I was going to the middle of Queens, New York, for a family dinner. It’s only 11 miles from where I’m currently living/staying, in the West Village, but in New York City, 11 miles is a lot. To get there I had to take a subway into Queens and then transfer to a bus. Total travel time was just over an hour.
If there’s one thing New Yorkers love to complain about, it’s the subways. The system is old. A minor hiccup can cause ripple effects throughout the system, creating delays that make people late for work, meetings, and appointments.
Trains are often so crowded you have to let one or more pass before you can get on, and then you’re being pushed and shoved and bounced around like cattle in a cattle car.
Nothing is Perfect
There is certainly plenty of room to improve in the NYC subway system, but it helps to have perspective.
The subways aren’t perfect, but nothing is. I spent six months of this year living in southern California without a car. For the most part, it was manageable because I was mostly confined to the village of La Jolla in San Diego, a small area that is easily walkable (at least by New Yorker standards; people there complain if they can’t find a parking spot in front of the gym.).
When I wanted to go anywhere — to meet friends downtown, or even to a yoga class in the next town over, I generally resorted to an Uber or Lyft. Although they have buses, traveling by bus always took at least double, if not triple, the time it would take to travel by car.
The Best Deal in New York
For all the complaints about the subway, there’s also much to appreciate.
A subway ride is still one of the best deals in NYC. In 1997, the MTA introduced free transfers between buses and subways. That means my commute to Queens was $2.75 total. That’s less than a slice of pizza at Joe’s pizza (which is $3).
What else can you buy today for $2.75?
There’s no other city where you can travel as far and as fast for as little money as you can in New York. That’s possible only because of our public transportation system.
Seven days a week, 24 hours a day, it moves millions of people around the city through vast underground tunnels built decades ago.
A Modern Miracle
Just think about that for a moment. How many things built a century ago still work?
Yes, it may be slow at times. It may get crowded, and it may feel infuriating to be pushed around. But when it works, especially when you can get from Point A to Point B with one connection or less, when you don’t have to wait for your connecting ride, and when you can get on a train and grab a seat, and get to where you’re going without major delays, there’s nothing better.
Zooming downtown over 90 blocks in less than 15 minutes, through tunnels built over a 100 years ago, you might even realize that the NYC subway is a man-made miracle.