A full-time graduate student at The New School, Hou has to take the Q30 to the Q27, then get on the 7 line just to transfer to another train. He could also take the express bus, but they often get stuck in the congested roadways entering Manhattan.
“You got buses that get stuck trying to get into Flushing, and 7 trains that have signal delays all the time,” he said. “These kinds of delays happen way too normally.”
That’s why he joined the Riders Alliance, a grassroots group of straphangers fighting for more reliable and affordable public transportation.
Last Tuesday, Hou was among dozens of advocates and riders who urged Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature to pass congestion pricing this year in Albany.
The proposal, if passed, would charge drivers a fee entering Manhattan south of 60th Street. It could raise more than $1 billion annually, which the MTA would put into its Fast Forward plan to fix the subways and buses and modernize the century-old transit system.
Rebecca Bailin, political director for the Riders Alliance, said eastern Queens transit is “in crisis” and commuters like Hou are directly affected.
“Eastern Queens riders have some of the longest commutes in the city,” she said. “It’s a real problem.”
Bailin argued that not only do riders face anxiety from long commutes and constant delays, but it can cost them a loss of pay or even their jobs.
Passing congestion pricing, she said, would mean modern signal technology that allows subways to run faster, as well as more frequent bus service and greater accessibility.
“Eastern Queens has a lot at stake,” Bailin said. “Albany needs to step up, our legislators need to stand for us.”
Juan Restrepo, Queens organizer for the group Transportation Alternatives, said congestion pricing also leads to greater street safety. When a similar plan was enacted in London, it reduced crashes in the central business district by 40 percent.
Crashes involving cyclists also fell by 80 percent, he said.
“For us, there is no citywide policy that will completely reshape our city in the image that will better our citizens than congestion pricing,” Restrepo said.
The advocates received support from several community groups last week, including the Chinese-American Planning Council, Eastern Queens Greenway and the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce.
John Choe, executive director of the chamber, said a failing subway system and broken buses actually hurt the people of Flushing and deprive them of economic opportunities.
He argued that businesses making deliveries to Manhattan would benefit from reduced congestion.
“We want to make sure our businesses benefit from policies that create sustainability, economically and environmentally, and supports our community long term,” he said.
Choe added that those who oppose congestion pricing need to come up with a better solution. No matter what their position is, he said, everyone agrees the current system is in trouble and needs funding.
“Just burying our head in the sand isn’t going to solve anything,” he said. “It’s going to make things worse.”
The Flushing resident said he regularly takes the subway into Manhattan. Many years ago, that ride used to take less than half an hour. Now, he said he’s lucky if he gets there in one hour.
“If it just happens once or twice, people can deal with it,” Choe said. “If it happens on a regular basis, week after week, day after day, you have to start questioning what are the fundamentals here? What’s missing?”