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This Month in Business History

New York City's Independent Subway System Opened

Stephen Voorhies. Map of the New York city subway system.1954. Library of Congress Geography & Map Division.

In the United States, intricate mass transit systems have been a part of urban life for more than a century. Some began as private ventures while others got their start as part of government initiated project. The New York City subway system began as a private venture system controlled by two companies: the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (1908) and the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (1902). However, when the Independent Subway System opened on September 10, 1932 with the completion of part of the Eighth Avenue Line, it was built and operated by the city and intended to compete with and replace, the elevated lines in Manhattan. The three lines were consolidated in 1940 when New York City “…purchased all of the rights of the private rapid transit operators.”1 At that time, some lines were closed, but over the next decades, the system grew and spread. The Queens Boulevard Line, the Second Manhattan trunk line, Fulton Street Line, and others were opened and or extended, and today, the system operates in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx.

In 1953, the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) was created to take over subway, bus, and streetcar operations from the city, and in 1968, it was placed under control of the state-level Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Today, the New York City Subway is owned by the government of New York City who leases it to the New York City Transit Authority. In 2021, the system reported:

  • More than 6,455 subway cars, which collectively traveled about 331 million miles
  • 472 subway stations
  • 665 miles of track2

The costs of extending and maintaining these vital transportation arteries has significantly increased over time, but municipal, state, and federal funding has not necessarily kept up. Discussions around privatization of subway systems and public-private partnerships (PPPs) which have been successful in infrastructure investment, have been discussed as a way to facilitate more efficiency, but in the United States the mass transit sector has been largely kept under government control.3

Print Resources

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Library of Congress Digital Resources

The following resources created and digitized by the Library of Congress can be used to find out more about the system as well as the events of the day.

Internet Resources

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  1. Peter Derrick, Tunneling to the Future: The Story of the Great Subway Expansion that Saved New York (New York: New York University Press, 2001), p.237. Back to text
  2. New York City Transit External, (Accessed 4/6/2023). Back to text
  3. Henry Davis, Infrastructure Finance: Trends and Techniques (London: Euromoney Institutional Investor Plc, 2008), p.484. Back to text