a much worse deal than anybody else would. I think another thing that happens is that do much oversight gets added that all costs explode. You can't iterate on anything because if the first version isn't perfect it surely was a waste of tax payer money when you need to go back for the next iteration. So you better have several committees and a long proposal process to make sure everything is perfect and no money gets wasted. Great example is the TSA iPad app for random screening selection that was a big topic a few years ago. The app randomly showed a left or right arrow and and cost millions to make if I recall correctly. I think the government being inefficient is somewhat of a self fulfilling prophecy.


One reason voters in the US trust their government far less to do a competent and honest job than voters in other rich countries is that their government actually is that much worse.

As for why, that's a much harder question...


I study how large groups of people work together towards goals for a living. Whenever there is a large org not meeting its goals or performing much worse than another large org in similar circumstances, I look at feedback loops.

What are the feedback loops involved? Are there consequences for poor performance? Are they the same? How often is feedback measured? Do the reward/punishment systems reflect the goals of the people paying for the org to operate?

I'm not going to go down the rabbit hole here. Instead I leave it to the reader. It's not rocket science to figure out. I've worked in and around government bodies of all sizes (including some that I considered very well run) and the bad ones are all bad for most of the same few reasons.


Uh, mind sharing where you got those numbers? The budget for TfL I see here says a total operational cost of 10.2 billion pounds (http://content.tfl.gov.uk/transport-for-london-budget-2017-1...)


http://content.tfl.gov.uk/tfl-mayors-budget-2017-18.pdf (page 10) versus http://web.mta.info/mta/budget/pdf/MTA%202017%20Adopted%20Bu... (page II-A). I’m just comparing the Underground versus the subway + the Staten Island Railroad.


That's interesting The TFL budget and the mayor's budget don't seem to match precisely, although roughly the same.

I wonder why?


TfL manages more than just the London Underground. I think the other poster may be using the Tube's share of operating expenses?


TfL is way more than just the tube so I’m guessing op used numbers that broke out just the tube.


For reference the broken down numbers for the underground alone are on page 25 of that document. (page 13 or so in the pdf)


Bit late here, but I'll give my opinionated answer anyways. The public sector is overall of lower human employee quality than the private sector. A high quality person that wants to get something done without a ton of red tape just doesn't stay in government work for the most part. It's not salary related or even money related, it's accountability related. Fixing that requires firing many entrenched people which will not happen. This is why many successful governments in the US task the private sector with building, maintaining, and sometimes even managing these projects. That has problems too, but in many cases at least it's done in reasonable time with reasonable quality or there is someone to hang.

Oh and I should mention large seemingly-private orgs that win all contracts, especially that are highly unionized without competition, are essentially government orgs and suffer the same issues.


You haven't answer the core question, which is: Why can London do this, while NYC cannot? Is there less red tape with accountability in London?


Maybe, I am not familiar. I was addressing why Americans were so bad at public <anything>. I would appreciate someone familiar commenting on the competency of English government employees and politicians vs their private sector. Specifically if the gap is as wide as it is in the US, which I would assume it's not if anything gets done. It's pretty simple really, incompetence cannot accomplish things requiring competence; not really country specific.


That's only one fraction of what our govt tries to control. People think they literally need to run every aspect of our lives. We're finding out what it's like to have the govt run our healthcare and make decisions for us. The govt actually is supposed to be in office to protect us. If all goes well we will have many agencies closed that had no business being govt run. Private is always the best way to hold people accountable. That and competition.


Which is why the privately-run US health insurance system is the envy of the world.


Unions have a lot to do with it.


Why?

It always surprised me how few employees there are in busy NY stations. Those that I see always seem busy and exhausted.

In Montreal, there were some newspaper articles about how a few bus/metro drivers make $100k/year by doing a lot of overtime, blaming unions. However, this was an intentional policy from management who consider it more cost-effective to encourage staff to do more overtime, rather than hire more people (who may not have a full workload).


U.S. politicians aren't punished or rewarded for their choices in funding infrastructure. In large part, it's because one party supports, as one of their defining policies, almost any reduction in government spending, revenue, and services. I'm not sure the other party faces significant opposition to cutting infrastructure.

You can see it right now in the current tax bill. There is plenty of discussion about what will happen to whose tax rates, but almost none about what services, including infrastructure, will be cut if revenue is reduced. For one party, revenue reduction is, ipso facto, a good thing.

