New York City Transit (NYCT) President Andy Byford came to Jamaica on Aug. 21 for the first of a series of MTA town halls focused on the “Fast Forward” plan to modernize the subways, buses and paratransit over the next 10 years.
Dozens gathered at York College as Byford outlined the details of the estimated $40 billion plan. He was joined by a team of panelists, including Alex Elegudin, Senior Adviser for Systemwide Accessibility; Sarah Meyer, NYCT Chief Customer Officer; and Sarah Wyss, Senior Director of Bus Service Planning.
The president said that the plan, which was rolled out in May 2018, is a “comprehensive, holistic, total modernization of every aspect of New York City Transit.” Consulted and launched in “less than 100 working days,” the plan would prioritize change on four fronts: the subway, the bus network, accessibility and employee empowerment.
“The service was becoming increasingly unreliable, people were leaving the bus network in droves,” Byford said. “There were complaints, rightly so, about the system not being accessible and there was general dissatisfaction with the transit service for myriad reasons.”
Changes detailed in the “Fast Forward” plan are scheduled to take place in five-year increments. In the first five years, improvements include state-of-the-art signals on five subway lines, accessibility to 50 new subway stations so riders are never two stops away from an elevator, over 650 new subway cars, redesign of the bus routes in the five boroughs and 2,800 new buses.
Byford added that the MetroCard would be replaced by a new fare payment system which would allow riders to use their credit cards or phones to pay for public transportation.
The next five years of the plan is slated to bring similar changes in signals, accessibility and additions of over 3,000 new train cars and 2,100 buses.
But Byford made clear that these improvements would come at a cost.
“Delivering a plan that’s that comprehensive in 10 years will be neither quick, nor easy, nor cheap,” Byford said. “The alternative is a slow decline into further unreliability.”
The town hall also functioned as a forum for the public to ask Byford and the panelists questions regarding the plan and improvements. Some were concerned that Byford was being disingenuous by not informing the public about the meeting sooner.
“This event was advertised on the website after last Tuesday, which is why you have empty seats,” said one man who went by the name Mr. X. “If this forum was so important to you, why didn’t you advertise it in a timely manner?”
Byford took the blame for not informing the public sooner and said that he committed to another event in Queens. He added that the NYCT would typically hold only one MTA town hall per borough.
“It was a bit short notice, so what we’ve said to the community, and particularly to the elected officials …we’re actually going to hold a second event in Queens,” he said.