Quick Note on My New York Trip

I am back in Europe now (in London until Tuesday), but I was in New York for nearly three weeks, and it was interesting reconciling what I was seeing with what everyone else is saying about the city. It and my March 2022 trip were both enlightening in a way because I’d last been in the US at the end of 2019, so many New Yorkisms that I was used to in the 2000s and 2010s suddenly jarred me as foreign to what I had grown used to in Europe.

As one might expect based on the subject of this blog, I took the subway a lot. I took it so much that I was using weekly passes, and the last week I had a weekly pass for just three days and still I took 13 trips on those days, justifying its cost (which is like that of 12 single trips). I saw things, and notably didn’t see others.

What I did see: abject unreliability. I snapped a photo whenever the train arrival board was showing something weird, like low frequency or bunching; if you’re reading this post as it’s being posted and not going on a deep archive run, then go to my Twitter media and look at the last few weeks of pictures. Out of 19 days, something was going wrong 10 times, usually on the train I used to get between my Queensbridge hotel and Marron, the F train – and that’s without counting a few trips when the train frequency looked good but then I was delayed 10-20 minutes due to incidents. Something would always come up: signal failure, medical emergency, mechanical failure, cascading delays. Uday Schultz, a railfan who scares me with the depth of his knowledge of operations, maintenance, and rail history, points out how one such delay compounded due to bad interlining.

This is not normal. Berlin has delays but nowhere nearly this often – not on the U-Bahn but also not on the S-Bahn, whose interlining complexity is comparable to that of the New York City Subway. Low-frequency sections due to single-tracking for maintenance exist in Berlin, but it’s rare, and trains do not run worse than every 10 minutes except on the suburban periphery of the city. Over a similar period of time in Berlin I might see an incident bad enough to complain to BVG about it on Twitter maybe once or twice, not 10 times.

What I didn’t see: significant crime. I point out that I was staying near Queensbridge because the area is negatively stereotyped by suburbanites and city residents with I-hate-(the-rest-of-)the-city identity politics. Nothing there looked scary, at any time of day. There’s a large housing project there, which I mostly associate with people playing the Halloween theme song on 10/31 for what I imagine was a showing of the film and with some people wearing delightfully scary costumes. The worst I saw was someone selling swipes illegally when there was an unusually long line for the ticketing machines; there were cops on the platform who must have passed this person by and apparently done nothing.

I point this out because the city is convinced that the subway is dangerous. There are annoying announcements all the time: “this is an important message from the New York City Police Department…” It makes for some awful user experience – there’s no possibility of quiet on the train, for which those announcements contribute more than anything, since the panhandlers are much less common and the background noise is easier to tune out. People who speak limited English or can’t make out the phonemes garbled over bad announcer systems learn to tune everything out, including the occasional useful announcement of service changes.

And the police loves how annoying it is, which it justifies by appealing to safety theater. When Sarah Meyer tried reducing the annoyance levels, she ran into some real and some made-up technical problems, and one political problem in that nobody in management cares about UX. The police said they need those announcements, annoying and counterproductive as they are (telling tourists to watch their belongings gets them to grasp their wallets in fear, alerting every thief to the location of the wallet on their person); nobody at the agency thought to push back. In the last few days, a new disturbance has been added: the conductors announce at nearly every stop that cops are on the platform should people need assistance. This is in a safe city. Just stop this.


  1. Luke

    Overstating urban crime is, as I’m sure you know, an American pass-time. Couch it in racism, in a vaguely-rooted anti-urbanism, in classism (relevant here in that it’s assumed either someone is rich enough to live outside the city, or rich enough to be taking a taxi/private car everywhere); whatever your like. When I point out to my coworkers that they’re twice as likely to be in a fatal car crash–not just any car crash, but a fatal one–in metro Portland as they are to be involved in any kind of crime on the bus or MAX, the conversation quickly changes subject. I grant that my female coworkers are hastened with their “no” compared to the males, and as a taller male my perspective on personal safety is biased, but….The numbers never work out to “it’s safer to drive”, and yet people assume that it always is.

