An Ode to the New York Subway

Oct 25, 2022 · 352 comments
Schneiderman (New York, New York)
Thank you for this essay. It better puts in perspective the actual likelihood of becoming a crime victim in the subway. Once local television news programs start playing up these subway crimes people become more fearful than the statistics warrant. Assuming 1 billion people use the subway each year (based upon Mr. Krugman's information) with 9 murders per year, that means the probability of your being a crime victim in any given year is about 1 in 100 million. That means that the average person would have to ride the subway 100 million times in order, on average, to lose your life on the subway. The chances of being struck by lightning are only about 1 in 1 million.
Kashisa (NY)
Transit crime in New York City is up 41.7 percent this year, with 1,865 incidents so far in 2022 Subway murders have risen to their highest level in 25 years with nine reported so far this year.
J (NYC)
Public transportation is a blessing that should be invested in, that it might improve and continue to be a blessing for those in the future.
A Reader (Brooklyn)
I’ve lived in cities with great mass transit—San Francisco, Paris, and NYC, and cities like LA and San Diego, where you are sunk if you don’t have a car. Have also experienced other fantastically efficient and clean European and Japanese systems. I far prefer being able to get around via subway than by car. And when I can catch an NYC express train, like the 4 or the N, I’m in heaven. I too, enjoy the diversity of the NYC subway, and appreciate how civil most of the riders are. But lately I’ve witnessed or been the target of increasing violence on the train and in stations, both on the platform and in the parts of hubs that lead from one train to another. I wonder if Paul Krugman has ever tried to negotiate a transfer, say, on a Saturday night at 10 PM in one of the grittier hubs, like Atlantic/Barclay Center? It can get pretty brutal. It would be nice if the supposed increased police presence were a bit more present. Personally I would like to see cops on platforms, not just chatting in a group somewhere, but methodically walking the length of the platforms, not to hassle people but to deter violence. And I know NYC has to maintain its antiquated tracks and signal system, but it gets exhausting when what should have been a 40 minute ride turns into a 1.5 hour slog due to the above maintenance. All before 10 PM. It would be money well spent if MTA would pay track maintenance crews bonuses to do this sort of upkeep after midnight.
Vivian (AL)
I love visiting New York City and I particularly love riding the Subway. There isn't an option to pay extra to ride in the luxury subway car so if you want to ride you ride on the same car as everyone else. I think the idea that there is a place where people from all different walks of life and in all kinds of different phases and situations in life can be on relatively equal footing for a moment is beautiful, even if that place does have gigantic rats and smell kinda bad. One particularly vivid memory I have is riding the Subway when I was in NYC for my 16th birthday. I heard around 6 different languages being spoken while I was riding. I can't remember where I was going but I do remember that was the most language I had heard being spoken in one place.
JAG (Upstate NY)
I just can’t believe how you are making excuses for the failure of government in NY State and NY City to protect its citizens. Your arguments are a fraud. I eagerly await the midterm elections to rid our government of enablers of violent crime.
Bob (Portland)
I have been to NYC many times since the 90's going back to "token days." I've always loved the subway because it is a microcosem of America. Every stop changes the mix of passengers. Get off and every stop is a different culture & a different city.
lkos (nyc)
People are not rational. It does not matter that there is higher violence in red states or that the NYC subway is safer that it was 20 years ago. It's never been 100% to ride the subway. It's also not 100% safe to drive or to be a pedestrian. But people don't get scared about the potential to be a in car crash or get hit by a car- they don't dread it. The right wing knows how to manipulate peoples brain- how to incite the fear and disgust responses. Until we get a handle on this people will be manipulated to vote for authoritarian bullies who will strip mine from us every right and asset.
jane raskin (10011)
Thank you. Brilliant, as usual
H (Anonymous)
“Pushed on the tracks?” I think what you meant to say was pushed in front of a train. What a horrific end and it comes in the name of social justice. How ironic.
JND (Abilene, Texas)
"He won the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on international trade and economic geography." You wish. He won it for his endless rants against George W. Bush.
NYrByChoice (New York, NY)
@JND Thanks for shining light on that
Brody (NYC)
This piece is like therapy for Mr. Krugman. The Democrats are about to get routed in the midterms, and whimsical musings about the subway are a welcome diversion for Paul. I can respect that.
RHD (San Francisco)
Agree completely!
Dave (New Jersey)
NYC and other cities have decided that "equity" outweighs public safety. Clearly bail reform and tolerance of behavior formerly considered criminal has been disastrous. It is time to tighten things up and put the safety of citizens first.
Clearheaded (Philadelphia)
You must be lost, this column was about the subway. Tell us the color of your ball cap without telling us the color of your ball cap.
Osito (Brooklyn, NY)
Most of the negative attention re. the NY subway is alt-right trolling, hatred of cities and urbanity, etc. The same reason San Francisco is always mentioned as a "failed city" when it's one of the most successful cities on earth. The truth is that the NY subway is a miracle and a great system, the only one on earth with a dual express-local format, running 24-7. And crime, after rising during the pandemic, has dropped in 2022, and is again near historic lows. The subway is safe, efficient, affordable and (generally) works well. Overall, it's probably in better shape now than at any point in the last 70 years.
John Woods (Madison, WI)
We just got back from a month in Paris, and what you write about is also true of that city. We had an apartment that was in the thick of things, restaurants, shops, grocery stores, and more all within easy walking distance. And with the Paris Metro, you can get anywhere in the city in about 30 minutes, usually less time, even the far reaches of the city. I live in a place where cars are necessary, but I definitely appreciate the Metro when visiting a place like Paris as well the subway when I worked in New York many years ago.
linda bialecki (New York city)
Bravo! Couldn't agree more: essential to NY living, people are thoughtful and considerate, and seeing our vast diverse fellow city dwellers is always enlightening and humbling.
Fox (Seattle)
I'm from Boston originally, and one thing about that city's subway is that it's so utterly useful and convenient that I couldn't tell you how to get around on surface streets despite having lived there for 25 years of my life, but I could get you anywhere in the city on the subway. New York's a lot easier to get around (grids! Numbered streets! Modern urban design!) but the subway's an invaluable resource whenever I visit. And here in Seattle, in whose suburbs I live now, even though King County Metro and Sound Transit are about as reliable as a politician's campaign promise, if you're not too picky about how long it takes, you can get anywhere from Tacoma to Everett without too much trouble. Public transit is the lifeblood of the civilised world. Not just for the city but for the suburbanites who work there and are more than happy to get the heck out of town and back home at 5 in the afternoon.
BrendanC (NY)
@Fox Potable water, edible food, and clean sanitation is lifeblood of civilised world
Ariel McGovern (West Palm Beach, FL)
I heartily recommend a trip to The Transit Museum in Brooklyn. It was fascinating to see the subways of yore. They even have a display of slugs that scofflaws have used to avoid paying their fares. The express train system makes us unique and far more efficient than Paris or London, even if I can still recall the panic I felt the first time as I watched my stop speed by!
Elizabeth A (NYC)
I just ended a week of hosting out of town guests. We used the subway extensively, albeit mostly in Manhattan. They were surprised at how easy it was: the OMNY system that lets you use a credit card or smartphone to pay, the train arrival clocks, even the way Google Maps has integrated real-time bus and train info into the app. I was embarrassed by the dirt and trash, the occasional homeless person camped out in a car, and those ginormous rats. But they expected a lot worse, and we pretty much zipped around the city comfortably and inexpensively. To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of the New York City subway are greatly exaggerated.
Fox (Seattle)
@Elizabeth A The rats are a tourist attraction. I'm convinced of this. If I went to New York and didn't see a rat bigger than my cat, I'd be disappointed.
J (NYC)
@Fox True. The rats build character.
Number23 (NYC)
What a great piece. Assuming that Mr. Krugman's numbers are correct, 9 fatalities at 3.5 million riders a day means that nine people have been murdered on the subway this year in relation to over a billion passengers -- given that today is nearly the 300th day of the year. Again, not to diminish that loss of life, but it's important to put in perspective when you have people on right who grossly exaggerate human tragedy to further their political positions, which are in a word, cruel. I have two children who commute from Brooklyn and The Bronx on the subway everyday. I'm more worried about them getting injured at a construction site because some wealthy land developer is cutting corners than I am about having an issue on the L train.
April (NYC)
I’m now curious how many people have been shot in their vehicle in road rage incidents or killed by drunk /unsafe drivers. Perhaps that would be an interesting comparison point when assessing risk of various means of transportation.
Jim (Chicago)
A very thoughtful piece. I have the same viewpoint and experience of the L system here in Chicago. And every time I happen to ride in a car anymore, I’m reminded of how horrible doing so is an experience it is for everyone in a dense urban city.
Fauvette (NYC)
Paul Krugman said the "express train" doesn't stop at Columbus Circle. I was perplexed by this, and I noticed other people commenting were, too, so I looked it up. Wikipedia has a detailed explanation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_New_York_City_Subway_services
Daniel O’Neil (New York, NY)
@Fauvette I assumed he was referring to the fact that the 2/3 trains (which are express) don't stop at Columbus Circle but 72nd St instead.
Jamie Lynne Keenan (queens nyc)
I remember NYC in the 80's. The cops only had 38 caliber revolvers and no vests. The drug dealers had 9 mm semi's Mac 10's Uzi's and AK 47's. One year the number of people killed in just Brooklyn was greater than the number of people killed in the civil war in Lebanon. Yeah NYC is a lot better and safer. And weren't the mayors republicans?
NYrByChoice (New York, NY)
@Jamie Lynne Keenan : no the Mayors in the 80s were not Republican
Adam Stoler (Bronx Urban Warrior)
this is a "yes and...". take the 7 train from Manhattan ("the city" to us outer boro denizens) once past the high rises of LIC, each and every stop becomes a United Nations visit-complete with all the cultural amenities one would expect: groceries, places of worship, schools and yes, delicious restaurants . The Philippines. Bangladesh Argentina. Thailand. Tibet. It's breathtaking.(150 languages spoken) Then the 7 train ends @ Main Street...where the ubiquitous question is asked: what do we want to eat, and replied to: "What part of China are you craving?", not the generic "Chinese". Yummy. Paul-if you ever want to...I'd love sharing a meal in Flushing with you, ANY type of meal there. I know how much you'd appreciate and enjoy it.
SFLInNYC (New York)
I's not crime that's the deterrent to subway use for many New Yorkers, but lack of accessibility. It's shameful that the MTA considers adding elevators to half the subway stations to be a worthy yet distant goal. The elderly and disabled are the least able to bypass the stations that are inaccessible. If you’re disabled and you must take a bus to get to the subway, it's easier to just stay on the bus. When I first visited Tokyo in 1990, the subway was much like ours - with countless stairways and a confusing maze of passageways. Less than two decades later, every subway station in Tokyo was 100% accessible. Yes, the fares are higher and based on distance - as is the case in most cities - but it's a system that's usable by all. Subway crime is a symptom of bigger problems the city is not addressing: mental health, affordable housing and income disparities. That said, a clean, modern environment is a deterrent to crime. In many cities it's common for businesses to 'adopt' a stretch of roadway and I wonder if a similar system could be implemented here - with businesses adopting subway stations and helping to keep them clean and safe. Regardless; let's hope that with congestion pricing, some of the money will be used to make every station clean, bright and fully accessible.
Johann Pablo (Long Beach, CA)
Perhaps, just perhaps, the rise in violent crimes on MTA trains and stations has something to do with the ever-growing number of severely mentally ill, chronically homeless individuals who effectively use the system as a shelter alternative. I love the subway and miss it dearly compared to my daily commute on the 405, but I sadly watched the overall quality of the experience steadily decline for the six years I lived in the City in the 2010s. I visited again earlier this month and the sheer volume of homelessness on the trains was striking, forcing myself to wonder if I had left California at all. Please don't let the MTA become the LA Metro.
Mac (New York)
Absolutely agree. I love my ride from Carroll St. in Brooklyn to 34th Street station. I feel blessed for my little train. I feel blessed to live in this amazing city. Arguably still the capital of the World. Thank you as always Dr. Krugman.
Frank Purdy (Rome, GA)
You are right about the automobile-induced misery of Atlanta. I live 60 miles away and occasionally have to make a trek into the city, and it is an ordeal. I remember when it wasn't. I loved Atlanta in the 1970's. I have visited several European cities over the past ten years. As in many other things, they are way ahead of us on making cities livable. Pedestrian-only areas and good public transportation are great assets. I hope the infrastructure plan actually brings improvements. It would be a shame if we waste the opportunity.
Independent (Conejo Valley)
One of the silver linings of the pandemic was my wife and I both work from home and we no longer have to endure the misery of riding the Metro North and the subways anymore. A second silver lining was we were able to move from NY back to California where we love taking in the views of the Santa Monica Mountains while driving in our own cars around town. To each their own … but I’ll take mine without being packed like a sardine underground and getting constantly shoulder checked by “humanity” along the way.
Charles Tiege (Rochester, MN)
Much different than our experience with the "el" in Chicago some time ago. We had flown into O'Hare to attend a wedding in the Loop downtown, so we took the elevated. The cars were mostly empty except for some sinister looking young men who were getting on and off at stops. In between stops they stared at us. We made it to our hotel unsettled but unscathed. But another wedding guest was not so lucky. Young men mugged him on the train, took his wallet and valuables. He was a cop, a detective, from anther city. Why did he not resist, we asked. Always give them whatever they want, he said, it is not worth your life.
Fabio418 (Rome, Italy)
Subways in NY and London have one thing in common: they are the only I know where destinations are not indicated with their final stop. I think the London system of using "Nortbound", "Southbound" and so on is the most functional for strangers, as you simply need to have a glance on the map, without tracing to the final stop (and learning a name which may be complicated, in a foreign language). In NY, instead, the first time it took me a lot to understand the meaning of "Uptown" and "Downtown"
Russell 🏀 🐕 🏀 (Metairie)
Maybe other cities with better subways - but I’ve used New York’s subway in the past on vacations - it seemed fine to me - I think some people just like to complain - probably complain about food at restaurants, products at stores - looking in the mirror - probably complain about themselves. Actually like Paul said - lots of mental stimulation with all the different peoples etc…
Mw (Long Island)
Amen, Paul! Love the subway. Crown jewel of NYC!!!
RDR (México)
The Chicago "L" is better.
Linda (NYC)
In general I agree with Paul Krugman’s positive assessment of our subway, but as he’s a man, he’s probably never had to deal with a male hand or other body part exploring or pressing against his own body in a crowded car. Luckily, because we’re surrounded by people we’re unlikely to know or see again, we women can and should feel free to make a scene and shame those guys publicly and loudly. Photograph them with your phones if possible. Holler back!
Joanne (Boston)
@Linda - I heard a story about a woman on the subway who grabbed the abusing hand, held it up high and yelled "I found this hand on my butt - whose is it?" Wish I'd thought of that when I was a teen on subway. Like you, I'm happy with the NY subway except for the groping issue.
Brooklyn Dad (Brooklyn)
yes! more subways and mass transit! less cars!! It is crazy that most Americans drive a private pimped up TANK daily. the cities should be more compact, bicycle friendly and full of public transportation. nobody needs to drive above 70mph, 70 miles a day, but people do it like it is t a big deal. The environment is crashing all around the world... and YES, CARS, AND DRIVERS all over the world are to blame. get in a bicycle, and discover that distance is a relative term and one can go very far and without too much effort... no need of a private pimped up TANK.
AL (CT)
NYC subway transports poor and rich, so rising crime in NYC subway is OK? What a shame, especially from a Princeton professor!
