G-Train Gripes: In the Dark About a Shutdown

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Commuters are frustrated with the MTA’s lack of transparency.

It’s the fourth week of the G train’s partial shutdown and Greenpoint resident Mike Wechsler has decided to sweat rather than wait.

On July 25, the G train stopped running between the Nassau Avenue station and the Long Island City- Court Square stop. While service will resume on Sept. 2, in the interim Wechsler has three options for getting to work: riding the shuttle bus, walking to the 7 train in Long Island City, or biking. All options take about 50 minutes compared to the 25 minutes he’s used to when traveling to Rockefeller Center.

Rather than deploring the death of his easy commute while waiting in congested bus traffic, the “Tonight Show” graphic artist broke out the bike.

“That’s right, I enjoy riding my bike to work. It’s about 5.5 miles each way,” Wechsler says. “I am planning on doing some long rides this fall on Long Island, though, so getting to ride about eleven miles a day is helpful for staying in shape.”

His traditional route involved taking the G train to Court Square and transferring to a midtown-bound train, the E or M. He finds the MTA-provided shuttle buses to be little comfort.

“The shutdown is very inconvenient and the buses do not do much to alleviate the issue,” Wechsler says. “Unfortunately, Greenpoint suffers from a lot of street traffic and the route that the shuttle buses take is shared by two other bus lines.” This traffic jam on the Pulaski Bridge increases delays for all bus lines in the morning.

From 2003-2012, G train ridership has increased 29 percent compared with the 19 percent MTA system total, according to the MTA’s 2013 “Review of the G Train.” 

 

G train

A deserted G train station. (Elizabeth Roberts for The Brooklyn Ink)

 

Which means Wechsler isn’t alone in his commuting troubles. Every day, the G train serves 125,000 customers. The shutdown affects approximately 30,000 of them, DNAInfo.com reports.

And in conversations with some of those riders, it becomes clear that they wouldn’t mind the shutdown so much if somebody would just explain it to them.

The MTA has periodically interrupted train service in order to renovate what Hurricane Sandy damaged in October 2012. Three-million gallons of salt water flooded many tunnels where the G train operates, according to the MTA. Electrical equipment, pump and signal controls, as well as ventilation, all described as “vital systems,” have been damaged and are in need of extensive repair.

But besides inconvenient commute options, G train riders also suffer from a lack of transparent information. Strangely enough, while the MTA has pages of information on the G train’s past successful reconstruction efforts, it has almost nothing on what the repairs are accomplishing now.

The MTA’s “Fix and Fortify Sandy Recovery Work” website shows that in 12 weekends in 2013, successful G train construction included “2,500 feet of structural repairs, 3,600 feet of track and 44 boxes for emergency communication telephones.” Despite a list of 16 other improvement measures from 2013, complete with pictures, there is no information on what the current 5-week construction specifically entails.

Efforts to talk to a MTA Transportation Service Agent to verify information about G train operations rendered no immediate results. Callers are given a reference number and told that their inquiries will be addressed in two or three weeks.

This reporter made such an inquiry, and 24 hours after contacting 511, received an email from MTA Customer Service Representative Shakil Azam with a uniform statement acknowledging a call to the MTA. Instead of providing any information requested about the G train, however, the email simply said the status of the inquiry was “closed.”

The process doesn’t jibe with the MTA’s written assurance that “all comments, suggestions, compliments and complaints we receive from our customers are forwarded to the appropriate managerial personnel for review and any necessary action.”

 

MTA Notice: G Train shutdown

MTA notice: G Train shutdown information.

Another failure of information transparency is how Greenpoint residents were—or were not—informed of the service hiatus. Wechsler found out about the G train’s partial shutdown a month prior through a local blog.

Combatting poor MTA customer service, the Straphangers Campaign, a community forum to improve transportation, has been a leading voice in New York City transit since 1979. Founded by the New York Public Interest Research Group, the campaign has used transit data and consumer research to raise more than $105 billion for transit repairs as well as upgrade safety standards, according to the campaign’s website.

Perhaps most influential in terms of increasing the MTA’s transparency is the Straphangers Campaign’s push for the MTA to release its annual preliminary budgets. The MTA’s February Financial Plan for 2014-2017 estimates $2-3 billion is necessary for Hurricane Sandy repairs, out of a total $13.5 billion budget.

Additionally, the plan includes itemized totals for how much money is needed for Hurricane Sandy repairs at specific tunnels and tracks. In 2014, Greenpoint was allocated $3.73 million to replace the mainline track, $5.41 million for signals improvement, and $2.79 million for station components, states the 2014-2017 MTA report. Unfortunately, these categories are not clearly defined in the charts to elaborate on how many tracks, signals, and other miscellaneous “station components” are damaged and need to be fixed.

While the average commuter doesn’t need to know the details of budgetary appropriations, people still need basic information to understand why their train service is being disrupted. Sofia Falcon, a graphic designer for MESH—a non-profit design studio—would rate the MTA’s publicity of the G train shutdown a 4 out of 10. “I found out primarily through social media,” Falcon says. “I have not seen signs around the neighborhood and the signs underground are fairly easy to miss.”

She also saw the news of the G train’s five-week construction on Facebook, through posts of fellow frustrated neighbors. Local news sources and blogs such as Greenpointers, Brokelyn, and the Gothamist publicized the partial shutdown, giving Falcon about two weeks’ notice.

A five-year Greenpoint resident,  Falcon frequents restaurants and bars in her neighborhood on the weekends rather than Manhattan. She’s noticed that people who live in Greenpoint hang around the neighborhood more whenever there is a G train problem. Luckily, the ability to take another line close by that isn’t in the throes of construction gives other viable transportation options.

“I can only speak for my peers in this, but I do think a lot of people commute to south Brooklyn or Bushwick for entertainment, so the fact that the L is running and the G is running from Nassau south is a saving grace,” Falcon says.

As of December 2013, the Straphanger’s Campaign found that cars on the G line break down more often than other lines. The “G Subway Line Profile” revealed that the average train traveled 153,382 miles before mechanical failures occur; the G train has mechanical failures after just 77,011 miles.

Residents in other parts of Brooklyn have also faced difficulties in their commute due to Hurricane Sandy construction. Multiple train lines have had disrupted service periods that have lasted for just a weekend to over a year.

Samantha Lubey, an Expert Relations Coordinator at About.com, says her commute from Park Slope to Times Square has become increasingly more difficult. Due to the nearby R train shutting down from August to October of this year, a past commute of 30 minutes now nears an hour.

“In the three years that I’ve lived in New York so far, I’ve come to accept that the subway system and the MTA in general are not the most reliable,” Lubey says. “The closing of the Montague tunnel is a huge project, and like with any construction project, I would assume that it would be hard to stick to a strict schedule…I wouldn’t be surprised if the date was pushed out another month or more.”

Whether the G and R return to full service in the fall as planned remains to be seen. But no matter what trains New Yorkers take, there is little satisfaction with a vague “Hurricane Sandy” excuse: Everyone wants to know what specifically this construction is achieving.

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