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Penn Station Could Get Worse (bloomberg.com)
108 points by uptown 72 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 131 comments

"Let's build a new shiny station" (that would make everyone walk even further to transfer to the subways to get them to work) - tons of interest! tons of excitement!

"Let's rebuild 2 tunnels. And maybe build 2 more." (Before they collapse and destroy the economy.) - Boring. Not sexy. No photo-ops.

And that's the problem with humans. :(

It's a problem with American politics. While Penn Station falls apart, London and Paris have seen nothing but infrastructure improvements and upgrades.

There are of course many reasons for this, but I assure you not all human societies are clearly hostile to public infrastructure spending and anything that isn't private and for-profit.

In the years I lived in London I observed the Tube going from constant outages and weekend shutdowns, to later trains, more frequent trains, and new infrastructure projects like Crossrail. DLR, a conductorless system I rode daily,was only a few decades old.

As a NYer I'm deeply embarrassed by having seen first hand over 20 years the slow decline of the transportation system here. It's embarrassing when family and friends visit from overseas and display disgust and shock. NY comes off as wealthy and clean in popular media there, but the reality is closer to a Third World one.

Chicago's infrastructure is falling apart as well. The L hasn't been extended in decades, and there are no plans to electrify the rest of the suburban rail lines. The city is corrupt and constantly out of money. Every time they raise revenue, it disappears, with the streets full of potholes and non-existent lines between car lanes.

The only city that's truly expanding their rail in a significant way is Seattle. With the ST3 project and the Redmond Transit corridor, hopefully they'll see some relief from the insane housing prices. But they needed that expansion two decades ago.

Don't even get me started on Caltrain.

Everybody is going crazy over self driving vehicles, but if we do get them, they won't be a reality for at least 10 ~ 15 years. It's a more difficult problem than people think, and all that money could be put into fixing and expanding our crumbling rail.

I don't understand why America hates rail so much.

> I don't understand why America hates rail so much.

Because in America, transit is welfare for poor people, and acts like it. Busses in small cities in Germany coordinate schedules to optimize transfers. Busses in secondary US cities just don’t shown up sometimes because the driver decided to clock out early. There is no accountability, due to the potent combination of the fact that the primary constituency is politically marginalized to begin with and also are not paying the taxes that fund the systems.

Re: Seattle: 15 years for two rail lines is a joke. Assuming they actually build it.

It is taking way too long. But there are reasons. (1) There is a limit on the amount of bonds that they can have bid out at a time. (2) they had to do a lot of tunneling. (3) the next segment involves building over a floating bridge. Light rail over a floating bridge is non-trivial. I do wish they'd increase their ability to do simultaneous work though, I'll be dead before it gets near my house.

Replying to my own note, the cost is controversial, and plenty of people don't want to spend money on infrastructure, or have endless arguments over we'll just use driverless cars, only spend money on roads, or only spend money on buses, etc. But somehow we managed to pass something here.

For 3), there was recently an article, that highest cost in US rail projects is buying land. 3 kinda offsets this.

Building rail on a non-fixed "floating bridge" is probably expensive too :-)

It will be the first floating bridge rail in the world. They've already built the test track, so so hopefully they have an accurate idea of how much the production segments will cost:


I think the hostility is reasonable: https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/nyregion/new-york-subw.... When New York spends five times as much to do the same thing as London and Paris, why should I support it? And New York, by virtue of its sheer wealth, is at least minimally functional. When I lived in Westchester, I drove my car maybe once a month. Most other places are non-functional. I used to ride the Amtrak between DC and Baltimor every day. The question was not whether I was going to be late, but how late I was going to be. The Baltimore light rail comes kind of when it feels like it.

If US transit wasn’t so unbelievably shitty and inefficient, there might be some stomach in funding it.

Fair point, the corruption and incompetence I'm that plagues public works in places like NY is truly astonishing. However I think you and OP are talking about a different kind of support. A lot of people (almost exclusively on the political right for some reason) hate public transportation regardless of how well or poorly it actually works.

I don't know that this is true. You're suggesting a lot of people have an irrational reason to dislike public transportation, meanwhile there are legitimate and obvious reasons to dislike it.

Why not assume the obvious? The user experiences how crappy it is and sees how much it costs. He therefore balks at funding more expensive crappiness.

