Tag Archive | trains

Latest subway brouhaha misses the point

Citizens voiced criticism of the police when a woman selling churros was handcuffed by NYPD officers at the Broadway Junction station in Brooklyn.

The police said the vendor had been issued several citations and had refused officers’ orders to move. Also, the vendor was not officially arrested, but briefly handcuffed and issued a citation. Whichever way you cut it, “the optics” as we say in the public relations world, were bad.

In the scale of subway scofflaws and annoyances, the Spanish-speaking women selling churros don’t register at all. The churro ladies usually stay out of the way of foot traffic and sell delicious homemade treats at a good price. They don’t loudly beg for money from strangers or drag their carts through crowded subway cars at rush hour.

Why aren’t the police clearing out the homeless who can render entire subway cars unusable? Why aren’t we seeing more photos of the brain-addled aggressive panhandlers being put in handcuffs, or the people bringing bicycles or in some cases, motorcycles onto the subways being given the heave-ho by New York’s finest?

I get why the MTA wants to crack down on subway fare beaters, but they are avoiding the bigger, harder issues that makes a bigger difference in the deteriorating level of subway service that arouses the ire of straphangers.

Subway riders are furious because the subways are terrible. There are frequent delays and overcrowding on the subways, trains and buses that never show up, and service that is sub-par even when going according to plan. Almost all of the lines have outdated signaling systems that frequently stall trains and the MTA is decades behind replacing them. People have missed job interviews, meetings with loved ones, and even their own college graduations because the MTA’s inexcusable performances.

The transit system has singled out the people who jump the turnstiles and don’t pay their fare as a major issue to be addressed. Indeed the agency reported that these freeloaders could cost the system more than $300 million this year. Its approach to fixing this problem has been typically ham-handed. It spent money on signs and stickers telling people not to use the exit-only emergency exits to leave the subway, as it enables people to run in through the open door to avoid paying. Such a campaign could only be designed by people who don’t actually ride the subway. The subways need more exit-only gates. Taking up turnstile space to leave only stalls people who are rushing to get on a train. People who leave by the exit only gates and the emergency exits while people are trying to get in are doing the right thing. All these stupid stickers and signs do is flush money down the toilet that could be used for upgrading the system.

While fare beaters certainly do account for a major shortfall in the MTA’s budget, but it is small potatoes compared to the larger underfunding issues that require a political solution. It will be a hard-fought battle between the city and state governments, and will take years to make right. It will include unpopular tax increases.

No doubt there should be cost cutting. Why does track construction cost many times more in New York than anywhere else? Why are there thousands of no-show jobs on the books every time we want to build some new track in New York? Solving these issues of construction corruption and graft will go a long way to improving our transit situation, but it still can’t entirely address the funding gap.

This central funding question is the one the MTA needs to tackle first. Without adequate funding from New York State, all the other ideas are impotent half-measures that will drive more outrage than revenue.

The MTA Has Snow Excuses

The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is the blessing and the curse of life in New York. Our transit system makes the city a livable place considering its population density. If everyone who works in New York City drove to work, we would be in a state of surreal permanent gridlock.

What the city has seen over the last several weeks has been the MTA at its worse. While the weather has been cold with a lot of snow and ice, nothing we’ve seen this winter is without precedent. It snows in the Northeastern United States. A winter without ice and snow is a rarity. We can understand a lot of traffic delays in the ice and snow, but the train lines should not seize up the way they have over the last several weeks.

We can’t blame the city and state for the steps they took in the face of the January 26 blizzard. The authorities have to go with what the weather forecasters say and err on the side of caution. The forecasts were dire and while the storm didn’t amount to the “snowpacalypse” that was predicted, better safe than sorry. I managed to catch one of the last express trains anywhere in the system on the afternoon of the 26th apparently. The city banned all but emergency transit, including car traffic, after 11 p.m. that night.

Where I live in Queens, on Union Street in Flushing near where it becomes Willets Point Boulevard, is usually a heavily trafficked street. It is close to the Whitestone Bridge, near a shopping center and along three or four city bus routes. Even in the quiet of the early morning hours, it is usual to see regular traffic on the road. The night of January 26th saw the streets deserted in a very strange yet beautiful snowscape. I walked right up the middle of the street and stood right in the middle of the usually busy intersection of Willets Point Boulevard and Parsons Boulevard and so no cars moving anywhere. I did see two cars driving during the time I was outside, whether they were violating the travel ban or were emergency workers I couldn’t tell. They were civilian cars risking a fine and having an accident on roads that were by then heavily snowed and sparsely plowed.

But while the travel bans were quickly lifted, the transit system is still seizing up at the slightest hint of bad weather. The MTA operates in New York City with maddening inefficiency and malfunction. Commuters’ hearts regularly break when they arrive on their train’s platform to find it mobbed with people trying to board much-delayed trains.

I must take two of the most congested and delay-prone lines in the system: the 7 train and the 6 train.

The 7 train is actually among the higher-rated train lines by the Straphangers Campaign, which is a commentary on the MTA. The 7 train can only handle express service in one direction at a time, and that express service is often canceled or delayed. Every train is standing-room only when it leaves the Flushing-Main Street stop on weekday mornings. Trains on the 7 local line often pull into local stations so packed that no one can get on them. People try to push on anyway, passengers argue, and trains are delayed further. Conductors make obnoxious announcements blaming passengers for the delays the MTA caused.

During one of the more recent abominable mass delays on the 7 line, an umbrella on the tracks caused the entire line to go into mass chaos. An umbrella. I’m sorry, but if the worst thing that falls onto the tracks in a day in an umbrella, we should be lucky. Unless this was some kind of James Bond-type bomb umbrella that Al Qaeda managed to toss onto the tracks, there is no excuse for this. A neighbor of mine was stuck on a 7 train with no heat for two and a half hours.

And it’s not just the 7 line. That same evening almost all of the subway lines were facing massive delays. Other rail systems like the LIRR and Metro North were delayed as well.

This recent winter weather should not have wrecked our transit system, but it did. New York is in need of a massive transit overhaul. We can’t shut down at the first sign of snow.

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