Presidential candidate and former Secretary of State, carpetbagger Senator, First Lady Hillary Clinton was recently criticized for needing to swipe her MetroCard five times to access the New York City subway system. She rode the 4 train all of one stop after entering, and technically broke the law by campaigning in the subway.
There are a lot of things to criticize Hillary Clinton for, but the media focused on her needing five swipes to get her MetroCard to work. But the MetroCard incident (if you can even call it that) didn’t expose Secretary Clinton as being out of touch, it demonstrated what any New York City resident will tell you in a heartbeat: New York’s subways are horrible and only getting worse.
I’ve been a regular New York City subway rider for nearly 20 years now, I’m a seasoned professional when it comes to riding the subway, and there are times when I will need five swipes or more to get through the turnstile.
And the MetroCards and the turnstiles are only the tip of the iceberg. The entire subway system is unreliable, poorly run, and in need of massive reform reconstruction.
The same week that Hillary Clinton had her MetroCard wielding skills thrown into doubt, I visited the subway system’s newest station for the first time. The 34th St. – Hudson Yards station opened up last September to much fanfare as being the sleek, modern station of the future that the city had been waiting decades to see. I had to ask someone where it was because signs do not lead pedestrians to the station and it is surrounded by the massive Hudson Yards construction project. But once you find it, and this is old news now, the Hudson Yards station is a leaking boondoggle. When I got the station, all but one of the down escalators were out of service.
In theory the station is supposed to be ready in a few years to welcome thousands of people who work there and see off thousands of residents who will live there during the workdays. It can barely handle the small amount of traffic it gets now. In fact it proved to be a disaster even before it opened.
And the 7 train is the most overloaded train line in the system (though there are several other leading candidates for this honor, the L train being one of them). Even if the Hudson Yards station is the dream station it was meant to be by the time the construction on Hudson Yards is completed, there are no plans to double the tracks or the capacity of the trains, so the transit authority thinks that a few extra thousand users a day can be absorbed by the 7 line with no problem. That idea is absurd.
And as bad as the 7 line service is, there are actually train lines with less reliable service. Almost every workday, as I’m on my way to work. Emails from workers in the small office I work in arrive on my phone. Just about every day at least one or two people are emailing that subway or commuter train lines are messed up and they may be late for work. My first day back in the office this year after the holidays, it took me two and a half hours to travel 13 miles, and that was after I gave up and got out of the subway at Jackson Heights and took a cab the rest of the way to work.
Here is what New York City’s subway system desperately needs:
Infrastructure overhaul: New York’s subways are running on an antiquated switching system that in some places is more than 100 years old. There’s no excuse for that in a city as modern as New York.
More trains: No one should wait more than fifteen minutes for a train or bus anywhere in the system anytime. Am I unrealistic? No. It’s a matter of public safety at night as much as it is a matter of decent public transit.
Faster trains: The trains were made to run slower after an accident in the 1990s. Let’s reverse that and let the trains go at the speeds they are able to move. The way to avoid accidents is to avoid accidents, not degrade the service to mitigate risk.
More passenger capacity: The Long Island Rail Road has some trains that are doubled decker and can handle more passengers. There’s no reason we can’t have that for the city. The same applies to busses. If the tourist busses can be double decker, there’s no reason that some of our transit system busses can do that as well.
New York City is the greatest city in the world. It deserves to have a transit system that reflects that. We are far from that today.