New York’s broken subway system: 39 student reporters’ moment-by-moment account of travails and complaints during a single rush hour

By Princeton Summer Journal staff

As the summer of 2017 comes to an end, the long-simmering problems with the New York City subway system have reached full boil. The congestion caused by nearly 6 million riders a day has dramatically slowed down the rail system. The 112-year-old signaling system is unable to withstand everyday use. Rail cars built more than 50 years ago are breaking down more frequently than ever before. Two high-profile derailments – including one that injured 34 people and an incident in which people were trapped underground – have New Yorkers demanding changes from their elected officials.

On Tuesday, August 8, during rush hour, 39 reporters from the Princeton Summer Journal spread out to dozens of subway stations across the city, interviewing riders about how the crisis is affecting them. While some people told us that their experiences with the subway system have been positive, many other riders had major frustrations, which we relay below.

5:14 p.m.: Vivian Dector waits at the 23rd Street station for the 6 train. The trains she relies on are late five out of seven days, by her count. Detector knows the state has put a lot of money into the Metro Transit Authority and wonders why there haven’t been significant fixes. “I’m confused about where the money goes,” she says. “It should be a priority because it’s a huge part of [our] everyday lives.”

5:36 p.m.: Caren Ryan waits at the 8th St.New York University station. Ryan is frustrated by the lack of efficiency of the subway system and points to a common frustration of MTA riders: “The fare keeps going up, and the trains keep getting worse,” she says.

5:39 p.m: James Smoley waits impatiently on the same platform. “Why is it taking so long?” he asks.

5:51 p.m.: Kelly Smith waits at the 79th St. station for the 1 train. She is already running late and needs to transfer twice before arriving at the 135 St. station. “It’s an old system and antiquated city,” she says. “It just needs to be updated.”

5:56 p.m.: Sam Tacon waits at the Delancey St. station for the F train. “I know it’s a pain in the [butt] to get this [stuff] done,” he says. “[We’re] packed like sardines.”

6:00 p.m.: Kent Lan waits for his train on the York St. platform. He is heading home from work. Usually his train is on time. But “all other countries have better systems,” he says. For him, safety is the most important issue with the system.

6:02 p.m.: Michael Clancey waits for the 1 at the 50th St. station. “This summer I noticed more subway cars with no air conditioning,” he says. “This year has been much worse than previous years.” He says he now leaves earlier to account for system delays.

6:12 p.m.: Chris Thompson waits for his train at the 59th St. stop. The train system and schedule is so bad, he says, that he just expects the train to arrive late. When asked who was to blame, he says, “Maybe the governor, because, to be honest, he has not updated [the] subway system fast enough.”

6:14 p.m.: Joey Low waits for his train at City Hall station. He feels that the subway doesn’t ever significantly improve because the MTA is always “fixing and changing lines.” He thinks the system is too old.

6:18 p.m.: Dilia Ortiz waits for a 1 train to take her home to the Bronx. She feels that it’s unfair for the MTA to demand more money when nothing is changing.  “They keep raising the fare but they’re not fixing the problem,” she says.

6:20 p.m.: Pincus Shain awaits a train at 18th Ave. He thinks Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio are incapable of handling the crisis on their own and need President Trump to help. New Yorkers need to “tell De Blasio to get the hell out,” he says.

6:21 p.m.: LaToya Jordan waits for an A train at the Chambers St. stop. She has very strong feelings when asked who should be blamed for the current dysfunction. “The MTA, the government office,” she says. “Not only the current but the past mayor for not funding [the subway and] for funding the wrong projects, [like] funding the 2nd Avenue subway line, instead of fixing subway signals.”

6:22 p.m.: Mary Anderson waits at 34th St.Penn Station stop. She is heading to the Bronx. “I can’t imagine the hardships faced by those who do not have sympathetic employers. They may be punished for something that is out of their control,” she says. She used to count on the subway. Now, she says, “I can leave two hours early and still arrive a half an hour late.”

6:23 p.m.: Michelle Dawson waits, frustrated, at City Hall Station for her train home. “They have too much track work,” she says. “They are fixing stuff but I feel like nothing is ever fixed.”

6:31 p.m.: Debra Carmoa waits at the 66th StLincoln Center station for a 1 train. “They really work hard to make sure Manhattan works but they don’t for the poor people in the Bronx and Brooklyn,” she says.

6:44 p.m.: Michael A. is at the 23rd St. station, waiting for an R train. Everyday he travels from Brooklyn to the Bronx. “It’s the only option I have,” he says. He is pessimistic about the future of the system. “Nothing is going to happen,” he says.

7:01 p.m.: Ralph Burgos waits at the 149th St. station, hoping that his train will be on time. He says that the train system is usually reliable, but the price is where he has a problem: “[They should] lower the fare because they upped it from $1.75 and we get the same service,” he says. “It’s not gotten better.”

7:02 p.m.: Travis Barnes is at the City Hall Station waiting for a train to take him to dinner on Canal Street, but he has no idea whether his train will be on time. The nights and weekends are always overcrowded, he says, and that forces him to change his plans to get to the station on time. Barnes blames Governor Cuomo: “He has control over the MTA board and he is disinvested in maintenance,” he says. “But he is [invested in the] flashy stuff.”

7:05 p.m.: Google Maps displays a “significant delays” alert: “Service Change – Due to signal problems at 65 St, the following service changes are in effect: [E], [F], [M], [Q] and [R] trains are running with delays in both directions.”

7:07 p.m.: From the 42nd St Bryant Park station, Sophia D. says that the trains she takes are “usually late, but I can factor in the delays for travel time.” However, there are still other problems, including the “lack of escalators for the disabled.” For the most part, she does not think the delays are a big problem. “The delay time does not affect my working hours,” she says.

7:08 p.m.: Awaiting a train back home from the Cortlandt Street station, Kalika S. says, “We need a more regular train schedule. That’s what every other transit system in the world has.”

7:09 p.m.: At the 7th St. station, Kristen Schoonver says that she no longer “take[s] the subway expecting to be on time.” The “riders know what they need, but not the drivers,” she says.

7:12 p.m.: At the 28th St. Station, Eric Reid waits for the train to Roosevelt Island. “Every morning I’ll be late to work,” he says. The congestion and the heightened fare of the subway has made every trip on his daily commute unpleasant. The subway “should be free,” he says.

7:20 p.m.:  Mable Brown is standing on the platform at the 125th St. station. The powerful stench makes the wait a very unpleasant experience. She’s waiting for either the D or the B train to take her to Manhattan. “People are getting coffee breaks, and not doing their inspections,” she says of the subway workers.

7:23 p.m.: Luis Vasquez stands on the platform of 34th Street, waiting for a train to get him to 54th Street. “Before I waited five minutes” for the train, he says. It’s gotten worse. “Now it’s 15, sometimes it’s 20,” he says.

7:45 p.m.: At the 125th Street Station, the A train passes by, heading towards Queens. Columbia University student Lily Ma, a longtime New Yorker, is pleasantly surprised that her train is on time today. By her calculation, it’s been delayed about two to three times a week lately. The MTA believes that the system is “too big to fail,” she says. “But it is failing.”

This article has been edited since it ran in the print edition of this year’s Princeton Summer Journal to reflect the correct station name on the 6 train’s route. 


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