This is New York’s Subway System?!

To kick off our 21st Century Transportation blog, we're featuring a two-part guest post on public transportation in China, New York City and Wisconsin from Pei Wang, who interned with us this spring semester.

To kick off our 21st Century Transportation blog, we’re featuring a two-part guest post on public transportation in China, New York City and Wisconsin from Pei Wang, who interned with us this spring semester.

Part I: This is New York’s Subway System?!

Guest Post, by Pei Wang

I still remember the first time I stepped onto a subway platform in New York City, needing to take the F train to downtown Manhattan. It wasn’t what I had expected – it struck me as outdated and dirty, and the station was full of litter. I even saw rodents running along the tracks, looking for food.

I took some pictures and shared them with my parents back home in China. “Look! This is a New York metro station!” In our minds, the New York Subway was state-of-the-art, clean and safe, just like most metro systems I’ve used in China.

My parents replied that New York’s subway must just be really old since it looked so run-down. Indeed, the city’s subway opened in 1904, and has been used heavily for more than 100 years. By comparison, many metro systems in China’s major cities are new, and growth has been exponential. Over the last decade, more than 20 metro systems have been built in Chinese cities.

The New York City Subway was a part of my daily life for two years. I loved its convenience but hated its delays, which often occurred during my morning commute. When the train was running behind, I sometimes had to change my schedule or accept being late for class. The cost of subway tickets also increased. But the increased ticket price didn’t result in better service; the delays kept happening.

Trains running behind schedule are only one of the New York Subway’s problems – there have also been maintenance delays and even well-publicized, deadly crashes in recent years. Shouldn’t New York City, what many people consider to be the center of the world, have a world-class transit system for residents and tourists? As one of my friends would say, “we shouldn’t need a car in New York.”

In my hometown of Zhengzhou, I didn’t need a car either, thanks to an effective public transportation system. Zhengzhou is the capital in the Henan province in central China, had a population of more than 7 million in 2015, and it has continued to grow. So Zhengzhou’s transportation system has had to serve an enormous and expanding population. The city opened its subway system in 2013, and for now, we have three subway lines, with more coming soon. We have bus rapid transit (BRT) as well, with dedicated lanes on the road, and traditional buses that people use for daily transport. I’ve also used Zhengzhou’s bike-sharing system to get around.

When I lived in China and wanted to go to other cities, I would often take the train – the easiest and fastest way to get around between provinces and major hubs. My friends and family preferred the train because tickets were cheap and travel was fast, smooth and safe. Standard trains reach a top speed of 160 kilometers per hour (about 100 miles per hour). The Bullet Train, meanwhile, is the highest-speed train in China, with a top speed of 350 kilometers per hour (well over 200 miles per hour).

So, my first impressions of New York City’s transportation system when I arrived in the U.S. were not good, especially compared to public transit in my hometown in China. But New York City isn’t the only American city struggling with an ineffective public transportation system – this is a nationwide problem. In my next post, I’ll explore what policymakers can do to improve public transit in the U.S., including in Wisconsin.