    I’m not sure how to countervail this; culture is not an inherently rational thing, yet especially in the U.S. where transit is bad everywhere, people can use incidental factoids to back ultimately irrational decisions.

    • Richard Mlynarik

      Overstating urban crime is, as I’m sure you know, an American pass-time

      Hardly. It’s a global and extremely effective political tool used to usher in fascist regimes. Permanent regimes.

      • Luke

        I didn’t say it was only and American pass-time, but where we have no public transit culture and our towns and cities are so poorly designed, it’s a great way to justify an immensely wasteful stasis. We don’t have a Paris/Tokyo/Seoul/London we can point to and say “transit seems to work fine here”, and of course the U.S. is “different”, so the fact that those places are still on Planet Earth, populated by humans, is ipso facto irrelevant.

      • Alon Levy

        Yeah, the way Seehofer here was trying to play it both ways – talk about declining crime rates so that he could take credit but also make up a crime wave so that he could tell people immigration was a problem – was pretty disgusting.

  2. Allan Rosen

    You were lucky that you had a safe time here. When you play Russian Roulette, not every chamber has a bullet in it. Of course the media exaggerates crime just like they exaggerate bad weather. The last year we had at least a dozen drizzzles that were predicted to be severe thunderstorms. Crime only becomes a real problem is when you are the victim. But what really surprises me is that you didn’t mention riding any buses in Brooklyn when you proposed a thorough revamping of the bus network.

        • Eric2

          I don’t think it’s meaningful to distinguish between “safety” and “personal safety”.

        • Tiercelet

          Quit getting your information from the Post.

          NYPD traffic collision statistics for September 2022 [1] show 8480 collisions city-wide, resulting in 4345 injured persons and 13 fatalities.

          MTA criminal complaints for September 2022 [2] show 375 total complaints (of which 66 were “harassment” or “disorder” complaints, i.e. no injuries).

          You are far more likely to be injured or killed on the streets than under them.

          [1] https://www.nyc.gov/assets/nypd/downloads/pdf/traffic_data/cityacc-en-us.pdf
          [2] https://www.nyc.gov/assets/nypd/downloads/pdf/analysis_and_planning/transit-bus-crime-reports/2022/complaints-in-transit-report-09-2022.pdf

          • Allan Rosen

            If there are no injuries, chances are subway harassment and disorder complaints are not reported, so statistics are not that reliable. Perception also matters. As for vehicular incidents, incidents not involving injury are still reported because of property damage. And what about the fact that cars are much safer today so the trend for serious injuries and deaths is far fewer than thirty or so years ago, while subway crime has risen sharply. And as for me getting information from the “unreliable” NY Post, they were the ones who broke the Hunter Biden Laptop story which turned out to be true, while the rest of the media denied it.

          • adirondacker12800

            Which part of the laptop story? That someone or more had been rummaging around in it after he supposedly gave to the repair shop? And adding and deleting things? Or the part where no one has found anything particularly shocking or illegal?

          • Sassy

            As for vehicular incidents, incidents not involving injury are still reported because of property damage.

            To avoid insurance/government finding out, collisions that don’t result in enough property damage to make self-funded repair financially non-viable for involved parties, don’t get reported. Even when the property damage is financially non-viable to repair but all/mostly cosmetic, the incident won’t get reported.

  3. Allan Rosen

    A very small percentage of auto claims are not reported. The percentage of subway harrassments that are not reported is much higher. Would you bother reporting if someone was hassling you repeatedly for money on the train and you walk away and he doesn’t follow you? But that’s enough to make someone choose driving over the subway.

    • Eric2

      Even if we accept your unsourced claims about complaints, there were 13 fatalities on the roads versus zero on the subway. And similar numbers every month in the past. Fact is that the subway is much much safer than the roads, yet some people have irrational hysteria about the subway.

