It’s no secret that the MTA’s goal of achieving a State of Good Repair would always be a tough one to meet. The agency’s pace of work isn’t fast enough to keep up with the demands of a system sagging under the legacy of deferred maintenance, and as contractors slowly slog through even basic component replacement efforts, stations that were opened or refurbished in the past 20-30 years are starting to show serious wear and tear. Just how bad the state of the infrastructure is though was laid plain for all to see in a reporter issued this week by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
According to this audit, only 51 of the city’s 468 stations were free of defects, and only 25 percent had most of their station components in good repair. “New York City Transit reports it is making progress on repairing stations but the pace is too slow and much more work needs to be done,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Worn or damaged stairs and platform edges pose risks for riders, while broken tiles, lights and peeling paint leave riders with a low opinion of the transit system.”
The short report paints a grim picture. You can read the PDF, and I’ll excerpt accordingly. From DiNapoli’s press release:
According to the latest [New York City Transit] survey, more than one-quarter of all structural components had defects. At 94 stations, at least half of the structural components needed repairs. The subway stations in Brooklyn and Queens had the largest percentage of components with defects (one-third). Nearly half of all platform edges (43 percent), which are important to rider safety, had defects in need of repair. While 33 percent of platform edges had a moderate level of deterioration, 10 percent exhibited serious defects. NYCT data also showed that 27 percent of station components — such as ceilings or columns — needed to be painted. Also, the tile or other finish on one-third of all subway platform walls and floors did not meet the NYCT’s minimum standards and needed to be repaired.
From the report:
Among the four boroughs served by NYCT, the stations in Brooklyn and Queens had the largest share of structural components with defects (one-third). Only 1 of the 81 stations in Queens was free of defects, although 13 others had most of their components in good repair. In Brooklyn, 28 percent of the stations had at least 90 percent of their components in good repair. In the Bronx, 26 of 70 stations (37 percent) had at least 90 percent of their structural components in good repair. Manhattan had the lowest percentage of components with defects (22 percent), but only 40 of the borough’s 146 stations (27 percent) had at least 90 percent of their components in good repair.
…Platform edges, which are important to rider safety because they close the gap between the platform and the train, had the largest percentage of defects (43 percent) of any structural component. While 33 percent of platform edges showed a moderate level of deterioration, 10 percent exhibited serious defects. One-third of other platform components (such as ceilings, floors and columns) were structurally deficient, while similar components at the mezzanine level (i.e., the area between the platform and the street level) were in better condition.
These gory and concerning details though are almost besides the point, and in that sense, both DiNapoli and I have buried the lede. At one point, DiNapoli notes that the MTA had hoped to renovate all 468 stations by 2022 but will be unable to attain that goal. He also states that nearly 20 percent of all escalators and elevators have outlived their useful lives. In another, DiNapoli notes that while Transit has renovated 241 stations over the last 32 years, “once the work was completed, however, NYCT moved on to the next station for rehabilitation without committing the resources to maintain the renovated stations.” Thus, stations that were renovated have inevitably begun to break down.
What DiNapoli does not cover are the reasons and ways to close this gap. The MTA’s work takes far too long, and the structures aren’t in place to adequately maintain stations after they’ve been renovated. It is a fine mess brought about by a history of disinvestment, politics and operational challenges. There’s no easy fix, but if it seems as though the subway system is crumbling around its users, well, that’s because it is.