Record-Breaking Subway Ridership Numbers May Pose Safety Concerns

The recent increase in subway ridership has raised several challenging questions for both commuters and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) alike, and the New York Times has now taken a closer look at some of these issues in a new report about the congestion.

With close to 1.8 billion rides per year, subway ridership is now the highest its been since 1948. The last time the subway system was confronted by such a glut of passengers was during the Great Depression and subsequently during World War II.

Six million people ride the subway everyday compared to about four million back in the 1990s, and this has of course led to several safety concerns. For one, the NYPD is concerned that overcrowding on subway platforms may lead to people falling on to the tracks. There are also concerns that overcrowding on trains leads to more assaults —an issue that is likely to snowball during the summer as the temperatures on platforms become increasingly unbearable.

Overcrowding has also led to more delays — in fact they've quadrupled since 2012 due to the increasing ridership.

The MTA is trying some quick fixes — some platforms like the one serving the L train at 14th Street-Union Square and at 86th Street on the 4,5,6 trains now have platform controllers to manage crowds better.

The agency is also exploring some new options like open gangway subway cars, but that hasn't gone down too well with New Yorkers.

All that aside, the subway infrastructure is still severely lacking. Installing a modern signal system to allow for more trains is quite some time away, according to the Times.

The opening of the Second Avenue Subway this year might finally ease up the commute on the Upper East Side, and an approval of over $14 billion in funds for the subway might also address some other key infrastructural concerns, but all of that remains to be seen.

London is another city with overcrowding issues. The subway stations there simply close when the crowds become unmanageable, and only let people in once traffic has eased up. A representative for the MTA told the Times that such a measure was not under consideration for NYC.

MTA Overhaul of E. 68th St. Subway Station is Up for Discussion on Tuesday

Plans to relocate the entrance to the East 86th Street subway station on the Lexington Avenue Line have angered residents there. However, proposed changes to a station down the line might be greeted more warmly. The MTA is planning to spend $70 million to renovate the 68 St-Hunter College station, DNAinfo reports, and a public hearing is coming this week. Plans include a new elevator, a new entrance on Lexington Avenue, a new stairwell at East 69th Street, and the widening and/or repair of existing stairs, some of which are quite narrow.

The changes are meant to make the 6 train station more accessible, and the station would remain open while work is done. The MTA had planned to revamp the station four years ago, but ran into opposition. The MTA presented plans to Manhattan Community Board 8 on Wednesday and hopes for a receptive crowd when it holds a public hearing this Tuesday, April 26. That will be at 2 Broadway and will start at 4 p.m.

The ‘Path’ to $4 billion

Architect Santiago Calatrava envisioned an elegant, bird-like PATH station for the high-profile World Trade Center site, but by some accounts what he got was anextravagant symbol of government inefficiency.

Indeed, public perception of the World Trade Center Oculus — which opened last month at the corner of Liberty and Church streets — has been largely soured by its estimated $4 billion price tag that the Port Authority has yet to back up with final numbers. But since Calatrava revealed his design for the station in 2004, the price of the project has ballooned to roughly twice its initial estimation. The overruns were caused by, among other things, the design, the complexity of building underneath the No. 1 subway line, pricey subcontracts, political disputes and Hurricane Sandy.

As costs piled onto the project, the hub’s appearance also changed. Calatrava’s vision of a bird taking flight was dramatically altered when the Bloomberg administration demanded that additional steel be added to the structure for security reasons, a change that led to a bulkier structure. For similar reasons, the hub had to swap its originally planned retractable roof for a skylight that will symbolically open only once a year on September 11. Architecture critics, in turn, have drawn unflattering comparisons of the Oculus to a skeletal stegosaurus.

But the hiccups and design criticisms have not stopped public officials from touting the station as an icon of Lower Manhattan.

“We hope that it will really upend this notion that we shouldn’t serve the public in grand ways and with great design. There’s this idea out there that grand public infrastructure is somehow inappropriate and unjustified,” Downtown Alliance President Jessica Lappin said at a New York Building Congress event in March. “It is big, it is bold, it will inspire for generations.”

An opening ceremony is scheduled for sometime in the spring, as is the opening of Westfield Group’s $1.4 billion shopping center at the hub, whose tenants include Apple, Eataly and an Épicerie Boulud. Passengers are already shuffling in and out of the station and snapping Instagram photos of its blinding white facade and interior.

MetroCards will soon be a thing of the past

The days of being asked to swipe again and again at the turnstile could soon be ancient history — as the MTA has begun seeking proposals that would move the subway system toward the post-MetroCard era.

The MTA will release paperwork on Wednesday asking companies to submit proposals for ways of paying for rides with contactless media, such as smart cards or mobile devices.

They are hoping that such a new system, similar to payment methods already used in taxi cabs and stores, in which customers only have to swipe their phones, will make MetroCards as obsolete at subway tokens.

“Currently, the MTA is basically in the business of creating its own currency, which is very expensive,” said Riders Alliance executive director John Raskin. “The more it can shift that burden to Mastercard and Visa,the less the MTA has to worry about and the better it will be for riders.”

The agency wants interested companies to submit their vision of how riders will pay the fare by June 23. There was no talk of what accommodations would be made for people with out smart phones or credit cards.

It will take quite a while before the new payment system is ready.

Even though the switchover is supposed to be a part of the MTA’s 2015-2019 capital program, the new method won’t be up and running until at least 2021.

MTA Unveils New Tech-Friendly Buses With Wi-Fi, Charging Ports

Just a few months after Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans to bring the New York City subway system into the 21st century, it looks like MTA buses will be following suit. The governor's office revealed plans today for a new batch of 2,042 city buses that will be equipped with tech-friendly touches like Wi-Fi hotspots and USB charging ports. It's all part of an effort to "create a stronger, more convenient and more connected mass transit system for years to come," per Governor Cuomo.

Each bus will be equipped with between 35 and 55 charging ports, depending on the make and model; buses will also get a new look, which Governor Cuomo apparently likened to a Ferrari, which, lol. In the first wave of the rollout effort, 75 of these swanky new rides will hit the road in Queens by the end of this year; later waves will go in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, with all 2,042 expected to be on the road by 2020. The projected cost: $1.3 billion.

The "improvements" are fueled by the apparent need for connectivity regardless of location; in a statement, MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast said that, "Wireless connectivity is prevalent in the lives of our customers," therefore the MTA is taking steps to "accommodate this growing trend by introducing high-speed connectivity and charging ports on-board MTA buses."

It all sounds great in theory, but should it be prioritized over other pressing issues, like faster bus service? We'll let you argue that one out in the comments.