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The Subway Is So Late, It’s Making New Yorkers Early (nytimes.com)
191 points by onuralp on Apr 8, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 246 comments

It's interesting seeing the ways people work around this, even for people who don't have hard start/end times (e.g. tech employees).

I have one friend who uses Citi Bike to get to important meetings < 30 blocks away, because they don't trust the subway to get them there on time (and during peak hours, cabs are even slower). I have another who goes pretty far out of their way to avoid the more troublesome lines (the F, specifically). Some have started using the bus much more regularly, because at least the bus doesn't break down for an hour at a time. One manager I know just stopped scheduling any meetings before 11, because they got tired of having people miss meetings or come in late because of the trains.

I think people who don't live in the city don't realize how (relatively) stressful it can be when the trains are late. Riding the train during peak hours is already a pretty stressful experience: The sardine analogy is very real, and it's fairly common for trains to be so packed that I literally don't have room to even put my phone in front of my face (let alone a book or anything else) to pass the time.

Now imagine that, but the train platform is also similarly packed. And people are fighting (sometimes literally) to get onto the packed train. And you'll have to wait for 2-3 trains to pass, because there's no empty space on the trains. And you're late, and you have no idea when you'll get to where you're going because the train ETA board just says "Delay". And when you need to get off the train, you'll have to just pray that people make room for you or you'll have to really force your way through the crowd on your way out.

> I think people who don't live in the city don't

> realize how (relatively) stressful it can be

> when the trains are late.

So much this. I always thought that the typical characterization of Germany, "the trains run on time" was a put down for how boring and uptight we are.

Then I lived in places where the trains do not run on time.

Oh my god.

Whenever I travelled back to Berlin, I wanted to hug the BVG employees.

> Whenever I travelled back to Berlin, I wanted to hug the BVG employees.

#weilwirdichlieben ;)

And of course, everything is relative. German trains are fairly punctual (although there is this famous saying, "the German railway has four enemies: spring, summer, autumn and winter"), but Swiss trains are even more punctual. Not sure if it's true, but I've been told that when the trains depart at Zurich Central at the top of the hour, the power frequency graph makes a small dent because of all the train engines drawing power at the same time.

Absolutely. Public transport in Switzerland is awesome.

Not just because of how well it works, but how it is accepted by all. Bankers in Zürich hop on the tram just like everyone else.

Also, millionaires and politicians use the public transport. But it is unfair to compare Switzerland with other countries due to neutrality, history etc.

Also strict immigration policies.

Way to subtly blame immigrants for shitty transport.

I assure you it’s not immigrants running NY subway and the MTA. they’re not the corrupt politicians pilfering funds away from it either. It’s not immigrants who think they’re too good for the subway so they grab Uber everywhere and have no vested interest in public transport.

It depends. Immigration for passport-holders from EU-countries is hassle-free and takes around 20 minutes. (The Swiss are very efficient.) Switzerland has agreements with the EU and can't just deviate from them. In exchange Switzerland can export stuff cheaply. I moved here four years ago, started working as a programmer and now I run a tech recruitment agency. So, I bring people into the country for a living. If you need help with moving here, please reach out to iwan@coderfit.com. Read more in my Medium.com post here: "Eight reasons why I moved to Switzerland to work in tech" https://bit.ly/2JxSQPt

As a tourist in Germany I took the train from Frankfurt to Munich. There was a stopover which required me to change trains.

I remember being slightly anxious because there was only a four minute window according to the schedule between when my first train would arrive and when the second train would leave. What if the first train was late? What if I couldn't find the platform for the second train (I don't speak German)?

Turns out I just had to walk to the other side of the same platform. I spent three excruciatingly boring minutes waiting for the second train to leave according to schedule. German railways are glorious.

I purposely live within easy biking distance of the office for this reason, which I'll admit is a luxury that not everyone can afford. Fortunately tech pays well.

Between my own bike and Citi Bike I can get everywhere I need to without relying on any form of mass transportation. Biking is frequently the fastest form of transportation, depending start/end point of the trip anyway. It certainly is for my daily commute.

Strangely enough, even in cities such as mine, which aren't so packed, cycling is still faster. Busses are faster than cars because they don't need to park, but still take 30-35 minutes. I can cycle in in 20 minutes. Note there is no train in my direction.

I think this is partially because bicycles are not that popular here, but there are provisions for bikes that go above and beyond cars. Having seen Bruges in Belgium, The bike queue can be comparable to a car queue (narrower, but none the less). I imagine other cycling heavy countries are similar.

You say "strangely" but if you spend enough time cycling you'll start thinking that the idea any other mode of transport is faster through a city is strange. It's incredibly frustrating to see governments spend literally 100 times as much money on a rail system as they could on a decent bike network that moves just as many people more equitably.

If a city invests heavily in a bike network instead of a rail system, what happens on rainy days? I imagine that most people would be reluctant to bike to work through rain, and would thus try to fall back to car or rail, thus drastically overloading those modes.

Bikes still work on the rain, you only need to dress up a bit. Extreme heat is way more problematic.

As you said, it's more of a cultural problem, that can be solved. If we accept that motorbikers need lots of specialized equipment to ride, we can accept that cyclists need a couple bits of extra clothing every now and then.

> Bikes still work on the rain, you only need to dress up a bit.

Given that I've seen car users complain about using public transit because they have to wait for a few minutes or sit next to someone they don't know, needing to buy specific clothing is likely to deter them even more from biking.

It's a cultural problem.

I guess it depends on the region / type of rain, but there's some threshold where I expect a bike ride to be dangerous and not worth it. (even if I could get covered in another layer of clothes and had a place to store them at work which is another issue)

True, but that treshhold is pretty high. SF doesn't exactly have a monsoon season.

There are days when the weather should preclude driving too.

Not an option up here in Canada.

Biking is not viable for about a 1/3 of the year. Ice, snow and low temperatures make biking extremely dangerous.

My city is known as being extremely biker friendly, yet virtually nobody bikes for 4-5 months every year.

Weather has an impact but cities still see a return on building bike infrastructure.


Canada is big but most of its population lives in the south. If you're in Yellowknife that could be different, of course.

Oh I definitely agree investing in cycling infrastructure is still worth it. I'm very happy my city has many bike paths and a bike sharing system.

However, the reality for most Canadians is that above all we need public transport that can be used year round. Most Canadians don't live in B.C., and pretty much everywhere else we have harsh winters (yes, even in the south).

They cycle, or take the bus, or walk - similarly car crashes are more likely when it rains but we still build roads.

The obvious counterexamples are the highly successful bike routes in northern European cities.. plenty of rain there.

Gortex is very good these days...

You could put a roof on top of the bike network?

I live in Palo Alto and this is frequently true even though biking is definitely an afterthought in most cases. By car, I can get to work in about 30 min (+/-10 with traffic) but can bike there in consistency less than 20.

Same here in the east bay, driving to work in Emeryville takes 15-25 minutes and then add another 5-10min to park, even in the garage. If I bike to work its less than 25, usually around 20 and I can leave my bike in the small garage in the basement or just take it up to my office. Takes me longer to get home since have to climb back up 300ft to my place in Piedmont. The bus is pointless and would take about 20min of walking + the time on the bus.

Spinning is winning. Instead of using high torque shift to easier gears and spin as fast as you can while seating on the saddle. You’re going to get there with fresher legs though a bit hotter in general—it’s a nice cardio—but that shouldn’t be a problem because you’re steps away from your shower.

I've been doing higher RPMs for a while now (I'm going to guess about 80) but I think this may have impacted my knees more. I've shifted to higher gears to try and reduce the number of repetitions my joints have to do, to shift load to the muscles

Yup, 46/30 subcompact double and an 11-36 11spd cassette. Got a decently low gear to get home after a long day.

Palo Alto biking is helped by the pedestrian/bike bridges that join it to Menlo Park and Mountain View on either side and by Bryant St. being blocked off every couple of blocks, making it a bike thoroughfare.

Years ago, I used to bike from Sunnyvale to Menlo Park once or twice a week, and 85% of the route was away from traffic. The delay was in crossing Embarcadero.

Oh yes, definitely an afterthought, but it only takes a few concessions to make previously unusable side streets a bike highway.

