Lawmakers and straphangers are renewing a call for the MTA to install platform screen doors, following the killing of Michelle Alyssa Go, who was pushed onto the subway tracks at Times Square as a train entered the station — but the agency appears reluctant to move forward on installing the doors.
These extra doors on platforms are used in major transit systems around the world and protect riders from falling or being shoved onto the tracks.
While the MTA has discussed the issue several times over the years, the authority actually commissioned an extensively detailed survey of every single station and what it might take to install protective doors — a study it's had in its possession for three years now.
Go’s death has revived interest in the problem, but being pushed onto the track remains a rare, if persistent issue. The NYPD reports 26 people were shoved onto the tracks in 2020, and 30 people were shoved last year.
In 2017, the MTA commissioned a consulting group to study all 472 subway stations to see if the platform barriers could be installed and what it would cost. Two years later, in 2019, the firm STV delivered a nearly 3,000-page report, which the MTA finally released publicly on Thursday afternoon.
The report found that only 128 stations could accommodate the protective barriers, and it would cost the MTA about $7 billion dollars to install them. That would be almost 14% of the current capital plan, which already includes $5 billion for making 71 stations accessible, $7 billion for converting seven lines to modern electronic signaling, and buying nearly 2,000 new subway cars and more than 2,000 new buses. The cost of the next phase of the Second Avenue subway extension is pegged at a little more than $6 billion.
While the study goes into exhaustive detail about the challenges of installing three different types of platform screen doors at all stations on all lines, STV also identified recurring problems.
Overall, there were three main reasons most stations couldn’t accommodate the platform screen doors:
- At 154 stations, the platforms were too narrow to have room for both doors and wheelchair access.
- The shape of many subway cars and the lip of platforms would leave large gaps between the platform edge and the trains.
- Finally, the platform screen doors would be hard to install amidst the structural support columns in many stations.
The report is so precise it even includes exact measurements for many platforms and renderings that detail the space constraints, as well as consideration of how the lighting might be affected, and even the cost of replacing ceramic tiles during construction.
The report notes only 27% of stations would be able to accommodate the technology, though a closer look reveals some subway lines could be well suited for the screens. For example, 62% of the A and C train stations could have them and 58% of L train stations could have them as well. The report notes 13 stations along the L line could have some type of platform screen doors and it would take 15 months to install, at a cost of about $29 million per station.
Because there are various types of subway cars in use on the numbered and letter lines, and train cars of various ages using the same lines, where train doors open was inconsistent enough that it would be hard to install doors effectively.
The report also shows that major transit systems around the world, like Paris, London, and Hong Kong, all have some type of platform screen doors at many stations.
Even with that information, MTA chairman Janno Lieber announced recently that the agency is “studying it again.”
“We are interested in seeing whether there are opportunities to install it, especially in some of the more [busy] stations where you get a little more crowded. But we're going to look at it again,” he said.
At the upcoming February MTA board meeting, the agency is expecting a report on the feasibility of some sort of sensor system that would detect if someone is on the tracks. But still, something like that wouldn’t deter people from being shoved, or even climbing on the tracks — another ongoing issue in the subways.
“The truth, if we’re honest with [ourselves], is any of those investments — many of them are worthy, but will take years to come online, and our position is there is an urgent problem and we need action today,” Lieber said during the MTA board meeting this week.
For now, the agency is relying on increased NYPD patrols and Governor Kathy Hochul’s pledge to send more mental health teams into the subway to help people.
The MTA is currently facing several lawsuits that could force it to install some protections.
In 2015, Dr. Sharon McLennon-Weir, who is executive director of Center for Independence of the Disabled New York, fell onto the tracks at the Wall Street station. She is blind and said the rubber guides on the ground were an older model and had eroded, so she couldn’t tell where the edge was located.
“It’s not even a disability issue, it’s a human issue, ensuring that passengers can travel safely through the system, and prevent life or death issues,” she told Gothamist.