Archive for International Subways

Jason Shelowitz, the man behind the guerrilla art subway etiquette posters, is inspiring some copy cats. After Jayshells’ posters earned some headlines last week, Toronto’s National Post produced some subway etiquette PSAs of their own.

Calling themselves the Toronto Transit Civility Commission, the writers say that people are mostly concerned with unnecessary noise, bad body odor and those who clip their nails on the subway. The same boorish behavior we see in New York appears to be endemic outside of the Big Apple.

My favorite one, though, is the anthropomorphic backpack. Too many people believe they can put their bags — and feet — on empty subway seats, and then they stare daggars at anyone audacious enough to ask them to move. Here in New York, the MTA claims courtesy is contagious, but I haven’t seen that disease spread yet.

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As underground architecture goes, the New York City subway system is hardly a paragon of greatness. Although Heins and LaFarge and later Squire Vickers spent some time designing recognizable and identifiable station mosaics, the more ornate designs, as seen at the now-shuttered City Hall stop, were shelved due to massive costs. Over the decades, New York’s subway architecture has fallen into disrepair and only recently has the MTA tried to invest more in station appearances.

Around the globe, though, other mass transit systems feature stunningly ostentatious designs as in Moscow or cutting-edge architecture as in Stockholm. Recently, Design Boom highlighted some of the more “architecturally interesting” subway stations as the site explored how station design defines the mass transit experience. If the Second Ave. Subway designs are any indication, New York’s blandly utilitarian stations won’t be featured in international subway design shows any time soon.

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In London, a Circle opens up

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Coming soon: a break in the London Underground’s Circle Line

For New Yorkers accustomed to our snaking subway system, the concept of a feeder-style circle line is a foreign one. Our trains run from borough to borough, from the eastern-most reaches of Queens to the northern parts of Manhattan, from Coney Island to the Norwood, and the closest route we have to a circle are the short Shuttle routes in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

In London, though, the Circle Line is a way of life. This yellow line makes a loop around Zone 1 of the London Underground and offers passengers connection to every other Tube line. With no way out of the loop, this line is subject to frequent delays and is among the least reliable in London.

Yet, Londoners have a love-hate relationship with it. Apocryphal tales are told of drunk Londoners who ride around the line in circles until the Tubes shut down while tourists often board trains heading the wrong way around the loop. The Circle Line has even spawned an annual pub crawl requiring participants to down 28 drinks — one at a pub near each station and one on the train — in 12 hours.

But starting December 13, the Circle Line will be a circle no more. As The Times of London reports, Transport for London is cutting the loop with the aim of improving reliability along this delay-plagued line, and although riders will no longer be able to ride in a circle, the line will retain its iconic name. Fiona Hamilton writes:

In an upgrade to one of the capital’s oldest Tube lines, whose trains have previously travelled in loops, it is being extended to Hammersmith, in West London, with a tail added to the existing track. There will no longer be a through service between the west and north sides of the current Circle: accidental snoozers will be woken up to change trains at Edgware Road.

Transport for London (TfL) said that the changes would bring vast improvements. The Circle Line passes many of the capital’s landmarks, including the Tower of London and the Houses of Parliament, yet has been unreliable.

TfL said that during disruptions the line’s continuous nature had resulted in particularly severe delays: the lack of a start and a terminus meant that trains “backed up” along the track. As the District Line and Hammersmith and City Line share parts of its track, disruptions on those services also result in delays on the Circle Line. Under the new system, defective trains would be more easily removed from the line, resulting in less disruption as well as a more frequent service.

I’ve been to London a few times, and I’m always struck by the Circle Line stations. Many of them resemble the Notting Hill Gate station and feature open-air trenches with some beautifully built arches along the walls. I never had the chance to ride the complete circle and now never will.

Over at Human Transit, Jarrett Walker offers up his views on the end of the circle. There is a reason why none of New York’s subways run on a loop. It is an inefficient way to construct a reliable subway station and results in what Walker calls “awkward” provisions for layovers, recovery times and unexpected train problems.