Chas Simmons (Jamaica Plain, MA)
@AL -- Krugman does not say "rising crime in NYC subway is OK" His words are: "These incidents have been terrible, and officials are right to [work to curtail them]" He is right to point out, though [although he is too much the professor to just guess at the ratio -- but I'll do it] that the death rate for auto commuters is at least 20 times higher.
John (UK)
Is this article written by someone who uses the subway daily to go to work ? At rush hour ? Is this article written by someone who has used the subway daily in other cities to go to work No and no I have, and my prize for the best public transport and subway goes to Vienna , Austria. Not London, not Washington DC
James (Brooklyn, NY)
@John Please read the article.
E (New York)
Crime seems high right now because it's so random. Maybe the numbers aren't up that much but nobody knows where and when it will strike and who might be targeted so the fear is heightened. For a while, you could assume if you kept to yourself, didn't flash anything worth stealing around, and avoided more dangerous neighborhoods you'd be fine; not so anymore. While the subway does a lot of the good Mr. Krugman suggests we can and should want better. There are more than a few rats, it's filthy, it floods, the walls are coming down, the trains are constantly delayed and unpredictable, it's mostly not ADA accessible, fare jumping is rampant, the cops may be present but they're not paying attention, plus the system is designed too bring people in and out of midtown, which is no longer all that's needed. I'd take the Tube over the subway any day.
Fauvette (NYC)
@E Your description of the NYC subway system is very colorful. I've been riding the subway for 48 years. Your description might have been more accurate years ago, but I'm not experiencing what you describe now. What neighborhoods are you talking about?
John (Florida)
Democratic supported attacks on the police is the main cause of increased crime, in the subway, in NYC and throughout America. If you are a cop and know that if you end up in a conflict with or god forbid kill a criminal like George Floyd, the government, the press and your own bosses will turn on you, ruin your career and your life and put YOU in jail, would you make any unnecessary effort?
J (NYC)
@John Kneeling on a man's neck for 8 minutes, regardless of criminality, is completely unnecessary. Your belief is essentially that police should refuse to do their jobs if they can't kill without any scrutiny.
Rich (Austin, Tex.)
The NYC subway is great. The violent lunatics who threaten the riders aren't. Why can't those in power admit there's a real problem and take the steps to stop it.
Fauvette (NYC)
@Rich Who's not admitting there's a problem? Please give names and descriptions of what you're talking about, Rich from Texas.
alocksley (NYC)
"the express doesn't stop at Columbus circle"? how about the A train mister UWS??
Mw (Long Island)
@alocksley well played.
KO (NYC)
@alocksley and the D train!
Bob Washick (Conyngham Pa)
Stalin envisioned a subway for the kremlin. He claimed Russians use the subway. Stalin made the Russian subway… absolutely fabulous! I will await the subways in New York City to match … but actually outdo the subways that Stalin created..
Fauvette (NYC)
I am a 66 year old white woman living in lower Manhattan and I ride the subway a lot. I almost always have a small cart with me. I have noticed that when I am fatigued, a young man of color in jeans sometimes notices that and offers me his seat. White men in suits never do. Not once.
Anastasia (Stamford)
That is also my experience. When my twins were little, and I would be lugging a double stroller up and down subway steps (not enough accessible stations!), well-dressed white people NEVER stopped to help. Poorly-dressed little old ladies did, often.
April (NYC)
Yes. So much yes. I’ll add while pregnant I had an older Irish woman and an older Jamaican women team up to lecture an entire subway car of younger people and men about their lack of manners for not giving up their seat for me. Only in NYC can two grandmothers, with very thick accents, coming from two different cultures, leave a full car of people looking at their shoes in embarrassment. I felt so guilty for taking their seat but so thankful because that day I really needed it.
BrendanC (NY)
@Fauvette Those white men most likely attended public school in white suburbs, while those young men of color may have attended parochial school in City of NY. I am a middle aged white man who did both. When I last took 4 train up to Bronx, where I had parked, young students of color took note of my doing what you described, and were.a.Not surprised.
Mor (California)
I just came back from London. Comparing my beloved Tube with the NYC subway is a profanation or a bad joke. The Tube is safe, clean, and pleasant to use. It has uniformed police officers at every station. It has well-trained and courteous personnel. It has CCTV cameras everywhere. It does NOT have gibbering maniacs, drug addicts, human feces, homeless sleeping on the benches, filth, danger and people being pushed under trains. And London has higher population density than New York. Sorry but the horror that the NYC subway has becomes should be laid directly at the feet of “progressive’ prosecutors, demoralized and poorly trained police, and the belief that addicts, criminals and mentally ill have more rights than law-abiding citizens. You want to have a functioning subway system? Lock up every homeless addict, every schizophrenic, and every petty criminal. Install cameras everywhere and post a trained police officer at every station. Then we can talk.
Cathy Perry (St. Louis, MO)
@Mor Just made my first trip to London and was quite impressed with Tube travel. I've been to NYC and have ridden the subways, but wouldn't do it now.
KO (NYC)
@Mor the Tube is also significantly more expensive and does not run 24 hours a day.
michjas (Phoenix)
When I was young and stupid I lit off a firecracker in a subway station. I was cited for disturbing the peace and fined $10. I went to court with a bunch of other stupid kids who were also fined $10. That’s when law enforcement worked.
Stephanie (Canada)
Today if you did that you would be shot or at best it wouldn’t be a $10 fine it would be jail time, which would then impact your future ability to get a job.
BrendanC (NY)
@Stephanie Really? I had no idea.
PATRICK (Pennsylvania)
A couple of decades ago, the cowardly New York Supreme Court Justice Lippman vacated the death penalty despite New York gangsters being there and the root of national crime. I happen to know the death penalty is certainly a deterrent. Over here there is a moratorium on it's use. People got dangerous when they heard there was a moratorium until they later learned that only meant a temporary reprieve and that the death penalty was not repealed. Then they got really nice.
Joanne (Boston)
@PATRICK - check out the research, which shows the death penalty isn't a deterrent, on average. It also costs a lot of public money, much more expensive than jailing people for life.
Fauvette (NYC)
@PATRICK Please provide examples.
AnnNYC (New York, New York)
Thank you. I was tackled by a junkie downtown at Fulton street a couple of months ago and I wish that hadn't happened. But for the most part I find my subway rides to be way more orderly than bus rides and a lot quicker than taxis. I've also been using the subway since the 70s, when you could wait for ages for a train, and when one did arrive it was often covered in wet graffiti. Today I'm shocked by how many outside the city seem to think our subways are hellholes - they aren't! Most people on it just want to get from A to B like I do - and how some who live here also won't step inside, preferring to get stuck in their cars in traffic jams. It is different if you're emerging near Times Square at night, fending off junkies and walking west - I have a friend who lives in that neighborhood, where the police are utterly uninterested and shouldn't be - but that's not a subway safety issue.
Jeff Butters (Ancaster ON)
Simply put: The New York City subway system is the 8th wonder of the world.
PW (MA)
I’d like to pen an ode to Paul Krugman for this column. For now, a simple thanks must do!
Left Handed Catcher (Sandlot)
It’s pretty obvious that Krugman and his commenters have spent little or no time riding the subway in a place like Tokyo, which moves way more people with lower cost, higher service, more cleanliness and less crime. No fears about someone pushing you on the tracks, screaming at you on the train, asking you for money, etc - things you see every day in NYC.
April (NYC)
Is this a comment on the transit system or on the cultural norms of the society. I was once told that the flights to and from Japan were the fastest and most orderly to load and unload. They also were the ones that required the least cleaning. That isn’t a comment about the airline but rather the people sitting in the seats.
Lisa (NYC)
Thanks for this paean to the NYC subway system, and also for the voice of Reason. The fearmongering by Zeldin and other conservatives re: 'rampant crime', is just that: fearmongering. As you say, and I myself have been trying to point out to people, we should have far more to fear, getting inside a car, or merely crossing the street. That's where I'm most scared... Not riding the subway. Look, I ain't gon' lie: hearing the stories about people getting attacked by random strangers, whether on the street, or within the subway system, is scary and unsettling. No doubt. And such incidents surely make for headline-grabbing news stories. But at the same time, I am smart enough to know that I can't allow myself to be ruled by pure emotion. I try to think and operate in a rational manner. And so, when I look at the statistics, they show me that there is no reason to 'avoid' the subway. I just need to be aware of my surroundings, as always. Beyond that, what will be, will be. My chances of being attacked/injured on the street or subway are slim to none. But my chances of being injured while riding in a car, or merely crossing the street? Much higher. No ifs, ands or buts.
Fauvette (NYC)
@Lisa Republicans don't have any ideas or policies so they use fear-mongering to try to get people to vote for them. Some people enjoy the rush of getting worked up; it doesn't matter why or if the reason has any basis in reality. Many thanks for the rational comment and for looking at statistics.
Rick Poston (Minneapolis)
Dr. Krugman: Amen, and thank you! From a former NYC resident.
Klaas Nauta (Sydney, australia)
I've always love the NY Subway system. It's one of my favourites in the world. Hop on, hop off, get anywhere you want and it looks cool too (sorry, I like the old style). Sure it can do with some touch-ups and fixings, but that costs money and covid really put a crimp in the budgets (on top of the problems it already had). Rats seem to be in all subways I've ever visited. If they are not visible, it's not because they aren't there. At least New York doesn't hide anything ;)
AB (Brooklyn)
I appreciate public transportation so much. All the more reason it needs to be safe. Murders are just the crimes being splashed across the front pages. The subway experience right now is scary, as people are emboldened to harass and menace others. I have mostly quit using it because I run into a dangerous or upsetting experience every time. Just this summer, the sexual harassment, the number of times strange men following me, the open IV drug use, the human waste, and recent antisemitic graffiti have all led to my decision to avoid the subway at all costs. I will not return to the office until we can navigate the city in relative safety, without these dangerous creeps freely roaming and harassing me.
hawk (New England)
Life begins on the 22nd floor in NYC. It takes a New Yorker to defend crime and call it acceptable. Isn’t the root cause bail reform? This last perp we all saw on video has been arrested 24 times. His own family described him as a menace. The Liberal tenet of catch and release hasn’t come to places like Oklahoma.
Juan Munoz (Medellín)
This opinion seams to what i think about METRO in Medellín COLOMBIA
Jonathan (Queens, NYC)
You can’t only evaluate your safety as a rider based on physical assaults per capita in the subway system. You also need to consider your particular risk exposure, which may be higher than the hypothetical “average” rider. Lots of night or early morning rides? Long / daily commute? Are you older? Do you have any visible physical impairments, like a limp or broken arm? Are you female? Do you carry a purse? Do you wear an expensive watch? Do you wear religious clothing? Your risk level is probably higher than the average rider. You should also consider how often you’re typically placed in the danger zone of a potential assault, even if nothing ultimately happens. E.g., most riders are pretty frequently within striking distance of people who might attack them, and that’s unsafe even if it doesn’t culminate in a physical attack. Fireworks are dangerous even if you don’t blow your fingers off using them; being on a car / platform close to emotionally disturbed people is dangerous even if they don’t attack you.
Joanne (Boston)
@Jonathan - Even for the more vulnerable people you mention (and at 68, I guess I'm one of them), the question is one of relative risk. I'll bet it's still much riskier for me to drive than to ride the subway. Dr. Krugman's point, in part, is that we humans aren't good at assessing risk - the classic example is that we're more scared of air travel than car travel, even though air travel is hugely safer, because news of air disasters looms larger in our minds.
April (DC)
Thank you for this column. We lived in Manhattan for just two years a long time ago, & this is precisely how I felt. And yes, we need to maintain this asset, which does more for our society than move people from Point A to B. NYC's system has problems that need to be taken seriously--especially clear when you compare it to a system like Paris's. But if you want to experience an utter national disgrace in action, check out DC's Metro.
eric c (new york)
If there's a better way to make a soft apology for the soft-on-crime, locking-people-up-is-systemic-racism argument that's slowly eating our cities from within, I don't know it than such an opinion piece. You can celebrate diversity, bustling activity, affordable transportation, and still police and enforce rules (and yes, lock people up for violating them). NYCers should not have to put up with blatant criminals and disgusting homeless people using the subway as their playground. To ignore or brush crime under the table is a disservice to the millions of law abiding and tax-paying people who are victimized by politicians' lazy desires to forgive it so easily.
michjas (Phoenix)
If you search it, you find about a million polls all reporting that the vast majority of subway riders believe that the subways are unsafe during the day and downright frightening at night. The vast majority call for more security and there are many polls reporting that certain lines are pretty much a horror. Krugman seems to be in a tiny minority. Maybe he’s a black belt or has a personal bodyguard. Or maybe he’s Superman in disguise. Or the Hulk. Or Batman.
B. (New York City)
So, after a year and a half of reading Paul Krugman's columns about how inflation is not and will not be a problem, we can now look forward to reading his columns about how the NYC subways are and will remain perfectly safe. Yep, I am sold.
MinnRick (Minneapolis, MN)
The safety of New York City more generally and its subway system more generally speak for themselves. They don't - and shouldn't - need a left-wing apologist pleading the case for how misunderstood they are (think Kevin Bacon at the end of Animal House.. 'Remain calm, all is well!'). If a place - any place - requires wholly biased reporting to convince the public that it's safe.. it isn't.
Max Messer (Houston)
Finally I can agree with a Krugman opinion. The NYC subway is a marvel. As are the systems in Tokyo, Paris, London, Beijing, Moscow, etc. Wish we had even a pale reflection of it down here. Riding a bus just doesn't cut it.
T.Curley (Scottsdale)
Having used the NYC subway thousands of times in my life, I can confirm, without a doubt, that it is a filthy, mismanaged, underfunded train-wreck. New York has allowed the entire system to decay without proper upkeep and modernization for the past fifty years. In comparison to other subway systems throughout the world, New York stands alone as the worst, by far. Don't let anyone pull the wool over your eyes, the NYC subway system has been a sewer since the 1970's.
Pottree (Joshua Tree)
If there's a traffic accident in a small town someplace, and somebody unfortunately dies, it's tragic but it is not national news. If someone is pushed in front of a NY subway train it is news everywhere because it happened in NY and also because it is remote from the daily experience of most Americans, unlike the traffic accident. Most of the millions riding the subway on a typical days are just regular people from all walks of life; they are not going to push anybody in front of an oncoming train. That's something done by a person in some kind of mental crisis - or as we would more bluntly say, a nutcase. New York's subways may not be perfect but they were also designed and built for reasonably normal people, not for the insane or those in a drug-induced psychosis. Those outliers are where the focus should be, not on the cars and on the platforms where they perform their insanity. I leave my fellow old time New Yorkers with just one thought: whatever happened to Creedmore, where they used to lock away the dangerously mentally ill instead of letting them wander through the subways and on the streets, endangering the general population? Whatever happened to that fashion statement, the straight jacket?
Rodnil (Queens)
Creedmoor is still there, but perhaps not as restrictive as it used to be. Many patients are out in the day wandering along Winchester Boulevard, from Union Turnpike to Hillside Avenue. The subway is a long bus ride from Creedmoor, but quite a few of these patients end up on local buses at times.
Ronald (Annapolis)
Thank you , Mr. Krugman, for giving perspective in a world of media hype.
Sunshine (CT)
NYC subway gets you from A to B in a statistically safe way. It could have more elevators/escalators if you have a disability or traveling with a suitcase.
Mike (Republic Of Texas)
I'm glad to hear you take the subway. Would you consider wearing a body cam? I ask, because when people make wild claims about violence and the everyday bizarre activity, you could let them watch what you have experienced. You could become the unofficial spokesman for NY Transit.
