Muffled, barely audible train announcements: “There is train traffic ahead of us/A Train crossing/signal problems. We thank you for your patience.”
The patience of New York commuters is being tested.
Delays are a daily frustration for the majority of local commuters who use the Metro Transportation train system. “It is a problem; we are often late for school, or getting home,” said Osazuwa A., a Brooklyn high schooler. Normally, passengers enter the train station in order to get to their desired destination in a fast and reliable timeframe. Unfortunately, when it comes to the MTA train system, according to a local commuter, Gloria: “Getting in on time is not reliable.”
GP (she didn’t want her real name revealed) lives in Queens and commutes to the Murray Hill section of Manhattan every day for work. She has had a couple of back surgeries the past several years and has relied on escalators and elevators within the subway system to help her on her bad days. On average, her commute should take 35 to 50 minutes to get to work.
But for her, and many other New Yorkers, most commutes aren’t average these days.
“Traveling to get to work in NYC is often the most stressful part of my workday now and has been for the past four or five years,” GP related. “It’ll get better for a few days and then suddenly a total mess begins again. Since I also have a disability, I have to assess an early enough time frame to get to work and to get around the city in general. With all these new delays and track changes and escalators and elevators constantly broken down and then the LIRR also constantly having issues, it’s a constant battle.”
The MTA finds itself at the center of the conversation again. Other issues arise from time to time, whether it’s bike lines, the introduction of a new ferry, housing, etc. However, conversation around the city eventually comes back to the MTA and, in particular, the subway.
David Jones, president and CEO of the Community Service Society and newest MTA Board member, said that there needs to be a multi-pronged approach to solving the issue.
“Clearly, there’s been a pretty long term divestment in terms of long-term capital needs for the MTA,” Jones explained. “Signal problems is something that is clearly beginning to finally come home to roost. They should’ve been upgraded. Virtually every major system in the world has a better signaling system that allows you to run trains safely and closer together.”
Jones said that according to the numbers, the timelines for changing over to the new system have the year of completion at 2050.
“That’s much too long for the public,” said Jones. “There has to be some acceleration. There has to be a fairly major capital investment…particularly with the Trump administration playing games with infrastructure. Will the state and the city step up with significant enough resources to help the riding public?”
SCROLL DOWN TO CONTINUE
The MTA has released two press releases detailing the agency’s plan to improve transit, which includes reorganizing their leadership structure, adding new subway cars and maintenance procedures, streamlining the unloading of passengers, targeting system bottlenecks (the points where different train lines merge) and mitigating delays associated with sick passengers and law enforcement activity.
The MTA also plans on outsourcing solutions via its “The MTA Genius Transit Challenge,” an international competition where the agency seeks “groundbreaking and innovative” solutions to improve subway service.
But, as Jones stated, “the complaints have crescendoed.”
“I think the only way we start prioritizing things is a constant clamoring for the governor and other players here to step up and start investing in the system,” Jones continued. “Basically, New York State’s economy depends on New York City, Metro North and the LIRR. They have Buffalo Billion [Cuomo’s plan to invest $1 billion in the Buffalo area economy] and I would like to see MTA billions from the governor.” Requests for comment from Cuomo were unanswered by press time.
In February, data released by the MTA showed that delays have increased to nearly 70,000 per month in 2017 when compared to 28,000 in 2012. Delays, trains losing power and stranding straphangers with no air conditioning and consistent rush hour confusion have led to a swell of anger from residents. Some of these problems, including the ones in the MTA’s own report, could be attributed to information found in a recent review requested my Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
Last week, Independent Budget Office Director Ronnie Lowenstein sent a letter to Brewer after she requested a review of the MTA’s plans to repair and upgrade the network of signals in the transit system. All but one of the city’s 22 transit lines function with a block signaling system that has been used since the subways’ inception in 1904.
Going over three capital plans covering the periods 2005 to 2009, 2010 to 2014 and 2015 to 2019, the plans combined dedicated more than $5 billion to signal repair and upgrades. From the 2005-2009 and 2010-2014 periods, 23 of the 33 scheduled signal projects were completed and 19 were completed or currently anticipated to be completed later than planned, with some being delayed as much as four years. A project at Church Avenue on the Culver line was scheduled for completion in August 2014 but is now delayed until August 2021. For the current 2015-2019 capital plan, 14 signal-related projects were scheduled to start by the end of 2017. However, eight of them were delayed.
Lowenstein’s letter to Brewer also stated that as plans continue to get pushed back, the money devoted to upgrades have declined.
“The share of New York City Transit capital plans devoted to spending on signal repairs and modernization has declined over the past three plans, falling from 20 percent of the 2005-2009 plan to 17 percent of the 2010-2014 plan and 14 percent of the current plan,” read Lowenstein’s letter. “In dollar terms, planned spending on signals increased from $1.3 billion in New York City Transit’s 2005-2009 capital plan, $1.9 billion in the 2010-2014 plan, and $2.1 billion in the current plan.”
When asked whether the service was functioning well, Jason Rodriguez, a Latino father of one, said, “Not really, because of the delays.” Brianna, a young mother, stated, “Sometimes it is reliable, except for the delays.”
There have been a lot of recent, well documented delays, according to recent sources.
In an incident June 6 riders said they were told they were being delayed because of train traffic ahead of them. “People started to panic a little bit. I don’t like being in small spaces,” Erikka Olszewski recounted. “Then they made an announcement that they would try to get us safely to the platform, which really panicked people because you don’t wanna hear them say they’re gonna try—that doesn’t make it better,” Olszewski stated, according to Pix 11 News.
June 13, the AM New York website reported that the MTA signal repair and modernization projects are frequently delayed, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office. Some fed-up riders Tuesday said they’d support lengthy service shutdowns if that meant the MTA could address repairs more quickly.
“I’d rather them start shutting down service that won’t affect as many people and make it better for the future than to keep having these delays,” said Melquan Middleton, 21, of East New York, at the Hudson Yards No. 7 train station, according to AM New York. “I have to leave home at least a half-hour earlier just to make sure I’m there on time, because sometimes the delays can be 15 or 20 minutes.”
June 14, a water main break happened on the downtown 6 train. The main broke at East 143rd Street around 10:30 a.m., flooding much of the station with water. Video posted to social media from inside a subway showed water gushing outside the train car, according to NBC New York News.
GP volunteers on the weekends teaching career development courses to domestic violence victims in Harlem. Last weekend, the MTA announced that her lines in Queens (the E, M, F and R trains) should expect delays because of track work. She anticipated delays and made sure she left earlier than usual to make her way to Harlem on time. It took her two hours to get to the 125th Street stop on the D, B, A and C lines.
“They raised the rates for what reason?” asked GP. “To improve the system? Or to install swimming pools in a board member’s backyard? They need to get better. Not later. Now.”