Home Transit Labor An imperfect storm against driverless trains

An imperfect storm against driverless trains

by Benjamin Kabak

Here in New York City, the idea of a driverless train seems like a fantasy. After all, our subways have not one but two people responsible for operations, and any suggestion that trains could operate with one — let alone zero — operators seems laughably futuristic and far-fetched. Of course, within the city, the JFK AirTrain operates automatically, and numerous international subways runs safely with one driver or fewer.

So why can’t American transit agencies embrace driverless trains? The answer isn’t really a secret: Work rules along with aggressive and often misleading public campaigns have led to entrenched and redundant jobs. Management hasn’t adequately embraced one-person train operations or even driverless trains as a cost saving measure, and the upfront capital costs are a barrier to a rapid rollout of such a technology. It’s a perfect storm of mitigating factors, and it’s going to become an issue as transit agency labor costs continue to climb.

Yesterday at The Atlantic Cities site, Stephen Smith from Market Urbanism tackled this very issue. After providing an overview of the international scene and other failed U.S. attempts at reform, he levied his sights on New York City:

And New York? Fuggedaboutit. Upgrades to Paris’s Métro have proven that retrofitting century-old subways for driverless operation is possible (and arguably safety-enhancing, with platform screen doors installed at stations that restrict access to the tracks until a train is safely docked and aligned), and Glasgow’s subway, which predates New York’s by almost a decade, is only five years away from driverless capabilities.

New York’s subway, on the other hand, hasn’t even advanced to the 20th century in terms of labor-saving efficiencies, never mind the 21st. Almost all of the subway’s trains have two paid employees on board at all times, long after other rapid transit systems around the country folded driving and door operation into one job. The city has slowly been winning concessions from its drivers union toward so-called “one-person train operation” and other efficiency measures, but it’s starting from a low base.

New York is an outlier in labor intransigence, but public sector transit unions are a potent force in setting transit agendas in American cities – more so than in Europe and Asia, where high ridership creates a large and wealthy rider constituency to demand efficiency and counteract the political power of transit unions.

I believe Smith’s analysis doesn’t dive deep enough here into a few underlying issues. The first is a problem of management. The MTA hasn’t aggressively pushed OPTO or driverless trains as a cost-saving measure. If the option is between losing frequent subway service or losing an employee on the train, the choice is an easy one. Unfortunately, considering the MTA’s track record with both costs and on-time delivery, it’s tough to see an OPTO treatment happening any time soon at any reasonable price.

Second, the TWU is firmly entrenched against any cutbacks in onboard staffing levels. They take advantage of public fears over safety and the supposed impossibility of such train operations while relying on the fact that New Yorkers have a very limited knowledge of the way things work elsewhere. I don’t expect the unions to support anything that eliminates over 600 jobs at peak hours, and the issue hasn’t even come up in recent negotiations.

Finally, transit ridership isn’t a constituency demanding efficiency. Perhaps this has to do with the city’s love-hate relationships with its subway system spurred on by uneven and misleading coverage of transit politics and economics. Perhaps it comes from the passable-to-decrepit appearance of the subway system that doesn’t inspire confidence. Whatever the cause, subway riders are agitating only for no fare hikes and more service but not for efficiency measures.

Smith thinks it’s only a matter of time. “The only question is,” he writes, “will riders demand it in time to actually improve service, or will transit agencies hold out until they’re forced to use it to save existing service from cuts?” Considering the lead time for deployment, if it isn’t the former, the latter may be a struggle.

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Bolwerk July 10, 2012 - 1:08 am

Yeah, I don’t know where MallMarket Urbanism sees OPTO being a pressing issue, even if it should be. It has been touched upon by management, to their credit, but wasn’t it contractually banned under most circumstances? Riders shouldn’t have to get the labor economics of running the system. What is appalling is that politicians don’t get it, or don’t have the courage to act on it when they do get it. (Less appalling, but also less surprising, is advocates don’t get it either.) It’s simple: save on labor, and have more to invest upgrading the signal system and other safety systems.

Albany and NYC need to be leaning on the TWU and MTA to drop this kind of nonsense.

Also, are there any actual cases of conductors, the famed vestigial second guy on the train, actually ever doing something that improves safety?

Sharon July 10, 2012 - 11:53 am

Why would the politicians have to get when they can just tax the hell out of middle class drivers on the bridges and tunnels, tax taxi rides etc. the public is in the dark of the true cost to operate our transit system and the many money wasti g work rules . It will end up bankrupting the system I. The end and cause another round of “doomsday cuts” opto especially o. The l train should be the norm. Opto on most other could also be done safer then the current operating practices

Use some of the money to have code enforcers on trains and in stations who could assist in emergencies

The reality is when a train is stuck between stations, fdny and nypd usually handle the evacuations.