While there are very strong benefits to commuting on a bicycle, a motorcycle will likely be the faster method of commute transport.

Although this is probably dependent on your local laws and how much you abide by those laws, as I know lane filtering and such is illegal in a lot of the US.

Not in Manhattan though, and definitely not along my commute. Motorcycles are about as slow as the cars. There isn't room for a full motorcycle to filter through the narrow space between the row of parked cars and the line of slow-moving traffic. Hell, sometimes there's barely room to slip through on a bicycle. And it's flat out illegal for motorcyclists to ride in the bike lane.

But yeah, this is more of a special case than generally applicable to most places. On your typical suburban commute you can definitely save time by filtering between rows of parked cars at lights. That just doesn't work here very well.

Aren't all lanes in US of a minimum width?

IIRC only California allows lane splitting. So this is a legal issue as well.


And you're forgetting the double parking, bad parking, standing cars, building construction, street construction, etc. Streets of Manhattan are chaotic. Trust me when I say that there is often not any room for motorcyclists to filter past cars, especially not when bicycle lanes are present.

It being legal or not isn't the issue; it's not possible.

A minimum width lane really doesn't leave enough room to lane split. It works in places like California because they have significantly wider lanes than the minimum required almost everywhere.

That's not true. An experienced motorcyclist could filter through most US cities. Most people have no idea how small a gap a motorcycle can fit through.

Is this useful?

It certainly added evidence to my view that cycling is a useful form of transit in dense cities. It also added the element of people making deliberate choices in where to live based on transport methods.

On the other hand, you have a history of adding comments like this. Good luck with that.

Edit: I noticed you are editing your comment. When I replied it read "This comment, as nice as it may have sounded to you, doesn't contribute anything to the conversation - in fact, it amounts essentially to bragging."

Thanks for getting my intent. I was more trying to acknowledge my privilege in being able to live within cycling distance of work; tech pays well enough to enable that but many other jobs don't. There's lots of people in NYC who can't afford to live even 40 minutes away from work by mass transit, and who suffer a lot when that mass transit starts getting unreliable.

And, no surprise, a lot of my coworkers who also bike to work similarly choose where they live in order to be within cycling range of work. A monthly bus/subway pass is $116.50, whereas Citi Bike is an annualized $14/month. So you can save $100/month by not needing to take transit, which isn't nothing.

You save $100/month by not needing to take transit, but how much more is housing that's within biking distance? Extending your logic you might as well live within walking distance and save the Citi bike cost, as well.

Well, depends on where you work, and how willing you are to bike long distances, but on average probably more than that. That's why I acknolwedged it's a luxury not available to everyone. Choosing biking over transit adds a level of certainty to travel time that choosing walking over biking does not (as walking is only a little bit more certain than biking). It's the certainty that's really worth paying the extra for.

Don't underestimate the much bigger monthly savings of not owning a car, though. I moved from the suburbs in MD where having a car was essentially required to here, and that saved at least $600 per month. All told I haven't found it much more expensive to live in NYC; yes, rent is more, but transportation costs are way less.

Reading this doubly reinforces how good it is in Sweden where I live now. While trains and buses are notoriously delayed (somewhat frequently), I can look on a phone app and tell when the next one will arrive +- 1 minute.

It’s no Switzerland or Japan, but it’s what a reasonably well run system looks like.

Truthfully, it's mostly a problem caused by the sheer population density.

It's common for people to just head for the subway without knowing when the next train's arriving, which at off-hours can mean a 10-15+ minute wait for the next train. By which I mean: The concept of waiting around for an unknown amount of time for the next train isn't a huge deal.

The problem is how miserable the whole experience becomes when it's an unexpected delay at peak hours. If unexpected delays meant just hanging out on an uncrowded platform for 15 minutes to wait for an uncrowded train, the amount of complaining would be significantly lower.

> "it's mostly a problem caused by the sheer population density"

That might seem like the obvious reason, but it's not the case at all. Read up on the NYC subway and its recent problems and their causes. Politicians use the growth in ridership as a scapegoat. There's more to the story than that. There's no physical/mathematical reason why a metro system of a bigger scale is precluded from running well.

Here's an article that offers a glimpse into various other angles and reasons:


Sorry, I meant that the experience for riders becomes miserable because of the population density (the third paragraph). If delays just meant waiting on an uncrowded platform for an uncrowded train, it wouldn't be nearly as much of a sore point.

I certainly agree with you that population density isn't the root cause of the recent subway issues - as evidenced by the fact that Tokyo's train system is working just fine.

As someone who currently is on a train to Osaka from Tokyo & who has lived near NYC, one thing I can say is while Tokyo’s system is well run, the rush hour crunch is real - basically everyone is nut to butt on the train. Sometimes you can’t even get on the train and have to wait for the next one.

Luckily trains in Tokyo run in really short intervals during rush hour.

Unless one lives way out in the suburbs and the train ride is 90 minutes. The first thirty minutes into Tokyo isn't too bad. It's the remaining sixty minutes which would shock most Westerners. Not looking forward to summer...

Which is why I bicycle into work. Sure it takes 90 minutes (I'm as fast as the train with all the stops) but my soul isn't squashed out by all the other sad salary men.

The density argument is probably incorrect. The city wasn't significantly less dense 6 years ago and things were a lot better.

This is a reflection of under investment and lack of maintenance and upkeep which was exacerbated by Hurrixane Sandy damaging the subway system significantly. It brought the chickens home to roost.

Is it under investment or mismanagement?

>[Sweden's public transit is] no Switzerland or Japan, but it’s what a reasonably well run system looks like.

Comparing Sweden to NYC isn't fair.

NYC Subway has ~742 stations (v. ~100 in Stockholm) and 1,756M in annual ridership (v. ~328M in Stockholm). This is just for the subway and excludes NY transit bus ridership.

Moscow metro has 250 stations on 3 times as much area (why did NY get to 750 stations?) and annual ridership of 2.4 billion. Train delays are rare, in my experience maybe one delay of 10 minutes a week (not counting the late night-time when intervals can get to 10 mins).

Moscow was one of the only places I've spent more than a week riding public transportation and not experienced a delay. Honestly confused as to that particular efficiency given the rest of the city/country's inefficiencies but they're doing something right.

Someone should investigate this. It's really, really strange.

> Moscow metro has 250 stations on 3 times as much area (why did NY get to 750 stations?) and annual ridership of 2.4 billion.

Perhaps area is not a representative metric since you have to factor in population density when deciding where to site stations. Wikipedia says that NYC Subway is 380.2 km (236.2 mi) long while Moscow Metro is 364.9 km (226.7 mi) long, so the two are close in terms of route length. Also, Moscow beats out New York in terms annual ridership: 2.4b vs 1.8b.


I think you may have transposed some digits. According to Wikipedia [0], the NYC Subway has 472 stations. Or 424, depending on how you count.

> The official count of stations is 472; however, this tabulation classifies some transfer stations as two or more stations, which are called "station complexes" within the nomenclature of the New York City Subway. If station complexes are counted as one station each, the number of stations is 424.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_City_Subway_stations

>I think you may have transposed some digits.

I definitely did![0] Should be 472 (as you stated.) Thank you for correcting.

[0] http://web.mta.info/nyct/facts/ridership/

so compare to Tokyo with ~2100 stations 14 billion annual riders and the trains run on time. NYC has zero excuse

Can you provide citation for 2100 stations for Tokyo subway?

The wiki says 179 (1/10th your number).[0]

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokyo_Metro

I'm not sure about the exact numbers, but 'Tokyo Metro' is only a small part of the Tokyo train network.

There is also Toei Subway, JR East trains, Minato-Mirai, ...the list goes on. 2100 may work for the entire metropolitan area of greater Tokyo.

In any case, the city is massive, extremely well connected by public transport, and services millions of people daily without delay.

Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transport_in_Greater_Tokyo#Rai...) says "There are 882 interconnected rail stations in the Tokyo Metropolis, 282 of which are Subway stations, with several hundred more in each of the 3 surrounding densely populated suburban prefectures. There are 30 operators running 121 passenger rail lines (102 serving Tokyo and 19 more serving Greater Tokyo but not Tokyo's city center itself), excluding about 12 cable cars."

