Passengers wait on a subway train platform at the West...

Passengers wait on a subway train platform at the West Fourth Street subway station. Credit: AP/Peter K. Afriyie

Get ready to see the subway in a new light.

By mid-2026, each of the more than 150,000 fluorescent light fixtures illuminating the New York City subway system is to be converted systemwide to LED, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced Tuesday.

In a news release, the MTA said the conversation would save on electric costs and boost safety in the city subways by brightening platforms and providing better lighting for 15,000 surveillance cameras.

Ralph Cilento, a retired NYPD lieutenant and John Jay College of Criminal Justice adjunct professor, said: “Better lighting is better for camera images.” 

That could be especially helpful for some cameras in the system that are decades old, he said. Better lighting may also make people feel safer about taking the subway and dissuade “bad actors” from seeing subway stations as places to commit crimes, he said. 

Cilento added, though, that he was unaware of any studies that investigated the connection between lighting improvements and successful identification of suspects. Making a direct connection is difficult because the police use a number of tools in addition to surveillance cameras to identify suspects, and even the best camera can be confounded by something as low-tech as a mask, he said.

Subway crime in the nation's biggest transit network accounts for 2% of major crime committed in the city. Overall crime in the transit system fell 2.6% in 2023 but ticked up in January, according to the NYPD.

In a news release earlier this month, the department said it was deploying more officers along with Transit Bureau personnel and officers usually assigned to administrative duties to “hot-spot areas.” In addition to violent crime, the officers will focus on quality of life offenses like fare evasion, the release said.

The more efficient lights are already in 66 of the system’s 472 stations, and the conversions will save a total of $5.9 million a year — $5.3 million in energy costs and $600,000 in materials, according to Lucas Bejarano, a spokesman for the MTA, which runs the subways.

“This project will brighten every subway platform and mezzanine, increasing safety systemwide and enhancing the customer experience,” says the MTA's news release.

The project will cost $21 million, Bejarano said. Each station has over 330 light fixtures, he said. Fluorescent bulbs are changed every two years; LEDs, every six or so years, he said.

According to a U.S. government energy website: “LEDs are ‘directional’ light sources, which means they emit light in a specific direction, unlike incandescent and CFL, which emit light and heat in all directions.”

CORRECTION: The target date for installation of LED lights in the New York City subway system is mid-2026. A story in some editions of Thursday's Newsday incorrectly stated the year.

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