In running through the subway pet peeves last week, I didn’t talk about one aspect of the experience that drives me absolutely nuts. Ever since the MTA started investing in new rolling stock and better public address systems for its stations, the onslaught of public announcements has become infuriatingly annoying.
For me, personally, the problem reached a crescendo on Tuesday night while traveling home from work. Despite the snow drifts piling up throughout the city and warnings to stay home, I caught a Q train from Times Square in relatively quick order, and when we zoomed past the N train idling at Prince St., I knew we would cross the Manhattan Bridge first. All was well until we went back underground prior to De Kalb Ave.
My guess is that a B train had crossed the bridge just before us, and the Q had to wait. What I know happened is that four times — four times! — in a four-minute period in which the Q train idled in between the eastern end of the Manhattan Bridge and De Kalb Ave., every single passenger was told that we were being held for train traffic ahead of us, that we would be moving shortly, and that the MTA was thankful for our patience. Over and over and over again, we heard this message. We couldn’t stop anywhere else, and the situation in front of us hadn’t changed. For some reason though the conductor insisted on pressing play four times.
Generally, I’m a fan of the train traffic message. It’s an acknowledgment from the MTA that something isn’t right. The same holds true of the message concerning a delay to the train’s dispatcher. We want to be moving, but we can’t because someone is holding us up or something is in front of us. It’s not a long-term problem, like a sick passenger or a signal malfunction, and we should be moving shortly. There’s just no reason, though, to play it every 60 seconds when nothing else is happening.
This is hardly the worst announcement. For over a decade, we’ve been blasted with “an important message from the NYPD” about keeping our belongings safe at all times, checking ourselves, and seeing and saying something. I’ve become immune to that one Yet, it just keeps going. And going. And going. And going. And going. And go…
In one sense, these announcements serve a purpose. Any regular rider who doesn’t wear headphones can recite them all by rote, and that means they’re working. We’ve been trained to be whatever is on the right side of paranoid while traveling underground, and we know to be alert. But we’ve also been lectured about it nearly every day of every week of every month of every year since the early 2000s. At this point, it’s just another piece of noise to add to the clanks and squeals of our everyday subway commute.