By Mark Hallum
The transit advocacy group Riders Alliance has launched a weekly contest for straphangers to win prizes for sharing the worst commute on the out-of-kilter subways throughout the city. Forest Hills resident Jennifer Tang was named the contest’s first winner.
Tang, a librarian who commutes to Manhattan for work, took the prize of a chocolate MetroCard for her story submitted to Riders Alliance about how the R train stalled for two hours just before reaching her home stop at the 67th Avenue station.
“I was in a hurry to get home and didn’t use the bathroom, figuring my 30-minute commute from Manhattan to Queens wasn’t going to be so bad,” Tang told the Riders Alliance. “I was one stop away from home when the R train came to a complete halt. The conductor said ‘signal problems’ at 71st-Continental Avenue (Forest Hills) were to blame. The last five minutes became two hours, as the train was stuck in the tunnel between the 63rd Drive and 67th Avenue stations,” Tang said. “By the time the train pulled into the 67th Avenue station, I had to run to a nearby Starbucks in order to pee. It was unbelievable and I still have post-traumatic stress syndrome from this incident. Now before boarding the subway, even if it’s for one stop, I use the bathroom before I get on the torture chamber that is the MTA subway.”
According to the Riders Alliance, overall on-time performance for subways across the city has plummeted steadily since Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office to 65 percent. The R train itself has seen a decline of on-time performance from 95 percent in 2007 to 61 percent in 2017, the transit advocates said.
Transit advocates across the city praised the release of the Fix NYC proposal in late January to enact congestion pricing for vehicle traffic entering Manhattan below 60th Street, but the Riders Alliance is hoping to hold Cuomo accountable until the state Assembly approves the plan, which will provide a dedicated funding stream to the MTA.
“[This] morning, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers had what could well be the worst commute of the week,” Danny Pearlstein, communications director for Riders Alliance, said Feb. 15. “Gov. Cuomo’s subway system suffered signal problems on eight lines, sick passengers on three and mechanical problems on three more, grinding service to a halt across the city. As a small consolation, the Riders Alliance will reward New Yorkers with a chocolate MetroCard for the worst commute of the week until the governor enacts a sustainable, progressive long-term plan to fund the modernization of the subway.”
The New York Times reported eight trains had experienced setbacks due to signal problems, three to mechanical problems as well as three more stalled due to sick passengers the morning of the news conference.
The MTA’s response to the Riders Alliance news conference launching the contest Feb. 15 praised the agency’s employees for getting the trains back on track.
“Today, 50,000 New York City Transit employees moved nearly 6 million people on the subway and 2.5 million bus riders,” MTA spokesman Jon Weinstein said on the day of the Riders Alliance news conference. “They operated trains, fixed signals and switches, repaired track, navigated the clogged streets of New York City and helped customers find their way – that’s what we’re focused on.”
Fifteen trains were delayed last Friday Feb. 16, while the following Tuesday problems on 10 different lines affected the morning commute of many city dwellers, according to the New York Times.
Cuomo’s congestion pricing proposal aims to charge drivers $11 to enter Manhattan’s central business district, but keeps East River bridges free.
The plan has been adamantly opposed by elected officials in eastern Queens at the city and state level who say the toll would put an unfair burden on their constituents.
Figures have shown an average of about 4 to 5 percent of Queens motorists would be affected.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall