New York City Subway

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New York City Subway
MTA New York City Subway logo.svg
NYCT R142A.jpg
NYC Subway R160A 9237 on the E.jpg
Top: A 6 train made up of R142A cars enters the Parkchester station.
Bottom: An E train made up of R160A cars waits for passengers at the 42nd Street – Port Authority Bus Terminal station.
Owner City of New York
Locale New York City
Transit type Rapid transit
Number of lines 34 lines[note 1]
(1 under construction)
24 services
(1 planned)[note 2]
Number of stations 469[1] (MTA total count)[note 3][note 4]
422[note 4][1] (when compared to international standards)
5 under construction[note 5]
14 planned[note 3]
Daily ridership 5,597,551 (weekdays, 2014)
3,233,114 (Saturdays, 2014)
2,662,791 (Sundays, 2014)[1]
Annual ridership 1,751,287,621 (2014)[1]
Began operation October 27, 1904
(first underground section)
July 3, 1868
(first elevated, rapid transit operation)
October 9, 1863
(first railroad operation)[note 6]
Operator(s) New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA)
Number of vehicles 6,384[4]
Headway Peak hours: 2–5 minutes
Off-peak: 10–20 minutes
System length 233.5 mi (375.8 km)[5][6]
     (route length)
660 mi (1,060 km)[7][8]
     (track length, revenue)
846 mi (1,362 km)[7]
     (track length, total)
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Electrification 625V (DC) third rail[7] (600V third rail for some lines)
Average speed 17 mph (27 km/h)[9]
Top speed 55 mph (89 km/h)[9]
System map

NYC subway-4D.svg

The New York City Subway is a rapid transit system owned by the City of New York and leased to the New York City Transit Authority,[10] a subsidiary agency of the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The New York City Subway is one of the world's oldest public transit systems, one of the world's most used metro systems, and the metro system with the most stations and the most trackage. It offers rail service 24 hours per day and every day of the year.[11]

The New York City Subway is the largest rapid transit system in the world by number of stations, with 469 stations in operation (422, if stations connected by transfers are counted as single stations).[1] Stations are located throughout the boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. While Staten Island does have a rail line, the Staten Island Railway, it is not officially considered part of the subway, due to its lack of any direct rail link with the subway system, so any passengers wishing to reach another borough must take a ferry or bus. The Port Authority Trans-Hudson and the AirTrain JFK, in Manhattan and Queens respectively, accept the subway's MetroCard but are not part of the subway; thus, free transfers are not allowed.

The system is also one of the world's longest. Overall, the system contains 233 miles (375 km) of routes,[5][7] translating into 660 miles (1,060 km) of revenue track;[7][8] and a total of 846 miles (1,362 km) including non-revenue trackage.[7]

By annual ridership, the New York City Subway is the busiest rapid transit rail system in the United States and in the Western world, as well as the seventh busiest rapid transit rail system in the world; the metro (subway) systems in Beijing, Seoul, Shanghai, Moscow, Tokyo, and Guangzhou record a higher annual ridership.[12] In 2014, the subway delivered over 1.75 billion rides, averaging approximately 5.6 million daily rides on weekdays and a combined 5.9 million rides each weekend (3.2 million on Saturdays; 2.7 million on Sundays).[1] Ridership continues to increase, and on September 23, 2014, more than 6.1 million people rode the subway system, establishing the highest single-day ridership since ridership was regularly monitored in 1985.[13][note 7]

All services pass through Manhattan except for the G train, the Franklin Avenue Shuttle, and the Rockaway Park Shuttle. Large portions of the subway outside Manhattan are elevated, on embankments, or in open cuts, and a few stretches of track run at ground level. In total, 40% of track is not underground despite the "subway" moniker. Many lines and stations have both express and local services. These lines have three or four tracks. Normally, the outer two are used for local trains, while the inner one or two are used for express trains. Stations served by express trains are typically major transfer points or destinations.


The City Hall station of the IRT Lexington Avenue Line opened on October 27, 1904.

A demonstration for an underground transit system in New York City was first built by Alfred Ely Beach in 1869. His Beach Pneumatic Transit only extended 312 feet (95 m) under Broadway in Lower Manhattan and exhibited his idea for a subway propelled by pneumatic tube technology. The tunnel was never extended for political and financial reasons, although extensions had been planned to take the tunnel southward to The Battery and northwards towards the Harlem River.[14] The Beach subway was demolished when the BMT Broadway Line was built in the 1910s; thus, it was not integrated into the New York City Subway system.

The Great Blizzard of 1888 helped demonstrate the benefits of an underground transportation system. The first underground line of the subway opened on October 27, 1904, almost 35 years after the opening of the first elevated line in New York City, which became the IRT Ninth Avenue Line. Opening prices for a ride cost riders $0.05 and in the first day alone carried over 150,000 passengers. The oldest structure still in use opened in 1885 as part of the BMT Lexington Avenue Line in Brooklyn and is now part of the BMT Jamaica Line. The oldest right-of-way, that of the BMT West End Line, was in use in 1863 as a steam railroad called the Brooklyn, Bath and Coney Island Rail Road.

By the time the first subway opened, the lines had been consolidated into two privately owned systems, the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT, later Brooklyn–Manhattan Transit Corporation (BMT)) and the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT). The city was closely involved: all lines built for the IRT and most other lines built or improved for the BRT after 1913 were built by the city and leased to the companies. The first line of the city-owned and operated Independent Subway System (IND) opened in 1932; this system was intended to compete with the private systems and allow some of the elevated railways to be torn down, but stayed within the core of the City due to the low amount of startup capital provided to the municipal Board of Transportation (the later MTA) by the state.[10] This required it to be run 'at cost', necessitating fares up to double the five-cent fare popular at the time.[15]

In 1940, the two private systems were bought by the city and some elevated lines ceased service immediately while others closed soon after. Integration was slow, but several connections were built between the IND and BMT; these now operate as one division called the B Division. Since the IRT tunnels, sharper curves, and stations are too small and therefore can not accommodate B Division cars, the IRT remains its own division, the A Division. However, many passenger transfers between stations of all three former companies have been created, allowing the entire network to be treated as a single unit.

The New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA), a public authority presided by New York City, was created in 1953 to take over subway, bus, and streetcar operations from the city, and placed under control of the state-level Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1968.

Graffiti became a notable symbol of declining service during the 1970s.

Organized in 1934 by transit workers of the BRT, IRT, and IND, the Transport Workers Union of America Local 100 remains the largest and most influential local of the labor union. Since the union's founding, there have been three union strikes over contract disputes with the MTA, 12 days in 1966, 11 days in 1980, and three days in 2005.

By the 1970s and 1980s, the New York City Subway was at an all-time low.[16][17] Ridership had dropped to 1910s levels, and graffiti and crime was rampant on the subway; in general, the subway was very poorly maintained during that time, and delays and track problems were common. Still, the NYCTA managed to open six new subway stations in the 1980s, as well as order 1,775 new, graffiti-free subway cars. By the early 1990s, conditions had improved significantly, although maintenance backlogs accumulated during those 20 years are still being fixed today.[17]

As the system entered the 21st century, it continued to progress despite weathering several disasters. The September 11 attacks resulted in service disruptions on lines running through Lower Manhattan, particularly the IRT Broadway – Seventh Avenue Line, which ran directly underneath the World Trade Center between the Chambers Street and Rector Street stations. Sections of the tunnel, as well as the Cortlandt Street station, which was directly underneath the Twin Towers, were severely damaged by the collapse and had to be rebuilt, requiring suspension of service on that line south of Chambers Street. Ten other nearby stations were closed while dust and debris were cleaned up. By March 2002, seven of those stations had reopened. The rest (except for Cortlandt Street on the IRT Broadway – Seventh Avenue Line) reopened on September 15, 2002, along with service south of Chambers Street.[18][19] In 2012, Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the subway system, flooding several underwater tunnels and other vulnerable locations near New York Harbor. Although the immediate damage was fixed within six months, long-term resiliency and rehabilitation projects continue to this day.[20]

Construction methods

A stretch of subway track on the 7 Subway Extension under construction

When the IRT subway debuted in 1904, the typical tunnel construction method was cut-and-cover.[21] The street was torn up to dig the tunnel below before being rebuilt from above.[21] This method worked well for digging soft dirt and gravel near the street surface.[21] However, mining shields were required for deeper sections, such as the Harlem and East River tunnels, which used cast-iron tubes, segments between 33rd and 42nd streets under Park Avenue, 116th Street and 120th Street under Broadway, and 145th Street and Dyckman Street (Fort George) under Broadway and Saint Nicholas Avenue as well as the tunnel from 96th Street to Central Park North – 110th Street & Lenox Avenue, all of which used either rock or concrete-lined tunnels.[21]

About 40% of the subway system runs on surface or elevated tracks, including steel or cast iron elevated structures, concrete viaducts, embankments, open cuts and surface routes. All of these construction methods are completely grade-separated from road and pedestrian crossings, and most crossings of two subway tracks are grade-separated with flying junctions. The sole exceptions of at-grade junctions of two lines in regular service are the 142nd Street junction and the Myrtle Avenue junction, whose tracks both intersect at the same level.