I could probably believe the 2,100 number if you include all the surrounding prefectures that are in the broader Tokyo area, and if you count stations multiple times for each railway operator services them (it's not uncommon for a single station in Tokyo to be run by three or five different companies).


> There are around 136 individual rail lines in the Greater Tokyo Area, and between 1,000 and 1,200 railway stations depending on one's definition of the area.

Shanghai Metro has 393 stations and it's still expanding, with 3.53 billion annual ridership, and it has really rare delay.

well, do all factors scale linearly? if so, it shouldn't make that much of a difference. let's compare it to the subway system of vienna, austria (which is said to have one of the best public transport systems in the world).

so here's my personal theory.

all numbers - city population count, station numbers, system length and ridership - scale at a pretty much constant factor of 4. there are at least two huge differences though: density - that's ny:28,491/sq mi vs. vie:11,205/sq mi and year of opening is 1904 vs. 1976.

i'm pretty sure density is one of the deciding factors here, but let's pretend it's not - as ridership is comparatively lower at 3.99x -, what else might be different is the budget. viennas subway system is excellent but is so far up the curve of diminishing returns that the last few percent of reliability that sets it apart come at a steep price (the city pays with taxes).

other factors: vienna has a lot of alternatives in the form of trams and busses (and to a certain extend, trains), which take pressure of the subway. rate of biking is actually low compared to other cities because the public transport system is so good (and cheap).

so, some guesses as to why the ny subway system is so much worse:

* age: 1904 vs. 1976 - not sure if there's much of a difference as stations, trains and tracks have to be renewed periodically anyway. * density: population density is almost trice as high, but actual ridership scales linearly with the rest * travel distance in a randomized environment with choke points: if you'd assume that entry and exit stations are randomly distributed and the average travel distance is thus 4 times as long, the risk of encountering a malfunction is 4 times as high - and it takes just one to fuck your timetable up. not sure how likely that is, as, i guess, travels tend not to be randomly distributed in real life (i.e. you'll more likely choose a job that's closer to home). * budget: the big question here. is the ny subway public transport system 4 times as expensive as the viennese one? do they employ 4 times as many people? do they have the same level of machinery maintenance?

Many people have written many articles about the NYC subway recently. Because the trains run 24/7, they cannot renovate lines and install advanced train control. Because of the terrible train control, they put simplistic speed limits on trains. Because of all the slow trains the number of passengers per train increases, resulting in more platform delays and medical emergencies.

So NYC has 7x the number of stations for 5x the number of riders?

The New York City subway system is old, one of the first in the world. It's not built to modern standards; in a lot of places it was built by cut-and-cover, which means excavating the entire route along the subway and then rebuilding the road essentially as a roof above the subway line.

As a result of this lineage it also has quite frequent stops, which are easy to put in when the subway is just a stairway's height beneath the street. To give you an idea, the 1 line stops at 14th, 18th, 23rd, 28th, and 34th Streets. That's five stops in one mile.

One of the first is a stretch, because the most compared lines were around or before NY's experience. The London Underground had its first line in 1863. Paris, 1900. NY, 1904.

Maybe we should say "metro system" then, as NYC's first el train was 36 years prior to its first subway.

This table has the subway at the world's ninth oldest, which is definitely still one of the oldest considering there's hundreds now: https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-world-s-oldest-metro...

Agreed, although I'd add it's substantially more complicated to dug tunnels under dense cities. The Underground is a substantial feat in that regard.

As a tangent, London is adding overground trains as part of its expansion. The Overground is pretty recent (and it shows) as is the fully-automated DLR, and now there's a Crossrail making an appearance. NY hasn't invested in a hell of a lot in overground infrastructure and it feels like that's a logical step in the outer boroughs.

Crossrail is underground through London. The Overground uses existing rail infrastructure just under direct TFL management so isn't really new. There are a few new sections but they exist only to join up two lines. DLR is possibly the only real example of new overground trains and partly that is because it follows existing rail lines for quite a distance.

not sure what your point was. Tokyo has several subways of a similar styl yet they manage to maintain them, renew, and rebuild while the train is running and stations are in use

The point was to explain why the NYC subway system has a relatively high number of stations, in direct reply to someone who was asking why the NYC subway system has a relatively high number of stations. I'm not sure what your point is though.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_metro https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_City_Subway

Quick Wiki search indicates NYC has about 1,112 km of rail vs Stockholms 105.7 km. So about 8-9 times the distance

Caltrain (on the SF peninsula) has a great Caltraindroid app that contains the schedules in a highly intuitive interface and with no privacy suckage.

The other day, I had to take the wrong train in the wrong direction, and switch to another wrong train in the right direction (which only operated this way on that day). It was so counterintuitive that I spent 2 hours or more trying to figure all this out, reading signs, asking station agents and listening to announcements.

I just work from home most days now because of how bad it has gotten.

I had to move back to Queens a few months ago near where I grew up and the trip to SoHo that used to take at most 45 minutes is now 60-90 min. A few times I was stuck on the E for around 2.5 hours.

Living in the outer boroughs has become a huge disadvantage.

Even 45 minutes is an enormous amount of commute time for a normal American city. Twice the median. Coastal megacities may be dense in space, but seem to be less dense in travel time than standard Midwestern sprawl.

The LIRR is more expensive but it may be worth it. You still have to get from Penn to Soho but at least you have line options.

lol, I can drive from bear mountain to downtown manhattan in 60-90 minutes. Usually that involves finding a carefully chosen parking garage and walking fast, but still quick and painless

Yeah, I'm stuck taking the bus to the E/F, which from what I've heard are the most delayed lines in the city.

They also make for a great homeless shelter because they are one of the longer routes and never go above ground. I've had mornings where the first 4-5 cars where full of sleeping homeless people. It's almost as bad as every other street in SF.

Offtopic: Audible. Big fan. Perfect for commutes and a lot of situations where having a book/device in front of you is not an option.

That's another question? Why there is no cell reception in NYC subway? Isn't very common in other countries?

I live on the F, it's not so bad if you don't have hard start times and can afford to get a car when shit goes real bad. Definitely not something to shrug off for others, but I thinks it's largely a non-issue if you're in tech.

Pretty good description of the T in Boston as well.

When I lived in NYC.. lived in Chelsea. Used to walk down to the WTC, to work.

Was also one of the few in the office who lived in Manhattan. Everyone else was either Long Island or Jersey. So when bad weather hit, I had no excuse.

The fundamental reason for worsening subway service in recent years may be more mundane than we assumed: https://www.villagevoice.com/2018/03/13/the-trains-are-slowe...

It was slowly driving me insane at my last job. Now, I just have to dial in to the morning meeting, then I can work from home for about an hour before heading in to the office, and we've been asked to stay home even for fairly light snowstorms this winter. I wouldn't be surprised if other tech companies in the city are adding more flexibility to their work hours.

The system is a century old with original electromechanical controllers.

And intentional slow downs due to prevent accidents. The siganling system needs to be replaced so trains can safely go faster. Not disagreement as much as just expanding on your comment.

that is no excuse. it's called maintenance. other cities manage to maintain their transit system . NYC has zero excuse . See Tokyo's transit history for how often they've upgrade the entire system a piece at a time.

... and do most of those upgrades take place when the Tokyo subway shuts down each night between 1am and 5am? It's hard to replace signal systems on tracks with a train passing every few minutes.

So if the Tokyo subway shuts down each night between 1am and 5am, why can't the NYC subway shut parts down periodically? It's common here in Melbourne to have whole lines shut down during the summer for maintenance or other service changes (e.g. removing level crossings). We hate it but we cope.

There's literally no excuse for not maintaining your infrastructure. Every probably can be solved. Shut down a line every night till the job is done. Or shut it down for a day or two. Is the line integrated with others? Maybe you'll have to shut down three or four lines. People will hate it. But if it avoids months and months of problems to have a few days, they'll cope.

It’s not to say that they can’t — it is to say that they don’t due to history and expectations. New Yorkers expect it to run 24/7 because it always has and people routinely make life decisions about where to live and work due to that. You can’t just change it without a pretty drastic social effect that would take years to smooth out.

