BDFML

Will New York transit ever improve?

Swipe. Swipe again. Card could not be read. Swipe again. Insufficient fare, refill your card. Now wait 10 minutes in a rat-and-sweat-filled sauna while an elderly Asian man plays an instrument that sounds like a waterfall. (It’s very relaxing. Give him a tip.)

This is our modern-day subway system. Its 5.7 million daily riders can affirm the laundry list of issues, such as long wait times, dirty stations, and outdated infrastructure.

The MTA even gave rise to gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, who just recently shook up New Yorkers’ involvement in local elections. While losing in the primaries to Cuomo, she made a lasting impact on everyday citizens. Suddenly we were confronted with a long-ignored list of mounting problems in New York City.

Nixon’s greatest supporters were not the 1 percent (or Sarah Jessica Parker) but middle- and working-class people looking for a change. These are the people who can’t depend on town cars or taxis. These are the people that make a city, well, a city. This is why fixing the transportation system is so important.

While the MTA rolls out a new plan to revamp the crumbling system—projected to finish in 2028—let’s take a look backwards. Because in order to address the troubles of transportation today, it takes more than a knowledge of mechanics; it takes knowledge of the city’s history and rich social background.

Taxis

The working class of the 19th century were the first to establish the taxi—in those days, it was a horse-drawn carriage. In the ’70s, cabs’ dirty yellow-and-black-checkered facades and worn leather-seated interiors exemplified the seediness and sketchiness that NYC was known for. Now, Uber, Lyft, and other apps cater to middle- and upper-class commuters who can afford to forgo the subway every morning, while tourists opt for the convenience of the classic taxi.

Buses

In 1905, around the same time the first subways opened in New York, the first buses in America began running along Fifth Avenue. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, they were used frequently by the middle-class workforce to commute. Since then, they have not improved much. Known for being unreliable, New York’s buses are actually the slowest buses in America. The delays are so great, ridership has dwindled, and the city called for a bus overhaul this past April.

Trains and subways

The New York subways are one of the symbols of the city and are a strong representative of its economy, city life, and culture. Starting in the early 1900s, New York installed some of the first underground tracks, establishing itself as a tech-savvy metropolis. However, by the ’80s, the trains were so poorly maintained that the number of riders per day had fallen to the ridership in 1910. Shockingly, the damage accumulated in this time is still being fixed today.

In a city where over half its residents do not own a car, New York faces immense challenges going forward trying to fix a system that has been broken for decades. Until then, we will swipe and swipe again.

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