The 7,700 workers who built the original subway lines consisted mostly of immigrants living in Manhattan. These workers fueled the expansion that the subway needed.

More recent projects use tunnel boring machines (construction with which comes at a higher cost than construction with cut-and-cover does) to build the subway tunnels to minimize disruption at street level, but also to avoid already existing utilities.[22] Examples of such projects include the extension of the IRT Flushing Line[23][24][25][26] and the IND Second Avenue Line.[27][28][29][30]


Second Avenue Subway Community Information Center

Since the opening of the original New York City Subway line in 1904, various official and planning agencies have proposed numerous extensions to the subway system. One of the more expansive proposals was the "IND Second System", part of a plan to construct new subway lines in addition to taking over existing subway lines and railroad rights-of-way. The most grandiose IND Second Subway plan, conceived in 1929, was to be part of the city-operated IND, and was to comprise almost ​13 of the current subway system. By 1939, with unification planned, all three systems were included within the plan, which was ultimately never carried out. Many different plans were proposed over the years of the subway's existence, but expansion of the subway system mostly stopped during World War II.[31]

Though most of the routes proposed over the decades have never seen construction, discussion remains strong to develop some of these lines, to alleviate existing subway capacity constraints and overcrowding, the most notable being the Second Avenue Subway. Plans for new lines date back to the early 1910s, and expansion plans have been proposed during many years of the system's existence.

After the IND Sixth Avenue Line was completed in 1940, the city went into great debt, only 28 new stations were added to the system. Five stations were on the abandoned NYW&B-operated IRT Dyre Avenue Line, fourteen stations were on the abandoned LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch (now the IND Rockaway Line), six were on the Archer Avenue Lines and 63rd Street Lines (built as part of a 1968 plan), two stations (57th Street and Grand Street) were part of the Chrystie Street Connection, and the Harlem – 148th Street terminal.

Current expansion projects include the:

  • Second Avenue Subway on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. In the early 21st century, plans for this line resurfaced; it had been planned in the 1920s, but was delayed several times. Construction was started in the 1970s, but discontinued due to the city's fiscal crisis. Some small portions remain intact in Chinatown, the East Village, and the Upper East Side, but they are each quite short and thus remain unused. Phase one of the project is currently under construction and is set to open December 30, 2016, while phase two is currently in the planning stages.[32][note 8]
  • 7 Subway Extension to the west side of Manhattan. Although this extension was originally planned as part of the city's bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics, the bid failed. However, the extension received approval, and after eight years of construction, opened on September 13, 2015.[33][note 9]
  • The large Fulton Center in Lower Manhattan opened in November 2014 after a $1.4 billion reconstruction project of the Fulton Street station. The project was necessitated by the September 11, 2001 attacks and complicated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The hub is expected to serve 300,000 daily riders.[34]

Lines and routes

A digital sign on the side of an R142 train on the 4

Many rapid transit systems run relatively static routings, so that a train "line" is more or less synonymous with a train "route". In New York City, however, routings change often because of changes in the availability of connections or the setup of service patterns. Within the nomenclature of the subway, the "line" describes the physical railroad track or series of tracks that a train "route" uses on its way from one terminal to another. "Routes" (also called "services") are distinguished by a letter or a number and "Lines" have names. They are also designations for trains, as exemplified in the Billy Strayhorn song "Take the "A" Train".

There are 24 train services in the subway system, including three short shuttles. Each route has a color and a local or express designation representing the Manhattan trunk line of the particular service. The color lime green is exclusively assigned to the Crosstown Line route, which operates entirely outside Manhattan, while the shuttles are all assigned dark slate gray.[39] The lines and services are not referred to by color (e.g., Blue Line or Green Line) by native New Yorkers or by most New York City residents, but out-of-towners and tourists often refer to the subway lines by color.[40][41]

The 1, 6, 7, C, G, L, M and R trains are fully local and make all stops. The 2, 3, 4, 5, <6>, <7>, A, B, D, E, F, N and Q trains have portions of express and local service. The J train normally operates local, but during rush hours it is joined by the Z train in the peak direction; both the J and Z run local, express or skip-stop on different parts of their shared route. The letter S is used for three shuttle services: Franklin Avenue Shuttle, Rockaway Park Shuttle, and 42nd Street Shuttle.[42]

Though the subway system operates on a 24-hour basis, some of the designated routes do not run, run as a shorter route (often referred to as the 'shuttle train' version of its full-length counterpart) or run with a different stopping pattern during late night hours (usually indicated by smaller, secondary route signage on station platforms). In addition to these regularly scheduled changes, because there is no nightly system shutdown for maintenance, tracks and stations must be maintained while the system is operating. To accommodate such work, services are usually changed during midday, overnight hours, and weekends.[43]

When parts of lines are temporarily shut down for construction purposes, the transit authority substitutes free shuttle buses (using MTA Regional Bus Operations bus fleet) to replace the routes that would normally run on these lines.[44] The transit authority announces planned service changes through its website,[45] via placards that are posted on station and interior subway-car walls,[46] and through its Twitter page.[47]

Trunk lines

Map of line elevation in relation to the ground. Underground is the segments in red, and aboveground, at grade, embankment, or open cut is the segments in green.
Map of the number of tracks on lines.
Primary Trunk line Color[48][49] Pantone [50] Service bullets
IND Eighth Avenue Line Vivid blue PMS 286 NYCS-bull-trans-A.svg NYCS-bull-trans-C.svg NYCS-bull-trans-E.svg
IND Sixth Avenue Line Bright orange PMS 165 NYCS-bull-trans-B.svg NYCS-bull-trans-D.svg NYCS-bull-trans-F.svg NYCS-bull-trans-M.svg
IND Crosstown Line Lime green PMS 376 NYCS-bull-trans-G.svg
BMT Canarsie Line Light slate gray 50% black NYCS-bull-trans-L.svg
BMT Nassau Street Line Terra cotta brown PMS 154 NYCS-bull-trans-J.svg NYCS-bull-trans-Z.svg
BMT Broadway Line Sunflower yellow PMS 116 NYCS-bull-trans-N.svg NYCS-bull-trans-Q.svg NYCS-bull-trans-R.svg
IRT Broadway – Seventh Avenue Line Tomato red PMS 185 NYCS-bull-trans-1.svg NYCS-bull-trans-2.svg NYCS-bull-trans-3.svg
IRT Lexington Avenue Line Apple green PMS 355 NYCS-bull-trans-4.svg NYCS-bull-trans-5.svg NYCS-bull-trans-6.svg NYCS-bull-trans-6d.svg
IRT Flushing Line Raspberry PMS Purple NYCS-bull-trans-7.svg NYCS-bull-trans-7d.svg
Shuttles Dark slate gray 70% black NYCS-bull-trans-S.svg


Subway map


7 train arriving at Vernon Boulevard – Jackson Avenue station (43s)

Most of the 469 stations are served 24 hours a day.[note 10] Underground stations in the New York City Subway are typically accessed by staircases going down from street level. Many of these staircases are painted in a common shade of green, with slight or significant variations in design.[51] Other stations have unique entrances reflective of their location or date of construction. Several station entrance stairs, for example, are built into adjacent buildings.[51] Nearly all station entrances feature color-coded globe or square lamps signifying their status as an entrance (see below).[52]


Turnstiles and entrance gates

The New York City Subway primarily employs two types of turnstiles: a waist-high turnstile, and a full-length turnstile known as a High Entry-Exit Turnstile (HEET). The waist-high turnstiles, the most prominent in the system, were installed beginning in 1993 along with the implementation of MetroCard, though they originally accepted tokens.[53] The newer HEETs resemble several older turnstiles of that design informally called "iron maidens", and are prevalent at subway entrances without token booths to discourage fare evasion.[54] Both turnstiles are stainless steel and are bidirectional, allowing passengers to enter with fare payment and to exit. A third older type of turnstile, the High Exit Turnstile (HET), is a black-painted unidirectional iron maiden and only turns in the exiting direction.[54] Entrance is also available via Service Entry gates or AutoGates, which cater primarily to handicapped passengers[11][55][56] or passengers with large items such as strollers and luggage. These gates double as pushbar Emergency Exits, though they are often used for regular exiting in crowded stations.[57]


A 1980s-era square lamp at the 181st Street station. The green lamp is seen at right
Entrance to the Broad Street station.

