It has been a year of dire warnings from the MTA—letters penned by MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast to the City and the State repeatedly reminded politicians that the public transit system is crumbling and bursting and unable to extend itself, much less maintain itself. Also in 2015: Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio pointed fingers at each other; a capital plan was finally funded, then delayed; a new station opened, and the groundbreaking date on several others was pushed back indefinitely. Ultimately, de Blasio committed more city money to the ailing system than any mayor before him.
On the roads, express select buses proliferated. City bus drivers killed multiple pedestrians, while the bus drivers' union, TWU Local 100, successfully challenged the Right of Way law. Nevertheless, at least two MTA bus drivers have been arrested since the union's settlement with the city. Underground, the L train was late, the G train derailed, and a rat dragged a slice of pizza. We explored a mysterious G train portal, and, just in time for the new year, dreams of a "Freedom Ticket" whispered through the city's transit deserts.
There's a lot of nail biting, mourning, and dashed hopes to sift through here, but luckily the Straphangers Campaign has issued its annual Top Ten Worst and Best List for NYC Subways and Buses in 2015—a ranking that's like a delayed rush hour C train down memory lane.
Straphangers Campaign attorney Gene Russianoff said, "On truly bad days, a subway and bus ride can feel like surviving the ten plagues. On good days, navigating the system is thankfully less daunting, but always challenging."
We'll start with the good news.
Top Ten Best NYC Transit Events In 2015
1. The best transit moment of 2015 was reaching an agreement on a 5-year, $26 billion capital program to invest in the future of New York transit, backed by Governor Cuomo's pledge.
2. As part of the deal, the City of New York agrees to quadruple its support of MTA rebuilding to $2.5 billion, as this trillion-dollar asset is key to New York City's economy and quality of life.
3. Veronique "Ronnie" Hakim is chosen president of New York City Transit, which operates the city’s buses and subways. A respected 20-year MTA veteran, she's the first woman to hold this key post.
4. MTA starts new bus routes in Brooklyn and Queens like the non-stop Q70 Limited between LaGuardia Airport and the subway.
5. The City is on target to meet its pledge of 20 Select Bus Service routes by 2017. Recent additions: M86 SBS crosstown in Manhattan and Q44 SBS serving Jamaica, Flushing and the Bronx.
6. A record year: 6,217,621 riders enter subways on Thursday, October 29, 2015.
7. In encyclical, Pope Francis laments that transit riders must put up with "undignified conditions due to crowding, inconvenience, infrequent service and lack of safety."
8. Developer SL Green agrees to spend $220 million improving an overcrowded Grand Central subway station in exchange for zoning permitting greater density.
9. The first new subway station since 1989 opens at 11th Avenue and West 34th Street on the 7.
10. MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast asks MTA staff to be more open to outside ideas. Recently, two riders groups have proposed: 1) the "Freedom Ticket," which would be good for unlimited rail, subway, and bus trips within the city; and 2); and a free shuttle between the subways and LaGuardia Airport (Riders Alliance).
And on with the bad.
Top Ten Worst NYC Transit Events In 2015
1. The subways are in a slump, say both riders and the MTA's own performance measures. The ability to respond is limited by the system's age and needed resources.
2. Chief among riders' complaints: severe crowding. NYC Transit admits: "We are seeing a system that is bursting at the seams in terms of increased ridership."
3. In March, the MTA raised fares on subways and buses by a quarter, to $2.75, and the cost of a 30-day MetroCard by $4.50 to $116.50.
4. MTA proposes to ban all "political" ads from City's buses, trains and stations, continuing the agency's long hostility towards free speech in the subways.
5. In the past year, subway riders were less satisfied: 74% o.k. with service now, down from 78% in 2014. Lower marks on frequency and reliability, finds the MTA's survey.
6. The front car of a G-train carrying 150 passengers derailed south of the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station in downtown Brooklyn, resulting in minor injuries.
7. Viral sensation "Pizza Rat" drags a slice on the subway, instantly capturing the darker imaginations of riders.
8. No new cars on the J/Z until 2022 following upstate manufacture Bombardier's announcement of design and financial problems. This delay will cost the MTA $50 million.
9. Labor unrest roils MTA's paratransit Call Center. Complaints by workers against private contractor range from bedbugs to wages, which run $9 to $11 an hour.
10. The tragedy of pedestrians being hit by buses continued in 2015. One response: new buses that further reduce conflicts by addressing a blind spot drivers have long bemoaned. Another: legislation clarifying who has the right of way.
As a notable mention in the Worst category—since the list traditionally focuses on buses and subways—the Campaign included the Metro-North train that struck a passenger vehicle at a railroad crossing in Valhalla, Westchester County in February. Six people were killed in the crash, which Governor Cuomo later called "as gruesome as I have seen."
Last year, when all was said and done, Russianoff told us that the Campaign's #1 Hope for 2015 was a fully-funded five year MTA capital plan—a massive goal that was achieved this year, with some asterisks.
Today, he expressed a degree of satisfaction. "2015 was round one, and we're great," he told us this morning by phone. "The capital plan was the MTA chairman's top priority for the year, and he did the best that he could do."
"Round two is [finding the funding] in Albany, where I think we'll do well, but there's the thorny issue of how to also fund upstate road and bridge repair," he added. "The thing I'm sure of is that the governor made a pledge, and he has every political reason to keep it."
Presented with this year's list, the MTA declined comment.