A few weeks ago, New Yorkers caught their first real collective glimpse of the MTA’s next-generation rolling stock. Pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as part of his plan to bring more customer-facing initiatives to the forefront, the renderings were notable not only for their new color scheme but also for the open gangways, an accordion-like design that essentially creates one super-long subway by opening up the passageways between individual cars. It’s a standard design the world over that can provide capacity increases by up to 10 percent, but U.S. transit agencies have been notably slow to adopt the design.
With word of open gangways heading New York’s way, the same old voices from people who feel that what works elsewhere can’t work in New York have risen in unity to bemoan our articulated future. A sampling of recent comments on The Times website provides a litany of these complaints. What about noises from buskers? Showtime crews? Panhandlers? Stinky residents of the subways? Broken air conditioners? How will the special butterflies of New York City survive? To do some myth-busting, Emma Fitzsimmons of The Times journeyed to the closest spot with open gangway cars and filed a report from Toronto, where the new design is very popular. As to the concerns raised by New Yorkers, Toronto officials were dismissive.
Some riders in New York have raised concerns that regular subway annoyances — from “showtime” dancers to misbehaving riders — might now become the whole train’s problem, instead of being contained to one car. Andy Byford, the chief executive of the Toronto Transit Commission and an enthusiastic evangelist for improving the system, dismissed those fears, saying riders could easily escape unpleasant situations in the new cars. “You’re not then trapped in a single carriage,” Mr. Byford said from his office atop the Davisville station north of downtown Toronto. “You can get up and move.”
If a rider urinates or vomits, someone could simply walk away, rather than waiting for a station and darting from one car to another…One downside is that if a train has a technical problem, workers must remove the entire six-car train from service, Mr. Byford said, instead of separating a pair of cars and replacing them. But over all, he said, the benefits have outweighed the drawbacks…
American transit officials have had reservations about whether the design could work on the nation’s aging subways and whether ridership levels warrant the expense of switching to the new cars, said Randy Clarke, a safety and operations expert at the American Public Transportation Association. In Boston, subway officials considered the idea for new cars on two lines but decided against it. Officials in New York have worked with engineering consultants on the plans and are confident the design is feasible, even though the subway is an older system, Ms. Hakim said.
In Toronto, the best sign of the cars’ popularity is that riders whose lines do not have the trains are pleading for them. Sygmund Gaskin, 45, said he wished the older trains on his Bloor-Danforth Line could be replaced with the new cars. “I don’t know why it takes so long to get them for this line,” he said. “How come we don’t have them here as well?”
Of course, common-sense reporting from cities in which these cars have been embraced for years hasn’t persuaded the critics. The comments on Fitzsimmons’ article is just the surface of “Not-Invented-Here” syndrome. Others even proclaim New York to be just too mean-spirited for open gangways to work here. Some people just won’t believe it until they see, but thankfully, they’ll be seeing it soon enough.