On a truly landmark day for MTA dysfunction, the heads of NYC Transit made the journey to Sunnyside, Queens to face a group of 7 train riders that have put up with years of track work, unexpected and sometimes inexplicable delays, and a crumbling and mostly useless new station.
"I've been riding the 7 train for the past 32 years and my entire experience has been track work, track work, track work! On the express, on the local: track work!" said Dorothy Kaminsky, a long-time resident of Woodside. "Tell me why for so many years there has been track problems on the number 7," Kaminsky asked, storming out of the room before getting an answer from the MTA officials.
More than one hundred commuters attended the town hall meeting, which was organized by Queens councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer at the urging of frustrated riders who have been sharing their stories of transit grief on the Facebook page 7 Train Blues for the past two years.
“Unfortunately it has been a years-long saga, if not decades,” Van Bramer told Gothamist before the meeting. “There’s too many days with significant delays with signal problems, switching problems, and trains beginning to pile up.”
The meeting came on the heels of the system-wide meltdown which impacted the 7 line on Tuesday morning, although Van Bramer made it clear that Tuesday morning’s situation, where a man evading police was clipped by an M train, was not something the MTA could have anticipated.
Still, with 7 train platforms packed for much of the morning commute, it served as an illustration of how one delay could set off a cascade of complications on an area of the system with very little redundancy.
"You come home 11:30 at night, the platform is still jam-packed. You can wait fifteen minutes on the platform before you can fit on the train. The buses are not coordinated, so even if you want to take them, you have to wait for maybe longer than the train. And there's so much construction in Long Island City, that the buses hardly move," said one rider, who failed to ask a question and thanked the officials for listening to her complaint.
"My employees live off the 7 train, and I'm sick and tired of them being late," an Astoria businessman added.
"I'm concerned about how much money the MTA spent on the Hudson Yards stop, and why it was not built to be serviceable to people, and how much money the MTA plans on spending on lawsuits related to the station," asked a member of Queens Neighborhoods United, a community group based in Jackson Heights and Corona. The MTA officials failed to address the liabilities brought up by the question, but earlier in the evening had made clear that the waterproofing issues that have plagued the station were the fault of a contractor, and not the MTA.
The MTA's transit president Ronnie Hakim admitted to the crowd that when it came to letting riders know about delays and planned work, “we need to communicate better,” and that come fall, the 7 line would be getting two new additional trains every evening.
“We’re putting as much train service as we can through the line today, and we’ll see some improvements moving forward,” Hakim told the crowd.
Hakim stressed that ongoing projects like replacing miles of aging track, repairing the Steinway Tube (which was badly damaged during Superstorm Sandy), and the new CBTC signal system, are all each entering their final stretches. The Steinway Tube will be fully repaired by April 23rd, and by the close of the year 94% of track on the line will be considered within their workable lifespan. The much-maligned CBTC project, which will speed up service and bring countdown clocks to platforms, is on schedule to be completed by 2017.
Hakim sympathized with riders who wanted to know what the MTA was doing on a daily basis to help counter the delays that have made them late for work. Still, she admitted that it was tough to provide immediate relief for a problem that stems from overcrowding and an aging system. Hakim pointed to the new Combined Action Teams that the subway system has been rolling out for the past year to combat delays by having teams on standby to get trains moving again as quickly as possible.
Barbara Pisick, from Sunnyside Gardens, was unimpressed.
“They’re not going to do anything. We’re going to get two new trains in December? We need trains now, and we need more than two,” Pisick said. “There’s too many people, the trains are too crowded, and there’s been too many breakdowns that they still have no explanation for.”