Transit chief visits No. 7 subway town hall meeting in Sunnyside

By Bill Parry

The new transit chief and several of her top staff took part in a town hall meeting in Sunnyside Tuesday night to discuss years of weekend shutdowns and frequent service disruptions on the No. 7 subway line.

Shortly after she was named president of New York City Transit, Veronique Hakim received an invitation from City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) to come to Queens and hear the straphangers’ frustrations with constant delays, overcrowding and sub-par service. She arrived at the Sunnyside Community Services center on 39th Street to find a civil audience of 200 commuters.

“The service we are getting is just not good enough,” said Van Bramer, who hosed the event with Melissa Orlando, the founder of Access Queens, a transit advocacy group. “ People are moving out of this neighborhood because of the No. 7 and that’s unacceptable.”

Hakim, in her first public meeting, began with a slide show presentation describing the task of modernizing the 100-year-old system: a $1 billion project replacing the outdated signal system, replacing the aging track panels and repairing damage from Hurricane Sandy in the Steinway Tube that runs under the East River.

“The No. 7 is one of our busiest lines in terms of frequency with 622 one-way train trips each day with 525,000 daily riders,”she said. “When you have that kind of frequency, when there is a problem, there’s a series of cascading effects that affect thousands of people because of one problem on a train.”

Hakim moved on to some crowd-pleasing information, that repairs to the Steinway Tube will be completed the weekend of April 23 and that 94 percent of the track panels have been replaced. She got a burst of applause when she announced that starting this fall there will be two additional trains during the evening rush hour.

A question-and-answer session followed with complaints about the condition of the elevated section from 61st Street to 108th Street “where paint is peeling and the dust affects people’s lives.” Hakim said a contract would be awarded next year for repairs.

Several riders from Flushing and Jackson Heights complained of booth attendants lacking foreign language skills. A senior said there was a lack of benches to sit on after climbing 40 steps at 82nd Street.

Orlando suggested that service notices should be posted at ground level so seniors would not make the climb only to find there is no train. Brent O’Leary, the president of the Hunters Point Civic Association, said the meeting to address a larger issue that is facing his members.

“A few more cars are nice but it avoids the real problem of the population explosion (in LIC),” he said. “It’s a band-aid on a hemorrhage. We need a structural fix to handle the new and coming ridership brought by the development.”

Astoria attorney James Iñiguez echoed O’Leary when he complained that four of his firm’s employees are 7 train riders.

“I’m sick and tired of them being late all the time, they can’t get on the trains,” he said. “What are we going to do with all of the people that are coming with all of this new development?”

Access Queens’ Orlando, who also started the 1,700- member Facebook group 7 Train Blues last year, said she was very pleased with the event.

“I appreciated there transparency and their willingness to listen to our frustrations,” she said. “It was really a discussion that establishes a new tone for our relationship going forward.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.