Kent (Northern California)
Just returned from a trip to Paris. Their Metro is clean, polished floors, no trash. No graffiti. The trains arrive regularly, as indicated on an electronic sign. The cars are clean, filled with people of all ages, ethnic groups, economic strata. The cost is nominal- less than $2.00 per trip. I thought of the comparison with NYC. It’s embarrassing how shoddy we have let our infrastructure deteriorate. We are becoming a third world country….
Fauvette (NYC)
@Kent What is the percentage of taxes that French people pay as compared to Americans? Are you willing to pay higher taxes? Are you aware that New York puts more money in the federal pot every year than it gets back, and that NYS money goes to places like Kentucky and Tennessee? A lot of people in those states don't like New Yorkers and do nothing but criticize us "libs," siting our "avocado toast" and our "lattes." A certain "news" channel is always telling untruths about us. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky balked at giving us extra Covid money, despite the fact that NYS sends funds to his state, and that NYC is densely populated and an international business hub, calling it a "blue state bailout." I couldn't believe it! So many people were dying in NYC that the morgues were full and the dead had to be stored in freezer trucks. I am a 66 year old woman who's been riding the NYC subway since 1974. I love New York and all the great things it has to offer, including a fast and well thought-out subway system. Before making blanket statements about us, do some research.
J Hagen (Sacramento)
Yes, it can seem insensitive to point out that to some the extent the focus on....can seem higher than it is because of high population density... I couldn't really follow this long sentence, but yes, it is insensitive and I'll add tone deaf. With crime and the asylum crisis at the border what we're seeing is that Democrats will literally never talk about the actual problem. We have too many criminals on the streets and politicians are keeping them there. The police have become powerless. We have too many illegal immigrants who have no valid asylum claims but we're letting them in, messing up the system for every legal immigrant that might actually have something to offer this country besides no education or English language skills. Things need to change starting next month.
Will. (NYCNYC)
I love the NYC subway. Public transport is essential for humanity to progress. This is why I loath the progressive politicians who allow criminals to abuse our collective trust and degrade our public spaces.
Fauvette (NYC)
@Will. Are you a Republican? Republicans are always complaining about paying taxes. It's taxes that pay for things like public transportation. Just stop with "the progressives are bad" stuff.
tedc (dfw)
No better no worse, New Yorkers get precisely the subway they deserve. Otherwise, they would have paid for the new subways 2 centuries back.
David dendy (Atlanta)
Yes but people have memories and eyes.
Stumpy Dowd (NYC)
When you make several hundred thousand dollars a year, the “horror of some recent incidents” in the subway is mostly other people’s problems. If you don’t want to take the subway, you don’t. Perhaps we should ask someone in who lives in the Bronx ( not the affluent Upper West side) how safe the subways are today.
Paco varela (Switzerland)
A travel bargain, even at $2.50 a ride. (from a long ago resident of the Bronx when a train ride cost 25 cents)
LaurenceB. (Portland Oregon)
Subways are genius. We need them because we have packed ourselves into concrete and cannot get from point A to point B without traveling in underground tunnels. A hundred thousand years of evolution and we have achieved subway science. People as you correctly pointed out are hardly killing each other in subways. And crime in the subways is fairly low because what sane person commits a crime in front of hundreds of people packed into subways cars. Giant skyscrapers, concrete everywhere, underground tunnels packed with people who get along. What is next in human evolution?
Fauvette (NYC)
@LaurenceB. Hopefully it's non-reflective glass in all NYC sky scrapers so that thousands of beautiful migrating birds don't die from hitting the glass every migration season. Until then, we need to dim the lights! We are fortunate that NYC is a migration hub. Lets respect the beauty of nature and nurture it. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/sep/16/new-york-city-migrating-birds-deaths
Deena C. (New York)
Thank you for this wonderful piece. As an undergrad needing to take advanced courses I commuted between Queens College, the CUNY Grad Center, and NYU during the late 70s. Yes, it was dirty and crime-ridden, but I would not have received the marvelous education I did had the subway not existed as affordable mass transit. I never had any trouble in all my years of commuting. I got pickpocketed in the subway once.... but that was in Milan. I marvel to this day how New Yorkers can stand butt to butt with complete strangers during rush hour, with complete nonchalance and politeness. I still remember a gentle scolding from a complete stranger, "honey, be careful, close your purse," And on another occasion (different stranger): "honey, your slip is showing." Just like family. Wouldn't have it any other way.
Maria Ferrera (Chicago)
I think the New York subway is kind of a mess. I used to travel for business there every month. It's dingy and the stations are ungodly hot in summer. I use Chicago's CTA all the time. Chicago has invested a lot in their rapid transit system and it shows. New York had neglected the subway system for too long. But I totally agree that I would rather hop on a train than sit in traffic for hours.
Greenfish (NJ)
I love NYC’s subway where I have had countless wonderful experiences meeting people from all walks of life. One of my favorites was getting on the subway in Greenwich Village for a ride to my apartment on the UWS. It was the holiday season. A man was transporting a sizable Xmas tree uptown on the subway. My fellow NYers, of all races and not nearly as rude as too many Americans believe, engaged in fun conversation and warm, holiday cheer.
William Colgan (Rensselaer NY)
Tabloid media focuses on subway crime, particularly that 8 murders have been committed in the system this year. Yet over 200 people have died in car crashes in the great City this year. The number of people using the subways each day is probably greater than the numbers in cars. Riding in cars presents about 30x greater mortal risk than riding the subway system.
Hothouse flower (Over The Rainbow)
I grew up in the Bronx and used the subways for my work commute to Manhattan and for lots of fun things I did in Manhattan when I lived in the Bronx for 58 years. I’ve moved to the Bay Area in California now. Although I do have a car because it is more necessary to have one here, I love to use my senior clipper card (the county’s version of the metro card) which is heavily discounted for us seniors and I avoid driving around here as much as I can. Living in NYC taught me how to do without a car and not look at it as an inconvenience.
Puckfair (Soho)
My father was a subway dispatcher he retired when the city started deferred maintenance in the early 70's he had enough mismanagement! I rode the subway to & from HS every day for 4 years & never encountered the mythological public school kids who kicked out windows on the 4 train. Later I rode them all hours heading back to the Bronx after partying in murder city. 1990 2245 dead, 1989, the 10 years before all sported murder rates in excess of 1000. The D takes me 45 mins NY Botanical Gardens in the Bronx I go often no one has ever bothered me (I'm an old white guy) all the crime adds show me I should be afraid of THEM? I do notice a larger population of people with obviously untreated emotional problems on the subways. I also notice more fare beaters average people just walking through the open exits in just not paying. Police Presence 10 show up after an incident! I also look at engagement rings women used to wear them turned untoward their palms I've been seeing larger stones again. Now only homeless sleeping cars smell in the 1950's sans air-conditioning & fewer people using deodorant it was often unbearable believe me The last major accident was 1991. Union square 5 people died . There are far more dead pedestrians in NYC than subway riders. For those who think pushy riders is something new 1913 Evening Sun published a cartoon called Rude Descending a Staircase .
Jennifer Olsson (New York)
Reading this piece on the D train on my way to work. I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments expressed in this article. People from all walks of life in my subway car. I love NY.
Jennifer Olsson (New York)
Reading this piece on the D train on the way to work. I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments expressed in this piece. People from all walks of life in my subway car. I love NY.
Emily (NY)
Great piece. But you forgot to mention a key point: In the "City That Never Sleeps," the subways run 24/7. No one from cities with more vaunted systems (London, Berlin. Paris, Athens, etc.) can believe it when they see it. A response to a response already made this point, but I want to bring it front and center.
Maureen Cross (Manhattan)
I love and appreciate all the abundant public transportation options in New York. Buses and Subways are everywhere. I live on the UWS and it is on every street corner. I took the subway up to Yankee Stadium on Sunday to buy a hat before the game and it was quick and uneventful with flawless connections. The same with going to a Rangers game at MSG last Monday. The same with going to the Whitney Museum on Saturday. There is quiet cooperation with all the passengers. have lived in San Francisco and Boston and it is not nearly as available…or interesting. Thank you NYC for being the most beautiful and generous city in the world.
David Appell (Keizer, OR)
Sounds great. But the fact is that most people cannot afford to live in NYC, or any urbanized area. And some people just can’t handle the noise.
Fauvette (NYC)
@David Appell I've lived in NYC for 48 years. My hearing seems more sensitive now. When I'm going to be somewhere noisy, like in the subway, I wear earplugs that lower the sound to an acceptable level. Problem solved!
Gregory Hagin (Brooklyn NY)
urban areas are only more expensive for real estate issues, and even that varies wildly even in cities like NY. jackson Heights as Dr Krugman mentioned is a huge immigrant community and they are there because NY represents an good combination of affordability with higher earning potential. As the article shows the lessened need for cars (with onerous car expenses) is huge.
Brian (Brooklyn)
Though I agree with most of Dr. Krugman's points here, I would be eager to read more of an analysis on how a truly modern transit system would benefit NYC. If our subways were more like those in Europe or Asia, would our city not function at an overall higher level? I don't know, but in visiting cities like Munich, Frankfurt, Amsterdam or Copenhagen, I see the subways are extremely modern, clean and efficient and more people can easily rely on them to get from point A to point B. I can bet that the city's economic health would be better if traffic gridlock decreased, and goods and services flowed more smoothly throughout the region. That's not happening at the moment.
michael anton (east village)
@Brian None of the transit systems in the cities you mention run 24/7. That's a huge difference, and did much to make New York the city it has become.
April (NYC)
Also, the cultures of the citizens there are not the same. In all my travels in Germany I never saw anyone throw trash anywhere but in a garbage can.
Frank Purdy (Rome, GA)
@April I was in Scotland a few years ago. They literally have litter police. Edinburgh and Glasgow are incredibly clean.
April (NYC)
Three weekends ago, I cleared a seat for a little boy with his mom who was coming from playing hockey. I spoke with a complete stranger about where children can play. Two weekends ago multiple people offered me a seat, giving up their own, so I could sit with a small child on my lap instead of holding them on a busy train. One then told me about when their child was that small. Last week, I watched two complete strangers, men dressed in nice suits, stop to help a mother with a stroller get it and the children up the stairs. No comments about the dirt from the stroller or sticky fingers from children. They wished each other well and went on their way. I have seen many disappointing things on the train. I also regularly see the small things that give me some faith in humanity.
Jerry Engelbach (Pátzcuaro, México)
Former lifelong New York City native here. The New York subway system’s problem is its age. Newer mass transit systems are cleaner and more logically laid out. Mexico City’s system one of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s spotless, cheap, and efficient. It’s almost unimaginable what it would take in cost and effort to duplicate something like it in New York.
Brian (Brooklyn)
@Jerry Engelbach Agreed, Mexico City has a very good subway system (and bus network). That said, London and Paris have older systems than New York's but have aged quite well in comparison. But they are also better funded. Many Americans don't want to pay to have nice things.
BTS (US)
You have to love the subway. It’s the very bones that hold The City together. And the old Pennsy, New York Central, and New Haven connecting the northeast together with regular train service. Regular but still not as good as in 1940 unfortunately. It’s different in the rest of the country, where cities are mostly built in the post-war sprawl style. Public transit is is overlaid on this, but it’s as hard as putting a skeleton into a body that didn’t have one. Good luck. Chicago and San Francisco (and not the Bay Area mind you, just SF) are the only real exceptions.
Curious (Marfa, Texas)
The NYC subway system is one of the best in the world, EXCEPT for the aesthetics. Yes it’s about money, but in many stations it seems like a few coats of paint, better lighting, and better signage could go a long way to make the subway system a bit more civilized. The Times Square shuttle finally got a facelift, after far too long. Why can’t major corporations based in NY contribute and even get lines named after their companies - if they pay to improve things.
John (NYC)
I agree with the sentiment expressed by this piece. I read it somewhere and I think it bears repeating since I'm betting on those reading it here agreeing. I tell my southern and western friends who're unfamiliar with the NYC area, in fact who get twitchy if there's more than 5 people per square mile in their living zones, to contemplate what the subway system truly represents. I ask them to consider that for the region the NYC subway is like the Mississippi river. A vast arterial system that allows for the efficient economic transport of people (mostly), goods and services all over the region. Without it you do not have a NYC, nor the whole panoply expressed in the human anthill it supports. I find it the best way to get around this town, short of walking, and I think I always will. And I'm just fine with it. In fact, it's quite revelatory when you can unshackle yourself from the boat-anchor we call the car and live a pedestrian life. John~ American Net'Zen
Ellen (West Orange NJ)
When I lived in NYC in the 1970s and 1980s I always packed a big knife in my back pack for each and every subway ride.
Clearheaded (Philadelphia)
I rode the subway by myself exploring the city in the 70's, starting age 12. No knife required. Thank you for not stabbing me.
Puckfair (Soho)
1970's to 1980 the murder rate in NYC was 5 times higher than it is now people find that hard to believe & ripping gold chains off commuters necks was a daily event @Ellen
Tomato (I don't kno2)
Here here. My most prized possession when I lived in NYC was my monthly pass. With that I could go anywhere anytime in the city and faster than im a car. Nowhere else on the planet can you have that. I live in a car dependant city now. Never have it felt so confined, so bored, so much in despair. Needless to say, the election is a foregone conclusion. My vote is worth less than nothing.
jim allen (Da Nang)
@Tomato At least one other place ... Navigo card for the Paris metro.
Ken (Lausanne)
Many European cities have great transportations systems.
michjas (Phoenix)
Without a doubt, New Yorkers on subway platforms are the worst about forcing their way in before others get it. New Yorkers tend to panic when faced with the possibility of having to wait for the next train.
Clearheaded (Philadelphia)
Someone doesn't know how to ride the subway. Well, you have no experience with them out in the desert. Whatever you do, don't ride the subway in Japan!
Joe (Kansas)
It’s unfortunate that car culture completely supplanted street cars in most small and mid-sized cities that had fairly extensive street car systems at one time. Urban rails lines make for nice walkable cities like NYC, SF, Chicago and DC not to mention so many more places overseas. Reintroduction of lite rail in other cities makes a huge difference in the parts of cities that are lucky enough to benefit from projects. It would really be great if more of the incredibly massive resources devoted to freeways could be reallocated to mass transit. Politically it’s a huge lift. Influence operations like the Koch Bothers and most republicans are dead set against it.
Lizsmith760 (New Jersey)
One thing missed is the article is the cost $2.75 per trip. You can travel from the outskirts of Brooklyn To the outskirts of the Bronx cheaply. And quickly. Can you imagine the cost and time to make that trip in a taxi or by car. Trains in other countries and outside of nyc don’t allow for multiply free transfers as the nyc system does.
Frank Purdy (Rome, GA)
@Lizsmith760 Holland Tunnel at rush hour on a Friday afternoon - Nothing like it!
BChad (Brooklyn)
As a fellow New Yorker, I was nodding my head, yes, to all of Mr. Krugman's remarks about the NY subway system. I have lived here since 1967 in different neighborhoods in Manhattan and in Brooklyn. I have ridden the subway often, late at night, early in the day. I have learned to exist in NYC because I have become accustomed to living in a densely populated area where bike riders ride on sidewalks dodging walkers; cars and trucks run red lights; runners maneuver around mothers and baby carriages. people stand cheek to jowl on crowded subways. No one gets excited or loses their cool. Densely populated streets, trains, buses, sidewalks are a daily part of life in NYC. So people accept it. In NYC, I have seen callous behavior. I have also witnessed great kindness and generosity here from strangers. People connect because they all live with the same intensity that defines NYC.
michjas (Phoenix)
I used to take the Lexington Ave. express one stop from 14th St to Grand Central. The local has stops every five blocks. Whoever mapped out the local didn’t know the difference between subways and buses.
michjas (Phoenix)
The best subways in the world by me and many others are those in Moscow, where the stations look like museums. Great subways are clearly not indicative of great societies. When your subways are more upscale than most people’s homes, something is awry.