      • Frederick

        In Europe, after people leave the subway, as they walk through the station exits, they magically teleport through the astral plane back to their homes. We all know there is no dark alleys and shady corners in the astral plane, nor is there any thief, robber, stalker or rapist. Teleportation from subway stations are very safe indeed!

        MTA should learn from Europe, and start installing magical portals in their subway stations. That way, New Yorkers will no longer feel unsafe walking the last mile home!

      • Allan Rosen

        You are talking about subway deaths from crashes t
        Right. Those are few. I was talking about subway deaths due to personal attacks. You hear of one several times a week. So there’s couldn’t have been. ZEro of those in the past month.

          • Allan Rosen

            People read that 25 people were pushed onto the tracks this year, far greater than in previous years that scares them as much as those being murdered. Perception is just as important as numbers when people make their decisions to use or not use mass transit. The system is perceived to be more dangerous at night and added to the infrequent service, only those who have no other choice will use the system then.

          • Henry Miller

            How do the number of riders compare to the number of drivers? I know this is NYC where the subway has a good mode share, but still cars cover a lot more people than the subway, so you cannot compare those numbers. Do you have deaths per million drivers/riders, or some such statistic that can be compared.

            Same for other crime discussion – since not everyone uses transit you can’t compare crimes on transit against all crimes.

          • adirondacker12800

            There are more car-free households in New York City than there are car owning households.

          • Allan Rosen

            The split is almost 50-50. And cars carry more than one person So more car free households does not necessarily mean more subway trips than car trips.

          • Alon Levy

            People read that 25 people were pushed onto the tracks this year

            25 people died from being hit by a train, from all causes: homicide, suicide, accident. In 2012 it was 55, which is about proportionate to annual ridership before corona vs. in the slow recovery. The media headlines often lump these together with murders on the train (which are usually not by pushing) and that makes people lump all of these as crime, when they aren’t. I think this is related to the media norm of not writing too much about suicide cases in order to avoid inspiring copycat suicides, but these are mostly not homicides.

          • Allan Rosen

            There are also the few people who got dragged because their clothes got caught in the door and were killed. The conductors supposed to make sure that never happens by looking at each side for three seconds after closing the doors. I wonder if they are being properly trained.

          • Alon Levy

            Yeah, I saw that story while Googling around just now. But that’s not an issue of crime – it’s poor system design, for which the solution is platform edge doors at every station, no exceptions.

          • xh

            Or just to interlock the train doors with the on-board controller, so that the brake won’t release untill all doors are closed and locked.

          • Allan Rosen

            I thought the train can’t move until all the doors are closed and locked.

    • Matthew Hutton

      I’d have thought plenty of minor car accidents aren’t reported.

      While it’s illegal there’s incentive not to as it raises the cost of insurance for both parties.

    • Alon Levy

      No, it’s enough to make you tell yourself that you’re uncomfortable taking the subway. Normal people take the subway based on normal concerns with wait times, speed, comfort levels, accessibility, etc. For every person who’s happy there are cops telling panhandlers off, there’s a person who is afraid cops will shoot them for the color of their skin; overall, it’s a wash.

  4. Subutay Musluoglu

    Hi Alon – While I usually find myself in agreement with you more often than not, especially on issues of construction costs, service reliability, labor productivity, and lack of following best practices (and not adopting views outside of U.S.), I’m going to respectfully push back on your analysis of the crime situation in NYC.

    Official crime statistics do not necessarily reflect what is actually happening in the subways. Putting aside the hyperbolic, fearmongering talk coming out of the Zeldin camp and the right wing talk machine (many of whom wouldn’t know a train unless they were hit by one), there is definitely a perception issue and that goes a long way to feeding the current conversation.

