Public Safety On New York City Subways

Public transportation is the backbone of most large cities including New York City. Ideally subways enable people to move quickly and safely to their respective places for work, school, or other destinations important to them. How are New York City subways measuring up to this ideal in terms of public safety over time?

While researching this question, we noticed an article [subscription required]“Transportation Security for New York City Straphangers” by Samuel Estreicher and Zachray Garrett on (July 7, 2022) which for us is a well researched article that makes a significant contribution toward framing this issue.  Therefore, although we cannot reproduce or reprint the article, we will attempt to summarize and highlight its basic points.

Estreicher and Garrett propose two measures to help cope subway crime which they say “is up 54% since last year and 39% since last month [May]”. These measures are:

  1. Stationing at least one police officer at each turnstile (or set of turnstiles) around the clock to help curb criminal activity and help restore confidence of riders. They also advocate shifting priorities of police from pursuing fare evaders to a system of “supplementing the system in order to keep guns, knives, and other nefarious metals from getting inside and causing harm”.
  1. Installing weapons screens at each subway station. This proposal appears to be an endorsement of Mayor Adams’ interest in installing artificial driven metal detectors in New York City subways.

Estreicher and Garrett conclude their article by writing:   “If the subways are not safe, the City’s business and employment climate will continue to deteriorate substantially, and in some instances irreparably”.  They also suggest that the June 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision,  NYSPRA v. Bruen  “should have no implications for the legality of our proposal. As Justice Kavanaugh noted in his concurrence, the states and the federal government may still permissibly put into place reasonable restrictions on the carrying of firearms in ‘sensitive places.’ ”

Within the past year there have been many reports from throughout the media expressing increasing concern over the state of the New York City Subway System, including the safety of straphangers and others who need to use the system, often on a daily basis. From what we can determine, most of these reports reflect the concerns expressed in the Estreicher Garrett article mentioned above.

This outpouring of concern has prompted a recent submission of proposals, both public and private, calling for changes in the monitoring and operations of the Subway System, including introducing new and improved safety measures, for the benefit of straphangers and others who have a vested interest in the New York City Subway System.  In this posting we will only mention a few:

On February 18, 2022 Mayor Adams of New York City released a Subway Safety Plan. The goal of the plan is to enable his administration to begin addressing public safety concerns and supporting people experiencing homelessness and serious mental illness on New York City’s subways.

The Rider’s Alliance, a subway advocacy organization, released what they call a “Grass Roots Plan” in June 2022. This Plan focuses on increasing train frequency, directing law enforcement to focus on violence and harassment instead of on smaller crimes such as fare evasion, and finding more shelter beds and permanent supportive housing.

Finally, we want to acknowledge the work of the Straphangers Campaign, a New York City transit group that advocates on behalf of riders of public transit. They are involved in a variety of projects including publishing annually the “State of the Subways Report Card”.



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