At most of the system's entrances and exits, there is a lamp post or two bearing a colored spherical lamp. These lights roughly indicate the station's availability (i.e. how often it is accessible): green means a full-time entrance and booth, red means either a part-time booth or no booth, hence either exit-only or entrance with MetroCard. Older lamps are completely colored green or red, while newer ones, called "half-moons", have only the top half colored, while the bottom half is milky white; this is to provide more light, and the half-colored globes have the same meanings as the globes with full colors.[52] There are also some square lamps.

The meaning of the lights is poorly understood by passengers, and was originally more complicated. Green, yellow, and red lights were introduced in the early 1980s to indicate the entrance's availability, mostly to prevent muggings by warning riders away from entrances that were closed at night. Originally, green signified an entrance located at a full-time station booth, which was open 24/7 and had regular waist-high turnstiles; yellow signified a part-time booth, to which access to the platforms could be gained using High Entry-Exit Turnstiles (HEETs); and red signified an exit-only.[52] This proved too complicated and yellow was dropped in the early 1990s. Red globes now indicate both part-time entrance or exit-only; indeed, a joke when the system was introduced was that "green meant go in, red meant don't. And yellow meant take a [yellow New York City taxi] cab."[52]

Further, with the introduction of the MetroCard in 1994, the MTA converted many previous exit-only entrances to full-time entrances via HEETs.[54] The introduction of half-colored globes further confused riders of the subway system, and as of a 2002 survey, the globe lamps are poorly understood.[note 11]


The long and wide mezzanine in the West Fourth Street station in Greenwich Village.

Many stations in the subway system have mezzanines.[54] In underground stations, this typically consists of the first level below the street or the areas between the street and platform level. For open-cut, grade-level and elevated stations, prevalent in uptown Manhattan and the outer boroughs, the mezzanine area often consists of a station house at street level or above the street. Mezzanines allow for passengers to enter from multiple locations at an intersection and proceed to the correct platform without having to cross the street before entering. At busy intersections, they also act as a pedestrian underpass or overpass. They also allow for crossover between directions of service, or for transfers between different stations of a complex. Inside mezzanine's are fare control areas, where passengers physically pay their fare to enter the subway system.[54][58] In underground subway stations built close to ground level or under narrow streets, a characteristic of early IRT and BMT construction, the fare control area is at platform level with no mezzanine crossovers. Many elevated stations also have platform-level fare control with no common station house between directions of service.

Upon enter a station, passengers may use station booths (formerly known as token booths) or vending machines to buy their fare, which is currently stored in a MetroCard. Each station has at least one booth, typically located at the busiest entrance. After swiping the card at a turnstile, customers enter the fare-controlled area of the station and continue to the platforms.[11] Inside fare control are "Off-Hours Waiting Areas", which consist of benches and are identified by a yellow sign.[11][59]

For various reasons, including maintenance costs, decreases in ridership, along with crime and safety issues, many stations have fare control areas, mezzanine areas and entrances that have been closed. Many mezzanines that previously stretched the entire length of a station have been split or partitioned by fencing or permanent walls. These closed areas have been abandoned or converted into space for Transit Operations or the New York City Police Department.[54][58]


A typical subway station has waiting platforms ranging from 480 to 600 feet (150 to 180 m) long, though some IND platforms may be as long as 660 to 745 feet (201 to 227 m) long.[60] Due to the large number of transit lines, one platform or set of platforms often serve more than one service. Passengers need to look at the overhead signs at the platform entrance steps and over each track to see which trains stop there and when, and at the arriving train to see which one it is.

There are a number of common platform configurations:

  • On a double track line, a station may have one center island platform used for trains in both directions, or 2 side platforms, one for a train in each direction.
  • For lines with three or four tracks with express service, local stops will have side platforms and the middle one or two tracks will not stop at the station. On these lines, express stations typically have two island platforms, one for the local and express in one direction, and another for the local and express in the other direction. Each island platform provides a cross-platform interchange between local and express services. Some lines with four-track express service have two tracks each on two levels and use both island and side platforms.
    Almost everywhere expresses run, they run on the inner one (of 3) or two (of 4) tracks and locals run on the outer two tracks. In a 3-track configuration, the center express track can be used toward the center of the city in the morning and away from the center in the afternoon and evening, though not every 3-track line has that express service.
    Three four-track express stations have an island platform for the center express tracks and two side platforms for the outside local tracks. These three stations are connected to major railroad stations and the next station along the line is also an express station with the more common platform configuration. The purpose of splitting the platforms is to limit overcrowding by preventing cross-platform interchanges between local and express services. This occurs at Atlantic Avenue – Barclays Center on the IRT Eastern Parkway Line (2 3 4 5 trains) with the adjacent express station Nevins Street, where the connection is to the Atlantic Terminal of the Long Island Rail Road; and 34th Street – Penn Station on both the IRT Broadway – Seventh Avenue Line (1 2 3 trains) and IND Eighth Avenue Line (A C E trains), with adjacent express stations at Times Square – 42nd Street and 42nd Street – Port Authority Bus Terminal, where a connection is available to Pennsylvania Station, one of the two major Manhattan train stations. This does not occur with the connection to New York's other major station, Grand Central Terminal, at Grand Central - 42nd Street on the IRT Lexington Avenue Line (4 5 6 <6> trains), which has no adjacent express station.
    There is one notable six-track local station, DeKalb Avenue, where trains to or from the Manhattan Bridge (B D N Q) either stop at the outer tracks of one of the island platforms, or pass through and bypass the station on the middle tracks ("express tracks") (D N). Trains to or from the Montague Street Tunnel (N R) stop across the platform from the respective outer track, between the outer and bypass tracks.
    There are four stub-end terminal stations (all elevated two-track stations in the Bronx) and two four-track through stations (Chambers Street on the BMT Nassau Street Line and 59th Street – Columbus Circle on the IND Eighth Avenue Line) which were designed to employ the Spanish solution, in which additional platforms were constructed to ease alighting and boarding. The terminal stations were all designed with side platforms connected to the primary center platform. 59th Street has an additional center platform between its two inner express tracks. Chambers Street originally had five total platforms, including an additional center platform for its two inner tracks (for terminating trains), and two additional side platforms for its outer through tracks. None of these stations currently employ the practice; only 59th Street's center platform is still open to the public, used as a transfer passage.

Facilities and amenities

Air conditioning

In August 2006, the MTA revealed that all future subway stations, which include 34th Street – Hudson Yards, South Ferry, and all Second Avenue Subway stations, will have platforms outfitted with air-cooling systems.[61] [62] The existing Grand Central – 42nd Street station also has these cooling systems; however, for the most part, subway stations lack air-cooling systems due to their expense, and only a few stations have ceiling fans.[63]


Many stations are decorated with intricate ceramic tile work, some of it dating back to 1904 when the subway first opened. The subway tile artwork tradition continues in a Percent for Art program.

The MTA Arts & Design program oversees art in the subway system.[64] Permanent installations, such as sculpture, mosaics, and murals; photographs displayed in lightboxes encourage people to use mass transit.[65][66] In addition, commissioned art displayed in stations and "art cards", some displaying poetry, are in many of the trains themselves in unused advertisement fixture slots. Some of the art is by internationally known artists such as Elizabeth Murray's Blooming, displayed at Lexington Avenue / 59th Street station.[67]


Street elevator serving as an entrance to the 66th Street – Lincoln Center station

Since the majority of the system was built before 1990, the year the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) went into effect, many New York City Subway stations were not designed to be handicapped-accessible. Since then, elevators have been built in newly constructed stations to comply with the ADA. (Most grade-level stations required little modification to meet ADA standards.) In addition, the MTA identified "key stations", high-traffic and/or geographically important stations, which must conform to the ADA when they are extensively renovated.[68] As of June 2011, there are 89 currently accessible stations; many of them have AutoGate access.[69][70][71]


A typical scene of musicians performing on the platform of the Broadway – Lafayette Street station.

Since 1987, MTA has sponsored the "Music Under New York" (MUNY) program[72] in which street musicians enter a competitive contest to be assigned to the preferred high traffic locations. Each year, applications are reviewed and approximately 70 eligible performers are selected and contacted to participate in live auditions held for one day.[73][74][75][76][77]

At present, more than 100 soloists and groups participate in MUNY providing over 150 weekly performances at 25 locations throughout the transit system, for example Natalia Paruz, a musical saw player, plays at Union Square. In addition, any musician/entertainer may perform in subway mezzanines and platforms. On platforms, there may be no amplifications as this is part of MTA policies:[78]

Performers must not be within 25 feet (7.6 m) of a token booth or 50 feet (15 m) from an MTA office/tower, blocking access to an escalator, stairwell, or elevator, interfering with transit services or passenger movement; or in an area where construction is occurring. In addition, performance is prohibited during public service announcements and may be no louder than 85 dBA at 5 feet (1.5 m) away or 70 dBa at 2 feet (0.61 m) from a token booth. Performances are prohibited in subway cars.