The other argument is that the second person Aids with communication due to the radios being in the cabs. A wireless radio that talks back to the train or directly to control center is a better idea regardless

Bolwerk July 10, 2012 - 6:59 pm

Nice theory, except the reality is probably a transfer from transit users to drivers, not the other way around. That’s on top of the cost of the MTA being a patronage mill.

Stephen Smith July 10, 2012 - 3:04 am

No doubt NYC also struggles with management issues, just like DC’s unions are also an impediment to going driverless. But I do think NYC has the worst unions (after all, they’re the only one that have successfully resisted OPTO, right?), and DC has the worst management (considering they couldn’t even keep the ATO – a crucial component of a driverless system – running…in other words, even if the unions didn’t oppose driverless, DC couldn’t have it).

The reason I think New York has the worst unions is simply the age of the system. DC’s unions won’t give any more than New York’s will, but their starting point is 1970-level efficiency, not 1880-level efficiency. As for why DC’s management is so bad, beats me…maybe it has something to do with its weird tri-state structure?

Sharon July 10, 2012 - 11:56 am

Stop Witth the age of the system arguments. Only the walls are old min most cases. Nyct has been aggressively updating signaling and communications for the last two decades so the system is not exactly “old” in the sense that it can not operate opto

Stephen Smith July 10, 2012 - 6:58 pm

I’m not saying that the system is deteriorating – merely that the union work rules are inherited from much more labor-intensive times, whereas the DC Metro never had two people per train, so there was nothing for the unions to hold onto.

Nathanael July 18, 2012 - 3:06 am

The union work rules from LIRR are inherited from even *earlier* times.

At least NYC Subway had some shakeups of work rules when the city took over the bankrupt IRT and the BMT, so really NYC Subway rules only date to the IND of the 1930s.

LIRR has had a continuous organizational existence since when?… and the work rules are directly inherited.

Al D July 10, 2012 - 12:10 pm

Actually the reverse could be argued that NYC has the best transit union because they are looking out for their constituents, i.e. their members. Bigger train crews = more members, so I’d say that they’re pretty successful.

Eric July 10, 2012 - 2:51 pm

Yep. “Best” and “worst” are a matter of what interest you represent.

Eric July 11, 2012 - 6:10 am

Holding eight million riders hostage to the livelihood of a few hundred workers is not something to be proud of.

Evan July 11, 2012 - 10:02 am

Can we really be sure that having conductors or train operators taken off the trains will help in the big scheme of things?

First of all, I think it’s a bit unfair to compare the New York Subway with other systems around the world without mentioning characteristics that are unique to each one. The truth is that although rapid transit systems around the world are similar, none of them are completely the same: each one faces a unique combination of challenges and situations that is exclusive to the areas that it services, and the systems are designed accordingly. This is why this is one of the few times I disagree with Mr. Kabak: just because it is used in other systems around the world doesn’t automatically mean that it should be implemented in full force here. While I agree that we should pursue efficiency, and advances in systems around the world should give us pause for thought, any improvements should be done in a manner that addresses our system as distinct, with its own characteristics.

Having said that, I will not accept under any circumstances a completely driverless New York Subway, at least now. I think we all know that even the best of human technology can malfunction, sometimes badly. That’s tolerable on a PC or an IPod, because it mostly causes inconvenience. However, what about on a system with the size, scope, and traffic of our own, where malfunction can cause loss of life and limb? In my opinion, to throw all caution to the wind and rapidly implement technology that we in New York are only just starting to experience is begging for trouble. Until our technology develops to the point that it is foolproof, or until we New Yorkers gain sufficient knowledge of this technology to know it inside and out, I think it would be ludicrous to put complete faith in it.

With conductors, I’m not as staunchly opposed to it. My main thought about it is that, no matter from what angle you look at it, it’s still a net loss of jobs, which means less people able to pay taxes, which means less money for the government to spend (when they already spend the lion’s share on the military and 10+ years of nonstop war), which means we’ll find ourselves in the same position all over again: having to make cutbacks. Can we really tolerate that with our economy being as it is? If anything, I think eliminating conductors would make sense if we can keep former conductors working in some capacity at the MTA; I don’t mind money being spent as long as it’s spent wisely.

Bolwerk July 11, 2012 - 11:51 am

Can we really be sure that having conductors or train operators taken off the trains will help in the big scheme of things?

