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How Did New York’s Trains Get so Bad? | NYT


“The city is awake. Across the length of
its five boroughs, a vast stream of
humanity will move.” This was what a New Yorker’s
commute looked like in 1961. “— can be seen the daily miracle
that is the New York City transit system.” But that was then. And this is now. [screaming] “Stand clear of
the closing doors, please.” Subway riders demanding an end
to their commuting nightmare.” “So fed up with all the
delays and cancellations that they are suing the M.T.A.” The New York subway now has
the worst on-time performance of any major rapid transit
system in the world. And commuters are pissed. This woman’s commute
has gotten so bad, she’s considering leaving
a job she really likes. “No. I got a new job.” This rabbi was sent into a panic
when his train stalled just before Shabbat. And then there’s
this guy, who was stuck underground for
so long, commuters sang to pass the time. “… Gonna make
me lose my mind up in here …” “It’s been two hours.” They ended up making
a Facebook group. They’re still in touch. “Yeah.” “The mornings where every
single line is delayed —” “It was like cruel or arbitrary.” But it really
wasn’t that long ago that New Yorkers would laugh
at other city subway systems. Four lines in Boston, two in L.A.? That’s cute. In New York our trains run 24/7. We have 665 miles of track,
472 stations, 27 subway lines, and almost six million
riders every single day. “Does it really have
to be this way?” “Also, has it always
been this bad?” Turns out the M.T.A. has recovered
from a transit crisis before. “Ladies and gentlemen, we
are being held momentarily by the train’s dispatcher.” These were the
trains in the 1970s. “Poor maintenance, high crime
and widespread graffiti.” “It was kind of scary.” And that’s Jim. He’s been reporting on the
subway since before I was born. “He wrote the book about
the subway, literally. In the ’70s, it was
really, really bad.” “Maintenance really had suffered.” So officials poured money into
the system, and it improved. [cheering] “They are working on it. They’re doing the best they can.” “They’re fixing the tracks. Well, they’re fixing the track. They put in a new
escalator downstairs.” “They improve it in the ’80s. “Today we got better equipment,
better parts and better tools.” “In the ’90s it gets to be
the best it’s ever been.” The 1990s were the golden
era of subway functionality. “So if you want to
prove to someone that New York has it all, just
show them your MetroCard Gold.” New York’s governor at
the time, George Pataki, called it a transit renaissance. But then, that city
that has it all started taking the system for granted,
starting with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. “Cut down the size
of city government.” Just a year into his
first term, the mayor cut the city’s contribution
to the M.T.A.’s budget by millions of dollars. Then, Governor Pataki
followed Giuliani’s lead. And so began a trend
of mayors and governors diverting part of their
budgets away from the M.T.A. and toward their own
priorities. And then blaming one another for the
problems that followed. “Right.” So while the city and
state contributions got smaller and
smaller and smaller, subway ridership went
up, and so did the fares. But fares still weren’t enough
to make up for the budget cuts. So a group of Wall Street
executives came to the M.T.A. with a deal. [cash register ringing] These Wall Street execs, they
went to the head of the M.T.A., also known as the governor,
and said, give us your debt. We’ll pay you cash. Pay us back later. Pataki agreed to the deal
to refinance the M.T.A.’s debt. “Basically, they used the Amex
to pay off the MasterCard.” And these bankers, many
of whom were donors to Governor Pataki’s campaign,
walked away with $85 million in commissions and fees. And that debt lives on today — “… finally reaches
its destination.” — even if some of the equipment
we’re still paying for does not. “Great habitat enhancement
for fish and shellfish.” Then — “It was a fiscal crisis globally.” “That was a really big
turning point for the M.T.A.” “Maintenance was withdrawn.” “You’re checking the
cars less frequently, you’re repairing the
cars less frequently, then they’re going to
break down more frequently.” “So basically —” “The trains became
slightly less reliable.” But there were millions
of dollars draining from the M.T.A.’s budget that could
have been used for maintenance. “So what happened was —” This summer Governor
Cuomo’s administration forced the M.T.A. to bail out
some upstate ski resorts after an unusually warm winter. “So we set out to
try and find out if there were a lot of other
examples of the M.T.A. being forced by the state to spend
money on things that had nothing to do with the subway. And we found out about
these bond issuance fees.” Bond issuance fees may
sound a little boring. So I hired a busker to
write a song about it. “Let me put it this way — the
M.T.A. brings in a lot of money. The state has used that
money as a piggy bank for other priorities.” “The next stop is Fulton Street.” “Fulton Street was
the pet project of a guy named Sheldon Silver.” He wanted Fulton Street
to be the Grand Central Station of downtown Manhattan. So construction started,
the years went by, and the day of the
grand opening arrived. “Oh, that’s way over budget.” At this point, the M.T.A. board
wants to scale things back. And one of the board members — “Nancy Shevell, wife
of Paul McCartney, said, we’re not
building cathedrals here.” But the next day,
Sheldon Silver demanded — ”You’re going to build this
thing the way it was originally supposed to be
built, or else I’m going to veto your
capital budget.” So the M.T.A. complied. “A billion and a half
dollars on one station. It didn’t get an extra subway
car, an extra foot of track, nothing. Did I say it was
in his district?” Fulton Street was
just one example. “These politicians
really wanted to be able to have a big project
they could champion, mosaics and artwork and
everything is brand new.” “Clean, shiny subway stations. This is exciting, right?” I did this for you. Here is my gift to you. “Yeah. And I feel good about that.” “Of course you should.” “You can’t really do that with
replacing some ancient subway signal system that people
don’t even know exists.” “No one wants to talk
about the signals.” “I don’t think I understand
how the signals even work.” And neither did I. So I
watched a documentary released by the M.T.A. to learn more. “People know that
the system is old, but I don’t think they
realize just how old it is. It’s not just the architecture
that’s 100 years old. It’s a lot of the basic
technology as well. We never really know
where the train is.” “Um —” “Yeah.” “The workers don’t actually know
where the trains are exactly, precisely, on the tracks. They know what
section they are in. So they have to keep
them a safe distance apart as they go
through the system. You can’t just go to Best
Buy and pick up something to replace this 1930s
piece of equipment.” New signals would mean more
trains running more efficiently and closer together. But it’s been two decades since
the M.T.A. first began its push to upgrade its signals. And so far, they’ve
completed just one line. “If you don’t focus on the
core needs of the system, bad things can happen.” “So the trains were not
as well taken care of, the signal system
deteriorated, and there was very little margin for error.” And then that margin gets even
smaller with Hurricane Sandy. “The worst disaster in the
history of the subway system.” So this is the part
of the story where all of those bad
decisions of the past really start wreaking havoc. “The M.T.A. is openly violating
its own safety directives.” A tunnel wall in Brooklyn
collapses onto the track. “We just boarded
the rescue train.” “There have been 22 derailments.” Overcrowding is
definitely a problem, but the M.T.A. can’t blame
everything on overcrowding. “The issue is there’s
not one person to blame.” There’s been a lot
of back and forth between the governor
and the mayor. “Blame everybody who has
been in power in New York in the past 25 years.” A train careens off the tracks
in Harlem, injuring 34 people. And in summer of 2017,
the waiting and crowding and derailments reach
a breaking point. And at long last, Governor Cuomo
declares a state of emergency. “I mean there is some light at
the end of the tunnel. No pun intended. I actually did not
intend that pun. There are some signs
that politicians are now taking the maintenance of
the subway system seriously.” “Elected leaders are finally
expected to come out with a plan to pay for the M.T.A. And I think there’s a
consensus they can’t just rely on debt anymore.” “I believe in you, subway. But you’ve got to
get it together.” “We want to do this. We need to do this. We will do this.” “I think delay is,
in a messed up way, our way to bring
people together.” “There’s no New York City
without the subways. I regard it as the great
public commons of New York.” “Yeah, it’s good.” “Nice meeting all of you.” “They ride together. And in this journey can be
seen the daily miracle that is the New York City
transit system, upon which the very existence of the
city and its people, depend.”