> "You're suggesting a lot of people have an irrational reason to dislike public transportation"

It's not a suggestion, it's an historical fact. I'll cite no less an authority than George Will, who in one of his more unfortunate descents into conspiratorial hackery essentially equates support for public transportation with communism:

> "The real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism. To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they—unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted—are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make."

Other conservative powers oppose public transport only to protect their own money. A good example is the Koch family, who vigorously fight any technology or activity that might threaten their fossil-fuel-fueled wealth, including public transport of all kinds. Rent-seeking may constitute a "rational" motivation on the part of the rent seeker, but many conservatives appear to align themselves with Koch-branded positions for purely ideological (and I would argue irrational) reasons.

Interesting. That quote from George Will seems pretty relevant to credit / debit cards too. However I suspect most of these people have and use a payment card, which if true, leads me to believe it's a quality and convenience issue. Make public transit far more convenient and reliable and people will no doubt give up some freedom for it.

Self-driving cars are eventually just another form of public transit anyways, so maybe that'll be the winning approach.

I don't really trust our government and loathe giving them more power. On the flip-side I hate the waste we produce in the name of freedom.

Have you ever been to NYC? Manhattan, specifically? During rush hour?

I'm not sure if you're starting to make a market-based Rational-Man-type argument, but I'll cut you off and say: you don't have a choice BUT take public transportation, unless you can afford to take a helicopter and live and work right near helipads. Even an Uber/taxi can be an impossible nightmare time-wise during rush-hour.

Most people who commute in on the NJT/Amtrak (the topic of the parent submission) don't have the choice to take a car or walk.

The NY Metropolitan area is not the rest of the United States. The population density is like nothing else.

While Penn Station falls apart, London and Paris have seen nothing but infrastructure improvements and upgrades.

"Lead us not into Penn Station..."


> As a NYer I'm deeply embarrassed by having seen first hand over 20 years

NYer as well, for long time, and while it's (public transport) in decline for sure, I think your timeline is off. I'd say it's only been in aggressive decline for the past few years, and gradual decline for last 10. Before that was getting better every year. Unlimited Metrocard made riding the subway safe at all hours as marginal cost for riders became zero, more riders = more safety.

Fair enough, generally. The subway was pretty fine in my memories of the early 2000s to about 2010. Penn station, however, NJ Transit in particular, I feel started its decline before 2010. More and more people have been relying on these trains while the trains and system have been getting older and too big for their (ripping) britches.

London does prove that it can be turned around. So there's that, at least.

It's more centralized in the UK, while an old-fashioned American belief in small, local government lives on. If you read the article, the ARC tunnel project needed (or initially thought it would obtain) collaboration between governors of New York, New Jersey, Transit Authority, and the Fed government. If you work in systems, that's like a disk array striped across several disks, the failure of any one causing the array to fail.

First Corzine proposed it (the second or so in as many decades), then Christie replaces him and uses its cancellation for political gain (a fact with such frustration that I can't express it politely), then the project comes alive again at higher cost and with Obama Federal funding promises overturned by Trump.

Whoever said that decentralized control of infrastructure in a short-term-minded political environment was a good idea needs to wake up and visit countries in Europe or Asia with vastly superior infrastructure and ponder the idea that 18th century ideas could perhaps be wrong in 2018.

The difference in centralization is striking. When I lived in Wales, the "no smoking in bars" law went into effect nationwide. Such a concept is nearly unthinkable in the USA.

I should point out that Penn Station (the terminal) is awful and falling apart. Honestly the station, the tracks below it, and the tunnels, all need work.

It's staggering to spend time in some of the US's biggest transit hubs - LAX, Penn, the NYC airports, and then go and spend time in some around the world.

The US has a lot of catching up to do on it's basic infrastructure.

The NYC airports are strange because certain terminals are fantastic at all three airports, and other are glorified Greyhound stations.

LaGuardia is funny because you go to terminal C and D, newly renovated with nice restaurants and fancy tablets at every table

...Or you could walk 10 feet to terminal A and B and get drenched by the gallon of water leaking out of the ceiling

Those leaking ceilings are almost to the point where they could be classified as NYC landmarks...

In general, most US airports are pretty bad, but I'll avoid Terminal 1 at JFK at whatever cost. It's by far the worst airport terminal I've been to in my life.