Ok then if noone wants the change then honestly stop your whining

So is London’s

Most signalling systems in London are fairly new. Rolling stock is the bigger problem with some parts from the 1970s (Picadilly line). New signals were the main reason they could increase frequencies on lines like Northern, Central and Victoria in recent years.

What helps London is that the system shuts down for a few hours each night (except weekends on some lines). That allows most repairs and maintenance to take place without altering schedules.

To me (as a life long New Yorker) this is yet another sign of our decaying society - our crumbling empire. I've often wondered if the people of Rome understood that their empire was crumbling. Did they actually see the signs as it happened, or did it occur in such a way that the slow-motion decline wasn't sharply felt? The problems here aren't just the subways. The roads, the bridges and other infrastructure are also crumbling around us. The airports are a disaster of endless construction that never get completed and just add to the misery of travelers and the sense of overall decay. The LIRR is as bad or worse as the crumbling subway system. More New Yorkers are living paycheck to paycheck as the cost of housing, healthcare, insurance, and education soar far beyond what working people can afford. Our bloated bureaucracy continues to grow like a cancer, guided by the likes of the eminently corrupt Andrew Cuomo (and his allies in both political parties who serve the same moneyed interests), draining ever-more resources while providing ever-fewer critical services. Homelessness and poverty are increasing, while those at the very top of the economic pyramid are growing fabulously wealthy. Among this myriad of growing problems, we as a nation continue to ignore these issues and pour our limited resources into endless foreign wars and occupations. Unfortunately, dark days are ahead.

How do you get out of bed with such pessimism? Rome faced existential threats from German and Persian invaders, as well as multiple imperial assassinations and civil wars.

At the core of it, New York City simply has too many people on an old, straining infrastructure. And yes, though there are a few people who grow ever richer and a bloated City and State bureaucracy which are problematic, but there is also an enormous number of people who cannot and will not ever afford to live there - not middle class people hanging on, but a large number deep in poverty who won't ever get a foothold. And that's because there are actually a lot of services available. The city's has more than 10% of the entire homeless U.S. population, many of whom come out of state, and an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants. With a population density is more than 2X that of many other thriving metropolises in the country, there's a lot of unnecessary suffering. When you're on either end of the economic spectrum, you can get a pretty good deal here. When you're in the middle, you get squeezed.

P.S. I don't know if you actually take the LIRR, but it's an absolute pleasure to ride compared to the subway.

New York has almost the same number of people as it did in the 1950s. You can't blame this on population growth.


And the 2020 estmate has already been exceeded. Please check and cite your sources before making claims.

Also, I never said raw population size was the cause, but that it was the combination of a larger than ever population on an aging infrastructure. Lots of what is still crucial to daily life in NY, in particular the subways, had 60 years more usable life in the 1950s.

Increased demand for the subway is not a sign of decaying society, it's a sign of prosperity and growth. It's a sign that people feel more safe using the system and living in New York, and that there are more opportunities for people living there.

I for one would much rather live in a NY dealing with some temporary growth success issues than live in NY during the 70s (or really, any time before).

I've lived in New York City for over 40 years. If you view crumbling infrastructure, 44% of NYC residents living at or near the poverty line and soaring homelessness as signs of "prosperity", that's your prerogative.


I suggest you fly into Laguardia airport to see some world class prosperity.



If you want to enjoy even more "prosperity", you can pay $344 a month to ride the LIRR (as long as you don't have to get anywhere on time).


The problems with the subway are not due to excess demand. Delays and closures have been rising far faster than ridership.

The posthumous revenge of the USSR perhaps? http://thoughtmaybe.com/hypernormalisation/

it's frustrating to read this thread and watch people make excuses for NYC . NYC is not special. Tokyo has old subways 3-4x the stations and 10x the riders. They manage to rebuild , change tracks, build new ones and generally do the maintainence and upkeep required to keep it running well and on time.

NYC's issues are entirely about politics and leadership and nothing to do with anything unique to NYC

que more excuses

NYC is unique in that they are one of the few systems running non-stop. Any maintenance results in delays. Other large systems (Tokyo, Moscow, London) shut down most nights. Those 4-5 hour windows can make a lot of difference.

As I mentioned in another comment: what stops NYC from running replacement busses while one of the lines is under maintenance during the night? A bunch of cities do that, for example Berlin, I don't see what stops NYC from doing the same...

The economy of Berlin is based on available transport. Using buses prolongs journeys a lot, e.g. in London the city estimated that a sizeable chunk of people will see a 30+ minute journey reduction due to night tube.

Using replacement buses works but would likely damage 24h businesses and take one of New York's advantages away.

The highway organization and hydrology of NYC Metro and Berlin/Tokyo/Beijing are very different.

Many readers have quoted the superiority (rightfully so), of Moscow and Tokyo subway systems.

Both these systems operate from around 5am till midnight (approx). NYC Subway operates 24 hours. These few hours downtime, make a huge difference with respect to maintainability and upkeep. These 4 hours each day adds up to ~60 full days of maintenance window.

Maybe NYC can stop the late-night services for a year or so and I am sure better brains than mine have considered this.

On a separate note, it might help to note that usage of NYC Subway has increased by 80% over the last ~20 years (1). It will be interesting to see the same trend for Moscow and Tokyo subways.

NewYorker here and Subway rider here.


What stops NYC to do what any other city in the world does and just run a replacement bus line for the lines under maintenance? Even more if it's during the night, run a replacement bus close to the same stops as the stations and shut down the line.

Or isn't NYC Metro card integrated between different modes of transportation?

Late night tho... that 2am subway home is a lifeline for a lot of folks. I remember getting home at like 4am once thanks to the subway. I could probably live without it, but it wouldn't be as nice.

You need to boost other public transport services to provide at least some level of late night service. In Sydney, they run substitute buses between many railway stations from 0000-0430 - it's not great, but it's possible to use buses to provide a minimum level of service coverage when the railways are shut down.

Wouldn’t it be possible to have nightline buses operating the same routes as the subway during that window? It works well e.g. in Berlin and Munich and only takes minimally longer than the train (since the roads are not congested at night and the bus can hence go much faster).

At least it should be possible for a temporary maintenance window?

What does it exactly mean for a subway that's supposed to run every 3-5 minutes to be "late"? Are NY metro trains so infrequent that a schedule is that important?

Subways routinely are: 1 late, 2 closed for repair, 3. de routed etc...

eg. today, the 6th is not operating uptown, between 9:45 last night, and 6:am next morning

You say, fine, I will take another line, but then the 2 and 3 are not operating at all due to 'tunnel repair',

You need to go to work? Your choice is go downtown, take one of the express trains to uptown, and take another downtown train.

So, your 15 minutes train ride becomes 45+ minutes. You can always take a cab, but this becomes expensive to do regularly, plus during rush hour it is hard to catch one.

NYC's subway runs 24hrs in theory only. It is always a whack-amole game if the train is 1. late, or overcrowded, your 2. station is closed, 3. the whole line is not running that day, and My least favorite: 4. Tain strands you for a while, because "there is traffic ahead", or some accident happen.

Just as the article mentioned, I noticed I had to start leaving early to make sure I make my soccer games in time (they are in brooklyn). In case the usual route has issues (which happens about 25-30%% of the time during weekends).

Most annoying is that they rarely if ever post the notices of partial service shutdowns outside the fare gates.

It's a cascading failure issue. Toronto has the same problem, on a smaller scale. What I see here:

Step 1: a train gets delayed for a minute somewhere on the line. A dozen common reasons exist- someone becomes ill, mechanical issue, debris on the tracks, etc.

Step 2: Because it's rush hour, there's minimal buffer time between trains so the train behind it must also stop (and the one behind it, and the one behind it, etc). Even a 60 second delay of one train can back up the whole line.

Step 3: Because a train is late, there's more people trying to get on and off, which makes it take more time per station. As well, with more people per train, there's more human-related delays per train. The additional delays mean "go to 1".

With large enough buffers between trains, the system is stable- the problems get smoothed out. With small buffers, like during rush hour, the system can get into a feedback-loop total system failure. A 30 minute trip becomes hours long.

http://setosa.io/bus/ is my favorite demonstration of this.

