Tuesday, May 6, 2014

REPORT: NYC Subway Service is Deteriorating

Capital New York reports:
The New York City subway system is becoming more delay-prone, according to a new analysis released this morning.

Every year starting in 2011, a riders advocacy group called the Straphangers Campaign analyzes the electronic alerts sent by the M.T.A. to subway riders who subscribe to the service.

The M.T.A. sends out alerts warning straphangers of "significant" delays when an incident occurs that the agency believes will hold up a train for more than 8 or 10 minutes.

In 2011, the agency sent out those sorts of alerts for "controllable" incidents (those not involving circumstances like sick passengers and police investigations) 2,967 times. In 2013, the agency sent out such alerts 3,998 times. That's a 35 percent jump. (2012 was excluded from the analysis because of Hurricane Sandy.)

“The increase in alerts is a troubling sign that subway service is deteriorating,” said Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, in a statement.
It's time to return the NYC subway system to the private sector.

Gregory Bresiger wrote in 1998:
 No New York City public institution better illustrates the rise and decline of the city than the subways. The subways were primarily built by private-sector entrepreneurs at the turn of the century.

On Oct. 27, 1904, the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT), the first subway line in the city, began operating from lower Manhattan. It was an immediate success. A journalist wrote the new lines were "architecturally superlative executions." A transit trade journal called the subway stations "dignified and artistic efforts of the highest order." One historian called these private lines "a great public work."

Today, with more than a half century of public ownership and operation of the subways, imagine anyone making those kind of comments about the New York subways!

Private subways-even though highly regulated, even though the fare was held to a nickel by government decree--fueled the expansion of the city. As lines were extended, neighborhoods and shopping centers grew around the stations. But by 1940, through rigorous regulation and through Communist labor unions that sabotaged private ownership, the subways were taken over by the city.

The supporters of city-owned subways promised that new lines would be built. The system, which by 1940 was a mix of private and public lines, would be unified under public control, which would mean economies of scale. The fare would never rise. The system would be run on "a self-sustaining basis," which would mean no tax dollars would have to be poured into it. The riders would no longer be "exploited" by entrepreneurs in search of profits. Unions would be controlled because their members would be governed by civil service regulations. There would be no closed shop. Every one of those promises has been broken.


  1. There's no evidence that privatisation works, but it marches on From the Land Registry to East Coast rail, valuable public assets are being frittered away despite the many cautionary tales

    In the Royal Mail debacle, shares sold at £1.7bn rose to £2.7bn. The 16 investors chosen as "long-term" custodians included the most wolfish hedge funds, who sold the shares at once. Let's hope that ends any pretence that shareholders look after companies. What's more, the investment arm of Lazards, key adviser to Vince Cable, was also given "priority" status. But Lazard Asset Management sold its entire stake within a week at a profit of £8m. Likewise Goldman Sachs, employed to facilitate the sale, told its investors share prices would hit 610p a month after advising the government to float at 330p. How well these companies deserved their tongue-lashing from Margaret Hodge: "You all know each other. You work together. You trade with each other. You are part of this little clique and we the ordinary taxpayer lose out on it." This is a case of caveat vendor.

    We should beware the inherent asymmetry when the state sells contracts and assets. On the government side, this is negotiating with a political gun at the head, conducted by inexperienced civil servants told to secure complex objectives, unable to walk away from already announced sell-offs. On the market side is rat-like native cunning impelled by profit, willingness to give mendacious assurances with one easy objective – to make money. Governments will always need to deal with markets for procurement and regulation – but that needs a strong, experienced civil service with equal cunning, not one cut by 30%, losing memory of past errors.


  2. It's good to remember that, beginning at the height of the Great Depression, the private IRT and BMT lines were forced to compete with the publicly owned IND, brainchild of the wretched John Hylan and his anti-Rockefeller Hearst-backed cronies (although Hylan was an early Fed opponent, so at least he got something right).

    Interestingly, the 8th Avenue line's opening was accompanied by acts of vandalism, setting the standard for the future of NYC's subway system. Within 8 years of the IND's opening, the private lines were subsumed into public ownership.

    But at least Duke Ellington got a theme song out of the debacle. And someday soon we'll be taking the Second Avenue line, which once it opens will have only taken 87 years of planning, 9 years of construction, and billions of dollars to go 33 blocks.