As a rat scurried across the floor of an R train heading toward Bay Ridge, the car’s passengers seemed unfazed — except for one man.
Roger Morales, 48, jumped on his seat as the four-legged rodent ran past to climb on a corner seat passenger, who nonchalantly shooed the rat away. “If it was me, I would have been more than horrified,” Mr. Morales said.
Tales of rats, sexual harassment and the psychological toll of delays are growing in concert with the increasing unreliability of the city’s 115-year-old subway system. Ridership declined 2.1 percent from 2017 to 2018, to 1.7 billion rides, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. A significant uptick in fare evasion could also be contributing to the drop in ridership numbers, the M.T.A said.
Those with few affordable or feasible alternatives to the subway carry on, continuing to ride routes on the more than 665 miles of passenger track, where harrowing experiences are still the exception, not the rule.
Multiple times, rain or snow have cost Shaleen Dove a subway ride and made her late to a meeting or appointment, she said. Her commute consists of two hours on the Metro-North Railroad from Connecticut before getting on the subway.
“When they shut down the station, you have to figure out where else you’re going to go,” Ms. Dove, a 36-year-old entrepreneur, said. “Do you walk to the next stop? Do you take an Uber to the next stop? A cab or something?”
While the M.T.A. recently declared that on-time performance for trains had been the highest since 2013 and major incidents the lowest since 2015, riders will still have to wait much longer for an overhaul.
Andy Byford, who oversees the city transit system, began the “Fast Forward” plan in 2018, which will roll out subway and bus improvements over the next 10 years.
The project is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars. “Despite these gains, I believe the best is yet to come,” Mr. Byford said in a May press release.
That wait is especially painful for riders like Alex Lynch, 19, who grew up in New York and attends college in Boston. He said construction has caused him to wait frequently for the L train.
In April, the M.T.A. began the first phase of the L Project to repair damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and to upgrade aging stations. Since work began, there have been complaints of overcrowding and delays on nearby lines, too.
Boston’s subway system, the T, is “a lot more pleasant to ride because it’s cleaner and the trains show up a lot more often than New York’s,” Mr. Lynch said.
For some riders, experiences concerning personal safety have left scars.
April Daneus rides the subway almost daily for work, but there is one day in particular she still finds difficulty in speaking about.
Ms. Daneus was on her way to work from 42nd Street when a man who she recalls may have been trying to flirt with her began following her. “You just never know who you are going to be on the train with and what their intentions are,” she said.
L.C. von Hessen once saw an older man touching himself on the train. “When I saw the old man masturbating, I actually was not afraid, I was just angry,” Ms. Hessen said.
According to the Police Department, 165 sex crimes were reported through March 17 — a 10 percent increase compared with the same period last year.
But the biggest problem with the subway system is still unreliability, said Danny Pearlstein of the Riders Alliance, a grassroots organization that advocates for improvements to public transportation in New York. His group started a campaign that resulted in a congestion tax for drivers in one of the busiest areas of Manhattan to help finance upgrades to the subway system.
“What we won, in a larger coalition of people working with new progressive elected officials at the state level, is a $25 billion plan that essentially over the next decade will do this major modernization work,” Mr. Pearlstein said. He blamed negligence for the deterioration of the system.
“It gets lost on the policy agenda because there’s so much to do,” Mr. Pearlstein said. “There hadn’t really been a champion of the subway, and in a way it’s structural. It’s hard for anyone to champion something that the governor so directly controls.”
These continued failures have pushed Funke Adedapo, a Staten Island resident, to the brink of tears on occasion during her hour-and-a-half commutes by bus, ferry and subway to Manhattan.
Ms. Adedapo was recently heading to a birthday party when an ordinarily five-minute subway ride ended up taking 30 minutes, forcing her to be the last one to show up.
“This anxiety of like waiting there, not knowing when it is going to come,” she said. “It is really frustrating.”