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The MTA has released a six-point plan to reduce subway delays, but will it accomplish much?

Written by
Clayton Guse

After a rush of subway service disruptions over the past month, the MTA released a plan on Monday to improve the reliability of the system. It's a six-point plan, and you know it's serious because you can't even count all of its points on a single hand. The announcement comes in the wake of another major rush hour power outage on May 9, which impacted the morning commutes of thousands of residents.

New York City's subway system is more than a century old, and is burdened by aging infrastructure that is in dire need of an update. One key example of an archaic feature that is somehow still in place on the subway is its signal system, much of which dates back to World War II. A lack of modernized signaling requires trains to run farther apart from one another, causing more overcrowding, more delays and a more hellish commute for all (the Times wrote a fantastic piece on the subject earlier this month).

The MTA's six-point plan does not begin with a sweeping focus on fixing subway delays—that will take decades and it isn't going to be pretty. Instead, the first point of the plan revolved around reorganizing the authority's leadership structure. "The MTA will work to advance legislation this session to separate the chairman and CEO positions," the statement reads.

If you were looking for a bang here, you're better off moving onto point number two, which addresses the expedited delivery of new cars and improvements in the way in which maintenance is conducted on trains across the system. The MTA admits that car equipment breaks down on the 8th Avenue line roughly 25 times per month, each of which lasts an average of 19 minutes. New cars and better maintenance, they say, will help reduce both of these figures.

Point number three is where the plan really gets cooking—it digs into the problems associated with signal delays, and does a great job of illustrating how a modernization of the subway's signal system is not coming any time soon. "The MTA has 837 track miles, over 1,600 mainline switches, and 13,000 signals," point three begins. "The system is built to be fail-safe, which means that when a sensor is tripped, all lights go red and everything stops. It keeps people safe, but it also causes delays." This point breaks down how track inspection and design is being modernized, and how expanded trash removal and rapid response teams will remedy many of the system's issues.

But, at the end of the day, replacing a signal system that's more than 70 years old is what will truly bring the subway into the future, and there is not yet a comprehensive plan as to how that will be achieved. 

The final three points address how the MTA plans to reduce emergency-related delays by placing more EMTs and law enforcement officials at stations throughout Manhattan, their plan to better herd humans across subway platforms and staircases, and finishes with a promise to solve the problem of bottlenecks (which seems dubious at best).

At the end of the day, the MTA needs to make major investments into the modernization the New York City subway system, which will require even more closures and temporary service changes. If we're willing to deal with that, then one day, decades from now, maybe we can have the transit system that we deserve. 

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