The post’s conclusion: Shanghai’s subway system is cleaner than New York’s.
To get the obvious out of the way: Shanghai’s subway system is one of the world’s youngest. But I don’t think that the fact that NY’s subway system is so old disqualifies any comparison with other subway systems. New York’s system doesn’t (only) have an infrastucture problem. It has a lack of basic maintenance and sanitation problem. In part, this is ultimately a problem of expectation. The subway system has been a run-down rat’s nest for decades (as in four or five of them), and most people who live here are just used to it. Another reason the subway system hasn’t improved much over the years is the market. Who takes the subway in Shanghai? And who takes it in New York? For the most part, in Shanghai the typical rider is a member of the professional class. In New York, the typical rider is either young or lower middle class. Now those are two gigantic generalizations, but that is how I would differentiate subway riders in Shanghai from their counterparts in New York – in general. (I already hear the moans and guffaws coming). Why does this matter? As with all things political (and public infrastructure expenditures couldn’t be anymore political), follow the money.
But aren’t the socioeconomic classes of the cities’ respective subway users also directly related to the newness of Shanghai’s system and the oldness of New York’s? We would imagine New York’s subway riders weren’t always “young or lower middle class” and we doubt Shanghai’s will always be “professional.” It’s kind of like comparing apples and rotten oranges. Let’s see what Shanghai’s subway looks like in 100 years.
Right now we are happy to enjoy the cleanliness of the Shanghai subway (minus the pick pockets), but if forced to pick between the systems of New York and Shanghai, we’d pick New York’s in a second (rats and all). Why? There’s a better chance it would actually get us where we wanted to go. For all of Shanghai’s subway expansions, the system is still pretty limited. Ask us the same question five years from now, however, we very well could have a different answer — there’s lots of digging going on under Shanghai.
Images from The 88s.