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The NYC subway’s summer of delays

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The Train is off the tracks!

MTA’s horrible summer started with a fare hike. It’s gotten worse since then.

The New York City subway system has been around since 1904, and has grown to over four hundred station stops within the city. Now, a hundred and thirteen years later, the systems age and the mass of people it shuttles had pushed it to the brink.

It had to happen during summer of course, when the only thing worse than the muggy platform is a packed subway car with bad air conditioning. And the cars will be packed; the NYC subway carries the most people per year of any in the world. And this summer, they’re all late for work. Train delays and breakdowns have become an epidemic. The worst happened on June 27th, when a derailment left commuters trapped for hours underground without fresh air.

The cause of delays are mixed and many. First is the age of the system and its method of repair up until now; decades of previous breaks being fixed as quickly as possible has left the system beat up all over. Making things worse is overcrowding. New York’s population and the number of people using its subway system have spiked over the last twenty five years, and this leads to human delays. If a train takes an extra thirty seconds in loading because of crowds jostling at the doors, then every train on that line will be thirty seconds late. This happens multiple times to multiple trains, and so the delays grow exponentially.

The answer is to add more, new trains to the system and have them run more frequently to lower the passenger load on individual trains. However getting the necessary number of trains ordered, paid for, made, and inserted into the system will take years. In the meanwhile, the MTA has come up with and begun implanting a short term answer that New Yorkers immediately lampooned. Trains have recently been outfitted with floor mats that have arrows pointing riders deeper into the train cars so they don’t block the door. These little glued on mats seem very much like the band aid on a gaping wound. MTA Chairman Joe Lhota had another brilliant idea: just go to work earlier. Again, the suggestion seems tone deaf when delays can last hours.

And then there’s the blame game. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio push the blame back and forth while sneaking in their political stances on the things they actually care about. Cuomo declared a state of emergency at the end of June, pledging over a billion dollars along with a temporary reduction in red tape that keeps the MTA from making repairs. However, it seems much of that money is earmarked for projects like an air train for LaGuardia airport rather than actual repair. And even while discussing theoretical repairs, no one has an answer on how to improve things any time soon.

There’s no easy solution. The fact is there are more people than ever in the city and riding the trains, and if there was a time when the MTA could have gotten out in front of this problem that time has passed. Now city dwellers can only watch as their slow moving government tries to fix a problem that started quick and has outraced them.

Jack Logan