Yes. We can be quite sure it will save the average cost of employing a conductor multiplied by the number of conductors.

Until our technology develops to the point that it is foolproof, or until we New Yorkers gain sufficient knowledge of this technology to know it inside and out, I think it would be ludicrous to put complete faith in it.

It’s ludicrous to put faith in anything. The safety standard for adopting driverless technology should be whether it achieves an acceptably low level of risk, not whether it’s foolproof.

Alon Levy July 11, 2012 - 4:05 pm

Some numbers: NYCT employs 3,000 conductors, out of a workforce of 46,000.

Bolwerk July 12, 2012 - 12:20 am

What is the average cost to employ them? If they average $60k/year in employment cost (salary + benefits + administrative costs – I’m probably lowballing big time) that’s already $180,000,000.

Alon Levy July 16, 2012 - 6:59 pm


Nathanael July 18, 2012 - 3:07 am

Try out a driverless rail system next time you visit Vancouver or London (Docklands Light Railway). They work.

Sunny July 10, 2012 - 7:22 am

What other heavy rail rapid transit systems in this country (world?) still use conductors? (former FRA railroads like PATH excluded)

In my opinion, driverless trains are a serious safety issue. Just look at WMATA/BART and how they have drivers too. However, conductorless trains shouldn’t be an issue, and I fully support a public call for OPTO. The advocates of OPTO should really look to the Canarsie Line for a perfect example: the train is already “driverless” in that it’s computer operated, yet it still has two man crews.

Josh July 10, 2012 - 3:17 pm

My fiancee and I took the L from Rockaway Parkway to Broadway Junction around 10pm this past Saturday evening, and for no apparent reason and with no announcement (and no planned weekend service change according to this SAS post, it ran express from Rockaway Parkway to Broadway Junction. It was nice for us because that’s where we were going, but riders who wanted to get out at the stations in between were understandably confused and unhappy. Makes me curious whether this was a glitch with the driverless train operation.

John July 11, 2012 - 12:32 am

I’ve also noticed that since the implementation of CBTC on the L, the countdown clocks at every single L station are not in operation whatsoever. They only display time and date. At my station (Montrose Av), the countdown clock just behind the turnstiles has been stuck displaying “Canarsie-bound Train Arriving” for at least the past few weeks.

Andrew July 13, 2012 - 7:00 pm

I’m not sure what you mean – CBTC was implemented years ago. In fact, it’s CBTC-based data that’s fed to the countdown clocks – prior to CBTC, there were no countdown clocks at all.

The countdown clocks are definitely working in some stations. If they’re not working in yours, I’d guess it’s due to overheating equipment rooms – the same problem that knocked out some of the countdown clocks last summer.

Andrew July 13, 2012 - 6:58 pm

L trains aren’t driverless – there’s a train operator at the front of the train monitoring the system (and taking over the operation manually if necessary) and a conductor in the middle making announcements and opening/closing the doors.

In the highly unlikely event that the ATO system bypassed a station, the train operator would have pulled the emergency brake cord to stop the train immediately.

Trains are sometimes directed to bypass stops if they’re running late. My guess is that either the conductor neglected to make an announcement or he made the announcement before you boarded.

Nathanael July 18, 2012 - 3:08 am

Driverless systems tend to be *more* reliable about announcements, bizarrely. I guess this says something about the work ethic of your average conductor.

Miles Bader July 10, 2012 - 5:15 pm

Most Japanese rapid-transit uses conductors. There seems to be some movement towards “one man” operation, but very slowly (e.g. on new lines).

OTOH, they also generally have such high ridership that the cost of a conductor is probably not as significant as it is with more lightly-utilized systems. [But then, you’d think NYC would fall into this category much of the time too…]

Bolwerk July 10, 2012 - 11:31 pm

I guess, but then something like 1/4 of ridership in NYC is on three services (4/5/6).

Larry Littlefield July 10, 2012 - 7:25 am

The NY unions can point to the crush of people on the platforms and trains as a reason the second person is required. Not that I agree — I’d be willing to accept one worker per train and one worker per station, but not none in either case.

The real thing to object to is workers who expect to do less rather than doing additional tasks, as technology makes their original tasks easier/when they have nothing else to do. Like those unwilling to go circulate around the station and pick up a little trash now that vending machines have eliminated most booth transactions, train operators who don’t want to open and close doors, and bus operators unwilling to do simple bus maintenance during mid-day layups,

Where, however, is the discussion of the commuter railroads, with their multiple conductors per train? I’ve gotten on a train more than once in a situation where I could not purchase a ticket before hand, expecting to buy one on the train, and never had anyone come around.