Henry (Massachusetts)
@michjas -- Yes. Shanghai also has a very nice mass transit system. When the government has eminent domain over everything and no public accountability, it is easier to pour concrete. Robert Moses without Jane Jacobs.
Ralph Averill (New Preston. Ct)
I lived in San Francisco for over 30 yrs and didn't own a car. I bought a Muni Fast Pass every month, good for unlimited use of one of the finest mass transit systems in the country, rode my bike, and walked, walked, walked. I agree with Krugman; urban mass transit is the great equalizer, and I believe in the end will be our salvation. Cars are killing us; individually and collectively. I live in ex-urban, formerly rural, Connecticut now. A car is a necessity to do anything, and my health has deteriorated as a result. Taking time out for a walk in the woods isn't the same as skipping BART and Muni on a sunny day and walking home from work through San Francisco's Mission District, then downtown, and ambling down the narrow alleys of Chinatown to North Beach to a plate of pasta pesto at the US Restaurant or Little Joe's. Ah, well, I digress mightily. Please forgive this old man's musings of foggy San Fransisco memories. Hear the fog horns? I do.
Ben (Long Island)
I remember it like yesterday, I took my then 9 year old son, (today he is 23) straight from the flight that landed at Heathrow From JFK with our 1 piece of luggage directly to central London- via their subway system- i was amazed then and still am -that one cannot go to an international airport like JFK via the subway system.
Linda (NYC)
Ben, am I reading you right? We take the A train from upper Manhattan to JFK whenever we travel. It’s faster and more reliable than shuttles and far less expensive than taxis.
Clearheaded (Philadelphia)
I remember the tv ads for subway service to JFK. "Take the train, take the train to the plane, the train to the plane." That was in the 70's. Try to keep up.
April (NYC)
@Ben, E Train to Jamaica Station and then Airtrain right to JFK. You can take the train to Newark too. LaGuardia is the only one without a train and it’s a no fee transfer from the Train to the new double long bus at Jackson R. Sounds like it’s time to come for a visit!
Austin (Richmond, VA)
I know unsolicited comments from non-New Yorkers regarding the city’s subway system will necessarily (and deservedly) be met with eyerolls, but can I just say that the few times I’ve been to the city, as much as I am impressed with the city’s landmarks, attractions, and venues, nothing inspires me with greater awe and reverence than the NYC subway system and the MTA overall.  As baffling and inscrutable as The Map was (and still is) to me, the more I rode it the greater appreciation I had for the sublime genius of its layout.  Like most things that develop through evolution (such as biological organisms), the subway system is remarkably efficient, and you can see how some of its quirky “features,” rather than being bugs, are a result of this grand, real-world, multivariable constrained optimization process, driven by need while evolving subject to myriad practical, physical, legal, and budgetary constraints.  It is also a great democratizer, forcing New Yorkers from every stratum of society and walk of life to interact with each other, if only for truncated moments and even if words be seldom exchanged.  It also blows open a world of opportunity to the city’s greatest treasure, its young people; the idea that any middle- or high-school student can get from nearly anywhere, to anywhere, in the city without a car is no less socially transformative than the ability of European high-school-age students to travel freely throughout most of Europe with little more than a Eurail pass
April (NYC)
The challenge is more and more the wealthy people are fleeing the subway. I have managers who have never stepped foot on it. They would prefer a longer more expensive trip in an Uber then step foot on the subway. I rode with one who was so put off by all the people and the variety of people that the anxiety was coming off him in waves. I think it says more about them then about the system though.
michjas (Phoenix)
@Austin Take it to East New York and then duck and cover.
Pitbull299 (Long Beach, CA)
Yeah since I got my Corolla robbed at gunpoint I've been taking more and more LA transit buses and Metro rail and it's surprisingly more efficient and busy than ever. We even have a new rail line leading to the football stadium and eventually LAX!
michjas (Phoenix)
@Pitbull299 LA’s public transit system is an embarrassment. The hardest thing to do is to get from here to there.
PA Fuller (New York, NY)
Thanks Prof. Krugman for reminding me of reasons I love n New York City. I feel safer here than when I lived in either Washington DC or Seattle. Seems DC's Metro system is less safe, maybe because huge swaths of it turn into ghost tunnels after the the federal worker go home? (Pre-pandemic work hours?)
michjas (Phoenix)
The subways cost $17 billion per year to run. About a quarter of New Yorkers use them to commute. So 3/4 of New Yorkers are taxed $2,000 per year for a rail system they barely use. The cost per commuter is about $8000 per year, which is about the same as commuting without public transport. But when you add in the bus system, commuting in NYC is considerably more expensive than elsewhere. Add to this the fact that commuting time in NYC is the second highest of anywhere in the country. So it is clear that the NYC subway system is expensive and is filled with riders with long and unpleasant commutes. If you think that is something to brag about, you aren’t thinking straight.
Craig Freedman (Sydney)
@michjas I wonder where you get those figures? For instance 39% of New Yorkers who commute use the subway to commute and 11% use the bus. That seems a bit more than your figures. Actually, I wonder what your point is except to blast the subway system. Are you including non-commuters? Why would you do that? What is your alternative? Are you also one of those people who complain about taxes from those without children going to educate children? Besides an individual benefit, these is what is known as a social benefit. Focusing only on the individual can lead to very bad policy.
Dfkinjer (Jerusalem)
@michjas Every New Yorker, whether they ride the subways or not, benefits from the reduction in air pollution that would be present if everyone rode in cars. (Did you consider factors like the cost of pollution in your cost of commuting?) Therefore, it makes sense for all New Yorkers to pay for this system. And, it’s there if a New Yorker ever decides to ride or maybe your kids decide to ride. Commuting time in New York is long because people commute much further than they do in small towns and cities. Ever been to New York? It’s big! Some people live in the Bronx and commute to downtown, for example. I lived in New York most of my life and I’m still a New Yorker at heart. Living in a big city and running a big city is a communal effort.
Lisa (Syracuse)
@michjas Actually , Upstate NY pay a part of the cost. Google NYC public transport , fuel taxes
Lars Schaff (Lysekil Sweden)
"There have been frequent debates about how New York’s system compares with those of other large cities, especially London." Yes, the collective west can no longer compare with the best. China has seven of the ten largest subway systems in the world, all spotless and shining, equipped with security shields that protect from any accidents on the tracks. And very cheap for travelers, at that.
michjas (Phoenix)
@Lars Schaff Moscow is probably the best. Sometimes top-notch subways are in bottom-notch places to live.
Global Charm (British Columbia)
I wish that PATH had got a mention here. It’s a lot smaller than the subway, but at WTC and 33rd Street you can move from one system to the other. The PATH stations under the West Village feel almost dainty in comparison with their subway counterparts. PATH is a lot smaller than the subway, with 30M riders/year as opposed to 750M, but it also has its own interesting history. In a slightly different universe than the one we live in, PATH would have run all the way to Central Park and possibly beyond. The MTA might have looked quite different.
Kevin (Queens)
First of all, the crime stats are not to be trusted as we New Yorkers know that a lot of what happens in the system is not reported, either because the victims just don’t do it or certain transit districts make it harder to do (because their leadership doesn’t want to look bad). Second, it isn’t just about the actual crimes but the more-frequent presence of people who appear to have active and uncontrollable mental illness symptoms which can lead any of us to become anxious about whether they will explode without notice. Both factors lead us to not feel as safe as it is fair to expect. I know any number of fellow NYC residents who are more reluctant to take the subways now and that has impacted their attendance at entertainment and dining businesses around the City as well as their willingness to attend in-person work that involves daily subway travel. My beloved city will not fully recover unless our leaders get a handle on this.
April (NYC)
Each route is different. As is each station. As someone who rode and rides the subway and train daily, multiple times a day. Who did this before the pandemic, during the pandemic and now. I often laugh. People who stopped riding in the pandemic quite frankly forgot. Pre pandemic I never could sit at a bench in any station, and I remember because I was pregnant, because these were homeless encampments. Everyday there was at least one bizarre or unsettlingly sad thing you saw on transit. My coworkers had a chat group dedicated to “guess what I just saw on my commute”. The difference was there was probably 1000 people between you and these individuals and now there is 200. They feel like more because as a percentage of riders they are more but not as a total. I’m not sure why people didn’t notice. Maybe they were so busy they looked over these people or maybe they were travelling with someone. Maybe after having been home and not exposed to them their tolerance has dropped for those who don’t look and act like them. That being said the vast majority of these individuals, while unsettling and sometimes heartbreaking, don’t hurt anyone. They are my daily reminder of how lucky I have it and the commitments I should be making to my community.
Dr. Gonzo (NY)
One of the best thing ever. Wouldn’t be the same city without it.
Joel (New York)
Yes, the subway has the positive attributes that Paul says it does. But it is also usable only with great difficulty by people with any degree of mobility challenge (which includes parents with infant strollers) since fewer than half its stations even claim to be ADA compliant. Air conditioning is limited to the trains so that some of the people who emerge from the stations on a hot humid day in August look like they have detoured through s team bath with their clothes on. The system is subject to frequent breakdowns and service delays, which are poorly communicated. And, particularly at night, some stations and trains due double duty as homeless encampments. The core transportation issues are more important. But unless the MTA fixes these "lesser" issues many people will continue to avoid the subway when possible. (with apologies for the typos in the prior version of this comment)
Joel (New York)
Yes, the subway has the positive attributes that Paul says it does. But it is also usable only with great difficulty by people with any degree of mobility challenge (which includes parents with infant strollers) since fewer than half its stations even claim to be ADA compliant. Air conditioning is limited to the trains so that some of the people who emerge from the station on a hot humid day in August look like they have detoured through s team bath with their clothes on. The system is subject to frequent breakdowns and service delays, which are poorly communicated. And, particularly at light, some stations and trains due double duty as homeless encampments. The core transportation issues are more important. But unless the MTA fixes these "lesser" issues many people will continue to avoid the subway when possible.
Millenial female (NYC)
Having the only great subway system in the U.S. was one of the main reasons I moved to NYC. I know everyone seemingly has complaints but don't take it for granted. Also, I just wanted to say that the subway cars always seem cleaner than what I've experienced in other cities.
TL (nyc)
As I lifelong New Yorker, I'm all for waxing rhapsodic about the subway. But the constant service outages have made it a nightmare to navigate in the past few years, particularly on the weekends when the construction and repairs are happening. For every ride that goes off without a hitch, there are three that involve multiple crazy transfers, express trains suddenly running local, or the dreaded pink tape strung along the platform with zero explanatory signage. It's become easier to just stay home.
bill o. (North Jersey)
How safe is the subway? Weekend night, 2.00 a.m., riding shoulder to shoulder. No empty seats.
Kurtis E (San Francisco, CA)
Subway systems are safer and more efficient than surface transport in large congested cities. Cities like New York would not function nor survive without them. The number of people killed by cars in the US every year would dwarf those who die in public transit. That said, a visit to Canada and you'll see how much better the Canadians take care of their public infrastructure. We need to have tough laws and enforcement against violence and vandalism on our public thoroughfares, so people can move about feeling safe and enjoying all the pleasant aspects of urban life.
Dan B (NYC)
When I visit cities other than my hometown of NYC, I often ask random people questions about their systems of public transport. I’ll ask how much is a fare, does one require a card or exact change, and so on. I am always struck by the ignorance as to public transport of those whom I interrogate. I am invariably told that they never use public transport but instead get around by means of their cars. Indeed, when I finally find myself on their trains, trolleys or buses, I can’t help but notice that the ridership appears to be limited to the more or less indigent. In other words, you are unlikely to run into a Nobel laureate such as Paul Krugman. That is to say, our NYC subways and buses are a credit to our city, its inhabitants, and the likes of Dr Krugman.
Stephanie (Canada)
The Mayor of Toronto is known for taking public transit to work. In Vancouver you can regularly run into your MLA (state representative) on public transit. I’ve sat next to the CEO of the Airport on the train there. Indeed when you mark your transit choice as making a comment about class, people pick their tribe. Personally I think one of the requirements of employment for any senior manager or above working in transit and for any consultant who wants to make money providing guidance on transit is that they should have to ride transit. Nothing improves a transit system like having those who have the power to enact change using it.
FerCry'nTears (EVERYWHERE)
@Dan B Completely agree! I just returned from a trip to Colorado and Utah and was surprised about the lack of knowlege regarding even where to wait of where the bus goes, etcetera
wvb (Greenbank, WA)
It may have changed, but the NY subway system is the only system in the world that operates 24 hours a day year round. All others close at least sometime each year. It may not be the cleanest or best system, but it does provide service all the time.
Joshua Schwartz (Ramat Gan)
"And there remain many reasons to praise New York’s subway." "New York subway, with its extensive four-track system — which lets it put many local stops close together while allowing easy transfer to fast express trains — is arguably more functional than its counterparts elsewhere." New Yorkers just get used to their subway system. Most other major large cities that have such systems provide better service, safety, bathrooms that do not require combat experience to enter, if one is foolish enough to enter and if the restrooms are open (yesterday the NYT published an article that some subway restrooms would re-open). New Yorkers learn how to accomplish most functions while squashed on a train. An important skill, but not the way it should be. Perhaps instead of an Ode to, better a Dirge on..
To Luigi Celsi (Northern Cal)
The consequences of our climate change choices are coming home to roost. Our leaders, behaving like spoiled teenagers, have been saying things like I want to make a emissions statement, I want energy security, I want affordable/reliable/convenient energy, I want to sideline other countries that mean us harm, and the world is about to tell us - you’ll get nothing and like it. But we’re not going to like it, we’re not going to like it at all. We’re not used to not being in control. We’re not used to being told to do without. We’re not used to being told we can’t afford to do it all. We’re not used to being threatened. Until we start making different choices, we are going to be very disappointed and uncomfortable.
James Jordan (Falls Church,Va)
Great description of the importance of the commuter rail system that serves the greater NY metropolitan area. Of course, I envy you. If I could financially arrange to relocate our household from the "Little City of Falls Church", a commuting community with two metro stops on the Washington Metro System, a large food supermarket within walking distance, and probably one of the most diverse communities in the U.S., I would do it in a heartbeat. My wife and I love Manhattan because we like to walk and particularly like to walk from our late-night dinners after the theatre to our hotel on the Upper East Side. Now subways. It is a great system but it is "dingy", poorly lighted, with too many stairways, and with subway cars that are powered by electric motor-driven wheels, and stops with friction brakes which generate tons of brake dust that piles up between the tracks and is stirred into the ambient air and is breathed into our lungs. Our Superconducting Maglev group (www.maglev2000.net) has designed a much better wheelless, smooth, very quiet, commuter rail system that we recommend should be tested and competed with other rail systems that are currently used on our rail commuter systems. Our system magically creates propulsion and stopping force with powerful superconducting magnets that use much less electrical energy and also eliminates the need for replacing the pounding of steel wheels on steel rails which embrittles the steel and creates a safety nightmare.
Paco varela (Switzerland)
@James Jordan If you can magically create several hundred billion dollars to accomplish this magical upgrade to the NYC subway system then have at it.
