It’s a mess. It goes without saying. There is so much to do. I will advocate for the obvious, such as proper funding and repairs, but there are changes that are low-cost and quickly doable. They must not be overlooked. Cognizant leadership can perform easy fixes that make a huge difference in the subway experience; all of this can be accomplished within a year at modest cost. Here is my checklist.
- Prioritize Being on Time. On-time performance must be the prime priority — not renovating stations, not nice tiles, and not even new subway cars (that still come late). A smarter, computerized approach needs study: a careful review of subway practices including better training of dispatchers to make trains more reliable. Do dispatchers dispatch trains at smart intervals? Do rush-hour schedules take into consideration the fact that exiting and entering of passengers can take minutes? Billions set aside must prioritize on-time performance. Fix antiquated signals first. Deal with lower priorities like falling tiles and station renovation after signals/on-time issues are addressed. New Yorkers have a tolerance for grime, but being late for work or a job interview… UNACCEPTABLE! Timely service is job one.
- Urinals. The stench of urine overwhelms many stations that are homeless toilets. Neighborhoods beyond wealthy Manhattan neighborhoods rarely get water-pressure cleaning that addresses urine. A quick solution exists: every station must be water-pressure cleaned a minimum of once a month. However, let’s go further. We cannot stop the homeless from fouling subway stations, but we can adopt smart practices like those in place in Holland, where the Dutch government, knowing drinkers urinate in streets, installed small urinals in city streets. It’s unsightly, but it addresses human nature and is a better alternative to stench. Let’s place hundreds of small urinals citywide (and drain/disinfect them frequently). We cannot soon solve the homeless crises. Let’s at least put urine odors under control.
- Train MTA Personnel. Too often we sit in trains that don’t move and conductors won’t say a word as to why. It’s insulting. We are entitled to know. Doors close on us. Trains depart just as local/express trains arrive, so we miss connections. Conductors can’t wait 30 seconds? It’s a lousy way to treat people. Personnel can be better trained to explain what’s wrong, inform us about improvements being made (or why trains are delayed), and keep us informed. They can tell us what improvements are being made (and why service is problematic). They can post newsletters explaining in clear terms improvements being made. There is so much more the MTA can do to make us feel part of the renovation process so that we can at least understand what’s going on. Let’s train MTA personnel so that they incorporate basic concepts of customer satisfaction as part of their duties. The public deserves this.
- Station Seats. Really, it is too much to ask the MTA to give us something to sit on while we wait for late trains? Too many stations have few seats if any. Install low-cost seats or something to lean on. It is not so expensive in the scheme of things.
- Announcements. Conductors and motormen are paid well. Apathetic to our suffering, many are silent during delays. We need better-trained personnel who tell us what’s going on. If they cannot make trains run on time, at least extend the courtesy of letting us know the status.
- Speakers. Announcements often are too loud, crackle, or are impossible to understand. Do personnel ever check sound systems and consider whether the sound is annoyingly loud, soft, or inaudible? Let’s hire personnel whose job is to go and test every subway and station sound system. This low-cost fix will help improve our subway experience and lower anger when problems occur.
- Dreadfully Slow Renovations. Station renovations typically take 4 or more months. We then pass “renovating” stations daily and see nobody working! This ridiculous practice must end. The same holds true for stairways often closed for months for repair. If a station needs repairs, put 20 men to work full-time three shifts day and night. Complete work in three weeks as a matter of policy. It is smarter to repair two stations quickly than do 10 and take four months. The MTA must renovate quickly.
Renovation vs. on Time. One final thought: should we be renovating stations prior to restoring reliable on-time performance? Really… let’s get our priorities straight.