Restrooms at Church Avenue

Restrooms are rare in the subway system as only 129 open restrooms are in 77 of the system's 469 stations.[79] Most station restrooms previously open to the public have been closed to the public and converted to storage spaces or for employee use only.[80] However, there are a few major stations that have operating restrooms, including on the concourses of 42nd Street – Port Authority Bus Terminal; Chambers Street; 57th Street – Seventh Avenue; Coney Island – Stillwell Avenue; and Lexington Avenue/59th Street.[81] The majority of restrooms in the New York City Subway are found in express and transfer stations, at ADA-accessible stations, and at terminals, though not all of the aforementioned types of stations have restrooms.[82]

Newer subway stations have restrooms, including 34th Street – Hudson Yards on the IRT Flushing Line[83] and three future Second Avenue Subway stations.[84]


Former women's restroom converted into newsstand at Astor Place

Some platforms have newspaper stands that sell various items including newspapers and food. The MTA also installed retail spaces within paid areas in selected stations, including the station concourses of the Times Square complex and the Sixth Avenue concourse at 42nd Street – Bryant Park.

According to the MTA, the New York City Subway is home to 345 retail spaces, making over US$70 million in rent and licensing fees in 2009 for the authority. It is continuing to make efforts in attracting more diverse retailers and vendors to set up shop in the subway system.[85][86]


Rapid transit and rail connections are available at designated stations to Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, AirTrain JFK, Metro-North Railroad, New Jersey Transit and PATH. Connections to the Staten Island Ferry and privately operated ferries such as NY Waterway and New York Water Taxi, as well as intercity and commuter bus lines at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal, are also available. Free MetroCard-only transfers to buses are available to MTA New York City Transit buses (including the bus rapid transit Select Bus Service), MTA Bus Company, NICE buses (Nassau County) and Bee-Line buses (Westchester County).[87]

Rolling stock

An A train made of R32 cars in Downtown Brooklyn
Interior of an R142A train car
Interior of an R62 subway car.

As of July 2014, the New York City Subway has 6,384 cars on the roster.[4][88] A typical New York City Subway train consists of 8 to 11 cars, although shuttles can have as few as two, and the train can range from 150 to 600 feet (46 to 183 m) in length.

Driver's cab of an R160B subway car on the N train

The system maintains two separate fleets of cars, one for the A Division routes and another for the B Division routes. All B Division equipment is about 10 feet (3.05 m) wide and either 60 feet 6 inches (18.44 m) or 75 feet (22.86 m) long whereas A Division equipment is approximately 8 feet 9 inches (2.67 m) wide and 51 feet 4 inches (15.65 m) long. There is also a special fleet of B Division cars that is used for operation in the BMT Eastern Division, consisting of R32 and R42 cars in married pairs, and R143 and R160A cars in four-car sets. Due to clearance issues on various sharp curves, 75-foot (22.86 m) long cars are not permitted on BMT Eastern Division trackage.

Cars purchased by the City of New York since the inception of the IND and the other divisions beginning in 1948 are identified by the letter "R" followed by a number; e.g.: R32. This number is the contract number under which the cars were purchased. Cars with nearby contract numbers (e.g.: R1 through R9, or R26 through R29, or R143 through R160B) may be relatively identical, despite being purchased under different contracts and possibly built by different manufacturers.

The MTA has been incorporating newer subway cars into its stock since the late 1990s. Since 1999, the R142, R142A, R143, R160, and R188 cars have been placed into service.[89][90] These cars are collectively known as New Technology Trains (NTTs) due to modern innovations such as LED and LCD route signs and information screens, as well as recorded train announcements and the ability to facilitate Communication-Based Train Control (CBTC).[91][92] The recorded announcements are used for station information, closing doors, and other general messages in lieu of conductor announcements, although live conductor announcements can still be made. The recordings began in the late 1990s and featured Bloomberg Radio on-air speakers, who volunteered at the request of their employer Michael Bloomberg, who would later become mayor of New York City.[92] Voices include Jessica Ettinger Gottesman, Diane Thompson, Charlie Pellett, Catherine Cowdery, and Melissa Kleiner.[92][93] Female voices are typically used for station, route and transfer announcements. Pellett's recordings are used for most of the remaining announcements, most notably "Stand clear of the closing doors, please" prior to train doors closing.[92][93][94] With regards to why certain messages are voiced by males and others by females, MTA spokesperson Gene Sansone said in 2006 that, "Most of the orders are given by a male voice, while informational messages come from females. Even though this happened by accident, it is a lucky thing because a lot of psychologists agree that people are more receptive to orders from men and information from women".[93][95]

On March 24, 2012, the MTA announced that it ordered 300 R179 subway cars from Bombardier.[96][97] The total price of the contract is US$599 million, with the first test train of ten cars arriving in 2015.[98]


NYCTA tokens; usage dates from left to right: 1953–1970; 1970–1980; 1979–1980; 1980–1986; 1986–1995; 1995–2003

Riders pay a single fare to enter the subway system and may transfer between trains at no extra cost until they exit via station turnstiles; the fare is a flat rate regardless of how far or how long the rider travels.[99] Thus, riders must swipe their MetroCard upon entering the subway system, but not a second time upon leaving.[100]

As of 2015, nearly all fares are paid by MetroCard; the base fare is $2.75 when purchased in the form of a reusable "pay per ride" MetroCard,[101] with the fare increase occurring on March 22, 2015.[102] Single-use cards may be purchased for $3.00, and 7-day and 30-day unlimited ride cards can lower the effective per-ride fare significantly.[100] Reduced fares are available for the elderly and people with disabilities.[103]

Token and change

From the inauguration of IRT subway services in 1904[104] until the unified system of 1948 (including predecessor BMT and IND subway services), the fare for a ride on the subway of any length was 5 cents (nickel). On July 1, 1948, the fare was increased to 10 cents (dime), and since then has steadily risen. When the New York City Transit Authority was created in July 1953, the fare was raised to 15 cents and a token was issued. Until April 13, 2003, riders could pay the fare with tokens purchased from a station attendant. The tokens were changed periodically as prices changed. For the 75th anniversary of the subway in 1979 (also called the Diamond Jubilee), a special token with a small off-center diamond cutout and engraved images of a 1904 subway car and kiosk were issued. Many were purchased for keepsakes and were not used for rides. The last iteration of tokens featured a hole in the middle and was phased out in 2003 when the fare rose to $2.[105]

There were issues with the tokens, however. It was a common scam to circumvent the payment of fares by jamming the token slot in an entrance gate with paper. A passenger would insert a token into the turnstile, be frustrated when it did not open the gate, and have to spend another token to enter at another gate. A token thief would then suck the token from the jammed slot with their mouth. This could be repeated many times as long as no police officers spotted the activity. Some token booth attendants sprinkled chili powder in the slots to discourage "token sucking".[106] Token sucking (also known as stuff 'n' suck) was charged under theft of services, criminal tampering and criminal mischief.[107]

Token issues were compounded when transit riders discovered in the early 1980s that tokens purchased for use in the Connecticut Turnpike toll booths were of the same size and weight as New York City subway tokens. Since they cost less than one third as much, they began showing up in subway collection boxes regularly.[108] Connecticut authorities initially agreed to change the size of their tokens,[109] but later reneged and the problem went unsolved until 1985, when Connecticut discontinued the tolls on its turnpike.[110] At that time, the MTA was paid 17.5 cents for each of more than two million tokens that had been collected during the three-year "token war".[110]

The current MetroCard design


In 1993, the subway system introduced a fare system called the MetroCard, which allows riders to use cards that store the value equal to the amount paid to a station booth clerk or vending machine. The MetroCard was enhanced in 1997 to allow passengers to make free transfers between subways and buses within two hours; several MetroCard-only transfers between subway stations were added in 2001. With the addition of unlimited-ride MetroCards in 1998 (for 7-day and 30-day periods,[111] later 1-day "Fun Pass" and 14-day periods, both of which have been discontinued), the New York City Transit system was the last major transit system in the United States with the exception of BART in San Francisco to introduce passes for unlimited bus and rapid transit travel.[112]

In January 2014, the MTA stated that it wants to implement a contactless fare system to replace the MetroCard by 2019.[113][114][115]


This is a punch box, used for signaling to a tower operator which line the train should use at a junction. This technology is no longer in use on the IRT (A Division); the signal system that allows countdown clocks also automates train identification and switching.