The subway equivalent of gridlock :(

Traffic waves. Interesting topic. I just enjoy the surfing to work and let the waves take me gently along :-)

So, first thing that's helpful to know in answering is that there is actually a schedule for the subway. For example, here's the one for the A line:


At least back in 2012 or so, when I cared, the A train did keep reasonably close to this schedule (effectively genuinely on it when it wasn't rush hour). It definitely does not keep to this schedule now.

Now, do New Yorkers actually know this schedule? Well, sometimes, actually: while trains do come every few minutes in Manhattan, any specific train comes much more rarely, up to about every 20 minutes for the A train I linked above. This matters if you can't afford to live in Manhattan, or even if you live far away: for about a year, I commuted regularly from 181st St. to Fulton St. on the A, and you better damn well believe I had a specific train I wanted for that trip.

But even for those who don't, if the train gets too far off schedule, you start getting delays, because the trains cannot handle the throughput. Maybe for those commuting within the Midtown area, you know that a train will come every 3-5 minutes, but if the train that would normally take you is still 15 minutes away, then you've got at least a 12 minute backup of extra people who are going to be on that platform. Not only does that mean you won't manage to get your normal train (because you won't be able to reach the platform); it also compounds, since it'll cause people to enter and exit the trains more slowly. There are also many times when trains join or split from sharing the same track, and scheduling delays can change a smooth swapping of a switch back and forth to a traffic jam as controllers try to figure out whether it matters more to give the E or F priority on such-and-such a segment given that the nearest D and C trains are in such-and-such a place. You get this same kind of thing on your compute with disk seeks: it may not seem like a big deal if a read request shows up a millisecond late due to bus contention, but if it means that the drive head has just moved past the data you want, you're gonna have a long delay while it sweeps back, and that in turn may mean that other requests get delayed and so on.

So: yes, the schedule matters even if you don't know the schedule; but it still causes problems even if you want to think of it purely as "bandwidth."

> This matters if you can't afford to live in Manhattan

It also matters if you’re catching a regional rail train (e.g. on the Metro-North or LIRR), which tend to run on time to the minute.

I've just begun commuting into NYC on Amtrak, and it leaves on time to the [i]second[/i]. After years of my commute impacted by subway delays, NJ Transit delays, and an independent ferry service that had its share of problems, Amtrak is really quite refreshing. I had forgotten that things were supposed to be on a schedule!

I lived in NYC for 5 years, and had no idea that the subways were on a fixed schedule. I thought they just came when they came.

In some ancient and mean bureaucratic twist of history, Amtrak owns and operates all that track (at least on the Northeast Corridor) and NJT trains have to slow down and move their butts out of the way for any Amtrak trains needing to pass.

Counter-anecdote: for the past ~5 years, I've been taking Amtrak (usually Northeast Regional) between NYC and Boston every couple of months. Trains leaving Boston South Station almost always leave exactly on time. On the other hand, the odds of an on-time departure from NY Penn Station have been maybe 20%. Of the 80% of trains that leave late, the vast majority do not make up the delay over the course of the trip, and therefore arrive late in Boston.

That's odd. I commute by njtransit, but my station is also an Amtrak station, and I often hear of massive (30-90 min) delays.

The stations shared by NJ Transit and Amtrak are both coming in on the tunnel under the Hudson, which has limited capacity and delays both trains, though I understand that usually Amtrak gets priority. Just another headache of the Port Authority of NJ, NY, the MTA, Amtrak and whoever else fighting to get in to Penn Station.

I commute now from Albany where there's no tunnel, we are east of the Hudson the whole time and nobody to fight with to get in to Penn (except when, due to every other train having delays getting OUT of Penn there are sometimes no free tracks to come in on, but this is rare).

General rule with Amtrak in the Northeast: - Acela is pretty reliable - NE Regional and Keystone are a bit less so (Acelas seem to get priority when things are going sour) - All bets are off for everything else (i.e. anything not going from Boston to DC, or NY to Harrisburg). Amtrak doesn't own those lines, and massive delays are common.

Chicago Metra (suburban heavy rail trains) runs on schedule like that, almost always. The CTA trains (the "El") seemed much more random to me when I lived there, but it was over 10 years ago now.

Running slower than it is supposed to or broken down frequently. So, the trains still come every 3-5 minutes, but it takes (for example) twice as long to get there sometimes (track problems causing them to run trains slower than normal, or just being stopped for an arbitrary amount of time). So you end up 20 minutes late to your job. So if you absolutely have to be there on time, you have to leave 20 minutes early (at least).

And in my experience there is no cell service when you’re in the tunnels, so you can’t even let your work know there’s a problem.

One train leaves. The next train is due in 5 minutes but doesn't come for 15 because of equipment problems, a medical emergency, etc. Now there are three trainloads of passengers trying to get on to that train. Some won't get on till the next train or the train after that, and the trains get more delayed as people squeeze on. In the end, people are half an hour late to work.

It’s not about the train showing up late, it’s about the train taking a long time to go from stop to stop. People are spending more time on the train due to how slow it’s moving.

THe keyword here is “supposed”. I don’t have regular experience with NYC subway, but used to ride Toronto subway everyday, which is the subject to the similar problems. The trains do arrive every 3-5 minutes on weekdays, but then something happens (security incident on a train, unauthorized person on a track level, fires, signal problems, or - the most horrible - “personal injury on a track level”, the language for someone falling in front of the arriving train - intentionally or not. Then everything stops for tens of minutes, or hours in worst cases, stations get overcrowded, buses get sent to operate on the route, taxis and Uber’s are impossible to get and so on. Things like this push average delay times up, not the uniform slowness of the trains throughout the day.

Here in Paris, the rail & subway company instead of "personal injury on a track level", use "people accident". I'd say that most of the lines in Paris are the same.

In part, euphemisms like "personal injury" are used to avoid encouraging copycat suicides. In 2009, a popular German footballer's suicide-by-train received a lot of media coverage. The number of railway suicides more than tripled in the following ~10 days and never declined back to the previous level. See the table in https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schienensuizid and also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copycat_suicide.

These euphemisms might sound, well, overly euphemistic or irreverent, but if they help curb the number of railway suicides, then I find that hard to argue with.

I've heard about the copy-cat suicide (but not under this name), but I did not realise it might be the cause of the use of such euphemisms. Of course one can question the usefulness of the euphemisms, since everyone know what they mean.

It's interesting how the euphemism used differs by country. The Dutch railway companies use "collision with a person".

"Human/bodily accident" / "jinshin jiko" in Japan.

Not really sure that's even a euphemism anymore.

True, IMO it's not a euphemism if it doesn't make sense to say "if you know what I mean" after it.

Boston is even more vague – "medical emergency".

In London it's "person on the track".

Person on the tracks doesn't exactly imply there was an accident with the person. It just prevent the trains from moving.

They're late because they're moving slower and randomly-but-frequently stopping between stations.

Most infuriating is when you're on an express that is passed by a local and then forced to stop and wait for the other train to clear.

More infuriating than that is when you accidentally catch an express that is behind a local and stops at the station you want for five minutes but doesn't open the doors. I've never been to NYC, but that's happened to me sometimes. It's also annoying when it happens to someone else who's like "let me off let me off"

The trains are frequent, but so are unscheduled stops. Even as a tourist, you don't have to take many rides to get familiar with announcements that start with "We are being held momentarily..."

Maybe they should have scheduled maintenance closures that reoccur over the same parts of the day every day. Say, 1-5am?. So, it would be a 20hr/day instead of 24hr/day subway, but would be dependable during those 20 hrs.

Then how do people get home from the bars? That's my major complaint about BART, that it stops running too early. If I'm out late enough in the city, I can't return to the East Bay easily, so I either end up stressing to get the last train, or end up having to use my car, which has its own stress involved.

Highly controversial opinion - if we need to shut down some services during the night hours to ensure they're well maintained, and it's not reasonably possible to do the necessary maintenance any other way, then maybe the population needs to adapt its behaviour.

Obviously, some people work overnight shifts or have other critical needs for transport around the clock, so there needs to be a reasonable level of public transport services for that purpose. But if the problem is that people can't stay out late at bars, then... maybe they just shouldn't stay out late at bars if they don't have a way home?