And to even more strongly contrast the current mindset with reality, there is almost no discussion about what government can do to help its citizens except for security.


That's an interesting theory but the New York City Council is over 90% Democrat[0], the New York State Assembly is over 70% Democrat[1], and there's only been one Republican governor in over 40 years.[2]

If you're going to blame Republicans, you should probably make sure there are enough to make a difference..

0 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_City_Council

1 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_State_Assembly

2 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Governors_of_New_York


The parent misinterprets the discussion and makes incorrect factual assumptions.

First, the question the GP addresses is about the U.S. in general, not NY subways:

> I don’t understand why American governments are so bad at providing public services.

Second, the GP discussed problems in the voting public and in both parties, while putting a preponderance of the responsibility on one party - a conclusion that seems hard to escape. The Democrats aren't radically cutting revenue and spending everywhere they are in office.

Finally, the NYC subway is operated by the state, not he city, and I believe it is funded in large part by state. Much infrastructure funding also comes from the federal government.


It's not just funding transportation though, it's also the oversight of projects. Few people take transportation funding into account when they vote; almost no one seems to take transportation oversight into account.

I think also looking at it simply as a party problem hurts things, because there can be a lot of difference within the party, but people tend to overlook these things (and again, not just in terms of the amount of money that's spent, but also in terms of how it's spent).


> looking at it simply as a party problem hurts things, because there can be a lot of difference within the party, but people tend to overlook these things

The GP comment didn't describe it simply as a party problem; it put some accountability on both parties, and blamed the voters and everyone else participating in public discourse.

But sure, one party has made it a policy to cut spending, including on infrastructure. While the parent might be right that there are a lot of differences within the GOP, those differences aren't meaningful because they result in no differences in votes, laws, or public debate. They vote in lockstep and almost always speak in lockstep.


Public services are for the working poor, and politicians don't represent the poorer classes. The wealthy and middle class are larger, more dependable blocs, and politicians support policies that favor these two groups. Few in either of these groups use (or want to use) public services like mass transit. So the problem is pretty basic at its core: poor citizens are one of the largest non-voting blocks[1], and so underserved by politicians. This unequal representation leads to further income inequality[2] and partisanship, which leads to even more gerrymandering, more inadequate representation, and further income inequality...

Meanwhile every individual (politician or voter or working poor) acts in an individually rational way, furthering the problem.

[1]: https://www.census.gov/population/socdemo/voting/SB91-23.pdf

[2]: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2649215


That’s entirely untrue in NYC: 55% of commuters take public transit. I guarantee you that is not only “the working poor.” And of those who do not, a significant percentage still use the subway a few times a week.

So while this would be a plausible argument outside NYC, it’s a ridiculous one given the parent article.


> Public services are for the working poor

This doesn’t really work in New York City, where most people are exposed to the subway directly or through the crowding of our shitty roads.


IMHO the real source of a lot of these problems is that the subway system is a city resource that is primarily payed for by city taxes (and fares of course) but it's actually administered by the state government (which the MTA reports into).

If it was a city controlled thing it would be a huge huge issue in every single mayoral election. But it gets somewhat drowned out in governor elections.


The subway used to be controlled by the city which lead to politicians keeping the fairs intentionally low to gain popular support. In 1968 the city could no longer afford fund the subway and it was transferred to newly created Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Authority, which was renamed to today's Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The city retaking control of subway raises the question of who will pay for the operation and capital costs. The MTA derives allot of its funding from tolls through the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority which generated $1.8 Billion in 2016. It's unlikely the state will give TBTA back as well.


>”... hundreds of mechanic positions have been cut because there is not enough money to pay them — even though the average total compensation for subway managers has grown to nearly $300,000 a year.

I know this isn’t the primary reason the subway is falling into disrepair, but it’s clearly a symptom of a system that lacks real accountability. There has to be some reasonable push back to compensation (backed ultimately by the tax payers of New York) that is tied to real performance and efficiency.


> I know this isn’t the primary reason the subway is falling into disrepair

Isn't it a primary cause? Not having labour to perform maintenance means that maintenance isn't being done.


Its gets worse than that; if you read further the reasoning is that "Its hard to buy apartment for less than $800,000 in Brooklyn".

Great excuse next time they interview you for the job; check how much is average housing, divide roughly by three, and here is how you have reasonably arrived at your salary.

If they look at you odd, just refer to NYT article.


It's absolutely ridiculous.

I mean, median household income in Brooklyn is $45k.[0] That's household. The average household size in Brooklyn is 2.75. There'll be some kids in there, but likely the average adults per household is 1.5.

So here you have a guy earning close to $300k, likely has a partner with supplemental income too, which is easily 6-8x the median household income...jeez.

I mean hell, country wide there's a common 30% income spent on rent rule. Median rent in Brooklyn is about $36k a year, for a 120k salary. These guys are way beyond that.

It's obviously not a matter of 'do I earn enough for a decent life?'. They could earn half, say 140k, and still earn a decent life in NY. So it becomes a question of, is there anyone willing to do these jobs for say 180k, instead of 280k, and if so, the unions are no longer working in the best interests of ordinary folks.

When there's a small number of rich disproportionately salaried guys making public goods and services hugely expensive for ordinary folks, I think the Union's raison d'etre has died. (or changed into something awful).

0 https://www.census.gov/censusexplorer/censusexplorer.html


> the unions are no longer working in the best interests of ordinary folks

Haven't the unions always worked in the best interest of the union members?


Your wording is slightly ambiguous, but just to be clear: The NYT isn't making this argument, they're quoting someone.

(and the quote is $700,000, by the way)


I know this isn't a popular idea but any thoughts on why privatizing them is a bad idea? It works in Japan. There are at least 10 train/subway companies in Tokyo alone. JR, Tokyu, Keikyu, Keio, Odakyu, Eidan, Seibu, Tobu, Toei, Keisei and they seem to be best in class by most measures.


The NYC subway system started as 3 organizations; only one of which was city owned. I am normally not for privatization but it is probably the only thing that can save the MTA. The NYT points out a lack of funding but really their funding has not dropped tremendously. Politicians do not have the right mindset to run this. Sure Democrats tend to spend more on infrastructure, but then support obscene union contracts. MTA police make 130k + The LIRR has conductors that clip tickets getting paid 80k base with tons of overtime and benefits. The maintenance workers are (un)lucky if they work more than 3 hrs a day. There is nothing that is going to change with this unless someone goes in and rips it apart as the union is politically powerful and politicians have other interests than running the subway properly.


> MTA police make 130k+

Do you actually know a real person who makes that much, or are you just parroting?


The average MTA employee made $70 thousand in 2010 [1]. That’s nearly $80 thousand today [2].

In those data, one sees Mr. Arthur Harkin, a Long Island Rail Road conductor, made $195,000. ($220 thousand in 2017 dollars.)

[1] https://www.empirecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/MTA-...

[2] https://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl?cost1=69.489&year1=2...


> The average MTA employee made $70 thousand in 2010

So about the same as the average CRUD app developer? This doesn't seem outrageous to me.


But CRUD app developers are most precious resources on earth. Other people should not really exist after providing services, food, security and on demand rides etc.


My uncle is one of those people who sits in subway booths. He does almost nothing.

He makes 80k a year.

My political ideology is deeply in favor of the working class. I believe in strong worker protections, in the unionization of labor in most industries, and that capital controls a disproportionate amount of wealth and power in this country.

But I must also insist that these costs are unfair and insane.


He makes a lot more than 80k a year!

He's also getting about another 70k in benefits, for a total compensation well into the 6-figures.

People wonder "why is the subway so filthy?" Well, if you wanted to hire people to keep the subways clean, they would have to be paid $100K+ in total compensation.

Ok, so why not hire a private company to keep subways clean? A private company would be able to pay free-market compensation to hire cleaners.

Can't do that either! Subways must stay filthy!


> People wonder "why is the subway so filthy?"

Because we run our system 24/7. We can’t flood our stations with bleach like they do in D.C.


From the NYT article comments:

"In terms of cleanliness, which is also an issue of public health - why doesn't MTA have a dedicated crew of 4 or 5 people with a power washer, soap and squeegees to move methodically through each station, working on the weekends or overnight? "

Can't have it, because the MTA is not in the moving-people-business, they are in the wealth-transfer-business.


In fact, MTA have been investing in vacuum cleaning systems for the tracks with the aim of reducing fires that lead to delays. You're being disingenuous. Here's an article:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/24/nyregion/with-new-vacuums...

So it's frankly absurd of the commenter to say that just 4-5 people could manage this task. One manager mentioned in the article leads a team of 300(!) cleaners.


That's the subway tracks. They are forced to clean debris off the subway tracks, otherwise the trains can't run.

But where the people are, the stations, they don't keep them clean. That's what the commenter was refering to.


They do have those teams. I've seen them work; they've got power washers, and they blast the stations. They cleaned my previous-local station once every few months, at least.

The stations don't stay clean because they move millions of people per day, not all of whom are clean. Today I saw a kid throwing up on her way into the station; she and her mother were somehow polite enough to pause above a drain to do so. Combine that with people tracking upstairs dirt in, and littering, intentional and accidental (I dropped a candy wrapper while getting my kid home; I'm not stopping to pick it up mid-tantrum), and you've got a pretty messy situation.


Why is that so difficult to believe?

https://nypost.com/2015/07/16/heres-why-your-subway-fare-kee...

I used to work for a far less offensive agency in NYC, a public library system, and IT managers there make a cool $200K -- though most librarians who are in unions make much less. I wouldn't feel too bad if they were competent folks who deserve the market rates, but many of them didn't really deserve what they were getting.


Yes I know a real person that works for MTA police but no he didn't make 130k, he made 195k. Go on seethroughny.net and look it up. Try to find MTA police NOT making over 130k. Keep in mind this also includes 20 yr retirement with state tax free pension.


Article from 2010. Apparently a major chunk comes from overtime. https://www.newsday.com/news/new-york/mta-police-bring-in-bi...


I don't doubt that such people exist, but it's definitely not the norm. If you start with a base salary of 70k or so (not terribly unreasonable if you've got seniority), you rack up overtime (usually at 1.5× multiplier), and you work lousy shifts like nights and holidays, making 130k isn't impossible.


Subway systems are a natural monopoly; privatising something when there's no real competition has limited benefits and can be actively harmful if it reduces accountability. It works in Japan because under the keiratsu system nominally private companies are still closely tied to the political system and each other, so they have accountability through that channel.

Also a lot of the value created by a subway shows in land values rather than being captured directly in fares - the article says the MTA is 60% funded by fares which is high but, well, not 100%. You need a mechanism for those who benefit (i.e. owners of buildings near subway stations) to fund the subways. In some countries the transport authority will essentially own large shopping mall complexes around each station and fund the subway that way; in Japan employers often pay for workers' subway tickets.


> It works in Japan

However, it doesn't work in London. There are a dozen train franchises, remnants of the privatized and sliced-up British Rail system. They are all atrocious in service quality, frequency, capacity and usually price when compared to the parts of the system that were never privatised (the Underground) or that were renationalised (the Overground).


The world's best subway by many measures is the MTR in Hong Kong. Not only is it entirely privately run but it turns a profit which they then take to build more lines. The MTR Corporation is also building London's new 73 mile Crossrail line which opens up next year after being under construction for less than 10 years. 13 Miles of Crossrail is in underground tunnels beneath the densest part of the city. In terms a New Yorker would understand, this project is like if the entire length of the 2nd avenue subway in Manhattan got built along with extensions into the Bronx and Brooklyn in 10 years and under budget.

I can't see NY selling off their subway to a private entity anytime soon but what if a Mayor allowed MTR or another corporation to come in and build a competing line in some part of the city? The amazingly efficient new line might light a fire under the ass of the broader NYC subway to start operating more efficiently. Or as the new line begins to make more profit it could buy NYC lines one by one until it's running most of it. This way the debt bomb of the MTA won't destroy the city because it won't affect all major transit lines.


I believe it works because it was already a good system before being privatized. Most of the cost of building the system and making it work well was done when it was private. Even now the best system in Tokyo, Tokyo Metro, is a joint venture by two different governments


On that same idea, I would love to see private buses replace the subway. There is a large van that takes 15-20 people from Queens to Chinatown that runs everyday 12 hours a day and it costs under $5.

Would love to see similar systems for Queens -> Times Square or Brooklyn -> wall street.


Trains just have so much higher capacity than roads. A single lane of highway traffic can handle about 2,000 cars per hour, and that of a surface street probably more like 1,000 cars per hour, while a track of railway can handle 24-30 trains per hour. Trains themselves can carry 1000-1500 people (albeit not comfortably on the high-end), which means you're looking at 25k-45k people/hour/lane on a train. You can't compete with that by road unless you have tons of buses converging on a dedicated busway for a trunk commute (something like this happens in the Lincoln Tunnel).


Yes, let’s have more deadly, congestion-inducing, loud and smog-producing private buses filling up our streets, rather than making a cheap, electrified mass transit system better.

The Queens to Chinatown bus fills a gap in services from Flushing to Chinatown. If that bus is really transporting multiple subway trains worth of people each day, that in my mind means we ought to build better mass transit between those two places. Not that we should cannibalize our working people-moving infrastructure for something worse.


> Not that we should cannibalize our working (!) people-moving infrastructure for something worse.

> Cannibalize

What's wrong with cannibalizing a system that's fundamentally broken?


Subway isn't fundamentally broken; mis-aligned management incentives are...


The success of privatization is dependent on companies operating within a cultural baseline of decency and accountability.

No such culture exists in the US.


I know this isn't a popular idea but any thoughts on why privatizing them is a bad idea? It works in Japan.

The particular competitive business environment in the US makes it almost impossible.


NYC has one of the highest combined state/city tax rates.. what the heck are we paying for, if not convenient, reliable subways. and they dare increase the fares.. ok that is fine IF you decrease the tax rates. You can't have your cake and eat it too.


You’re paying for guys who tear up the same street all day, every day, for years, and then leave it looking like a patchwork of sloppy, half-finished jobs. I lived on that street for ten years.


billions debt service on MTA bonds, a Cuomo directed bail out of Ski resorts. These are the things our taxes and subway fares go towards...


What's most obscene is that no effort is made to compensate for lost trains on partially shutdown express/local lines. The mayor could fix that immediately by just demanding more service on the sections that run rather than forcing everyone into sardine cans. It's pretty clear that MTA is using repairs as an excuse to cut spending on service and are unlikely to ever run it at full capacity.

The system carried more passengers in the 40's. They did it by running trains more often. It's not rocket science.


Yeah, but the demand in the 40s had a completely different pattern from today's demand, so you can't just ramp up train frequency across the system and meet it.

The L train to Bedford Ave carries way more people now than it ever did in the 1940s, when Williamsburg was a modestly dense working-class neighborhood. On the other hand, those letter lines to outer Brooklyn are much less used today than they were in the 1940s, as are parts of the system in the Bronx. And, of course, there were elevated lines over Second and Third Avenues in the 1940s.

The parts of the system that run at crush capacity are already running with the highest possible train frequency. Some of the lines might not seem maxed out on headways, but they have to deal with interlining; the frequency of the F train can't be increased because the line it shares with the E train in Queens is fully loaded, etc.


It's not rocket science. It's just called CBTC and is what the MTA has on the L train line because it was in comparison built much more recently and is "simpler". You can't stack the old cars close together until they roll out all the CBTC upgrades, which is a massive engineering project. I don't think they're as efficient as they could be, but we shouldn't underestimate the amount of work.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communications-based_train_con...


To be fair, the 4/5 between Union Square and 125th St is a sardine can from 7-10 AM and 5-7 PM daily even when they run every 3 minutes or whatever the rush hour gap is.


That's also largely a function of poor/no subway access on the East Side. It took a long time to get the Second Ave. subway running, and that doesn't even come close to servicing Alphabet City.

The west side has multiple lines (red & blue, plus the yellow line starting around midtown) while the east side only has the green line (and the yellow line south of Union Sq.).


It's a damn shame the 3rd Ave., Subway was elevated, and they ended up tearing it down. Having the subway on one of the narrowest avenues is crazy to me, and having it be the only subway servicing the east side (which has more avenues than the west, by the way), is even crazier.


Moscow Metro does 40 of trains per hour (doesn't save from sardine can effect tho) so one per 3 minutes is not a hard limit.


The hard limit is a function of stops, layout, train length and acceleration/deceleration ability, and finally the signal system.

Each train has to approach a station, brake, stop, wait while people enter and leave, start and accelerate, all at safe distance to the trains in front and behind. Braking, standing still and starting easily add up to a minute, so a two-minute cycle time is hard even if the track layout is friendly (evenly spaced stations, no mutexes in the central area, etc).

