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The Case for the Subway (nytimes.com)
170 points by pdog 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 126 comments

The major issue with any plan to fix the subway is that MTA can no longer build cost-effectively. This was highlighted by the NYT just last week: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/nyregion/new-york-subway-...

It costs them $1.5B-$3.5B per mile of track in NYC, while other global cities do it for a tenth of the cost.

One glaring example of mismanagement of funds:

The budget showed that 900 workers were being paid to dig caverns for the platforms as part of a 3.5-mile tunnel connecting the historic station to the Long Island Rail Road. But the accountant could only identify about 700 jobs that needed to be done, according to three project supervisors. Officials could not find any reason for the other 200 people to be there.

If they can’t get the costs down to the same range as the countries whose systems they envy, how can they compete?

> MTA can no longer build cost-effectively. This was highlighted by the NYT just last week.

New York State government is totally broken. Although there is some outright corruption (a la bags of cash) that's not the real problem. The real problem is systematized, and legal, quasi-corruption. The rules of the game have been rigged for so long and insiders play it so well, that the general public just doesn't have any chance at all anymore.

Those insiders might be politicians, contractors, politicians, or special interest groups, but they know who they are and they are happy with how things work now. They are the reason that the state constitutional convention went down in flames. They didn't want even the smallest chance of upsetting the apple cart.

This should be obvious to anyone who's ever lived in NYC. It feels normal here to see 5 MTA employees in orange safety vests standing around watching one guy putting safety cones around a puddle.

Having been in construction I question if that obvious thing is really waste.

Of course if it really is 5 people watching the one guy put of cones that is waste. However most constructions jobs are let the machine work for 10 minutes, then you need 5 people for manual labor for 5 minutes before the machine works again. While it is true you have 5 people standing around watching the machine work 2/3rds of the time, there is nothing else that they could do and be back in 10 minutes so it is most cost effective to pay them to do nothing 2/3rds of the time.

> Having been in construction I question if that obvious thing is really waste.

Read the linked article. You'll see that it truly is waste.

> The budget showed that 900 workers were being paid to dig caverns for the platforms as part of a 3.5-mile tunnel connecting the historic station to the Long Island Rail Road. But the accountant could only identify about 700 jobs that needed to be done, according to three project supervisors. Officials could not find any reason for the other 200 people to be there.

For just one project, that's 200 paid $1,000/day to do nothing. $73 million/year wasted, just for one project.

In what world are construction workers paid $1000/day? That's an exaggeration, but your point stands.

The $1,000/day figure comes directly from the NYT article quoting the head of construction at the MTA. This is the paragraph after the one I quoted previously:

Nobody knew what those people were doing, if they were doing anything,” said Michael Horodniceanu, who was then the head of construction at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs transit in New York. The workers were laid off, Mr. Horodniceanu said, but no one figured out how long they had been employed. “All we knew is they were each being paid about $1,000 every day.

>Nobody knew what those people were doing, if they were doing anything

I just can't help but smile and remember the scene from The Sopranos of some wiseguys seating in lawn chairs at the construction site eating pastrami sandwiches... but in a tunnel this time!

> In what world are construction workers paid $1000/day? That's an exaggeration, but your point stands.

The MTA. That's not at all an unusual amount for total compensation expenses for an employee.

The 1000/day is not necessarily all received by the employee. It includes taxes, insurances of various kinds, etc. It's the expense, no the salary.

True, but 1000/day is still high. I doubt the foreman makes that much (I'd consider $40/hour high for a foreman, but NYC probably pays higher wages than you would get here).

The $1000/hr is probably a bureaucrat who sat at a desk pushing papers. There is some value in that job, but it is easy to find useless make-work to appear busy withing getting anything important done.

> 5 MTA employees in orange safety vests standing around watching one guy putting safety cones around a puddle.

You are being hyperbolic here, but cones around a puddle warrants a discussion.

