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Via Garibaldi 8

Clean, On Time and Rat-Free: 9 International Transit Systems With Lessons for New York

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Clean, On Time and Rat-Free: 9 International Transit Systems With Lessons for New York

From Tokyo to Zurich, readers told us how New York’s subway compares with the public transportation in their cities (spoiler alert: not well).


The New York subway’s reputation for late trains, decaying stations and outdated equipment has traveled far.CreditCreditJohn Taggart for The New York Times

By Lara Takenaga

Feb. 11, 2019

What smells like a “nightclub toilet,” evokes the feeling of “an underworld” and resembles a “working museum”?

That would be the New York City subway, according to international readers who have experienced it.

The subway runs around the clock and carries millions daily across a sprawling network. But when we asked riders of public transit around the world how their systems compare, New York’s scored worse than most on several measures.

[Read New Yorkers’ stories of major subway meltdowns.]

Among the enviable features they described were Moscow’s chandelier-adorned platforms, Istanbul’s plans for a 500-mile expansion and Tokyo’s friendly attendants who locate lost items.

Below are some of their tales of exceptional public transit. They have been condensed, edited for clarity and paired with photos of their systems and New York’s.

What experiences have you had with public transit? Tell us in the comments.



Kievskaya station in Moscow. Credit Schuyler Kapnick


168th Street station in Washington Heights. Credit John Taggart for The New York Times

I’m a senior majoring in Russian studies at Carleton College in Minnesota. When I studied abroad in Moscow last year, my father, a South Bronx native, came to visit. We took the metro many times, and he was shocked.

“Where are the rats?” he asked. “I can’t believe how clean it is on these platforms.”

Many of the stations are works of art. Kievskaya, one of my favorites, has chandeliers and glittering mosaics with scenes from Ukrainian and Russian history. My other favorite station, Dostoevskaya, has murals depicting some of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s famous works, including “Crime and Punishment.”

The stations are held to a high standard of cleanliness, and there’s a constant police presence. Hooliganism is a serious crime, and it’s illegal to drink in the metro.

New York impressions: The subway in New York doesn’t follow a schedule in my experience. One time, in the summer of 2017, I waited 40 minutes for a Q train on the way to Brighton Beach. There was construction, but come on, 40 minutes?

— Schuyler Kapnick



Kokubunji station on the JR Chuo line. Credit Yukari Sakamoto


A subway platform at 34th Street–Penn Station. Credit Karsten Moran for The New York Times

I live in Tokyo and rely on three trains — JR and Tokyo Metro lines — to get to my job leading food tours at the Tsukiji fish market. My first train is famous for being packed during the morning commute. But riders are good for the most part about making room for as many people as possible. When things go smoothly, a new train comes on the JR Chuo line every few minutes. If there are ever delays, train stations, social media and TV news are quick to share the information.

Trains are clean, and some cars are reserved for women and children. There are staff at the stations who are helpful and friendly. One time I left my keys on the train, and the staff at my station quickly figured out which train it was and where I could track it down. The keys were turned in and I retrieved them.

Japanese culture respects others before yourself. My train ride is so quiet in the morning that a baby could sleep. There are rules, such as letting people off first, that everyone follows.

New York impressions: I lived in New York for many years, and two things happened to me on the subway. First, I was held up. There were other riders in the car, and no one did anything to help. Second, I was on a train and a man had a gun. Everyone panicked, and people fled to the ends of the train. This doesn’t happen in Tokyo.

— Yukari Sakamoto


As an American and former New Yorker, I am keenly aware of the public transit differences between here and New York. In Amsterdam it is a priority, a connecting web of trams, buses, trains and ferries that allows everyone to get around safely and on time.

I came to Amsterdam in 1989 to work for Radio Netherlands Worldwide and started living here full time seven years later. Now I’m retired, and as a senior on a limited income, I qualify for a free pass on all city transportation. This mobility has opened my life.

When American friends visit, they think our system is like a dream. But it isn’t. It’s the result of decisions made by the city and national governments and supported by the citizenry, who benefit daily and are willing to pay taxes to support it.

New York impressions: When I moved to Amsterdam after 15 years in New York, I had no idea that transport could actually run on a schedule. All I knew was to schedule extra time.

I still don’t trust the timetables, mainly because I want to keep some of my New Yorker-ness!

— Ruth Dreier



Bagarmossen station in Stockholm. Credit Adam Potrykus


Bedford Avenue station in Williamsburg. Credit Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

The metro here is known as the world’s longest art gallery.