James Jordan (Falls Church,Va)
@Paco varela Thank you for reading my comment. You have put your finger on the problem. Our strategy is to persuade the Federal Government to invest in a test facility like the ones funded in Germany, Japan, Korea, Poland, China and we have been assured that if our system is the best system in terms of costs and performance in open competition, raising the money to manufacture the equipment and modify the existing rail systems to accommodate our SC Maglev system will be easy. We have worked out a Maglev panel emplacement technique that will allow us to modify the rails without interrupting the existing service. Our 2nd gen SC Maglev system and adapting commuter rail is described in "Maglev America" by Powell, Danby, and others. What we have found is that the Maglev Transport is opposed by the Airlines and Oil industry, so it is a tough hill to climb. We can do the test facility and passenger and freight truck prototypes, and the required route studies for about five hundred million dollars. A National Network like that envisioned by the Senate can be completed in 20 years. It will pay for itself by carrying freight trucks. It will happen because logistics is fundamental and we with climate change we must move to efficient electric systems.
Frank (Sydney Oz)
@James Jordan as one of the early subways, NYC lacks something newer ones may have - good ventilation while it may be warmer in winter, my experience supports the description of NYC subway in summer as Dante's Inferno
Friend (dc)
More generally, society's greatest asset, and the one that made America great, is not power or wealth but goodwill. It's goodwill that makes the few bits of verbiage called law actually work. It's goodwill that underlies social pleasure, taxation, and education. It's goodwill under attack when we declare war on terror or drugs or communism or even crime -- whenever we efface the humanity of each other. It's goodwill under attack when when put straw man words in our opponent's mouth. It's goodwill that lead people to build subways for the future. Let's not strangle it with greed and self-regard.
Van Bean (Sunny Alberta)
When I visited New York after moving I aways rode the subway to get from here to there. And felt reasonably safe. I would also ride buses uptown and down for the street-level views of Manhattan.
Phil (NY)
I grew up in the City. In the 50's and 60's I commuted by subway to high school and college. I got a lot of my best work done on the subways. Still do. There was a time when the rule was, "Don't look people in the eye." Don't make yourself a mark, don't risk engaging the wrong type of person. I left. For 25 years I lived Upstate and in Boulder, CO. Now I'm back. I find people on the subways much friendlier than before. People are often willing to talk, but it's grounded in a particular type of New York realism. There's no obligation. Nevertheless, it's now okay to remind each other of our common humanity. We don't just share the same ride, we the hard truth of life, it's little joys and constant stress. I'm back in the City now. In the places that I left you had to be polite, to say, "Hi!" or GottesGross when you meet someone on the trail. New Yorker has no such requirement. But there's been a small opening of joy. It's okay to be friendly, or not. Ultimately, each person's New York is what they make of it. Some want to see if they can "make it here." But for me it's just being able to smile at some black person sitting on the opposite subway bench, not because I'm a white and they're a black. No, its because New York has become grounded enough that issue is finally irrelevant. That's not true in Florida or even Boulder. There's still something special in the air. I'm back, and as a Russian said in 1934, "It's good to live it again."
Frank (Sydney Oz)
@Phil "Don't look people in the eye." reminds me of my first time in Manhattan being daunted by very crowded sidewalks and crossing busy streets, and being told a local technique don't make eye contact with oncoming walkers - just walk in a straight line, stare straight ahead like you're crazy, and people will just get out of your way !
Lisa (NYC)
@Phil Beautifully put!
Bascom Hill (Bay Area)
The first time I road the subway was in 1964. Our mom took me and my younger brother to the Worlds Fair. (Visiting from the Midwest) We had a great time and road it back to Rockefeller Center. The hotel bellman asked my mom where we’d been and she told him. He stared at our mom and said - you took these two little kids on the subway to the Fair? Maybe alarmists haven’t changed and the subway system is still doing what it’s always done.
Christian Haesemeyer (Melbourne)
I couldn’t agree more. The NY Subway is a great public transport system (only Tokyo and Paris among places I’m familiar with are really better). New York is lucky that the Subway was built before a broad political alliance of “trains are socialist” conservatives and “heavy rail is for rich people spend more on buses instead” liberals conspired to make construction of heavy rail urban transportation - the only mode really supporting reasonable population density - almost impossible.
Dan McSweeney (Jackson Heights, NY)
What a great and timely paean to the subway. And thanks for the shout-out to Jackson Heights! I lived in various places in Manhattan for about 25 years, before moving here in 2005. For a year or two, I’d get off the train here after a visit to Manhattan and think, What have I done? But now, there’s a sense of relief every time. Yes, you might exit onto a packed 74th St. or the aptly named Diversity Plaza, but after the city, it feels so manageable. And as was pointed out, once you’re off the main commercial streets, it’s all calm and spaciousness. A couple of weeks ago I spent an afternoon in the E.R. at Elmhurst Hospital, a place that’s essentially the emergency room to humanity. Every language and variety of human malfunction must show up there, but somehow they make it work. JH is no Shangri-La, but it really is a thrill to live in a ‘hood with such endless variety.
PJO (Milwaukee)
@Dan McSweeney Born in Jackson Heights and spent much of my life there. Love it. Best food in the world, and a short subway ride from New York! Lets go Mets and the 7 line Army!
Lisa (NYC)
@Dan McSweeney Yup. I like to refer to Queens as the Everyman's Borough. It has diversity up the wazoo, with something like 100+ different languages spoken in the borough. I've learned so much about other cultures, just living in NYC (for 22 years now). Sometimes I'll be in a taxi, and a fun 'game' for me is trying to guess where my driver is from. I look at their name...their face...make note of what I might see dangling from their rear-view mirror, etc. Then I eventually get around to asking them a question or two, that eventually leads to my asking 'where in the city do you live?' Depending on their answer (i.e., Brooklyn), I might say 'ah...are you from Uzbekistan?' to which they'll look at me, wondering how I figured that out, or, if they say they live in Queens, (and again, depending on other clues I observe), I might say 'ah, are you from Nepal?' ;-) Most times I can pinpoint the country or else be very close. Before I moved to NYC however, I never could have done such a thing, and with such accuracy.
Steve (Sydney, Australia)
Not many people actually want to live this way, especially families with children. Most prefer a house with a backyard. People are forced to live this way because of artificial concentration of well-paying jobs.
lee (nyc)
Speak for yourself. I don't know anyone who lives the way you describe who does so on purpose or out of joie de vivre. They live that way because they must due to kids or financial obligations or other mundane issues. On the other hand, I know many, many people who live like New Yorkers and are in fact New Yorkers, who wouldn't trade their lives for all the suburbs in the world, not even to all those suburban types who wish to make such a trade but who seem obsessed with denigrating NYC in the papers and other outlets. Why are you obsessed with us? I mean, you've got to be kidding. How far have we lost the plot such that anyone could seriously suggest a suburban life has anything on living in the greatest city on Earth.
bsmark (VA)
@Steve It'll be interesting to see how the remote-work trend affects that in the long run.
Rodnil (Queens)
@Steve, you’re right. Many people do prefer houses with yards. Fortunately, we have a lot of those throughout New York City too.
Andy (Salt Lake City, Utah)
It’s like quoting airline statistics or crime rates or suicide rates for that matter. Everyone remembers the traumatic experience while forgetting the quieter tragedies. Right? You never forget the person who jumps out of 12th story window. Most people won’t even notice a self-induced overdose. The latter is vastly more common. So too with the subway system. Act sensible and the odds are incredibly in your favor. I hate to sound dismissive but Krugman is right. The cost of a perfectly safe draconian subway isn’t worth how much the present subway has to offer.
AlanB (Manhattan)
Too bad former Governor Cuomo drove away the one transit head (Andy Byford) who actually was making a major difference. Our loss was London's gain where he helped bring the delayed and over-budget Elizabeth Line (which is stunning) to completion.
Robert (New York)
Some months ago midday, mid week, I was on a not very crowded subway car and noticed I was the only white person. There was every ethnicity and race (if you want to use that term) you could imagine. How wonderful I thought to live in the, "City of the World! (for all races are here, All the lands of the earth make contributions here;)", as Walt Whitman put it in his poem, City of Ships. Then I thought, as the subway was speeding me uptown to my destination, you know what? Someone white and not accustomed to the rich diversity of New York City might be afraid.
Ski bum (Colorado)
For many years I relied on the public transportation systems in London and the UK. The tube (subway in UK speak), trains and buses were my primary mode of transportation. I could leave my home in western London and be at Waterloo station in 20 minutes and hop a bus to anywhere in central London. I could hop a train at Waterloo, now St Pancreas station and be in central Paris in a few hours, or travel all over England without the need of an automobile. Europe puts the U.S. to shame when it comes to subways, trains and buses. We truly have a long way to go to keep up with our friends in Europe.
David Martin (Vero Beach, Fla.)
I've visited New York only twice as an adult, so most subway riding was on family trips to a grandmother on E 70th St., near the East River. I've seen a lot of Tokyo, London, and Paris. Those cities impress.
RSB (Toronto)
The timing of this piece couldn’t be better! I’m currently in New York for a few days from my home in Toronto, Canada. I lived in New York for over six years, but that was almost 18 years ago. I still love coming back here, love the vibe, love the diversity, and, yes love the subway system. Before this latest trip, my husband and many others warned me to be careful on the subway given everything that’s been in the news. I don’t want to minimize those horrific events, but I never intended for a single second to avoid the subway. And I’ve loved how easily and conveniently it’s taking me around the city. I happen to be staying in that affluent neighborhood, the Upper West side, which is where I lived all those years ago (sharing a tiny apartment with two roommates) , but even here, as soon as I jump on the subway, I see the full cross-section of New York City. I love the fact that the subway is the great equalizer. And frankly am jealous that the system in Toronto doesn’t even come close.
Jim (NC)
I remember well the comforting advice offered to me as a young writer for Harper’s back in the bad old days of the 1970s: “An encouraging percentage of riders survive.”
ELB (Denver)
When I am visiting NYC I love riding the subway and looking at people’s faces and observing their behavior. Most often it is very enlightening for a suburban guy like me. I just love the stories I see there even for a short time.
Michael Dorsey (Bainbridge Island, WA)
Thank you for this article. I am one of the many millions who moved to New York as an adult and fell in love with it. Though I left twenty years ago, I get back as often as I can. The subway was a lot of the romance. I moved to the city in the late eighties, when you could still press your nose to the window at the front of the train and watch the tunnels rumble past. How many current New Yorkers are even aware of the ghost stations, like the eighteenth street platform on the west side IRT, that disappeared when the trains became longer. There is a wonderful book called "The World Beneath the City," published in 1959 but still in print, that talks about the history of the subway, among other fascinating bits of city history. Like Central Park, the New York City subway system is an example of people, and their government, looking forward and seeing what is to come, seizing the moment when making big changes can be accomplished for relatively small amounts of money, and acting decisively. What could be better than that?
Lisa (NYC)
@Michael Dorsey Your post made me think of something....I highly suggest that folks watch the Ken Burns documentary called New York. It's a ten-part or so series, that you can find on Youtube. It's really fascinating, talking about the history of New York (primarily focused on NYC, of course), and part of that story naturally includes the building of the subway system. As you alluded to, city leaders saw the writing on the wall...the population explosion...the fact that more people were beginning to move outward from Lower Manhattan...into Upper Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, S.I., and that therefore, a comprehensive public transit system needed to be built. We take our under- and above-ground subway lines so much for granted. But when you consider that these were all dug-out, and built-up, out of nothing...and now we can just enter through a turnstyle and be whisked to the NY Botanical Garden, the Met, Coney Island, JFK airport, Central Park, Harlem, Flushing, etc. and while seated/standing alongside a tapestry of our fellow NYers, tourists, etc. ...it's really quite a marvel.
David D (Central Mass)
Growing up in Jackson Heights in the 70's the subway gave me access to extraordinary experiences. Whether going to museums, a very seedy Times Square or just wasting an afternoon watching people live their lives, they all helped me to understand the diversity of humanity. Forty-five years later I still miss the thrills of the journey as opposed to sitting in traffic endlessly by myself in my car. And, what is lost is the interaction with a diversity of people.
Lisa (NYC)
@David D This is very true. Cars are the antithesis of 'social' behavior.
A. Tufel (NYC)
Well said! After spending most of my life in NYC, I moved to the Bay Area three years ago (never intending to stay this long, but then the pandemic hit...), and I never thought I'd miss the NYC subway system -- until I discovered how inadequate public transportation is out here. I can't wait to get back!
taffy (Portland, OR)
We are visiting NYC from Portland, OR, and San Diego, CA, for 9 days and are using the subway every day, mostly to travel from Crown Heights, where we’re staying, to Manhattan for the museums, etc. We love it! Yes, the stations could be cleaner, but the trains are clearly marked and arrivals indicated on helpful LED boards on the platforms. You can’t beat the price, and MetroCards are easy to use and add money to. Staff are helpful, and other riders polite. Using public transit when traveling is SO much simpler and cheaper than schlepping a car. West Coast cities like San Diego and Portland have public transit systems, but nowhere near as extensive as New York’s. We need to change that.
Par Ici (Par Là)
I long for the day that I can feel safe riding the NY subway again. When that day comes I’ll know the USofA has healed tragic and gaping wounds. I’m not holding my breath. But I long for that day.
Alan J. Shaw (Bayside, NY)
@Par Ici. I wonder where "ici" is, when was the last time you took the subway, any particular lines, and when you felt safe.
Par Ici (Par Là)
@ Alan, Since you’ve interested I am in NYC quite often. Sadly I do not currently take the subway because I do not feel safe. Got it?
Anush Apetyan (Look me up)
"(Yes, I have an apartment there.)" But do you live in the apartment? Do you take the subway every day? Because, see, it's not good to opine about the city or the subway if you are not experiencing it with the rest of us. Yes, the subway is great and the most efficient way to get around. No we never were scared to get on the subway, not in the 80s. We are now, and according to what I read elsewhere, thousands of you signed a letter refusing to expose yourselves to the subway, not even 3 days a week.
Tommy T (San Francisco, CA)
I always feel like the NY subway is a kind of a magic carpet: you go from one exotic place, and emerge in another, completely different place, and in between you get 19th and early 20th century engineering time travel.
BullMoose (France)
The NY subway system is hopelessly antiquated and irretrievably outdated. There isn’t enough time or money to update the system to even 1900’s standards of other developed counties.
Alan J. Shaw (Bayside, NY)
@BullMoose Why is there not enough time or money to improve it? Is your suggestion to close it down?
Edward (Massachusetts)
@BullMoose have been to NYC enough? It's not banlieue.
Kerwin (NYC)
An absolutely wonderful piece, Paul Krugman; truly an ode to the subway. I lived the first 18 years of my life in Harlem, NYC in the 60’s and 70’s. I remember during my 2 post-college years in DC, before returning to the City for good, riding the Metro from my home in Northwest to my job downtown and being struck by the strangeness of riding in a train surrounded by all white people in white shirts and ties. You may see the occasional rat on the NYC subway, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything—except maybe a Citibike.
RDR (México)
@Kerwin No disrespect to your DC commutes and your love of NYC, but the DC Metro stations designed by Harry Weese are a paradigm of spaciousness, dignity, and bravado surpassing all other subway systems in the world.
Dave DiRoma (Baldwinsville)
I lived on Long Island for nearly 20 years and worked in Manhattan for 10 of those years. I always took the subway and never had a problem. Yes, you do need to be a bit careful and aware of your surroundings but isn’t that true virtually everywhere?
