“We are here today because we want a meeting with the governor,” said Passengers United president Charlton D’souza in front of 633 Third Ave. “We want Governor Cuomo to invite us to the table and give us a stake in this decision being made for our community.”
D’souza was joined by longtime transit advocate Jim Burke and Assembly candidate Nuala O'Doherty Naranjo, who have been raising concerns about the MTA’s draft plan since it was released on December 31.
Burke and Naranjo have distributed more than 15,000 flyers on buses and near train stations in Queens informing the public about upcoming MTA workshops.
Much of their concern revolves around changes to bus service in the Jackson Heights area, which would reduce the number of lines going to the ADA accessible transit hub at 74th Street.
In addition to disregarding those in the neighborhood who choose to utilize buses rather than depend on the overcrowded 7 train, the advocates assert the agency’s draft plan disregards disabled and elderly riders who already have limited options when it comes to public transportation.
For example, those living near 82nd Street along the 7 line who need elevators must travel to the 74th Street hub. Currently, these riders can make the journey with the Q32 or Q33, which runs between the two train stations along Roosevelt Avenue.
Within the new proposed network, however, there is no direct connection. Riders would be forced to take a minimum of three buses (the QT10 to the QT66 to the QT61; or the QT10 to the QT74 to the QT63), or walk roughly 10 minutes from one station to the other.
“Every single cut to a bus line affects people with disabilities at a much greater rate than everybody else,” said congressional candidate Lauren Ashcraft. “I urge Governor Cuomo to take that into consideration and not cut these bus lines, so that the most vulnerable people struggling in these communities can continue to survive with independence and dignity.”
“We need to ensure that everyone can reach the destinations that they need to get to, while we are continuing the fight for better elevators and escalators in our subway system,” added Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, another candidate for Assembly.
Those who disapprove of the proposal also accuse the MTA of veiling what appears to be serious cuts to the Queens bus network as a “blank slate” redesign aimed to improve service.
Mary Jobaida, who is running to represent LIC, Sunnyside and Ridgewood in the Assembly, questioned the intentions of the plan, which she says diminishes services greatly depended on by immigrants and working-class New Yorkers in favor of newcomers attracted to new luxury developments in western Queens.
Jobaida specifically singled out the Q39, which connects many of the neighborhoods in the district. Under the redesign proposal, the Q39’s service would be replaced in part by the QT80, QT77 and QT75 lines, each of which are estimated to see 18 to 30-minute wait times between buses.
A section of the Q39’s route in Sunnyside near Laurel Hill Boulevard does not currently have any substitution offered by the draft plan.
“Please stop this madness and make our neighborhoods livable for our low-income people, our parents with strollers and our people in wheelchairs,” she pleaded.
D’souza encouraged riders to get involved with community boards and reach out to their elected officials. He advised that Passengers United would be organizing sit-ins outside of city legislators’ offices in the coming weeks.
“Let them know that the last Queens election was decided by 55 people,” D’souza said, pointing out that hundreds of residents have been showing up to bus redesign workshops. “We voted you in, but we can vote you out.”