The subway system in New York City is in deep crisis. People can't get to work on time because trains are systematically late. The MTA says that overcrowding is the main reason why trains are always delayed and while that's technically true, it's not the actual truth. When a train is delayed, a reason must be imputed and when none can be determined, "crowding" is used as the catch-all reason.
Fix the schedules
In the same way that a road needs to be re-paved on occasion, subway infrastructure needs to be replaced in the same sense. Maintenance work and deteriorating conditions have made the subway slower, but he MTA has yet to adjust schedules to reflect this.
Subway trains are only supposed to remain in stations for a certain amount of time. For the sake of simplicity, let's say 20 seconds. Outside of rush hours, trains stick to the schedule: arriving every four minutes and staying in the station for 20 seconds. During rush hour is another story, with trains arriving right after each other because of delays down the line and staying in the station much longer than they're supposed to, because of the amount of people on the platform. There's a simple, cheap fix that could work to fix the subway: adjust the timetable. People won't be mad about a train being late if they're scheduled so that they won't be late. Timetables are nothing more than guidelines to drivers, but to passengers there's something comforting knowing when the next train is supposed to arrive.
When subway delays happen, you'd imagine that, as in most other cities, the trains that were supposed to arrive during the delay would come right after. That's not how things work in New York, where workers believe the best way to reduce wait times is to keep trains coming at a constant speed instead of several arriving right after the other.
For simplicity sake, let's pretend that trains on the M line arrive to Broadway–Lafayette Street Station every 10 minutes. But today, there's a delay on the line for 30 minutes, when three trains would normally arrive. Instead of clearing the delay and sending the trains to the station, these trips are cancelled and only one train arrives. This all means that the amount of people who are supposed to fit onto four trains have to all smush into one train, or wait for the next one to arrive.
Catch up on maintenance
Since the subway was first built, expansion was always favoured over maintaining the existing system. The latter sounded great in practice, but when you expand you can reach more people and make more money. Even though fares have increased steadily for the last century, the extra money from the increases has never been enough to maintain the existing system. Beginning in the late 1900s the now-State-run organization had finally adopted a strategy to reach a state of good repair, where there wouldn't be a backlog of everything that needed to be serviced or upgraded. This type of approach left the MTA out on new technologies that other systems were adopting, like the open-gangway trains we see in Toronto and automatic train control, which essentially lets trains drive themselves.
Subway train acceleration rates have also been reduced from the standard 2.5 mph to around 1 mph, causing older equipment to be less reliable. Likewise, deceleration in theory is supposed to happen at 3 mph, but in reality the speed is 2 mph. This sense of unreliability causes train operators to drive much slower than they have to.
Subway ridership by millions of riders
In this chart we can see that ridership once peaked, but now is beginning to slowly decrease. We can assume that this is because of the delays the system experiences and people moving over to cars (which are much more reliable than the subway).
The New York Subway is a subway that never sleeps, so maintenance happens at all hours of the day. On lines with express tracks, all trains can simply run on the tracks that aren't being repaired. But in order to ensure the safety of workers, trains passing them must go at reduced speeds. They must also go slower in some cases to create a safe distance between your train and the one in front of you. Installing more modern signals would cost billions of dollars that the agency doesn't have and would take decades to complete.
Removing the seats
As part of the MTA's emergency rescue plan that seats in some subway cars would be removed to make room for more passengers. This, in theory, sounds like a great idea. They'll be able to move more people through the system at a faster pace and tackle the issue of overcrowding. But as Boston discovered when they tried the same thing, this is a breeding ground for cases of sexual assault. As a result, Boston eventually put the seats back in all subway cars and called their experiment a failure.
A transit system that moves millions of people per day can't not work. There are people, who don't own cars, that need to get to work, the store, or the doctors. These people depend on public transportation as a public service and foot its bill for it too.
Tolls in Manhattan
Over a decade ago then-current mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City raised the idea of charging a toll to enter the most congested parts of Manhattan. The money raised from this fee would be used to repair the city's infrastructure. The plan was, at the time, not enacted, but the idea is returning as the state is struggling to come up with money to repair the failing subway infrastructure. Queens and Brooklyn residents are opposing the idea because it would hinder them, who hold jobs in Manhattan. However, there's little choice left to raise funds to repair the subway. Drivers entering or exiting Manhattan at certain crossings would be charged $5.44 each way while reducing tolls at other crossings that lead to parts of the island that aren't so congested. This comes right after a pilot program began to limit the amount of trucks entering the borough by increasing the toll for them during the day and reducing it at night.
Theres loads of options for the MTA to see what will or won't fix the system, and some of these ideas are already being trialled. Until the agency gets caught up on fixing the infrastructure that New York City runs on, the subway will be constantly delayed and inconveniencing passengers.
📸: GIPHY 📈: MTA