Simply put the LIRR and Metro North need to go to fare control at the stations, with electronic surveilance, sweeps and massive fines (and inconveniences waiting for adjudication) to nail those who get around fare control, and then go to one conductor per train.

Sharon July 10, 2012 - 11:58 am

The fault In the crush on trains and platforms argument is that’s the motorman does not assist I. Making sure the doors are clear.

Andrew Smith July 10, 2012 - 7:35 am

Why is it necessary any more necessary, when using driverless trains, to have the glass doors at the stations? Serious question: I’m not trolling.

Bolwerk July 10, 2012 - 11:04 am

I guess the argument goes that a conductor can stop a problem if he sees one, and a platform side door can prevent a problem that a conductor can stop. Maybe true in the case of dragging and preventing people from falling on tracks.

Sharon July 10, 2012 - 12:03 pm

You can have a person in the control center monitoring multiple stations platforms as trains enter and leave as a backup

I agree that I want someone to monitor as trains enter and leave the station but it can be done in numerous other ways then have a dedicated conductor.

The biggest problem systemwide is the narrowly defined work rules that require duplicate workers

The main problem with change is that the democratic politicians ate all on the u ion parole and will bark out whatever the u io. Wants. I am a NYC public employee, the union is not even shy about pressuring the union employees to donate “cope” funds to pay off the pitiicans . It Is openly stated at union meetings

Alon Levy July 11, 2012 - 4:09 pm

It’s not necessary, but one makes the other easy. The hard part about platform screen doors is making sure the train is aligned with the doors on the platform, which requires stopping with precision measured in tens of centimeters. With manual operation, the precision is usually a few meters, which is perfectly sufficient when there are no platform screen doors. But if you automate the train, or install automatic train control, then you already gain the precision you need, and so adding platform screen doors is almost cost-free.

Andrew July 13, 2012 - 7:07 pm

I don’t think that’s correct. Precision stopping is a challenge for automated systems. Experienced human operators do a better job of adjusting for conditions, especially in inclement weather.

Andre L. July 17, 2012 - 11:58 pm

Modern CTBC systems can stop a train within 7 centimeters of a threshold. Sensors can detect weather information and adjust accordingly based on safety operation protocols, not on some stupid “feel the train” knowledge that a driver would take “years to master”.

Andrew July 18, 2012 - 12:13 am

That isn’t my impression, but I could be wrong.

Nathanael July 18, 2012 - 3:10 am

You are wrong. Visit London’s DLR or Vancouver’s SkyTrain.

The problem was solved by the 1990s.

Andrew July 19, 2012 - 10:38 pm

I don’t usually carry a tape measure with me when I’m on vacation.

AMM July 10, 2012 - 7:42 am

Why do I think that the author of this post has little actual experience with implementing new technology? It sounds so simple: Newark Airport has a few miles of driverless trains, and they seem to work, so let’s just do the same for the NYC subway system. (“Fools rush in….”)

Forget management or union instragence. There are enormous technical issues that would have to be solved before you could ever run driverless trains in the NYC subway.

First of all, none of the driverless systems I know of have open platforms. They all have walls with automatic doors, making the systems more like a horizontal elevator than a conventional train. Enclosing all of the NYC subway system’s platforms would be hideously expensive and technically challenging, since the system wasn’t designed for it. If you don’t think this is necessary, then just imagine the tabloid stories of the first person who falls on the tracks and gets ruthlessly run down by the heartless robot train.

Second, the driverless systems I know of are all small, simple systems in controlled environments. They don’t have to deal with complicated routes or with route or schedule changes during a trip. They also don’t go through dense neighborhoods where they have to worry about things falling or getting thrown on the tracks. They don’t have to worry about people deliberately blocking doors or vandalizing the infrastructure. The NYC subway system would pose techincal challenges to driverless trains that nobody has even tried to deal with yet. FWIW, BART tried having fully automatic trains (with operators), and ended up having to give the operators more control because the automatic systems weren’t reliable enough.

Oh by the way, you’d probably have to replace all the tracks, signals, and wiring, and possibly a good part of the tunnels, right-of-way, etc., since it’s old and crumbling and doesn’t support the functionality a driverless system would require.