There have been cases where I have seen portions of a station cordoned off with tape and perhaps with safety cones; however it is not my experience with NYC subway puddles in general. It feels like almost half the stations have leaky ceilings that you can see dripping during rainy weather. No safety cones. During drier days you can find these spots by stalactites and straws forming on the ceiling and by discoloration and mineral deposits on the platform. Two nights ago I noticed something much more frighting on the south bound Prince Street platform. Drip from the ceiling was freezing on the platform and formed an ice-patch a meter in diameter. There were no cones and the subway platform is not the place where I would want to slip. This is a safety issue especially as the whole platform feels only 3 meters wide.

You and I may see MTA workers milling about and appearing lazy to us, but the example of putting safety cones around a puddle doesn't pass the sniff test to me.

> You are being hyperbolic here, but cones around a puddle warrants a discussion.

Maybe not putting safety cones but I recently saw 5 workers fixing some box looking component at a station. One was doing something to the box. One was holding down the 3 foot step ladder. One was shining a flashlight at the box and two others were standing behind the flashlight holder looking at the box. I wish I had taken a picture.

Maybe the problems with the component couldn't be diagnosed by the agents assigned to the platform. Maybe there was further work that needed doing on the same job that required more of them, and there was no point in leaving for 10 minutes and coming back. Maybe they were just wrapping up.

Obviously there's tons of waste, and maybe you were right about that example, but it's also very possible you're not. These anecdotes people love to trot out about manual labor are really silly. It makes you sound exactly like nontechnical software project management who don't understand what technical debt is or why man-hour estimation is hard.

While possible, having first hand experience working for the MTA (not NYCT though) led me to believe that it was most likely not the case.

Frequently at my job we end up with a bunch of people around a computer. One is typing and has all the access rights. Another is taking notes about what has happened and a couple more are watching.

These people are all needed. The person with the access rights is authorised to be on the system. The one taking notes is recording what's happened so we can write it up in a post-mortem. The others are watching and ensuring the person who's allowed access is doing the right thing.

If you walked past and saw it for 10 seconds you'd thing one person was working and three were standing around, but in reality they're all needed to ensure the right thing happens in the right way.

Just today I had four other people standing around my machine, mostly saying nothing as I tried different things. Over the course of about 45 minutes (and coming and going back to their own machines) they each contributed invaluable assistance in resolving the issue. But there were easily gaps of 10 minutes at a time where nothing was said.

Were we guilty of the same thing as the construction workers in your example?

You know how someone might look at your typical software developer and conclude that, though they might type something on the keyboard once in a while, a lot of the time they're just staring off into space or just about anything other than type? >$100K/year, shouldn't they be doing more typing?

Your answer to that is going to sound quite similar to whatever response those workers might have. Put another way, unless you've actually worked as a subway maintenance worker, allow for the fact that there is a lot you don't know about the job.

From the submitted piece,

"For a delayed rider wondering whom to blame, it’s tempting to begin with the people you can see, the 7,000 or so men and women — track cleaners, inspectors, flaggers and other orange-vested M.T.A. employees — charged with preventing these incidents and keeping the trains moving. ...

No matter how diligent they may be, 7,000-odd orange-vested maintenance workers are simply not enough to keep the deteriorating system — with its 665 miles of passenger-carrying track, enough to reach all the way to Indianapolis — on schedule. All the real problems must begin elsewhere, further up the chain of command.

The rest of the piece is an argument against the "obvious" explanation and for more systems-based explanation.

Don't bet on it ,Seattle was burning nearly three hundred million per mile of light rail on their last project. Other global cities are probably better but US cities have nearly all demonstrated bad judgement and cost over runs. Politicians love a ribbon cutting.

Outside of NYC rail is not a rousing success and defrayed maintenance costs are in the tens of billions if not a hundred across the country for current installations. Worse many systems short change bus routes in an ill fated effort to boost rail ridership. Sadly they even have throw millions to get people to build along such lines.

with autonomous vehicles not far off, implemented as buses with such tightly controlled routes it would be a far better investment to go that route as a bus route can change with the needs of the population served.

With regards to the number of people on such projects, all the regulations and rules nearly guarantee waste as we have to accommodate every special group and politically connected companies

Even if every project is 25% overstaffed, not just the single worst one mentioned in the article, that's nowhere near 10x inefficiency

True. But this statistic is only bandied about as the most glaring inefficiency.

Consider if the project has 25% more workers than jobs, and also 25% more jobs than needed, and also workers are on the job 25% longer than needed (that sweet sweet double overtime!) and we're already at about 2x inefficiency. Just a couple more factors and you get to 10x ...

One of the major costs of building subway (in Manhattan at least) is that Manhattan is one of the densest places in the world. Higher density equals a higher density of infrastructure for things like electricity, water, and so on. This impacts the MTA in that the MTA has to be extremely careful to not adversely impact any infrastructure in the digging and construction process.

In my opinion this represents a fundamental limit on how dense we can make cities given we want a minimum standard of living (i.e no 3rd world slums) given our current technological level. Instead of trying to build more in Manhattan, it seems more prudent to me to encourage residential and commercial development of the other boroughs and concurrently more subway infrastructure in the boroughs. After all if Manhattan is hitting its density limit, New York City has a lot more land elsewhere to develop before resorting to trying to push that density limit.

Of course there seems to be a lot the city can do in terms of bringing down waste to make building in Manhattan less costly, but I think inevitably the city will need to opt for developing the boroughs if it wants to continue to grow in population.

Except the New York Times article shows that MTA's costs are 5-7x higher than recent projects under London or Paris.

Paris isn't that deep, though. Don't know about London.

But the sibling advice should stand - dig deeper. Russian subway systems are sometimes very deep, in places you can hardly see the end of the escalator.

London Tube tunnels are much, much deeper than anything in Manhattan transit-wise. An escalator at the Angel stop down to the bowels of the Northern Line is all you need to be convinced. Just don't stare too long or you'll get dizzy looking down. Bonus: great exercise running up the stairs.

Except point is that Manhattan is denser than London or Paris.

Paris is more dense than New York, and Line 14 goes right under the downtown core of Paris.

It's more dense than NY as a whole, which has suburban-like areas, but less dense than Manhattan. Not by a huge margin relative to other cities.

Just dig a bit deeper, what's the big deal? They should just bring some Japanese to show them how to do a train system properly.

It is completely ridiculous that the MTA does its own capital projects. They have lost that privilege. Everyone else goes out to tender and global firms with expertise bid on them. This is how tunnels and rail around the world are being built today.

The past is a poor predictor of the future.

In the past the NYC subway was an almost unusable mess overrun with graffiti, trash, and hoodlums. Changing the fare gates and being aggressive about patrols and cleanup turned things around.

Obviously different methods will be needed to fix subway construction, but the idea that the most recent construction effort had problems means all future construction will have the same or worse problems is not necessarily correct.

The article is not about construction costs but the essentials of urban design.

There's more to the story of 900 people on some contract to the MTA, and only 700 people actually being hired, that would be fraud and should be prosecuted, someone should go to jail for it. That's theft. It's way different than overbilling where you hire 700, but either overpay them by 28%, or even overcharge the MTA by 28% while pocketing the profit. Charging money for something that did not in fact happen is fraud, it's a crime.

But yes the first statement is overwhelmingly true, the MTA has lost the ability to build cost-effectively. More to the point, they've lost the ability to write coherent contracts, hire competent contractors to fulfill those contracts, and then hold all parties accountable. Their ducks are not in any sense in a row.

That's not just a NY problem though. Amsterdam and London suffer the same insane costs.

1 Labour 2 Century old monuments- Tokyo literally bulldozed a lot of that old crap in the 60s. 3 NYC subway itself is a monument

> New York City’s subway, meanwhile, is falling apart. If you are a regular rider, you know this firsthand. But even if you aren’t, it has probably become difficult to ignore all the stories about the system’s failure: the F train that was trapped between stations for close to an hour without power or air conditioning, the Q train that derailed in Brooklyn, the track fire on the A line in Harlem that sent nine passengers to the hospital.

I am a regular rider, and there are very few facts and a lot of anecdotes thrown out here. I do not think the subway is falling apart -- there are always problems, but in general, I see incremental improvement; we see more newer cars as the old ones phase out, and we're getting train arrival information throughout the system. Crowding is a problem as demographics shift, but trains run frequently during rush hours. From what I hear, the L is the worst for overcrowding, but most of the other lines handle the capacity fine.

The problems that we continually have with broken switches and rerouted trains and shutdowns, etc., don't seem to have gotten worse, but are just a perennial problem. I can totally see why it has been hard to fund it, because despite articles like this trying to stir up things, things really don't seem to be getting worse. That's not to say things are great -- you only have to ride another subway pretty much anywhere to see what you're missing out on. But the NYT's attempt to paint the subway as being on the precipice of a disaster rings false and only serves to hurt the cause of improving the subway by creating an air of alarmism.

I am also a long-time resident and consistent subway rider and I agree with the above. The subway DOES need a massive cash injection to allow it to perform to the standards we'd all like. The city also DOES need to reconcile the fact that it costs 10x the amount as any other city to repair because of inflated labor costs. It is NOT "falling apart" in some Fallout-style postapocalypsis. If we need to convince people that the sky is literally falling to get them to care then nothing is going to change and certainly not for the better.

I've been riding the subway for decades. I would say compared to couple decades ago, NYC subway is a lot better.

Yeah it smells like piss on Time Square platform during heat of summer and compared to subway systems in Europe, Japan, Seoul, the station looks like half-baked boondoggle.

But hey, I've been saying Hi to the same piece of dust ball on ceiling pipe since 1996 thanks to MTA's total refusal to vacuum what's over your head.

I've watched that dust ball blossom into a fine young lady.

I may even propose to her this year, all thanks to MTA.

Another regular rider here who often uses the system outside of rush hour. And it has gotten way worse after Sandy. People keep saying that it's not so bad during rush hour, as if we shouldn't expect a 9pm ride to be any better than a stressful crapshoot. I don't get why we should have such low standards.

"The problems that we continually have with broken switches and rerouted trains and shutdowns, etc., don't seem to have gotten worse, but are just a perennial problem"

I have a close relative who works for the MTA (has been there for decades), who says that as far as things breaking down it is worse today compared to the 90s.

you're right in that the subway isn't falling apart, but it's definitely gotten significantly worse over the past couple years. See https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/28/nyregion/subw... for data of significant decreases in on-time peformance and number of delays over the past couple of years.

I find this data unconvincing, since it talks about "delays" and compares to the "schedule". Since the schedule can change, it's hard to figure out whether this is a problem with overly aggressive schedules or with actual train slowdowns.

As a counterpoint to the "delays", the article for this thread says

> As ridership grew from 2012 to 2016, the end-to-end running time during peak hours on the numbered lines increased by more than six minutes

Six minutes seems like ... well, like nothing, really. If that's the extent of the problem, then I don't see a crisis brewing, I just see things getting a little worse.

That's not to say that we don't need to make things better, but let's frame the discussion around the actual problems.

6 minutes is a lot when it affects millions of people. 6 minutes * 1,000,000 riders is 6,000,000 minutes a day of lost productivity. What is the GDP impact of that?

The 4-5-6 certainly do not handle capacity fine during rush hours...

I lived near the 51st and Lexington stop until about 2010, and took the 6 every day downtown. Even then, I would often have to wait for two or three trains before I could shove my way on to a train.

My point is not that things aren't bad or that we shouldn't improve them, just that it doesn't seem like a brewing crisis.

Not to mention that I have no idea how to fix this (other than get the Second Avenue line finished after a hundred years of trying, or the new articulated cars that they're talking about) -- most of the time when I was trying to get on a train, you could literally see the next train at the uptown stop -- they might be able to space them closer with improved signaling (since they wouldn't have to hold in the previous station) but that benefit seems pretty dubious.

One of the things TFA mentions is installing modern switches. Of all the solutions it's seems the least difficult and disruptive.

It seems like a problem of will and not technology.

Maybe NYC subway needs some huge disruptive event to motivate people to do something. (FBI I'm not talking about that, please don't visit me!)

Makes me think of how the San Francisco Bay Area could have been an even greater city than New York, the next capital of the world, if not for it's failure to expand and modernize the public transportation system and, obviously, the housing crisis.

> modernize the public transportation system and, obviously, the housing crisis.

I think the two are very related. The Bay Area's biggest problem is there is no Brooklyn or Queens -- meaning large, extremely dense residential areas which are a (relatively) painless commute from the city.

Brooklyn and Queens didn't become dense residential areas with relatively painless commutes from the city overnight. It's not like there isn't land for such areas in the bay area, the biggest issue is that they are all separate cities and have separate local governments.

Well, all we need to do is make Oakland seven times more populous, and it's Brooklyn.

And more accessible by transit. The parts of Oakland near BART are super easy to get to FIDI, Market, the Mission, etc, but huge swaths of the Town are miles from BART.

Hell, drop a few BART stations in Alameda you'd be a huge step in the right direction.

The population of Oakland is more densely packed around BART stations than is the population of San Francisco. Yes there are “large swaths” within the city limits, but they are the least populous.

Some Second Transbay Tube plans mention a stop in Alameda before entering Oakland.

Whether the project happens in San Francisco's lip-service to transit NIMBY climate is the bigger question.

You should probably know that amongst the voting class of the SF Bay Area, "Manhattan" is a four letter word.

Makes me think you Bay area people have been living in your gig economy servent utopia for too many years without an earthquake to remember why this will never be the case.

Earthquake Tokyo would like a word with you :p

I think there's still a chance! SPUR (http://www.spur.org) is one organization trying to move the Bay Area in this direction; maybe people on here know of others. 2017 has seen some promising housing legislation at a state level (like SB-2, SB-3 and SB-35), and I believe there's even more in the pipeline for 2018.

Yes, as someone who commutes to SF from the South Bay, it's depressing how our public transport compares to other major cities.

BART needs to just go around the Bay Area entirely in a loop, or Caltrain needs to become more efficient. Hopefully electrification will help in this regard.

This is actually happening.

BART is going to San Jose. It will go to San Jose Diridon thus completing the loop. It will take longer than everybody likes and probably cost more money than was originally budgeted, but it's going to happen.

I ended up looking it up after I posted, and you're right! Plans also include going all the way to the Santa Clara Caltrain station, surprisingly. Maybe by 2030.

And it will take two hours to get to SF. Even Millbrae to Hayward takes 90 minutes.

From my understanding, most of the benefit of this BART extension will be for East Bay commuters (areas in the south, like Milpitas and Fremont, in particular) who are more likely to work in the South Bay than in San Francisco.

Caltrain presumably will remain the fastest option from San Jose, at least if regressive enclaves like Atherton don't delay the improvements for the high-speed rail project.

Getting the fiefdoms to coordinate is the Bay's eternal transit problem, however.

Tell me about it. The closest CalTrain to me is Atherton, which, of course, is only open on weekends.

OTOH Atherton may well be one of HSR's smallest problems.

Oh certainly, the political implications of digging a tunnel under Los Padres haven't even begun to unfold.

I support the project, but part of me wishes that the money could have gone to massive improvements of Los Angeles, Bay Area, Sac, and smaller cities' transit (with density bonuses, value-capture schemes, etc.). No way that wins a statewide ballot though.

In the end, the Caltrain improvements as part of the project will help a lot, which I think include more double-tracking as well as electrification and grade-separation.

Explosive growth of cities, adding modern infrastructure as fast as you possibly can, labor mobility, etc: Think of how China is doing these things and turns out to be growing economically at an unbelievable rate. We're only blocked by lots of smalltime local rent-seeking behavior.

maybe if they weren't so vulnerable to climate change. My money is on Portland. Good climate projects, tons of natural resources, strong urban growth boundry restricting sprawl. If the state ever figures it's shit out Portland would boom.

Portland has no idea how to deal with the growth we get now, much less anything that would qualify as a 'boom'. Traffic is frequently terrible with no real plan in place on how to deal with it. The canned answer is 'more bikes and light rail' but that's clearly not going to cut it.

Plus, houses are already getting quite expensive here, largely due to that UGB you mention. Unless we're willing to compromise on that (and as a long-time resident who appreciates being able to reach something like wilderness pretty easily, I hope we do not) then pretty quickly we are going to have SF-level housing problems.

Portland; home of impractical solutions, for anti-problems.

I honestly love portland, but it doesnt want to be an urban area.

"due to that UGB" ...

Man, developers always say that, and it's simply never been true. There's so much undeveloped land still within the UGB, and so many opportunities to build densely close into city limits--a lot of which is happening, but a lot more of which could still happen.

