How Gotham Saved Its Subways

New York’s subway system now has more users than at any time since just after World War II, when Ray Kelly was riding the trains as a child. New Yorkers, visitors, and workers take nearly 1.8 billion annual trips—nearly double the number who did so in 1980. New York wouldn’t be able to cope with its record population of 8.5 million people—a 21 percent rise since 1980—without a safe, operable subway system. But then, New York’s population wouldn’t have reached its record level without that improved system.

People now feel so safe on the subways that they’ll sit with a $600 piece of electronic equipment on their lap. Technology plays a key role in keeping transit safe. It’s hard to commit a crime today without someone catching it on camera. The technology-driven MetroCard also means no valuable tokens to steal from booth clerks. With crime near record lows in the city, cops and prosecutors feel growing pressure to ease up. With crime under control, the subways are more crowded than ever, giving New York a different challenge: how to fit everyone in.

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