In a way, then, the opening of the Circle Line reminds me of the Second Ave. Subway’s long-gone third track. With nowhere to go, stalled trains along Second Ave. will snare the entire route. It won’t be nearly as easy to fix as Transport for London’s Circle Line extension is.

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LACMTA_logo Would you pay the fare to ride the subways if you didn’t have to? Would you pay it if the MTA relied upon the honor system and some rare patrols by New York County sheriffs?

In Los Angeles, the LACMTA has grappled with just this very question since its founding. Nearly two years ago, I reported on plans in Los Angeles to end this practice. In late 2007, Los Angeles’ own Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board voted to install turnstiles throughout Los Angeles’ subway system. After losing over $5 million a year to delinquent fare-evaders, the board had decided that enough was enough.

Today, we learn that the LACMTA has finally started installing those turnstiles. The 21-month turnaround may seem downright speedy when we compare it to our East Coast MTA’s construction and innovation efforts, but in the meantime, LA’s MTA has lost nearly $10 million in potential revenue. In the grand tradition of transit agencies, though, this program is still just in the pilot stages.

Dan Weikel of the Los Angeles Times reports:

For decades, the MTA has used a gate-free honor system in which passengers walk unimpeded to train platforms without verifying that they have a ticket. To catch fare cheaters, the agency has relied on random checks by civilian inspectors and sheriff’s deputies. But the fine for lacking a ticket — up to $250 — still hasn’t deterred some riders from taking their chances. Cheaters cost the system at least $5 million a year in lost revenue.

Now, eight turnstiles are in use on a trial basis at the Alameda Street portal for the Red Line stop in Union Station, and five are operating at the Wilshire-Normandie station. By the end of the month, 12 turnstiles are scheduled to be installed at the Pershing Square station and 10 at Westlake-MacArthur Park.

MTA officials want to determine whether the gates improve security and clamp down on cheaters while moving thousands of daily riders quickly to and from trains. If the system works well — a progress report is due by the end of September — the MTA will proceed with a $46-million plan to install 387 turnstiles and related security fences by early 2010 at all subway and Green Line light-rail stations and at selected stops for the Blue Line and Gold Line light-rail trains.

With that $46 million price tag, this program will take around nine years to pay for itself, but LACMTA officials claim the turnstiles are needed for more than just monetary reasons. Riders and officials alike cited terrorism and general public safety concerns as driving factors in the push to install turnstiles as well.

In the L.A. Times article, Weikel notes that the Los Angeles’ subway system handles 163,000 fares per day. New York’s system handles around 7.4 million more than that on a typical weekday. My, how the biggest cities on each coast have developed different approaches to transit.

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A Viable Subway Alternative?

A Viable Subway Alternative?

Last week on the NBC Bay Area blog, on the heels of the resolution of a labor dispute between the BART administration and labor workers, Owen Thomas asked how San Francisco would be different today if the BART system were never constructed. Thomas’s speculation on an alternative reality for the Bay Area is replete with newer, faster forms of transportation that reach the most concentrated and important centers of the region. While the plausibility of the image that Thomas paints is debatable (and debated in the post’s comments), it leads one to wonder what a subway-less New York would look like.

Clearly, New York is in a very different situation from San Francisco, due to the fact that much of New York’s growth followed – and was a result of – the construction of new subway lines in the early twentieth century. Perhaps streetcars and elevated trains would have stretched the city limits to something resembling their current dimensions. Maybe in the absence of a subway system Robert Moses would have had a greater impact on the shaping of the city? In such a situation New York City proper might be smaller with more surrounding suburbs and highways crossing the island of Manhattan. Or was a New York subway inevitable, and would have been built in the 1960s following federal support for urban transportation, much in the same way the BART and D.C. Metro were constructed?

What do you think New York would be like today if the subway weren’t constructed in 1904? Share your imaginings in the comments below. [via The Overhead Wire]

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In July, the MTA raised its fare-jumping fine from $60 to $100. This week, Transport for London has followed suit. The fines in London will jump from £20 ($34) to £50 ($85). Fare-jumpers who pay their fines within three weeks will have to pony up only £25. TFL hopes this new fine will help cut into their billion-pound deficit. That sounds familiar.