I am deliberately ignoring the obvious issues with drink driving risks, flow-on effects of the "nighttime economy" and so on here. Also, I'm an introverted non-drinker who doesn't understand why people are out drinking at 2am when they could be sleeping at 2am... So more practically, yes, you need decent coverage of night-time substitute bus routes.

Tokyo transit also stops operating after 1am. I live about 30km outside of the core Tokyo area and I have to leave around 11pm otherwise I'm walking part of the way home.

It is possible to stay at a private club until the train restarts around 5am. Alternates is Internet / Manga Cafes complete with shower rooms, coin operated clean underwear dispensers, and lounge chairs that lie almost flat. Also helpful is the convenience stores that sell dress shirts.

In Moscow where Metro is officially closed from 1:00 up to 5:30 there are special night buses and trams for this.

Same in London (buses, not sure about trams). Catching a night bus home from Trafalgar Square along with eighty other people who are also at the wrong end of a big night out is a classic rite of passage for Londoners.

It got a bit less overwhelming when they started running the night buses from all over central London rather than just from Trafalgar Square. It's changed again recently now that some underground lines are 24 hour.

London night tube remains weekends only, though. And even then, 30% of passengers are going from/to work. The importance of a 24h subway is not to get drunk people home but to help people working night/early shifts. The main reason London will not get intra-week night tube anytime soon is because of the maintenance issues this causes. The NYC subway was explicitly mentioned when this was proposed.

Uber/Lyft? Cab?

Works great, assuming I can get someone to actually take me across the bridge (I had to complain to Lyft about this before), and spend 7-10x as much as BART would cost.

  assuming I can get someone to actually take me across the bridge
That would generally mean the driver would have to eat the entire return trip; Lyft won't pay for that time, mileage, or loss of other fares.

One of the sole advantages of NYC taxis: they are required by law to take you anywhere within city limits you ask.

Yes, and an NYC cabbie would _never_ willingly ignore a regulation like that.

I acknowledge your sarcasm, but indeed they rarely do. It's happened to me only once, and it was fairly easy to report them to the TLC.

I don't know a single city where license numbers and the complaint hotline are so prominently placed as in NYC. I believe it was common that cabbies ignored regulation but this appears to have changed in recent years.

But there's a legal sanction for doing so; it's a condition of their license.

So make it 3D/wk or something. Period ongoing maintenance is key to sustainability.

Replacement busses as other normal major cities around the world?

Night bus. The MTA has more than trains.

Sure, theoretically, that would work, if I were near either of the 2 bus stops in SF that serve the line I'd need to take. Those buses also only run every 20 minutes when they're on schedule. It's not a great solution.

You can run specific night-time substitute buses that follow the train route between stations rather than the regular street-side bus stops.

keep it open at night Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, as close at night the other days?

Do you know there is a transit option called Taxi?

I have a limiting rule, living in New York, to leave for meetings no later than 1 hour before the start time. It ensures I’m relaxed and on time. It gives me a moment to observe before the action begins. And it forces me to be more judicious about the number of meetings I book. (Granted, this only works since I can be productive on my phone while I wait.)

I have exactly the same rule, unless I can got to my appointment by foot.

I'm confused as to why the US seems to fail or fall so far behind in infrastructure compared to other developed nations. It seems that we throw money at our problems but seemingly get nowhere. It's sad because there's many amazing things about this country, but we cannot do basic things like make trains run on time.

Plundering the funds meant for unsexy long-term projects to fund services well in excess of current tax revenue is extremely good politics. Liberals love sexy new infrastructure and services, conservatives love the relatively low taxes, no one really gives a shit how smoothly public transit will be working in 30 years.

It's a reassuring signal that American democracy is working as intended: its results truly reflect our values.

Second avenue subway comes to mind. Was a bit funny seeing ads for it all over the subway while the QoS was plunging. Cuomo was certainly quick to come to NYC for endless photo ops when it opened. That was funny too considering it was behind schedule, over-budget, and significantly downsized from the original plan.

Its results reflect our propaganda, marketing, ignorance, and shortsightedness.

I'm throwing darts at the wall here, but I think part of the problem is our sprawl and geographic size/car culture. In the typical US city you have the wealthier suburbanites living in separate towns/counties than the city they work in. This segregates the local funding because no one wants to pay for someone else's projects. And state funding doesn't benefit you as directly (e.g. state highway projects) and probably suffers the same problem.

Public transit doesn't get funded because it only works in dense urban areas and the wealthier folks drive anyway. European and Asian countries with the better public transit systems seem to be smaller geographically and connect cities to cities with federal funding. To illustrate we've got the Bos-Wash corridor connected via Amtrak but there would be backlash if we tried to fund a super awesome high speed rail there with federal funds because nobody else outside that area would benefit.

For comparison the size of Japan is basically our Eastern Seaboard or California and the UK would be the Northeast Corridor.

The personal car took over America for a reason: it's the fastest and most pleasant way to get around. Cities only start to seriously entertain public transit when they hit car culture's scaling limits. New York passed those long ago, so the more interesting question is why they can't maintain what they already have. Unlike a typical American city, Manhattan is richer and more expensive than its outlying bedroom communities, and transit access is a premium feature of luxury real estate rather than a handout to the destitute. I don't think your explanation works in this case.

> The personal car took over America for a reason: it's the fastest and most pleasant way to get around.

The personal car took over America because the auto companies waged a campaign to dismantle the transit systems that American cities already had.

"Car culture" and "suburbs" are only something that started in the 1950's after the Eisenhower Interstate System got built.

And ridesharing is showing that people will give up a personal car if there is an alternative.

>And ridesharing is showing that people will give up a personal car if there is an alternative.

Ridesharing is still cars. Whether the steering wheel is operated by you, a robot, or a contractor is irrelevant. Ridesharing takes you directly from door to door in a private, enclosed, climate-controlled bubble.

>The personal car took over America because the auto companies waged a campaign to dismantle the transit systems that American cities already had. "Car culture" and "suburbs" are only something that started in the 1950's after the Eisenhower Interstate System got built.

It's true that our car infrastructure is a human construction, but it's one that public transit advocates admit they can't compete with. Weakening the capacity and increasing the cost of roads and parking are considered necessary even alongside a best-case public transit buildout because status-quo car infrastructure will always be preferable on an individual basis. This is justified by its high collective costs.

This is a silly debate, however. Not many places get to choose whether to be auto- or transit-centric. America's economy is centralizing into a few cities; public transit will be geometrically obligatory in those cities, and financially impossible in the ones that are emptying out.

The big differences between a private car and a taxi. Is it always available when you need it? Can you leave your stuff in it? If you need to stop for fifteen minutes to conduct an errand, what happens?

From the perspective of the infrastructure required, there's huge differences in parking and land space needed. Taxis have to keep moving, so you need to dedicate more land to vehicle movements (instead of human movements); on the other hand, private cars need somewhere to go to sleep at each destination, so you have to dedicate land to parking instead of more productive use. Considering the massive subsidy to cars in the form of minimum parking requirements, it's a surprise anyone in America does anything other than sitting in a car getting fat.

I think the car culture has a lot to do with it too. I remember seeing the train be the “default” mode of transit for a family of five in Japan and the effects that gave to real estate and government spending.

In almost all cases I think this is a valid critique, but not against the MTA. It's one of the oldest, most complex, largest and among the ten highest daily ridership. To me, it remains an absolute marvel.

Of course daily riders do and will forever complain. As someone who riders infrequently and is warned about impending doom, I find myself too often pleasantly surprised.

I don't buy it, many international cities have just as big and complex systems. Trains generally run on time in Paris, London, Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing. Seems just about everyone can do it except us. I think it's a valid question to ask, given that there's nothing exceptional about NYC compared to others in its "weight class".


I'm tired of hearing people make excuses for the NYC subway system such as age and complexity, seemingly ignorant that there's plenty of large cities in other first-world countries in the 10+ million range that do a much better job. Tokyo was bombed to the ground in WW2 and still manages to do better.

I think the actual explanation is that the NYC system was not properly maintained during the postwar period, when America focused on car transit instead.

Although plenty of people complain, there is no political will to fix the problem, either at the top or at the bottom.

The 24/7 operation and fixed ticket price don't help.