I read this week that each of JFK's terminals is run as it's own separate entity. If your flight goes to Terminal 4, and Terminal 4 has some issue or is overloaded, you can't go to any other terminal because they don't talk to each-other.

Reminds me of the Joe Biden speech a couple years back:

> If I took you and blindfolded you and took you to LaGuardia Airport in New York, you'd think, ‘I must be in some third-world country.’

Somehow this reminds me of the previous story on NY infrastucture ( https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/nyregion/new-york-subw... )

We were able to both fund and construct these tunnels a century ago, but somehow they now seem hopelesly out of our reach.

A couple of predator drones could probably pay for infrastructure repair. Probably a couple of overpriced Fighter Jets as well. Does America really need 10 ~ 11 active aircraft carriers? Most of our allies only have 1 or 2.

War is a machine, and it is eating away at America.

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."

-Dwight D. Eisenhower

"Here's what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defenses each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace."

-Bill Hicks

Transit systems in the US often are more heavily subsidized than in Europe. MTA recovers about half its operating expenses from fares. Atlanta’s MARTA is at 35%. London’s system recovers more than 100%.

I was really surprised to see that bit about London. It looks like Transport for London breaks out Underground usage, and that does recover over 100% (which is what ends up on the wikipedia page for farebox recovery), but the entire TfL system as a whole is around 60%.

Starts around page 120 of http://content.tfl.gov.uk/tfl-annual-report-2015-16.pdf

Well yeah, we had to give that money to the "job creators". Presumably they will be stepping up to rebuild the infrastructure any day now.

They'll be selling us public/private infrastructure funded by the 1.5 Trillion USD levy on the deficit via the recent 'tax reform.'

Job creators don't ride public transit, so they don't care. Having two parallel universes is a problem.

Don't forget our military misadventures abroad -- they ain't cheap.

I recently watched a fascinating documentary about the original Penn Station and the Manhattan tunnels, which were built entirely with private money by the Pennsylvania Railroad. Highly recommended.


This is a fairly poorly-informed piece, especially in light of the recent NY Times piece on construction costs in the New York area: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/nyregion/new-york-subway-...

Alon Levy, who was the source for many of the initial investigations into high costs here, argues quite convincingly that, at the current projected price tag, Gateway is not a justifiable project: https://pedestrianobservations.com/2015/11/13/when-theres-no...

The real problem here is that ARC, Gateway, &c. all have unjustifiably huge multi-billion-dollar price tags. We only have this problem in the first place because of the absurd construction costs in New York.

Additionally, the writer does not appear to have reached out to any independent transit people. Penn Station is actually less busy than, say, Châtelet-les-Halles in Paris, which has many, many fewer tracks. The biggest reason that it doesn't work well is just organizational – Penn Station would be able to handle its current capacity just fine if it did things that were standard elsewhere like through-running.

Lastly, neither Moynihan Station nor many of the Penn Station revamp ideas are well-regarded in transit circles. As noted, Moynihan Station makes people walk an extra long block. The original Penn Station, meanwhile, was not particularly well-regarded for things like pedestrian flow. It had a beautiful waiting room and some great architecture, but it's generally been regarded as being mediocre functionally, especially compared to Grand Central, which is both beautiful and has very good pedestrian flow.

A non-profit architectural foundation of which I am part is proposing to rebuild the original beaux arts Penn Station: https://www.civicart.org/rebuilding-new-yorks-original-penns...

More: https://www.wsj.com/articles/campaigners-step-up-fight-to-re...

If there's demand, I could ask the team/architects to do an ama of some kind.

But that's the problem - people are excited about building a new station on top.

But people aren't excited about rebuilding the 2 highly damaged tunnels underneath the river (or build some new ones).

Stuff like that is hard to sell because it doesn't capture people's imagination or attention - nor does it provide for great photo-ops. :(

In order to avoid death by 1,000 cases of crumbling infrastructure, the US should redirect $100 billion in military spending per year to infrastructure spending.

We don't even need to make that redirect last longer than a few years to fund most of our pressing infrastructure projects.

And our military would still have a budget $300 billion greater than the next biggest military spender (China)!!!

Let the contracts have as much graft as exists in Afghanistan and Iraq and the contractors might be interested.

I currently commute in on the LIRR everyday and man is it rough. I'm pretty sure my train is delayed more often than on time. I usually give my mom a call in the morning just to say hi and check in. When my train does arrive on time she will go, "Oh you're early today".

