Every year, New York City Transit evaluates why its trains are late, and every year, the leading cause of subway delays is generally straphanger-generated. People holding the doors and people preventing the doors from closing are the two leading culprits behind delayed trains.
To combat this epidemic of door-holding, New York City Transit has unveiled a new public-service campaign. The poster, above, now appears in 2200 subway cars throughout the system, and the message is a simple one. Don’t hold the doors. It delays this train; it delays the next one. Everyone will see — the red person — and everyone will know that you are responsible for the train delays. (In addition to the posters, a new automated announcement will debut soon as well.)
“The selfish act of holding the doors while one tries to board or exit a train can delay several trains along a line, particularly during rush hour when trains run more closely together,” Steven Feil, senior vice president of Subways for NYC Transit, said. “But aside from that aspect, you can get hurt.”
It’s a simple message, but will it resonate with New Yorkers? The question is one of subway ethics. It involves why we hold doors, why we shimmy into trains too full to fit us and why it doesn’t really matter if this train or the one right behind it is delayed. The delay, after all, is on paper only. The train isn’t delayed if everyone expects to wait at crowded stations during rush hour as people inevitably block or hold the doors.
We start the first questions: Why do we hold doors and why do we block doors? The answer to this conundrum brings us back to my on-again, off-again series of pieces about underground ethics. On the one hand are the people who block doors. These people either cram themselves into subway cars too crowded for another person or insert their arms, legs and backpacks into closing train doors. These are introverted masses. They hold the doors for themselves because they don’t want to be late and can’t deign to wait four minutes for the next train. They don’t really care about this PSA.
On the other hand are the people who hold train doors. Sometimes, these people hold train doors because they see a harried commuter rushing down the staircase, hoping the train won’t leave. Sometimes, these people hold train doors because their friends are right behind them, because the baby stroller is slowly getting on board, because the conductor can’t see the lines of people at the far end of the platform. These are the extroverted helpers, and the PSA probably won’t impact their generally altruistic behavior too much.
In the end, then, I posit that this PSA doesn’t add much to the realm of underground ethics. The subways are delayed only if New York City Transit considers them to be delayed. When I board a rush hour train in the morning or afternoon, I expect a few slow station stops. I expect people to cram into a crowded car, too impatient to wait for the next train. I expect a modicum of door-holding. I expect door-related delays to slow down my ride, and in the end, it’s not really slowing down my ride because I am expecting it.
Maybe this PSA will help. Maybe a few people won’t hold the doors, and a few more people may find themselves waiting for another train. But none of us like to wait; we all want to get to where we need to be as soon as possible. For that, straphangers will continue to hold doors.