Ian Maitland (Minneapolis)
In the previous decade, NYC opened two subway extensions at costs of around $1.3 billion and $1.6 billion per kilometer. During the same period, a number of cities around the world had built subways for less than $100 million per kilometer. One factor was the sandhogs’ union, which monopolizes public-sector underground construction. The sandhogs command $111 per hour in wages and benefits (2018), with quadruple wages for weekend overtime. Tunnel workers elsewhere were earning far less. Unionized tunnel miners in the Detroit metropolitan area earned per hour $39.32 including benefits. In Northern California, they made $59.88. Worse, sandhogs insist on overstaffing projects. In Berlin a tunnel boring machine needed 7 workers at about $38 in wages and benefits per hour. But in the MTA a contractor counted “25 or 26 people” working on a TBM. An internal MTA accountant even found that 200 of the 900 underground workers on East Side Access were superfluous: They were being paid full wages, even though officials could not discern their work duties, if any. And for all this overstaffing, New York gets a much slower pace of work than it should. The tunnel-boring should take 24 workers two years to complete. In NYC, Gateway was forecast to take eight years. Need I mention that this is what we can all get if we buy into Paul Krugman's politics?
Richard (Manhattan)
Yes, we could all get necessary updates to our necessary infrastructure! Here's some news for you: things are expensive in New York City. And the worst thing in the world is not some workers being overpaid for dirty, dangerous work underground.
Alan J. Shaw (Bayside, NY)
@Ian Maitland Nonsense. The NYC subway and all the major public projects in the US, have been built by union workers. This anti-union bias is trypical of the GOP.
gwr (queens)
@Ian Maitland -- Good for the sandhogs. Workers in Detroit, Northern California and Berlin should take note.
Travel For Work (USA)
A mayor of Bogota, Colombia once said, “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.” I’ve been on public transportation many places. Poor and rich, and enjoyed the ride and the people for many different reasons. The Bogota mayor is right. The NYC subway would benefit from real support, consistent smart support. Right now, I would love to ride the train from Lviv to Kyiv. That is a mighty train.
David MD (NYC)
Thank you for an excellent article. As an economist, I'm surprised Prof Krugman did not mention the approx $130 / month for unlimited access to the subway/bus system in a very expensive NYC. Compare that to the overall total cost of ownership including inflated gasoline prices for using an automobile. Seniors, frequently on a fixed income can get the pass for approx $65/month. Another very important aspect of NYC subway and those in London, Paris, is the amount of physical exercise people get as part of their daily routine. Most of America uses cars and rarely gets many steps reported on their iPhones. New Yorkers are walking, they are climbing up and down stairs, and even when there are subway escalators, they frequently are not functioning, requiring people to climb the escalator stairs. Living in shorter walkup buildings necessitated by dense living means additional exercise built into their daily activity. Another important issue to many impatient New Yorkers is the saving of time, particularly during our extended rush hours. My iPhone will remind me I have to leave 45 mins before a meeting (assuming I'm driving) when I know by taking local and express trains it takes me about 15-20 mins. During rides, people can read their iPhones or iPads. The dual rails, local and express are important not only for faster transit but for 24 hour operation. Trains can be diverted to parallel tracks during times of maintenance, particularly on the weekends.
Lisa (NYC)
@David MD Good observation on the physical fitness benefits of using public transit. I often notice that those who tend to drive 'everywhere' are often grossly out of shape, and often overweight. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Hmmm...
Stan Continople (brooklyn)
The NYC subway system, as it now stands, is an anachronism; it was built with the idea that all roads lead to Manhattan and the "outer boroughs" exist only to furnish widgets who are in "The City" for eight or nine hours a day. Now Manhattan has become almost entirely an enclave of the wealthy, who are loathe to mingle with the unwashed in those aromatic, labyrinthine corridors; they'll Uber ten blocks without a second thought. The number of people commuting into Manhattan will continue to dwindle over time, even more so because it no longer serves as a cultural destination; it's a sterile, glass wasteland with a few restaurants and tons of young, vapid, wealthy residents who don't know the difference. Despite the best efforts of the developers, who see their business model threatened, and preening corporate dinosaurs like Jamie Dimon, who chafe at the idea of unmonitored drones, office culture as we once knew it is not coming back. That said, the Bronx, Brooklyn, etc., will be where new businesses are established, near their workers, but are currently ill-served by public transportation. There's no way we're going to extend the subway system to serve these far flung communities, so it's up to light rail, and express busses along designated, car-free routes. Maybe we can even reintroduce some boutique manufacturing into these areas, so the thousands of kids "graduating" our public schools have a chance at a decent living.
Lisa (NYC)
@Stan Continople Who knew that all the outer boroughs were 'ill-served' by public transit, and that all subway lines begin/end in Manhattan?
Rodnil (Queens)
It really is a shame that the subway was designed primarily around getting people to Manhattan, rather than around the city as a whole. A 20 minute drive to the Bronx from Eastern Queens is a 2 to 3 hour ordeal via public transportation. The same is true for many parts of Brooklyn to Queens or the Bronx, and forget about getting to Staten Island from Queens without a car. There are some who rail against private vehicle ownership in New York City, but they obviously do not live in areas that have inadequate public transportation, and often no subway stations at all.
SM (Small town, USA)
Honestly Paul. Those of us on the subway don’t care if it’s “not as bad as in the 90s.” If our kids have to take the subway to school (usually alone since we have to work to afford life) with HIGHER crime than it used to be - why doesn’t it make sense to vote for the person who pledges to bring it down rather than fight with you as to whether you SHOULD feel less safe?
Mimi (New York, NY)
@SM Because the price to be paid for electing said person is too high.
GV (New York)
@SM I guess that's why so many people plan to vote for politicians who pledge to bring down inflation, crime, refugees at the border, and so on, without a credible plan to do any of the above.
Daniel Pope (Eugene OR)
What makes you think that Lee Zeldin or any other politician claiming to be tough on crime can and will actually reduce crime? "Tough on crime" policies come with high costs for young people, people of color, the homeless, incarcerated people, and even you and me. There's no guarantee they'll "work."
xinxilanren (Transient)
You can compare the NY system to the Tube but it would be too depressing to compare it to any modern system built over the last quarter century. It wouldn't even be a fair comparison because the new systems have the advantage of learning from past mistakes. The only way to bring it up to that level is to create an entirely new system. Impossible? Yet cities with far fewer resources have built modern subway systems from scratch.
Ellen (New York, NY)
Good article, but it forgot one more extremely important benefit: People using mass transit in NYC contribute far less to the world carbon footprint than pretty much anyone else in the USA. Not only because it is a more efficient way of getting around than driving in rural or suburban areas - or smaller cities - but because most of us who live here don’t even own cars. (I rent a car about 2 weeks a year, compared to those who drive their gas-powered, carbon-producing cars every single day.) I wish we could get those who continue to insist on driving into the city, clogging our streets and dirtying our air, to make the same commitment to mass transit.
Lisa (NYC)
@Ellen Yup. Car Addiction is very real, even in a place like NYC. I observe it all the time...people in my neighborhood who take their 2-ton vehicle out, multiple times per day, to do this little errand or that. I see people from the neighborhood who think nothing of driving 6 blocks, all because they have a hankering for a coffee from Dunkin Donuts. (They will then double-park in a lane of traffic while they 'run inside, just for a quick minute'.) Laziness, habit and entitlement. That's the biggest problem. If we could even get drivers to at least stop and think, Before they reach for their keys, and ask themselves: 'does it really make sense to drive for this? Could I not walk? Could I not get the bus that stops two blocks from my home? Or could I not wait until tomorrow, and combine this errand with another errand I was already planning to do tomorrow?' Just think..if we could reduce even a certain percentage of the daily little car trips, it would mean less traffic as a whole, thereby creating fewer opportunities or 'reason' for road rage incidences, cars trying to run red lights, and MTA buses could travel at a faster speed because they wouldn't be stuck behind 'traffic'. Fewer cars on our roads benefits Everyone, including other drivers. Not to mention the benefit to pedestrians, cyclists, MTA bus passengers and the planet as a whole. We could learn a lot from the Dutch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8RRE2rDw4k
John F. (Pennsylvania)
@Lisa - I agree that those of us outside of the City need to use mass transit more, but to do that, we need to have it available. I can't wait to get into the City and get my car parked so I can use the subway and buses. But, try getting into the City from someplace as close as eastern Pennsylvania - only 80 miles away. There is no train and essentially no bus service. Train service in NJ is challenging, slow and expensive and you always wonder if your car will still be there when you get back. None of the wonderful things mentioned in the article and these comments about NYC mass transit exist. Instead systems outside of the City seem intentionally designed to be so much harder than driving that essentially no one will use them. Until we agree that mass transit outside of our cities is important to get people into and out of them and that it will cost some money, this will not be solved. And, tragically, i don't see that happening anytime soon. Trillions will be spent on building new roads to nowhere and we can't get a single new train tunnel into New York.
TB (New York)
A thought experiment. If, for the past several years, Rudy Giuliani had been Mayor of NYC, Lee Zeldin had been Governor of New York, and Trump had been President, and there was a significant surge in crime and murders in NYC and in the subway, would Krugman be writing about the soul-soothing, heart-warming humanity of people stepping off the subway, thereby allowing others to get off, and then getting back on? Or would he rant about those evil Republicans abandoning POC New Yorkers? Also, a FRED chart about...something. Maybe showing how Republicans are 13% less likely to step onto the subway platform to allow others to get off, and then get back on, proving their inhumanity, and fundamental lack of decency, which has been proven in "study after study"?
Alan J. Shaw (Bayside, NY)
@TB Ask rather how likely it would be for those Republicans who stormed the Capitol on January 6 or those who approve of them to yield to others trying to get in or out of any door.
TB (New York)
@Alan J. Shaw Probably about the same likelihood as the rioters, sorry, the "oppressed social justice warriors", that burned and looted stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn during that long summer of 2020. Thankfully, Bayside, Queens was--somehow--spared of the turmoil. For the life of me, I don't understand how that could have happened. Except, possibly, generations and generations of red-lining. And blatant racism. Or something.
Iris Vega (Woodstock, Ct)
I lived in Uptown NY in the 80’s and 90’s. Took the A train to work,every morning. Always marveled at the punctuality of my train in the mornings. Like Mr. Krupman states, I always admired the diversity of people, and that I was able to identify with every rider as my brothers and sisters, all struggling to survive in that big beautiful City, we all claimed as our Home!
TB (New York)
@Iris Vega The A train. "Uptown". The 1980s. The Brotherhood of Man? Sorry, no. Doesn't matter how many "Recommends" you get from NYT readers in Iowa and North Dakota. Just. No.
berman (Orlando)
What a surprising delight! Thank you!
Judy Foreman (Cincinnati)
Thank you, Paul. So right on. Subways a beautiful part of NYC
L (DC)
Having commuted over 35 years in NYC subway since 80s.. it had its ups and downs. When the Unlimited Metro card became available I was delighted as a young New Yorker and the city was my oyster. But NYC, even the most critical stops when it comes to real improvement of the subway system. Pride or ego and not really knowing what they are missing, I don't know what. So many excuses for the subway system-yes I get it that it's the largest metro train system, oldest and the the cost! So many nay sayers But why say no improving it? It is so filthy, so old, not keeping schedule and also dangerous. Can New Yorkers deserve something better and safer. If you have traveled, you will see how not punishing it is to travel on subways. Escalators and elevators that work and are clean (not urinals). Public safety is a serious concerns for some cities like Seoul and Tokyo where you will see clear guards even on the outdoor stations (elevated tracks). I was shocked at a subway station public bathroom in Seoul, how clean and well used it was- you would mistaken it to a nice club bathroom with all the young women getting ready for the evening out. Whenever there is any kind of improvement is subway, it takes decade to do the job and when it's finally done, I don't see what they fixed really- like a bandaid... And the cost for all this. I am not an economist, but New York is rich city isn't it? It sure have more money than Seoul or Lisbon.
Rajashekhar Patre (Bangalore, India)
@L New York subway moves millions of people each day and a very good transportation system and people use it and thus avoid driving in the city. So it helps to increase the carbon foot print. But over the years, it has been neglected and no improvements have been made. Subway infrastructure is rat her inadequate, as rest rooms in subways and the coaches are not maintained well. Compared to subways in Seoul or Tokyo, it is depressing. New York being the wealthiest city in America, should put more funds to modernise the system.
boston doctor (a logical world)
@L 3rd oldest actually and not even the oldest in the US...which would be boston. The Tokyo system is the best. DC is the best in the US
bubba (TN)
It is unconscionable the platforms of NYC subways still don't have any safety guardrails, even all that murdering incidents.
Ray (NY)
@bubba cause they can't. The system is designed the old way and it would be too much money and we will all be dead before it would happen. Although they are making changes at up to 3 stations
. (new york city)
...This was poetry in economic verse. Cheers, Mr. Krugman
Emil (Pittsburgh, PA)
New Yorkers are on the cusp of a technological revolution, one that progress will thrust upon them. The subway system will be the first of the city's dinosaurs to succumb. The best the mayor can do is preempt the inevitable by shutting the whole system down. Face it Mr. Krugman, the subway is simply a very expensive boondoggle—pure sentimentality. I spent the summer of 1968 in New York City. I loved the subway—the closest thrill to a roller coaster. A few years later, through adult eyes, it felt more like a heartless machine, a crude, loud, steamy, greasy apparatus, whistling, clanging, dinging, screeching, and squealing, just like New Yorkers, an awkward assemblage of egos, chutzpah, and pomposity. Still, I considered it vital to the city. The today, an ominous cloud hangs over Manhattan, not the atmospheric kind, but a massive computer processor equipped with unlimited data storage and powered by AI. It will eliminate millions of administrative jobs in Manhattan. AI can even write news stories and opinion columns. A new term will describe this new type of job eliminator: up-sourcing. The subways are not entirely useless. The city can convert those channels into freight train right-of-ways, electrical power conduits, flood control sluices, or sewage lines. New York City must embrace the future if it is to remain relevant. Developing a better transportation system is a good start. People movers, even the car, have reached the end of their utility cycle.
Stan Continople (brooklyn)
@Emil In the 1927 Fritz Lang classic "Metropolis", the rich live in soaring luxury towers, while the workers live underground, ferried to their surface jobs every morning in giant elevators. Repurposed subway tunnels could provide housing for millions who've been priced out of the market by decades of unchecked greed from developers and their stooges in Albany and City Hall. The homeless have already shown us such a life is possible. Once we put our minds to it it, we can transform these tunnels a truly desirable destination for young families, using technology not available in Lang's time, such as large screens that provide the illusion of being above ground, anywhere in the world! Let's get the Related Companies, Vornado, and Durst on this right away!
dim (queens)
a modest proposal indeed.
Mike (Manhattan)
The return of a significant percentage of riders means that the subway has become far less menacing. We watch out for each other. The percentage of crazies has declined.
JamesEric (El Segundo)
I’ve visited New York and tried its subways. I’ve found the subways in Los Angeles superior, especially the roast beef with cheddar jack on Italian.
Bad Grandpa (Coachella Adjacent)
That’s because in New York you eat heroes.
boston doctor (a logical world)
@JamesEric bravo. comment of the day, sir!
