Transit advocates give a civics lesson on MTA crisis
by Benjamin Fang
Mar 06, 2018 | 2901 views | 2 2 comments | 132 132 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Woodside resident Shithi Chowdhury summed up her normal commute with one word: terrible.

Last Wednesday, she waited 10 minutes for a 7 train to arrive. Chowdhury works in Manhattan, so she relies on mass transit to get to her job.

She blamed the delays on constant construction, and urged the MTA to find a better time to do their work so it’s not disrupting riders’ daily commutes.

“I would have to call work and say I’m late,” Chowdhury said. “I’m losing money, I’m losing hours.”

On that day, she met up with her friend Mushref, an Astoria resident and student at LaGuardia Community College. Though he said his commute is “not so bad,” he said it could be faster if it wasn’t for the frequent delays.

While waiting on the platform at Queensboro Plaza, Mushref spoke to members of the Riders Alliance, a transit advocacy group fighting for dedicated funding for the MTA to address the ongoing subway and bus crisis.

Members of the organization spoke to dozens of straphangers last Wednesday at the Long Island City station. The outreach was part of their “civics lesson” to educate riders about who is responsible for the city’s transit crisis, and what everyday commuters can do to help.

Rebecca Bailin, a campaign manager at Riders Alliance, said their goal is to have an educated public that can engage with government officials about their transit problems.

“If riders don’t understand what the problem is, and how to call on the governor and their legislators to fix it, then elected leaders are not going to understand how important it is,” she said. “Fundamentally, this is an issue of democracy.”

Even after the “Summer of Hell,” subway and bus riders are facing an array of issues. Decades-old signals are breaking down, delays have tripled in the last five years, and train speeds are plummeting, according to Riders Alliance.

Advocates are putting pressure on Governor Andrew Cuomo, who hires top MTA brass and names more members to the MTA board than any other official, to adopt a new revenue source to speed up the modernization of old signals and tracks.

But Bailin noted that the governor has less than a month to add the funding to his budget, which he has not done yet. And despite the release of Fix NYC’s congestion pricing proposal, Cuomo has not released any officials plans on that front either.

“Unless he puts major funding in his budget that’s sufficient, progressive and sustainable, he’s failing riders,” she said. “He needs to do it immediately. Riders are depending on it.”

Bailin and her fellow Riders Alliance members handed out an information sheet detailing the problem, including the need for $1.5 billion annually to fix the subways. At the bottom, they gave “homework” to straphangers, including tweeting their bad commuting experiences to the governor using the hashtag #CuomosMTA.

Other assignments include contacting their local state senators and Assembly representatives to urge them to take action.

On the back of the sheet, Riders Alliance listed Cuomo’s office number, a link to look up state lawmakers, and even a script for when they call their representatives.

Bailin said the idea for the civics lesson, which they also conducted in Brooklyn and plan to do again in Harlem, came out of a strategy meeting with more than 50 frustrated riders. They wanted to make sure fellow riders know exactly who to hold accountable for the delays.

The action is part of a larger campaign Riders Alliance has launched to ultimately get the dedicated funding stream from Albany. Last month, the group began naming the worst commute of the week, highlighting personal stories of struggle with the subways and buses.

“People are so tired of a system they can’t rely on but they desperately need, this is their lives,” Bailin said. “An educated population is one that’s going to be empowered to act.”
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March 09, 2018
Grassroots membership organizing at its best.
March 12, 2018
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