    Until police flooded the system in recent weeks and conducted actual patrolling on the platforms instead of congregating in packs on the mezzanines, playing with their phones, there was a real issue with general lawlessness in the subways. Crime isn’t measured by assaults, robberies, and murders alone.

    Fare evasion, menacing fellow riders, smoking on the platforms and trains, urinating / defecating on platforms and cars, etc., are all violations of the law and the transit system’s code of conduct. So, it is very naive to minimize the effects these occurrences can have on the psyche of riders, because they may be seen as “victimless crimes.” All of these and other unmentioned violations still constitute crime in some form, or at a minimum, it’s disorder, and that is feeding people’s fears, and the inability to address this will come at a cost later.

    I’m going to choose to focus on just one of the aforementioned issues – fare evasion. I would forcefully argue that all NYC residents are victims when the subway cannot recover the essential revenue it needs to operate. By some estimates the MTA is on track to potentially lose up to half a billion dollars this year due to fare evasion. While this may not pose a physical threat to riders it is certainly a socio-economic threat if the city does not have a functioning subway because it has been deprived of one of its most important sources of funds. The subway is not free, and until the day comes when it is, fare evasion is still a crime.

    Maybe you didn’t see this in your relatively short and easy commute between LIC and the Village (or maybe you did and were not bothered by it) over the course of three weeks, but I can assure you that many of us find the current situation disturbing, especially after enjoying roughly 25+ years of relative peace where the aforementioned disorders were the exception and not more commonplace as it appears to have become.

    To be clear, it’s not just the homeless, and not just the mentally ill, who are to blame here. I am not going to feed that stigmatization. The perpetrators come from of all demographics.

    Of course the subway is safer than driving, or being a pedestrian. Of course it is still the best way to get around, despite its reliability challenges. No one is arguing with those facts. There are other factors at play – the subway is an enclosed environment, and an aging piece of infrastructure that is a challenge to keep clean and maintain. When you throw in all this other stuff, it becomes a compounding force, so you need to understand what people are seeing and feeling. And if riders stay away, then even more revenue will be lost. But NYC will lose something bigger – its essence.

    Not realizing this runs the risk of zealots like Mr. Zeldin being elected. He has a proven record of opposition to infrastructure spending and to issues related to urban investment in general. I would argue he is possibly a bigger threat to the subways than what is actually going on down there, but voters can be unforgiving.

    • Ben She

      Until they replace every single old-school waist-high turnstile with modern faregates, MTA (and CTA/SEPTA) has no right to complain about fare evasion.

      • Henry Miller

        Modern best practice is proof of payment, with fines for failure/enforcement such that if you don’t pay you will on average pay more in fines than if you just bought your passes.

        Though since the topic here is crime I will point out that faregates could (they don’t, but they could!) allow parents to set rules of when/where their kids are allowed to travel. The crime of disobeying parents rules is not the same as the rest of crime, but it is at least a concern. If you actually implement these controls in a faregate – in a way that parents use (UX is important!) , then I guess they are okay, otherwise get rid of them

        • Allan Rosen

          I was thinking the same thing about how the number of subway riders compare to the number of drivers, but couldn’t find any information.

        • Tony

          Proof of payment doesn’t work in NYC. What exactly are the enforcers going to do with the hundreds of people they’re going to catch every day who didn’t pay? Write them tickets? They’ll just ignore the tickets.

          • Richard Mlynarik

            Tony, precisely what is the problem you believe you are solving? Precisely.
            Precisely what costs are due to the perceived probem?
            Precisely what costs does your proposed solution incur?

            No, “But NOO YAHK IS SPECIAL!” isn’t an answer.

          • Tony

            I’m *not* solving a problem. I’m pointing out why PoP won’t work here. What’s “special” is that the US already imprisons way more people per capita than any other country you might want to live in and we still have derelicts freely breaking the laws here all the time in NYC (and SF). Even when cops do arrest people for violent assault, they just end up released without bail a couple of days later. What makes you think PoP will change much?

