GOOD Magazine recently asked its readers to opine on their favorite transit systems throughout the world, and they published some answers earlier this week. The rest, which are available right here on GOOD’s Facebook page, ran the global gamut. People seem to love Paris’ Metro, and Tokyo’s system earned a few pluses as well. While one or two people mentioned New York, the bulk of the comments about our system concerned its cleanliness.
So why, I wondered, does New York’s subway system get such little love? It’s one of the few 24-hour systems around the world, and it powers the city. We have new rolling stock, and crime has declined precipitously over the past 15 years as ridership spikes. Perhaps, then, the problem is one of use vs. comfort and the reality of public perception. New York’s subway is very utilitarian in that it’s great for getting to and from various places in New York City and horrendous to look at. As the cars are new, the stations are not, and rats, garbage and grime mar most of the stops.
Is there a way to fix this image problem? Despite rising fares, the subways still remain very cheap in New York City, and the average fare, in inflation-adjusted dollars, is lower today than it was in 1996. Yet, until the system looks nicer, and the physical plant — that is, the stations — doesn’t appear to be falling apart, our subway system won’t earn too many accolades from those who ride around the world.