By and large, the subways are a rather efficient and relatively quick means of transportation around New York City. A 24-stop ride from Forest Hills to Canal St. on the R takes 47 minutes; a 19-stop trip on the Q from Coney Island to DeKalb takes around 33 minutes; and a 27-stop jaunt from Wakefield/241st St. to Times Square runs around 50 minutes.
What would happen, though, to New Yorkers, to the city’s productivity, to their patience with the subway if the MTA were forced to add another minute per station to everyone’s commute? Suddenly, it would take almost an hour and 20 minutes to go from the Bronx to Midtown, and an end-to-end run on the 2, a 61-stop trip that normally takes 90-100 minutes, would run for over two and a half hours. It would take over 70 minutes to go from Forest Hills to Chinatown, and a trip within the same borough from Downtown Brooklyn to Coney Island would last nearly 50 minutes.
That is the worst-case scenario that could come to pass if Marcos Crespo gets his way. As I reported yesterday morning, Crespo has submitted a bill to the State Assembly that would over-legislate a non-existent safety issue. Since 0.000006 percent of subway riders are struck by train cars, Crespo would like the other 1.6 billion riders to pay the price. His bill would mandate that trains stop completely outside the station so the driver can inspect the tracks to make sure no one is in them. Then, the trains would creep into the station at 5 miles per hour before coming to a complete stop.
In expressing my incredulity at this dumb idea yesterday, I wondered if Crespo even knows what he’s talking about. After all, in the memo attached to the bill, Crespo claims the conductor would be the one to inspect the tracks, but the conductor sits in the middle of the train set. The Assembly rep should be calling for the driver to perform the visual inspection, and while I may be splitting hairs, a legislative mistake could lead to a bureaucratic nightmare. It’s just sloppy work.
Meanwhile, as commenters on this site noted, Crespo’s bill would do more than just slow down commutes to unbearable speeds. One comment highlighted how taking the rapid out of transit would reduce tunnel capacity. “The signal system is designed under the assumption that trains will generally be moving at speed, except when stopped at a station,” Andrew wrote. “Violating that assumption comes at an extreme cost to capacity – my guess is on the order of 10-15 tph. So not only will the trains be slower, but they will be much, much more crowded, since they won’t be able to run as frequently.” Brilliant!
Gothamist, in their coverage of the story, touched base with the Assemblyman, and he seemed both defensive and on the backpedal. He repeated his statistically insignificant claims of injury and defended his bill. “Over the last three years there have been an average of 60 deaths and hundreds of injuries because of trains,” he said. “I’ve taken the subway, I know how they operate. They come into stations full speed and I’m concerned about that.”
That an Assembly representative from the Bronx must state that he’s taken the subway speaks volumes of Albany. Still, as criticism rolled in, he attempted to distance himself from the idea. “This is a conversation starter,” he said. “If coming to a full stop is too much, I’m willing to address the issue.”
The problem with Crespo’s approach is that he’s picking on an issue that isn’t. If a manufacturer had a safety record akin to the MTA’s train-on-person numbers, they’d get a gold star from OSHA. If cars were anywhere close to that safe, the city would not be embroiled in a debate over how better to protect pedestrians. In fact, in 2009, there were over 75,000 car accidents in the five boroughs alone, and the accident rate was 1642 per 100,000 licensed drivers. Conversely, injuries caused by subway cars reached just 6 per 100 million straphangers. That certainly puts Crespo’s misguided legislation in perspective.
Ultimately, though, this move isn’t anything we don’t expect from Albany. We have legislators who rob from transit funds and others who never deign to ride the subway. Seeing another bad idea for the city’s public transportation network emerge from Albany is neither a surprise nor unexpected, and that is a sad commentary on the state of New York politics.