Portland does have a big housing problem, it's true, but the solution isn't in opening up the UGB--it's in getting more good jobs, and encouraging more entrepreneurship, so that folks can actually afford to buy the condos going up all over that city.

Maybe I wasn't totally clear on my point about the UGB. I believe it to be the primary reason houses are as expensive here as they are. Sure, there are still some places to build within the UGB, but if you want your little slice of suburbia (single family home, a bit of grass around it) then space is tight enough to drive up the price quite a bit.

Housing is expensive in inner Portland. In the suburbs, prices are still quite reasonable. My house, a mile from MAX and 4 miles from "large tech employer" would cost 2x-3x in SE Portland. We love our 10 minute commute and still take advantage of Portland's foodie scene pretty much every weekend.

Dang sorry man that wasn't what I meant. The Ugb encourages density as you said, which is quite good if you want a comprehensive transit system.

When density is high enough, and public transit decent enough, people don't need to own cars. In Manhattan, 85% of residents do not own cars. And that's with a terrible subway!

Portland's urban growth boundary doesn't seem terribly effective. Most of the land inside the boundary is a fractal sprawlscape of dead-end streets lined with single-family homes and 3-car garages. Most of the region's population growth is happening outside the boundary, in places like Vancouver (Washington) and Salem. Because Portland has failed to really urbanize and build sufficient housing, while having a strong economy and plenty of jobs, people are simply driving further to work and living in places outside the UGB.

This can't be overstated. Anecdotally, you can feel it just by looking at the city. Downtown Portland isn't really growing in the same way that cities like Austin are (which isn't to say Austin is the poster child for urban growth either).

The suburbs also have urban growth boundaries (parents live next to one) and it's easy to build over single family homes. The people and the city don't seem very interested however. The whole state is really antigrowth and it has been for a century.

My concern with Portland is that it can be washed away by a massive tsunami any day now. Reference: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/20/the-really-big...

The likelihood that Portland will be washed away by a tsunami is basically nil.

Portland is ~80 miles inland from the pacific ocean - and the odds of a tsunami coming up the columbia river from the pacific, and still having much destructive power to do more than just flood, is again, basically nil - it would literally need to be a perfect storm for it to work.

I thought you were wrong based on my memory of the 2011 Japan tsunami and the images we all watched as it raced inland for what seemed like forever, but according to wikipedia it only traveled up to 10 km (6 miles) inland.

So even the biggest tsunami the world has witnessed wouldn't come close.

there is also a mountain range in the way.

Considering Portland is about 80 miles inland, earthquake is the major risk... But that's no different than the other major cities on the Pacific Rim.

Meh, New York could be wiped out by a moderate-sized earthquake (that we're supposedly overdue for and definitely unprepared for) any day now.

I'm not sure there's such a thing as a city that's not vulnerable to at least one climate change or natural disaster threat.

> I'm not sure there's such a thing as a city that's not vulnerable to at least one climate change or natural disaster threat.

Denver seems pretty safe. No earthquakes, safe from rising seas, no hurricanes or tsunamis.

True, except for freshwater availability. Denver already has to pipe water in and hope for plenty of snowmelt. Climate changes could impact that.

Yellowstone supervolcano.

Tornados? Drought?

Driving in snow.

Northern cities that are more inland seem to avoid them. Maybe they have the same earthquake vulnerability you mentioned, but I think it's extremely unlikely, but there's Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, even Montreal that are able to deal with the large snowfalls they get, and in general don't seem like they'll be hit as hard by climate change-caused extreme weather as other areas.

An even worse version of the 1998 ice storm could really cripple the northern cities. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/January_1998_North_American_ic...

>maybe if they weren't so vulnerable to climate change

Of the unpredictable and rapid vertical and horizontal kind?

What do you mean "if the state ever figures its shit out"?

Comments seem to focus on inefficiencies in the system, but I think that misses the point: the subway adds incredible value that only real-estate developers see.

Sure there is waste/bureaucracy/corruption in the system, but the bigger point is that the economy isn't setup for the MTA to profit from its own success.

Being close to the subway increases property values massively, but none of that value sees the MTA's bottom-line or repair-fund.

