Zupo Subway History

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Posted on 23 May 2013 05:28

New York City is arguable the greatest city on the planet. Although it is one of the greatest and busiest tourist attractions in the world, it is also home to over 8 million people. A majority of these people commute to work everyday using the New York City subway system. In fact, the annual ridership for the year 2012 is 1,654,582,265 riders. While many people do take the subway every single day (including myself), I’m sure many people do not know the history behind the great system that they take everyday. The New York City Subway system has a great and intricate history that should be better known to the people who ride it everyday.

The New York City Subway system first opened its doors to the public on October 27, 1904. The Mayor of New York at the time, Mayor George B. McClellan, gave a speech at the opening event and said; “Now I, as Mayor, in the name of the people, declare the subway open!” With this line, the first New Yorkers descended into the subway system and rode up and down the island of Manhattan, the first to do what many commuters now do on a daily basis. Although in hind-sight, it seems like it would be easy to answer yes if one was asked to create a subway system in New York City, when the idea first came to light, it was not such an easy decision.


At first, there was extreme dislike from the private companies in New York City that owned the elevated lines throughout the city. In his essay on the history of the New York City subway titled “The New York Subway: A Century”, John Stern commented, “As the 19th century ended, many people were advocating construction of a subway-efforts bitterly opposed by the private elevated and street railway companies…” The city did eventually go through with planning and creating the subway system, giving the work to the newly created Interborough Rapid Transit Company (the IRT). The new lines were to be paid for by the city with the IRT reaping the profits. The first subway system was then built, called Contract 1, running from City Hall in Manhattan to the Bronx.

At the same time that the IRT was expanding, another company called the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (the BRT) wanted to challenge the IRT in Manhattan and wanted to extend their Brooklyn service through to Manhattan. The IRT wanted to do the same and extend their service to Brooklyn to compete with the BRT. The City of New York then decided to give contracts to both the BRT and the IRT to continue and expand the subway system. This led to a massive expansion of the subway system, creating many lines that still are in use today.

-These include:
The 14th Street-Eastern, Astoria, Flushing, Broadway-Seventh Avenue (south of 42nd Street), Lexington Avenue (north of Grand Central), Jerome Avenue, Ninth Avenue, Pelham, White Plains Road, Eastern Parkway, Nostrand Avenue, and New Lots lines.-

This proved to be a very important deal on the part of New York City because a majority of the lines on the modern subway system were created with this “Dual Contract”. According to Peter Derrick, “Between 1910 and 1940 population densities decreased markedly in the older districts, while the number of residents grew from 300% to 500% in northern Manhattan, the northern and eastern Bronx, in western Queens, and the south half of Brooklyn.” This proved to be a tremendous move on the part of the City of New York.

Creation of the MTA New York City Transit Authority:

The City of New York began to realize that too much profit was being made to private companies from their subway system especially since tax-payers money was used because of the city’s contributions to the subway; so they decided to create one of their own subway lines, called the Independent Subway System. The line ran along Eighth-Avenue in Manhattan and now is used by the A, C, and E in the present-day subway system. After the successfulness of the Independent Subway System, the City of New York decided it should be the sole owner of the subway system.

In June 1940, the City of New York bought out the IRT and the BRT (at the time it was called the Brooklyn-Manhattan Rapid Transit system, or BMT) and became the sole owners of the New York City subway system. They kept the names of the IRT and the BMT, renamed their Independent Subway System the IND and had the entire system run by the New York City Board of Transportation. From this time until 1953, the NYCBoT operated and owned the entire subway system. In 1953, a state agency called the New York City Transit Authority (now known as the MTA New York City Transit) was created as a public corporation that oversees and operates the subway system, as well as all other aspects of public transportation in the city of New York.

The Rest of the 20th Century:

After the creation of the MTA, the subway system continued to rapidly grow and at the same time, create connection between the former three separate transit systems along with the other forms of public transportation. One of the most important, early contributions the MTA created was the token. At first, the fare for the subway was a nickel, and then a dime, allowing the turnstiles at subway stations to only take one coin. When the fare raised to fifteen cents however, the turnstiles were unable to take two different sized coins, so the MTA created a token, a coin that could be purchased to give you a subway ride, that could fluctuate in price over time. The token was used in the MTA system from 1953 until the end of 2003, when it went from a starting price of fifteen cents in 1953 until it was two dollars in 2003 for a single ride. The token was fully replaced by the Metrocard, which was originally introduced in 1997.

Throughout the 20th Century, there were many extensions and closures that were a part of subway system. Since the original three subway systems were created to compete with each other, they overlapped in many parts of the city. This allowed the MTA to close many lines since there was already one version of the line in a certain area. The MTA also extended many lines, especially to outer regions of the boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Also, in 1971, the MTA bought the Staten Island portion of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to create the Staten Island Rapid Transit Operating Authority, now known as the SIR or Staten Island Railway. Many of these expansions have lead to a better, and more united experience for daily commuters in New York City.

9/11 and the 21st Century:

On September 11, 2001, terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. This attack greatly affected not only the train stations that were in the area under the World Trade Center, but also required extra security measures after the event. To this day, the Courlandt Street station on the IRT Broadway Seventh-Avenue Line is still not in use due to damage from the buildings’ collapses. Although 7 other stations were affected, they have since been reconstructed and fixed from the damage.

In 2010, the MTA underwent through a series of major budget cuts affecting many of the subway services. In doing this, there were two subway services, the Q and V train, eliminated along with various other cuts to bus services and out-of-city commuter rails. This also lead to fare hikes, making the cost of a single ride rise from two dollars to the present cost of two dollars and fifty cents.

Although these budget cuts cut services and raised prices for commuters, the subway system has undergone many renovations and fixes to benefit rider’s experience. The MTA FASTRACK system attempts to maximize reconstruction, repairs, and fixes to the subway system while reducing inconveniences and cost for daily commuters.


The history of the New York City subway system is one that is so rich, it cannot all simply be made to fit on a certain number of pages. Despite this, I believe that the people who ride the New York City transit on a daily basis should at least know a bit about the history of the system they are using. In doing the research for this report, I was able to find more about the system that I use everyday and I am glad that I can now appreciate the subway system better. From before the elevated trains before the first subway in 1904, to the present day complex subway system, New York City has had, and will continue to have one of the greatest subway systems in the world.

Works Cited

Cudahy, Brian J. Under the Sidewalks of New York. New York: Fordham University Press, 1995.
Derrick, Peter. Tunneling to the Future: The Story of the Great Subway Expansion that Saved New York. New York: NYU Press, 2001.
“FASTRACK on the 4,5,6”. Metropolitan Transit Authority. accessed May 6, 2013. http://mta.info/service/fastrack/
Grynbaum, Michael M. “Transit Agency Approves Cuts, and More Bad News Looms”, The New York Times. March 24, 2010.
“New York City Transit – History and Chronology”. Metropolitan Transit Authority, accessed May 6, 2013. http://www.mta.info/nyct/facts/ffhist.htm
“Population”. New York City. accessed May 6, 2013, http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/census/popcur.shtml
Stern, John. The New York Subway: A Century. New York: Aesthetic Realism Looks, 2008. http://www.beautyofnyc.org/stern_nycsubway.pdf
“Subway and Bus Ridership”. Metropolitan Transit Authority. accessed May 6, 2013, http://www.mta.info/nyct/facts/ridership/#intro_s.

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