Home View from Underground On the illegality of moving between subway cars

On the illegality of moving between subway cars

by Benjamin Kabak

There’s something inherently New York about walking in between subway cars. At one point or another, nearly every straphanger takes that plunge and moves between cars while the train is in motion. For some, the rush of the tunnel is excuse enough to stop outside of the cocoon of the enclosed subway car while for others, it’s a means to an end. The homeless guy is stinking up the joint. The air condition doesn’t work. Get me out of here.

What most people do not realize is that since 2005, it has been illegal to walk between subway cars. That year, the MTA Board approved a series of changes to the New York City Transit Rules of Conduct, and among those amendments was one targeting subway walkers. The penalty: A $75 fine.

Today, that rule is codified in Section 1050.9(4):

No person may ride on the roof, platform between subway cars or on any other area outside any subway car or bus or other conveyance operated by the Authority. No person may use the end doors of a subway car to pass from one subway car to another except in an emergency or when directed to do so by an Authority conductor or a New York City police officer.

When the Code of Conduct rules were changes, the language on the signs on subway doors grew more strident. It is prohibited to move or ride between cars, and now and then, the cops will hand out summonses to those who violate these rules. Every few weeks, I receive an email from a disgruntled straphanger who wants to know if he or she can contest their fine, and the Google search results for “walk between subway cars” shows a similarly pervasive number of hits on this topic. Yesterday, Metro New York ran the sob story of one woman who now owes $75 for violating the rule and $50 in late fees for failing to pay the fine.

In Carly Baldwin’s story, Lida Sharp got a ticket in late July when the 2 car she entered wasn’t air conditioned. She boarded at 34th St. and waited until the next stop to switch cars. Instead of doing so on the platform, she and another passenger got caught outside. “He didn’t care that I felt sick or that it was an emergency,” she said. “He didn’t care that the train wasn’t moving or that I didn’t even know it was illegal.”

My response to those who violate this rule is usually not one of sympathy. As I’ve learned throughout law school, ignorance of the law doesn’t excuse those who break it, and the MTA hangs a sign on the door that explicitly warns people not to cross between cars. I know most straphangers find reading MTA signs repulsive, but if they choose to ignore the warning, someone’s going to have to pay the consequences of breaking the rule.

The real question to ask though is one of common sense. Does the MTA’s ban on inter-car travel make sense? Five years ago, MTA Board member Barry Feinstein defended the rule. “It’s dangerous. It’s not smart, and you shouldn’t do it,” he said. The number of people who get a ticket though far outweigh the one or two a year who suffer injury while switching cars.

Riders, of course, have never liked the rule, and we still see various vagabonds, musicians and kids selling candy crossing at whim. “I don’t think it’s a good idea,” a Queens rider said in 2005 “People need to walk through the doors all the time. If there are no seats, people want to go to another car to get a seat.”

Yet, the rules are the rules. It might rest on a flimsy justification, and we might not agree with the rationale behind it. That doesn’t mean, though, that the rule does not apply to us all. Perhaps we’re all guilty.

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Joseph E November 10, 2010 - 2:01 am

Is there a reason it is more dangerous to do this on New Yorks subway cars? Los Angeles and San Francisco allow you to move between cars on their heavy rail systems. What’s the problem?

John Paul N. November 10, 2010 - 3:03 am

Short answer: the 75-ft cars create larger gaps between cars than the 60-ft ones, especially when the train makes a curve. Along with the quality-of-life regulations that NYC had been creating in the past decades, passenger volumes, plus the number of accidents and the delays caused thereof were also factored in, if I recall.

The illogical question follows: if passengers are not allowed to pass between cars this way, why keep the doors unlocked? (It had to have been answered here before.)

Benjamin Kabak November 10, 2010 - 8:28 am

The doors are kept unlocked because of an emergency. If passengers need to move between cars but the doors are locked, the MTA could be in for some steep liability costs.

SEAN November 10, 2010 - 10:43 am

I read that WMATA keeps the doors between cars locked. Yet interestingly there cars are 75 feet long with 6 sets of doors, 3 per side.

Christopher November 10, 2010 - 3:30 pm

They don’t. People don’t cross between them. Well they do, but not like we did in SF. I always did anyway. Seems like a stupid rule. (But my god if there was a system outside of Japan more in love with rules, it’s DC’s Metro.)

Agreed though, they have far too few doors on their cars. This has been discussed by every DC-based transit rider. In addition to poorly laid out cars, this is one more area that slows down the throughput of their system.

Sharon November 11, 2010 - 9:33 pm

I can understand the doors on older cars being unlocked for security reasons but you would figure the new r-143’s and r-160’s would have locks controlled by the crews?