          • Alon Levy

            You read the fishwrappers in the United States and not in Germany and therefore think Americans are uniquely violent. They’re not – only the cops are (and thus police funding should be cut). In fact, the fare evasion rate that the MTA was complaining about on the eve of corona, 5% on the subway, was pretty normal by German standards (albeit at the higher end of the range, which is 2-5%) – nor did the implementation of bus POP in San Francisco lead to a reduction in revenue.

          • Tiercelet

            You’re making an argument about our inability to punish fare evaders. But that’s orthogonal to proof-of-payment systems vs turnstiles–there’s nothing about a ticket for hopping a turnstile that makes it harder to ignore than a ticket for not validating your payment.

            Anyway, the numbers in this argument don’t make sense. Workday subway ridership today is on the order of 3.5 million paid rides per day[1]; if under POP cops catch “hundreds” of fare evaders a day, that’s at worst a 0.05% fare evasion rate–suggesting fare evasion is a nothingburger problem. If we assume 5% fare evasion rate (as the MTA was complaining about in 2019), that’s around 180,000 fare evaders daily[2]–way beyond what you’re arguing is manageable through any human enforcement mechanism. So your argument is effectively just is that fare enforcement is hopeless, regardless of POP vs turnstile-swipe.

            About the only thing I could see being convincing here is if you claim that POP will encourage substantially more people to evade fares than currently do. I suppose that’s possible, but to be convinced, I’d want some sort of evidence other than “New Yorkers are terrible scofflaws, it is known.” After all, it’s apparently really easy to evade the fares with no consequences today, so why aren’t more people doing it now?

            [1] https://new.mta.info/coronavirus/ridership
            [2] Take 3.5 million paid riders; assume that’s 95% of real ridership = 3.5M/0.95 for about 3.68M daily riders, a difference of 180k

    • Tiercelet

      Yeah, smoking on the subways has been a problem lately. But that’s no reason to buy into right-wing memes about subway crime.

      Most of the issues you mention–smoking, loitering, people relieving themselves–are due to insufficient support for homeless people. They’re smoking (and peeing) in the subway because they don’t have anywhere else to go. Cops can chase them away, but they don’t *stop existing*, they’ll just go smoke on the sidewalks. And the huge amount of money handed over to the police as overtime would be much better spent by directing it to the shelter system.

      You can say you don’t want to stigmatize people, but that’s denying the nature of the problem–which is that there are large groups of people (whose numbers have only swelled with the pandemic and the increasing rent prices) who have not been provided with the resources they need to thrive. Not because of something inherent to them as people, but because the law prohibits both rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges.

      In the same way, flooding the system with cops–who, as you note, tend to be there just to stand around on their phones collecting overtime (or harassing churro sellers)–is not a good solution for fare evasion, for the simple reason that they cost more than they recoup. We went over this with Cuomo back in 2019, when the plan was to spend $249 million on cops to stop $200 million of fare evasion.

      These quality-of-life problems are problems, but cops are not the solution, and describing it through the “rising crime!” scare tactic is exactly the sort of thing that risks getting Zeldin elected.

        • Tiercelet

          Because the same people who complain endlessly about SUBWAY CRIME! will tell you that people are just going to sleep/do drugs/have sex in them.

          • xh

            French automated toilets solve the problem: you can’t have sex in a toilet that opens after pre-determined time.

      • Subutay Musluoglu

        I intentionally waited until after the election results were in before posting this reply, in which I’ll try to address some of your points directly.

        “But that’s no reason to buy into right-wing memes about subway crime.”
        I’m not the one buying into right-wing memes, just trying to help you understand why many New Yorkers are buying into them. You can ignore their concerns if you think they are overblown but doing so doesn’t make them go away; on the contrary there was a real possibility we could have had an electoral result last night you would have been unhappy with (I would have been equally displeased).

        “…they’ll just go smoke on the sidewalks.”
        Great, that’s where they should be smoking, not on the subway.