>Tokyo was bombed to the ground in WW2 and still manages to do better.

An argument could be made that that's exactly why it's doing better. Since it got completely destroyed, it could be built from the ground up without the legacy costs that are now plaguing NYC's subway.

>fixed ticket price don't help

I simply can't see the MTA adopting ticket prices that are based on zones. The outcry would be larger than anything seen to date.

> An argument could be made that that's exactly why it's doing better. Since it got completely destroyed, it could be built from the ground up without the legacy costs that are now plaguing NYC's subway.

What kind of "legacy costs" are you referring to, which would be higher than the cost to build the system from the ground up?

> I simply can't see the MTA adopting ticket prices that are based on zones. The outcry would be larger than anything seen to date.

Yes, hence "lack of political will." There are too many people who benefit from some aspect of the inefficient status quo, be it outer borough commuters, late night partiers, or people living next to minor subway stations. Knowing American politics, that's why I am pessimistic that the dysfunctional status quo in the NYC subway will ever change.

> What kind of "legacy costs" are you referring to, which would be higher than the cost to build the system from the ground up?

The costs (direct and cascading) of displacing essentially all riders for some undetermined amount of time? Tokyo had no choice but to do this.

Why does the London Underground mostly run to schedule, though, then? Because it's older, arguably as complex (especially the subsurface railway), and not that far below NYC in ridership…

The biggest difference is the Tube doesn't run 24/7. You have a guaranteed maintenance cycle.

Also my understanding is that European unions are less corrupt than American ones.

Why are American unions singled out to be maligned? French unions will kidnap their boss if negotiations breakdown. American strikers have been fired upon by the local police.

I get it, you’ve driven a poorly made American car once and it your blaming the union workers who built it. Not the factory managers, not the engineers who design with poor tolerances, not the accountants who choose cheap, poor material.

I’ve met unionized school teachers who get fired in June and rehired in August. Why? So the schoolboard won’t have to pay mandatory cost of living increases that the union negotiated for. Better to pay teachers less every year.

Ah, right; I hadn't realised that it was truly 24/7 (versus the ~5 hour gap most of the LU is shut down for). That said, some of the LU lines are now 24 hour from Friday morning till Sunday night.

London has spent a lot, reflected in "London's monthly travel cost 'most expensive in world'" headlines. This article has a months travel at US$174 in London vs $118 in NY http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-39806865

AFAIK, London also has zero subsidy for all the TfL managed transport, and most of the (mainline) rail services receive no subsidy too.

Moscow, Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing would disagree with you there...

Yeah, I just got back from Japan and ended up transiting four of the five busiest train stations in the world(we did not visit Yokohama). My takeaway; the US will "never" have great public transit. Other than bus issues in Kyoto due to the amount of tourists visiting shrines(205, 59, etc) it was.. eye opening. BARTs issues and costs are a joke. NYs reliability is a joke. We are not in the same league. Many countries put us to shame on public transportation.

Ye moving to Moscow it's been great how cheap the metro is here, and it's reliable and very rarely packed. London is good but the price of Moscow beats it.

I know for the underground, all profit is reinvested, maybe that's the problem in America? Many contractors all wanting their share? At the end of the day you just have to accept that while a good public transport system looks like a big loss on paper, it brings so many benefits.

Too often, excuses are made, and nothing gets done, and then the next election cycle, the same decision is made until the problem starts to appear insurmountable.

There was a report showing that in NY the metro cost several times that of metros in other cities. So it's not just a matter of willing to spend the money, somehow the costs are much more than what they should be.

> I know for the underground, all profit is reinvested, maybe that's the problem in America? Many contractors all wanting their share? At the end of the day you just have to accept that while a good public transport system looks like a big loss on paper, it brings so many benefits.

Except the Underground more or less breaks even from fare revenue (Google "farebox recovery"). NYC's MTA does not, and is heavily subsidized by tax dollars.

Ridership remains high because New York is too dense to get around any other way.

I've often thought that for dense cities such as New York, and London, a Monorail would be a good solution to add to the public transit system.

Picture this: Along most of the major roads fit very tall archways every few hundred feet, and place the Monorail on-top. As long as traffic below can continue unobstructed, then the two can co-exist. Additionally add direct-into-building entrances/exits at the monorail platform height (2nd or 3rd storey (US buildings called the 'ground' floor '1st', right?) ). Monorail can be driver-less, and run on clean[1] energy. It seems a bit of a no-brainer to me.


[1] For various values of 'clean'.

I think a contributor is that some people believe that underfunding will somehow address our higher costs.

But often the problems are structural and underfunding just erodes efficiency further.

Is it also because if you underfund the MTA they won't become more efficient, they'll just raise fares and reduce services?

My understanding is that the MTA is funded by New York State, not NYC, so it's not like the city can just levy its own taxes on businesses or something to fund the subway - though I sure wish they could, and I bet the MTA does too.

Fares, tolls and regional taxes make up the bulk of the budget:


I may be totally wrong, but I believe that the core of the problem is that a lot of infrastructure here is funded by local and regional governments. And they simply don't have the massive funds and resources of a Federal government, which leads to always have to raise funds for a project through a measure and then having to cut corners. Many other nations fund infrastructure projects centrally and that leads to more efficiency.

True in general, but the NYC subway has its own set of unique problems so I would exempt your comment as the cause.

Now it could be if the unique issues that are causing problems with the NYC subway were not present, it would still be a disaster due to the problems laid out in your comment.

Most transit projects are funded at a state level, but the townies outside of cities vote down every initiative because they "don't want to pay fer those gal-dern city slickers and their fancy jerbs." They're blissfully unaware that the city folk subsidize their entire existence through taxes.

At least, that's how it works here in Washington State.

People don't talk like that and you're misrepresenting their viewpoints.

Why don't you enlighten us on what their viewpoints are?

The reason their existence is subsidised by the city is because the city is implementing policies that benefit the city and not the country. Consequently the relative inequality is entrenched.

The country people see that and think, "Well whatever they're axin fer that I can stop - I'll stop that. Maybe then I'll have some influence."

They probably don't see it with quite the same analysis as I've put here, but it's much closer to what's really happening than your rendition.

It's probably necessary that in any developed economy, the cities will do better. But over the last several decades, it seems the problem to any complaint has been "let's just reduce business taxes and increase free trade", which is obviously aggravating to the people who are hurt by those policies. The policies proposed by the left have usually been "let's try to increase the lot of the absolute worst off without affecting the top of the middle", which of course squeezes the people in the middle and makes it easier for them to fall into the worst off category. Moreover it's kinda obvious to everyone that the left is using the resources that traditionally have gone to middle to help the worst off (instead of taking some of the top's excess). So there isn't a clearly pro-systematic way of getting better short of complaint and preventing things. And you get a culture of "us against them, black against white, city against country", rather than "all for one and one for all".

It takes just a moment to look back at everything that's happened over the last couple of decades and realise that this analysis is accessible to the distressed, fair to them, and accounts for the data.

[ed: they're -> their in first sentence]

That's what I thought it the tube/train has problems the national press kicks up a fuss and senior ministers up to the PM gets involved I suspect having MP's using the tube to get to work helps.

We're drastically less efficient than most other developed countries when it comes to infrastructure development, and AIUI, experts aren't really sure why. The highest confidence hypothesis I've heard is a handwavy reference to how our contracting system is somehow uniquely inefficient and corrupt, but that jusy raises more questions for me.

Also some of its is due to the devolved federal structure - its easier to bribe the lower down you go.

Just to put things in perspective.


I've been commuting (by car) for 30-60 minutes one way depending on my job for 20+ years in Atlanta. I didn't realize that a 30 minute commute was considered "bad".

It really doesn't bother me. I put on a podcast and enjoy the downtime. I also don't have young kids.

When my 15 year old son has to stay late and I can't get to him,I just tell him to take Uber. My wife and I have agreed to "work hard, play hard". We cherish our weekends.

All that being said, I can understand the difference being stuck outside in the cold at the whims of public transportation and being in your own car.

The idea of spending all weekday hours working and "cherishing" weekends is terrible to me. If I can't go out on any weeknight and enjoy time with friends or family due to having to commute, then I'm looking for a change.