Ninety seconds is really impressive.


40tph is rarely achieved in practice, systems which are intended for 40tph usually actually end up running somewhere in the 30-36tph range as it basically just takes one little old lady being a bit slow or one tourist bag stuck in a door to ruin the synchronisation. Still 36tph basically already feels like there are trains "all the time" and passengers learn to just "let it go" as you would with an elevator - you know another one will arrive shorty.

Getting rid of absolute block helps, a moving block system can allow the following train to enter immediately, rather than waiting until the tail of train A leaves the far end of the station before the front of train B can begin moving. But that's not exactly something you can just drop in on a Tuesday afternoon, you'd usually have to shut the whole railway, add new signal technology, re-train staff, maybe even buy new rolling stock.


Are there others that try to operate >30tph? Which ones?

I've only travelled with one 30tph (two-minute) system, it was really relaxing. As you say, it felt as if the next train was coming immediately. Quite subjectively, it felt as if the wind pushed by next train could be felt while the previous train's lights were still visible in the tunnel.


The Victoria Line in London runs 36 tph. The Jubilee Line is 30, but will be 36 by 2019. The Central Line has 35tph in the morning.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victoria_line#Service_and_roll...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jubilee_line#Service_frequency

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_line_(London_Undergrou...


No subway system in the world runs 40tph with western safety standards; the Moscow Metro achieves that rate because they leave it to the passenger to clear the doors before the train departs.


St. Petersburg as well. (Actually, closer to one per 2 minutes.)


New York's transport is baffling to me. The lack of a proper subway or special express train option to get quickly to the airports is doubly baffling. I guess the cross-state jurisdiction is one of the issues with Newark, but the AirTrain solution over at JFK is way subpar if compared to other major cities. I've been there twice in a few months and it's simply a disaster. 2.5 hrs by car to get to Newark from Williamsburg at 2pm on a Friday. I wonder what rush hour looks like.


What are you talking about?

From Penn St you take the NJ Transit train to Newark airport, or the LIRR train to Jamaica where you transfer to the AirTrain which brings you to your desired terminal at JFK.

LaGuardia doesn't have a train option though.

But yeah, taking a car from Newark to Williamburg in the afternoon, I guess you've learned not to do that again. :) NJ Transit is your friend.


From Manhattan, you need to take 3 trains to get to EWR. Subway, Path (NJT), shuttle.

LGA: None

JFK: Subway,AirtRain

Compare this with HKG or LHR, it is pathetic.


I'm very familiar with NYC's options and with LHR. You compare JFK with LHR, not EWR or LGA (I suppose you'd compare EWR to Gatwick and LGA to City). To get to any reasonable business destination in London (City) area, you take Heathrow Express and then transfer to at least 1 or more tube. That is directly analogous to taking the AirTrain to an express train. When I leave my office on 59th & Lex, I walk to the 53rd street subway station and I'm at Terminal 8 in JFK in exactly 50 minutes, consistently. How is that any worse than LHR?

Just like when you're booking a ticket to/from "London", you don't pick Luton if you really mean Heathrow. If my destination was Williamsburg I would pick LGA if at all possible, otherwise JFK. Picking EWR and having to go across the city is not a good plan to start with.


True, but business trip, I wasn’t booking personally


nitpick: PATH != NJT. PATH is run by the Port Authority. NJT commuter rail is what connects to EWR AirTrain.

Also, don't take the subway to/from JFK, take LIRR it's like 40 minutes faster.


That should be PATH || NJT as you can take NJT directly to the tram.


I’m comparing it to Berlin, where I live. The metropolitan area is larger and the airport (sxf) farer from the center. You can get there with a regional train that you can get from Central Station (Hauptbanhof), Friedrichstrasse or Alexanderplatz (then a couple more eastern stations). Transit time in rush hour is max 45 mins. Tegel is even easier, it’s basically inside the city. 25 minutes tops by car from any area in North Berlin. Max. 45 mins with metro+bus from everywhere else within the metro area. Yeah, I’m spoiled I guess. Now if we could only have a major modern airport on top of this it’d be nice, but that’s another story


Huh? NJTransit (train and bus) goes directly to Newark, and the last time I rode the AirTrain to JFK I had no problems. This is compared to other cities where I had to take a shuttle from the nearest train station to get to the airport...