FASTRACK on the IND Eighth Avenue Line

In January 2012, the MTA introduced a new maintenance program, FASTRACK, to speed up repair work. This program involves a more drastic approach than previous construction, and completely shuts down a major portion of a line for four consecutive weeknights.[116] According to the MTA, this new program proved much more efficient and quicker than regular service changes, especially because it happened at night and not the weekend, when most transit closures had occurred before.[117] In 2012 the program only closed lines in Midtown and Lower Manhattan,[118][note 12] while in 2013 it expanded to other corridors requiring minimal shuttle buses[119][note 13] and in 2014 to even more locations.[120] There are corridors scheduled for 2014 during 24 weeks of the year.[note 14]


New train arrival signs on the BMT Canarsie Line
RFID trial on the IRT Lexington Avenue Line

Train arrival "countdown clocks"

In 2003, the MTA signed a $160 million contract with Siemens Transportation Systems to install digital real-time message boards at 158 of its IRT stations to display the number of minutes until the arrival of the next trains.[121] Payments to the company were stopped in May 2006 following many technical problems and delays[122] and MTA started to look for alternative suppliers and technologies.[121] In January 2007 Siemens announced that the issues had been resolved and that screens would start appearing at 158 stations by the end of the year.[123] In 2008, the system-wide roll-out was pushed back again, to 2011, with the MTA citing technical problems.[124][125]

An in-house simpler system developed by MTA for the L trains was operational by early 2009[121][126] and the first three displays of the larger Siemens system became operational at stations on the IRT Pelham Line (6 <6> trains) in the Bronx in December 2009.[127] Siemens signs were in operation in 110 IRT stations by March 2011[128][129][130][131][132][133] and in 153 IRT mainline and 24 Canarsie Line stations by late 2011.[134] Similar, but simpler countdown clocks are used at thirteen stations on the IND Queens Boulevard Line, three stations on the BMT Broadway Line, nineteen stations on the IND Eighth Avenue Line[134] and five stations on the BMT Astoria Line.[135] The announcements are voiced by radio traffic reporter Bernie Wagenblast[136] and Carolyn Hopkins.[137]

In 2012, real-time station information for the 1 through 6 trains and the 42nd Street Shuttle was made available, through MTA's 'Subway Times' mobile app and as open data, to third party developers via a API. In early 2014, data for the L train were also given to developers.[138]

Displays at 22 IRT Flushing Line and 5 IRT Dyre Avenue Line stations are not expected to be operational until the late 2010s, with the delay being attributed to upgrades to the CBTC signal for the IRT Flushing Line stations and to signal modernizations for IRT Dyre Avenue Line stations.[139] Displays at a further 267 B Division stations will be installed as part of the 2015–2019 capital funding program.[139] Upon the October 2015 approval of funding for the 2015–2019 capital program, full installation of the countdown clocks was deferred to beyond 2020, with 320 out of 469 stations having countdown clocks by then. This was attributed to the rate of installation of wi-fi and 3G systems in subway stations, which, among other things, makes countdown clocks viable.[140] The B, D, N, and Q were expected to get countdown clocks in 2016.[140] Meanwhile, the IRT Flushing Line (7 <7>) was to get the clocks in 2018, a delay from an earlier announced date of 2016.[140]

2006 PayPass only trial

The MTA signed a deal with MasterCard in the first few months of 2006 to test out a new RFID card payment scheme.[141] Customers had to sign up at a special MasterCard website and use a MasterCard PayPass credit or debit card/tag to participate. Participating stations included:[142]

Originally scheduled to end in December 2006, the MTA extended the trial due to "overwhelming positive response".[143]

2010 PayPass and PayWave trial

In light of the success of the first Paypass pilot project in 2006, another trial was started by the MTA. This one started on June 1, 2010, and ended on November 30, 2010. The first two months started with the customer just using the MasterCard PayPass debit or credit card.[144][145][146][147][148] However, this trial was the debut of having a rider use the VISA PayWave debit or credit card to enter the system, which started on August 1, 2010.[149] For six months, a rider could use either a MasterCard Paypass or VISA PayWave credit/debit card to pay for a fare on an expanded list of subway and bus routes. [note 15][150]

Help Point

The Help Point at the Smith–Ninth Streets station

The MTA set up another technology pilot project for the New York City Subway called "Help Point" on April 5, 2011. Help Point is a new digital-audio communications system for use in case of an emergency or to obtain subway information for travel directions.[151] The top button is labeled red for emergencies and connects to the Rail Control Center. The bottom button is labeled green and connects to a MTA station agent for any inquiries. All units are equipped with a microphone and speaker,[152] and can optionally be installed with a camera.[153] Also, the test units were equipped for the hearing impaired (under ADA compliance).

The two subway stations that were part of this trial were on the IRT Lexington Avenue Line. They were the 23rd Street and the Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall stations. The Help Points at the Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall station were wireless and the 23rd Street station ones were hard-wired, to test which type of transmission is best for the subway.[154][155]

After the Help Point test was successfully completed, the MTA started to install Help Points in all 469 subway stations to replace the existing Customer Assistance Intercom (CAI) units.[154] The help points would be installed in 139 stations by 2014, and the remaining 333 stations would have Help Points by the end of 2019.[156]

On The Go! Travel Station

The On the Go! Travel Station in use at the Bowling Green station

On September 19, 2011, the MTA set up another pilot project, an online, interactive touchscreen computer program called "On The Go! Travel Station" (OTG). It lists any planned work or service changes occurring on the subway as well as information to help travelers find landmarks or locales near the stations with an OTG outlet. The first station to test this new technology was Bowling Green on the IRT Lexington Avenue Line.[157] Other stations scheduled to participate in this program were Penn Station (with the LIRR), Grand Central Terminal (with Metro-North), Atlantic Avenue – Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and Jackson Heights – Roosevelt Avenue / 74th Street – Broadway in Queens.[113][158]

New and existing On the Go! kiosks will receive an interface overhaul as a result of the MTA's partnership with Control Group, a technology and design consultancy firm. Control Group is adding route lookup, countdown to train arrivals, and service alerts. The next iteration of 47–90 interactive wayfinding kiosks is scheduled for deployment in 2013.[159]

Cellular phone and wireless data

An indoor antenna which is part of the distributed antenna system installed by Transit Wireless inside a station

New York City Subway began to provide underground cellular phone with voice and data service, and free Wi-Fi to passengers in 2011 at six stations. The new network was installed and owned by Transit Wireless as part of company's $200 million investment. The company expanded the services to 30 more stations in 2013[160][161] and signed an agreement with all 4 major wireless network operators to allow their cellular phone customers to use its network. The MTA and Transit Wireless are splitting the fees received from those wireless carriers for the usage of the network. The Wi-Fi service, which operates using antennae,[162] is operated by Boingo Wireless.[163]

Transit Wireless expects to provide service to the remaining 241 underground stations by 2017, including the four deep-level subway stations under construction. The next 40 key stations (11 in midtown Manhattan and 29 in Queens) have antennas which are in service as of March 2014.[113][164] The wireless for these 40 underground stations were completed by October 2014. Phase III of the project will include the Flushing-Main St station in Queens, as well as stations in Lower Manhattan, West Harlem and Washington Heights.[165]

Safety and security

Crime, train accidents, suicides and threats of terrorism all impact the subway system.

Train movement safety

Safe train operation on the whole New York City Subway is ensured by a combination of interlocking, signalling, wayside train protection and wayside speed control layouts.[166] However, no technical system is free of hazards.

Train protection

Subway trains are stopped mechanically at all signals showing "stop" aspects by automatic train stops located on the right side of IRT tracks and the left side of BMT/IND tracks; all cars are equipped with tripcocks. Although this is a simple principle of train stops, that wayside trippers must not be moved to trip ("stop") position until it is guaranteed that the train has fully passed the signal with all its cars.[167]

In the middle of all New York City subway platforms is a black-and-white striped board at which all conductors are required to point when the train is stopped at the proper location.[168]

Speed control

Speed control on the subway is ensured by "Time Signals".[169] A timer is started as soon as the train passes a certain point and will clear the signal ahead as soon as the predefined time elapsed; the minimum time is calculated from the speed limit and the distance between start of timer and signal.[169] "Time Signals" are distinguished into "Grade Timer" for speed supervision at grades, curves or in front of buffer stops, and in "Station Timer" to allow trains to close in on each other as long as they are going at a reduced speed.[169]


Like the railways, the subway used mechanical interlocking in early days and introduced relay interlocking later.[170] Computer-based interlockings are state-of-the-art systems offering additional functions.[170] But independently from the applied technology, the interlocking logic stayed the same: "Control lengths" along the selected route to be set until the target signal plus an additional overlap (safety distance) must be clear of any trains or cars to be able to clear the signal for the according route and target signal.[170] "Single line signal diagrams" show all defined "control lengths" (and routes) for each interlocking tower.[170]

Train accidents

Including the predecessors of the New York City Subway, at least 56 train accidents have been recorded since 1918, when a train bound for South Ferry smashed into two trains halted near Jackson Avenue on the IRT White Plains Road Line in the Bronx.[171] The deadliest accident, the Malbone Street Wreck, occurred on November 1, 1918 beneath the intersection of Flatbush Avenue, Ocean Avenue, and Malbone Street (the latter of which is now Empire Boulevard) near the Prospect Park station of the then-BRT Brighton Line in Brooklyn, killing 93 people.[172]


Manual signalling

New York City Subway generally distinguishes signals into:

