As the MTA’s technology has improved, the amount of noise pollution in the subway system has gone up. While there’s only so much the agency can do to lessen the screech from metal-on-metal as subways bend around steep curves, the new rolling stock with its clear public address systems has led to a noted increase in announcements. We’re asked to be patient, sneeze into our arms, stand up, get out of the way, check ourselves, don’t block the door and say something if we see something. Much like some of those pesky delays, the sounds are seemingly unavoidable.
As 2015 dawns, though, the MTA is doing away with one source of easily avoidable noise pollution: The emergency exit doors with their ear-piercing sirens will be silenced. In effect, those doors are now simply exits as the MTA has finally caved to the reality of the flow of people out of subway stations that often do not have enough turnstile capacity to handle peak-hour crowds.
This move has been months in the making as the MTA has been slowly disarming the doors nearest station agents or simply opting against repairing failed alarms, but yesterday morning, WNYC’s Kate Hinds confirmed the news. “Our customers,” Transit spokesman Kevin Ortiz said, “have been quite clear in displaying their annoyance and letting us know that the alarms really were the number one annoyance for them as they travel through the system.”
Amusingly, as The Times’ Matt Flegenheimer noted, the MTA still maintains the rule that exiting through an emergency exit is against the rules, but enforcement is bare to nonexistent in this case. Straphangers routinely exit through these doors in full view of station agents and cops with no consequences, and that practice isn’t likely to change any time soon. Now, though, the blaring alarms will not greet customers trying to leave stations.
So what’s really going on here? The obvious is that, for years, the MTA has heard nonstop about the ineffectiveness of emergency exits from various rider advocacy groups. Straphangers didn’t care about the alarms and would routinely use the nearest — or least crowded — exit. So in one way, the MTA is simply giving in to popular opinion.
But there’s a deeper story here. First, the MTA is doing away with a source of noise pollution within the system and one that could be potentially damaging to the long-term hearing of station agents and other employees who were exposed to these sounds multiple times per hour. Second, this move can also be seen as one designed to improve station flow. As far as I know, the MTA is still working on plans to redesign station entrances. By removing the alarm, the MTA can study how people exit stations, and they’ll likely find that crowds optimize the emergency exits especially at stations with few other points of egress.
Ultimately, though, while New Yorkers generally welcome the New Year with parties, fireworks and a fair amount of sound, the end of the emergency exit noise is a welcome development. And now we know what we all assumed long ago: These emergency exits are simply just exist after all.