Is the NYC Subway Really That Bad?

Living in New York, you hear people complain about the New York City subway system on a regular basis. Some of the gripes are well-deserved. During the summer the stations are hot. In the winter they’re cold. There are frequent delays. Sometimes you get stuck on a train. Sometimes you have to wait for several packed trains to pass before you can squeeze yourself onto a car. And sometimes the trains are so crowded you are forced to be more intimate with strangers than you would otherwise like.

Photo of New York City subway station
Photo by Redd Angelo on Unsplash

But is the NYC subway system really that bad? A recent article by the New York Times certainly seems to think so. Focusing on the Lexington Avenue line, New York’s busiest route, the New York Times noted that the 4, 5, and 6 trains are frequently either delayed or cancelled. During the average morning commute, for example, 13 of the scheduled 90 trains that stop at Grand Central are cancelled (14%).

These delays and cancellations are caused by a combination of factors┬áincluding a 1930’s era signal system, never-ending maintenance, and overcrowding. Overcrowding, in particular, causes trains to slow down significantly in stations as people struggle to get off and on trains.

Exactly how bad is the problem? The New York Times went as far as to call the subway an “unreliable commute.”┬áI won’t argue that the subway system is perfect. It clearly has a number of problems, from old and outdated technology to a growing commuter population. But I think calling the subway system “unreliable” overstates the problem.

As a Lexington Avenue line commuter, I rarely find myself waiting more than a few minutes for a train to show up. Anything over 5 minutes is an unusually long wait. As mentioned in our previous post, things could certainly be worse. I could be sitting in traffic in a car. At least I can read or play games on my phone on the subway. Additionally, while some have complained about rising subway fare costs, the subway remains substantially less expensive compared to traveling by car.

In my (seemingly minority) opinion, the New York City subway system is plenty reliable. Despite a never-ending slew of problems, the Lexington Avenue line still manages to shuttle 1.6 million people up and down New York City every day. That is more than the Washington, D.C. and Chicago subway systems can do in a day combined.

Things could certainly be worse.

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