I fear it could really hurt the economic activity of NYC. Take me for example, I like my job and I like the city, but I'm looking to work remotely or on Long Island rather than commuting. It's long but not so bad if everything is going well. The problem is the lack of consistency makes it unbearable. You never know when your train is going to be delayed and you're stuck on a packed train, or worse, stuck in Penn Station for an unknown amount of time. Life is too short to spend it like that.

Cheer up. You could be taking the subway. :-)

It's all still the MTA. I used to live in NYC and took the subway everyday so I have some experience with both. Neither are great, but let's just say I miss my old commute.

I really have no idea what you are talking about. The LIRR works ridiculously consistently for me.

> A few weeks later, a sewage pipe spewed waste onto a heavily trafficked concourse—an honest-to-God shitstorm. “I’m like, ‘Literally, it’s raining in Penn Station,’ ” recalls Marigo Mihalos, a booking agent from New Jersey who witnessed the fecal deluge on her way to work.

For those who have never been to Penn Station, this is an accurate description of it on a typical summer day.

I commute via Penn Station, and while I think it's a labyrinthine and Kafkaesque human cattle pen, I've never seen anything like that, let alone routinely.

Somewhat surprized that the article didn't touch on the expanse and glory of the old Penn Station that was torn down in the 60's. More information here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/penn/

It did mention it, although it didn’t go into details: ”His tourgoers are among the many New Yorkers—and others with an interest in urban planning—who know that today’s decrepit facility sits beneath what used to be a gorgeous hall, inspired by the Roman Baths of Caracalla. It was demolished in the 1960s, to the dismay of preservationists. Rivers leads his flock through modern-day Penn, pointing out vestiges of the old place: an original staircase leading down to the tracks; a Long Island Rail Road waiting room; a ghostly, red-lettered sign for the long-gone Pennsylvania Railroad.”

It's sad they tore down what looked like a beautiful station to build the ugliness that is there now. Hopefully the forever-upcoming Moynihan station will bring some of that back.

Why don’t they raise ticket prices? Or add a “Penn Station Facilities Fee” to tickets? I’m still paying a ridiculous “9-11 Security Fee” on airline routes that land in the US and I also pay a ridiculous “solidarity fee” for airline tickets in France.

Why not make Penn users pay for using Penn?

People think it already costs too much to use and the prices keep going up as it is. So then it comes back to political situations like Christie ending a project in the name of lower gas prices.

A similar fee already exists for NJ Transit's Newark Airport station. Trips with that station as a terminus have an extra fee attached, which in turn pays for the train that takes people from the station to the airport terminals.

The Airtrain is the worst though, it's slow, and narrows to one lane while crossing the freeway (so you have to wait for trains to pass), it's excruciating to take if you're worried about being late for a flight. And it costs $5.50. Which is about what a taxi from the NJT station to the airport should cost.

And yet relatively speaking, it works a lot better than PABT. Penn Station has its short comings but it functions well enough that I can still say it is more convenient to go to Penn Station than it is do drive to NYC.

I have been using Penn Station since 2010. The first problem that started was trains backing up because of tunnel traffic. The second problem started happening in 2014 where trains were backing up in the tunnel because of platform traffic. The third problem started coming when the tracks (not trains) started breaking down and then you had derailments, collisions, breakdowns, etc.

Penn station just never got a break in usage. And never got a reprieve with accidents. It always worked at 110% and whenever repairs were being made, travelers complained because it caused daily delays.

What we really need is a whole brand new station, a whole brand new tube, and a whole bunch of brand new trains to put the other ones out of service and under repair. Only then will commuters and NYC goers be happy.

Let me help: PABT == Port Authority Bus Terminal

To state the obvious:

Build two new tubes besides the existing ones, the take the existing ones out of service, renovate them, bam.

Now you've got 4 (?) tubes and much fewer delays.

I don't know if you read the article at all, but the governors of NY and NJ had an agreement with the Obama admin to jointly fund just one tunnel (total cost $30B) and Trump pulled the rug out from under them. Building tunnels under a river isn't simple.

