July 21, 2016 Op-ed by Melissa Orlando and Brandon Mosley, Access Queens
This week, Governor Cuomo, along with MTA Chair Thomas Prendergast and NYCT President Ronnie Hakim unveiled a plan to revitalize and modernize New York City’s subways.
The Governor announced plans to add 1,025 new subway cars with wider doors and modern features – including 750 “Open Car End” designed-cars, which will reduce wait times and increase capacity.
The Governor also updated the public on some of key elements that will be featured in the renovation of 31 subway stations throughout the New York Metropolitan Area.
These include features such as countdown clocks and digital signage.
Unfortunately the stations along the 7 line are not part of these renovations, so Queens commuters are going to have to wait for modern upgrades that will provide better rider communication. We have been told that will occur after the completion of CBTC.
Furthermore, there is a possibility that the open designed cars may not be able to run on the 7 line due to technical difficulties.
Nevertheless, we are pleased that attention is being paid to customer experience, which is long overdue.
In a statement made by Cuomo, he seemed to finally understand the importance of investing in the city’s infrastructure, especially as parts of the city are experiencing rapid population growth.
“New York deserves a world-class transportation network, worthy of its role as the heartbeat of the 21st century economy,” Cuomo said Monday.
The 31 stations in Cuomo’s modernization plan were announced in January.
Seven of these stations are in Queens, though none are on the 7 Line.
The improvements will certainly make the lives of some commuters better, particularly those who use the N, Q and R lines.
Energy-efficient LED lighting and easy-to-clean construction materials should lend a more welcoming appearance to the stations. Many of the new stations are planned to have WIFI and stronger cell service.
However, commuters really want to know if their train is running, when it will show up, and what to do if there’s a service interruption.
The lack of communication and real-time information is one of the biggest complaints we hear from riders in 7 Train Blues and it’s one of the main reasons why we advocate on their behalf.
Riders told the MTA as much at the “Ask the MTA” Town Hall we co-hosted back in April. Nevertheless, a big win for transit customers who’ll use the aforementioned 31 stations will be the addition of digital signage and countdown clocks, which will address those communication concerns. Again, however, the 7 Line isn’t due for countdown clocks until after CBTC.
The other major aspect of the modernization plan is an expanded (verbal) commitment to “Reimagined and Enhanced Subway Cars.”
Cuomo has called for trains to meet international standards with wider doors and open gangway cars, both of which will finally increase capacity and facilitate the movement of passengers on and off the trains. The MTA hopes the wider doors will reduce “dwell time,” or the amount trains spend sitting at the station, by up to 32%, which should make the trains run more efficiently.
Not since the green-light of the 2nd Ave Line has there been a push by the MTA to increase capacity.
The new subway cars will help alleviate some overcrowding and provide additional security enhancements.
At this point in time, Queens residents continue to struggle with overcrowding daily and some days are more dire than others. From our 7 Train Blues Facebook group, we have seen many customer reports of inappropriate or violent behavior among passengers—whether it’s unwanted sexual contact or assault. Overcrowding poses a safety hazard, especially when frustrated passengers resort to fisticuffs in reaction to the 7 Train’s daily service issues.
Security, safety, and capacity go hand in hand and the new trains, also to be equipped with security cameras will add a level of security that we don’t currently have now. To top it all off, the trains’ exteriors will also be overhauled. Renderings of the new train cars can be seen here.
While these enhancements are a huge step in the right direction, as previously mentioned, we may not get the gangway cars on the 7. However, the subway is an ecosystem, so the modernization plan could make other lines more reliable and efficient, which will affect the 7 in some way, but still the 7 Train needs capacity now.
We still have to wait at least 18 months—according to plan—before the installation of Communications-based Train Control (CBTC) is completed. After CBTC is installed, the MTA will still need time for testing and refinements. In the meantime, 7 Train riders will experience some relief this fall when two nightly round trip trains will be added to the weekday schedule between 8 and 10 pm.
Even then, the addition of two more trains per hour will do little more than allow us to squeeze on the first train that arrives instead of waiting for the fourth. How long will this slight increase in capacity hold us, especially in consideration of tens of thousands of residential units being built in Western Queens over the next few years?
We need quick and multi-faceted solutions. And we are calling on the Governor and the MTA to act now. Prior to the implementation of CBTC, we need interim solutions for the days when the 7 Train experiences service interruptions. Post CBTC, we need long-term solutions that support the growing population of Queens and that address the needs of residents who live in transit deserts, where driving is their only option.
At Access Queens, we believe that bus rapid transit (BRT) will be a key component of the solution to alleviate crowding on trains and reduce car traffic from residents attempting to cross the 59th Street Bridge or drive through the Midtown Tunnel. Buses are a quick turnaround and economical solution for the short-term. We’d also like to see the City Fare extended to weekdays, so that commuters can choose to ride the LIRR, instead of driving, without doubling their commuting costs.
As the Governor said, “They are talking about a projected population growth by the year 2040 an additional 3 million people… You want to grow the region? You have to be able to move the people who you are inviting.” We agree, Mr. Cuomo. We agree.