For 50 years, when the Dominican retiree Ana Guero arrived in New York City, the Subway was part of his life. Now, he confesses that he walks the platforms with some fear. She prefers to wait for the train against the wall. It approaches only when the machine is already stopped at the station. Opt to get away from the crowds and the yellow line, seen by many passengers, like an “abyss” from which you have to beware.
“I have known this train since one put a coin (token) for each trip. But there is so much going on now, of jostling, of crimes, that one must be very vigilant. I honestly try to take it less and less.”, the immigrant specified before entering train 1 in the 181 Street Station of Upper Manhattan.
Ana’s concern is not part of her imagination or any personal experience.
Like this islander, thousands of passengers are more alert in the popular means of transport that before the pandemic outbreak moved more than five million of people every day.
There are some recent events that “ignite” the emotion of fear. The deadly push that last Saturday received from a mentally ill, an Asian while waiting for the R train at the Times Square – 42 St station, It was just one of the fatal episodes that have gained notoriety in recent weeks.
The person responsible for this terrible event that took the headlines, was Simon Martial, 61, a man with mental health problems and a criminal record, who turned himself in to the police and confessed to his crime when it happened.
“The pandemic has turned everything upside down. This is a very big city, with many peoplewhere things are always going to happen. But one observes that now more happens, in a shorter time”, interprets the islander.
Indeed, the cold January 2022 in New York City has been accompanied not only by a high wave of new cases of COVID-19, but also by a spiral of violence that is very difficult to hide.
Major crimes rose by more than 33% in the first days of this year’s calendar. If this record is compared to last year, at this point, the conclusion is that criminal actions in the public transport system have taken hold: a rise of 65.5% that translates into verbal aggression, attacks and a murder.
Emptyer cars, but…
The data on recent criminal incidents is striking, because according to reports from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the passenger rate, due to the pandemic, fell in general by more than 50%.
“Certainly at certain times there are empty cars. Now you must wait longer and be with several eyes. For example, I who make the change in Penn StationEvery day around midnight to go to the Bronx, I can say that this season is hellish,” said Vicente Gómez, a Mexican who works in a restaurant in Manhattan.
Vicente’s description details the presence of dozens of homeless people, who, as he says, use drugs, yell and harass passengers, both in the underground areas and all the streets in the surroundings to access the transport system.
“There are more and more people with problems on the train, who scream, smoke in the cars, get violent, sleep there. They are human beings who are having a hard time. And one gets used to the fact that they are part of the city”, limited the immigrant whose daily route requires him to use the Subway between Lower Manhattan and the Bronx almost every day.
But these official statistics describing high crime in the Subway system, associated with a string of crises, such as homelessness and mental health, have many interpretations.
In the opinion of Daniel Pearlstein of the Alliance Riders, an organization that fights for a public transportation system that meets the daily needs of all New Yorkers, there are “counted in millions of passengers” who take the train every day and they are “overwhelmingly” safe.
“We have seen that users support the approach to address the humanitarian crisis of homeless people in the Subway, which goes through health care and housing,” said the activist.
Pearlstein, in the midst of the “crossfire” of information linking the violence directly with the presence of “homeless”, suggests that just blame this vulnerable population, it does not help resolve a structural drama.
“Police officers, courts and jails cannot solve the problem by themselves. It’s up to the Governor and Mayor to continue to work together to make sure all New Yorkers they can feel safe and comfortable in the subway”, finished off
The order: More surveillance!
Sources from the New York City Police Department (NYPD) assure that the most recent “order” is that the officers on duty carry out two controls at the stations where more inconveniences are reported.
In some stations they arranged for a more undercover police presence, based on in the points of the gigantic underground that receives the most alerts from employees and passengers.
But within the Uniformada there are doubts about the strategy that increasing the police presence alleviates uncomfortable situations for users.
In this regard, a police spokesman told The New York Post that “even if we put 500 police officers on the subway at rush hour, there are about 5,000 subway cars running, so only the 10 percent of subway cars would have a policeman”.
The fact that in the Big Apple another female passenger was intentionally thrown onto the rails, just as the train was speeding towards the Times Square station, dusted off another debate: the request that the MTA plans to install security gates on the platforms.
It is a security mechanism that has only been installed in the JFK Airport AirTrain and in other cities around the world, which consists of creating an access barrier to the platforms, which it opens automatically only when the train is already in the station.
One of the voices that promoted the discussion this week was Mark Levine, Manhattan Borough President.
“Hundreds of people end up on the tracks every year in the New York subway system, through accidental falls, suicide attempts, and, rarely, being pushed. It’s time for the MTA to finally start installing platform gates to protect riders,” Levine tweeted.
The leaders of the transportation agency in New York assure that they will “explore the installation of some barriers” said the interim president of the MTA, Janno Lieber.
But beforehand they conclude that the installation of these doors could be very complicated due to “the age of the system” and the “prohibitively expensive”.
“It is an idea that works in many places, but there are special complexities in New York. We are always looking for ways to make the system more secure.”
For his part, the expresidente de Transit NY, Andy Byford, shared in a statement that the MTA has been discussing installing these devices for many years, but there are many technical complications to this idea.
“A lot of New York City’s platforms are curved and would need to be completely rebuilt. The challenge could be to install them in the new stations”, he added.
Help the homeless
The Puerto Rican Carlos Moreno, a resident of the Bronx, reports that due to his work schedules he must enter, generally the A train, between 4:00 and 5:00 in the morning.
“At that time there are dozens of people sleeping on the train. They can propose a thousand things, policemen, special doors, everything. But here the issue is that you have to help the homeless,” he said.
Carlos, after 40 years embarking and disembarking in this transport system, notices more stressed people than ever before: “there are many factors, the news about the pushes, the pandemic and all the problems that the City has that are even more noticeable, when you lock yourself in a car”.
With a different vision, Colombian educator Rosa Fuentes, 35, assures that “fortunately” in the City any “isolated event” sets off alarms of concern to “change reality”.
“How many people take these trains every day and how many of them have something wrong with them?. Fortunately very few. But it is good that everything is exaggerated, because that way we do not get used to violence, as has happened in our countries, where a death is forgotten, the next day, with another fatality, “he concluded.
New movements in the Subway in 2022:
- Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul announced on January 6 that the crime and homeless crisis in the Subway will be addressed this year in two directions: more police patrols and the formation of a special group of professionals who will be dedicated address the cases of the “homeless”.
- The new one NYPD Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell reported a large number of related deployment moves in the subway, including the underground “selective patrol” in the places where they are most needed.
- This plan involves NYPD officers who work in various offices and will be sent special units to patrol the transportation system.
- The MTA got its final federal aid payment from $6 billion last Wednesday what Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
- These funds are part of an aid of more $16 billion that the MTA has received to balance its budget for the next four years; which guarantees a $2.75 per ride fare freeze and other operational modernization plans.
Fewer passengers, more thefts:
- 5.5 million daily passengers had the Subway bus-train system in the Big Apple before the pandemic outbreak in the spring of 2020.
- 50-60% has been the loss of passengers on average due to fears of the public health crisis.
- 3.2 million users counted the New York subway on October 14, being the highest peak after the coronavirus outbreak. But that number dropped dramatically in the face of fears caused by omicron’s expansion.
- 2,542,001 passengers transited through this system on January 18, which means 48% less than pre-pandemic levels.
- 50% increased robberies at Subway facilities in the last three months according to figures shared by the NYPD.
- 45% was the rise of serious crimes such as theft and assault.
- 79% increased hate crimes in 2021, fueled by a 240% rise in attacks based on sexual orientation and a 233% rise against Asians, according to figures presented to the MTA.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.