There’s one thing New Yorkers can do to help fix their own subway system

Step in; stand clear.
Step in; stand clear.
Image: Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid
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New Yorkers know this feeling: The subway finally rolls into the station, and the doors open to reveal an impenetrable tangle of limbs, hair, and backpacks. It’s too crowded to even board.

For many in NYC, a smooth commute on public transit is about as common as affordable housing, i.e. not at all these days. Power outages, derailments, and ever-worsening delays have turned a twice-daily trip aboard the US’ busiest public-transit system into a hellish gamble, and New Yorkers are understandably outraged by ongoing mismanagement at the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).

But there is one thing—short of a miracle—that could help. In addition to mechanical problems, overcrowding caused by surging subway ridership has emerged as a major cause of delays. And nothing exacerbates the perils of overcrowding like not moving to the middle of the car. 

The problem is understandably more pronounced during the key weekday rush. Researchers from New York’s Hunter College classified subway-car exits as “disorderly” in 18% of the observed stops in a sample of weekday rides in the spring of 2016. In the fall of 2015, the researchers sampled rides throughout the week and found that 12% of exits were disorderly, according to their study (pdf).

“If the subways are to run more efficiently and attenuate the frustrations of riders due to delayed trains, then one priority should be to focus on reducing the incidence of disorderly exits,” wrote Hunter researchers, who studied the prevalence of rider behaviors the MTA is hoping to eliminate, including “manspreading” and hogging the pole.

Here’s a quick-and-easy guide to minimizing exit disorder:

When you board a train car, do not stand by the door. Move in as far as possible to the middle of the car. When holding onto one of the overhead bars, do not face the seats but stand perpendicular to them. If you’re wearing a backpack, hold it at your side rather keeping than keeping it on your back. The end.

“I know what the subway system was, and it can be the crown jewel of New York,” recently returned MTA chief Joseph Lhota said last month. “No idea is too crazy. No idea is too ambitious.”

You heard the man.