When the Daily News got wind of the MTA’s Request for Information concerning the possibility of installing glass doors on subway platforms, it seemed like a harmless news story. The authority wasn’t planning on committing resources to the project any time soon, and the RFI, generally the first stage in a long procurement process, made it clear that the MTA wanted any potential contractor to install the doors at as little cost as possible to the authority. The reaction though has been stupefyingly loud.
The first person to sound off on the idea was State Senator Diane Savino, and she was unamused. Noting that only .00005 percent of subway riders wind up on the tracks, she criticized the MTA for even thinking about it. Transportation Nation excerpted her statement:
“Much to my surprise the MTA found the notion intriguing. To even contemplate this nonsense is self-evidently a waste of time, effort, energy and yes – money; money the MTA does not have. The cost to install the barriers would be astronomical. The cost to maintain the doors in good operating condition would be even higher,” Savino said.
“Last year eight express bus and eight local bus routes where eliminated or reduced from my district along with the M train downtown extension into Bensonhurst and Dyker Heights, restoration of those routes should be the first discussion instead of spending additional monies on some harebrained notion like this,”
How dare the MTA try to solicit ideas for better service! It’s as though Savino isn’t trying. She clearly didn’t read the Request for Information because had she done so, she would have seen the authority’s intent to spend few dollars on this program.
Savino also doesn’t seem to understand the difference between the MTA’s operating budget and capital budget. The two are funded separately, and money from one cannot be easily shifted from the other. Still, she harps on last year’s operating cuts. “Life is precious and track fires are dangerous,” she said, “but the risks of both are far too minuscule to justify all the expense and effort — especially when most South Brooklynites and Islanders have had their modes of commuting eliminated under auspices of fiscal restraint.”
Of course, what Savino fails to mention is her own role in the cuts. She is leading a splinter group of Senate Democrats who support repealing the payroll tax, and she has consistently voted against congestion pricing measures. She did vote for the measure that robbed $143 million of allegedly dedicated funds from the MTA before saying that she never bothered to read the bill. She has also supported an unnecessary and costly no-layoffs bill. In other words, if the easy political points are there for the grabbing, she’s happy to take them.
But Savino isn’t the only one sounding off. The Daily News’ own editorial page yesterday featured two columns on it, and neither of them were written to sound as though the authors had read the paper’s own news coverage. First, we have an unsigned editorial calling the MTA “crazy” for even considering an “overblown plan” to build doors on the platform. I wonder how many times the Daily News has called someone crazy for asking for information or conducting a due diligence examination.
The editorial, clearly written at the urging of Savino, hits upon the same points she used in her letter to MTA Chair and CEO Jay Walder and even used most of the same language:
Some brainiacs have come up with the idea of erecting barriers along the edges of subway platforms to keep people from falling over. Said barriers would be equipped with sliding portals that would open and close in unison with subway doors,
Stop laughing. We’re not kidding. No, sir. We know this is no joke because the Metropolitan Transportation Authority found the notion intriguing enough to ask other brainiacs to submit even better proposals for adding a touch of Disney World to New York’s underground lair.
Merely to contemplate this nonsense is self-evidently a waste of time and money. The cost to install the barriers would be astronomical. The cost to maintain the doors in good operating condition would be even higher.
The Daily News editorial staff, experts in construction and maintenance costs of underground technological projects has deemed just thinking about it a “self-evident” waste of time and money. If they’re just going to serve as Diane Savino’s uncritical lapdogs, maybe we should appoint them to the MTA Board to see how they run things.
Finally, Joanna Molloy, who has an opinion about everything but seems to know little, sounds off on the project. While noting that CEMUSA paid $1.4 billion to install thousands of bus shelters throughout the city, she scoffs at the idea that the MTA could get the doors built for little or no cost seemingly without offering a reason why. But her crowning moment comes in the condemnation of the plan itself. She doesn’t want it because it’s not gritty enough for her. The logic is dumbfounding.
Sure, you can argue that the sleek, modern doors, which have worked so beautifully along the AirTrain, will save a few dozen lives – and spare the city from some pricey lawsuits. But we’re New Yorkers – we’re tough, and we like grunge and noise. It may be fine for San Francisco, where BART travelers politely form perpendicular lines at the exact spot at which they know the train door will stop. It’s just not us.
New Yorkers have true grit, and nothing gives grittier grit than the subway. We like to brag about the horrors we’ve seen down there. I once saw a 14-inch-long rat munch the last dregs of a hot dog on the tracks of Union Square station. Top that.
Got that? We don’t want clean subway systems that aren’t sweltering saunas in the subway because we’re New Yorkers and we like living and commuting in our own filth. Let’s not try to improve the system or enjoy pleasant commutes because then we wouldn’t be tough. We, like Jeff Bridges in the Coen Brothers’ latest, have true grit. On what planet does Joanna Molloy live anyway?
Now, I don’t know what the future will hold for the MTA’s idea to install doors on some or all of its platforms. In an early incarnation, the new Second Ave. Subway stops were to have these doors, but the authority won’t release SAS station specs for a little while yet. Maybe the MTA can find a contractor like CEMUSA willing to build the doors in exchange for the ad space, and maybe not. Maybe the Request for Information will lead to some results, and maybe the MTA will find that it’s not a feasible project for the New York City subway system.
No matter the outcome, the discourse around it is terrible. The MTA gets ridiculed for engaging in a no-cost effort to find out how to improve the system from politicians who clearly aren’t attuned to the mechanisms that fund the agency and from newspaper editorials that can’t see beyond the current filthy state of our system. This reaction creates a loop in which the MTA gains no public support or trust even as it’s trying to move the system forward, and now, we know why politicians get away with taking dedicated funds out of the MTA’s coffers.
Ultimately, this whole vicious cycle is why we don’t have nice things underground. A no-cost request for basic information to improve conditions underground just should not be met with such ignorant vehemence until dollar figures are attached to a specific proposal. Until the coverage improves and politicians understand what’s happening in transit globally and with the MTA locally, the loop will just keep circling back on itself forever.