Monday, September 28, 2020 Edition: U.S. & World | Regional

The Crumbling NYC Subway System. Can it be Fixed?

Only 4.9 percent of Americans rely on public transportation to get them where they need to go. But in NYC, this number jumps to an estimated 55 percent. While public buses haul a fair amount of the residents around, the NYC subway system is the lifeblood that truly keeps the city in motion, transporting an average of 4.5 million people day in and day out.

Even given the major importance of the subway, twice in 2017 it was declared to be in a state of emergency due to its horrible state of disrepair caused by a lack of routine maintenance. Yet, very little is being done or can be done.
NYC Subway
It’s been said the problems have occurred as a result of the Metropolitan Transport Authorities lack of fiscal responsibility, but even knowing this, it’s been allowed to continue. It would be impossible to list the number of negative occurrences which have taken place in 2017 alone, but here are a few of them.

In the hottest part of the summer, a train got stuck underground without air-conditioning for over an hour. Another time a fire combusted on the tracks which sent nine people to the hospital, and twice, trains derailed and went flying off the tracks.
Stuck Train
Reliability of the public transit systems in most major worldwide cities ranks in the high 90 percentile with some topping out at 99 percent, while in NYC this figure is drastically reduced to a measly 65%, the worst of all 21 cities surveyed.

Funds for the NYC subway come from a cut of retailer’s profits since the subway is what is bringing them their customers. In 2016 MTA collected revenue in the amount of $5.7 billion which left them a profit of $1.3 billion, which seems excessive, but it in actuality, it wasn’t enough. It was designated for necessary repairs so it went quickly.

The subway trains are not the only safety hazard. It has been reported that 417 out of the 468 train stations, or 90 percent, have structural problems. Only 51 of them get a free pass. Architectural defects have also been found. Just because a waiting passenger has not boarded yet does not mean they are not in danger. The vibration from the passing trains continuously causes the situation to worsen.
Train Tunnels
A comptroller for MTA said, “New York City Transit reports it is making progress on repairing stations, but the pace is too slow and much more work needs to be done. Worn or damaged stairs and platform edges pose risks for riders, while broken tiles, lights, and peeling paint leave riders with a low opinion of the transit system.” The cost to fix them all? A cool $5 billion dollars.

The NYC subway running afoul is nothing new. In 1905 a train took a curve too fast on an overpass and plummeted to the street below killing 13 and seriously injuring another 48. Then in 1926, a faulty switch caused a collision killing 18 and injuring 100. In 1991 a train derailed killing five and injuring more than 200, but in this case, it wasn’t the fault of the train. The speed limit for the train was 10 but the driver was doing 40. Oh yeah. He was drunk as a skunk. He got 15 years in the slammer as a result of his over-indulgence.
1905 Derailment
In this decade alone there have been dozens of derailments and multiple injuries. Here’s where the problem stems from. The system was built and designed based on technology that pre-dates the Model-T. Seriously. Updates have been minimal, and it is now more fragile than your grandmother’s finest china, but MTA swears they don’t have the funding to fix it. So much needs to be done it’s overwhelming.

Subway workers and officials have major concerns but they are stuck between a rock and hard place with not knowing where to begin or where the needed money will come from. But if they don’t find some of it quickly, NYC may just come to a grinding halt, only adding further to the cities financial woes.
New York Train Derail
This is not to imply money has not already been sunk into the system. It is actually a far cry better than it was in 1970’s. Little problems like wheels shattering and flying off the train in chunks, and engines coming loose and falling out at full speed have been resolved. During that decade, a train derailed every 18 minutes. In the past 20 years, $26 billion dollars have gone into upkeep and maintenance according to public records, but technology and safety updates have simply been let go for too long, and it’s questionable if getting the entire subway up to modern standards is even a possibility.

In the past four years, MTA funding has been cut by 29 percent. That doesn’t sound like a lot, you say? See if this helps. That’s $483 million less for the upkeep of the relay-and-stoplight system. It’s $685 million less for repairs and bringing new and better technology to the power substations. We aren’t done yet. MTA got $668 million less for line equipment. That’s ventilation, lighting, and pumps for the tunnels. And the crumbling unsafe stations? $639 million less.

To make matters worse, the MTA recently took another $8.5 billion dollar hit when they were informed they will only receive 69 percent of what it requested over the next five years for repairs and upgrades, even though the relay room, one of the most integral and important pieces of the entire system, operates on the exact same technology as it did in 1904.
Transit Rally
Elaborate plans have been drawn up for the future of NYC’s subway system. Modern state-of-the-art technology is being incorporated. Safety features will go above and beyond the call. Train stations will be rebuilt into comfortable functional spaces. As a result of all this, trains will run on time, every time, and injuries will be kept to a bare minimum or eliminated altogether.
But the blueprints lay collecting dust without the cities financial ability to implement them. Having a plan is irrelevant without being able to put it into action. If NYC is to ever going to have an elaborate virtually problem-free system to rival the likes of Hong Kong or Tokyo, there is only that will make it happen. Money. And they don’t have it.

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