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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
The MTA. That's not at all an unusual amount for total compensation expenses for an employee.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Were we guilty of the same thing as the construction workers in your example?
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.
"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.
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
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 ...
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.
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.
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.
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.
2 Century old monuments- Tokyo literally bulldozed a lot of that old crap in the 60s.
3 NYC subway itself is a monument
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
Hell, drop a few BART stations in Alameda you'd be a huge step in the right direction.
Whether the project happens in San Francisco's lip-service to transit NIMBY climate is the bigger question.
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.
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.
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.
OTOH Atherton may well be one of HSR's smallest problems.
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.
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.
I honestly love portland, but it doesnt want to be an urban area.
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.
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.
So even the biggest tsunami the world has witnessed wouldn't come close.
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.
Of the unpredictable and rapid vertical and horizontal kind?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How much of this is due to the loss of human capital?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2017/12/what-elon-mus... was doing the rounds a few weeks ago
Is that going to work? I don't know yet. I want to believe, though.
What are the political (as opposed to, presumably, practical, like "these metrics for subway performance must improve") strings that might be attached?