In January 2020, I flew to New York City to attend a large travel conference. There was news of a mysterious virus in China but didn’t think too much of it and I was hearing from different government leaders that there was nothing to worry about. It was localized. I didn’t believe it 100% but I was extra cautious because it was flu season and I have two little kids including, at the time, a newborn at home. BTW: One of the speakers at the conference had said he’d just returned from a conference in Wuhan! I was thinking I’d better not get too close to him or get on the subway.
I lived in New York City for almost a year and my go-to transportation was always the subway, since it’s cheap, convenient and fast. I’ve taken it hundreds of times but never liked to take it when it was crowded, whether it was flu season or not. The most crowded I’ve ever seen it was taking it to Yankees Stadium for Game 6 of the 2009 World Series.
Here’s what I wrote about it back then: “We bypassed traffic by taking the 4 train from 86th street station. But boarding looked like something out of India: There were so many people trying to get in each car that people just plowed their way on. It was insane and I was the last to make it on so I was pinned up against the door. Seriously, it was so tight I couldn’t even lift my arm to scratch my itchy nose or take my hot winter jacket off. People were sweating and it was eerily quiet for a rambunctious crowd—I think fans were just praying the car wouldn’t break down or there’d be a terrorist attack—at least I was.”
I do think by not taking the subway in January really diminished my chances of getting Covid since no one was wearing masks yet and so many people reportedly caught the virus from being in such a close space. These days, everyone has to wear a mask and the MTA has a new air filtration and purification system that the manufacturer claims can capture and kill 99.9998% of viruses.
If that still doesn’t make you comfortable taking the subway, then you will be pleased to know that Google has done it again with their newest Google Maps update. According to TimeOut, “A new feature on Google Maps not only plans out your subway route and timing, but lets you know the current conditions on board. The “What’s it’s like” details will show how crowded the train is—ranging from not crowded to at capacity—plus the level of security on board, accessibility features and the temperature, ranging from freezing cold to too hot. So far, no feature exists to let you know if Showtime performers are on board, so that will stay a surprise. For now.”
I just updated my app and sure enough, it works. After inputting faux directions on a route I used to take often (E 79th Street to Times Square), I can see not only when the next train is arriving but at the bottom of each option, there’s a little blue information icon with a white i wrapped in a blue circle.
Tap it to see if the train is busy, if it’s accessible, whether there’s security onboard, what the temperature is …
I’m not clear if it’s all user-generated or if they have sensors/cameras on the train but users can submit their experiences as well. See screen shot above.