NYC's airport transit isn't as good as other cities (Tokyo, Toronto, etc) but nobody who lives in New York would make that trip by car at that time. They'd fly from LGA or JFK or take the car.


Apparently helicopter is also an option for the slightly richer. Not even 1%ers, it’s like 250$ from manhattan to jfk


L train -> 2,3 train -> Penn Station -> Newark in 15 minutes. This is where the plethora of apps out there really help if you're not intimately familiar with these options.

Also, people should not be afraid of the connecting M60 bus when taking the subway en route to LaGuardia.


I think politicians in places like New York should lead by example and show us that much-hyped, long-awaited "smart government" before they angrily demand I support the latest government program.


I think a good response to the guy asking "What do you want, for us to make $15 an hour?" would be "No, but bringing you down to $50 an hour might be a reasonable starting point."


$50 an hour is $104k a year, figure MTA has not been hiring many people as their effective budget has shrunk, so what started as a low $100k salary has risen as their workforce ages.


>The pay for managers is even more extraordinary. The nearly 2,500 people who work in New York subway administration make, on average, $280,000 in salary, overtime and benefits. The average elsewhere is $115,000.

I know this is NYC but wow..


I have always said America is a rich 3rd world country. The politicians in NY are no different from Mugabe's Zanu PF in Zimbabwe.


While it is bad, it is an insult to people suffering from true 3rd world problems to make that comparison


I can't agree enough. GP should visit a country where if you're killed in a hit and run by a relative of a politician, it's expected that your death will be a suicide and you will receive no compensation. Or even a country where that's a milder event.


The victims of hit & runs in third world countries typically do received (some) compensation. The culprits just magically avoid prosecution.

One example from Thailand, where even killing a cop isn't enough to get the wheels of justice turning: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-39427291


DC's system is pretty bad too. this morning I had to choose between a 50 minute commute via metro for $4, or a 20 minute Uber ride for $10. I'm so so glad I got the Uber.


Sunday is pretty much the worst day of the week to use metro because it has the lowest number of people trying to get places, so the metro is frequently running degraded service to allow for extra maintenance, and there is much less traffic to slow down an Uber.

I would pretty much never consider taking an Uber over taking the metro from 7am-7pm on weekdays because it would invariably be slower and more expensive.


That's a nice option, indeed, and as long as Silicon Valley insists on subsidizing the private transit desires of the upper-middle class, you should definitely take advantage of it.

But 1) you're not really paying full freight here; and 2) $20 per day round-trip is not an affordable commuting option for most Americans, anyway.


I make the same choice and it is ridiculous. I live a block from a station and work from a block from another station on the same line. And somehow average commute time is 45 min. And it's only ~4 miles away.

Lyft costs under 10 bucks and takes under 15 minutes if I leave after 9:45.


Metro has its problems but avg. commute time of 45 min. for 4 miles seems high to me. Unless you mean Bethesda to Silver Spring.


For example, take Columbia Heights to Foggy Bottom. 2 transfers (yellow/green -> red -> blue/orange/silver). Red line is red line, expect 10 minutes on the weekends if you're lucky. The B/O/S at metro center are frequent enough (except when they're not; I've seen 20minute headways enough times that I'm leery of even trying), but the Green/Yellow lines I see an average wait time of 10-12 minutes on the weekends. That's about 20-30 minutes of waiting.


Same here it's either $12 for a total commute of 2+ hrs via metro, or $3 to drive for a total of just over an hour.


wait you paid 3 dollars for an hour of uber? How does that make sense? The minimum wage is way more than that.


Maybe he's saying that he drove himself for $3 in gas (while conveniently ignoring all the other costs of car ownership, not to mention the massive externalities).


It's reasonable that if GP needs and already has a car for other non-commuting purposes (shopping, road trips, etc.) the choice in their specific case is between paying for public transit and only paying for gas to cover the commute.


I understand what you're saying; it's just not a reasonable way to perform a complete or useful cost analysis.


Cost of insurance and wear & tear are direct costs of each trip outside gas, not including those (which is ~50% of the cost of each trip) is deceiving yourself.


Yep, sorry forgot to mention its roughly $3 in gas / oil and maybe $3 in depreciation of the vehicle?


