Short piece I wrote on a forum after many users were complaining about how bad NYC's subway system was and why it wasn't so modern and up-to-date.
Answering the questions on why NYC's Subway system is old, noisy, and shitty.
Qualifications: A lifelong New Yorker who has visited the Hong Kong MTR, Singapore MRT, Chicago El, Washington D.C. Metro. Interested in, studying, and have worked in transportation.
1) Lack of financial support (aka taxes) from the government, both city, state, and national. Politicians lack a [B]long-term outlook and *commitment* (aka balls)[/B] to funding operating or capital projects for transit systems in the U.S., compared to European or Asian places. a majority of funding instead goes towards road/highway projects.
2) NYC is very expensive for cost-of-living. Also, unions are quite strong in setting wages and benefits and in influencing the public. As can be seen during contract negotiations, the continual slow progression made by the MTA (transit agency) in revamping work rules, phasing in new technology, or getting workers to pay a higher share for medical bills is always slowed by the Union. [Reference: last contract negotiations; 2005 Strike]
Unions also distort the facts to make the public appeal to their side - the recent suicides/homicides of several people who were hit by an oncoming train, although very, very, very rare, have made the Union to demand that their drivers (and for the MTA to make it a policy) to slow trains to 10/15 mph entering stations. They issued replicas of transit cards with "blood stains" on them to urge the public to follow them, claiming that there is plenty of room to add trains. [[url]http://secondavenuesagas.com/2013/02/11/a-union-goal-amidst-talk-of-a-subway-slowdown/][/url], [[url]http://secondavenuesagas.com/2013/02/07/on-slower-trains-fearmongering-and-a-public-hearing/][/url]
3) Low fares. For the base price of a ticket, you can travel [B]anywhere [/B]on the subway or bus system, and it comes with a free transfer within 2 hours. The farebox recovery ratio (Google it) is not enough to cover operating expenses, and the MTA, unlike the Hong Kong MTR, barely invests in property development.
4) Age & *Operational Characteristics*. The NYC Subway system is quite old, and like any other system in the world, would require BILLIONS of dollars of capital money if they ever want to modernize a system to say, Singapore MRT or HK MTR standards. BELIEVE ME - I made the same points after visiting their systems. Much of the system is built beneath aging infrastructure and/or skyscrapers (esp. in Manhattan) and any extensive overhaul work would require shuttering a line for a very long time. Of course, sometimes I hate it when newly renovated or built stations are already showing signs of bad construction - that is a question on Quality Control/Auditing and in budgeting.
[B]LAST [/B]but not least, the NYC Subway runs 24/7. Not all lines run at all times, but generally, practically all stations are served. This means most track and station work has to take place at night to avoid disrupting passengers. Aside from Jay Walder (light applause for his short-termed yet highly functional efforts) and his "FasTrack" initiative, this means that any big renovation just cannot be done without closing a line. And [B]NOTE[/B]: multiple lines run on the same tracks at times - so if you really wanted to close a station, this could affect multiple lines.
Hopefully this answers some questions; I know that it took me awhile to be a little better educated about this issue. I recommend subscribing to Second Avenue Sagas. Don't get me wrong, I don't like the current state of the NYC Subway as well, but it works. And some of it's historic character, when preserved and kept clean, really does make this system VERY unique.