Tunnel Vision

New York's Subway Nightmare Is Costing People Their Jobs, New Report Says

A new report found that the subways are having a tangible impact on New Yorkers’ lives in ways beyond making them spend significant portions of them in underground rage bunkers.
July 12, 2017, 6:09pm
Photo courtesy Bloomberg/Getty

In early 2019 the L train in New York City will shut down for 15 months to repair damage caused during Hurricane Sandy. Leading up to the closure, VICE will be providing relevant updates and proposals, as well as profiles of community members and businesses along the affected route in a series we're calling Tunnel Vision. Read more about the project here .

On Monday, New York City entered what has been christened "the summer of hell," when, after derailments and delays, Amtrak began work on a months-long overhaul of tracks in Penn Station, causing widespread changes and less trains on the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit systems. But really, the ominous phrase seems apt for the city's subways, too: delays have soared, outages are commonplace, and the governor himself has declared a "state of emergency" for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), which oversees the nation's busiest public transit web.


Of course, New Yorkers don't need to be told that the subways are a mess; they feel it every day, crammed onto an overcrowded train at rush hour, as it slugs onward, to the next packed platform. But over the weekend, their complaints were given further credence—a new report, released by the Office of New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, found that the subways are having a real, tangible impact on New Yorkers' lives in ways beyond making them spend significant portions of them in underground rage bunkers.

Through a survey of 1,227 subway riders in June—from both low- and high-income zip codes, at 143 stations citywide—the study found that 74 percent of those employed said they were late for a meeting, 18 percent got in trouble at work, and 13 percent literally lost pay because of how long their subway ride took. Meanwhile, two percent said they were fired from their existing jobs, and nearly a quarter of respondents were late to a job interview.

The pains of insufficient transit were felt even deeper in low-income zip codes, where residents were seven percent more likely to show up late to a job interview, 14 percent more likely to get reprimanded at work, and four percent more likely to have lost pay than commuters from high-income zip codes. The frustration, too, is more palpable, as 42 percent of respondents said they experienced delays "Always" or "More than Half the Time," compared to 34 percent in high-income areas. Outer-borough commuters also said they fared notably worse.


Over the past three months, the overall discontent with the city's most crucial infrastructure—of which 35 percent rated it a "C," with around the same percent saying they experience significant delays "Half the Time"—has forced near-majorities of respondents to walk, bus, or take a cab to work because of how screwed their subway was. For parents, 65 percent reported being late to picking up or dropping off their children somewhere, while 29 percent of respondents said they arrived late to a medical appointment, according to the survey.

The report's findings are bleak, to say the least, especially in a city that is growing and more reliant on the subway system than ever before. And they also spell trouble for the looming L train shutdown in 2019, which poses a litany of threats—of which VICE has been tracking since April—to the livelihoods of the 225,000 commuters who take the subway between Manhattan and Brooklyn daily.

According to survey findings given exclusively to VICE from the Comptroller's Office, a quarter of L train riders said the line deserved a D or F—which is lower than the 37 percent amongst all respondents—and 64 percent reported delays at least half the time they take the train, compared to 70 percent of riders systemwide. However, of the 1,227 riders surveyed, only 58 said the L was their most used line, meaning the sample size is small, and the findings should be taken with a grain of salt.

But going forward, what's problematic is that these riders will be forced onto alternate train lines—namely the J, M, Z, and G—when the L goes offline for 15 months. And if the L train is one of the relatively better trains, in terms of service, then what this means for the jobs and personal lives of New Yorkers, who will now have to rely on worse lines, doesn't look good.

"This is a crisis – there's no doubt about it," Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said in a statement. "Delays are rising, service is declining, and New Yorkers are frustrated like never before. What we show here is that behind every delay, there's a human cost, and behind every service disruption, there are lives affected. This report shows that inconsistent and delayed service is impacting New Yorkers in big ways and small, each and every day."

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