        “And the huge amount of money handed over to the police as overtime would be much better spent by directing it to the shelter system.”
        Agreed, but a lifetime of living here has shown that NYC government is not serious about improving the shelter system. Believe me, I wish they would. And I’ve never said or believed that the NYPD is the solution to the homeless issue. However, if a mentally ill homeless individual is posing a direct threat to the personal safety of subway riders, or worse, by committing an assault, that becomes a criminal issue, it has moved beyond the scope of a social safety issue.

        “…or harassing churro sellers…”
        I’m not in favor of harassing churro sellers either, but have you ever considered why the police are doing so? It’s not about collecting fines, though that is reflexively what many think. It’s so you don’t get food poisoning from eating something that is contaminated, being sold by an unlicensed vendor.

        Same concept as the Health Department food inspectors going to restaurants and assigning letter grades. It’s not so they can get their jollies by hassling small businesses. And since the Health Dept does not patrol the subways, and if you would rather the police not do this, who should undertake this task? Or maybe you don’t care who sells whatever, wherever?

        And speaking of small businesses, what about the guy who leases out a subway newsstand at a high rent and pays taxes and jumps through bureaucratic hoops just to keep his head above water? Is it fair that they have unregulated and unlicensed competition from someone who can just set up shop on a platform? The issue is no different than someone who sets up a table on a sidewalk in front of a store selling the same goods as found in the store. Is it fair for that shopkeeper, who pays taxes, fees, and follows a myriad of state and local laws, to be undercut from just anyone with a table and a bunch of cheap wares?

        “We went over this with Cuomo back in 2019, when the plan was to spend $249 million on cops to stop $200 million of fare evasion.”
        Not a fan of Cuomo, despised him, glad he is gone, don’t know if your figures are accurate, but my original point still stands. The subway is not free, full stop. There needs to be enforcement. It may cost more than the loss of revenue in the short term, but in the long term it will discourage the majority of those who are not habitual fare evaders but for whatever reason now feel it is OK to just not pay. I mean those who were not traditionally inclined to avoid the fare before the pandemic.

        In the past it would be just kids having fun, or repeat offenders. Not so anymore. Now it’s people from all walks of life. Young couples out on dates, helping each other over the turnstile. Grown men, by all appearances not hurting for money, probably on their way to work, who are either jumping or going through the emergency gate. I have seen young women who pay their fare, and then hold the gate open for complete strangers, waving them through like they are doing them some huge favor.

        What is this all about? Are they making a political statement? Do they think they are sticking it to the “system?” Making themselves feel better because they believe they helped an economically disadvantaged person? On the contrary, they have placed themselves and the one they helped in legal jeopardy.

        Is it about economics? Maybe a little, but not entirely. There are programs in place to obtain a reduced fare for those who are economically disadvantaged, they should look it up on their phones and take advantage.

        As an aside, in comparison to our world peer systems, the NYC Subway fare is a relative bargain, a flat fee not based on zones or distance. Each fare covers over 60% of the cost of carrying that rider, among the highest ratio among American transit systems.

        Just imagine for a moment if the fare had not been intentionally kept low for decades in the early to mid-20th Century and instead had tracked with inflation. Decades of disinvestment could have been avoided, but the fare could very well be hovering around $4 or $5 today. Can you imagine if that was the cost of taking a ride today? Would that be a license for everyone to just avoid paying?

        “These quality-of-life problems are problems, but cops are not the solution, and describing it through the “rising crime!” scare tactic is exactly the sort of thing that risks getting Zeldin elected.”
        Yes, that was my point exactly, which I believe I made twice in my original comment, and again just above. Police are not always the right solution. Not every problem is a nail needing a hammer. The last thing I wanted to see was Zeldin anywhere near the Governor’s mansion in Albany, so I am ecstatic he lost last night.

