Why the MTA’s Platform Screen Doors Plan is Set Up to Fail

Every time I enter a New York City train station, I swiftly dash towards the middle of the subway platform and lean against a column or electronic sign. In some stations, I remain near the staircase in order to make a swift run back up the stairs if needed. While waiting for my train to arrive, I am frantically on the phone with a friend or family member so that I can try to alleviate the anxiety caused by standing on the platform for too long. 

This abundance of caution has become the normal fight-or-flight response for many New Yorkers now trying to avoid life-threatening experiences during their daily commutes. Stories of people taking drastic measures to avoid being pushed onto the tracks, such as chaining themselves to poles, have become increasingly popular. 

Luckily, these preventive measures might no longer be necessary. The MTA recently announced a plan to test platform screen doors (PSDs) at three subway stations: 42nd Street Times Square (7), Third Avenue (L), and Sutphin Blvd-Archer Avenue-JFK Airport (E). 

The death of 40-year-old Michelle Alyssa Go prompted demand for swift action regarding platform safety. While many people recognize that plans for tackling homelessness and mental health are much needed, others also believe the MTA is responsible for eliminating the possibility of a civilian being pushed onto the train tracks altogether. 

The pilot plan is long overdue, but it has also been in the works for quite some time. Since 2013, the MTA has been proposing and postponing various plans to install subway screen doors. Citing the age of the subway system, the lack of uniformity in station and train size and the exorbitant cost, the MTA has managed to avoid tackling this issue head-on for almost a decade. 

In 2020, the 42nd Street Times Square station was the number one most-frequented train station, while Sutphin Blvd-Archer Avenue-JFK Airport and Third Avenue came in at 46 and 270, respectively, according to the MTA. 

However, there is little cause for celebration now. By selecting two stations that are not frequented often, the MTA is ensuring that few riders will notice the impact of these test projects. 

Some might argue that if the MTA were to choose some of the busiest stations to pilot these safety doors, there would be many station closures or delays. However, there are existing delays as a result of signal errors, weather conditions and accidents. If the pilot program is successful, these stations will have to undergo renovations regardless. 

The MTA also cites a high price tag as a deterrent from moving forward with installing PSDs across our system. It does appear, however, that the trend of exaggerating cost is a method to avoid the project altogether.

Likewise, the MTA has stated the test pilot project at three stations will come out to a whopping $100 million, if not more –– approximately $33.3 million per station. 

While on Twitter the other day, I saw that tech leader and author Camille Fournier tweeted, “This will never happen because something about infrastructure costs for NYC is so completely corrupt and broken,” and it caused me to question: If we are unable to make all our stations properly accessible, how can it be expected that we take on such large-scale modernization projects? 

Unfortunately, the issues with New York’s new plan to install platform screen doors speak to larger problems within our city’s MTA and the government’s inability to prioritize infrastructure. 

Public transportation is essential to the lives of countless New Yorkers. Without efficient change to the policies and procedures in place, many will flee the subway altogether –– as demonstrated by already below-average ridership data. 

The time for action is now; being that the MTA is the largest transit agency in North America, its inaction sets a dangerous precedent. The fact that our subway system was built long ago and does not match the more modern systems we see in Tokyo or Paris does not mean modernization cannot occur. As a city, we cannot afford to lose any more people due to this massive stagnation.

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