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Eagle-eyed straphangers on the MTA’s new open gangway subway trains may notice they’re not completely “open.” And the reason why has to do with a policy that makes New York City’s subway system more expensive to run than those of other major global cities.
The gleaming 10-car trains — which started carrying riders on the C line last week — have a conductor cab at their center, which prevent passengers from walking end to end. Riders can only stroll through the train’s first five or last five cars.
But that conductor cab has to be there according to MTA policy. The vast majority of the city’s subway trains are run by two people: an operator at the front who drives and a conductor in the middle who opens and closes the doors.
The same goes for the cutting-edge open gangway trains where the conductor’s cab serves as a dividing line between two sections of the train.
But the two-person approach increases the costs. A 2021 report published by the MTA found the agency spends more on running its subways than all but four of its international peers.
Several lines on the Paris Metro, for example, are run by just one person. And unlike New York, the French capital has for years had open gangway trains that allow riders to walk from end to end. Subway car doors in many European and Asian cities are also opened via a button pushed by riders, rather than by conductors.
The MTA only has two open gangway trains in its fleet, and is testing them out before it considers a larger order. (The second open gangway train started picking up passengers on Monday, the MTA confirmed). The agency said it currently has no plans to remove the conductor cabs — and conductor jobs — from the subways.
Officials from Transport Workers Union Local 100 have pushed back against the removal of conductor jobs for years, saying they’re essential for subway operations and help keep riders safe.
MTA spokesperson Tim Minton said the conductor cab was not an “obstruction” on the new trains. He noted that the five-car segments are “the length of a football field,” and that riders can walk onto a platform to move around the conductor cab when they stop at a station.
Riders adore the new open gangway trains, which exclusively run on the local C line. MTA officials have restricted them from running on the express A track due to logistical challenges presented by safety protocols, according to two MTA memos. NYC Transit President Richard Davey has said his team deliberately chose to only run the trains on the local line, and noted they “thought it was more prudent to have that car stopping at stations more frequently.”
This week in New York City transit news
- State lawmakers are seeking funding to fix a subway bottleneck in Central Brooklyn. Read more.
- Double parking on a commercial avenue is especially dangerous (and annoying), but if you’re moving your car for alternate-side parking, experienced double-parkers say it’s courteous to leave a note with your phone number in the windshield. Read more.
- For $67 million a year, New York City could offer free transit fares to more than 760,000 low-income seniors and people with disabilities, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office. Read more.
- An analysis by street safety advocates found that traffic fatalities decreased in majority white neighborhoods but increased in predominantly Latino and Black neighborhoods during the last five years of the city’s Vision Zero initiative. Read more.
- The MTA brought in a Catholic priest to bless the construction of a new tunnel underneath Grand Central Terminal. Read more.
- NJ Transit riders who recall the agency’s meltdown during the 2014 Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium are skeptical that transportation to and from the stadium for the 2026 World Cup final will go smoothly. Read more.
- Mayor Eric Adams explained this week that he hasn’t kept pace with a 2019 law requiring him to install 150 miles of bus lanes over five years because he’s taking the “revolutionary” step of speaking with communities first. (Hell Gate)
- Teenagers are talking to their therapists about subway-related fears. (Curbed)
Why does the MTA call us “customers” in PA announcements? (E.g. “Please let the customers off the train first.”) To me, it’s a curious word choice, with “passengers” being a more appropriate descriptor.
– Meg, Brooklyn
MTA officials said the use of the term dates back to the 1990s and Long Island Rail Road President Charles W. Hoppe. He served between 1990 to 1994 and was the first to use the term at the agency, according to the MTA and his 2016 obituary.
The obit notes he changed the terminology “to emphasize the railroad’s responsibilities and duties to those it serves.”
The MTA now has a chief customer officer, Shanifah Rieara, who agreed that the term’s continued use is appropriate. “I think it goes beyond the mandate of moving people from point A to point B. It’s about the service and we are in the business of service,” Rieara said, also noting that the MTA has several customer service centers, as well as a large social media team that responds to comments and questions online.
“Just like when you go to a restaurant or any service industry, it goes beyond the transactional,” she said.
So does this mean the customer is always right?
“I would say for the most part, the customers are always right,” Rieara said.
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