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Working on Broken Glass: Shattered Screens Everywhere Belie Official MTA Stats

Cracked windows and LCD displays are the number two vandalism issue underground after graffiti, but the agency is mum on costs and its data doesn’t seem to reflect what New Yorkers are seeing around them.

SHARE Working on Broken Glass: Shattered Screens Everywhere Belie Official MTA Stats

A busted MTA info screen on east-bound 4-5 platform at the Barclays Center station. April 13, 2023.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The subway system has a real pain in the glass.

More than 2,000 train windows and platform liquid-crystal displays have been shattered in the subway since August 2020 — accounting for more than a third of all transit vandalism, MTA statistics show.

According to agency data, there were 1,415 instances of broken glass on trains and 628 cracked liquid-crystal display (LCD) screens over the last two-and-a-half years, trailing only the 3,014 times trains were tagged with graffiti. 

The broken shards have left a path of ugly destruction and pricey repairs — but the MTA declined to put a dollar figure on the damage.

From the beginning of this year through April 3, there were 113 incidents in which trains have had windows or glass panels vandalized, MTA numbers reveal. That’s a 352% increase from the same time last year, when there had been 25. 

Meanwhile — according to the MTA — there have been 14 LCD screens vandalized on station platforms, walls or mezzanines so far this year, down from the 104 that had been hit in the same period in 2022. 

But the official numbers may not be capturing real-world experience: THE CITY counted more than three dozen shattered screens in a review of 19 stations in The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens over the past week.

At the 86th Street station along the Lexington Avenue line in Manhattan, seven of the 12 LCD screens installed on the walls of the southbound express platform were cracked or shattered.

“I hate it,” said Joyceline Hill, 63, as she waited for a train last week at the Upper East Side stop. “It looks bad on New York and also, you can’t read the map on the screen because it’s all busted up.”

The glass-breaking also comes at a cost in service, as vandalized trains have to be pulled out of service and taken to subway yards for repairs.

“This is not some childish prank, this is a crime,” Lisa Daglian, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA told THE CITY. “It is destroying property and that hurts everyone.” 

Unbroken Silence From Officials In Charge

The MTA declined to say how much has been spent replacing shattered screens and windows.

“Vandalism of digital screens makes it harder for riders to get important service information,” Kayla Shults, an MTA spokesperson, said in a statement, referring questions of cost to Outfront Media.

Outfront, the advertising giant contracted by the MTA in 2017 to lead the $800 million installation of more than 50,000 digital displays across the entire transit system, has not responded to multiple requests for comment from THE CITY. 

But the cracks are clearly visible on subway platforms around the city.

At Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center in Brooklyn Friday, three of the four displays on the eastbound platform for trains on the No. 4 and 5 lines had been cracked. At 3 Avenue-138th Street in The Bronx, three screens were broken on the southbound platform. And at Times Square-42nd Street, three of the six LCD screens hanging above a mezzanine that links several lines were cracked.

“It makes it look like we’re in a completely dysfunctional place,” said Rodolfo Guerrero, 72, who was on the 86th Street platform where more than half the displays have been shattered. “Some people must feel they can do anything in the subway, especially at night.”

The glass breaking has occurred even as the NYPD has reported a nearly 20% drop in subway crime in 2023, a trend that has aligned with the addition last year of more than 1,000 police officers to patrol stations.

“It’s primarily the EDPs [emotionally disturbed people] who are doing this,” Robert Kelley, a vice president with Transport Workers Union Local 100 told THE CITY. “It raises great concerns with the customers that people are vandalizing their stations.” 

While the MTA and its advertising display contractor declined to address how much has been spent on repairing broken-glass vandalism, a 2020 subway glass-breaking spree cost more than $2 million, the MTA said at the time.

In December 2020, the transit agency sued a 55-year-old man who police arrested after cameras allegedly caught him smashing six digital displays at a pair of Manhattan stations.

Riders said the vandalism reflects the mental-health struggles faced by some in the subway.

“There’s a lot of people going through a lot of stuff and it’s hard for everyone to hold it in,” said Mike Paulino, who was at the Roosevelt Avenue station in Queens. “Damaging property is not OK, but at the same time, this is a byproduct of our system.”

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