You have to admit, New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is quite efficient at keeping the trains running on time. But oftentimes, they don’t seem to pay enough attention to many other important parts of their infrastructure that commuters face everyday: Turnstiles, Metro Cards, Public Address Systems, Subway Furniture, and Public Art.

I believe these short comings are not due to lack of money, but may result from an outdated thinking, where train schedules take precedent over everything else. Perhaps when MTA planners picked new turnstiles or metro card designs they were less concerned about how riders will experience

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them and more concerned about how expedient it would be for them as operators. In the end, expediency tends to win over riders’ comfort, time and money. For this post, let’s just look at turnstiles and metro cards…

Old Turnstile with flat tops.

Old Turnstile with flat tops.

New Turnstiles with slanted tops.

New Turnstiles with slanted tops.


Our newer turnstiles are not so new. MTA introduced them in 2003 when the system was switched over from metal tokens to plastic metro cards.  The new turnstiles have slanted tops instead of  flat-topped turnstiles which the MTA used prior to 2003.  I do not know what the specific reasons were for the MTA to make the turnstile tops slanted, but it is obvious that the MTA engineers did not want riders to use them to put their bags, folios, folders, or in a rare instance a cup of coffee, while they are pulling out the metro card from their wallets.

To slide a metro card properly through the turnstiles magnetic reader, one needs a free hand, and cannot do it with a file folder under the arm.  People often hesitate to rest their bags on the floor which are not always clean, or can be wet on rainy days.

If the turnstile tops were flat, like their predecessors, people could use the flat surface to rest their bags momentarily as they slide the metro card though the turnstile.  I believe for every rider with bags in hands it requires an extra 10 or 20 seconds to pull out the card and slide it through the turnstile.  Considering there are two million riders a day, that is almost 720 million trips a year. Even if 10% of the riders take 10 extra seconds to pass through the turnstiles, that adds up to close to 200,000 hours of time wasted by New Yorkers.

Metro Cards

The choice of the new metro card may not have been thought through properly either. When riders buy metro cards, they think of the number of trips they will make. In contrast, the MTA sells them by the dollar amount.  As a result, there is always some money left over on cards. This leftover amount, which when combined with multiple leftover cards can amount to a substantial amount of money, is sometimes not redeemed by riders. They are either unsure of how much is left over on their cards or find it too much of a hassle to collect old cards and go to the few open ticket booths to combine them.

New York City - Metrocard

New York City – Metrocard

Beside millions of new yorkers, there are also 47 million tourists visiting the city every year. They often buy cards in amounts of $25 or $50 and leave the city without using the full amount.  Perhaps another reason the MTA should sell cards by the number of trips.

Furthermore, the present metro cards come in only one color, yellow, with no distinguishing marks, and can often get mixed up with old cards in purses or wallets. As an everyday user I would like to have monthly and weekly passes in different colors from individual ride cards.  There should also be a mark boldly indicating the date and time of purchase, and number of trips.

Is this too much to expect from MTA?  While I believe the MTA thinks their job is to get the rider from point A to point B quickly and safely, the other stuff need not be ignored. Those little things add to the quality of experience riders have, while traversing through 468 MTA stations in this city.

Note: Next week I will opine about Subway public adressing system, subway furniture and art.