  • automatic signals, controlled only by train movements
  • approach signals, like automatic signals, can be forced to switch to stop aspect by interlocking tower
  • home signals, route set by interlocking tower
  • additional signals (call-on, dwarf, marker, sign, time signals)

Common automatic and approach signals consist of one signal head showing one of the following signal aspects:

  • stop (one red light); with special rules for call-on and timer signals
  • clear, next signal at clear or caution (one green light)
  • proceed with caution, be prepared to stop at next signal (one yellow light)

Where different directions are possible, the subway uses both speed and route signalling:

  • upper signal head for speeds
  • lower signal head for routes (with main route shown green and diverging route shown yellow)

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the MTA began the process of automating the subway. The BMT Canarsie Line, on which the L services runs, was chosen for Communication-Based Train Control (CBTC) pilot testing because it is a self-contained line that does not operate in conjunction with other subway lines in the system. First proposed in 1992 and approved by the MTA in 1997, the installation of the signal system was begun in 2000 and was mostly completed by December 2006.[173] Due to an unexpected ridership increase on the Canarsie Line, the MTA ordered additional cars, the R160s and these were put into service in 2010, enabling the agency to operate 26 trains per hour up from the May 2007 service level of 15 trains per hour—an achievement that would not be possible without the CBTC technology.[173]

After the success of the BMT Canarsie Line automation, the IRT Flushing Line, carrying the 7 <7> trains, was next chosen to be outfitted with CBTC.[174] Eventually, the MTA has plans to eventually automate a much larger portion, using One Person Train Operation (OPTO) in conjunction with CBTC. Siemens Transportation Systems built the CBTC system on the Canarsie line. Thales is building the CBTC system for the Flushing Line. In late winter 2008, the MTA embarked on a 5-week renovation and upgrade project on the 7 <7> trains between Flushing – Main Street and 61st Street – Woodside to upgrade signaling and tracks for CBTC. On February 27, 2008, the MTA issued an Accelerated Capital Program to continue funding the completion of CBTC for the 7 <7> trains and to begin on the IND Queens Boulevard Line (E F trains). The proposed plan is estimated to cost US $1.4 million.[175]

The New York City Subway uses a system known as Automatic Train Supervision (ATS) for dispatching and train routing on the A Division[176] (the Flushing line, and the trains used on the 7 <7> services, do not have ATS.)[176] ATS allows dispatchers in the Operations Control Center (OCC) to see where trains are in real time, and whether each individual train is running early or late.[176] Dispatchers can hold trains for connections, re-route trains, or short-turn trains to provide better service when a disruption causes delays.[176]

Passenger safety

Yellow platform edges, yellow staircase steps and yellow railings, painted for safety, at the IRT Broadway - Seventh Avenue Line platform at 168th Street

Track safety and suicides

A portion of subway-related deaths in New York consists of suicides committed by jumping in front of an oncoming train. Between 1990 and 2003, 343 subway-related suicides have been registered out of a citywide total of 7,394 (4.6%) and subway-related suicides increased by 30%, despite a decline in overall suicide numbers.[177]

In 2013, 151 people were hit by subway trains; 53 people died, compared to 143 strikes and 55 deaths in 2012.[178]

As a result, in late 2013 and early 2014 the MTA started a test program at one undisclosed station, with four systems and strategies to eliminate the number of people hit by trains. Closed-circuit television cameras, a web of laser beams stretched across the tracks, radio frequencies transmitted across the tracks, and thermal imaging cameras focused on the station's tracks were set to be installed at that station.[113] At the unidentified station, which is rumored to be Rector Street, tests have gone so well at the testing site that these track protection systems will be installed systemwide as part of the 2015–19 capital program.[179]

The MTA also expressed interest in starting a pilot program to install platform edge doors.[180] Several planned stations in the New York City Subway may possibly feature platform screen doors. This includes stations on the 7 Subway Extension[181] and Second Avenue Subway.[182]


Crime rates have shown variations over time, with a drop starting in the 1990s and continuing today.[183][184] In order to fight crime, various approaches have been used over the years, including an "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign[185] and a new initiative to ban people who commit a crime in the subway system from entering the system for a certain length of time.[186]

In the 1960s, mayor Robert Wagner ordered an increase in the Transit Police force from 1,219 to 3,100 officers. During the hours at which crimes most frequently occurred (between 8:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m.), the officers went on patrol in all stations and trains. In response, crime rates decreased, as extensively reported by the press.[187]

However, during the subway's main era of decline following the city's 1976 fiscal crisis, crime was being announced on the subway every day, with an additional 11 "crimes against the infrastructure" in open cut areas of the subway in 1977, wherein TA staff were injured, some seriously. There were other rampant crimes as well, so that two hundred were arrested for possible subway crimes in the first two weeks of December 1977, under an operation dubbed "Subway Sweep". Passengers were afraid of the subway because of its crime, angry over long waits for trains that were shortened to save money, and upset over the general malfunctioning of the system. The subway also had many dark subway cars.[188] Further compounding the issue, on July 13, 1977, a blackout cut off electricity to most of the city and to Westchester.[188] Due to a sudden increase of violent crimes on the subway in the last week of 1978, police statistics about crime in the subway were being questioned. In 1979, six murders on the subway occurred in the first two months of the year, compared to nine during the entire previous year. The IRT Lexington Avenue Line was known for frequent muggings, so in February 1979, a group headed by Curtis Sliwa began unarmed patrols of the 4 train during the night time, in an effort to discourage crime. They were known as the Guardian Angels, and would eventually expand their operations into other parts of the five boroughs. By February 1980, the Guardian Angels' ranks numbered 220.[189]

In March 1979, Mayor Ed Koch asked the city's top law enforcement officials to devise a plan to counteract rising subway violence and to stop insisting that the subways were safer than the streets. Two weeks after Koch's request, top TA cops were publicly requesting Transit Police Chief Sanford Garelik's resignation because they claimed that he lost control of the fight against subway crime. Finally, on September 11, 1979, Garelik was fired, and replaced with Deputy Chief of Personnel James B. Meehan, reporting directly to City Police Commissioner Robert McGuire. Garelik continued in his role of chief of security for the MTA.[188] By September 1979, around 250 felonies per week (or about 13,000 that year) were being recorded on the subway, making the crime rate the most of any other mass transit network anywhere in the world. Some police officers supposedly could not act upon quality of life crimes, and that they should only look for violent crimes. Among other problems included:

MTA police radios and New York City Police Department radios transmitted at different frequencies, so they could not coordinate with each other. Subway patrols were also adherent to tight schedules, and felons quickly knew when and where police would make patrols. Public morale of the MTA police was low at the time. so that by October 1979, additional decoy and undercover units were deployed in the subway.[188]

Meehan had claimed to be able to, along with 2,300 police officers, "provide sufficient protection to straphangers", but Sliwa had brought a group together to act upon crime, so that between March 1979 and March 1980, felonies per day dropped from 261 to 154. However, overall crime grew by 70% between 1979 and 1980.[190]

On the IRT Pelham Line in 1980, a sharp rise in window-smashing on subway cars caused $2 million in damages; it spread to other lines during the course of the year. When the broken windows were discovered in trains that were still in service, they needed to be taken out of service, causing additional delays; in August 1980 alone, 775 vandalism-related delays were reported.[191] Vandalism of subway cars, including windows, continued through the mid-1980s; between January 27 and February 2, 1985, 1,129 pieces of glass were replaced on subway cars on the 1, 6, CC, E, and K trains.[192] Often, bus transfers, sold on the street for 50 cents, were also sold illegally, mainly at subway-to-bus transfer hubs.[193] Mayor Koch even proposed to put a subway court in the Times Square subway station to speed up arraignments, as there were so many subway-related crimes by then. Meanwhile, high-ranking senior City Hall and transit officials considered raising the fare from 60 to 65 cents to fund additional transit police officers, who began to ride the subway during late nights (between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m.) owing to a sharp increase in crime in 1982. Operation High Visibility, commenced in June 1985, had this program extended to 6 a.m., and a police officer was to be present on every train in the system during that time.[194]

On January 20, 1982, MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch told the business group Association for a Better New York, that he would not let his teenage sons ride the subway at night, and that even he, as the subway chairman, was nervous riding the trains.[195] The MTA began to discuss how the ridership issue could be fixed, but by October 1982, mostly due to fears about transit crime, poor subway performance and some economic factors, ridership on the subway was at extremely low levels matching 1917 ridership.[196] Within less than ten years, the MTA had lost around 300 million passengers, mainly because of fears of crime. In July 1985, the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City published a study showing this trend, fearing the frequent robberies and generally bad circumstances.[197] As a result, the Fixing Broken Windows policy, which proposed to stop large-profile crimes by prosecuting quality of life crimes, was implemented.[198][199] Along this line of thinking, the MTA began a five-year program to eradicate graffiti from subway trains in 1984,[200] and graffiti was completely removed from the subway system by May 1989.