The cost of 14 miles of tunnels (and crossing the Thames and some smaller rivers, crossrail is under $2.5b. The entire project including half a dozen new stations entirely underground and a ton of electrification is $20b. That includes threading the line through a very congested underground area - tunnels within 12 inch of existing tunnels etc. The cost of the 2 mile branch of the pair of tunnels under the Thames was about $350m, cheaper per mile than the main tunnels.

The jubilee line extension crossed the Thames 3 times and cost $5b for the entire project including new underground stations and 6 miles of new tunnels.

While I think the US has massive cost overruns compared to other developed nations, and this fact makes a huge selling point to the public on a need for political reform, I think we should compare smaller projects to explain why. Let's compare one cost and time to fix a street light, or a train carriage in London, Paris, Seattle and NYC. Or even building a public playground. This would probably explain in detail how the cost of labor, planning parts, etc is so much more in parts of the US than overseas. Until US cities can do projects that are small than unfortunately it can't expect the public to really want to fund these larger, much more expensive projects.

We should get Elon to do it.

Elon won't save you here. You gotta wait for his magic gridlock-reducing self-driving cars.


“I think public transport is painful. It sucks. Why do you want to get on something with a lot of other people, that doesn’t leave where you want it to leave, doesn’t start where you want it to start, doesn’t end where you want it to end? And it doesn’t go all the time.”

“It’s a pain in the ass,” he continued. “That’s why everyone doesn’t like it. And there’s like a bunch of random strangers, one of who might be a serial killer, OK, great. And so that’s why people like individualized transport, that goes where you want, when you want.”

When the audience member responded that public transportation seemed to work in Japan, Musk shot back, “What, where they cram people in the subway? That doesn’t sound great.”

As much as I appreciate the guy, I don't think he thought this one through. A simple back of the envelope calculation would reveal just how hard it is to compete with a subway in terms of people per hour for a given width of road/track. Even bicycles, which are pretty compact, still need a safe stopping distance which wrecks the space efficiency. If you eliminate the stopping distances you probably also want to connect the vehicles to reduce crashes, and tada, it's a train.

Well the thing to wait for is not Musk's self-driving cars, but Musk disrupting the tunnel boring machine industry. Sure, Musk might not like public transit, but his boring company could very well offer tunnel drilling services. Any improvement at all may cause other tunnel drilling companies to decrease prices. Of course, we really shouldn't be relying on Musk for things like this.

Honestly I agree with his statements 100 percent. Mass transit done well is mediocre at best compared to individual transportation. Especially if someone else is driving. I would rather take an uberpool over the CTA any day of the week, it's simply faster and generally the same price

I live in San Francisco, and the public transit is useable compared to most other parts of California. Recently I visited Copenhagen, Denmark, and I found the public transit to be much nicer than mediocre (even if I couldn't by train tickets with a sign-only-no-PIN American credit card!)

Elon doesn't believe in public transit. Too many plebes packed into too little space. He'd rather move people in their cars instead, and if there's anything New York City does not need it's more cars.


I can't find it at the moment, but he's been talking up hyperloop as a way to move pods with private cars in them. The Boring Company (a step towards Hyperloop, potentially), is talking about drilling holes small enough that only those pods would work.

> Building tunnels under a river isn't simple.

It's fairly simple as it is a 200 year old technology. It's not rocket science. What's not simple is how to divide the taxpayer money between the elites.

As for the train picture that's supposedly packed and dreary, it's still miles ahead of some of the oldest trains operating in some of the lines around Paris, which are ~50 years old and when they are packed, it's people standing up from one end of the wagon to the other. At least they're in the process of being replaced (the first new trains were delivered last month).

Still I'm glad that Paris has a good public railway system, even if the improvement work in the summer can be really annoying (like when they are cutting the West-East line for one month in Paris).

I was criticizing the disconnect between the picture and the caption. I'm pretty sure Amtrak has trains that are just as bad as some of those in France.

Luckily, when I lived in NYC back in 2012, I never had to cross paths with Penn Station.

Mainly, I’d use the PATH train from Jersey City to 33rd Street, which ran frequently and mostly on-time.

The one time I had to visit a friend in Long Island, Penn Station wasn’t the horror show the article suggests. Then again, it was nearly 6 years ago, so it’s plausible that it has degraded. Fingers crossed that The Boring Company can actually execute.

Note that you were going east and didn't have to go through the North River Tunnels, and I'm guessing, not at rush hour.

PATH uses a different set of tunnels, and actually has four of them instead of just two.