Andrew November 11, 2010 - 9:56 pm

The crew doesn’t necessarily know about every emergency.

Luis November 23, 2010 - 11:38 am

If take a look at the doors in the A, B, F (not all train models) the doors are locked.

Al D November 10, 2010 - 9:00 am

Although a non-issue now, but the R40 had tremendous gaps between the cars.

Joe November 10, 2010 - 5:36 pm

The 75ft cars’ doors are locked. They can automatically be unlocked in an emergency.

Zmapper November 10, 2010 - 10:22 pm

Could the SF case be because the train cars have vestibules between them? Now I didn’t ride BART during the peak of the peak, but I suppose by having passages there a spreading effect can be achieved?

bb November 10, 2010 - 2:01 am

wasnt that rule made expressly to prevent panhandlers from making their way down the length of the train? As I see it, the subway rule changes of the last few years (no feet on the seats, no open containers, etc) were all enacted to give excuses to haul homeless people out of the cars. That the cops are using these laws unquestionably or just to make ticket quotas was unforeseen but apparently a welcome cash cow for the MTA. You may also have noticed that the list of prohibitions seems to have vanished from public display in subway stations, so many people may not even be aware exactly which rules they are breaking, I think the MTA should be a little more honest and just say flatout NO HOMELESS or LOITERERS on the subway, which is their right since they own the system, but dont pretend thats not their intention. (The ACLU would have a field day with that)

Scott E November 10, 2010 - 7:48 am

the list of prohibitions seems to have vanished from public display in subway stations

True, but have you ever counted the number of “DO NOT” (red circle with a line through it) decals on a subway car? On the newer IRT cars, it easily exceeds 30. Admittedly, with some duplicates. Try it sometime.

bb November 10, 2010 - 2:05 am

ps, I actually miss the salesmen who regularly would walk the length of the train selling batteries and toys and such. It was a welcome service. Much more welcome than the musicians who still make their rounds. But all of these people, the salesmen, buskers and homeless are what made the subways NEW YORK subways and more entertaining than transit in other countries.

John Paul N. November 10, 2010 - 3:08 am

It’s economics: not much demand for those things. (Alkaline) batteries, especially, no longer used as much in portable devices. Young candy sellers of a certain race are what I see with frequency now, and in the past, of course.

Anon256 November 10, 2010 - 3:27 am

The “Emergency Instructions” stickers in every car instruct riders in most emergencies to “contact a member of the train crew”. The older types of subway car do not seem to contain any sort of intercom/call button, so presumably this would require walking between cars? What is one supposed to do if an emergency occurs in a car with no intercom on a train where the doors between cars are locked?

chandra Singh October 10, 2018 - 9:09 am

there are emergency brakes in every cars. you can just pull them. I know of someone wo had an accident injuring her hands. don’t take the risk, it doesn’t pay

Chicken Underwear November 10, 2010 - 5:21 am

Because if someone falls between the cars it delays everyone’s commute.

Scott E November 10, 2010 - 7:45 am

There are similar signs on the commuter trains, but passengers are encourage to disregard them. As examples: (1) the restrooms are in every other car, making it necessary to cross between them, and (2) many stations have shorter platforms, with passengers in the end cars instructed to “walk forwards” or “walk back” to exit at their station. Ironically, those doors are hinged, not sliding doors, making it even harder to open on a moving train. (I once saw an LIRR conductor convince a passenger to walk between cars to get to the restroom, even though she was scared to do so).

If the MTA LIRR and MNR blatantly tell their passengers to disregard these rules in order to exit at their stop or reach the restroom, why would we expect any different on the MTA subways?

Andrew November 11, 2010 - 10:29 am

Passing between cars is forbidden on the subway. It isn’t forbidden on the commuter railroads.

Nathan H. November 10, 2010 - 8:27 am

This isn’t actually “law”, is it, if it’s being decided by the MTA Board? But the police are issuing summonses–how does this work exactly?

Benjamin Kabak November 10, 2010 - 8:35 am

The grant of power is explained in Section 1050.1:

The provisions of sections 1203-a(3) and 1204(5-a) of the Public Authorities Law provide the New York City Transit Authority and Manhattan and Bronx Surface Transit Operating Authority with the power to make rules governing the conduct and safety of the public in the use and operation of the transit facilities of those authorities.

And Section 1050.12 provides:

Any New York City police officer or other person(s) designated by the president of the Authority shall be empowered to issue a notice of violation for violation of any of these rules.

