Sometimes taking the subway can be difficult...but for some reason, it seems incredibly easy after reading Guardian editor Bim Adewunmi's column trashing the NYC subway system. How bad does she find it? Well: "I have found myself spiralling into hysteria, driven slowly mad by the New York subway." And "This is not the New York of my dreams. This is The Hunger Games, only I am not a teenage girl forced to kill other children in an purpose-built arena; I am an adult woman trying to return to my Airbnb flat in Brooklyn."

Adewunmi insists she's a city girl, "most at ease in a crowd, especially if we are all underground, blinking into a dark tunnel and awaiting a train. Over the years I have developed the ability to decipher and absorb complex, multicoloured transit maps in mere minutes." But for some reason, NYC's subway confounds her because... there are many lines using one color:

The city’s subway map is dense and needlessly complex. Where in London the Central line (red) is distinct from the Piccadilly (dark blue), which is markedly different from the Hammersmith and City line (pink), New York’s map has designated the same forest green to the 4, the 5 and the 6 lines. The B, D, F and M all rejoice in exactly the same shade of violent orange. And I’m almost entirely certain that the blue of the A, C, and E lines is the last thing you see before death’s sweet embrace. Why would you do this? The whole thing resembles a child’s approximation of a city transit system: it makes no sense.

But wait, there’s more! There are no live departure boards on the vast majority of the network’s platforms. It means you descend into the bowels of the city with no idea when your next train will be.

And then, when the train does arrive, you must check the front of it to figure out which train it is, because many of the platforms are used by more than one line at any given time. So that might be an express train you just got on, next stop Hoyt-Schermerhorn. Or it might be a local train, which will get you there eight minutes later, via an extra three stops. If you missed the front of the train, you might be able to glimpse your destination on a small panel on the side of the train. Then again, you might not...

The signs - a mess of fonts and colours - lack the sweet primness of London Underground’s Johnston font. The inconsistency is startling. The stations are filthy, with peeling paintwork and pockets of such urine-stench that my eyes water, like a rheumy dog’s. The air-conditioning makes the trains a movable icy tundra, furnished with hard, uncomfortable seats. The MTA has forced me to become one of those Brits abroad - the kind that sighs and, with a condescending chuckle, compares everything with “back home”.

Yes, there's much for the NYC subway to improve upon—BUT three points immediately popped into my head: 1) Our subway runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while the Tube is open from 5 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday, giving more time for cleaning and maintenance; 2) the NYC subway system has about 150 more stations, prompting a somewhat more complex design (and see prior note about cleaning); and 3) the flat rate one-way fare is $2.50 (not zoned fares, with a Zone 1 fare costing about $3.60—their monthly Zone 1-3 fare is about $200).

Perhaps I am being too defensive about my beloved NYC subway. Yes, I love to complain about my commute (the A was unreasonably crowded this morning! why was I the only person to offer an elderly man with a cane my seat?), but I also made it from the Upper West Side to the Bronx Zoo in less than 30 minutes the other weekend. So I asked a New Yorker who has been using the Tube a lot lately for his thoughts.

David Jacobs, CEO of 29th Street Publishing, tells us that the two subway systems are "very different." that London Underground copy is "well-edited.. [it's] almost always clear, as is the signage. Few words are wasted. However, the signage in the subway is often hidden and inconsistent, and often you have to walk under long underground passageways. Their stations are much more spread out than ours are."

While rush hour on the 1 train or L is horrible here, Jacobs adds, "If you use Citymapper (the best transit app), you’ll see that buses in London are often faster and cheaper! A ride on the tube is routinely more than 3 pounds ($5)... And anecdotally, there are many more delays on the tube." He does wish that more NYC subway platforms had real time subway arrival displays.

MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg gave us this statement about Adewunmi's column:

It’s hard to know how to begin. Yes, the New York City subway has 468 stations, moves 5.8 million people a day, runs all around the clock, and offers both local and express service for the same flat fare all the way across the city. Show me another system that has that. But this is the first time I can remember reading someone complain about the shade of orange on the B-D-F-M trains and the blue on the A-C-E, or complain that she can’t tell the difference between a 4 train and a 5 train and a 6 train because they’re all the same color.

But when she complains that the subway uses too many fonts, it seems clear that she hates our subway less than she just loves to complain. There are literally books written about the MTA’s single font and unified graphic design; if she doesn’t notice there’s only one font (or when she claims the subway uses “tickets”), it’s hard to take her seriously. She complains that subway cars are air-conditioned. She complains that we run express trains. She complains there are too many subway lines on the map. We’re proud of all those things; she likes to complain.

No, the subway is far from perfect. It needs billions of dollars and years of work to keep it running well, much less to install more modern signals, finish rolling out countdown clocks and Help Point intercoms, buy new cars and do everything else necessary to serve a ridership that just keeps on growing. Tourists get confused; trains get crowded. But if she blames the subway for ruining the New York City of her dreams, she should stop complaining for a moment and realize the problem with her life isn’t the subway - it’s her attitude.

Challenge accepted, Bim Adewunmi! Also, I'll take you to the Transit Museum, where you can learn to conquer your fears.