From the title, I knew it could be one of two things: New York Penn Station or Port Authority Bus Terminal. Both are nightmarescapes.

I applaud bloomberg for writing about this. The more these problems are talked about, hopefully, will result in some for of change. (The NY Times has done a great job in the NY region shining a light on subways, MTA, see below for stories linked.)

It is always incredibly challenging to have to design solutions ontop of exisiting,immovable, infrastructure and old stubborn corrupt people.

Regarding the article, these statements are absurd.

> K. Jane Williams, deputy administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, sent a curtly worded letter to New York and New Jersey officials that snidely made the deal sound made-up.

> “We consider it unhelpful to reference a nonexistent ‘agreement’ rather than directly address the responsibility for funding a local project where 9 out of 10 passengers are local transit riders,” she wrote.

With New York residents rated 44 out of 50 on Wallet Hub's "2017’s Most & Least Federally Dependent States " state residents being dependent on the federal government, meaning NY residents give more than they get back ( Scale : 1 = giving less and being more dependent on federal funds versus 50 being more independent and giving more than it receives, being less dependent on federal funds[1] ) as well as other nearby states, such as Massachusetts(46), New Jersey(49) and Delaware(50), I find it incredibly irritating for them to make it as if people who rely on that form of transit do not matter especially with transportation being a way to get out of poverty. [2][3]

So much for infrastructure spending....


[2] (https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/07/upshot/transportation-eme...)

[3] (https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2015/05/25/public-transp...)

Regarding Amtrak,the author in my opinion should have explained how the Amtrak works/run. They suffer because they do not have funding, but lack the ability to be forced to innovate because of virtually zero competition.(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amtrak#Controversy)

To understand how Amtrak works, I suggest reading this. (https://rctom.hbs.org/submission/amtrak-when-political-absur...)

>NY Times on MTA

(https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/07/opinion/nyc-leaders-subwa...) (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/03/magazine/subway-new-york-...) (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/nyregion/new-york-subway-...) (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/12/22/nyregion/what...) (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/20/nyregion/system-failure-n...)

Penn Station really sucks. It feels like the third world where trains are always delayed, passengers are shoving and pushing each other. Imagine the plight of employees working in Manhattan having to tell their upper east sides bosses why they are late every other day.

The US’s record of reliable and efficient public transit is abysmal. Out west here you’re lucky to even catch a bus that takes an hour and fifteen minutes to get you where a 15 minute car ride would.

> Out west here

Dont have a lot of experience with US, but Seattle and Redmond (which are on the west coast) had pretty awesome public transport.. I was able to navigate it pretty easily even though it was my first time in US, and it went pretty much everywhere

Hell, when I was living in Portland the public transit was totally reasonable. Getting to the airpot was a peace of cake, taking the bus from North Portland to my job on the other side of the river was easy, my coworkers who took light rail in from the burbs rarely had issues. Overall it was pleasant experience.

That's because it's a major city center, and even then people usually have a lot of complaints about Seattle's public transportation.

Go an hour south in your state (or over to the eastern half) and you'll see what GP means.

To contrast with Penn Station, just ~10-15 blocks to the northeast you have Grand Central, an iconic train station that is much better in almost every way.

Before clicking I thought the article was going to be about the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

Spoken as someone who has not had to use Penn Station!

I have used both extensively, and PABT was my first inclination as well.

I've witnessed active hallway defecation at both locations, so I think we can agree there's a case to be made for either facility.

Both are contenders but at twice the passenger traffic, Penn Station has to be heavyweight champion.

Woah, after reading this article, my eyes have some lingering "lines", really messing with my head right now. Note to journalists/designers: DO NOT use black background with sharp contrasting white text.

Yeah that formatting was atrocious. Scrolling while reading was causing me to see flickering white "blobs" flowing between the text. Even afterwards I'm still seeing remnants of those white blobs. Time for a computer break!

It was actually painful to read. Literally painful.

  Penn, the Western Hemisphere’s busiest train station, serves 430,000 travelers 
  every weekday—more than LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark airports combined
That would surprise me.

According to Wikipedia Zurich main station served on average 441,400 per working day. And that's in a city of roughly 400'00 people (or 1.2M if you count the metropolitan area).

That's peanuts compared to monsters like Shinjuku in Tokyo, which was used on average by 3.64 million people per day in 2007.