This was shocking to me and one that seems like an easy fix - a "subway tax"

E.g.: charge a T% subway tax for any sales over $D within X meters of a subway station.

Somebody smarter than me would figure out the right values for (T,D,X) and other incentives. (Maybe less if you're adding affordable housing, maybe more if you're a corporation, maybe say the funds can only be used for capital projects, ...)

This encourages the MTA to add more stops and make repairs to encourage more sales close to the stops. Win-win.

This is a great point, but also if the MTA builds a subway which increases land value, then the city will get an increase in property tax as the property value has increased, thereby effectively getting increased tax revenue from the subway.

Nonetheless the point you make is valid, and I think either there needs to be a separate specific property tax linked to the subway increasing value, or a portion of the property tax increase from a stop being built needs to be earmarked for the subway. Probably the former.

Agreed. What I dislike about using general-purpose property-taxes is that everyone pays them, not just those close to the subway, and not just those buying new homes at $$$ market-rates. Long-time property-owners who bought in the 60s can see huge property-tax bills that sometimes exceed original-purchase-price on a yearly basis. Exclusively targeting those who (1) buy at recent market rates and (2) are within a "favorable" distance to a subway stop seems (to me) to be a fair way to extract some of the benefit provided by the subway to help pay for it.

They have these in e.g. DC: https://www.apta.com/resources/reportsandpublications/Docume.... Besides that, MTA simply needs to raise rates. London Tube fares are quite a bit higher than MTA fares.

Skimmed through the document. In most of the the case-studies it provides, a general-purpose tax was added to properties near transit. That is unfortunate since it means people who have owned their home for a very long time (and who thus may not see transit as a benefit) end up being forced into a tax.

Raising rates affects lower-income people quite harshly, and they're usually the ones who have to take multiple forms of public transit to begin with.

I don't know of many New Yorkers who have a hard time with the $2.75/ride fee for occasional trips and maybe the per-trip cost alone could be increased substantially, but if you're buying a monthly pass, the current $117/month already feels like a lot of money, even if you consider the savings versus alternatives.

> Now, no matter the cost—at least $100 billion—the city must rebuild it to survive.

Why are transit-build costs so much more expensive in New York compared to other major international cities?

The cost of new underground railway is between $400 million and $700 million per mile in cities like London, Tokyo, and Berlin.

The Second Avenue subway in New York cost $2.5 billion per mile, which is five times the average elsewhere in the world.

The Times did an article on that last week.

Yup - https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/nyregion/new-york-subway-...

There were at least 200 people making $1,000/day to do nothing. That's $73 million/year in pure waste on that project alone.

The subway needs a case made for it? You'd think it would be obvious that NYC can't function at its current size without the subway. And that's even before you get into the benefits in terms of sustainability, transportation access for those who are less well off, real estate values, and all that jazz.

And yet, no real change to the status quo of slow deterioration seems to be happening. The louder and more powerfully we can make this (I agree obvious) case, the better!

Here's hoping Byford can turn things around like Ravitch did. I can half-picture Jamie Dimon getting on board.

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

How much of this is due to the loss of human capital?

I jumped in here hoping this was about sandwiches.

Dilute unions monopoly. Bring in foreign (other states) construction/labor force competition.

With autonomous vehicles, will subways matter in 5–10? I can imagine a world where we have small and very low cost electric transportation pods (no need for most safety feature) that drive bumper to bumper, door handle to door handle at least on some routes. Cost per mile will be much cheaper than the subway.

A single New York subway train can carry 1000-2000 people and might carry 2500 at rush hour.

There are ~14000 licensed taxis in New York. So all of the taxis in New York could carry the equivalent of 5.6 trains. Any given subway line has about 15 trains per hour and there are 25 or so subway lines. So you could assume there's maybe 350 trains running at any given time vs. 5.6 train-equivalents in taxi space.

So unless self-driving pods can somehow squeeze together 60 times more densely than taxis as well as not need to deal with crosswalks or traffic lights, the subway has a rather large advantage here.




Keep in mind 15trains per hour is really quite poor by international standards.

Victoria line in London can do 34 trains per hour currently and there is a plan to get it to 36 (anything further is really difficult because you hit a physical limitation of getting people on and off trains).