One card allows you to ride the commuter trains, metro, trams, ferries and buses. There are even driverless vehicles. Transit is safe, punctual and affordable. Between my commute from the suburbs and my work co-directing the Stockholm Fringe Festival, I take three to four transportation modes a day. The system is part of my office.

For the festival we rely on public transit to get our actors, crew and audience members to each venue. In fact we plan the locations and schedule around the metro lines. In 2012 we had a roaming performance that took place across different stations and trains. It won the Audience Choice Award.

New York impressions: The subway looks like it does in the movies and smells like a shady nightclub toilet.

— Adam Potrykus



Jungfernheide station in Berlin. Credit Jamie Miller


168th Street station in Washington Heights. Credit John Taggart for The New York Times

When my husband and I were both working remotely, we thought, “Why not do this from Berlin instead of home?” So we left Austin, Tex., and spent a month there in 2016. We returned last year to celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary and my birthday. Berlin is our favorite big city, in large part because of how easy transportation is.

The U-Bahn was our primary method of transit for everything. Trips on it aren’t particularly memorable, and that’s how it should be. Systems are consistent across platforms and stations. There aren’t obstacles to smooth travel. What’s memorable, though, is the exquisite, ornate tiling in many of the stations. You also don’t validate your ticket when you enter a platform, which I think only works because of German culture.

New York impressions: When I visited New York, the stations were grungier and more rundown than the U-Bahn. But the U-Bahn serves a city with 3.5 million people. It’s harder to maintain and clean a system in a city of 8.5 million.

— Jamie Miller



An M4 train, which runs on the Asian side of Istanbul, with security cameras and open gangways. Credit Alex Francis Burchard


A Brooklyn-bound L train at Union Square. Credit John Taggart for The New York Times

My family has a foundation that manages a robotics competition in Turkey. My work for it often requires taking public transit to meet with schools, sponsors and teams across Istanbul. When I was looking for an apartment, access to the metro and buses was basically my only criterion.

The metro is pretty fantastic. The trains can carry a massive number of people. We have mild overcrowding for an hour or two a day, but it’s usually not horrendous. Trains are almost never delayed thanks to good maintenance. My line, the M2, carries about 400,000 people each day without trouble.

The trains have TV screens that play lots of things. My favorites are the cat (and sometimes dog) videos.

The metro sparkles: Trains and stations are shiny clean. What I like most, though, is how fast it’s expanding. There are plans to go from 105 miles of track to about 680 miles in the next decade or so.

New York impressions: I’ve come to New York for robotics competitions. The subway gets you there. That’s about it. It was slow and broken, with lots of trash and decay. I felt like I was in an underworld.

— Alex Francis Burchard



The SkyTrain on the Expo line in Vancouver. Credit Michael Alexander


A Manhattan-bound F train in Brooklyn. Credit Vincent Tullo for The New York Times


My work addresses urban-planning issues. Before moving to Vancouver, I lived in San Francisco, where I helped take down the Embarcadero Freeway and create the Presidio, a national park. Here, I’m working to remove two old highway viaducts, which will be replaced by a new roadway, parks, housing, bike paths and more.

The SkyTrain, our rapid transit system, has three lines that run through metro Vancouver. It plays a key part in a transportation strategy that makes walking, cycling and transit account for half of all trips in Vancouver.

The entire system is driverless. I’ve sat in the front seat of a SkyTrain, imagining that I’m the engineer as we race across the Fraser River.

Automation puts more money into maintenance and expansion. Six new stations opened in 2016. A project that will connect the suburbs to a major hospital has been approved, and an extension to the University of British Columbia is being discussed.

New York impressions: The subway is a critical public asset with impressive 24-hour service. But it’s antiquated, inefficient and not designed for all ages and abilities.

— Michael Alexander


I’m a professor of computer science and use public transit on weekdays to drop off my youngest daughter at school, get to my university, run errands and go to meetings.

Zurich’s system has many desirable features. Most trams and many bus lines have their own lane, so travel time is more or less predictable.

The buses, with few exceptions, and many trams have low floors, allowing a stroller, wheelchair or suitcase to be moved easily onboard. Most U-Bahn stations are also accessible.

The timetables are fairly dense on many lines, and the evening and weekend schedules aren’t much thinner. On Friday and Saturday there’s a late-night network. I’ve never felt unsafe in any bus or tram.

