That’s how the tabloids (and even NPR) are describing the chaos of commuting for anyone who travels on the subways or through Penn Station. With Amtrak closing Penn Station tracks for repairs and the subway’s declining on-time performance, 74% of commuters have been late to work and 65% of parents have been late to pick up their kids.
The response from new MTA chair Joe Lhota: just go to work earlier.
But the problems don’t require rocket science or a genius to solve. The MTA is notoriously mismanaged and the problems have been apparent for years (though they have gotten worse recently). What’s really needed, experts agree: leadership and money.
Things that won’t help? The federal Department of Transportation stepping away from the project to fix and rebuild the Hudson tunnels connecting New York and New Jersey. Also not helpful? The MTA sending millions to bail out ski resorts upstate.
So what should the MTA (and NJTransit and Amtrak) be doing instead?
From Wired, looking at other systems around the globe:
- Spend more money: Paris is investing $25 billion to build four new lines and 68 new stations over the next decade.
- Update the metrocard system to something like London’s Oystercard (commuters can also use a debit card or smartphone to pay) and have one agency overseeing everything to do with transportation, which Transport for London does.
- Like Hong Kong’s MTR, let the MTA buy and develop property so that rent goes towards better subway service.
- Copy Chicago’s smart planning to quickly make repairs by shutting down train lines and replacing them with buses. Unfortunately, the MTA and NYC Department of Transportation have so far not shown any sort of initiative to deal with the upcoming shutdown of the L Train for repairs.
- Improve the buses. Houston made this a priority, causing ridership to increase by 7% in a year. By contrast, New York’s buses are getting slower and less reliable and ridership has consequently dropped 16% over the last 15 years.
The important Hudson Gateway Project, which will repair the existing Amtrak and New Jersey tunnels beneath the river and build new ones is also crucial. Unfortunately, the cost is going up as plans become more refined. If the chaos around Penn Station now is bad, imagine how bad it’ll be if the existing tunnels need to be completely shut down for repairs.
The clear answer on all of this is that Governor Andrew Cuomo, President Donald Trump, and Chris Christie’s successor (he’s not going to do much in the final few months of his term) will all need to step up. It’ll take funding and more importantly leadership or this “summer of hell” will become a permanent condition.