Nathan H. November 10, 2010 - 12:49 pm

So it’s not law. A notice of violation is not a summons, and it’s not handled in a criminal court. I’m not trying to nit pick; I think the difference is important.

I don’t actually want police to be empowered to enforce “rules” for that very reason: it muddles these rules decided by appointed boards with laws passed by elected representatives. But even as police are so empowered, they are not enforcing laws against illegal activities. They are acting as overpaid and overly armed security guards.

Ted K. November 13, 2010 - 4:53 pm

Careful – it IS a law, but regulatory (passed by a govt. agency) not statutory (enacted by a legislature). B. Kabak’s comment cites the statutory authorization for the MTA to make appropriate regulations (aka rules).

Al D November 10, 2010 - 9:05 am

Thank goodness this wasn’t a law back in the ’80’s when the air conditioned cars threw heat instead of a/c in the Summer months. The only relief WAS to ride between the cars.

My only advice here to minimize the chance of getting caught, cross cars outside of a station.

Kid Twist November 10, 2010 - 9:28 am

I tell people that if you were riding the subway regularly before 1985, you’re grandfathered and therefore allowed to pass between cars. That’s a lie, of course.

Michael T November 10, 2010 - 9:38 am

Maybe the reason has something to do with this? http://gothamist.com/2010/09/1.....subway.php

Michael T November 10, 2010 - 9:39 am Reply
Gary November 10, 2010 - 9:43 am

The ticket in question is valid and should stand, but the rule itself is a petty annoyance and should be retracted.

Andrew November 11, 2010 - 10:40 am

I’m not sure the ticket is valid. For some people, a lack of air conditioning is a mild annoyance. Others may pass out in response to extreme heat or stuffiness, so I think a lack of air conditioning can be legitimately construed as an emergency, which is explicitly exempted by the rule. (Especially if the next stop is a while away or the train gets stuck between stations.)

Benjamin Kabak November 11, 2010 - 10:45 am

She moved in between cars while the train was stopped at the next station. It’s a valid ticket.

Andrew November 11, 2010 - 11:02 am

The rule explicitly exempts emergencies. A lack of ventilation is, for some people, an emergency.

(I agree that waiting until the train was stopped at a station weakens her case – she could have stepped off the train.)

W. K. Lis November 10, 2010 - 9:59 am

Toronto is getting 39 trains from Bombardier that will be fully open so that riders can move along the full length of the train through the gangway, no doors. In other words a fully articulated train.

Benjamin Kabak November 10, 2010 - 10:00 am

Paris has those. They’re great. Much more room.

Josh H November 10, 2010 - 12:01 pm

London also.

Think twice November 10, 2010 - 2:22 pm

So did we for a while. Sigh. Well, AFAIK we can still boast of A/C unlike London.

Cap'n Transit November 10, 2010 - 3:08 pm

Here’s a photo.

Rick Raven Rumney March 14, 2016 - 11:02 am

I understand that these fully articulated trains are light rail street trans that you see in Europe all the time. Which doesn’t make a difference in my mind and makes it a hell of a lot more convenient for the Tram rider. I live in Boston where we do still have Street trolley service and it was amazing that they finally low-floor trolleys several years ago. That was like the man landing on the moon for the first time. It’s a shame in the United States we can’t Subway systems as modern as those in Europe, but we must remember in the United States we are dealing with 100 year old systems for the most part in the largest cities in the Northeast and unfortunately in Europe they are working from the end of World War II where they had to build more modern and streamlined services. That’s why you have nice bullet trains in Japan and the or those speedy wonders in France that have hundreds of miles of straight track. It would be nice to make it like that here in the USA, But that would mean taking it all apart and most places and starting over which would be cost prohibitive. One can pass between cars only on articulated LRV street cars Boston. It was never allowed on the subway in my 50 years. And the PCC cars on the Mattapan HSL are true self-contained street cars.

Sharon November 11, 2010 - 9:35 pm

Love the cars in Paris.

John November 10, 2010 - 10:15 am

I suppose the MTA could look at a future R-46/R-68 replacement with three-unit, 150-foot articulated cars, which would at least allow people a little movement within the train, which would be a throwback to the BMT cars 80 years ago (though if you had three 50-foot sections in the artics all operating off of the same AC components, you’d defeat at least one of the main purposes for wanting to move between cars in the summer).

Scott E November 10, 2010 - 11:33 am

If I recall, one of the MTA agencies (I forget if it was subways or railroads) did look at the articulated trains. The main problem is that it makes it much more difficult to disassemble/reassemble train sets, as is done often on the commuter rails (and not as often on the subways). I’d also add that I like the non-articulated type, so if one car is particularly noisy, dirty, or smelly, it’s not too much trouble to go to the next one.

