In pictures: How New York's subway cars end up at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean

A subway car heading for Davy Jones' Locker. Image: © Stephen Mallon.

When photographer Stephen Mallon was commissioned to produce a book of photographs in 2007, he settled on the theme of "recycling". He contacted a few relevant companies about the project, but then he stumbled across something called the Artificial Reef Project, which was recycling something far bigger than batteries or lightbulbs: it was turning decommissioned subway cars into reefs off the US's Atlantic coast.

Here's how it works. The tourism boards of east-coast states buy a boatload of the cars from New York's transit authority. Once they're stripped of their doors, windows, wheels and interiors, a barge filled with 30 to 40 cars chugs down the coast, and a metal crane, er, shoves them them into the sea.

On the sea floor, the cars are colonised by plants and animals, and, like natural reefs, encourage communities to grow. Over the past ten years, the Artificial Reef Project has dropped around 2,500 New York subway cars into the ocean. 

For those charged with delivering the cars, the journey from New York is long. Even areas off the coast of nearby states like Maryland and Delaware can take 24 hours to reach at the barge's 4-knot pace. Mallon has attended six drops since 2007, but on each he met the barge on a separate boat once it reached its destination, and took his images from there. This accounts for the photographs' immediacy: he's on a level between the barge and the water, watching as the 18-ton cars splash, then sink.

Mallon says he considered boarding the barge itself, to photograph the cars from above as they fell, but the crew weren't keen: "They told me it wasn't safe". Quite right, too, as the stacks of decaying cars aren't strapped in place. "One time, a car tipped over and landed right on the spot where I would have been standing."

The resulting collection of images, "Next Stop Atlantic", documents his six drops, and is part of a wider project on recycling called "American Reclamation". 

All Images courtesy of Stephen Mallon and Front Room Gallery.  One of the images from the collection will be featured along with other work by Mallon in the solo exhibition  “Patterns of Interest” at NYU’s Kimmel Galleries from Feb. 6 to March 15 in New York City. More of Mallon's work is available on his Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages. 

 
 
 
 

Sadiq Khan and Grant Shapps clash over free bus travel for under 18s

A London bus at Victoria station. Image: Getty.

The latest front in the row between Transport for London (TfL) and national government over how to fund the capital’s transport system: free bus travel for the under 18s.

Two weeks ago, you’ll recall, TfL came perilously close to running out of money and was forced to ask for a bail out. The government agreed, but offered less money, and with more strings attached, than the agency wanted. At present, there are a range of fare discounts – some up to 100% – available to children depending on their age and which service they’re using, provided they have the right Oyster card. One of the government’s strings, the mayor’s office says, was to end all free TfL travel for the under 18s, Oyster or no Oyster.

The Department for Transport’s line on all this is that this is about maximising capacity. Many working-age people need to use buses to get to their jobs: they’re more likely to be able to do that, while also social distancing, if those buses aren’t already full of teenagers riding for free. (DfT cited the same motivation for banning the use of the Freedom Pass, which provides free travel for the retired, at peak times.)

But in an open letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, wrote that TfL believed that 30% of children who currently received free travel had a statutory entitlement to it, because they attend schools more than a certain distance from their homes. If TfL doesn’t fund this travel, London’s boroughs must, which apart from loading costs onto local government means replacing an administrative system that already exists with one that doesn’t. 

Some Labour staffers also smell Tory ideological objections to free things for young people at work. To quote Khan’s letter:

“It is abundantly clear that losing free travel would hit the poorest Londoners hardest at a time when finances are stretched more than ever... I want to make sure that families who might not have a choice but to use public transport are not further disadvantaged.”

London’s deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, is set to meet government officials next week to discuss all this. In the mean time, you can read Khan’s letter here.

UPDATE: The original version of this piece noted that the full agreement between the mayor and DfT remained mysteriously unpublished. Shortly after this story went live, the agreement appeared. Here it is.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.