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Londoners are very possessive about their drinking. They like to drink in pubs; they like to drink at home; and they like to drink on the Tubes on the way home from pubs. That is, they liked to drink on the Tubes until midnight on Saturday night/Sunday morning a new ban on alcohol on the Tubes took effect.

The ban is the product of new Mayor of London Boris Johnson. Johnson, the Conservative candidate, recently beat incumbent Ken Livingstone in what Calvin Trillin called an entertaining election in The New Yorker. Part of Johnson’s campaign was a drive to make London’s public transit system cleaner and safer for employees and non-drunk travelers.

As you could imagine, the general public was not too accepting of the ban when it went into effect late Saturday night. At a party called Last Round on the Underground to commemorate the last chance to drink on the Tubes, revelers went a bit overboard. The BBC reports:

Six London Underground stations were closed as trouble flared when thousands of people marked the banning of alcohol on London transport with a party.

Four tube drivers, three other staff members, and two police officers were assaulted, and there were 17 arrests. Several trains were damaged and withdrawn from service, which led to suspended services.

Drinkers gathered on Tube trains and station concourses for a last drink before the ban came in at midnight. Police said what should have been a fun event came to an “unfortunate” end.

The finger-pointing started pretty early on Sunday morning with union leaders blaming Mayor Johnson. They said the ban was hastily put into place and enforcement measures are not up to par.

In fact, London does not plan to increase patrols in the Tubes. Rather, they are relying on what the BBC has termed a “softly, softly” approach. Other riders and alert Transport for London staffers are supposed to police the ban as best they can. That sounds about as efficient as our beloved MTA.

Now, I’m fairly entertained by this story. During my first trip to London in the spring of 2001, I remember being struck by the prevalence of discarded alcohol containers. There were empty beer bottles all over the Tubes and I didn’t realize during that first trip that it was actually fine to drink on their subways. Here, in New York, people sneak drinks into brown bags and Nalgene bottles.

During a few of my subsequent trips to London, I was always entertained to see how the passengers were on the those final Tube trips as people rushed home from their nights out to catch the last trains back to wherever they’re heading — perhaps to some amusingly named suburbs. People just took the parties with them underground. Imagine that one in New York.

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As the MTA prepares to raise our fares, 3000 miles away, a fare drama of a different sort is playing out. Let’s leave behind our tales of Webinars and rising fares and journey for a few paragraphs to the City of Angels where the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is coming to grips with its fare reality.

Here in New York, we hear tales of the Los Angeles County urban sprawl. It runs for miles and miles with roads – clogged roads with cars spewing smog-inducing pollutants into the air – weaving in and around whatever passes for a city out there. By any stretch, the LA freeways are a disaster.

So that would lead you to believe that LA has a vibrant public transportation system, right? Get those cars off the road and away from the headaches of congestion, right? Not quite. The LA railways consist of some light rail lines and a few subways with the oldest dating from the dark ages of 1990. With just 73 miles of track and some 62 stations, the system is hardly worth much in the eyes of the residents of LA. It’s daily ridership is some 274,344 or about 7 million less than what our subways see in a day.

What’s surprising about this low number is that the subways are, in effect, free. There are no turnstiles and riders have to show passes to conductors if those conductors happen to pass through and ask. The LA MTA wants to end this ridiculous practice, and not everyone in Los Angeles is on board. Randal Archibold writes:

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board voted [two weeks ago] to take the first step toward installing 275 ticket gates on the entire 17.4-mile subway and at many light-rail stations.

The move came after a study given to the board in October found that some 5 percent of people who rode the subway, light rail and a new rapid bus line on weekdays did so without paying the fare, $1.25 one way or $5 for a daily pass. As a result, the report said, the authority lost about $5.5 million in revenue annually.

Fare-collecting gates, which could cost $30 million to install and $1 million a year to maintain, would yield an extra $6.77 million in recovered fares and other savings, according to the report.

So how about that? No more free rides. What a concept.

What’s more surprising about this decision is that the MTA in LA didn’t bother to install turnstiles or other fare-capture devices from the get-go. The folks on the West Coast claim they wanted to try something else. A subway fare honor system is so California.