Yvette Parker

100 Comments

  1. Because anything with word "public" Is consider "socialist/Commie!" And those CEOs avoid riding "public" Transports so they didn't care! 🤑🤑🤑

  2. Fulton Street Station cost a billion dollars. Isnt Sheldon in prison for embezzling.

  3. I live in Athens and our metro is surprisingly light years ahead from New York’s

  4. “In 2077 they voted new york the worst place to live in America. Main issues? Sky high rate of retardation, and more people living below the poverty line than anywhere else. Can’t deny it, it’s all true… but everybody still wants to live here…"

  5. Its because they were built 100 years ago. We could have underground bullet trains if they were built today but since they work and would cost Billions, they will stay.

  6. I traveled once on the NY transit once 1982, Never no more. I will never visit NYC ever again, it's a sh*t hole

  7. If you arent from New York it's almost impossible to travel by train because its hard to navigate. Asking people that live ther deff doesn't help cause they don't know either.

  8. At first i read "How did the new york times get so bad" instead of the acually title. My first though was thats brave…

  9. they need to eliminate mta overtime…just a bunch of bums sitting around doing NOTHING

  10. Because you have leaders who uses tax payer money unwisely. They are slowly becoming homeless shelters as soon as commen sense comes back this problem will get worse vote for commen sense policies first not party and when we get our own houses in order then maybe we can help the millions that want to come to the USA, remember how can we help others without helping our own first all we are doing is pushing problems down the road we have millions here in the USA that need attention.

