Whenever I travel to a subway station with an escalator, I usually wind up taking the stairs. I like the exercise, and I find the stairs faster than trying to weave around straphangers who can’t figure out how to stand on the right and walk on the left. Still, the escalators in the New York City subway system are far from perect, and yet their reach is going to expand soon.
In today’s Times, Christine Haughney highlights the problem with the escalators. Even though the numbers are by and large positive, the ones that are broken seem to stay that way. Haughney writes:
In large measure, the system’s 194 elevators in 73 stations, and its 178 escalators in 52 stations, work far more often than not. Elevator availability was measured at 95.3 percent in the second quarter of this year, compared with 96.8 percent in the same period last year; escalators held steady at 92.8 percent.
Still, some troubling issues remained; in those three months, there were 73 instances when riders got stuck in elevators. And escalators and elevators in disrepair tended to stay that way. “The public perception is in a totally different place because if you come upon an escalator and it’s out of service, your perception is that it’s never in service,” Thomas F. Prendergast, president of New York City Transit, said.
The authority knows that this has long been a problem and is doing its best to fix it, Mr. Prendergast said. In July, the authority restructured elevator and escalator operations by creating a dedicated 299-person group, naming Tony Suarez as its leader, and having him present quarterly reports directly to the authority board.
Since then, the authority has tried to give riders better updates about out-of-service elevators and escalators by sending text messages, posting information on its Web site and adding more signs in stations. Most of all, Mr. Prendergast said, he is trying to change the mind-set of transit workers who dismiss broken elevators as an inevitable part of urban transportation. “Part of it’s denial and part of it’s blaming others,” Mr. Prendergast said of some transit workers’ view of elevator and escalator problems. “But we have to rise to another place.”
It’s sort of stunning to think that 300 people are devoted to the MTA’s escalators, and yet, many seem out of service seemingly semi-permanently. They are fixed, and then they break again. Those at the stations that need them the most, says The Times, “have the worst performance records.”
Escalators, then, would seem to be a thing to avoid for the MTA, but the authority is heading in another direction. When the 7 line extension opens at 34th St. and 11th Ave. in two years, it will be serviced by escalators and inclined elevators, thus creating the perfect storm of MTA technology. In fact, this week, the KONE Corporation announced that it had been rewarded the contract for the station.
KONE specializes in industrial escalators, and it will add nine heavy-duty transit escalators and two custom-inclined elevators to the deep-cavern station at 34th St. and 11th Ave. Earlier this year, the MTA said that it wasn’t planning on installing stairs there so these escalators and elevators will be the only manner of egress. Ultimately, then, I’m left with a Mitch Hedberg quote: “An escalator can never break: it can only become stairs.” The MTA’s escalators at worst are stairs, and that worst seems to pop up more than it should.