In 1989 the Metropolitan Transportation Authority asked the transit police (then located within the NYCTA) to focus on minor offenses such as fare evasion. In the early nineties, the NYCTA adopted similar policing methods for Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal. When in 1993, Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Police Commissioner Howard Safir were elected to official positions, the Broken Windows strategy was more widely deployed in New York under the rubrics of "zero tolerance" and "quality of life". Crime rates in the subway and city dropped,[201] prompting New York Magazine to declare "The End of Crime as We Know It" on the cover of its edition of August 14, 1995. Giuliani's campaign credited the success to the zero tolerance policy.[202] The extent to which his policies deserve the credit is disputed.[203] Incoming New York City Police Department Commissioner William J. Bratton and author of Fixing Broken Windows, George L. Kelling, however, stated the police played an "important, even central, role" in the declining crime rates.[204] The trend continued and Giuliani's successor, Michael Bloomberg, stated in a November 2004 press release that "Today, the subway system is safer than it has been at any time since we started tabulating subway crime statistics nearly 40 years ago."[205]


After the September 11 attacks in New York, the MTA was extremely wary of anyone taking photographs or recording video inside the system and proposed banning all photography and recording in a meeting around June 2004.[206] However, due to strong response from both the public and from civil rights groups, the rule of conduct was dropped. In November 2004, the MTA again put this rule up for approval, but was again denied,[207] though many police officers and transit workers still confront or harass people taking photographs or video.[208]

On April 3, 2009, the NYPD issued a directive to officers stating that it is legal to take pictures within the subway system so long as it is not accompanied with suspicious activity.[209]

Currently, the MTA Rules of Conduct,[78] Restricted Areas and Activities section states that anyone may take pictures or record video, provided that they do not violate MTA regulations:

Section 1050.9 Restricted areas and activities. Photography, filming or video recording in any facility or conveyance is permitted except that ancillary equipment such as lights, reflectors or tripods may not be used. Members of the press holding valid identification issued by the New York City Police Department are hereby authorized to use necessary ancillary equipment. All photographic activity must be conducted in accordance with the provisions of this Part.[210]

Terrorism prevention

On July 22, 2005, in response to bombings in London, the New York City Transit Police introduced a new policy of randomly searching passengers' bags as they approached turnstiles. The NYPD claimed that no form of racial profiling would be conducted when these searches actually took place. The NYPD has come under fire from some groups that claim purely random searches without any form of threat assessment would be ineffectual. "This NYPD bag search policy is unprecedented, unlawful and ineffective," said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. "It is essential that police be aggressive in maintaining security in public transportation. But our very real concerns about terrorism do not justify the NYPD subjecting millions of innocent people to suspicionless searches in a way that does not identify any person seeking to engage in terrorist activity and is unlikely to have any meaningful deterrent effect on terrorist activity."[211] The searches were upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in MacWade v. Kelly.[212]

On April 11, 2008, MTA received a Ferrara Fire Apparatus Hazardous Materials Response Truck, which went into service three days later. It will be used in the case of a chemical or bioterrorist attack.[213]

Najibullah Zazi and others were arrested in September 2009 and pled guilty in 2010 to being part of an al-Qaeda plan to undertake suicide bombings on the New York City subway system.[214][215]


28th Street station after the W train was discontinued in mid-2010. Note the dark grey tape masked over the W bullet.

2009–2010 budget cuts

The MTA faced a budget deficit of US$1.1 billion in 2009. This resulted in fare increases (three times from 2008 to 2010) and service reductions (including the elimination of two part-time subway services, the V and W). Several other routes were modified as a result of the deficit. The N was made a full-time local in Manhattan (in contrast to being a weekend local/weekday express before 2010), while the Q was extended nine stations north to Astoria – Ditmars Boulevard on weekdays, both to cover the discontinued W. The M was combined with the V, routing it over the Chrystie Street Connection, IND Sixth Avenue Line and IND Queens Boulevard Line to Forest Hills – 71st Avenue on weekdays instead of via the BMT Fourth Avenue Line and BMT West End Line to Bay Parkway. The G was truncated to Court Square full-time. Construction headways on eleven routes were lengthened, and off-peak service on seven routes were lengthened.[216]

This budget deficit also resulted in the shortening, rerouting, or elimination of many bus routes to balance the deficit.[217]

The interior of an F train during morning rush hour

Capacity constraints

Several subway lines have reached their operational limits in terms of train frequency and passengers, according to data released by the Transit Authority. As of June 2007, all of the A Division services except the 42nd Street Shuttle, as well as the E and L trains were beyond capacity, as well as portions of the N train.[218][219] In April 2013, New York magazine reported that the system is more crowded than it has been in 66 years.[220] The subway reached a daily ridership of 6 million for 29 days in 2014, and was expected to record a similar ridership level for 55 days in 2015; by comparison, in 2013, daily ridership never reached 6 million.[221]

The Second Avenue Subway, which will have communications-based train control (CBTC), will relieve pressure on the Lexington Avenue Line (4 5 6 <6> trains) when the Second Avenue Subway's first segment begins operating in 2016, and CBTC installation on the Flushing Line is expected to increase the rate of trains per hour on the 7 <7> trains, but little relief will come to other crowded lines until later. The L trains, which are overcrowded during rush hours, already have CBTC operation.[222] The MTA is seeking funding for implementation of CBTC on the IND Queens Boulevard Line. CBTC is to be installed on this line in five phases, with phase one (50th Street to Forest Hills – 71st Avenue) being included in the 2010–2014 capital budget. Estimated cost for phase one is 483.7 million dollars with 125 million dollars being provided in the capital budget.[223] Funding for CBTC on the IND Eighth Avenue Line is also provided in the 2015–2019 capital project.[224] The MTA projects that 355 miles of track will receive CBTC signals by 2029, including most of the IND, as well as the IRT Lexington Avenue Line and the BMT Broadway Line.[225] The MTA also is planning to install CBTC equipment on the IND Crosstown Line, the BMT Fourth Avenue Line and the BMT Brighton Line before 2025.[226]

The Long Island Railroad East Side Access project is expected to bring many more commuters to the Lexington Avenue Line at about the same time, further overwhelming its capacity. Because new subway construction can require years to plan and complete, the MTA can only turn to increased bus service to manage demand in the short run, until automation of the subways using CBTC allows trains to run with less headway.

The MTA also hopes to test other, smaller ideas on some services. The F, 6, and 7 trains are expected to get 100 more "station platform controllers" to manage the flow of passengers on and off crowded trains for maximum ridership during rush hours, for a total of 129 such employees; these workers would also answer passengers' questions about subway directions, rather than having conductors answering them and thus delaying the trains. Shortened "next stop" announcements on trains are being tested on the 2 and 5 trains. "Step aside" signs on the platforms, reminding boarding passengers to let departing passengers off the train first, are being tested at Grand Central – 42nd Street, 51st Street, and 86th Street on the Lexington Avenue Line. Cameras would also be installed so the MTA could observe passenger overcrowding.[227][228][229]

Subway flooding

Service on the subway system is occasionally disrupted by flooding from rainstorms, even minor ones.[230] Rainwater can disrupt signals underground and require the electrified third rail to be shut off. Since 1992, $357 million has been used to improve 269 pump rooms. By August 2007, $115 million was earmarked to upgrade the remaining 18 pump rooms.[231]

Despite these improvements, the transit system continues to experience flooding problems. On August 8, 2007, after more than 3 inches (76 mm) of rain fell within an hour, the subway system flooded, causing almost every subway service to either be disabled or seriously disrupted, effectively halting the morning rush. This was the third incident in 2007 in which rain disrupted service. The system was disrupted on this occasion because the pumps and drainage system can handle only a rainfall rate of 1.75 inches (44 mm) per hour; the incident's severity was aggravated by the scant warning as to the severity of the storm.[232]:10 In late August 2007, MTA Engineer Phil Kollin announced new plans to create a system that would pump water away from the third rail.