  11. so why is nyc is so desirable to live in when the only main way to travel in the city is transit. driving and parking is a nightmare.i live in canada and im used to driving everywhere instead of public transport.

    whats the city doing with the crazy amount of taxes from high priced properties, tourism, etc.

  12. But really – what is the solution? I say – make it private. I take the NYC train everyday and I hate it.

  13. Either pay the going rate or STFU. Subways are subsidised by people who never take that piece od sh!t.

  14. Loved the Bond Issuance Fees Blues at 5:04

    Yet another public funding crisis exacerbated by "financial innovation"

  15. Anyone know the music at 2:55 or what that style is called? I've been trying to search for that kind of thing recently!

  16. So the MTA is a contributor to ocean polluting, ocean levels rising, pocket stuffing, horde compacting..Crooks. I left Manhattan in 2009. I've been physically healthier, mentally more at peace with myself since leaving. I guess in retrospect, NYC is a fun place to visit but a retched place to buy a home outside of profit.

  17. whyyyy do people live here?! i'd have so much anxiety if i had to do new york day in and day out.

  18. Can I also add that the city needs to put central fans during the summer! It's honestly the worse waiting in the subway in the humid and the heat. Basic needs so we can breathe…

  19. Nyc politicians go fed up giving the mta money for them just to buy property not fix the trains

  20. BROO 5:58–6:00 she said " the grand central station" WHY TF IS IT CALLED THE GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL ALL OF A SUDDEN ?

  21. Love NYC subway, no complaints from me, Clean ,Dirty, Late,Early. Full, Empty,Hot,Cold etc its my subway

  22. Team Dialga! Although I do prefer Palkia's Dragon/Water typing over Steel…

  23. When New York keeps electing the same politicians no matter what they do. The people in charge don't care. New Yorkers are dumb enough to keep electing the same people.

  24. They are way too old and NYC let it get that way and too cheat to fix it.

  25. 9:32 big no-no by Cuomo. No safety vest, gloves, or protective goggles while he’s down on the tracks. An employee would be written up for that.

  26. In the 1970's the MTA treated trains taken out of service as being on-time. As a result, as trains became less reliable the on-time performance increased!

  27. Lol it’s the toy e train from the train sit museum
    On tracks it does not belong on

  28. Left in 1979 went back for a visit three years ago A Train condition looked the same except for the cost of a ride.

  29. The very wealthy, often from places like Saudi Arabia, buy our debt for infrastructure improvement while the American people pay the interest. Chicago parking meters anyone? Read Matt Taibbis books.

  30. A rat jumped from the tracks and started hanging out with the waiting passengers (well he tried to.we ran)

  31. Democratic leftist that run cities into the ground or underground as in NY trains.

  32. 9:31 Three guys holding the vacuum hose and a 4th supervising. Four men to operate a vacuum cleaner. Yeesh.

  33. It's unexcusable. Most popular city in the US and has old, run down trains.

  34. The subway trains are like Schrodinger's Cat, you don't know if you will be early or late. The day, hour and any local events can impact the commute but there are just some days things will happen out of the ordinary.

  35. 7:55 I've watched videos of "third world" countries that have updated train systems but the MTA still runs on things from the 1930's??!!

  36. I have to say it on weekly basis in my line of work and that is, if you use money to compensate for lack of COMMON SENSE then it will be a failure every time.

  37. The bits passengers don't see (track, signalling) are the bits which allow a reliable service to run. When money is tight only money gets spent on the stations which don't affect service performance.

  38. Okay, well now I don't feel so bad about the BART system in San Francisco Bay. Trains are almost never late on my commute 5x a week. I guess I'll live with the homeless pop sleeping on every cart. 😔

  39. GREAT CONTENT! I'm subbing cuz all the awesome channels on youtube are disappearing so when ya find one sub before it's gone!… smh

  40. This video is very exaggerated on how bad the subways are. Yes they still have some issues but the New York subways aren’t that bad anymore. I have been living in NYC for the past 3 years and I have no complaints about the subways currently except delays. That still needs to be fixed.

  41. you clearly have no idea of how much of a chaos Mexico City's train transit system is 😂

  42. NYC itself is a horrible city. Bad infrastructure, expensive, rude New Yorkers, pretty dirty streets compared to other cities in the world

  43. take some examples from Thailand, the BTS SkyTrain, it’s magnifique, although it’s not run 24/7, they have police walking at the end of the track, and it’s air conditioned

  44. Geez. It's almost as though you can't trust politicians to manage anything properly because they are motivated by their own pet projects.

    I know. Let's give those politicians power over MORE STUFF. Awesome idea.

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