Adam (Brooklyn, NY)
The subway causes me to encounter all types of different people and thus reduces propensity to be hostile towards people not like me. I agree with that statement but wonder why the lefties we live amongst have become as hostile as the maga crowd? I love going to work and riding the subway and sometimes taking it home late at night, even when things get weird. The problem is that my wife and children ride the subway too and it's not as romantic worrying about them encountering the nonsense or being told that crime isn't really that bad. For every assault or crime that's recorded, dozens more have have been harassed or terrorized by the same individual. Rates and stats don't reflect general unpleasantness, or dare I say one's own perception of safety As a woman, my wife is more conditioned to uncomfortable situations because that's how women experience the world. It's not fair but we're barely allowed to talk about it anymore for fear of offending the rights of the hostile vagrants who have infested much of the underground and our sidewalks. Clean it up and enforce the basest standards of behavior such as paying the fare to support the broke MTA. Trying to prevent the system from collapsing into chaos and even worse deficits should be applauded as civic duty rather than lambasted as racist
Dan (Alexandria, VA)
You can love the NYC subway and also insist it be safe, or safer.
Howington (The American South)
I say this without any other meaning: Paul’s article and the comments on it make me want to experience New York the way so fondly here expressed.
Valerie (Manhattan)
Thank you, Mr. Krugman, for this. As a New Yorker who has been riding the subways since the early 1970s, I can say that the New York City subway system is a joy and a pleasure and a great equalizer. Those of us who use it and appreciate it applaud you for your balanced reporting.
Joe Parrott (Syracuse, NY)
I grew up in NYC. I love the subway. You could get all over town 24/7. In the 80s I used to occasionally busk in Herald Square with another guitarist called Tommy Gun. The best was when they created the music in the subway program. I played a little harmonica by then. I kept a D harp in my briefcase and used to play with a Mississippi bluesman Floyd Lee in Penn station. Music was always the focus for me in the city. We went to CBGBs, the Ritz, the Mudd club and many other spots to see top acts from all over the world. From the Clash to Chuck Berry.
Michael G. Kaplan (New York City)
Murders in the subway system are distressing, but they typically remain under 10 a year while assaults remain under 500 a year. Traffic violence claims about 200 lives a year in the city and assaults about 50,000 people in the city. People that eschew the subway for the ‘safety’ of an automobile are deluded.
Nick D (NYC)
When I moved to New York more than 30 years ago, the subway a marvel of diversity - and it was also dirty and dangerous. Between then and now it became much less dangerous and a little less dirty. Now it’s back to dangerous again. You rarely see the police on the trains or even the platforms. Instead, they gather in circles just outside the turnstiles and stare at their phones. Their flagrant disregard for their responsibilities and indifference to the safety of passengers is palpable. Until the City does something about that, there is little reason to think anything will change.
Adam (Brooklyn, NY)
@Nick D we could start by having a populace not overreact to any imperfection in policing. They may be dragging their feet, but we need to admit to ourselves that a clean arrest against a hostile subject is social media red meat for the persistently outraged. Corrupt cops are bad and of course the insular culture and protectionism makes it close to impossible to weed out the bad apples. That's a labor and political issue across most municipal professions. But we can't use that as a pretense to try to remove the element of policing from dangerous situations. And society needs to save some of its outage for the criminals and general low social IQ behavior that is currently ruining it for the rest of us. The progressives convinced a majority of the population that broken windows policing is mean and oppressive. We've now had a few years to realize that because this is America and not Norway, too many windows get broken when you leave criminals and hostile vagrants to their own devices.
Rob (Not in NY)
@Nick D So tell me Nick. Why should the cops care? Why should they put their life and careers on the line when they know that if they make an arrest at best the crook is released within hour and at worst the cop becomes the subject of a political and media witch hunt where his every split second decision is examined and judged by people who have no idea of what his job entails. I don't blame the cops one bit.
M (Nyc)
@Nick D It's amazing that you're blaming the police for the laws that have tied their hands behind their backs.
b fagan (chicago)
You said "The subway also causes people to experience diversity." I can tell a similar story about an unsolicited comment from a work colleague, who'd come up from his mid-sized Georgia city to Chicago and spent a few days visiting friends. While our L offers the same opportunity the New York subway does for basic carless living but this story is about buses, instead. I'd been down in his town, where they did have a small bus system, but to illustrate who used it in his car-centric area, what was amazing to him about Chicago city buses: "Everybody rides them" Were he was, people on a bus are pretty much definable as working poor, mostly black, people getting to their factory, warehouse, hotel jobs. Riding transit was simply not done by anyone who could afford even a beater to drive. Seeing people in suits on a bus would be bizarre.
Imagine (Scarsdale, NY)
No worries. The NYPD will stop sending so many press releases to the media, which will stop broadcasting those missives so breathlessly, after the election. Everyone will feel less unsafe.
Henry (Massachusetts)
It's funny how everyone thinks their city's transit system is the worst. Boston. The Orange line just caught on fire! But then some friends from Seattle were congratulating us on the Silverish line that got them so quickly from the airport to downtown. Driving too is a car crash that is best only when it isn't. I've always loved the combination of walking and riding and schedule checking that makes a success of mass transit. It's amazing where it can take you.
Marie (West)
Car culture has got to go, and no, electric cars replacing gasoline-powered cars is not the answer to everything; it doesn't solve a whole host of issues that cars create. The fact that there are so few cities in America where you can live without a car is just a complete failure of community design, planning, and imagination.
Adam (Brooklyn, NY)
@Marie that's true but 330 million Americans already live the way they do. Electrification is much more feasible than lecturing Americans about their bad preferences, especially knowing that the government can't force you to stop in a land awash in freedom. Don't look at me. My car battery always starts dying during the cold months because moving it from one side of the street to the other isn't enough to keep it alive. I average 2 months per tank of gas. Also if you had to ride the subway 3-4 days a week, let's just say that the filth, constant petty crime, and occasional sensational crime are a recipe for taking one's own car. Sometimes the bad policies originate from the supposedly pro-transit crowd. My message to them is to strive for cleanliness, safety, and efficiency known only to European and Asian nations. Too often liberals blame our priorities while completely ignoring the fact that our schools and trains squander funding that is considered generous by any other nation's standards.
Bill W (New York)
So it's all just illusion that crime is really bad on the subway and in the city? The people who are afraid and ready for vote for a Republican need to reconsider, as Dr. Krugman says they aren't really seeing what they're seeing.
Bobby (NY)
@Bill W Yes. It is an illusion. The fear is utterly irrational. Millions of people and a small handful of crimes. The news media is largely to blame for the delusions of the masses. They show the very rare attack on the subway instead of the dozens of people who are killed and maimed every day in cars. My wife thinks it's because most of their revenue comes from car commercials.
Jim Demers (Brooklyn)
@Bill W The actual point of the article is that they aren't really seeing what Fox News tells them they're seeing. Maybe you should read it.
Mmm (Nyc)
Agree with all of this. We need the subway. In fact, I'd divert the transportation budget away from buses (which lumber around the streets slowly moving the equivalent of one train car often directly above a train going the same direction below grade) and more for the subway. The problem with the MTA is that it's mismanaged. It's run like a jobs program. It should be customer centric and run like a business. (of course I would acknowledge that one of the knocks against the subway system is that because it was actually run as multiple competing businesses back in the day, we are left with a lot of redundant train lines and stations, most of which are manned, another bloated expense). I blame politicians, unions and soft corruption. Perhaps the MTA could be dissolved and a new authority could rehire those employees actually necessary at market pay. People will say that would be political suicide and that's the problem.
Phyliss Dalmatian (Wichita Ks, Homosassa Fl)
A confession: I’m a suburban kid, from Ohio. I’m 63, and the only place I’ve been in NYC is the Airport, for transatlantic flights. No, this is not disrespect, nor a moral failure. It’s just a confluence of events and circumstances. I think the subway is one of the first things tourists and non-residents think about when NYC is mentioned. It’s right in your face, in TV shows, movies and books. It’s a huge part of daily life for most people. One of my very favorite things about visiting Seattle is taking the Light Rail and walking, everywhere. No car involved. Baby Steps, people.
havnaer (Santa Ana, CA)
Dr. Krugman, It would be awfully nice to develop and expand as effective a mass transit system in my neighborhood as NYC has, rather than spend tens of Billions of Dollars just trying to build a single train from L.A. to San Francisco. Being able to take efficient transit from San Bernardino to the San Fernando Valley in less than an hour each way would probably alleviate the housing affordability and homelessness problems cited around here.
Pottree (Joshua Tree)
A train from San Bernardino to the alley wouldn't really do much to address the critical housing problem, but of course there was such a line, the Red Cars, which went even farther and more extensively than that. They were bought up and thrown into Santa Monica Bay by a consortium of fire manufacturers and construction companies specializing in highways. They were in the way - of money. PS, the Gold Line runs from Union Station in downtown LA out through Pasadena and is being extended (don't hold your breath) to San Bernardino. The Red line goes from Union Station to North Hollywood in the Valley. The disastrously managed high speed rail that was intended to connect LA to San Francisco met a fate very much like that of the old Red Cars. And you still can't take a train all the way to LAX from anywhere, much like JFK.
havnaer (Santa Ana, CA)
@Pottree - Here's how I think Mass Transit could alleviate the SoCal housing crunch: Your neighbor in Joshua Tree lands a job in my town of Santa Ana. He either has to move and find comparable price housing or commute 2 hours/114 miles each way. There are no houses in Santa Ana at the median Joshua Tree price of $347K. But a subsidized High-speed commuter line between the two could take just over an hour, making the connection easier. Conversely, a Santa Ana employee priced out of buying a home locally could use the same high-speed line to buy an affordable home in Joshua Tree. In addition, the outlying home owners might well be able to work several days per week from home.
Peter (Up North)
I respect the intent of this article, and support the concept of public transport. But as someone who used the subway daily for decades, I found it to be miserable and often dangerous. I left it behind permanently after I experienced an injury, a threat, and a sleazy proposition, all in the same week. The day I began to drive myself was wonderful - no more fatigue, fear, contagion, foul odors or malice as part of my daily commute. It will take more than the promise of a "wider view of humanity" to drag me back.
rml (new city)
The City of New York would never have become what it is without the subway. It truly is the life blood of the city. It is a shame that in so much of the rest of the country, there is nothing even close. I live north of the city and there is nothing comparable. We are consigned to our cars. Imagine if politicians past or even the politicians of today had the foresight of those in the very late 1800s and early 1900s! Mass transit, in the form of subways and railroads, makes so much more sense when the need is to move a large number of people. Just imagine if the subway was even bigger, how much more could be accomplished. The lack of vision, and then the will, is what is holding us back.
Pottree (Joshua Tree)
The BMT, IRT, and IND were all once separate and competing private companies - and there were trolly cars, too!
Tessa (Staten Island)
The best lyrics: Nina I used to think we lived at the top of the world, and the world was just a subway map. And the one slash nine climbed a dotted line to my place. Benny there's no nine train now... "When You're Home" from IN THE HEIGHTS By Lin-Manuel Miranda I had that subway map on my fridge in Stapleton, Staten Island. I eventually had to throw it away. Getting from the 1 train up to the boat is very hard. When I was young I could do it. Now-bum knee, immune disorders, heck naw. That escalator used to be out a lot even after Sandy. Talk about anaerobic training.
Famdoc (New York)
A proud NYer and a 35 year subway rider, I'm less willing than you to overlook the increasing boorish behavior found on my daily rides: oblivious riders blocking doors, feet on seats, food being eaten (and spilled), failure of riders to offer seats to the elderly and to pregnant women, and, commonly, individuals who are unmasked and coughing riding instead of staying home. Still, I love my city and the subway....
HowieBSD (San Diego)
Humans are pretty good at recognizing the numerator of any risk. They are terrible at looking at the denominator. Three million a day ride the subway? That’s a BILLION rides a year. And nine people have been killed this year? Each case is tragic and heart wrenching but, let’s get real: this is merely a rounding error. I have to assume that several orders of magnitude more people were killed this year above ground near a subway.
Susan S (Billings, NY)
Thank you for writing this, and I so agree. It is easy to take for granted what we have and instead focus on what works less well than it should. Fact is, we chose to retire in NYC, rather than pull up our stakes, primarily for three reasons: access to excellent health care, cultural and wonders and ethnic and racial diversity, and last not least, the ability to take advantage of all New York’s riches without ever having to get in a car. We know all too many people who counted on being able to drive, and now, in their older years, when they find they can’t, are marooned and in isolation. We are grateful beyond measure that NYC provides such an excellent alternative.
Pottree (Joshua Tree)
Susan S, did you know that NYers have a longer average life expectancy than other Americans? Some say it's because NYers walk more than most Americans and others say it's the terrific water.
ReadingLips.com (San Diego, CA)
Plus, NY subways run 24/7. London Underground closes from midnight to 5 a.m. Paris Metro closes 1:15 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. The Underground costs about $.65 more. I lived in NYC for 15 years. I'd rather deal with the subways than drive a car anywhere.
jvc (nyc)
@ReadingLips.com And when the London and Paris subways close they can do maintenance in an orderly manner. In NYC they have to do convoluted weekend closures to accomplish any maintenance. So one way or another a subway systen has to close at times, just depends how they do it.
ReadingLips.com (San Diego, CA)
@jvc Your point is well taken. As Dr. Krugman points out, it's not unusual to see the occasional rat on the tracks. Regular cleaning every day would help. What I always liked, however, is that I didn't have to worry about not being able to get home. It might be a long wait, but a train would eventually come, no matter what time it was. Thanks.
BrendanC (NY)
@ReadingLips.com My experience with current privatized London subway is that it is vastly more expensive than any N. American system, and point to point excruciatingly slow, owing to different companies owning different lines. However, I only else it once, due to aforementioned reasons. Plenty of space on cars and platforms, too.
steve (nearby)
I arrived in NYC in 1977 and quickly learned about using the subway system. Sit neat the driver and never make eye contact with a stranger after 11. I also remember cops walking the train and the charity of characters who you would avoid. It was pretty scary at times, the a/c never worked, but it got me to work and back. I have been riding on the train for a long time, and it is so much better now. The biggest difference. The NYPD officers standing in groups looming at their cell phones. A common occurrence now when I see them in the City. Maybe Adams should do something about that.
M (Nyc)
@steve Well, there isn't much point in them arresting people as due to the bail laws those same people will be back on the street within hours.
Common Sense (US)
@M Erm, the point of arresting people is that after they are convicted of a crime, they can be sentenced. After, not before. There seem to be a lot of commenters who do not understand this. The problem is not that we are letting people out of jail after they are charged. That's what happens in free countries. It's that we are not following through with trials.
Jim Demers (Brooklyn)
@M If that's their attitude, there isn't much point in paying them, either.
Susan Kiefer (Brooklyn NY)
Thank you for this! I moved to New York City a little over a year ago. It is the first time in my 75 years I have not lived in a suburban area. I'm greatly enjoying the energy and diversity of New York, and I am in awe of the subway system. I live in Brooklyn, my part-time job is in Manhattan, and my art studio is in Long Island City, so I ride the subway a lot. Daily contact with my fellow humans has increased my empathy. Subway riders make room for one another and are tolerant and respectful. It seems to me to make us better people than doing our commuting in our individual little cars.
M (Nyc)
The subway would be great if I weren't afraid to use it. This coming from a person whose taken the train throughout the 1980's.
Bob (Seattle)
I also took the NYC subway throughout the 1980s. The only thing I was afraid of was having to stand during rush hour from East Harlem to Wall Street.
Bill White (Ithaca)
I agree that a subway is essential to modern urban life. In my rare trips to NYC, I immediately find a garage to park my car for the duration and set off on foot or by subway. Driving in cities is a horror. While cities might be nice places to visit, living cheek to jowl with so many others and with nature so distant is inconceivable to me. Range of services? We have grocery stores and hardware stores in rural America, and anything else can be had on Amazon. What other services does one needs? What I need is the solace of empty places.
Pottree (Joshua Tree)
Can you get a bagel? A real bagel? We can't.