So I'm wondering where they come up with the "western hemisphere busiest train station"

Zurich, Tokyo and pretty much every other large train station aren't in the "Western Hemisphere":


Someone was really reaching to find meaningless superlatives. Wouldn't it be better to compare this station to stations handling similar passenger numbers?

I frequently use Penn Station, Union Station (DC), and 30th Street Station (Philadelphia). All of them are overloaded, but things like waiting areas, bathrooms, food, ticketing aren't really that much worse in Penn Station. Aesthetics, on the other hand...

I think it's fine. While the article spends some time talking about how shitty looking Penn Station is, I felt like it delivered its emphasis on how the actual transit part of it is slow motion dying. Like tunnels literally creeping towards collapse. The comparison to airports I think is fine for envisioning scale in an American context.

Like all of the station level stuff is important, but I felt like the article was more of a plea to make sure that we'd at least fix the actual track and tunnel level problems before NYC gets strangled.

Yeah, and there have been and continue to be ongoing improvements in the layout and general rundownedness of the concourses. I was pleasantly surprised the last time I was there. Would I like to snap my fingers and conjure up old Penn Station to replace the soulless crap built on Penn Station's air rights? Sure, who wouldn't. But the crumbling infrastructure (to say nothing of the crowded platforms underground, etc.) is the bigger problem.

Easy mistake to make. Sometime after the end of the cold war, US schools started properly using the Prime Meridian to define the edge of the Western Hemisphere. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, the Western Hemisphere and "the West, including Western Europe" were basically considered one and the same. I was a little confused by my kid's geography homework until I realized this change.

I stand corrected.


On the other hand, I can't imagine Penn Station is busier than, say, Madrid Atocha. They should have used 'New World', not Western Hemisphere.

450k per weekday, 552 and that's 115m per year plus weekends. That's busier than Madrid and London Waterloo.

Presumably because Zurich is not in the Western Hemisphere.

This is all part of the long-standing "taxation is theft" meme that infected the USA in the late 1970s and early 1980s. There are many reasons we can't have nice things. One such reason is our collective unwillingness to pay for them.

Would you please not take HN threads on generic political tangents? Discussion quality goes down as genericity goes up.



"This is all part of the long-standing "taxation is theft" meme that infected the USA in the late 1970s and early 1980s"

No, it's not. This is all part of the scam politicians have been running on the public for decades. Namely taking taxpayer money earmarked for specific purposes (i.e. maintenance) and then not using it for those things. Then they turn around and say "we don't have enough money, we need to raise taxes to pay for these unforeseen costs", even though the costs were completely and entirely foreseeable. Also, let's not forget the egregious waste on construction that is rampant in publicly funded projects, with NYC being the worst offender of them all. Case in point - https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/nyregion/new-york-subway-...

I agree with you, however, how would you propose that we ensure compliance in respect to money being used for intended purposes?

They can legally bind the revenue to expenditure purposes when they pass the spending bills. I have actually seen this in a few states and municipalities. I believe NJ passed something within the last year or two legally binding revenue from a specific tax to be spent by a certain legislative authority. If I recall, it was related to the gas tax - they increased it and they said everything must be spent by whatever government entity is responsible for highway maintenance (DOT I think?). That way there is no legal way (without another bill being passed) for politicians to use the money for some other purpose. It's still possible that the DOT squanders the money through mismanagement, but at least it would still be spent on roads and infrastructure, as intended.

Same way that private corporations ensure money is spent where it is intended to be spent.

Fire (read: impeach/do not re-elect) those that do not their job by spending money not for its intended purpose. Discover this by regular, full, public audits.

Prosecute those who commit embezzlement and larceny and send the to prison if convicted. Make them serve long prison stints with no hope of parole for having violated their position of public trust and bar them from holding public office or lobbying positions on penalty of more punitive prison time.


Didn't we give telcos a ton of money in the 90s to ensure fiber to the premises everywhere? How did that work out? Privatization still requires oversight.

First, we didn't do that.[1] Second, the telecoms were already privatized, so what the 90s were about was deregulation, which is different. Third, while it's true that privatization (as well as deregulation) requires oversight, it's been quite successful in other countries in the transit sector. Japan's transit sector is highly privatized, for example, and mostly unsubsidized. The EU has called for deregulation of rail service by 2020: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-strike/rail-strike....

