8 Ways To Improve New York City’s Subway System


If New Yorkers are the lifeblood of the city, the subway system is the vein that helps millions of commuters travel on a daily basis. From the A to Z, New York’s subway system includes an estimated 842 track miles, with the longest ride taking riders 31 miles.

Given these facts, it is troubling that recent reports suggest that traveling by subway is becoming a more and more of a hassle. New Yorkers have the longest commute in the nation, but, by the MTA’s own admission, subway delays and overcrowding are increasing. Additionally, these issues come to the forefront as, over the weekend of March 22nd, 2015, the MTA increased prices from $2.50 for a single ride to $2.75.

There are signs of hope, however, as express bus lanes, increased trains throughout the outer boroughs, and refortification after Hurricane Sandy have improved aspects of the transit system. Also, new services like Uber and Lyft are making some of the outer boroughs more accessible. But New York is the city that rarely settles for anything less than the best, particularly when New Yorkers are asked to pay more for a service. Given the issues plaguing the MTA system, there are numerous improvements that the MTA could implement in order to improve the transit experience. Here are eight improvements the MTA could bring to the transit system.

1. To help increase funds, install TV’s on every other subway car

With an average of 5 million travelers on a workday, the subway car represents a huge, potential, audience for programming . On the PATH trains, small monitors display news, have puzzles to solve, and advertisements for different products. The MTA should examine similar screens on New York’s subway system. Further, they should explore having TV cars, where programs could pay to run episodes or previews of episodes to draw in viewers. Obviously, there should be cars with programming and cars without programming in order to still allow for some viewers to choose not to listen, but it would present a unique opportunity for channels and companies (Netlfix, Amazon, and Hulu) to present their original content to audiences that might not otherwise see it.

2. Another fund-generator, have announcements for popular tourist attractions

Anyone who has walked through Times Square, the entrance to the Empire State Building, or Broadway in Soho noticed the plethora of tourists which dominate the sidewalks. When there are warmer temperatures, many choose to walk, but for those wishing to visit areas farther from their hotels, the subway represents a challenge. With express and local trains, weekend schedules, unscheduled delays, and construction schedules, the subway can be a difficult beast to navigate. Therefore, another way to raise revenue would be to allow popular sites, restaurants, hotels, and other attractions to be able to pay for an announcement when the subway arrives at the stop for that destination. This would ease the burden on foreign travelers trying to figure out what stop in Midtown would lead them to their preferred destination, and create revenue through the advertisements.

3. Have wifi on every train, but have people pay for it first

Probably one of the most requested upgrades to the subway system, this has been partially implemented in some stations. To expand this to all trains, at all times, however, would require a huge undertaking. One way to implement this would be to contract with a large internet provider or other company to devise a way to install wifi throughout the subway system. Then, have them create app which could serve as web browser, and users would have to pay for the on a monthly basis. Then, once the company’s contract was up, the cost of maintenance could be built into the MTA’s budget, and cost of internet access could be reduced or eliminated. This idea is controversial because, as its inception, it grants those with disposable income internet access, while others would not be able to access the internet. The benefit to paying for internet at the inception would be that, the expensive task of creating and maintaining a network would not cause ticket fares or taxes to increase.

4. Put latenight subways on a schedule that is updated to an app

One of the more striking features of the New York subway system is that, absent any delays, its trains run 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. With an internet network underneath the subway system, it would be easier to track trains. As such, trains with one or two passengers would be a thing of the past. For some of the less frequented stops, have trains arrive twice an hour, but have the schedule posted on an app, allowing late nighters to plan when they would have to catch the train. This would save on energy and costs, as less trains would be needed to achieve more efficient results.

5. Use data and metrics to figure out where and when trains are needed

In fairness to the MTA, there is already a degree of this going on, but it could be done to a more extreme level. With a wifi network created, it would be easier to track trains and how they proceed. With more information, ways to improve when and where trains go. The MTA operators could respond in real time to a sudden uptick in traffic, speed ahead in response to an oncoming train, and other items designed to prevent delays. This would undoubtedly require linking train patterns with Metrocard swipes, and big data applications might be the best way to utilize this information.

6. Have more app contests

In recent years, the MTA has had app contests designed to spur creativity and new ways to approach subway travel. The result was a variety of new apps which helped passengers navigate the subway system. With the original prize being $15,000, last year’s contest was done for a prize total of $50,000. This was a success, as new mapping programs were available, but this concept should be expanded, particularly if wifi could be added to trains. Apps could be developed that provide security, in which healthcare or security professionals could be notified as part of NYC’s “See Something, Say Something” campaign. Also, navigation apps could be expanded upon, as points of interest could be integrated to the specific stop. Overall, wifi and creative teams could bring about a more interactive and immersive subway experience.

7. Integrate more subway times, especially at stations with multiple trains

The L-train, which runs along Brooklyn into Manhattan, was one of the first lines to have an expanded system which identified the arrival time of the next train and had screens by which riders could track where the trains were along the route. A limited version of this system has expanded to bus routes and, most notably, the 1,2,3 and 4,5,6 trains. This information should be expanded to all subway stops, while also improving the reliability of the information. Additionally, there should be an emphasis on stations where multiple trains (express and local) stop, in order to help passengers determine if they should wait for the express or take the local. This would help to curtail some of the platform traffic, with less passengers unnecessarily waiting for an express train when they would be better served taking a local train to their destination.

8. Explore alternative subway car designs

Subway cars, for the most part, have remained similar to the original designs that were created at the subway’s inception. As the population of the city has increased, the demands on the system have created the need for ways to transport more people at critical times (see: rush hour). The obvious solution would be to run more trains more often. Aside from the concerns over safety, there are track limitations as tracks need to have a certain amount of time in between one train leaving and the next train arriving. Furthermore, many trains (specifically the 4,5,6) arrive regularly, but the sheer volume of passengers creates delays caused by participants leaving and entering packed trains. More tracks could be installed, but this would be extremely costly and difficult to manage, as residents of the Upper East Side train can attest to. The best solution for this problem would be to explore alternative designs to train cars. Alternative car designs may be the best way to increase ridership, without having to overhaul the entire system. Possibilities could include staggering the floor, hoping to create new spaces in the train or even having tiers of seating. Also, there could be designated “rush hour” cars, where there was not seating, and it would be standing room only. Additionally, door openings could be staggered to have certain doors for exiting and other doors for entering, to help minimize delays when at busy stations.

Additionally, similar to the app design contests, the MTA should discuss interior design with ergonomics experts in order to explore different ways to place seats and space to open a dialogue on ways that a relatively stagnant design can be improved.