Finally, they are all very new. It will be a while before we know what will prove unreliable in the long term or what sorts of failures you have to look out for. The NYC subway system is fairly safe _now_ mainly because the people running it have had a century to find out the hard way what isn’t reliable and what can lead to accidents, and put in systems to guard against them. (Safety business saying: “there’s a dead man behind every rule.”) You can blame the Washington Metro accidents on bad management, by the principle of “it doesn’t matter what happens as long as you can find someone to blame it on,” but as a techie, my first thought is: new technology, they’re still learning what the failure modes are.

Larry Littlefield July 10, 2012 - 8:58 am

“First of all, none of the driverless systems I know of have open platforms.”

Ahem, I wonder whose decision it is, and why, to change the door placement with every new car class. That pretty much takes platform doors off the table for a rolling 50 years.

Again, I wouldn’t want trains with no employees on them. But since there tends to be less crowding at outlying elevated stations, platform doors at the most crowded central stations would presumably eliminate one of the arguments for maintaining conductors.

John July 10, 2012 - 11:44 am

“First of all, none of the driverless systems I know of have open platforms.”

Skytrain in Vancouver

Nathanael July 18, 2012 - 3:10 am

DLR in London

Nathanael July 18, 2012 - 3:11 am

Mind you, DLR has lots of “guards” roaming the system. But they understand that their job is customer interaction, which NY’s conductors and motormen do not.

Sharon July 10, 2012 - 12:00 pm

Paris is driverless.

Eric July 10, 2012 - 2:57 pm

Only two lines, and one was designed and built to be driverless. Still, the conversion of Line 1 to driverless operation is VERY interesting.

Eric July 10, 2012 - 2:54 pm

“First of all, none of the driverless systems I know of have open platforms.”

Docklands Light Railway. Less than a full subway, of course, but more than a light railway.

Eric July 11, 2012 - 6:44 am

DLR has fewer cars that a full subway. That’s irrelevant to the issue of driver vs driverless. The issues mentioned in the parent post, except for system age, are equally true regarding DLR.

Stephen Smith July 10, 2012 - 7:01 pm

Why do I think that the author of this post has little actual experience with implementing new technology? It sounds so simple: Newark Airport has a few miles of driverless trains, and they seem to work, so let’s just do the same for the NYC subway system. (“Fools rush in….”)

Talk about a straw man. I didn’t use Newark as the example – I used Paris’s Line 1, which is just as old as the NYC subway and just as difficult to retrofit.

paulb July 10, 2012 - 8:43 am

Not specifically on the driverless question, but the low expectations you refer to. I think that’s right: my experience is NYers want low fares, and the A/C to work in the summertime. They grumble about other things, but if you raise fares, or cut their uncle’s overtime, to make the subway more modern, or more efficient, or quieter, or faster, they’ll be mad. I’d like to see a good poll of everyday subway riders from every corner of the city: do you even like living in New York? Do you live here because you want to or because you have to? Does anyone know of a poll like that?

Larry Littlefield July 10, 2012 - 8:59 am

The people who like NYC ride the subway. The people who just happen to be here and don’t like it drive everywhere, and “represent” us in the state legislature.

Jesse Lansner July 10, 2012 - 1:13 pm

I don’t think most New Yorkers would oppose cutting transit workers’ overtime, or even eliminating a few jobs. After all, few commuters have any friends or family who work for the MTA, and even fewer know conductors/motormen who might lose their jobs.

The main reason commuters don’t advocate more for efficiency is that the benefits are too diffuse. According to the current schedule, the F train runs every 4-6 minutes during rush hour. If we can get trains every 3-5 minutes instead, everyone’s commute gets a little shorter and a little less crowded, even as more riders are lure into the system.

But my individual commute doesn’t change too much — sure I save a minute or two, and I have a few more inches of personal space some mornings, but that’s not a dramatic improvement — which means I will never fight for efficiency as fiercely as the TWU will fight for their members’ jobs.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines July 10, 2012 - 8:57 am

[…] Driverless Subways: If Paris and Glasgow Can Do It, Why Can’t NYC? (2nd Ave Sagas) […]

petey July 10, 2012 - 9:29 am

“labor intransigence”

so defending the security and stability of employment is ‘intransigence’ now. the war on workers continues.

VLM July 10, 2012 - 9:30 am

As long as you admit that unionized workers care only about jobs and not progressive transportation or improved transit access, I guess it’s not intransigence.

Stephen Smith July 10, 2012 - 7:03 pm

Yes, I would say that defending the security of jobs that are no longer necessary or beneficial to the public is intransigent.

By your logic, we should never have removed the second conductor from streetcars in the early 20th century, and snack vending machines should be illegal…or at least staffed with somebody to stand next to them and do nothing.

