New York City Diary

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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Old School Subway Rant

Man, the subways were so messed up this morning it really ticked me off. (Insert vulgarities where appropriate.) At first I was only going to be about ten minutes late for work (normal late) but I wound up about 50 minutes late.

The L train took forever, but my real problem was with the uptown N train. Apparently there were "signal problems." Signal problems are one of the five made-up reasons for subway delays that they cycle through. You'll also hear about the mysterious "sick passenger," "smoke condition," "police activity, and "scheduling adjustment."

For whatever the reason (ostensibly signal problems at Lexington Avenue) our train was hung up at Herald Square for several minutes. The conductor kept on telling us, over and over again "we hope to be moving shortly." Yeah, don't we all. But what she could have told us, but chose not to, was that if we were actually trying to, like, get to work, we could step off and grab a Q train.

Once our doors closed and the N started crawling up to Times Square, we had the joy of watching Q train after Q train breeze past us. Yeah, sadly, that information could have helped us. And don't act like you didn't know.

Back in "the day," (in my case, the mid-90's) they used to not tell you anything when the train was delayed. But some directive must have come from above that passengers are less likely to riot if you tell them something--anything--about the reason for the delay. So now they drone on and on with their meaningless apologies and we-will-be-moving-shortlys and thanks-for-your-patiences (when they really mean thanks for not killing each other) instead of telling us something useful, like "this train is going to sit here for twenty minutes, but the Q across the platform will proceed without delay."

Do the conductors just like having a full train? Do they not want to lose us as passengers to a faster train? Is it a pride thing?

Is it that hard to figure out that more than half the people on the train are just trying to get to work in midtown, and if you told them which train is going to get there first that might be considered useful information?

It must be a drag being a subway conductor, with people holding the doors and acting like fools. I know the collective intelligence of a subway mob. It's not high.

But the way they slam doors in people's faces at 1:00 a.m., crush baby strollers in the doors, start closing doors before people are even finished getting off the train, let alone on it, and, my favorite, hold an express train at a station just long enough for half the passengers on a local to rush toward it, only to get shut out at the last moment, makes me think they'd be happiest just driving the trains up and down the lines without picking up any passengers at all. Passengers are such a nuisance anyway.


Blogger Rob Horning said...

Amen. While I suspect some of the malice we read into subway-platform sleights is inadvertant, it's hard not to conclude that conductors resent passengers the way McDonald's clerks hate customers. It seems an inevitable aspect of massive service institutions which necessarily must treat people like things and inevitably encourage their employees in various indirect ways to do the same.

1:46 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Don't forget "track fire." I heard that one yesterday on my way back from a seminar, when the uptown local service on the 6 train was suspended altogether in midtown. Fortunately I was heading downtown at the time, but there were a lot of angry people inserting very appropriate vulgarities into their speech on the opposite platform. (There were no signs about the suspension of service, only intermittent, half-audible announcements). Tell me again how the MTA execs can justify spending millions to "upgrade" our L trains so they can run without conductors, when they can't even keep the system they've got running?

2:35 PM  
Anonymous Jon said...

I just happen to be a conductor, and is a rather stressful job. When a train pulls into a station, we have a time schedule to keep, and the doors are only required to stay open for 10 seconds. What gets to me is when I announce that the doors are closing, and they jump in while they are in the middle of closing. Don't these customers understand that draggings can occur?! Anyways, during rush hour, trains are not supposed to wait for connections unless otherwise directed by the dispather, so this may be why people from the express are getting shut out when rushing to the local. As for "slamming" the doors on strollers and people, we have no control over how hard the doors close. When we look down the train and see that there is a gap between the train and the customers, we are instructed to close down so that the train may leave the station. Customers just happen to stick their hands in the doorway while the doors are closing, and thus get struck before we are able to re-open. On the R-142, the door automatically recycles (strikes the customer 3 times), and so we don't really have control over that either.

As for the delays, these problems really do happen. They aren't made up. Keep in mind that the NYCT system is over a 100 years old. There are bound to be some problems after all those years.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Victor Ozols said...

Okay Jon, I appreciate the comments and do have sympathy for the conductors who have to deal with these babies (passengers) all day long. But the core of my complaint remains the same. There's a lack of *useful* information from the MTA. Here's a perfect example, and one I confront all the time. Let's say we're at 34th Street/Herald Square. There's an N train on the uptown express track and an R or W on the uptown local. I've got to get uptown to 57th Street and fast, because I'm running late for work, as usual. (Yes, that's on me.) One of these trains *has* to go before the other, because the N has to cross over to the local track. Therefore, the drivers of *both* trains have to be aware of which train is leaving first. Why not tell the passengers which train is leaving first? Has history shown that people just take too damn long to cross the platform? Only one time in 50 do the conductors inform the passengers which train will be leaving first. That would be really useful information, unlike the typical "please be patient" variety. I have had to learn through experience that the N usually has priority. Similar situations occur when one line is running smoothly (let's say the local) and the other is being delayed (such as the express). It would be really helpful to tell passengers which train will be leaving the station first, but I rarely hear announcements of that kind, and I've ridden the subway every day for a dozen years now. Things are tough all over, and people who hold the doors should be beaten with a sack of oranges (except in certain, rare instances, which are too complicated to explain here). But for the love of all that is holy, why not give passengers news we can actually use? This is New York, and we've got places to go. We've got to MOVE. Any help would be appreciated.

2:05 PM  

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