2017-07-05 / Editorials

At The End Of The Line?

The apparent collapse of the subway system is making it impossible for New Yorkers to go to work and school. Hordes of passengers are getting stranded on dangerously crowded platforms and bus terminals, and are frequently left to wonder if the train or bus is ever going to come. Thankfully, most of the subway system was quickly up and running again after Hurricane Sandy, but weak spots were revealed throughout the system, as one breakdown forced the overburdening of other nearly worn-out lines that in turn gave out. Where we did not recall it ever happening in our decades as New Yorkers, cracked rails and even worse, serious accidents on the railroads, have become a regular feature.

We now have major railroad issues at Penn Station. The LIRR has become useless in some areas, as is the M line, which will be shut down for Ridgewood, Glendale and Middle Village for major reconstruction, and the anticipated L line renovation will take it out of service in the near future. Whereas people have always had problems with the subways, buses, roads, bridges and tunnels, it has of late become ridiculous, in our estimation. We receive around 10 travel “advisories” from the MTA’s email alert system daily, involving signal problems, sick passengers, fires and police actions and investigations – in addition to scheduled maintenance and repair work shutting down entire lines, in one direction or even both. These things happen every day, therefore contingency plans should be routine, making one wonder if there even are contingency plans, with workers looking mystified and sharing no alternate routes. Of course, it could be that the alternative routes are also out of service, with these cascading failures of the entire system as one breakdown forces the overburdening of other nearly worn-out lines that in turn give out. Even having a fleet of shuttle buses at the ready would probably not be sufficient to carry the throngs of subway riders, but we can still try.

We see a few possible solutions on the horizon, Governor Andrew Cuomo has reappointed MTA Chair Joseph Lhota, who brought back the subways after Sandy, and NYS Senator Michael Gianaris has introduced his “Better Trains, Better Cities” legislation establishing the office of an emergency manager and creating a temporary, dedicated revenue stream to fund urgent repairs (see the I On Politics column by John Toscano in this issue and June 28).

In the meantime, until the mammoth job of renovating/rebuilding our transit infrastructure is well underway, responses must be clear and streamlined for safely moving people. Staff must communicate with riders immediately and clearly. We have witnessed firsthand either waiting on the platform or sitting in a stalled car and not one announcement being made. Or a garbled, hurried and overlong announcement competing with the noise of other trains pulling in or the constant PA droning to “say something.” We have been stalled for 30 minutes in the bus at one intersection, when a detour could have easily been planned. We are certain there is already communication between drivers and dispatchers, but to the rider it appears as though some people’s jobs are to lounge around and socialize. We now have phone apps that tell us where the buses are in real time, so we know it won’t cost billions for management to make sure that they are not all bunched up at the terminals, finally departing all at the same time, but rather following the schedules thoughtfully posted at the bus stops.

We need action now. The roads are as backed up as mass transit, or worse than ever. We’ve complained about that also. If the trains and buses are not functioning, we can imagine tens of thousands more cars gridlocking the roads. We must act before it is too late.

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