The New York subway system is among the busiest in the world. 1.7 billion riders travel through the system’s 472 stations—twice the ridership of all other US subway systems combined. These historic stations are the most-used public spaces in New York City and their condition has a huge impact on the quality of life in New York City.

While the MTA continues to upgrade critical components of the system, the condition of the stations lags far behind. As any New Yorker will attest, hundreds of stations are run down, dirty and unwelcoming. A Straphangers Campaign survey reports that 70% of stations have peeling paint and water damage.

Civic pride is reason enough to upgrade these critical public spaces, but there are other reasons. It’s important to New York’s global competitiveness to make it a sustainable city and an attractive place to live and work and a quality transportation system is a fundamental component of both. In addition, upgrading and activating stations across the City can create business opportunities and improve social equity and inclusion for New Yorkers.

The financial climate and the strained capacities of the MTA have deferred addressing these conditions for decades. It’s time to try an innovative approach.

New York has a history of successful public-private partnerships for public goods: Central Park Conservancy, the High Line, Brooklyn Bridge Park and Business Improvement Districts to name a few. The Station Alliance believes that with support of and partnership with the private sector, we can give New York’s subway stations the innovation and investment that will make them safe, welcoming and inspiring.

The Station Alliance has proposed a public-private-partnership with the MTA to focus specifically on the station experience. The services will be similar to other public-private-partnerships but the primary revenue source will be different. The Station Alliance will engage private sector innovators and corporate sponsorship to create revenue sources that will be channeled to elevate the appearance, cleanliness, and lighting of subway stations citywide. New amenities, services and technologies will provide enhancements within stations while also generating revenue from leases, revenue share and sponsorships. The revenue will be invested in a system-wide program to improve cleaning, lighting and station finishes. The Station Alliance believes that these improvements will lead to a virtuous circle – improved conditions in stations will create additional revenue opportunities that will be further reinvested in station improvements.

The goal of The Station Alliance will be to find the optimal balance of services, amenities and revenue generation in the public interest, and the widest possible scope of improvements across the system. As an independent non-profit partner of the MTA can take on a task that is not the core strength of the MTA, and more effectively enlist private sector innovators and funding sources.

Tim Braine