It’s Tuesday 12th July 2011 and today marks my 229th day in the United States of America. I’m currently living on Wall Street in Manhattan, New York and have been working for the past seven and a half months as Strategic Planning Analyst for one of the largest companies in the world in Midtown Manhattan. It’s been a while since I posted anything on here and I wanted to get back into the swing of things with a quick comparison between the MTA New York City Subway and the TfL London Underground.
In terms of cost, the 30-day unlimited ride MetroCard is currently $104 (about £65) – it did experience a sharp price rise of 17% from $89 (about £55). This is still much cheaper than London in which you would pay around £106 for monthly travel in Zones 1-2. However, if prices continue to rise at 17% per year it won’t be cheaper for much longer!
Having been used to the Oyster Card on the London Underground I was a little shocked and somewhat bemused at having to take a magnetic stripe card out of my wallet and swipe it manually through a machine. New York I had anticipated would be ahead of the game – alas, I was mistaken (RFID, I miss you so much).
In the New York system, you don’t have to present your card on exit thereby making exit times from the system quicker – all journeys are charged at a fixed rate regardless of destination so it makes no difference where you exit the system. There is no concept of zones – it is a much simpler system but the lack of exit control allows the system to be abused more readily as fare evaders only have to gain entry to the system.
I also initially missed the electronic information signs that tell you when the next train is due to arrive, however these have been introduced duing my time here albeit very slowly and not at all stations but at least they are now working at the stations I use most frequently (with the displays on the Times Square 7th Avenue line being turned on just the other week). With only two lines of text able to be displayed the top line is reserved for the next train and the bottom line alternates between all other trains due at the station in the immediate future. The MTA in their wisdom have now removed the order in which the trains are expected to arrive – this means that on many occasions you have to wait for all the trains to be displayed to work out the order by using the time estimate. I can guess that the reason why they removed this was because of the confusion with the train numbers themselves (i.e. the numbers 1,2,3 were being used to denote the order of arrival for trains numbers 1,2,3).
As time has progressed I have came to appreciate some advantages of the New York system – in particular the express trains which drastically cut down journey times. It can be somewhat confusing for non-locals though trying to work out which trains are express and which are local as there is no clear visual aids – e.g. it would be useful to extend the use of shapes (diamonds and circles) on all lines to clearly depict whether the train is running local or express. Note that London offers no such express service.
My initial impression of the subways was that they are quite dirty and although I wouldn’t eat my dinner off the floor of the London Underground I can’t help feeling that it was somehow brighter or less depressing in the ‘tube’. Plus there is more advertising on the London Underground which I feel actually improves the aesthetics or at the very least gives you something to look at whilst waiting for the train.
Unlike the London Underground where the subway lines can be quite deep underground in many places the subway is directly beneath the street in most parts of the city (thanks to the cut and cover method employed).
In Manhattan the system is North-South biased as most lines run along the Avenues – navigating East to West is more restricted although it can be achieved in Midtown or at 14th Street. For this reason there is less redundancy in the system – if service on a line is disrupted it can be difficult to find an alternative route to your destination without leaving the system and walking to another line/Avenue.
Also on the East side of the island (in particular the Upper East Side) the system has only one line, the Lexington Avenue line (albeit a second line, the Second Avenue T line has been in the pipeline for many years).
In London, the topology of the network offers multiple redundancy options as many of the stations in Central London offer multiple interchanges to other lines and any service disruptions can in many cases be circumnavigated.
The New York Subway is a 24/7 service whereas the London Underground operates a 20hr service from roughly 5am to 1am (+/- 1hr) – although this varies by line and station.
Direct Airport Service
London offers direct services to LHR whereas in New York there is no direct service to JFK (you must transfer to the Air Train which is an additional cost).
All trains on the New York subway are air conditioned. London introduced air conditioning on subsurface Lines (Metropolitan, Circle, Hammersmith & City, and District) in 2010 but much of the network remains without air conditioning. On other lines in the London system there are technical problems with dispersing heat due to space restrictions.
The trains on the London Underground are more visually appealing or iconic in my opinion but are smaller and have less capacity than their New York counterparts. Although they are of a similar width to the A-Divison (number) trains, they are shorter in terms of height and the curved shape gives them less capacity. New York B-Division rolling stock is significantly wider.
MTA 6 – 5 TfL. It was a close match but New York has a slight lead. In summary New York is cheaper, cooler, operates 24/7, is closer to the street and offers more space and express services whereas London is more visually appealing, attractive and clean, has invested more in technology, offers more redundancy and has direct service to the airport.