The New York Subway.

Now, let me set this straight. I like the London Underground. I actually enjoy using it, and am not one of the many Londoners who slag it off every time something breaks. It’s old, things like that are going to happen, and I can accept that- there’s no point in getting stressed about it (unless I get stuck at that signal just outside Seven Sisters when it’s crowded and I’m stood up- for some reason, it just makes me uncomfortable).

I also have a minor obsession with it. Some of you will know about my pointless little trips around it, but don’t worry- I’m not sad enough to be classified as a trainspotter (yet).

One of the things I was looking forward to was getting to grips with a whole different beast- the New York Subway. It’s much bigger than London’s, and it runs 24 hours (something which is, sadly, impossible back home), and should (in theory) be utterly wonderful.

But it isn’t. It’s rubbish.

Granted, it lacks the weirdos that inhabit Paris’s Metro system, but the first hint that this isn’t going to be plain sailing is this free ‘pocket-size’ map, which is the size of a small country.

Not only is it massive, but it’s also ridiculously confusing. For example, let’s say you wanted to go to 23rd St. The logical thing would be to go to 23rd St station, right?

Five different stations, five different lines. Actually, no- make that seventeen lines, because some moron thought, ‘oooh- wouldn’t it be great if four lines shared the same color?’

Well, two things to him. Firstly, it’s ‘colour.’ Secondly, you, sir, are an idiot. It’s the most stupid possible way of mapping numerous different routes. I don’t care if they run on the same track for large portions of the line- some of them don’t actually stop at all the stations on that route! How the hell am I supposed to know that?!

It’s therefore safe to assume, then, that it’s also the same moron who decided not to bother putting up signs on the platforms telling you where you’re going- or even where you are, for that matter. There’s a sign that says ‘Uptown’ or ‘Downtown,’ complete with the terminus, but forgetting to mention where else the trains stop. There are hardly any maps on the platforms (or in the ticket offices either, for that matter), there are express and local trains that run side by side (meaning you need to switch platforms to go in the opposite direction), nobody seems to know which stations the express trains skip (unless you can find the one bit of A4 paper stuck to one of the hundreds of pillars on the seemingly endless and overcrowded platforms), and the whole thing is just disorganised chaos.

There’s no ‘escalator etiquette.’ If you’re in a hurry and want to walk up the escalator (or you just want to go slightly faster than the pathetically slow speed they run at), you can’t. You’ll find your path blocked on both sides by people who aren’t going to move for you. They’re generally the ones who shoved you out of the way to get on the thing in the first place.

Then, there’s the ‘regularity’ issue. Even on one of the four line platforms, it’s not uncommon to sit there for 15 minutes with NO trains whatsoever passing through (either express OR local). And there’s no indicator boards to say how long you’re going to be stuck there sulking, and only the occasional unintelligible tannoy message at certain station, telling you your train is miles away. It’s usually around this point that ‘the subway’ becomes ‘the bloody subway,’ before becoming something slightly less polite.

I’ve tried to get along with it- I really have. I’m generally quite good at getting to grips with things like this, but even after two whole weeks here, the whole thing STILL makes no sense. But the odd thing is that the only people I’ve heard complaining about it have all been British.

So, what does that suggest? Are Americans just more tolerant of things being rubbish, or are the British a nation of whingers? Either way, I’d be curious to see what some of these people are like next time there’s a delay on the Piccadilly.


~ by chrispresswell on January 10, 2008.

7 Responses to “The New York Subway.”

  1. Preparing for all of this y’know, Chris! So i take it you’re now off on your next port of call?

  2. Makes the tube look brilliant in comparison, doesn’t it? 🙂

  3. Think I’d just get a cab…

  4. Yes Americans are more tolerant of things being rubbish. We expect things to suck, and totally surprised in the event that they don’t, which is rare. Just try taking public transport in LA, and let me know what you think of it….. Oh and Yes you British complain more, you expect things to work, and are always dissapointed when they don’t. It’s all about lowering your expectations!

  5. […] The New York Subway. […]


  7. Yep, you’re right, the Subway is rubbish. BUT, you can travel anywhere you like for less than two dollars a day. That’s less than one British pound. Whereas the London Underground is fucking expensive. Me, I’d rather pay more and have a better Subway here in NYC, but not everyone has my middle-class bank salary and I think it’s kind of absurd how much Londoners, particularly those on the periphery – zones 5, 6 and beyond, have to pay to get to work.

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