Op-ed | Re-NEW-vating the NYC subway as it reaches a milestone

MTA New York City Transit President Richard Davey
NYCT President Richard Davey
Marc A. Hermann/MTA

The subway might be approaching its 119th birthday this month, but it certainly doesn’t have to look like it.

We started the Station Re-NEW-vation program in the spring as part of the Faster, Cleaner, Safer initiative with a goal of making all 472 stations look and feel new. Now we’re celebrating our 50th completion more than two months ahead of schedule.

That’s 50 stations that have been rehabilitated, deep cleaned, and enhanced by taking advantage of planned outages to get work done.  We’ve also brought on hundreds of new cleaners and supervisors to support the program.

I want to make clear that the Transit team takes seriously our responsibility as stewards of the subways. Cleaning and maintaining facilities are an important part of that, but – as the name Faster, Cleaner, Safer suggests — we also need to make sure customers (and employees!) feel comfortable in the transit system.

It’s been a year since Governor Hochul and Mayor Adams launched the Cops, Cameras, and Care campaign and since then, there’s been marked improvement in the sense of safety underground. NYPD stats show subway crime is way down in 2023, and down 8% since 2019 while arrests of perpetrators is up. That’s right – we have significantly less subway crime now than before the pandemic and if someone commits a crime, the cops are making arrests. 

This didn’t happen in a vacuum. You’ll remember the NYPD surged cops into the system — riders had never seen the volume of police officers in stations that they saw towards the end of 2022 and in the first half of this year. Conductors also began making announcements to let people know when there were officers on platforms, even if they didn’t see them. It made a big difference. 

So did efforts to ramp up installation of security cameras — not only in stations across the city, but onboard trains, too — building on an existing network of 11,000+ cameras. The new R211 subway cars, which were just unveiled on Staten Island Railway last week and on the A line earlier this year, already have cameras built in, a major upgrade.

The most challenging component of the Governor and Mayor’s strategy has been Care. We surged mental health and outreach professionals into the system to help address the needs of people struggling with mental health issues, and while it has not been a total transformation, the MTA has helped place more than 5,000 people into shelters. No doubt there is more work to do, but riders are perceiving a difference in Customers Count surveys. 

Every little bit helps as we work towards our North Star goal of 70% customer satisfaction by next June. We’re determined to lay a strong foundation, so the next 119 years of the subway are even better than the first. 

Richard Davey is MTA New York City Transit president.