Public transportation covers every part of the city. I don’t recall walking more than five minutes to a stop. It also has wide social acceptance; I know C.E.O.s who take public transit.

We once had visitors from the United States who left a handbag with money, jewelry and their passports on a bus. It took a phone call to find out when and where to meet the bus, and the driver handed over the bag.

New York impressions: The subway is a nice working museum.

— Thomas Gross



A train on the Circle and District Underground lines in London. Credit Andrew Cataldo


An E train in Manhattan. Credit Demetrius Freeman for The New York Times

I go to Northeastern University in Boston and studied in London for six months in 2017. I return every so often to work with a friend there on a business venture.

The Tube was the most amazing thing to happen to me. I could reach practically every spot in London in less than 40 minutes.

The system is extremely efficient, with frequent trains during the day. For me this is one of the main reasons that London has stayed ahead of many cities that haven’t aged as gracefully.

The trains are extremely long and can fit tons of passengers. Some stops also serve as national rail stations. I could board a train near my apartment and head out almost anywhere in the United Kingdom, from London’s suburbs to Edinburgh.

Transit fares are based on zones. One time I accidentally left the area that my card could access. It was 2:30 a.m., and I was six miles from my apartment. A security guard offered to pay for me and I was home within 30 minutes.

New York impressions: I like that New York’s subway is extensive (more so than Boston’s), but it’s extremely poor quality. It’s closer to London in terms of having many stops in many places, but not close in much else.

— Andrew Cataldo

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/11/reader-center/international-public-transit-new-york-subway.html?fbclid=IwAR21zmEUfQbVTCT0qB24bOqgypY6toHbRleLl6O4fYWbugt5i_PYHQuG0MI

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16 minutes ago, ttcsubwayfan said:

Yuck. That Stockholm station looks horrendous.

It's odd because the Scandinavians are known for simple, modern and forward design. This is simple, but not in a good way.

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4 hours ago, Via Garibaldi 8 said:

It's odd because the Scandinavians are known for simple, modern and forward design. This is simple, but not in a good way.

Stockholm decided that putting a concrete shell around their stations was an unnecessary structural maintenance expense given the geology there.

It looks better in other stations.




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40 minutes ago, bobtehpanda said:

Stockholm decided that putting a concrete shell around their stations was an unnecessary structural maintenance expense given the geology there.

It looks better in other stations.




That's pretty cool....

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I've only done one non-american transit system, and that was when I was in Paris two weeks ago.

Stations weren't anything to look at; cars were crap, but if the board said it was arriving in 2 minutes, the train was there in 2 minutes.

I was on the worst line there - Line 13. It was overcrowded, the strip maps didn't work and the operators didn't announce stations, but I never got lost. And with the punctuality, and no leaking, I'd take Metro over (MTA) any day.

And RER? Took it to Orly, and it used the same pass as Metro. A €22 7-day pass got me commuter rail, trams, buses and metro. 

Yeah, one trip off the American continent and I found a city I could leave NYC for. And as much as I love the Renault Talisman as a car to own, I could do every day on RATP's system and be okay.

Oh, and RATP runs transit systems around the world. Damn sure no one would let (MTA) run anything it doesn't already; and I'm pretty sure most don't want it running what it already does. And that's a shame - you have a government agency running international systems instead of private contractors - but I guess the difference is while RATP and all the other transport authorities see providing transit as not just a service, but as a representation of how it represents their city, here, (MTA) leaders and politicians see it as a a burden and a way to siphon more money out of the population.

It's really sad.


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25 minutes ago, QM1to6Ave said:

Still better than NJT ;)

Nikes and a water bottle are better than (NJT) 

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Quote from another forum by a user who critiques this author's take:


I would criticize "The trains are extremely long" comment on the London tube comparison. The subsurface and deep tube trains are tiny compared to the A and B division trains of the NY Subway. Also he didn't mention that the Tube is extremely expensive.

In addition, the Istanbul comparison says something about the Istanbul metro + commuter rail will grow from 169 km (105 mi), which I don't even think that initial number is correct, to over 1000 km (680 mi) by 2030. I don't know where that goal came from but I doubt they will be opening over 800 km of new rail lines in the next ten years. 

There are many valid criticisms for the NY Subway but if you are going to report on it, the comments should at least be informed, factual and valid.


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23 hours ago, Fan Railer said:

Quote from another forum by a user who critiques this author's take:


The London Underground goes by zones which makes it even more expensive. There are nine zones. Zone 1 is the most expensive.

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