Summer 2001, p.13

"State of the Subways" Report Card Says Subways Improving
Straphangers Campaign Says Fewer Breakdowns, Better Regularity and Cleaner Cars; But Crowding Intolerable and Announcements Worse

The Straphangers Campaign issued its fifth annual "State of the Subways" report, rating the Q as the best of 19 subway lines with a Line Rating of $1.25 and rating the C as the worst with a rating of 65 cents. "The subways are improving, with fewer breakdowns, more regular service, and cleaner cars," said campaign staff attorney Gene Russianoff, noting that 14 of 19 subway lines received higher Line Ratings. "But you are still just as likely to be packed in like sardines and even more likely to be kept uninformed on the subways."

The report found crowding remained at "intolerable" levels. MTA officials admit that subway ridership has increased 29% between 1996 and 2001, and service only 11%. The lag is due to two factors: inhumane crowding standards set by transit officials and a lack of capacity, including a shortage of subway cars and an aged signal system. The report also found no improvement in the length of scheduled waits during rush hour. The average rush-hour "headway"-the scheduled interval between trains-remained at more than six minutes. Russianoff noted that five former city transportation commissioners had recently called for moving to a city-wide standard of no more than a four-minute wait on any subway line. For the full report and more on how you can win better subway service: www.straphangers.org.

The Future of the Second Ave. Subway

The MTA has begun its supplemental environmental impact study (EIS) for the "full build" Second Ave. subway along two routes south of Houston St. One would use existing tunnels and connections under Christie St. to link to J, M & Z train routes in Lower Manhattan. The other would run in a new tunnel under Water St. The J, M & Z option would be cheaper to build since it utilizes existing infrastructure and could simply connect to Brooklyn along the M route. However, the Water St. alignment would provide new stations in the Lower East Side and a connection to the B, D and Q trains. The MTA is hurrying to complete the supplemental EIS and preliminary engineering by November 2003 in order to get a viable plan into the next big federal transportation reauthorization, scheduled for that year.

Some observers worry about that funding, concerned that the U.S. Congress won't ante up, leaving the MTA rickety capital financing. If a full-length, underground subway proves too costly, a substitute light rail system on dedicated First Ave. and Second Ave. right-of-ways running across the Willis Ave. Bridge into the Bronx would still provide a huge increase in transit service and perhaps spur a light-rail renaissance in New York City.

Chinatown Transit Freeze
Chinatown officials remain furious at the MTA for its proposal to nearly eliminate service to the Grand St. station during the four-year Manhattan Bridge rehabilitation without providing sufficient alternatives. During the replacement of the B, D and Q rail beds on the bridge, the MTA plans to run a shuttle between Broadway-Lafayette and Grand St. The community has spent three months arguing for expanded M train service from Brooklyn and shuttle buses between Brooklyn's DeKalb St. station and Grand St., but penny-pinching managers at the MTA remain deaf to their transit dilemma.

Booths Bashed
Transit Authority to close one in five token booths.

The Transit Authority is set to close 129 token booths and eliminate 235 clerks by the end of the year. The agency claims the clerks are unnecessary because of MetroCard vending machines, and it is clearly seeking to save a few million dollars in its multi-billion dollar budget.

The plain foolishness of this plan is obvious to anyone who has waited for a train in an isolated station or late at night. The cops agree. "This policy sends a message to criminals that we're abandoning our stations," said Latino Officers Association President Anthony Miranda.

Beyond security, subway users with special needs like those using bicycles, strollers and wheelchairs will be especially inconvenienced. Existing booth closings force cyclists to travel one or even several stations beyond their destination - a major problem in bad weather and during mechanical failures.

Read the latest news on this subject.