We The Commuters: From Stalled Trains To Delivery Worker Tips, The Week In Transit Stories

Plus: Two cyclists were hit and killed by truck drivers this week, so the mayor announced a new plan to build protected bike lanes. DoorDash delivery workers will now get paid their tips — but not necessarily end up making more money. And the human warmth of a toll booth worker is increasingly hard to find.

We the Commuters is a weekly newsletter about transportation from WNYC and Gothamist. Sign up below!

Via Chelsea Lawrence

When the computer system that powers the subway signals failed last Friday, evening rush-hour trains on the 1/2/3 and 4/5/6 lines were forced to "maintain their positions," as the MTA put it. Even if that position was in the middle of a tunnel between stations.

Trains were stuck for over an hour. Air conditioning went down. As one Pulitzer Prize-winning rider put it, "the subways [had] to be manually signaled citywide, meaning a dude with a flashlight has to walk my train all the way to a station so we can get out."

It's an extreme example of something we've all faced: being stuck on a train that stalls out for no apparent reason, and you don't know when it's going to move again.

My colleague Jen Carlson knows all about this, because she's been reading the subway horror stories sent to Gothamist's tip line for the last 15 years. So this week, she answered the one pressing question about these situations: What is protocol when you're trapped in a steamy train with no way out?

Her short answer: "There isn't any. It's all up to you."

But you may still be wondering:

How can one meditate their way through this nightmare?

Michael Repucci of Brooklyn's Vajradhara Meditation Center told Carlson that "one's ability to cope will vary greatly based on your karma and depth of meditation practice."

"Obviously panic won't help," he added, noting that when you're trapped underground, it's a good time to "develop a heartfelt compassion" for your fellow passengers.

"I may or may not be able to help any of them right then," Repucci explained, "but coming from an other-centered approach will help reduce feelings of anxiety. Anxiety necessarily begins with a strong sense of self-importance, one which thinks my suffering and my problems are more important than the suffering and problems of others. With an other-centered and somewhat calm mind, I would then be better equipped to help combat my own illogical thoughts and would be less inclined to participate in panic-based group-think."

So, think about other people. Don't panic. Lean on your good karma. What else?

"Congratulations, you've just gotten tickets to one of the greatest performances you can catch in New York," says Gothamist co-founder Jake Dobkin. "Just wait like 15 minutes and enjoy watching a wide variety of people completely lose their shit — muttering, cursing, and finally screaming at the disinterested MTA gods who have left them stranded. It really passes the time, at least until you have to pee between the cars."

Are there practical things you can do to prepare for this?

Yes! For one thing, if a car is way too crowded, or appears to have a broken A/C, don't get on it.

Also: Pack properly.

While it's known that some guys can't be bothered to carry anything on the train, most of us have a bag. And that bag can become an "I'm Trapped on a Subway Car Go-Bag" pretty easily, if you just make sure these things are in it:

- Portable fan
- Water bottle
- Book
- Snacks with a long shelf life
- Headphones
- Portable phone charger
- Barf bag
- Diapers

The MTA Is Taking Subway Homelessness Into Its Own Hands

Photo: Stephen Nessen

Back in 2010, the MTA hired a non-profit called Bowery Residents' Committee to help move homeless New Yorkers out of the transit system and into shelters.

This week, an audit from New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli claims that BRC isn't doing its job.

DiNapoli said that outreach workers spent more time in the office than interacting with the homeless; that the nonprofit's workers ignored homeless people who knocked on its office doors in Penn Station; and that it presented incomplete and inaccurate data to the MTA.

"The MTA is not getting what it paid for and riders and the homeless are suffering for it," DiNapoli said.

So, the MTA said Wednesday that it's creating a new task force charged with coming up with a plan to "measurably reduce homelessness and panhandlers on the subway" within thirty days.

The mandate for the new task force includes enhanced enforcement, exploring new resources to direct homeless New Yorkers to shelters, and looking into the possibility of creating a dedicated homeless outreach office within the MTA.

Jacquelyn Simone, a policy analyst at the Coalition for the Homeless, told Gothamist's Jake Offenhartz that she's glad to see renewed interest in helping the homeless, but thinks the emphasis on enforcement is largely "misplaced."

"If Gov. Cuomo wants to fix the problem, let him step up with more housing and services specifically targeted for homeless people," Simone said. "Stop shifting the cost of shelters off to localities, and stop the prison-to-shelter pipeline from the State’s correctional facilities."

Note: In the coming weeks, We The Commuters is going to be taking a deep look at the issue of homelessness in our transit system, from every angle. Do you have tips or questions for our reporters? Email us at

Best of the Week From Gothamist and WNYC

From the 2018 Summer Streets (Scott Lynch / Gothamist)

A 7-mile stretch of Park Avenue and Lafayette Street will go car-free for three Saturdays next month. For the 12th annual Summer Streets series, official events will include yoga, rock climbing, walking tours, dance programs, and attempt to set a Guinness World Record by getting 400 people to do a handstand all at once.