Andrew November 11, 2010 - 10:28 am

I think the main concern with articulation on the subway is that the curves have to be gentler, which means the cars have to be shorter, which increases costs. A D-Type Triplex was 137 feet in three sections (cars).

Sharon November 11, 2010 - 9:37 pm

That is a non issue at NYCT these days as most train sets are hard bar connected and not single. R-68’s are 4 car units and R-160’s are 5 car units on most lines. Some cars have NO train operator cabs.

Old Yeller November 10, 2010 - 11:00 am

Have you ever seen what happens to someone’s foot when it get caught between cars and the train hits a curve? Not a pretty sight. People walk around with little or no concern for their own safety, sometimes rules are in place to prevent people from hurting themselves, (like no texting while driving) this is one of them.

Josh H November 10, 2010 - 12:00 pm

“People need to walk through the doors all the time. If there are no seats, people want to go to another car to get a seat.”

So wait 45 seconds until you get to the next station and move to the next car then.

Brandon November 10, 2010 - 12:58 pm

Honestly I dont see the problem with doing it while the train is stopped. It beats going out of the train and back in on a crowded platform.

They should get trains like this anyway


John November 10, 2010 - 1:57 pm

It would be nice if they could simply come up with a car where the storm doors locked while the train was moving and unlocked when it stopped. But that could create an even bigger problem of someone getting stuck in-between cars if they got caught outside after the train began to leave the station (probably not a big deal if you’re stuck there while going, say, between 23rd and 28th streets on the No. 6 train; a big problem if you were stuck between cars headed south out of City Hall on the R train).

Sharon November 11, 2010 - 9:38 pm

The problem is law suits. If the rule is not moving between cars it should be enforced with the use of proper judgment. If it is not going to be enforced like the emergency gates the rule should be changed. People ignored many laws because they are not enforced.

New York Online: Talk to You? Make It Worth My While - NYTimes.com November 10, 2010 - 2:34 pm

[…] 10-foot-tall bedbug is the new union rat), Second Avenue Sagas discusses a very New York activity: passing between subway cars while the train is in motion. But, the blog notes, this quintessential behavior has been illegal since 2005 and can land you […]

BrooklynBus November 10, 2010 - 6:56 pm

Except for the 75-foot cars there is absolutely no reason for this rule. It exists for purpose of issuing fines and raising revenue and eliminating lawsuits if someone should fall. The excuse of safety is usually given in this and other instances when the real reason is revenue.

Ben, you weren’t around in the 1950s. But back then everyone was constantly walking through the cars all the time. And when I say all the time, I’m talking about a constant flow of people like 20 or 30 all at once so they could get a seat at a terminal station and to a lesser degree when the train was moving. In fact, during the summers before A/C, the doors were kept in the open position to provide air circulation and facilitate walking through the cars to even out crowding. How come there weren’t loads of cases of people falling to their deaths back then? That’s because they didn’t.

Most of the deaths that occur between the cars are due to people riding between the cars, people urinating between the cars, or kids horseplaying. Very rarely does a “regular” person fall between the cars when he is crossing between them. It’s true that you have to be extra careful when the train is turning but that is only common sense, which seems to be lacking these days.

If the rules existed for safety and not for revenue, it would be allowed at terminal stations where there is no danger at all to cross between the cars.

Also, if crossing between cars is so dangerous it needs to be prohibited, why on the nostalgia train last Christmas were all the doors in the open position to allow passengers to cross between cars to see the entire train and all the police looked the other way as everyone walked between the cars? Why was it not considered a hazard that day? Answer that question.

Andrew November 11, 2010 - 10:35 am

The obvious reason for the rule is to reduce liability. (It’s not enforced often enough to be a major revenue generator.)

There is a safety risk in walking between cars, but it can be largely mitigated by holding on. Unfortunately, most people don’t bother.

I agree that able-bodied people simply passing from car to car are rarely injured in the process – and the few injuries that occur could be avoided by holding on.

Exceptions (like your proposed terminal exception) make rules overly complicated, which make them either difficult to understand or difficult to enforce or both. And a train at a terminal will eventually start moving, often with a jolt. Besides, who needs to walk between cars at the terminal? Walk along the platform until the bell rings, and then get on.

BrooklynBus November 11, 2010 - 6:24 pm

If you’ve ever boarded at a terminal station with entrances only at the first and tenth cars, you would understand that it is much easier to walk between the cars than along the platform, especially during the winter months. There is barely enough tome to board once the bell rings. What happens now is that most people walk through the cars, then run to get off and on the next car before they hear the chime. That causes more of a danger of someone tripping than if he could merely walk between the cars legally.

