The MTA We're Working Towards
Trains without Waiting
Paris' automatic, driverless trains are so frequent that the arrival time is shown in seconds, rather than minutes. Platform-side doors make the stations safer, quieter and more pleasant. - source with permission
Imagine arriving at the station, only to have a train appear moments later, every single day. Imagine never again hearing the words "delayed because of train traffic ahead of us".
Paris' newest line runs so frequently that the arrival time is shown in seconds, rather than minutes. The trains run like clockwork, as little as a minute apart throughout the day and night, because this line is stocked with state-of-the-art driverless trains, in use around the world.
Not only does this save tremendously on wait times, but trains suddenly aren't crowded anymore when you have many more of them running smoothly over the same lines. And because automated systems are so reliable, you may never in your life experience a delay on such a train. Finally, automatic trains are also safer, because platform-side doors separate those waiting from the tracks; they also make for quieter, more pleasant stations.
You may be wondering what must happen to the drivers in such a system. Well fear not, they're there, and even more useful to the passengers:
"We're retraining drivers to circulate on the platforms and in the trains with the passengers, where they can have some company instead of being shut up alone."
The line has not cut back on the number of employees on the new line because of automation, Mr. Janet said; there are 242 of them, as many as it would take to run a conventional subway line of the same length.
Interestingly, the frequency changes more than just wait times, it changes attitudes. Knowing another train is always just seconds behind means there's far less reason to rush or hold doors open. As Bernard Kohn, the designer of the French system says:
"We wanted people to feel they were being welcomed to a restful and un-hectic environment."
A Leaner MTA means Lower Fares, More Progress
In the early days of the New York subway, fares were equivalent to just $1 today, and that low fare was enough to fund the complete construction and operation of nearly the entire subway system currently in use (built between 1910 and 1940).
Today, the MTA threatens to cut service and push fares to $3. But why should a system which isn't even building new capacity cost three times as much as a rapidly expanding system? Because, as the New York Daily News reported, the MTA is a bloated, top-heavy organization with dozens of unnecessary high-payed employees:
- Instead of one president, there are eight - the MTA chief and seven agencies.
- Instead of one chief financial officer, there are six CFOs.
- Instead of a central staff, each agency has its own lawyers, auditors and payroll clerks.
Beyond that, New York magazine reported that the MTA has:
444 people in marketing and public relations, as well as 698 people in human resources; 443 in legal departments, despite spending $10 million a year on outside law firms; 359 in budgeting and accounting; and 166 in labor relations
Naturally, employing hundreds of unnecessary executives, lawyers and advertisers saps money away from needed service and expansion, and pushes fares ever higher. Letting loose these unnecessary lawyers and executives means being able to increase investment without raising fares.
While the stations of the subway are now often dirty, ugly, marginally welcoming places, this was not always the case. New York City once had the imagination to build stations which were beautiful as well as practical. The City Hall station remains the most impressive subway station in New York, and yet it hasn't been used since the 1945.
Meanwhile, across the country and across the world, city after city has shown what beautiful places the subway stations can be. With our vision of the MTA, we can once again see stations which are inspire as well as serve.
More Lines To Get You There
Proposed route of the Triborough RX, which would directly link Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx using inexpensive existing rail corridors - source
The New York transit system as it is today was built decades ago. Every line we currently have, and even those in the progress were created or planned long ago, in the 1930s. The Second Avenue Line, now slated to open in 2016 or 17, was on the planning maps in 1929, nearly 100 years earlier.
Tokyo Metro lines, 1927 - 2008; the bulk of Tokyo's subway development has occurred in the last 60 years, a time when New York's system has stagnated - source Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License
While the MTA has stagnated, foreign systems have been building out at a rapid pace, connecting and serving more and more of their citizenry. Tokyo's system, as you can see to your left, has been built from nearly nothing in the 1950s to an impressive network of more than a dozen lines, which now serves twice as many riders as the New York system.
If New York were to build at a fraction the pace, we could bring direct, pleasant, uncrowded access to far more riders and areas, through projects like the Triborough RX, which would directly link Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, running from Bay Ridge to Yankee Stadium:
the Triboro RX would attract many outer borough transit riders, and by crossing existing lines would provide countless new intra- and inter-borough options. Twenty-three subway lines would be intersected at least once, with six others intersecting twice.
Service with a smile
In 2008, four young New Yorkers took to the subway in a sort of protest against the indifference of the current MTA. They took matters into their own hands, patrolling the subway, distributing snacks, hand sanitizer and information, doing everything they could to improve the subway environment.
Now, this was performance art, but they shine a light on the gap between what MTA customer service is and what it could be. Helpful, cheerful, knowledgeable agents would go a long way towards brightening the environment of the subways, trains and busses, and could be achieved easily:
Stores often hire "secret shoppers" to test the shopping experience in their stores. The MTA could do this just as well, to ensure that its own workers are always polite and helpful. The end result would be a brighter, smoother-running New York transit system.