But as many as 3-4 lines run on the same tracks/platforms mostly in Manhattan with some running local vs express. It's usually at least 4 platforms in a station, with 1x express and 1x local in both directions. Remember, it's mostly quadruple track. So it's actually more like 45/hour for express stops.

45/hour/track? Literally impossible even with world class signalling, which the NY Subway definitely does not have. 38 tph seems to be the physical limit.

AFIAK only the L train reaches anywhere near "world class" capacity (as it has CBTC), but is still only 26tph.

Other lines on the NY subway must be far less than that. From my experience 3-4 min headways per track are pretty common, which equates to 15-20tph. Obviously if you have both express and local then you're up to 30-40, but it could be ~double that with modern CBTC.

If you look here:


The lines with the same colors run on top of each other in Manhattan so you have to sum them. Supposedly the 456 does get 44/hour, counting express and local tracks together.

I agree that most lines do not have modern signaling and most do not run at 45/hour most of the time. But also you know, 24x7 and all that.

I understand the system very well :). But you could be doing 88 per hour on the 456 or ACE if you had modern signalling. 22tph/track is really poor.

If you combined that with walk through trains you could easily get a 200-300% capacity increase. There is a lot of theoretically low hanging fruit on the MTA, technically speaking.

Keep in mind how screwed cities like london are which do have the theoretical max per track and no other option but to build new subways. NY doesn't have this problem, it just needs to use its assets way better and there is room for at least a decade or two of further growth.

You can still only fit so many cars safely on a given road, regardless of how automated they are. Subways (and all public transportation) will always have greater potential throughput, provided that people can get where they want to go. The larger the city, the more likely you are to have common routes with other people.

It's analogous to small packets vs jumbo packets. You're going to always have better throughput for the overhead, the larger the unit... so for just bulk moving of data (people) to/from a limited number of destinations, you'd be better served with the "jumbo" option. If you have a small number of people with a large number of destinations, a smaller option (cars), is better.

Unless we're talking completely reimagining the transportation network (which isn't a 5-10 year time frame project), you won't see use of autonomous pods displace subways -- especially in a place like NYC.

How do cyclists and pedestrians fit into that? Is this your utopia? https://i.ytimg.com/vi/s-kdRdzxdZQ/maxresdefault.jpg

Why do you think cost per mile would be cheaper than the subway? With CBTC (existing technology, though not rolled out to most of the subway) and intrusion detection, we don't need any labor on a subway. What's less expensive to maintain, a 10 subway car set that carries 1500 people or 1500 pods?

Maybe paved roads are cheaper to maintain than subway track, but that's hard to really compare apples to apples.

Honestly, I find it easier to imagine a NYC where there are no private vehicles allowed at all during rush hour than I find it possible to imagine one w/o subways.

It's a geometry problem, you don't have enough space in a city to have all those pods and pods station.

It needs to be fixed, but maybe the MTA isn't the right entity to fix it. Maybe write Elon Musk a $3 billion check with no political strings attached and see what he can do with it?

Elon has never delivered anything nearly this big ever and has rarely operated on schedule. He is not the person I would give the transit problem in one of the world's premier cities.

I like the sentiment of this but Elon isn't the right person. He hates all things mass transit.

This isn’t true. The Boring Company’s first two projects are intercity mass transit (Baltimore-DC) and local mass transit (O’Hare-downtown Chicago).

Is the current plan actually for mass transit or just point-to-point rather exclusive transit?

https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2017/12/what-elon-mus... was doing the rounds a few weeks ago

I'll believe it when I see it. Being a rich techie doesn't mean you know how to build a public transit system

He seems to be angling for Mass Transit 2.0: The Bus Comes to You.

Is that going to work? I don't know yet. I want to believe, though.

It will make things better, but I don't think it can solve anything outright. Grade separation, which provides load balancing and a sort of fail-over route, is the real deal.

Both of those are bids, not projects for which the Boring Company has been selected.

> Maybe write Elon Musk a $3 billion check with no political strings attached

What are the political (as opposed to, presumably, practical, like "these metrics for subway performance must improve") strings that might be attached?

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