Bad Grandpa (Coachella Adjacent)
Can you get a real burrito in NYC?
Socrates (Downtown Verona, NJ)
Three cheers for public transportation, one of the basic building blocks of a decent society. Tragically, many Americans can't quite grasp the concept of a common good like public transportation, having been eternally bamboozled by the fossil-fueled automotive industrial marketing propaganda of owning and driving your own personalized hunk of selfish metal to get from point A to point B with zero consideration of alternative thinking. There's simply no reason every small-medium-large city shouldn't have a robust public transportation system. American marketing myths have helped produce an exceptionally selfish culture, along with the "freedom" myth that is little more than Americans' Pavlovian response to be completely selfish about nearly every aspect of their lives...healthcare, housing, transportation, taxes, guns. And the end result of this exceptional American selfishness is some of the worst outcomes in the rich world: 1. Shambolic public transportation 2. The greatest healthcare rip-off in the world 3. An epidemic lack of affordable housing 4. A Swiss cheese tax code that caters to the wealthy 5. An unregulated national shooting gallery 6. A shame democracy 7. Record income inequality All because Americans effectively and repeatedly reject the common good in exchange for short-sighted selfishness. We could have a decent country if we simply conceded that we're all members of society instead of being selfish "freedom" junkies allergic to both government and taxes.
John (CA)
Yeah, let’s collect more tax revenue. Our Government spends those tax dollars so efficiently and effectively in ways that serves us all.
jim allen (Da Nang)
@John No. No. No. A thousand times no. We need to collect less tax revenue and give more money to the wealthy. They, in turn, will use that money to create more jobs, and everyone will prosper.
Chuck (Pennsylvania)
@Socrates Except, there’s another problem that they don’t seem to have in Europe that has nothing to do with tax revenue: cost. Recently, in Noe Valley, San Francisco, they decided to build a public toilet. The toilet is costing $1.7 million and it’s taken years to get approval. Walk through Madrid, and there are portable self cleaning public toilets throughout the city that cost a couple hundred thousand each. Always clean and well maintained. The same is true with rail. Europe is able to build public transportation at a fraction of the cost. Then there’s housing. Europe builds high density everywhere: the NIMBY lobby is simply not as strong. Schools- the US spends more per student than Sweden, Canada, South Korea or Germany, but our results are horrible. Why? There’s something going on here that has nothing to do with tax revenue.
Charles Thompson (Frozen Exoplanet)
I grew up in the Bronx, and have been gone a long time, but my whole family worked in Manhattan and rode the subway daily. My friends and I were always trying to trip all the digits on the turnstile. My dad used his NYFD badge to ride for free. I have an old token or two around somewhere. Look around, it's who we are, and we're pretty cool.
Nathan Newman (Manhattan)
so first off, here in the city we call it the train. No one says the subway. And second, when it works right its amazing. You can get across rivers and from one end of the island to the other in minutes for under $3.
AG (New York)
First of all- Train? Which train? The subway, the Metro North, the LIRR, the Path? Second- when you say city do you include Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten? New New Yorkers want to know.
Bad Grandpa (Coachella Adjacent)
I grew up in Queens. It’s totally fine to say the subway even if it’s an el.
MSL - NY (Manhattan)
@Nathan Newman - I was born and bred in the city. I've lived in the Bronx, Queens, and now Manhattan and have always called it the subway. . Okay, maybe I'll say, the Lexington Avenue line or the Q train - but there are a lot of "nobodies" who call it the subway.
Wendell Murray (Kennett Square PA)
I lived in Manhattan for most of the 1980s. Two of the activities that I most enjoyed were walking everywhere and taking the subway everywhere. Most recently I took a comfortable bus for about 1-1/2 hours to far west midtown, more or less, where buses have a terminus on the side of a street. I was delighted to see a new subway station within 2 blocks of the bus stop. Not only that, but the subway line originating there went directly to my destination, Queens, where I spent a day watching qualifying tennis matches and practice matches by top players at the USTA tennis center. Inexpensive transportation and no driving by me, even better!
patrapp (new york, ny)
Prof. Krugman, Please write about NY Ballot Proposal 4. Why shouldn't public assistance be reflected in the "True Cost of Living"? What is meant by "Informal Assistance"? If I help my mother with her rent, is her city pension reduced? What about the powerful "Law of Unintended Consequences"? Also, doesn't NYC already have the cost of living both with and without public assistance? The whole issue is bewildering, on many levels. HELP!
Davinci (NYC)
The city is a living breathing entity with history and a soul and quite a few ghosts. The arteries that pumps blood into the city is the subways, and like any organism it is in a constant state of shambles and repair. I have ridden through those arteries for 40 years. I first began taking the subways when I was too young to drive , the 45 minute ride from the Bronx to midtown Manhattan, back then the trains were covered in graffiti and there was real worry as the 2 train creaked along through the south Bronx , you learned to stick to the most crowded cars , there is safety in numbers. In the 80s things got worse , there was a grimness as hard times resulted in the rise of crime and street gangs, you steeled yourself to any possibility, the gangs and thugs seemed to be taking over. The subways in a weird way are like the cities canary in a coal mine the early warning system. What you see in the subway mirrors the hidden world in the sunlit world but in a condensed easy to understand way. If crime is up on the subways rest assured it’s up throughout the city Things got much better under Giuliani and Bloomberg , the subways were cleaner, the air conditioning worked , message boards were installed, crime became less of an issue. Now things are moving inexorably back like water funneling down a drain to the worst times. I’ve lived long enough to know that a correction is coming, this city can’t survive without its main artery flowing , so there is no choice.
Hilde (New York, NY)
Thank you for this timely ode. The New York subway has another virtue when compared with all other subways - it is open 27/7. In a city that never sleep, a subway at all hours allows people with less means to get around after hours. If only it had the financial resources that it deserves.
Andrew (Chicago)
@Hilde I know everything is bigger in New York, but I didn't know you had 3 extra hours of the day there :P
FromBrooklynWithLove (Brooklyn)
Once upon a time we thought that a country was successful if even poor people drive cars. Now we must think that a country is successful if even rich people use public transport.
Artie Ash (Connecticut)
I recently rode the T in Boston. I was struck by 2 differences: 1)the stations were clean, elevators working and not smelling like urinals 2) T personnel at major stations to direct newbies and keep an eye on things. Boston has 600,000 people to NYC's millions, so perhaps that what makes the difference. But it was so "civilized" compared to NYC. One can wish.
Henry (Massachusetts)
@Artie Ash Funny. I dropped in a comment downstream about how we, in Boston, don't appreciate our T. The Orange line caught on fire! I'll give you this -- NYC has better buskers.
James Quinn (Lilburn, GA)
I agree. I've recently retired and moved from NYC, but I lived, taught school, ferried students to game and on field trips, shopped all over town, and recreated in both Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens for over 40 years, during which time I never owned a car and didn't need one. Although I did have my share of adventures and hard moments on the subway (trains that didn't come, underground stoppages, crazy people shouting at the world, occasional standing room only rides to and from work, toward the end of my habitation there the periodic episodes of "SHOW TIME" whirling around the support poles to music far too loud, and that awful ride home on 9/11 with the smoke rising over the tomb of the trade towers) the subway was what made my carless life possible. Commuting to and from Brooklyn in the darkness of early morning and through the lovely afternoon light over the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges were events I never tired of. Further, I could ride almost to work or home in inclement weather, or get off and walk the last mile through Central Park. Riding the trains was like time suspended, and even had I had a car, I would have chosen the train. A Paean to you, NYC subways!
Richard (Nashville)
@James Quinn Thank you for the clarity ... now I know what it's really like.
MexPat (Mexico City)
@James Quinn Stand clear of the closing doors, please!
FerCry'nTears (EVERYWHERE)
@MexPat Also do not force them open or the train will be taken out of service
Bill (FL)
By all means, let us celebrate the NYC subway system. But these days who isn't afraid to ride the subways, with the rash of deranged people pushing "normal" people onto the tracks; a pronounced absence of law and order; and transportation uncertainties and stress overlaid atop the burdens of Covid, crushing inflation, the possibilities of nuclear war, and on and on. The takeaway of this opinion piece seems to be that a slashing or a push onto the subway tracks is kind of like inflation, not always fatal, and in some instances who knows, it might even be good for you. Indeed, you never know if you will meet "the one" in the ambulance or the ER. Right.
steve (nearby)
When was the last time you rode the subway? Street sense has gotten me home safely for over 40 years, and the trains are so much better now.
Andrew (Chicago)
@Bill I ride the train in Chicago, and I'm not afraid. Chicago is a much more dangerous city than New York, but most of the city is still very safe, as is transit. As Dr. Krugman points out, even with the horrible murders this year, someone riding the subway is much less likely to die than someone driving.
AV (Houston)
@Bill Well put and Thank you. I just want to appreciate your eloquence and accuracy.
Arch Stanton (Sad Hill)
As a regular subway rider I see many people ‘jumping the turnstile’. For sure the criminals and the mentally ill are not paying the $2.75. Against the law to do that, right? Well, no. DA Alvin Bragg has given a green light to fare beaters. Enforcement will certainly reduce subway crime.
FromBrooklynWithLove (Brooklyn)
It costs far more in policing expenses to surveil and punish fare evaders than the money that might be recouped. Something like $249m on cops to save $200m in fare evasion, if you want the numbers. It’s more worthwhile to make excessively rich people pay their taxes. It’s more worthwhile still to create a society where poor people don’t feel the need to evade paying transport fares.
Eye by the Sea (California)
@FromBrooklynWithLove When there's no enforcement, there's much less incentive to pay - for anything. Just look at the pandemic rent moratoriums... many well-off people decided to stop paying the moment they were safe from eviction. Ability to pay had nothing to do with it.
Common Sense (US)
@Eye by the Sea It's similar to how the IRS allows people to get away with tax evasion, as they don't have the money to audit. The best way to handle this would be to design the turnstiles to be as hard to bypass asa possible, and to have the booth with the guard in a position where they can actually see people entering and exiting. In many stations, it seems like they have a gate that people leave open to bypass the turnstiles entirely. No jumping required.
Disinterested Party (At Large)
Maybe these outrageous events could be compared to odds (in both senses), subject to stochastic processes, and therefore negligible regarding their truth-value, except that their existence is the validating aspect for consideration. Moscow is a huge city; its subways are generally showplaces and behavior is, except in times of state crisis brought on by outliers, exemplary. So the difference is one of being for the people or being for the plutocrats, the latter preferring to travel by luxury automobile and thus being exempt from hazards (assuming their chauffeurs are competent drivers). Russia has a lot of poverty. Does NYC? Are grit and grime preferable to luxury for all? Questions to ponder.
Cri (New York)
Spot on! As a transplanted New Yorker (from Ohio), it's one of my favorite things about the City. Warts and all, and it does need to improve, it makes me happy to live here.
Victor (New York City)
i came to new york 45 years ago. i immediately loved the subway i still do. i will never forget riding the subway on September 12th. (yes, THAT september 12th). the look on people's faces. It was clear we may be different. . . . but we're on the same boat.
Sandi F (Brooklyn)
We were all shocked and traumatized on that September 12th. I rode the subway the morning after Trump was elected and the communal mood was the same.
Mike (US)
You say in your article: "Hostility to groups that don’t look or sound like you tends to be highest when you don’t encounter people different from yourself very often." But actually, could it be the opposite? This would be counterintuitive perhaps, but might constantly seeing so many different groups speaking so many languages you don't understand, wear you down and eventually make you sick of it? In the subway and streets of NYC you see and hear people talking sometimes loudly in foreign languages, see so many people who look different - and while for a short-term visitor to the city this may be exciting and fascinating, if you actually live in NY and deal with it everyday, one might get overstimulated, worn out, and eventually more hostile to it - and perhaps more prejudiced to certain groups, which prejudice rural and suburban folks don't have the same opportunities from close contact to develop. Is that implausible?
Alfonso Bedoya (Meso-Connecticut)
@Mike It’s certainly not my experience, but I’m only one individual. On the other hand— and make of this what you will— in 2016 percentage of those voting for TFG increased in precincts with distance away from urban centers.
Lynn (New York)
@Mike "but might constantly seeing so many different groups speaking so many languages you don't understand, wear you down and eventually make you sick of it? " Not at all, I miss the energy when I'm away, try to translate the few words of another language I might know when hearing others. New York is a magnet for hard-working people full of dreams, cheer each other on!
Fauvette (NYC)
@Mike I'm a white Irish Catholic American woman from the North Shore of Long Island, NY, and I've been living in downtown Manhattan since 1974, when I was 18 years old. I regularly take the subway to various destinations, and I have never experienced the overstimulation and hostility towards people you're talking about. The first reason that came to my mind why one might be feel hostile to people speaking different languages is because that person is an eavesdropper and is being denied access to what might be a juicy conversation. You already know what the second reason might be.
ShadeSeeker (Los Angeles)
I lived in New York for the entirety of the 90s and, throughout that time, my subway travel was the favorite part of my day. Even during the relatively higher crime rate of Giuliani New York. Yeah, my backpack got pickpocketed every now and then (before I learned to hold it in front of me when standing), but it was still one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced and my memories are fond. I now ride the Los Angeles Metro and again it’s the favorite part of my day. Now, if they could only be persuaded to add candy bar/magazine kiosks to each platform. . . .
Eye by the Sea (California)
@ShadeSeeker I rode the LA Metro every day for nearly ten years and have to say... it's abysmal. I've seen people robbed, overdose, even die on the Metro. And that's saying nothing about its constant breakdowns. The four grand I saved every year versus driving wasn't worth it.
ShadeSeeker (Los Angeles)
@Eye by the Sea Interesting! I’m guessing it’s gotten a lot better since you were riding it? I haven’t seen anything like what you write of since I started riding two years ago. Some homeless people of course, not harming anybody. There’s also the fact that the crime stats are super low for the metro in Los Angeles and actually show that it’s far safer than driving. I’ll take a sleeping homeless person and a nice read any day over getting mowed down by one of our insane speeding maniac drivers. It’s like a Mad Max on the roads out there. Way too stressful and dangerous.
Eye by the Sea (California)
@ShadeSeeker I stopped riding about a year before you started. Maybe you've been lucky, maybe it depends on the route? Agreed, though, that drivers have gotten far more reckless here during the pandemic.
Eric En (AZ)
When I lived in Brooklyn (Prospect Heights) I was a daily commuter. It's been a decade since I last took the subway, but I have good memories of an easy commute that allowed me to forego the drive and the expensive parking for the comforting familiarity of a NY Times folded just so as I hung on to the center pole on my way to work.
Molly Bloom (Tri-State)
“…the comforting familiarity of a NY Times folded just so as I hung onto the center pole…” Thank you for that memory
Mike Livingston (Philadelphia PA)
This is one time I definitely agree with Dr. K.
Gowan McAvity (Bedford, NY)
A modern city is not possible without an underground mass transit system. Car based communities are cities in name only. Mostly because they have tall buildings grouped loosely together. Sprawl is not the concentrated mix of humanity that a proper city becomes when the preferred transport are legs and trains. The character of that sort of town gives rise to all the benefits and downfalls of mass communal living arrangements. The subway is like a moving longhouse, members of the local tribes must show a collective civility that enables that dynamic mixing and movement. The pandemic has disrupted that communal feeling, others have exploited this disruption for political purposes. In the past the subway has descended into apparent chaos, yet its obvious usefulness always seems to win the day eventually. More than anything else, it is NYC’s circulatory system and deserves the love and attention of anyone that calls that city, that state, this nation, home.
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