In the 1980s and the early 1990s, New Yorkers feared for their lives on the subway system as they headed on to graffiti-covered trains, but I am told that if you avoided being mugged, you usually got to work and back home on time. After the September 11 attacks, we all feared death from an anthrax attack or by being blown up underground. And yet the disruptions to most daily schedules were modest (even when the discovery of white powder required investigation). That has not been the case in recent months. Hundreds of thousands of commuters have faced delays and detours due to fires, power cuts and maintenance work because of years of neglect and underinvestment from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). Dissatisfaction is rising, fast. This low-crime, terrorist-free subway system is causing as much mass misery as it did in the city's bleakest years, according to many who have lived here for 30 years or more. The city's collective moaning began on January 23, when a fire in a tunnel - supposedly caused by a homeless man - paralysed a relay room. Two subway lines were out of action, and 580,000 people were left fumbling for alternative ways to get to and from work. The incident was stunningly mishandled when MTA president Lawrence Reuter initially said it would take five years to fix the problem. It was enough to make many think about moving home or job. But within a few days, he had changed his assessment to six to nine months, and then - lo and behold - the lines were back up in 10 days. With its credibility shot to pieces, the MTA has since faced a series of disruptions to service. Water and dirt seeping through a hole in the roof of a tunnel caused a power cut that left 350,000 people stuck in the middle of rush hour in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. Smoke in a tunnel caused a power cut and stopped for 90 minutes the only line that connects the populous Flushing Chinatown area of Queens to Manhattan. Then, a track fire on Tuesday injured 30 passengers, and four train lines serving Manhattan and two of the boroughs were shut down for two hours. But it is not only the big incidents that mean New York is in competition with some of the world's most decrepit systems (including the London Underground). Last weekend, for example, my trip (just a few stops) took me an hour because I had to go in the opposite direction before I could get on a train that would stop at my destination. It would have been quicker to walk. And what was I saying about low crime? Well, last week, a blind 19-year-old was raped in a station at 8pm on a busy weekday night only a few stations away from mine. She had lost her way.