The M14A bus, which goes along 14th Street, "won" the Straphangers Campaign's Pokey Award for being the city's slowest bus. The M14A, which was supposed to get a dedicated bus lane this month before a street redesign plan was abruptly shut down, moves at an average of 4.3 miles per hour.

A 50-year-old woman with a traffic cone single-handedly unclogged several sewer grates in Queens on Monday, clearing part of the Long Island Expressway that had been closed off due to severe flooding.

DoorDash will now pay delivery workers the tips customers leave them
. Good! Right? Not so clear — Times reporter Andy Newman, whose story forced the change in policy, told Brian Lehrer on Thursday that DoorDash could still change its pay structure so that delivery workers don't end up making more money overall.

What Else We're Reading

After a 17-year-old cyclist on Staten Island and a 58-year-old cyclist in Brooklyn were both hit and killed by trucks on Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio said he's dedicating $58.4 million to installing new protected bike lanes and redesigning intersections to make it safer for cyclists to turn. A total of 17 cyclists have now been killed on city streets this year, compared to 10 in all of 2018. (The New York Times)

Four sections of elevated subway tracks will get netting underneath to catch falling debris. While tracks in Queens and Manhattan that serve the N/W, 7, 1, and J/Z lines are getting the new netting, NYC Transit chief Andy Byford stressed that the real end goal is improving the tracks so debris doesn't fall in the first place. (AM New York)

Revenue is down at Grand Central Terminal's dining concourse, and the MTA is blaming outdated décor and an increase in homelessness. The transit agency said it will soon hire a consultant to update the dining area's furniture. (The Wall Street Journal)

Hundreds of highway toll collector jobs in New York and New Jersey have disappeared in recent years, as E-ZPass and other cashless tolling practices have taken over. One veteran Garden State Parkway toll collector told the Times that her regular commuters often wait in her line just to say hello ("They want the human connection.") and she has even called 911 to help drivers in distress. (The New York Times)

NJ Transit and Amtrak rail riders experienced 1,880 hours — or nearly 78 days — of train delays between 2014 and 2018. This comes from a study by the Gateway Development Corporation, which is trying to get federal funding for a new tunnel under the Hudson River. (NJTV News)

WQXR classical commute

Yes, I know they keep remixing commuter anthem "Old Town Road." But there's also a new WQXR commuter playlist. Both are great, whether you ride a horse, a Porsche, or subway. Only one is available to stream on our Spotify channel.

Best of the MTA's Lost & Found

Photo: Clarissa Sosin

This hat is matte black. It also passed its claim-by date.

If you recently lost something on a bus, subway or the Staten Island Railway, stop by the MTA's Lost and Found at Penn Station. If you don't claim your property in time, you may get a second chance to buy it when it goes up for auction.

Weekend Service Changes: Night of July 26th - Early Morning on July 29th

This is a partial list of major service disruptions scheduled for the weekend. For a complete list of the MTA's Weekender updates, check here.

1 train service between 96 St and 137 St in Manhattan will be replaced by A and C trains and free shuttle buses.

2 train service between Franklin Av and Flatbush Av in Brooklyn will be replaced by free shuttle buses.

Saturday and Sunday during the day, Manhattan-bound 2 and 5 trains will skip E Tremont Av, 174 St, Freeman St, Simpson St, Intervale Av, Prospect Av and Jackson Av in the Bronx.

On Saturday during the day, Flushing-bound 7 trains will skip 33, 40, 46, 52, 69, 82, 90, 103 and 111 Sts in Queens.

Downtown A trains will skip 163, 155, 135, 116, 110, 103, 96, 86, 81 and 72 Sts in Manhattan.

On Saturday and Sunday, downtown C trains will skip 163, 155, 135, 116, 110, 96, 86, 81 and 72 Sts in Manhattan.

Saturday morning through Sunday night, N train service between Ditmars Blvd and Queensboro Plaza in Queens will replaced by free shuttle buses.

Check here for complete details about the Long Island Rail Road.

For NJ Transit, check here for the latest service advisories.

Upcoming Meetings and Events

Saturday, July 27th
Outreach Day of Action to #FIXTHESUBWAY
Atlantic Av Terminal — 12:00 p.m.
RSVP for exact location

Thursday, August 8th
Transportation Alternatives' Families for Safe Streets Injury and Loss Support Community
Picnic in Central Park, near Delacorte Theater — 6:00 p.m.

There are no public MTA meetings in the month of August.

We the Commuters is a weekly newsletter about transportation from WNYC and Gothamist. Sign up for essential commuting coverage delivered to your inbox every Thursday.


Featured in News