"Make government programs work": An issue politicians seem incapable of prioritizing over giving the government dominion over more areas of American life.


The Europe vs US road/rail infrastructure debate is misinformed, woefully tired, and generally meaningless.

It's all state by state, or country by country anyway, and when we are specifically talking subways, it's city by city. It's at the city level that the debate leaves out of consideration the one city that is orders of magnitude above and beyond any other city in the world in terms of complexity and operational performance: Tokyo.

Forget the NY Subway, forget London's Tube, forget the Paris Metro or the Berlin U-Bahn, or the Hong Kong MRT for that matter... Everyone's attention should be focused on really understanding the Tokyo system and how it works.

NYC has 25 services over 20+- lines (depending on how you count.) That doesn't include PATH nor does it include Airtrain or any of the commuter lines that connect to the system and are part of the greater transit network.

Tokyo, when you really look at the whole interconnected system of rapid transit, and not the small part that is arbitrary, and IMHO incorrectly, called the "subway," (referring to the Tokyo Metro and Toei lines generally situated within the Yamanote circle,) you have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of services over hundreds and hundreds of lines...

The fact that all of these lines run on time to the second, with well maintained trains, with well maintained stations, with clear and up-to-date communications, with service focused on the passenger... Tokyo should be the model for the world.


I was riding the NYC Subway a year or two ago, when my brother in law asked me if I noticed anything strange about it.

After thinking it through, I realized that I had ridden that exact same subway car in the past.

It was a recommissioned car from Toronto!

So they're obviously doing something to try and save money.

It really made me question my own city's transit system as well.

How could NYC make do with something that Toronto thought was worth getting rid of?


It could make sense if you consider different car series, in the same way that airliners will move between carriers depending on what kinds of fleets they want to run.

Or, old OEM parts.


I take the subway almost everyday since the past 7 years and its been getting worse.

NYC should learn something from Toronto and London. They have the best subway systems IMHO.


If you think London is good, wait til you try the subway in big Asian cities like Taipei, Tokyo, or Seoul.


Don’t forget the subway lines in basically every Chinese city! Beijing has overcrowding issues, but Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou all have phenomenal metros.


As a native New Yorker I was blown away by the Shenzhen subway when I visited last year.

It's spotless, easy to navigate (lots of language-free signs with really clear intuitive diagrams of where to go), and almost eerily fast and smooth-riding. And 5 bars of LTE the whole time.


A thing built 6-10 years ago will always be more modern and less run down than a thing built 60-100 years ago. Time will tell how well the Chinese systems age.


Tokyo's subway turns 90 this year, and while the older stations aren't as flashy as new ones, it remains remarkably efficient & functional.


I love Toronto, but its subways (and transit as a whole) need improvement as well. Not just that, council seems hell-bent on throwing 3+ billion dollars down the morass that's the Scarborough extension.

[rant over]


Yeah, I recently moved back to queens from the city and what used to be a 30-45 min commute 5-6 years ago now takes me 60-90 minutes.


Everyone in Toronto loves to complain about the TTC, but the few lines we have here are pretty reliable.

We just need to expand the system further. The Eglinton line and the Finch LRT will help.


If you look at the TTC system as a whole it's the streetcar lines that take a lot of flack, but I blame that on:

* General age of the fleet (not helped by Bombardier's delayed deliveries)

* Lack of dedicated streetcar lanes; it's still shocking to me that streetcars packed full of passengers are allowed to be held up by single-passenger vehicles


I'm quite shocked people think Toronto's transit system is on par with London


It's a matter of population and density, imho.

Toronto has mostly low-density housing, with spots of very high density- generally, around subway stations. From a plane the other day, I noticed you can see all the subway lines from a very far distance just by looking for lines made of tall building clusters. This is a feedback relationship though- where there is density, we put subway lines, and where there are subway stations people build more density.

London, by contrast, has more of a medium-density everywhere. You could put a tube station just about anywhere in London and you'd have a large number of people who can and would walk to it.

Still, I'm quite happy with the quality of the lines we do have. I just hope that as we build more, that can be maintained.


The assumption that Toronto is on par with London, NYC or other large metro areas is a common delusion of those living there.


Lived in London for 1.5+ years and in Madrid for several years afterwards, and I think Madrid's system is better (not that London's is bad overall).

Cleaner, more modern, frequent trains, less delays.

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