Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Myth Of Mediterranean Inefficiency.

Having recently visited Madrid for the second time, I am always pleasantly surprised by the cleanliness, efficiency and ease of use of their public transportation - the Metro in particular. You never have to wait more than 5 minutes for a train - in fact, I never waited more than a couple of minutes - you know how long you have to wait because there is an indicator which displays the number of minutes until the next train. And the map and layout or so intuitive that I was able to grasp it rather easily despite a shaky grip on Spanish.

Compared to the dirty, run down, confusing NYC subway system it is a pleasure to ride. One might say I am making an unfair comparison - I ride the MTA daily and therefore are more likely to run in a delayed train. It could also be sheer size- the MTA system is much larger, the physical size and length of the cars is longer as well. But I don't think it is just that. Almost daily, riding the Q, I find the arrival times inconsistent, inevitably somewhere along the line the train stops and we get the tiresome "please be patient" and overall the New York stations are filthy. Oh yeah and notice that pink line? It's not the homo express, but rather a remarkably efficient and fast connection to the airport something both JFK and LGA are lacking - sorry the dirty broken down A train and the overpriced poorly built Patki-boondoggle shuttle doesn't cut i.t

Not once did any metro stop at anywhere other than a station, and Spanish officials apparently believe that Madrid commuter can do something New Yorkers can't - open the doors of when the train is stopped. I also noticed that people don't hold the doors open - presumably because the trains run so much more frequently there isn't the 'scarcity' mentality.

I am sure some slick PR man at city hall will tell us that clean, efficient trains, and even a desire for them are a sign of fascism, and that we're much better off with dirty run down unreliable trains staffed by a 'diverse' work force. But really wouldn't it be better to put efforts into getting our subway system to look like this (and believe me the Madrid metro runs as good as it looks) than silly boondoggles like Atlantic Yards? Of course how could you build such stations and systems with taxpayer money and not fleece the system at the same time? I guess that's the problem.

The same is true for the Paris metro, thought it has been some years since I last been there and I wonder if 'diversity' and mass North African immigration has turned the Paris Metro into a New York like war zone as it has the outer ring of housing surrounding Paris.,

However, I also discovered the rail systems of Morocco and southern Spain are much cheaper (even with the crappy US dollar) than Amtrak - which I have taken both on the East and West coast. There were no delays, it was easy to transfer and figure out where I was going, and even the aging Moroccan trains were cleaner and smoother rides than Amtrak. They seem to get things done quicker too. Last time I was in Seville, the main streets running by the cathedral were auto - that less than three years ago - within that time the turned them into a pedestrian zone and installed a nifty street car system. . How long has the second avenue line been under discussion?

I wonder if Europeans coming here make the same observation and along with the cheap dollar, are starting to think that perhaps we're not quite as advanced as we thought.

In any event with rising fuel prices, such neglect of our mass transit systems might be more than just a cause casual observation in coming years.

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