        But you and many others are just not getting it – not getting the mood of many people all around you. Some, maybe more than you think, are bothered by what is happening, and even if you think it’s overblown and their fears are unwarranted, there is enough disorder out there to have given many people pause when it comes to their electoral preferences. You should give that serious thought. Last night could have been a very regressive step for NY had Zeldin been elected. We dodged a bullet.

        The broader issue of public disorder needs to be addressed. It should not be accepted as a “cool NY thing” which I’ve heard some say. Let’s look beyond the subway – look at the packs of illegal dirt bikes and ATVs that have run roughshod over the streets for the last couple of years (though the NYPD may finally be getting a handle on this); look at the proliferation of e-bike drivers who don’t give a damn about traffic laws and go wherever they want – crosswalks, sidewalks, running red lights, weaving in and out pedestrian crowds. The worst of the pandemic is mostly over and should no longer be an excuse for these types of anti-social behavior, which should have been addressed before it took hold.

        At the end of the day, this is a transportation blog focused on railways – so I’ll bring it back to that – the election of Kathy Hochul as the governor of New York State is the best outcome for the future of the MTA and the NYC subway. She is pro-infrastructure and pro-transportation. She is willing to trust the senior leadership of the MTA to do the right thing and not micro-manage them the way her predecessor did. She is championing the Interborough Express, a worthy project of immense value that could be a game changer for outer borough travel. She will be presenting a state budget in January when we will see what her transportation priorities are. I am optimistic.

        • Tiercelet

          I agree that many people have a perception about Rising Disorder In New York.

          What you’re not getting is that these people aren’t primarily getting this impression from personal experience. When my relatives in the Rockies ask me about how the New York subway is full of violent crime and rampant disorder, that isn’t coming from seeing people smoke on the 1 train!

          They’re getting it because the message of YOU ARE NOT SAFE is being hammered at them 24-7 by media outlets, both local and national, that know the best way to sell papers is to sell fear. Sure, crime is up somewhat since 2019–in ways that sound dramatic when quoted in percents, because they start from such a small base–but it remains lower (dramatically so!) than at any point before 2016, and has already begun coming back down since last year.

          The world hasn’t changed much–just people’s perceptions. You even reveal it yourself talking about public disorder–as though the roving gangs of dirt-bike riders are new, rather than something I’ve been hearing through my window for decades, as though over-aggressive delivery cyclists are new, rather than something Dave Barry was writing jokes about in the ’80s. This is an “invisible river,” and of course it will guide their voting patterns in fascistic directions–and politicians are happy to offer an invisible bridge, promising that we can clamp down enough on public life that no disorder will be possible.

          But I don’t understand how any of that means that Alon shouldn’t throw cold water on the overblown “subway crime” narrative. It’s precisely because they’re aware of this perception that they’re choosing to talk about it at all. And it’s precisely because the official channels are all too happy to feed this narrative–to prime the public to be frightened by the world, in the hopes of profiting thereby–that it’s important for civil society (bloggers, and their commenters!) to point out that it isn’t grounded in reality, that there isn’t really a new problem here to solve, and to the extent there is, the proposed solutions won’t help it. It may not work–both media narratives and people’s emotions are hard to change–but no one here is high-profile enough for the Post to call us out for saying the emperor has no clothes, so what’s the harm?

          Or are we all just supposed to sit back and nod quietly because some people have a perception of discomfort, and we mustn’t push back on it?

    • Alon Levy

      The fare evasion moral panic was over rates on the subway that were toward the high end of what’s found in Germany but not that unusual. (The bus fare evasion rate was higher but that’s bus drivers letting it go, partly as industrial action, partly because it’s disproportionately on routes that are 100% subway connectors like the rush hour B1 Brighton Beach-KCC runs or the Eastern Queens routes.)

