In my last story, I laid out the two subway systems of Shanghai and New York side by side, comparing the two in infrastructure construction, and on operation and maintenance. Here, I’d like to explore the differences in travel experience, safety, and resilience.
It all depends on how you define a satisfactory commute. In general, if you live near an express train station, you are very lucky. In New York, I previously lived near a large station where I had two express and two local options, so It took me only 10 minutes to travel from my home to midtown Manhattan on an express train. I moved later to a place near a local station where I had only one option; my travel time would be longer no matter where I wanted to go.
The other considerations are the temperature and crowd. Unfortunately, not all the trains have heating or cooling systems. Sometimes, you will find people squeezed in two adjacent cars, but leave one car almost empty in the summer. Don’t try to get a comfortable seat in the empty car, because I guarantee you there is no AC in that car.
You also don’t always have any cellphone signal underground. Recently, mobile services and WiFi have started to cover most stations, but you will still lose signal when you are in between stations. That’s why many New Yorkers read on the train.
Ticket rates are fixed no matter how long the travel distance is: riders only need to swipe the MTA card when getting into the station. Riders transiting between subway and bus can get one free ride within 90 minutes.
The direction signs in NYC are also very different from the rest of the world. It is generalized to be uptown/Queens/Bronx or downtown/Brooklyn in many cases. Understanding uptown and downtown is extremely important. You will find separate entrances at the same station for two different directions; if you go into the wrong station, you will have to go to the correct one and purchase the fee again.
When will the next train come? Don’t assume you will see screens at all the stations. The information on the MTA screens or Google Maps can both be wrong. Listening to the announcement is probably the safest choice.
Last but not least, not all the stations are wheelchair accessible. If you are in a wheelchair, have a luggage, or use a baby stroller, you will figure out your way to ride on New York subway.
In Shanghai, all the stations are designed to be easily recognized from the outside to the inside, as the signage system uses destinations. Riders can also see the “next stop” and “previous stop” on the signage.
All the trains are conditioned comfortably in all four seasons, although some argue that they are a little bit too hot in the winter. Overall, though, the crowd flow during rush hour is the biggest complaint you could make about the subway system in Shanghai. On the Shanghai Metro website, the interactive map of the real-time flow of people is the top hit.
The ticketing system is similar to NYC, with the ticket rates based on the distance. One-day and three-day passes are available for visitors.
Cellphone signal infrastructure is well-built and covers the whole subway system, but Shentong does not provide WiFi at the stations. A start-up called Huasheng Technology (花生科技) provides the emerging free mobile WiFi to riders.
Stairs, escalators, and elevators are the standard design for all the train stations in Shanghai.
Safety and Resiliency
As mentioned earlier, the lack of platform screen doors (PSDs) on the New York Subway creates safety problems on the platform. Not only can people be pushed on to the tracks, but also trash is dumped on the tracks, causing track fires and delays. When the trash includes food scraps, it attracts rats, something that can literally be seen at subway stations in NYC.
There is no scanning security check in NYC. In some major stations, you will see transit police officers and police dogs. Large baggage items will be randomly searched.
In Shanghai, PSDs are installed at all the stations; most of them are floor-to-ceiling, keeping the riders safe and the track clean.
Additionally, PSDs can help save energy and limit the noise of train brakes.
To prepare for the typhoon weather of the Shanghai Summer, stations have the flood control facilities to protect the stations and tracks. NYC is still recovering from Hurricane Sandy and needs more funding.
In summary, the newer Shanghai Metro system is unbeatable in most aspects. If you are in Shanghai, enjoy your ride. If you live in NYC, please enjoy the show on the train or the station.
(Top photo from http://web.mta.info)