Alex C July 11, 2012 - 12:54 am

I’m pro-union and all, but the TWU isn’t helping its case. It goes out of its way to slow down work and fights things like even OPTO. The TWU also demanded the MTA screw over its young employees to pay the pensions of the old, retiring ones. That’s not a union, that’s just another bunch of Generation Greed people at the top working for a small faction of their “union.” A real union works to protect all its workers and works with the employer for the benefit of both.

Nathanael July 18, 2012 - 3:14 am

A real union would be fighting to establish a new job description for “roaming station agents” who stand on the actual platforms at stations and provide assistance to customers and some degree of security; with the numbers of stations there are, this could absorb all the laid off ticket-booth folks, all the laid-off conductors, and all the laid-off motormen, and room to hire more.

The TWU is not forward-thinking.

CTP July 10, 2012 - 11:09 am

but glasgow’s trains just go round in one circle. i think i could probably program the driverless software for those trains.

Nathanael July 18, 2012 - 3:14 am

Look at the Docklands Light Railway network. That’s one of the most complicated set of stopping patterns and branches I’ve ever seen on a metro system, and the whole thing is driverless and automated.

Nathanael July 18, 2012 - 3:15 am

Admittedly if you’re going to do a conversion from manual to automated, you’re going to have to do one segment at a time (no converting the entire BMT/IND network at once!)

normative July 10, 2012 - 11:26 am

“Perhaps it comes from the passable-to-decrepit appearance of the subway system that doesn’t inspire confidence.”

Why do you always say that? The NYc train system is an experience not merely just a ride from A to B. Every time I travel out of the country, I always get asked about the subway in NYC. WHY? Because its dirty, loud, a motley mix of the marginalized, alternative, the rich, and the normal. There are performers, political diatribes, street artists, angry old women, and people who sing out loud to themselves. I take the DC train, and it is pharmaceutically sterile, boring, and just about getting to work and getting home. I start so many stories with, “on the train the other day…” This is NYC. The subway-as-experience makes it what it is, and why people write books on it, make films about it, and why there are train buffs who can tell you everything about it. If you woke up tomorrow and the train looked like DC, do you really think this would be NYC anymore?

WMATA Rage July 10, 2012 - 11:45 am

Well, our problems with the DC Metro go way beyond sterility and boringness. I would like more of these things, rather than the constant breakdowns, offloads, delays, derailments, and deaths that seem to be par for the course with WMATA. Can you imagine if a train had to offload in New York every single morning? Or hell, even just if the MTA ran short trains all the time that required people to sprint to the end car?

Maybe it’s just since I started experience the abysmal state of Metro, but whenever I go to New York now, I find the subway there absolutely world-class, and a real crown jewel in what America could do, once.

al July 10, 2012 - 2:05 pm

We have several short trains, the C,G,M and Rockaway Shuttle are all shorter trains that send riders running for the train.

Alex C July 11, 2012 - 12:55 am

Well, the C is full-length during the Summer, but point taken. Still, passengers know from taking their trains every day that the G and M are short and know where they will stop.

Dan July 15, 2012 - 1:30 am

And to be fair, DC’s Metro has the amount of cars on the countdown clocks. If you see that the upcoming train is shorter, move closer to the middle. It’s simply a matter of knowing how the system works.

Matthias July 10, 2012 - 1:20 pm

Good points about the character of the system, but I think we can improve the appearance by removing trash, peeling paint, excrement, and missing tiles without becoming bland and sterile.

Tower18 July 10, 2012 - 11:29 am

I was once stuck on the Newark Air Train, between stations (high on the tracks), for around 30 minutes, locked in those tiny 6-person cars, with no word from anyone on what the problem was, how long we’d be there, and whether anyone was even aware that there was a problem.

Robot trains in the subway, no thanks…at least not until they figure out a way to have someone virtually watching over the trains.

They should cut it down to just the one operator, though.

Al D July 10, 2012 - 1:43 pm

Hmmm..what’s worse that or being stuck in a tunnel directly under the East River for about 10 or so minutes with a 2 person train crew and no announcement?

al July 10, 2012 - 2:08 pm

Driverless systems have people monitoring the entire system at a control center. They usually can chime in remotely.

Nathanael July 18, 2012 - 3:16 am

It really is all down to the attitude of the people responsible for customer service, isn’t it?

mike d. July 10, 2012 - 2:29 pm

I dont support ATO and OPTO in NYC Subway system… one great example is 9/11/2011.