My friends are so disbursed in the metro area we wouldn't even think about trying to deal with the traffic in the evening. I have a group of friends that work close enough together to meet for lunch with proper planning but we wouldn't dare voluntarily deal with evening traffic to meet up.

When I was dating my now wife, we lived in opposite sides of town - 38 miles apart. That's life in a major metro area.

You either live in the burbs where you can get a nice affordable big house or live closer to where the jobs are and live in a shoebox.

Pure coincidence? Meet the Brit in charge of fixing NYC's subway. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-43561378

The trains should only run on tracks that are completely enclosed (More control on the environment will realize better reliability, and as an aside nicer living space. Raised tracks are ugly.), Also they should run on rubber wheels like the Montreal metro has since 1966.

Both metros should have barrier between platforms and tracks since they know where the doors will open. It's sad but a non-negligible cause of delays are due to people jumping on the tracks.

As someone who's lived in both Montreal and the Washington DC area (and used Metro for commuting in both), I have to say that a mixture of raised and buried tracks are really the only way to have a practical system if you want it to work beyond the dense downtown area. Many of the more open places in metropolitan Montreal like Lachine don't have any Metro stops due to the expense of digging tunnels to there. In contrast, you can take the Washington Metro from Fairfax, VA and Rockville, MD. both well over twenty miles from downtown DC.

Yes I totally agree with you, I'd love it if the metro was far more expansive than it currently is in Montreal. For me the solution is to expand the metro system to the west island, south shore, etc but forget about burying it and just put it above ground in a tube. Initially it sounds silly but the current rolling stock and tracks aren't up to the task of dealing with Montreal weather, but maintaining one system is (I think) more feasible than our current system (metro, trains, upcoming light rail, etc)

Every now and again I look at the 1960s photos of the implementation of the metro system and the main idea that I take away from it is that something of that scale is pretty much impossible today.


Looks like the subway constructed there was done using cut & cover tunnels, which is commonly done today, its only when you get below a certain depth or have preexisting structures that you'd use a tunnel boring machine.

For rail those tend to be fairly reliable, though most rail alignments buy two or three so they can bore from both ends, and have a spare in case it pulls a Bertha (Seattle's recent highway tunneling nightmare).

What is different today is how impacts are considered. Politically savvy communities are able to cause perfectly good rights of way with existing rail to not be used for light rail or commuter rail. Happened over in Bellevue, much to the detriment of the city and its surrounding towns. Microsoft ain't too happy about that one!

> Both metros should have barrier between platforms and tracks since they know where the doors will open.

This only works for environments with one type of rolling stock only. It's not uncommon that you take a ride in a decades-old train (e.g. the oldest trains in the Munich subway hail from 1971, they are expected to run for essentially over 50 years!), switch lines at a station and end up in a train that rolled off the factory line 2 years ago. Each new train generation has, for example, different door widths, door positions, even the number of doors per wagon can change.

That's true. Montreal just upgraded their rolling stock: (The MR-73 didn't owe them anything https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MR-73) but the new cars (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MPM-10) have the doors in the same place as the MR-73 cars.

Admittedly I hadn't thought of that, but I don't think there's that much variety in rolling stock for a given location, and when speccing out replacements I don't think it's too much to ask that the doors are in the same place (cars are purchased in dozens...), maybe I'm wrong. Montreal is a much smaller network than New York.

>when speccing out replacements I don't think it's too much to ask that the doors are in the same place (cars are purchased in dozens...)

that pretty much only works if you have 1 generation of rolling stock currently in use, and you know (or forsee) that you want to install platform doors. considering that the new york subways were built before platform doors were a thing, I can totally see how door location wasn't even a concern when purchasing rolling stock.

Exactly. The generations don't HAVE to have different dimensions. There's no worldwide metro standard across all dimensions leading to "common" models, every subway system requires custom made. Of course they can work them in, like they do in Montreal (where I see them working harmoniously)

Japan accomplished that though. They just use a very wide barrier door, or (still in development) movable barrier.

I took a trip to ny last week and the area i was staying at (near trump tower, off lexington), the closest subways were the 2/3/E/M but apparently on Saturday the 2 and 3 weren't available going downtown, so I had to walk a block or so to get to another line to get where I was going.

Then I was in Brooklyn to watch a show that night, we got out around 9PM and was trying to figure out how to get back into the city, the line that was suppose to take us wasn't running it's normal route, so we had to take one stop into Barclays Center which renamed another line to the line that we wanted to go on. Seemed like the locals knew about this though.

I didn't experience any major delays, but it was more like there was so much work being done that you had to spend extra energy remembering which line was available only one way and starting at which station. Google Maps was definitely very helpful.

> Seemed like the locals knew about this though.

I think about this a lot. I know what it means when the AC is rerouted along the F to West 4th and can plan accordingly. How the hell is a tourist supposed to figure out how to get to Fulton?

+1. Signage in NYC metro is woefully poor IME.

In the London Underground pretty much everywhere you look in the carriage, there is a map or route diagram, with clear announcements and digital signage telling you where you are and where the train is going. Same with the platforms - the station name is repeated many many times everywhere on the platform and there are maps, signage and route plans all over the place.

In NYC it seems that maps and signs are kept to a minimum, with some stations just having a singal initial (!) on a grubby ceramic wall tile to identify the station IIRC. The driver might mutter something over the tannoy, but if you're not familiar with the vernacular or plain just don't understand what they said, your often left confused about where you are or if you are going in the right direction.

NYC needs to be like the tube in London. When I'm at a platform, I expect to see the exact route of the train. No guesswork. The NYC system needs more redundant labeling. Don't assume tourists will see the 1st or 2nd sign. Just keep posting them clearly with too much detail

We just ask the guy/gal at the desk. It's not that crazy, though I will admit, my last trip there added some stress because of this uncertainty.

I haven't been in NY for over 10 years. When I was there, the subway was fantastic. On time, cheap and clean (ish)

Has there been some very rapid drop in service? is this something which forseeably could get better soon, or is it a one-way hole without a huge capital investment?

I've had a couple instances where the MTA was so messed up either through delays or a weekend schedule change that I had to get off the subway and order an Uber to reach my destination...

SHOWTIME folks seem to be starting again. I still have a strange anxiety that some crazy person will push me into the tracks if I get too close after those string of incidents a few years back. And now I also wonder when the next train derailment will be since those seem to now be a real possibility. Some of our trains are literally past their expiration date and begging for an accident. .

NYC will never know how bad it is until they go out of the U.S. to such places in Asia like Thailand, HK, Taiwan, or Japan and experience those subway stations. There is no such thing as a "weekend service" and subways arrive on-time without question, there are clean restrooms and WiFi. The NYC subway is decades behind. It has remained stagnant in advancements and has now broken down due to lack of development and overcrowding. It's a problem.

There is one benefit of leaving early: not having to deal with vast crowds of riders on an overpacked train. Another side effect of underfunding.

After I started riding motorcycle instead of public services or my car, time spent during transportation reduced almost %80. I live in Istanbul, when I leave work to go home (prime time) it takes up to 2 hours with car and 1.5 hour with public transportation to reach home. With my motorcycle it is around 25-35 minutes.

There are many advantages (and few disadvantages) riding, for me time spent on road was the killer and you can not imagine how much I recommend it.

Wow, not one person read this article and saw the NYC cultural commentary? Don't you all know we hate being early as much as we hate being late?

I'm confused about the part with the teacher. Where I went to school ALL the teachers arrived 15-60 minutes earlier and went into their dedicated room. I don't remember exactly, but one of them coming in late was a "once every few years" thing.

Sure it sucks if you're early but I suppose they could also just get some take-home work (like grading tests) that's not due that day or prepare some stuff. Sure, some of them probably killed the time with morning newspaper and coffee... but still.

Oh man. Where I'm from (Singapore), tests are more of a never-take-home-unless-you-absolutely-have-to work.

Similarly, I’ve come to rely on BART being late—although instead of arriving too early, I’m more likely to arrive late when I bet on a few minutes to spare, but the train happens to be running on time…and then end up working later to compensate.

God I'm glad that I live in a city where the public transit fans have soundly lost.

Same with driving with variable traffic

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