The subway commute to school, and the most dangerous part of my day


Ryan Finlay, Contributing Writer

It was Saturday morning, January 15, and I was on the subway heading into Midtown to meet some friends. As the train passed 86th street, there was an announcement: “Due to a passenger being struck by a train, we will not stop at Times Square 42nd Street.” I’m sorry to say that I was not surprised in the least. 

Since I moved to NYC almost seven years ago, I’ve lost track of how many times those words have rung in my ears. I thought nothing of it and peered down at my phone to read the news. I stumbled upon a disturbing headline. A woman had been pushed onto the tracks and was killed by an arriving subway at the Times Square station.

When my train pulled out of 57th, we slowed to a crawl, switched tracks near 49th, and glided through Times Square, directly next to the tracks where a fellow commuter met a grisly end. Most of my fellow passengers were unfazed by the tragedy, and barely looked up from their screens — but I did. The train that struck her was still there, lights off, parked halfway into the station. The platform was crowded with officers, and a stretcher lay on the tile floor. Michelle Go was randomly selected by her killer, a homeless man suffering from mental illness. 

It seems that this latest episode of subway crime has become the last straw for many whom I have since spoken to. For myself, the experience of witnessing the aftermath has pushed me past some undefinable threshold, and I am absolutely seething. My overwhelming frustration comes not from the image of that empty subway train still floating in my head, but from my growing library of disturbing experiences riding the train.

I still remember the first time I was screamed at from the train doors by a presumably deranged woman for no apparent reason; I still remember the first time I saw a man urinate on a pillar a few paces away; I still remember the time when my mother and I counted the seconds until we could rush out of the train car where a homeless man masturbated across from us beneath a filthy blanket. Everyone who rides the subway regularly has stories like mine, some far more graphic. I am fed up with constantly looking over my shoulder and considering my subway rides to and from HM the most dangerous and revolting part of my day. 

I’ve recently wondered if I should just stop taking the subway, but then I am filled with boiling rage at the thought. Why should I, the regular commuter, the righteous customer of the MTA, be scared away from the public transportation system that is built for workers and students like me? Then I think of all the people who have had similar thoughts, and have already succumbed to entirely rational fears of being confronted with the disgraceful indecencies found in this city’s subway system, all because we haven’t the will to clean up this egregious mess. 

Since the murder of Michelle Go, there has been talk of finally compelling the MTA to test platform doors, but there seems to be no understanding of just how many years, or dare I say decades, worth of station renovations it will take to make such a pipedream a reality. We need real, feasible, and achievable solutions now, because no matter how many police officers we cram into each station, it will not change the fact that the subway system is currently the most massive homeless shelter in the city. This is unpalatable, and can not continue, but it’s also solvable.

It is vital to acknowledge that the vast majority of homeless New Yorkers are not responsible for the current state of affairs. That said, I believe there are clear limits for what should and should not be tolerated in the public transportation system. No person should be allowed to bring a shopping cart past the turnstiles. Stations are not sanctuaries for addicts openly injecting themselves with illegal drugs. Clear aggressions, such as verbally harassing a fellow passenger, should be grounds for being escorted out of the station, as should commandeering half of a subway car to pile a mountain of trash bags. When a train reaches the last stop, sleeping passengers should be roused. A subway car is not a sleeping car; riders cannot rent out four seats to sleep on while the train travels back and forth across the city. As it stands today, public urination is illegal, smoking in the subway system is illegal, and panhandling in the subway system is illegal. I refuse to accept the idea that this city does not have the stomach to enforce the law.

It is not the responsibility of general civilians, just trying to get from point A to point B, to accommodate and keep out of the way of the homeless. Nor is it our moral imperative to be held as a captive audience, daily, as we are unwillingly pelted with stories of misfortune in the hopes that we will turn over our pocket change. Is it too much to ask that New Yorkers feel comfortable and safe on their commute?

I refuse to be intimidated and forced out of the public infrastructure I have every right to pay for and use, and so should everyone else. There is safety in numbers, and the same principle applies here. Everyone feels more secure when they know they are not alone, and when their fellow New Yorkers, or HM students, are looking out for them. A great portion of the necessary changes must come from the MTA and local government, especially in terms of solving the root causes for why the subway is filled with the homeless in the first place. 

Regardless, as individuals, we owe it to ourselves and to our neighbors not to give up on each other and the subway system we are so lucky to have. When ridership falls, the resources for improvements start to dwindle. HM students should absolutely continue to commute by train. Just remember to ride in pairs or in a group whenever possible, especially after dark. I also urge everyone to take the saying “if you see something, say something” to heart. New Yorkers have a reputation for speaking up, and now is the time to act the part.