The same day as a horrendous morning commute caused by an M train striking a thief last Tuesday morning, Van Bramer and Access Queens hosted a public meeting in Sunnyside to give riders a chance to ask questions and voice their grievances about the overcrowded train.
“The truth is no one wants to see what’s been happening happen,” Van Bramer said. “But real people with real lives are being affected almost on a daily basis. The service that we’re getting is just not good enough.”
Van Bramer acknowledged that Tuesday morning’s commute wasn’t something the MTA could have predicted, but he added that riders face slowdowns and wait times like that “sometimes on a daily basis.”
Access Queens executive director Melissa Orlando said there’s been a growing community that communicates online about the struggles they face as 7 train riders. Orlando started a blog, 7 Train Blues, a few years ago to document her commute, which she said has become longer each year.
Orlando turned the blog into a Facebook page, where she said more than 1,700 members share “real-time information” about train whereabouts and delays.
“We are more reliable than any app out there,” Orlando said. “In addition to helping each other figure out how to get to work, we raise questions and share ideas on how things can get better for the 7 train.”
Van Bramer added that he checks the 7 Train Blues page before he ventures out to take the train.
New York City Transit (NYCT) president Veronique Hakim, who also came with members of her transit leadership team, took over the position a few months ago. She gave a presentation about current challenges and solutions for the 7 line, then answered questions from the audience and Twitter.
“My goal for this evening is to hear from you, listen and provide the answers where we can and be responsive to those issues,” she said.
Hakim said the 7 train has a weekday ridership of 525,000 people, making it one of the busiest subway lines in the system. It also has the highest frequency of service to accommodate for the amount of riders.
She said one of the biggest challenges the train faces is an aging infrastructure and a 100-year-old signal system. She said signal problems are one of the major causes of delays.
The solution, Hakim said, is the installation of Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC), a new technology that will modernize the signal system. The new system is set to be in place by the end of 2017.
“Each train is transmitting its location and its speed through sophisticated computers. It’s good because it enables us to safely be able to run more trains on the line,” she said. “It’s a critical safety system. As we replace the signaling system with this new technology, we’re going to improve reliability.”
Hakim added that the CBCT system will allow for more trains and for arrival times to be displayed on station platforms. She committed that by this fall, two additional trains will run every evening on the 7 line.
Another challenge the MTA faces is replacing old track. A lot of the track work taking place, Hakim said, is removing panels that “are beyond their useful life.”
“The good news is 94 percent of the track panels are replaced,” Hakim said.
After Superstorm Sandy hit, many train tubes were damaged by the water, including the Steinway Tube that connects Queens to Manhattan on the 7 line. Hakim said the rehabilitation work for the tunnel has required weekend closures.
Fortunately, weekend closures are almost over. April 23 is the last scheduled weekend of Sandy-related repairs.
After her presentation, dozens of community members lined up to ask questions and talk about their own difficulties. James Iniguez said his employees are late almost everyday because of the 7 train. He said he’s making his employees stay later to make up for lost time.
“So they’re going home [later] and their families are impacted,” Iniguez said. “Time is money and I’m not losing my money just because the MTA isn’t providing service that’s dependable.”
Robert Seroka, a commuter who takes the 7 from the 46th Street station into Manhattan, said it seems service is only getting worse. His boss told him that since he’s lived in Queens, he’s never in on time.
“It’s really frustrating,” Seroka said. “It’s embarrassing. How many times can you say it’s the train? But it is.”
He said on a good day it takes him 20 to 25 minutes to get to work. On Tuesday morning, it took him almost double that time.
“There are more bad days than good days,” he said.
Seroka said he’s also worried about the high tensions that arise from late trains and crowded platforms. He said he’s seen more physical fights on the 7 train than he has in years.
A recent letter from the MTA sent to State Senator Tony Avella revealed that the 7 train is at 96 percent capacity during the morning and evening commutes.
“Tensions in general are getting so high in the morning, with people pushing each other on the train,” he said.
A common issue many community members brought up was the lack of communication by the MTA about train delays.
Hakim admitted whether it’s through Facebook, Twitter or other means, NYCT should find a way to better communicate with customers.
“We need to communicate better about service impacts, whether they’re planned impacts or unplanned impacts like with what happened this morning,” she said.