We Need to Fix the Subway: The MTA’s Current Problems and Potential Solutions

By Tess Olmi and Jadan Harsch

Photography by Boo Elliot

The subway. The MTA. Whatever you know it as, chances are that either you or someone you know uses it daily. And, although it has been around since 1904 and runs through all five boroughs, including Staten Island, there are still so many problems that make it increasingly difficult, tiresome, and unsafe for commuters to use daily.

“Where the music from the subway / Rose up through the cold steel gate / And danced a tango with the rhythm / Of the lonely drummer in the park” – Adoni Elias Nava (42nd St, Bryant Park)

Why is the system so crowded and congested?

The New York City subway system is an underground transit system carrying thousands daily. Made up of railroad tracks, over 400 stations, and trains that travel throughout all five boroughs. Overall, around 1.757 billion people ride it annually. Most people think of subway systems as fully underground, the F and G line that run through Brooklyn, at one point, as well as many other lines that are currently running, go above ground for a stretch of their commutes.

    Because there are so many people currently using the subway, and it stretches through such far distances, you would imagine that it is a much better resource than, in reality, it is. And although the New York City subway system does happen to be ranked seventh in the top ten best subway systems in the world, the fact is that it could be a lot better than it currently is, with problems such as train control signals, databases, workers, harassment and more. There is a lot that can be improved so that the New York City subway system can reach its full potential.

When has the subway gone wrong?  

    Throughout the years since the subway system has opened, there have been too many incidents to count. I hope that most of you have not been caught in one of these incidents, but on a smaller scale, most everyone who has ridden the subway has either seen something very gross, very scary, or just something unneeded on our morning commutes.

    In July 2017, an F train stopped underground for almost three hours with no light or air-conditioning. The train was packed with passengers, and stopped abruptly in the tunnel. At first, passengers were falsely told that there was a train ahead of them to keep anxiety levels low. Then, after an hour had passed, the conductor told the passengers the truth, which was that the train was experiencing severe malfunctions. People were trying desperately to pry the doors and windows open, just to catch any air that was in the tunnels, which was limited. People even began deciding who would need to be let out first; identifying the elderly, pregnant, and injured.

    Eventually, after an excruciating three hour wait in the dark, hot tunnel, another train arrived behind this F train and pushed it, very slowly, out of the tunnel and into a station. As people were getting off, they were saying that they felt sick, and that they needed to get off of the train. People who were involved in the incident have now taken to calling it “The F Train From Hell”.

    Unfortunately, though, this is not the worst thing that has happened on the subway. Around the same time, in June of 2017, there was an accident on the tracks that left dozens injured, and luckily not dead, although it easily could have. Two cars on an A train on 125th street veered off of the tracks, and went up into smoke and flames. 34 people were injured, and were treated for injuries ranging from minor to extreme. According to a photographer named Kelly Kopp, who was on the smoking train, “People were screaming; people were throwing up because the smoke was so thick.” People on the train have said that they thought that it would be the end of their lives, and that it was the scariest thing that had ever happened to them. Many said that they were reluctant to get back on a train after that, and may be for a long time to come, which is indicative of a need for change. Given the stories, if these issues persist, many would be hesitant to ever step foot on a train ever again.

How do Trains Affect New York City Schools and Workplaces?  

Children, adults, elderly people, musicians, celebrities, and dancers. Everyone commutes on the subway in New York. The trains inconsistency and problems affect many people. But one of the largest groups affected by these problems are children and teachers commuting to schools. Unlike the CW show “Gossip Girl,” most people don’t have a limo awaiting their every need, so the trains are what they rely on. People depend on the trains to be on time in order to get to their destination, not stop in the middle of the tunnel, but to be safe and efficient. Children who go to schools far away from their homes take trains everyday, and if the train is delayed they are late for school and suffer consequences. No matter how early you leave, one cannot account for ridiculous accidents or stalls in which the train sits there for ten minutes to 5 hours, messing up your schedule and your whole day.

What are Some Improvements That Can be Made to The New York City Subway Systems?

  1. Improve train Control signals.

The system that some of the most highly in use trains use is outdated and isn’t the most efficient way to get the trains moving quickly. In today’s subway system, all lines except the L use a system called Fixed Blocking, which is a way of preventing two trains from being at the same station at once. And as this is a safety regulation, the L train is using a different system that is allowing the trains to be closer together, which is more modern and more efficient for commuters, and helping along wait times.

  1. Make trains longer.

Subway cars take up space and time. There are theories that are being in the process of tested, that say the MTA can add more cars to the trains without having to make the station longer. The idea of creating an A section and a B section to the train is how this would work. Whatever station you would be going to you would get on the side of the train you needed, if the stop you needed to get to was called an “A station” then you would get on the “A” side of the car.

  1. Inform passengers of delays through technology

Data management is a big problem. New technology can be built to allow data to come in at real time allowing passengers to know about delays or malfunctions right away. It would also give accurate arrival times which would give people a realistic idea of whether or not they are going to have time to take the train, etc.

  1. Use robots to repair trains

Repairs to trains take time, and in turn slow everything down. Proposals have been made from many companies that have suggested replacing human repairs with robot repairs, which would be done in a different tunnel connecting to the main train networks. This would decrease the time of waiting for the delays by a major chunk.

The subway is a cheap and historically beloved method of commuting. When there are no delays or unforeseen accidents, the trains are great ways to get to work.  Because of this, it is imperative that the city improves the system and takes into consideration the lives that are affected everyday. Local and state governments should allocate funds and promote projects that will better the MTA fix the trains. The next time your conductor says “We are being held momentarily” think about the ways in which the city could fix both the trains and your commute.

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