New York straphangers are in for major upgrades.
Governor Andrew Cuomo joined New York City Mass Transit Authority (MTA) Chairperson and CEO Thomas Prendergast at the New York Transit Museum, Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street, on Friday, January 8, to announce plans to modernize the mass transit experience for millions of passengers.
“This plan is to give New Yorkers the mass transit system that they deserve. Frankly, the MTA system has to be more reliable and comfortable,” Cuomo said. “We want to have the best system to make the ride more pleasant and faster so it would encourage more use of mass transit system, which is the future.”
The conference began with Prendergast discussing how New York has fallen behind compared to the amenities featured in several other countries’ mass transit systems, such as heated seats on trains in Seoul, train platforms being separated from the tracks by glass panels in Hong Kong and shopping malls in China.
“In New York, we’re behind and that ends today,” said Prendergast. “The reason it ends today is that we need to step into the 21st century and bring tech into the system.”
To make these upgrades a reality, the state is investing $26 billion in the MTA’s Capital Program. The plan includes 1,400 new subway cars, 3,100 new buses, USB charging ports, security cameras, the reimagining of outdated, dark and dirty stations, and technological upgrades.
A digital ticketing system, which will allow passengers to use their smartphones to pay for fares by 2018, was also previewed.
One of the more immediate changes will focus on integrating technology. “We’re in the digital age. It’s not a luxury anymore. It’s an expectation,” Prendergast continued. “That’s why the station of the future will be a connected one. By the end of this year, all 270 underground stations will have Wi-Fi and by early next year, they will have cell phone service as well.”
Cuomo emphasized that dependability and comfort are key components in getting New Yorkers out of their vehicles and onto trains or buses.
“Mass transit has to run. Number one is reliability. When the train says it’s coming at 12:07, it means that the train has to come at 12:07, not 12:10,” he emphasized. “We also need comfort. I don’t want to get in a train and feel like a sardine for an hour and a half on the way to work. I want to be able to sit in my seat, listen to my music, make a telephone call, be connected to Wi-Fi.”
The most significant impact for passengers will be the renovations of 30 stations, including the Bay Ridge Avenue, 53rd Street and Prospect Avenue stops on the R line. These stations are slated to receive full-time closures (the specific dates and lengths not yet announced) to speed up renovations and are expected to be completed by 2020.
“These stations will also serve as a template to revamp station design guidelines to create new aesthetics throughout the subway system,” Prendergast said. “This is the largest investment in infrastructure in MTA history.”
Although the plan was described in great detail, some remain skeptical.
“These are vital investments to modernize subways and buses and make the daily commute less awful for eight million New Yorkers,” said Executive Director of the Riders Alliance John Raskin. “But in order to make them happen, Governor Cuomo has to approve the MTA capital program so the MTA can begin doing the work, and he has to identify how he plans to pay for it all.”