Queens 7 train riders packed the Sunnyside Community Services center on Tuesday night to express their frustration with ongoing delays and to hear from MTA President Veronique Hakim about completed and ongoing projects on the line.
The town hall meeting was co-sponsored by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and Access Queens, a transit advocacy group that started the Facebook page 7 Train Blues to provide a forum for commuters to frequently update each other on delays and other problems in real-time.
Plagued by delays, overcrowded platforms and weekend closures, riders said they rely on social media and outside sources to stay updated and make decisions about their daily commutes. Many Queens residents at the meeting demanded that the MTA improve their communication with customers.
David Frieman, a Sunnyside resident, said that the MTA has a “blind spot” when it comes to delivering customer service and real-time information to riders.
“You’re focused on the delivering train service and you’re not focused on public service, customer service,” Frieman said. “When I’m on a train and there’s a problem, I need communication about what my options are. I understand that this is a very complicated, very large system but if I get to the 7 train and I see that the platform is completely crowded I not only need to know when the next train is going to come, I also need to know what’s going on in the other lines nearby.”
Hakim said that the agency is trying to maximize their use of technology and that more on-the-go kiosks with updates and alternate travel information will be installed on stops. She also added that every stop on the 7 train is equipped with Wi-Fi so that passengers can access the MTA website for updates.
“I agree with you,” Hakim said. “I think we do have to do more in terms of getting information to our customers in real time.”
Hakim also updated riders on a number of capital projects that have been in the works for years. The MTA has been repairing the Steinway Tube since 2014 and as a result, there have been dozens of weekend closures. Hakim said the repairs will officially be completed on the weekend of April 23.
The agency is also in the process of installing the communications-based train control or CBTC, a signaling system that will allow the MTA to safely and efficiently run more trains on the line. But the installation will not be completed until the end of 2017 and riders asked what the agency is doing now to alleviate overcrowding and delays.
James Iniguez, an Astoria resident, owns a law firm on Lexington Avenue and 40th Street and his employees live in Long Island City. They rely on the 7 train to get to work and Iniquez said they are constantly late because of the unreliability of the train.
“My employees are consistently late to the point now, I’m not docking their pay, but they have to make up the time that they missed because of the 7 train,” Iniguez said. “I want to see real logistical plans, real infrastructure improvement.”
Hakim said two more trains will be added to the evening schedule in the fall to help ease overcrowding and that track panel replacements are 94 percent completed. The MTA is also deploying newly created combined action teams to the line when rail and track problems plague the system.
“This line has such a high frequency of service that when there is a disruption on it you are going to have that ripple cascading effect so avoiding one incident helps maintain reliability on the line,” she said.
Wynton Habersham, the vice president and chief officer of Service Delivery, said the teams are increasing inspections and identifying defects before they happen.
Many Queens residents said they are worried about the future of the 100-year-old line once the developments in Flushing, Long Island City and Astoria bring in thousands of new riders. According to Judy McClain, senior director of service planning, the express 7 trains are already at capacity.
The 7 train has a daily ridership of 525,000 and 622 trips run through the line every day.
Lisa Forsee, a Hunters Point resident and pet-sitter who works on Roosevelt Island, said it is getting “overwhelming” to get on the Vernon Boulevard stop, especially with her handicap. She proposed that the MTA work on expanding bus service to alleviate overcrowding on the train.
“I understand growth but I just feel like I just live in the dark ages over there,” Forsee said. “That area was forgotten about for years and now you have thousands of people living there and the bus system hasn’t expanded.”
Forsee told Hakim that the agency should look to expand the Q103 bus route to take riders to the 21st Street-Queensbridge F train, about a 10-minute ride from the bus’s Vernon Boulevard-Borden Avenue stop.