Is it me, or is the subway system out of control? Aggressive panhandlers and other miscreants are back in force, and delays are rampant.
Just this past week I was affected by both. As the uptown 1 train thundered into the 23rd Street station, I spotted a few empty seats, and rushed to the door of that car. I should have known. Sprawled across the seats was a foul-smelling man spewing profanity and scratching like crazy.
At 59th Street, the guy rose and stood by the door, deciding whether to depart, stepping in and out. Since the train was frozen at the station for 10 minutes, he had plenty of time. Finally, the conductor barked, “Stand clear of the closing door!” as the entire car silently rooted for Mr. Itchy to get lost. I can’t say we breathed a sigh of relief when he departed, because the car still reeked too badly to breathe deeply, but we were relieved.
Seconds later, a tall, lanky guy entered. He waited for the doors to shut before he started his all-too-familiar spiel: “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t want to hurt anyone . . .”
“I’m not going to lie to you people. I recently was released from state prison . . .”
Please, lie to us.
The train ground to a halt again before the 72nd Street station, giving him ample opportunity to finish his bellowing speech, then berate us for being so cheap. Yet another subway delay. Meanwhile, from 23rd until I got off at 86th, not a single uniformed cop entered the car. We were on our own.
Yes, a typical day on the subway — and that’s the problem. Aggressive panhandlers have little fear of arrest. Train delays have tripled in the past five years because infrastructure is crumbling. Many blame Mayor Bill de Blasio for the increasingly inefficient service, but control rests with the state. Last week. subway riders, sick of the delays and disregard, protested outside of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s city office.
How do other nations manage to offer clean, safe and reliable subway service, while we can’t? Like the universal health care those nations provide, the solution is obvious — but our priorities clearly are not.
Federal funding would certainly help. Don’t hold your breath.
Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.