Benjamin Kabak July 10, 2012 - 2:31 pm

I don’t really see how a horrific event that’s happened once is a great example of anything honestly. I hate to sound so callous but you don’t overspend by tens, if not hundreds, of millions in annual operations costs in the very slight chance that something like that happens again.

mike d. July 10, 2012 - 8:47 pm

Oh Benny boy, It can happen again. Cost… we want jobs.

Alex C July 11, 2012 - 12:56 am

What? Really, what are you talking about?

mike d. July 11, 2012 - 1:01 pm

Im talking about your lives.

Alex C July 11, 2012 - 9:50 pm

You are making literally zero sense.

Nathaniel July 12, 2012 - 1:00 pm

Agreed with Alex, what does 9/11 or “our lives” have to do with CTBC or OPTO at all?
Aside from that, automated trains were tested thoroughly on the L without incident. What makes you think that driverless trains will contribute to a bigger one?

mike d. July 13, 2012 - 1:52 pm

Ha, without incident. There were lots of incidents during the process and guess what MTA abandoned the ATO for now.

Andrew July 13, 2012 - 6:52 pm

Sorry, you don’t know what you’re talking about. ATO is in effect right now on the L.

mike d. July 13, 2012 - 11:57 pm

ATO is not in effect on the Lline, stupid. CBTC is in effect. We still have two person crew on the L line.

Andrew July 16, 2012 - 9:25 pm

Absolutely incorrect. ATO is in effect on the L for most trips. The train operator is in the front cab monitoring the system and taking over manually if necessary. The conductor is in the middle, opening and closing the doors and (in theory) making announcements. But the operation of any given L train is most likely automatic.

Don’t believe me? Go stand at one of the terminals and ask ten arriving train operators whether he personally operated the train into the terminal or the train automatically operated itself under his supervision. Report back with the results.

Watch who you call stupid – he may be correct.

mike d. July 13, 2012 - 1:49 pm

Tough love.

BoerumBum July 10, 2012 - 3:18 pm

Kind of overkill, don’t you think? Like paying to purchase and keep a moving truck, just in case you want to move again in the future.

Stephen Smith July 10, 2012 - 7:05 pm

Talk about letting the terrorists win! I’m sure nothing would make those terrorists happier than to know that a decade after the attacks, we’re still significantly altering our lives in fear of more attacks.

Bolwerk July 10, 2012 - 9:51 pm

You see this argument a lot with the commuter railroads: the conductors will keep us safe. Or even booth operators: they keep us safe!

Frankly, they all look like more potential victims to me.

Alon Levy July 11, 2012 - 4:13 pm


mike d. July 13, 2012 - 1:53 pm

Apparently, security is not everyone’s mind since we did have several threats against NYC Subway system…. Tough crowd.

Nathanael July 18, 2012 - 3:19 am

“Security” is mostly bullshit.

Anyway, on the DLR (and presumably other driverless systems), they *CAN* be operated manually if trained operators step in with a key.

Though in fact if you were doing evacuation procedures the driverless operation would be far more efficient. The person at the control center is quite capable of stopping all the trains and reversing them at appropriate times.

Driverless systems are NOT dispatcher-less systems. Don’t make that mistake! Nobody’s figured out how to effectively replace dispatchers!

Andrew July 13, 2012 - 6:53 pm

What would have happened differently on 9/11/2011 (or even 9/11/2001, which is what you probably mean) had ATO or OPTO been in effect?

nycpat July 13, 2012 - 10:23 pm

People would have been left on the platform at cortlandt street as the crew was ordered to bypass the station. An ATO train would have bypassed the station. A 4 train at fulton would have been stuck at Fulton, exposing the passengers to dust cloud as the towers collapsed. Instead the T/O reversed by manually hooking down the stop arms and wrong railing.

Andrew July 16, 2012 - 9:26 pm

What does any of that have to do with ATO or OPTO? What would have happened differently if ATO or OPTO had been in effect?

nycpat July 16, 2012 - 11:37 pm

The people at cortlandt street would have been crushed to death.

Andrew July 16, 2012 - 11:57 pm

Last I checked, even in ATO, the train operator can take over manual control of the train when necessary.

chris July 10, 2012 - 6:15 pm

..In my opinion, driverless trains are a serious safety issue.”

Well Sunny, your opinion is wrong. Driverless trains have shown to have a better safety record than trains with drivers. Look at Vancouvers Skytrian for example.

chris July 10, 2012 - 6:20 pm

..First of all, none of the driverless systems I know of have open platforms..

AMM you moron, Vancouvers Skytrain has had driverless trains with open platforms since the mid 1980s. And it has a FAR better safety record than trains with drivers. It uses electronic sensors to detect any intrusion onto the tracks, so it is not prone to human error.