      My LIC-Downtown Brooklyn commute (not the Village – Marron is at 370 Jay) had… I think a few panhandlers? But nothing aggressive. There was someone selling swipes at Queensbridge; there were cops on the platform at that station so I assumed they’d seen that already. The constant announcements that “cops are on the platform” were far more bothersome than anything the cops were supposedly there to prevent; when I was in London last weekend, I was struck by how, in comparison, the Tube never did those announcements, and also the frequency was a train every 3-5 minutes off-peak and not a train every 10-12, and even the branches were more frequent than the F.

        • Alon Levy

          I know, I looked – there were way fewer hotels and they were all more expensive. LIC has had a lot of recent hotel development, and not just brand name hotels at QBP but also cheaper ones a little to the north, like where I’ve stayed in my last three New York trips.

          • adirondacker12800

            You pick the cheap hotel, that is cheap because it’s difficult to get to, then whine that it’s difficult to get to. Okay.

          • Eric2

            You, on the other hand, are defending bad transit which is bad for no reason other than that it’s badly run. Okay.

          • Matthew Hutton

            And it’s not like they’re complaining that they stayed in Amersham and there’s only 4tph because it’s super far out.

          • Alon Levy

            Yeah, Queensbridge is not some far-flung exurb. It’s right next to Manhattan, and the hotel is a few blocks to its north. I’m not complaining about walk time; I’m complaining about hideously poor levels of F train reliability.

          • adirondacker12800

            Complaining about it on a blog isn’t going to make money magically appear to run more trains. This wasn’t a surprise and there are hotels in Brooklyn.

          • Alon Levy

            What, 12-minute off-peak frequencies? They kind of were a surprise, years in Europe got me used to 5 minutes. (And also, the extra ridership from better off-peak frequency in New York plausibly pays for the extra cost. The main limiting factor at this point is that MTA management doesn’t care about non-9-to-5 service and therefore does midday maintenance forcing longer intervals between trains.)

          • Allan Rosen

            Last summer I waited 18 minutes on a Sunday for an F at Queensbridge when I dropped my car off for repair near there. The Q was only partially running that day so I had to take a bus to the F and a bus home to near Sheepshead Bay. Trip took me like an hour and three quarters or longer. I can’t remember now. And people wonder why many choose to drive. When I came back to pick up the car, the GPS routed me into Manhattan over the QB and back to Brooklyn over the BB instead of the BQE. Took 3 minutes over the QB and only another ten to the BB and 10 minutes over the BB. And they say we need congestion pricing which won’t improve F headways.

    • Alon Levy

      Okay, so Queensbridge should get 12-minute subway frequency to Manhattan, less than 12 minutes away, because the schedules are available. Can you stop hating on the riders just to get a sense of satisfaction that you know better than them?

      • adirondacker12800

        I haven’t said anything about frequency or the lack of it. It’s not the MTA’s job to make your masochistic frugality less masochistic.

  5. Dforeman

    Hi Alon, discovered your site here via recent press on your good work, much appreciate a good old-fashioned blog.

    Some thoughts on crime, or as a San Franciscan, homelessness and public transportation.

    As a bearded white guy, I am quite thoughtless about personal safety when traveling by plane, train or foot. I can slip an exposed Iphone in my back pocket with my nose buried in a book, and I don’t think about being targeted because it is very much an exception.

    I simply don’t have the same stories as friends-of-a-different-phenotype who do get targeted, and traumatically.

    Perhaps relatedly, I have noticed conservative through-and-throughs respond very differently to antisocial behavior and threats received on the streets. They simply don’t forget. Once bit, twice shy (or shy forever), with a willingness to append the crime to the group and actively perpetuate the reputation.

    I quite enjoyed the U-bahn, and vividly remember sharing a train with a chatty stock broker and a presumable vagrant. As an American, it really stood out to me as a junction for the full class spectrum that the US lacks. I assume such normalcy contributes to a more equitably-minded working class and a less alienated ‘invisible’ class.

    My gut feeling is law enforcement (even if willing, and here they are not) cannot compensate for a severe culture issue.

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