While most folks in Los Angeles understand the environmental need for a viable subway and know that fare capture will aid the LA MTA’s expansion plans, some MTA board members are saying the darndest things. One board member expressed his concerns that the turnstiles would hinder emergency evacuation efforts. Does that even make sense?

So as everyone in New York gears up for a fare hike and our MTA readies itself for more criticism, enjoy this laugh at the expense of Los Angeles. At least we’re not trying to figure out how to capture the fare.

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Mike Nizza at The Times’ Lede blog has a great story about Emma Clarke’s recent firing from her post as the Voice of the London Underground. Clarke, whose voice is as recognizable to Londoners as those folks on the new trains telling us to “stand clear of the closing doors please,” was fired after she posted satirical Tube recordings on her Website and called Tube service “dreadful.” The truth will indeed set you free. [The Lede]

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All’s fare in love and subways

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As the details and inevitability of the upcoming fare hike have come to light, New Yorkers on the whole haven’t been too thrilled. No one wants to pay more when the MTA isn’t providing adequate service — a C is hardly a stunning grade — and is projected an economic windfall this year.

But we know that the MTA is facing tough economic times, and we understand that the MTA needs to draw in more revenue in order to meet the demands of a growing city and the desires of demanding riders. We can’t expect those C-/C grades to improve if the MTA doesn’t put a little money into the system.

Meanwhile, the MTA isn’t the only agency dealing with fare hikes and hazy economic outlooks. The WMATA in Washington, DC, will soon be raising their fares by as much as 40 cents per ride. The WMATA charges fares based upon how far a rider travels, and as you could guess, those folks living in the suburbs are none too thrilled about the prospect of bearing the brunt of the fare hike. This debate sure does sound familiar.

Anyone, with all of these fare shenanigans going on, let’s take a step back for a minute. As mass transit has become one of those things that everyone expects in thriving urban cities but no one wants to pay for, today is as good a day as any to appreciate the New York City subways. Considering the fare, we’re getting one of the better bangs for our buck around the world. It’s time for a fare comparison.

New York City: Counterintuitively these days, one of the greatest aspects of the MTA and New York City subways are the fares. For a base fare of $2, a rider can go from Far Rockaway to Pelham Bay Park. As the crow flies, that’s around 20 miles. Via the subway, it’s a long trip through Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Meanwhile, as the average amount paid per rider is only $1.31, that $2 fare is higher than reality. It’s hard to beat that deal.

Washington D.C.: With a tiered fare system, the further one travels in the WMATA, the more one pays. The 7.68-mile trip from Silver Spring, Maryland, to Dupont Circle costs $1.85 at off-peak hours and $2.35 most of the day. A trip to the airport can cost over $3. Considering that the New York subways run 24 hours a day and the WMATA’s do not, we’re getting the better deal here.

Boston: Late in 2006, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority unveiled the CharlieCard, a discounted fare card similar to our Metrocard. With the advent of the CharlieCard, MBTA instituted a discounted fare of $1.85 for card users and a $2 fare for all others. Again, this system is charging more per fare than the MTA with all of those discounts and Unlimited Ride Metrocards, and again, the MBTA operates a system that doesn’t run 24 hours. New York wins.

London: Considering how weak the dollar is these days, this one isn’t fair (Hah! No pun intended). Transport for London, which has to print a nine-page PDF to explain its fare structure, is no bargain. Much like the Metrocard, TfL offers a discount card called the Oyster card. With the Oyster card, fares within a single zone in London are ?1.50 while a cash fare is ?4. The card fares jump to as high as ?3.50 depending upon how far one is traveling. Talk about expensive. Those fares come out to $3 to $8 in U.S. currency for a single ride. Wow.

Now, of course, this is a fairly unscientific study, and I cherry picked a few of the American and international subway systems. My point, however, remains the same: For all the moaning and hand-wringing that is going into this fare hike, the New York City subway systems are a fantastic deal. Those other systems have the same problems as ours: They are overcrowded; they are unreliable; and they don’t reach as far as everyone living in those metropolitan areas would like. But when push comes to shove, our system is cheaper than the others, just as fast and open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. With that in mind, I’d even be willing to pay a higher fare.

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