For the first time in over twenty years, four or five days a week I am now commuting over an hour each way (often an hour and a half) to and from New York City. I’ve commuted before and tried it in different ways – driving and riding the train. I never had the bus option but don’t lament that in any way.
Commuting to any city is an expensive proposition. In New York even more so. Wiki Answers says, “7.6 million people use the NYC subway and buses (combined) each day. About 6 million of them use the buses and subway to get to/from work. But this includes all 5 boroughs. Into Manhattan?… 4 million a day would probably be a good guess; then another few hundred thousand more commute by car as well.” The numbers are truly impressive.
I remember what public transportation was like in New York City back in the 1980’s and no, it wasn’t pretty. Back in the 80’s many of the commuter trains were old and in a general state of disrepair. There were new passenger train cars that came on to the (Metropolitan Transit Authority) MTA lines in the 1970’s – many of which are still in operation today, but it took many years to roll-in the ‘new equipment’.
Today the MTA has again rolled out the ‘new’ M-8 cars on the Metro-North Line. I do not ride the Long Island Railroad frequently but my recollection is that the cars were less than spanking new. Riding one of the new cars offers a glimpse of how commuting can be improved. At my cost of more than $300/month just for the commuter rail monthly I will say that if all the train cars were new M-8’s and people rarely had to stand (it happens far too often), I’d have no real complaints.
Riding the New York city area commuter rails can be frustrating (think service after Hurricane Sandy and blizzards) but it’s overall extremely safe (this ain’t China or India folks) and there are trains at least hourly even in off-peak hours. As for punctuality, from my experience I’d offer an overall B+, could be better but it’s been much worse.
The subways in New York are for the most part graffiti-free much unlike most of the 1980’s when you could hardly find a graffiti-free train. Again subways are relatively safe, go out of service with much less frequency than in the past, and are increasingly crowded. It always strikes me oddly that New York City is the only city that I can think of which has one fare for any trip of any duration. You can pay $2.50 and ride the subway from Morris Park in the Bronx, to the Rockaways in Queens. Don’t count on that lasting much longer as I believe the days of one fare anywhere are numbered. Low numbered.
Commuting is by far ‘greener’ than driving and since increasing numbers of Gen Xers, Gen Yers, and Millenials are less likely to own an automobile than their fathers and grandfathers, public transportation’s popularity and its greater needs will only increase. I want to believe that public transportation’s best days are ahead. I’m dubious as to whether public officials, who seemingly understand this, are up to the challenge.
What do you think?
Good read! I’d like to also think its best days are ahead. The age of train cars aside, technology is opening a lot of opportunities for commuters especially within NYC. There are apps already out so riders know when their train should arrive and the city has started sharing a lot more of its data in an open data project, leading to further innovation. Penn Station will also be undergoing a major overhaul in the near-ish future when Amtrak moves to the post office. The city bike share will start rolling out next month and hopefully serve as a fantastic alternatives to the subway. Looking forward to see how this all progresses in the coming years.
Thanks for the comment Samantha and I did not even touch on the technology aspect of how public transportation in New York City and the U.S. in general could be VASTLY enhanced with technology like say, Wi-Fi! Public transportation in so many world cities has it baked in and it makes traveling much more pleasant to have the ability to be connected. As for Penn Station – I was in Grand Central yesterday with a LIRR commuter and she said more than once how much nice Grand Central Terminal is compared to Penn Station. That near-future overhaul for Penn Station is still too far off.
as an active commuter i agree with each of your points. safety and convenience are way up there on the list-but we do pay for what we get. but you’ll hear no complaints from me,
Thanks for the comment Carl and I think most people would agree that it’s ok to want more and to feel that thing could be paid for by having even less bureaucracy and greater efficiency in the administration of transportation.