I disagree that having a terminal exception would make the rule any less workable. It just makes sense. However we are living in a time when government believes it has to regulate everything and that people aren’t capable of thinking for themselves. So laws must be written for the lowest common denominator people rather than for the average citizen because most people don’t take responsibility anymore for their actions and just want to sue someone when something goes wrong so they can collect big and be set for life.

In fact, I would even support allowing moving between cars at anytime except when the train is in motion. That would take care of the liability problem and still give people the option to change cars for any number of reasons, an obnoxious passenger, no A/C., to get a seat, etc. It just makes the transit system a little more user friendly.

Sharon November 11, 2010 - 9:42 pm

I can see the lawsuits now. the train did not make the proper announcements . As someone who frequently transfers at Stillwell terminal I agree you should be allowed to walk between cars. The solution is to lock doors at all other times. people on r-68’s have delt with hot cars for years, they change cars at the next stop or open the windows

bb November 11, 2010 - 12:34 pm

A lot of subways in foreign countries (Hong Kong for example) have a continuous tube shaped train with no doors between cars to navigate.

A Tourist November 21, 2010 - 10:19 am

In Toronto’s G,H and T series cars, TTC employees are only allowed to walk between cars when the train is stopped. However, I once saw a conductor move in between cars on a southboud train coming into Davisville, which is on a curve. It just shows you that even employees ignore safety signs. Has anyone seen this type of behavior by employees?

To lock or unlock? That is the question. :: Second Ave. Sagas December 19, 2010 - 11:11 am

[…] will complain about anything” category, but listen: Even though it’s illegal to move between subway cars, one New York City Council member is calling upon the MTA to unlock the end doors on all subway […]

Pam September 7, 2012 - 9:33 am

I was cited for walking between cars on a stopped Shuttle at Times Square yesterday. The doors on the platform were open and I had no idea I shouldn’t do this. When the train is moving, I never walk between (it scares me, honestly) but while the doors are open and there’s like 10 others doing it? Anyway, it’s $50. or appeal via mail or in person.

Pissed Off November 5, 2013 - 9:21 pm

I grew up in NYC and moved between cars my whole life. No problem. On Long Island the LIRR tells passengers to move to forward or to rear cars because the whole train doesn’t always fit at certain stations. Even in NYC the South Street station — passengers have to move. Recently I got a ticket and it was complete bull. The cop was an a-hole. Cops want to put law abiding citizens through this crap, fine — but cops shouldn’t complain when citizens don’t like them. Cops like pushing people around, and if it was a good law, then it would have been law before 2005.

2nd Ave Rider March 26, 2014 - 11:39 am

I entered a train where a pervasive and foul odor filled the car. New Yorkers can imagine why… Before the train rolled, I attempted to move through the side door to the adjacent car. Two cops were in this smelly car and they warned me not to – I observed their warning, though I complained, and tried to exit at the next stop. I was literally detained and ticketed — just for *touching* the side-door handle, while the train was siting in the station. The fine was $100. How do YOU spell “Q-U-O-T-A”?

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NYPD Commissioner Struggles to Defend Broken Windows Policing | Omaha Sun Times November 30, 2014 - 9:28 pm

[…] Bratton claimed that the meteoric growth in low-level arrests is actually driven by policing of serious crimes – he cited drunk driving and domestic violence as examples – rather than by arrests for sidewalk grilling and moving between train cars. […]

NYPD Commissioner Struggles to Defend Broken Windows Policing - NEWS | Phones | Nigeria Science | Technology |Computers November 30, 2014 - 9:33 pm

[…] Bratton claimed that the meteoric growth in low-level arrests is actually driven by policing of serious crimes – he cited drunk driving and domestic violence as examples – rather than by arrests for sidewalk grilling and moving between train cars. […]

NYPD Commissioner Struggles to Defend Broken Windows Policing » NY G Spot December 1, 2014 - 4:51 am

[…] Bratton claimed that the meteoric growth in low-level arrests is actually driven by policing of serious crimes – he cited drunk driving and domestic violence as examples – rather than by arrests for sidewalk grilling and moving between train cars. […]

Why is the new Annie a law-breaking juvenile delinquent? | Culture Sauce December 2, 2014 - 11:02 am

[…] cut, we see her passing between cars as the train is moving. I know from personal experience that that’s illegal in the city. About a decade ago, I was stopped by two cops and issued a $75 fine for that very offense. (Like […]

Jack June 15, 2017 - 9:11 am

It seems the it’s not to fix the problems,but fix money


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