[1] I don't want to derail the thread, but you can search on HN for the past discussion. Also, whatever we did worked fine. Out of the G7 countries, we're #2 in fiber penetration, behind Japan.

We did it with phones in general and the cost of service plummeted as the quality rose.

That's just the telco taking credit for what microchip manufacturers have achieved.

Laws with criminal penalties.

Kinda hate to say it because of the current level of hype making it always sound buzzwordy, but a blockchain or something similar could be legitimately useful here. The issue is getting government entities to agree to strict accountability.

Excuse me, but USA pays a lot. But apparently due to some cost disease, we need to pay a lot more than other countries to achieve the same goal. There was a fascinating NYT article [1] about spiraling costs of NYC subway, but you can observe the same phenomenon in other places (defense spending, healthcare spending, California high speed rail etc).

So yeah, as a taxpayer, I will be super weary of approving any bond measure for infrastructure projects unless there is an ironclad proposal to control the costs.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/nyregion/new-york-subway-...

Yeah, paying for BART in the bay area is like: property taxes go to BART. BART uses it to pay gate agents $150k+ and do no infrastructure improvements. Another measure goes on the ballot because BART desperately needs money to fix infra. Bond is approved. BART employees strike for more money, get it. Infra improvements never happen.

I guess we gotta pay those gate agents the big bucks to stand there and watch people walk through the emergency exit gates instead of paying the fare. Seems like a six figure job to me!

> BART uses it to pay gate agents $150k+

citation needed

Here's the data - the claim is not supported http://blog.vctr.me/bart/ The raw, underlying data: https://github.com/enjalot/bart/blob/master/data/bart-comp-a... Throwing this into Excel I see only around 15 employees who are in lower level positions that are anywhere near this compensation level. That being said, they do exist, and it's usually due to significant OT. Also, infuriating things like this exist but they are the exception, not the rule: https://www.mercurynews.com/2016/11/01/bart-janitor-grossed-...

I only see one "station agent" with compensation anywhere near that level and it is Antonette Bryant. The rest are in the 60k area.

I included total monetary compensation (base+OT=other) and looked at more positions. Station agent is directly in line with what OP said, but I was looking for others that were in lower positions yet making 6 figures. Either way, we agree that the claim is not supported in the general sense. Only a few outliers exist.

Or, the 50%+ of the eligible people who don't vote, can vote, and do something about it. At current voting rates, every race is competitive.

It's not. Compare the budgets and ridership of MTA versus Transit for London. Similar cities, similar riderships, and MTA has a substantially bigger budget.

We're underfunded in the sense that "it costs us 5x as much to do the same thing, and we're only allocating 1.5x as much money to it as European countries." Kinda true but not really the root cause.

New Yorkers are pretty highly taxed, actually.

Well, they used not to notice it as they were writing off the local taxes against fed taxes. I cannot wait until 2018 tax bills hit home. They should be eye opening to Manhattan/Williamsburg/Park Slope set

> Well, they used not to notice it as they were writing off the local taxes against fed taxes.

Deducting state taxes make state taxes look exactly like loss of income. If you would notice an equally heavy loss of income, you'll notice state taxes even with full deductibility.

Now, if it was a federal tax credit at full value of state taxes paid, sure, you wouldn't notice the state taxes. But that was never the situation.

Much the Schadenfreude as I will have when a well-off population that generally promotes higher tax rates gets what it asked for, I don't think they "don't notice it" when they sign off on their annual filings and see their refund check. After all, they're only getting back their marginal federal rate, not the entire amount. It's how little they get for their money compared to other countries after what they (net) pay, or how little people pay elsewhere in the country for not much comparably less, that I would hope sparks a productive response toward city, town, and state agencies.

New York City residents pay some of the highest taxes in the country.

We pay more into the state then we get back. And upstate/albany often times sabotages us (like the MTA subsidizing some politically ski slopes).

Same at the federal level. That's more complex since the region gets bunch of money back due to "security".

Regulatory capture is bad, and happens both ways. Rs get support from groups that don't want taxes. Ds get support from groups that want taxes to be spent on them. Turns the budget into a negative sum game. The future loses.

> In the era of climate change, hurricanes are becoming stronger and more frequent.

? [1]

[1] https://www.wunderground.com/education/webster.asp

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