Subway Riders Criticize The MTA

East 143rd St. - St. Mary's St.
East 143rd St.-St. Mary’s St. Resized photo courtesy of Eye On Transit

Last week I wrote about the MTA approving their budget savings plan which cut some projects including the rehabilitation of 19 subway stations. Javier C. Hernandez of the New York Times spoke with some straphangers to get their feelings on the cuts. Here is his report:

In the distance is one of the city’s most stunning views: the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan skyscrapers and a pristine New York Harbor. But the trip to the top of Brooklyn’s Smith-Ninth Street subway station, the highest in the city, is not so appealing.

Inside the station, scraps of paint fall from the ceiling as commuters make their way up cracked, rusty steps.

“I’ve been waiting so long for things to change,” said Steven De Jesus, a contractor who commutes by train. He pointed to the peeling walls. “It’s horrifying and despicable right now.”

Facing a bleak financial prognosis, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said last week that it would postpone major renovations at 15 subway stations in Brooklyn and 4 in the Bronx. The work was originally set to begin by the end of 2009, but officials said the repairs were now expected to be part of the authority’s five-year spending plan that begins in 2010.

The authority has said that the stations, which sit above ground on the D, N, F and G lines in Brooklyn and the No. 6 line in the Bronx, were in good condition and posed no safety risks. But commuters say the stations urgently need attention. At some stations, stairways are crumbling, water is leaking through the ceilings and outdoor roofs, and gaps between wooden planks are widening.

Along the D line in Brooklyn, home to large communities of immigrants, riders were eager to share their complaints last week. The stations are grimy, filthy and “gunky,” they said. At their worst, they added, the stations resemble slums.

Angela Mario, who takes the N train to work after transferring from a 62nd Street station in Brooklyn, said she had grown accustomed to walls that ooze with strange liquids and outdoor coverings that leak. She said she was dissatisfied with maintenance at the station and questioned whether taxpayer money was being spent effectively.

“We’re used to it,” said Ms. Mario, an administrative assistant. “I’m just angry. How can we trust them anymore?”

When trains pass through many of the stations on the D line, the stairways shake so much that commuters have to cling to the handrails for stability.

At Brooklyn’s Bay-50th Street station on Wednesday, Noel Marte, 3, shuffled down the wobbling stairs as his father’s hand tightly gripped his. His father, Danny Marte, 24, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, said he rode the local lines to pick up his son from school. He said he was disappointed with what he considered worsening inequities in the system. He said that whenever there were cuts, it seemed as if Brooklyn bore an unfair burden.

“It feels like we’re less appreciated,” said Mr. Marte, who works for a company that manufactures minibars. “I worry about my kid’s safety. I’ve never seen it this bad.”

Those concerns are echoed in the Bronx and resonate with Adolfo Carrión Jr., the borough president. When asked if he receives complaints about subway stations, he said, “I wish you could somehow print my laughter.”

Complaints about poor service, out-of-order elevators and broken lights are common, Mr. Carrión said. He worries that the stations could become public safety risks if left in their current condition, and he criticized the authority for poor fiscal planning.

“How do you announce plans and then retract them?” he said. “That’s the great mystery.”

Transportation officials have attributed the cuts to lower-than-expected revenues from real estate taxes and rising operating costs, including gas and overtime pay. The authority estimates that delaying subway station renovations and other major improvements that were originally in the 2005-9 capital spending program will save about $2.7 billion.

Charles Seaton, a spokesman for New York City Transit, says that even without the renovations, the stations are in good shape. “There are absolutely no safety issues involved with these stations,” he said.

Mr. Seaton said he did not have details on the repairs planned for the 19 stations, but he said typical renovations would include building a new platform, improving lighting and electricity and touching up the stations’ appearance, for example by repainting.

The Brooklyn borough president, Marty Markowitz, called the decision to delay the renovations “discriminatory.” He said all parts of the city should bear the brunt of the cutbacks.

“Indirectly, it’s saying to Brooklyn transit riders, ‘Hey, tough it out,’ ” Mr. Markowitz said. “If we have to tough it out, it should be balanced and fair across the city.”

Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Brooklyn Democrat, said he was organizing an effort to photograph unsafe conditions at stations citywide.

Mr. Hikind said the stations expected to be renovated were just a few of many that were in need of attention. He said that in January, a 14-year-old boy fell onto the tracks at a Kings Highway station in Brooklyn after part of the platform beneath him collapsed.

And this month, Yoses Hershkop’s size 11 ½ foot was trapped between the platform and a subway car at the Avenue M station on the Q line in Brooklyn. He struggled and was able to free his foot. Then he called Assemblyman Hikind’s office to report the episode.

“Nothing happened to me, just a big scratch,” Yoses, 17, said in a telephone interview. “But if the same thing happened to a little kid or older person, they could be over with.”

I will be contacting Assemblyman Dov Hikind to discuss photographing some of these stations. I will offer some of my current photos as evidence on how our system is crumbling right before our eyes.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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