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Al D July 11, 2012 - 9:25 am

Instead of worrying about a few train crews, how about addressing the bloat in MTA management? Just how many layers, departments, agencies, groups and so on do we need?

VLM July 11, 2012 - 9:27 am

Good try but how about acknowledging how many jobs MTA has axed from HQ and how no one’s gotten a rise in five years while organized labor keeps earning undeserved pay increases? As fun as it is to blame “management,” that’s not really the problem any longer. It’s paying cleaners absurd wages to push a broom around and overstaffing on everything else due to work rules. That’s reality.

Nathanael July 18, 2012 - 3:20 am

Well, Walder tried to merge Metro-North and LIRR. That would have cut several layers of management. For some reason this proved politically impossible — and guess what, the unions were one of several groups opposing it.

Andrew July 19, 2012 - 10:41 pm

You mean Kalikow, in 2002:

None of that ended up happening, except for the formation of MTA Capital Construction and a piece of MTA Bus.

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jj July 11, 2012 - 3:34 pm

I use the 59th Street station all the time

The clerks refuse to give out metrocards for cash … “use the machine , that’s why it’s there ”

you know what , we don’t need you talking to your girlfriends on your cell phone all day long either

nycpat July 12, 2012 - 12:18 am

It seems pointless to comment but I have several thoughts on this.
NYC Subway will never be fully automatic with platform doors because it is a 24hr system. You can’t fasttrack all maintenance. You can’t have an automatic train go through or adjacent to a work area. So, are you going to have T/Os manually operate to a precise stop at the platform doors that you spent many hundreds of millions of dollars to install? What if they are off a few feet? Skip the station? In a NYC context platform doors just exponentially increases the amount of stuff that can go wrong.

I don’t think the MTA has been serious about OPTO at all. They are in no way ready for it. It is just used as a bargaining chip in contract talks.
Despite the near unanimity of this board and the widespread animosity towards transit workers by the public I think you’re kidding yourselves if you think NYC Subways will be OPTO, let alone automatic, anytime soon. The public won’t stand for it and it’s an easy initiative to kill.
Also, in our dystopian future as a banana republic does anyone here doubt that there will be more blackouts.

Andrew July 13, 2012 - 7:22 pm

All OPTO requires are transverse cabs, monitors where needed for visibility, and union consent.

Almost all lines use transverse cabs already. The few that don’t will have R179’s in a few years.

Monitors are a relatively simple issue. And on the L, they’re already in place.

All that’s left is union consent.

nycpat July 13, 2012 - 10:16 pm

And new procedures for handling everyday occurences like; sick/injured customers, all manner of customers needing assistance, discharging trains in passenger service, evacuating trains OPTO, investigating roadside conditions while in passenger service, station overruns, brakes in emergency, monitors not working=skip station?, passenger pulls brake while attempting to skip station, making announcements while operating train etc.
It will slow things down.
The savings will not be as advertised. The MTA is not serious about OPTO at NYCT.

Andrew July 16, 2012 - 9:28 pm

OPTO has been in effect since 1996. Procedures are already in place.

nycpat July 16, 2012 - 11:51 pm

I have worked all shuttles. GCS is not truly OPTO. Dyre avenue on a weekend G.O. or the overnights is very different than say, Woodlawn to Utica during a weekday. If something happens the procedure is they dispatch help. To do that system wide means hiring more TSSs and losing flexability as to turning trains taking trains out of service.

Andrew July 17, 2012 - 12:02 am

Nobody says that there wouldn’t be challenges. But the basic procedures are already in place, and they can be refined with experience as necessary. (OPTO wouldn’t be dumped on the entire system all at once – it would be rolled out a few lines at a time.)

OPTO works in transit systems across the globe – transit systems older than ours, transit systems more crowded than ours, transit systems with longer trains than ours.

And there would be far fewer TSS’s than there are conductors.

Nathanael July 18, 2012 - 3:22 am

In fact, better service would be provided by having more workers at stations — but on the platforms, not in booths — than having them on trains.

Andre L. July 18, 2012 - 12:00 am

Diverless trains often have a cab that can be taken-over an human operator should the need arise. It is actually a pretty cheap addition since it’s just and add-on to the already much reliable and precise command system installed there.

Nathanael July 18, 2012 - 3:23 am

In the DLR, it’s not exactly a cab; the control panel is behind a locked panel at the front of the car. You can sit in the “driver’s” seat if there isn’t a driver there.

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