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NYC Subway Riders | © John St John / Flickr
NYC Subway Riders | © John St John / Flickr

Should New York City Shut Down Its 24-Hour Subway?

Picture of Nikki Vargas
Travel Editor
Updated: 4 December 2017

Whether it’s delayed trains, signal malfunctions, track fires or the horrific stalling of the F train earlier this year, NYC’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is scrambling to fix the myriad of issues now facing its commuters. In an effort to repair the subway, a proposed idea to shut down the city’s 24-hour service has hit a nerve with New Yorkers, leaving everyone questioning whether the city that never sleeps should have a subway that does.

Monday morning in New York City and the platforms at Union Square runneth over with angry city slickers desperate to get to work by 9am. Each train that pulls into the station is overflowing with commuters—packed like sardines in a can—as those waiting on the platform look on helplessly, unable to squeeze even a foot through the door.

Eye rolls quickly escalate to under-the-breath insults until that notorious New York sass is being thrown around shamelessly. One train passes, then two as the overheard train schedule reads simply: “Delayed.” Welcome to NYC’s subway system: a rapidly failing and flailing transportation network that is the bane of every New Yorker’s existence.

Since 2012, the number of train delays in NYC have jumped from 28,000 to 70,000 per month, according to Business InsiderWhile the MTA desperately tries to gussy up the subway stations by installing touchscreen kiosks, USB ports and WiFi, cosmetic repairs hardly negate the fact that NYC runs on technology that predates World War II.

Like trying to slap a Band-Aid over a bullet wound, the MTA’s current efforts to remedy NYC’s growing subway problem continue to fall short. After all, when millions of people rely daily on century-old technology, it’s no wonder that we now find ourselves in the situation we’re in. In response, the Regional Plan Association (RPA) has suggested the rather radical idea of ending the city’s 24/7 subway service on weekdays to allow for overnight track repair.

The proposal to shut down New York’s nightly subway service has ruffled the feathers of many, to say the least. “The city is becoming more of a 24-hour city than it’s ever been,” Mitchell Moss, the director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University, told The New York Times. “Closing the subways is a way to undermine the health care industry, the restaurant industry, the office maintenance industry. This is a threat to the fundamentals of the city’s economy.”

Moss’ feelings are valid in that an estimated 85,000 New Yorkers ride the subway between the hours of 12:30am to 5am daily, reports amNYBeyond the massive inconvenience a nightly shutdown would mean for the city, there is also the question of New York pride.

Andrew Sparberg, a subway historian told The New York Times that New York City’s subways have run 24 hours since the day they opened in 1904. Not even during World War II did the city’s subway shut down; the proposal—said Sparberg—would be “unprecedented.” New York’s reputation as being a “city that never sleeps” has become such an identifier—a quality that separates the city from Paris and Tokyo—that many feel a subway shutdown is an extreme solution.

“I’m a New Yorker—24-hour subway service is part of our birthright,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told the NY Daily News. “This is not Washington, D.C., with all due respect to Washington, D.C. You cannot shut down the subway at night. This is a 24-hour city.”

Sentiments aside, a drastic solution to the NYC subway problem is needed. After all, a temporary subway-wide shutdown may just be the ticket to a long-term solution of improved commutes for all New Yorkers. New York’s reputation of being a sleepless city isn’t entirely predicated on our subways; but rather on the energy of a city that is constantly teeming with life.

Regardless of outrage, the MTA has already begun moving forward with shutting down stations overnight—and in some cases, like the Queens 36th and 30th Avenue stations, for months— in an effort to rapidly repair the increasingly aging tracks. For this New Yorker, the sacrifice of having to order an Uber past 12:30am instead of taking the subway is well worth the payoff. After all, if we could all enjoy a Monday morning commute without the screaming matches and 30-minute delays, perhaps our fair city could become just a little bit fairer.