Home Subway Security Dispelling the myth of an unsafe subway ride

Dispelling the myth of an unsafe subway ride

by Benjamin Kabak

It’s a popular refrain from out-of-towners from all over. “The subways aren’t safe,” they say. “You ride the subways at 3 a.m.? And you’re still alive? You’re nuts.”

Well, good news to those of us who don’t fear late-night subway rides: The New York City subways are indeed safe. In fact, crime on the subway is down to an all-time low, according to a report in the Daily News. Based on MTA and NYPD statistics, New York’s illustrious tabloids proclaims, your chances to being a victim in the subway are about the same as if you were struck by lightning.

Some 1,157 felonies have been committed in the subways this year – an average of 6.1 a day. And just 427 robberies have been reported in the underground this year, compared with nearly 9,300 in total in 1990, NYPD Transit Bureau Chief James Hall said. “That’s pretty amazing,” Hall said of the decline, crediting the hard work of transit cops and commanders.

It’s actually unprecedented, according to former Transit Bureau Chief Michael Ansbro, who spent nearly four decades with the NYPD bureau and the formerly independent transit police force. “It’s never been this low,” Ansbro said.

With an average of 4.9 million riders on the subway each weekday and 2.5 million each weekend day, the odds of becoming the victim of a crime on any given day is approximately 1 in 714,000. That’s about the same odds a U.S. resident faces of getting zapped by a bolt of lightning in any given year, according to the National Weather Service.

For straphangers, that’s great news. For years, the New York City subways have had to live down crime-ridden stereotypes. The hijackers in The Taking of Pelham One-Two-Three and the nuts in Money Train have long represented the subways in the minds of the rest of America. While smart New Yorkers know better, it’s reassuring to hear the subways are still safer.

Now if only we could stop hearing that familiar refrain of “Ladies and gentelmen, this is an important announcement from the MTA” every five minutes while riding the subways around the City.

Graphic above from the New York Daily News.

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Gary July 12, 2007 - 9:59 am

I used to ride late night quite a bit, and never had a problem.

The one time I thought I might be in trouble was one morning on my way to work at West 4th Street on the uptown F platform. A deranged drunk was going around harrassing people, and when I looked to see what was going on we made eye contact. Of course, he made a beeline for me and shoved me. I cocked a fist back and said something that included “fuck!” and he scurried away to bother someone else. Unfortunately, cops were nowhere to be found at the time.

Got my adrenaline up for the day. Other than that, never had a problem.

Lex July 12, 2007 - 11:25 am

Hi. I’m a woman who often has an hour ride home from my job as a waitress. I always felt safe in the first car sitting/sleeping by the conductor. And then I read this.

It takes only one nutjob to go and RUIN it for the rest of us. Please tell me this scared the shit out of you, too. Please. I do admit that the trains are crowded at much later hours and the real fear is not so much in the moving car but on the platform where there is no security because it is needed elsewhere.

(My Gothamist handle: Upper Bronx Native)

Gary July 12, 2007 - 2:36 pm

Lex, I read that story the day it happened, but that could have happened in any number of places. Could have been passed out in an alley, a storefront, a vestibule, or in a livery cab.

10 years ago I would have been absolutely against this, but I do think the platforms, train cars, station entrances and buses should all be monitored by CC video.

The cops can’t be everywhere at once. Cameras would serve as a powerful deterrent, as well as evidence when crimes are committed anyway.

Benjamin Kabak July 12, 2007 - 5:32 pm

I’m actually with Gary on this one. Cameras work in keeping the DC subways graffit-free and safe. Having them on NYC subway cars isn’t a terrible idea.

Also, Lex, I remember reading that story when it happened too. And without sounding callous, that’s just one incident among many many subway rides per day. A few things about that incident: First, the woman fell asleep late at night in an empty subway station. That’s a terrible idea. Second, the subways, as long as they are in New York City, will never be 100 percent safe. There will be nutjobs and wackos with access to the subway who have malicious intentions. It’s a fact of city life. This could happen in Central Park or Riverside Park or any empty street late at night.

I don’t think one isolated incident should scare you away from riding the subway at night. If riders are smart about how they approach the subways during off-peak hours, it’s very easy to be safe. But I do agree overall: Platform safety needs to be improved somehow.

Todd July 12, 2007 - 11:49 pm

She didn’t “fall asleep”. She passed the hell out. Her friends dumped her after a night of drinking. That doesn’t make the crime any less frightening, but it does explain it a little.

I’m all for cameras too, but I don’t think they should tell anyone about them. Just put them up and be quiet about it.

eric the beehivehairdresser July 13, 2007 - 9:44 am

I always found that late night (past 1AM) subway riding to be the safest, while the afternoon and late evenings to be the most unsafe – since that tends to be the time when kids who feel they need to prove things are out and about.

Then again, I did once got chased through the Canal Street station around 4:30AM by a crazed maniac in 01, and I also remember that a guy that was found dead by way of homicide on the N train that I had gotten off of around 4:15AM back in early 06 – but those are isolated instances.

Subways are still way safer than driving.

Julia July 13, 2007 - 10:22 am

I wonder if that includes crimes in subway stations, too. A friend of mine was recently mugged while buying a MetroCard at an unmanned station entrance. (Yes, this was a dumb idea.) It seems like that would be the most dangerous spot — after you’ve gone down the stairs, but before you’re actually on the platform or train.

Personally, I’ve always felt safe taking the train at night. But then again, I grew up here and am probably being more cautious anyway, just by instinct.

Lex July 13, 2007 - 3:57 pm

How she ended up unconscious on the subway – and btw, the story says she was kidnapped from the CAR not the platform – isn’t the point. I am all for private cameras to cover the ground that patrol officers can’t. Furthermore, my point was that not everyone has the luxury of living within 20 or so minute of their abode. Especially night-riders.

Are Melbourne’s trains really getting safer? « The Melbourne Urbanist August 14, 2010 - 11:17 pm

[…] 33 offences per million boardings is actually that good. For example, crime is much lower on the New York City subway, which carries ten million passengers on an average work day. The Boston rail system carries 350 […]


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