By Mark Hallum
Transit advocates have released a set of transportation initiatives for candidates to promote in the upcoming city elections that include seeking funding for public transit, Fair Fares for low-income commuters and protecting regular L train riders who face a two year shutdown in 2019.
The policy priorities came as the Summer of Hell began Monday for LIRR customers. There are cutbacks in service as a result of Penn Station overhauls, which have shut down 19 percent of train traffic through the rail hub and displaced commuters onto the city’s subways, which are under a state of emergency of their own, imposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“Only Gov. Cuomo can fix New York City’s crumbling subways, but there is a lot the city can do to help New Yorkers get around the city safely and affordably,” Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin said. “I hope that candidates for mayor, City Council and other local offices will translate our proposals into public policy that can help millions of New Yorkers gain better access to jobs and economic opportunity.”
The first day of the “Summer of Hell’ went better than expected, according to Cuomo and newly reappointed MTA Chairman Joe Lhota. The two leaders updated the public in a pair of Tuesday press conferences in which they said utilization of shuttle buses between loading points in Long Island and Manhattan was light. Lhota said the LIRR would continue to provide the initial amount of buses for at least a week to get a better understanding of how they will be used as the Penn Station work progresses.
In late June Cuomo imposed a state of emergency to expedite technological upgrades to the city’s transit system for a modern signal system and an updated fleet of train cars. An extra $1 billion was also added to the MTA’s capital funds. But the initiative comes at the same time Amtrak has made the decision to overhaul the delay- and derailment-stricken Penn Station, where repairs have been long overlooked. This is expected to take eight weeks.
LIRR riders have been advised of service changes, which cuts service by three peak hour trains on the Port Washington line, for example, affecting riders throughout northeast Queens. The LIRR customers have been encouraged by Cuomo and the MTA to take alternative routes through Hunters Point to the already over-burdened 7 train as other transfer opportunities.
Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White said there are somewhat simple fixes for the city’s transit woes that many leaders in city government are not looking into.
“As we all brace for the long-term fight to save our transit system, there are easy transportation solutions that candidates for office must champion right now,” Steely White said. “From Vision Zero measures that make walking and biking a safe option, to car-free Peopleways transporting 300,000 commuters during the pending L-Pocalypse, to affordable bike share in all five boroughs—there is no shortage of effective policies that candidates can adopt today.”
Lhota issued a memo to MTA employees promoting better service to riders by saying, “Our customers are right; we aren’t very good right now.”
He expressed the desire to tap into the “can-do” attitude he saw in the agency staff during his first tenure as chairman and especially following Superstorm Sandy in which the subways were back up and running two days later.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall