Affordable Transit

“It’s Like a Pack of Sardines”


Riders Alliance, “Subway Horror Stories, Vol. 1, Spring 2015”

After collecting over 400 straphanger experiences riding the subway, Riders Alliance published Subway Horror Stories, Volume I this week. It’s a grimy laundry list of delayed trains, hostility on overcrowded platforms, missed work and school hours, stuck in tunnels, and confrontations with rats in stairwells. Three subway lines reared their heads repeatedly: the 6, 7, and F.

Here’s just one of the many agonizing descriptions of a Queens commute on the F train:

It’s Like a Pack of Sardines
by Sherif S, Queens

I ride the F train from Jackson Heights to Midtown every day. When the trains are running like they’re supposed to, it’s great. My work commute is about 20 minutes maximum. That is if they’re running like they’re supposed to. More often than not, I arrive at the platform between 8:15 and 8:30 and it’s like a pack of sardines. After being greeted with this wonderful sight, the pushing and shoving starts. How many F trains go by before I can get on, you ask? On normal days, it’ll be one train, and I’ll get on the next (that is, of course, if the local train doesn’t arrive—dumping even more fellow passengers on the platform).

And things weren’t much better on the 6 line for this rider:

I Was Late to School Every Day
by Noelle F, Brooklyn

From January to the end of March 2014, the 6 train was crowded and delayed every day. It was so hard for me to get to school and I was late every day. I almost got suspended for this because my teacher thought I was cutting. Now I have to go out of my way by taking a crosstown bus to the C train, which takes extra time.

Overcrowding is an ever-increasing problem on many of the lines throughout the system and it can often be attributed to what’s known as “dwell” time in stations. Trains are supposed to dwell in stations 30-45 seconds, but that time can be longer depending on crowding conditions, which leads to delays further down the line, adding to even later arrivals. And on and on it goes … or doesn’t.

In an attempt to explain this problem, the MTA released this short video:

The MTA announced this week that they will begin to implement targeted measures to improve speed service on the 6, 7, and F lines — among the most crowded and trouble-prone subway routes:

1) Shorten the length of station announcements;
2) Deploy 100 platform controllers, to help customers get on and off trains faster and field customer questions in lieu of conductors, which will speed service;
3) Use CCTV to monitor platform crowding;
4) Proactively monitor rail conditions through ultrasonic detectors; and
5) Place station repair crews at strategic locations in order to quicken response times during disruptions.

While the MTA deserves credit for thinking outside of the box — and responding to straphangers’ growing frustrations — these are stop-gap measures that don’t address the root problem: a deteriorating and inadequate physical system in desperate need of repair, upgrade, and expansion. As Gene Russianoff, Senior Attorney at NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, notes:

“All this is a huge victory for the riders, in my opinion. It puts the desperate need to tackle transit crowding and unreliability right at the heart of our city’s future. With both both short-term and long-term opportunities for advocacy and organizing.”

Since the beginning of the legislative session, the Move NY Coalition, comprised of over 60 business, trade, community/faith-based, transportation, environmental, and good-governance organizations (including Straphangers Campaign), has been advocating and organizing around the long-term solution to our transportation woes: a fully funded Capital Plan. That means closing the $14 billion funding gap in the proposed MTA plan – and soon, as the legislative session is drawing to a close. If left unfunded, key system expansion efforts such as the Second Avenue Subway (the only solution to decongest the 4/5/6 lines) and East Side Access are in peril, as are signal upgrades necessary to improve service reliability and frequency on the Queens Boulevard E/F express corridor, and mundane but vital investments in rail cars, track, and signals.

In advocating for a fully funded plan, members of Move NY have been gathering support from key stakeholders and elected officials on just how to fund much of the $14 billion: The Move NY Fair Plan. As we’ve being writing on this blog, Move NY is the one viable solution on the table to fill much of the MTA gap and to bring new service to transit deserts.

But for Move NY to become a reality, it’s imperative that Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature act now.

Riders Alliance Rally

Rally Outside Governor’s Office (Riders Alliance)

The transit advocacy group (and a member of Move NY), Riders Alliance, held a rally in front of the Governor’s office in Midtown Manhattan on May 17 as riders gathered to read stories from the newly-released Subway Horror Stories. Deputy Director Nick Sifuentes explains:

“It seems unthinkable that the Governor didn’t decide long ago to fund the MTA’s capital plan and help fix New Yorkers’ terrible commutes. We figure the only reason is that he doesn’t ride the subways day in and day out like almost six million New Yorkers do–so we decided to share our horror stories with him so he could get the full picture of just how dire the state of our public transit is.”

And what a picture.

As Kamala S. of Brooklyn writes in Subway Horror Stories:

“I have too many horror stories. . . . Shall I tell the one where I was an hour late to an important rehearsal because the Q train inexplicably sat in the tunnel for half an hour with no announcement? Or how about the time I was almost late to a performance because everyone was unceremoniously kicked off a downtown A train and left to wait 20 minutes until another one showed up? Or how about the daily horror of trying to get to midtown during rush hour? Today alone, there was a “sick passenger” on the Q and then “signal problems” on the 5 train. I can’t remember the last time I tried to get somewhere when there wasn’t an issue. Instead of collecting horror stories, you might have less work gathering good transit experiences because I guarantee there are less of them!”

Whether you rely on the bus, commuter rail, a car, or the subway to get around the city, we all deserve a transportation system that is faster, safer, and fairer. Speak up and let the Governor know that to move New York, we need Move NY.

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