In addition, as part of a $130 million and an estimated 18-month project, the MTA began installing new subway grates in September 2008 in an attempt to prevent rain from overflowing into the subway system. The metallic structures, designed with the help of architectural firms and meant as a piece of public art, are placed atop existing grates but with a 3-to-4-inch (76 to 102 mm) sleeve to prevent debris and rain from flooding the subway. The racks will at first be installed in the three most flood-prone areas as determined by hydrologists: Jamaica, Tribeca, and the Upper West Side. Each neighborhood is scheduled to have its own distinct design, some featuring a wave-like deck which increases in height and features seating (Jamaica), others with a flatter deck that includes seating and a bike rack.[233][234]

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused a lot of damage to New York City, and many subway tunnels were inundated with floodwater. The subway opened with limited service two days after the storm and was running at 80 percent capacity within five days; however, some infrastructure needed years to repair. A year after the storm, MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz said, "This was unprecedented in terms of the amount of damage that we were seeing throughout the system."[235]

Full subway closures

On August 27, 2011, due to the approach of Hurricane Irene, the MTA suspended subway service at 12:00 noon in anticipation of heavy flooding on tracks and in tunnels. It was the first weather-caused shutdown in the history of the system.[236] Service was restored by August 29.[237][238]

On October 29, 2012, another full closure was ordered before the arrival of Hurricane Sandy. All services on the subway, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North were gradually shut down that day at 7:00 P.M., to protect passengers, employees and equipment from the coming storm. The storm caused serious damage to the system, especially the IND Rockaway Line, which had many sections between Howard Beach – JFK Airport and Hammels Wye on the Rockaway Peninsula heavily damaged, leaving it essentially isolated from the rest of the system. This required the NYCTA to truck in 20 R32 subway cars to the line to provide some interim service (temporarily designated the H). Also, several of the system's tunnels under the East River were flooded by the storm surge.[239] South Ferry suffered serious water damage and did not reopen until April 2013 by restoring service to the older loop-configured station that had been replaced in 2009; the stub-end terminal tracks remain out of service pending extensive repairs and the new island-platformed station is not expected to open until June 2016.[240][241]

On January 26, 2015, another full closure was ordered by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo due to the January 2015 nor'easter, which was originally projected to leave New York City with 20 to 30 inches (51 to 76 cm) of snow.[242] The next day, the subway system was partially reopened.[243][244] A number of New York City residents criticized Cuomo's decision to shut down the subway system for the first time ever due to snow. The nor'easter dropped much less snow in the city than originally expected, totaling 9.8 inches (25 cm) in Central Park.[245][246]

Litter and rodents

Litter accumulation is a perennial problem in the subway system. In the 1970s and 1980s, dirty trains and platforms, as well as graffiti were a serious problem. The situation had improved since then, but the 2010 budget crisis - which caused over 100 of the cleaning staff to lose their jobs - threatened to curtail trash removal from the subway system.[247][248]

The New York City Subway system is infested with rats.[249] Rats are sometimes seen on platforms,[250] and are commonly seen foraging through garbage thrown onto the tracks. They are believed to pose a health hazard, and on rare instances have been known to bite humans.[251] Subway stations notorious for rat infestation include Chambers Street, Jay Street – MetroTech, West Fourth Street, Spring Street and 145th Street.[252]

Decades of efforts to eradicate or simply thin the rat population in the system have been unsuccessful. In March 2009, the Transit Authority announced a series of changes to its vermin control strategy, including new poison formulas and experimental trap designs.[253] In October 2011, the MTA announced a new initiative to clean 25 subway stations, along with their garbage rooms, of rat infestations.[254] Also in October 2011, the MTA announced a pilot program aimed at reducing levels of garbage in the subways by removing all garbage bins from the subway platforms. The initiative is being tested at the Eighth Street – New York University and Flushing – Main Street stations.[255]


Rolling stock on the New York City Subway produces high levels of noise that exceed guidelines set by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.[256] In 2006, Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health found noise levels averaged 95 decibel (dB) inside subway cars and 94 dB on platforms.[256] Daily exposure to noise at such levels for as little as 30 minutes can lead to hearing loss.[256] Noise on one in 10 platforms exceeded 100 dB.[256] Under WHO and EPA guidelines, noise exposure at that level is limited to 1.5 minutes.[256] A subsequent study by Columbia and the University of Washington found higher average noise levels in the subway (80.4 dB) than on commuter trains including the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) (79.4 dB), the Metro-North (75.1 dB) and Long Island Railroad (LIRR) (74.9 dB).[257] Since the decibel scale is a logarithmic scale, sound at 95 dB is 10 times more intense than at 85 dB and 100 times more intense than at 75 dB, and so forth.[257] In the second study, peak subway noise registered at 102.1 dB.[257]

Public relations

The Board of Transportation, and its successor, MTA New York City Transit, has had numerous events that promote increased ridership of their transit system.

Miss Subways

An advertisement for Miss Subways at the New York City Transit Museum

From 1941 to 1976, the Board of Transportation/New York City Transit Authority sponsored the "Miss Subways" publicity campaign. In the musical On the Town, the character Miss Turnstiles is based on the Miss Subways campaign.[258][259] The campaign was resurrected in 2004, for one year, as "Ms. Subways". It was part of the 100th anniversary celebrations. Featuring young models, entertainers and others, the monthly campaign, which included the winners' photos and biographical blurbs on placards in subway cards, featured such winners as Mona Freeman and prominent New York City restaurateur Ellen Goodman. The winner of this contest was Caroline Sanchez-Bernat, an actress from Morningside Heights.[260]

Subway Series

Subway Series is a term attributed to any series of baseball games between New York City teams, called thus as opposing teams can travel to compete merely by using the subway system along with the fact that stations are adjacent and visible to their respective stadiums. Subway Series is a term long used in New York, going back to series between the Brooklyn Dodgers or New York Giants and the New York Yankees in the 1940s and '50s. Today, the term is used to describe the rivalry between the Yankees and the New York Mets. During the 2000 World Series, cars on the 4 train (which stopped at Yankee Stadium) were colored white with blue pinstripes, while cars on the 7 train (which stopped at Shea Stadium) were colored orange and blue, the Mets' team colors.

Since 2012, when the Nets moved to Brooklyn (the first time in 55 years that the borough had a professional team), the term could also be applied if the New York Knicks played the Nets.

Holiday Train

Nostalgia Train at Second Avenue station in 2012

Since 2003, the MTA has operated a Holiday Train on Sundays in November and December, from the first Sunday after Thanksgiving to the Sunday before Christmas Day.[261] This train was made of cars from the R1 through R9 series. The route made all stops between Second Avenue in Manhattan and Queens Plaza in Queens via the IND Sixth Avenue and IND Queens Boulevard Lines. In 2011, the train operated on Saturdays instead of Sundays.[262]

The contract, car numbers (and year built) used were R1 100 (1930), R1 381 (1931), R4 401 (1932), R4 484 (1932) – Bulls Eye lighting and a test P.A. system added in 1946, R6-3 1000 (1935), R6-1 1300 (1937), R7A 1575 (1938) – rebuilt in 1947 as a prototype for the R10 subway car, and R9 1802 (1940).[263]

See also


  1. These are the physical tracks that a train "service" runs on. See New York City Subway nomenclature for more information.
  2. These "services" run on physical tracks. See New York City Subway nomenclature for more information.
  3. 3.0 3.1 There are 13 stations on the IND Second Avenue Line and 1 station on the IRT Flushing Line planned.
  4. 4.0 4.1
  5. One of these stations is an existing IRT Broadway – Seventh Avenue Line station being completely rebuilt. The other four stations are truly new stations.
  6. The IRT main line, which is considered to be the first New York City "subway" line, opened in 1904; however, the Ninth Avenue Line, a predecessor elevated railroad line, operated its first trial run on July 3, 1868, according to Facts and Figures 1979–80, published by the New York City Transit Authority See also, and the West End Line railroad opened in 1863. A small portion of the latter line's original right-of-way is still in daily use near Coney Island.
  7. Highest daily ridership since public takeover. In the first half of the 20th century, ridership was significantly higher.
  8. There are 3 stations under construction and 13 planned stations on the IND Second Avenue Line, as per the Final Summary Report.
  9. There is one station (10th Avenue) planned as a future infill station. See "Outcry emerges for 41st St. stop on new 7-line".
  10. The Times Square and Grand Central stations of the IRT 42nd Street Shuttle are closed during late nights.
  11. According to a 2002 New York Times article:
    "Junior Torres, smoking a cigarette yesterday near an entrance to the A line on Eighth Avenue and 15th Street, said confidently that he knew exactly what all the globes meant: green means always open, red means always closed, half-green means open most of the time and half-red means closed most of the time. 'That's what they mean,' Mr. Torres said.
    "Two transit workers near a 14th Street entrance allowed that they had never known just what the colors meant. And Toribio Nunez, coming out of the entrance, said he had always assumed that they were purely decorative, like lights on a Christmas tree. 'I've never looked at them, to tell you the truth,' he said.

    "Linda Vaccari and Laura Cugini, tourists from Bologna, Italy, said they were pretty sure that the colors showed the colors of the train lines below, though this often did not work.[52]"

  12. The corridors repaired in 2012 were:
  13. The corridors repaired in 2013 were:
  14. The corridors repaired in 2014 were:
  15. The following bus routes and subway stations participated in the trial: Two options were available during this second trial for fare payment:
    • "pay-as-you-go" RFID card scan at select turnstiles or locations; or,
    • pre-funded fares via a pilot website called the "NY/NJ Transit Trial" for multiple and unlimited ride discounts. Effective October 16, 2010, pre-funded fares are not available in the trial website.


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External links