Forest Hills resident 'wins' first #WorstCommute contest
by Jennifer Khedaroo
Feb 27, 2018 | 2888 views | 1 1 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Forest Hills resident Jennifer Tang moved to the neighborhood in 2010. One of the appeals was all of the transportation options, from the LIRR to multiple subway lines.

Throughout the years, however, Tang has seen a decline in the subway system, including a dismal situation she recently endured.

After attending a Saturday brunch in Manhattan, Tang boarded the R train around 1 p.m. at 59th Street and Lexington Avenue. The trip from the Manhattan station to her stop, 67th Avenue, typically takes about 30 minutes.

But on January 20, the train stalled in the tunnel between the 63rd Drive and 67th Avenue stations, making her commute nearly two hours long.

Adding stress to the situation, Tang said she didn’t use the bathroom before getting on the subway because she thought she would get home quickly.

“I thought I could wait because it would only be half an hour, but little did I know,” Tang said. “Once we got to Roosevelt, the train slowed down considerably and kept starting and stopping.

“When it left 63rd Drive, I thought I was home free,” she added. “I thought 'okay, next stop is mine,' but out of nowhere the train just stopped right outside of 67th Avenue.”

The train was stopped for about an hour and 20 minutes between the two stations, although it did move a few inches at one point, which enabled Tang to get cell service and text her husband about the ordeal.

“I texted my husband ‘no train movement since 1:30’ and then another half an hour passed,” she said. “By 2:20, I could not believe I was still on the train.”

Around 2:45 p.m. the train pulled into 67th Avenue station and let out Tang and her fellow passengers, who she said looked angry and exhausted.

While the conductor continuously made announcements that there were signal problems at 71st Avenue, Tang later found out that the issue was caused by a power outage because she had friends on other lines who were also held up.

As for her need to go to the bathroom, she considered stopping in at the nearby Starbucks but she couldn’t wait.

“I don’t live too far from the station, like eight minutes, so I ran all the way home,” she said. “I managed to get home before I had an accident, but when I came in I was speechless and could barely talk

“My husband couldn’t figure out what happened because I was still traumatized,” she added. “When I finally did tell him I started crying a little bit because I was so upset about the whole incident.”

She was primarily upset with the MTA for not notifying passengers about the situation. Had the conductor told them what was going on, Tang would have gotten off at 63rd Drive and found a different way to get home.

“To trap you between stations where you have no options except to sit there is just mind-boggling,” she said.

Tang submitted her story to a contest held by the Riders Alliance, an advocacy group that fights for better public transit. Tang was named the first #WorstCommute winner. She was awarded a chocolate Metrocard.

According to the Riders Alliance, overall subway on-time performance has plummeted an average of 15 percent over the past several years to 65 percent, the worst of any major transit system.

The group also claims that overall train delays more than tripled between 2012 and 2017, and subway speeds are now slower than they were in 1950. They blame Governor Andrew Cuomo for failing to adequately fund the MTA.

The governor’s office disagrees.

“The governor has taken aggressive action to fix the subways by funding the state’s half of the Subway Action Plan, empaneling Fix NYC to identify a dedicated revenue stream, proposing sending mobility tax revenue directly to the MTA and investing an historic $8.6 billion in the capital program,” said Peter Ajemian, Cuomo’s transportation spokesman.

“We will continue to work with the legislature and the city to ensure the MTA gets the funding it needs to deliver reliable service for riders,” he added.

Tang said other subway issues have occurred often since her ordeal in January. She hopes the contest will push Cuomo to allocate more money in the budget for the MTA.

“We’re reaching a breaking point here,” she said. “Anyone who has taken the subway has noticed how much it breaks down, and I hope the contest politically motivates people to do something.”

Rather than spending the money for cosmetic upgrades, Tang wants to see improvements in operation.

“There are new kiosks and countdown clocks, but those are meaningless when none of the trains are reliable and things keep breaking down,” she said. “If I can’t get to where I’m going, I couldn’t care less about how pretty a station is, how nice the artwork is or how fancy the kiosks are.”

She argues the subway problems negatively impact the mental health of many passengers. Tang herself believes she suffered a form of post-traumatic stress disorder due to the incident, and has had issues maintaining a level of calmness while on the subway.

“If I was traumatized by something else, I could avoid it, but the subway you can’t avoid. I had to get back on the subway the very next day,” she said. “I don’t want to make this the new normal, it’s not normal. Without the subways, we’re screwed.”

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March 05, 2018
That's grassroots community organizing 101 baby.