Southern Brooklyn

How Transit Riders Continually Get Screwed

Second Avenue Subway construction at 83rd Street in the city. Source: Wikipedia
Second Avenue Subway construction at 83rd Street in the city. Source: Wikipedia

THE COMMUTE: It started with continual promises to construct a Second Avenue subway and the failure to complete the IND Second System. We are currently in the sixth reincarnation of the promised Second Avenue subway with voters twice approving bond issues specifically for that purpose in 1951 and in 1967. Now it is doubtful if the opening of the first three stations will even occur by the latest rescheduling to 2016.

East Side Access, planned for more than 40 years, could now cost $10 billion (up from ($4 billion) — also many years behind schedule. This plan could be delayed until 2021 due to continual expansions to the work scope and cost overruns. It will also result in fewer LIRR trains serving Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.

Most recently, Super Bowl patrons at the Meadowlands were requested to use New Jersey Transit to avoid highway hassles. However, the capacity needed was not available and riders had to wait an hour for a train and up to three hours for a train after the game, with reports that a few riders passed out. For some, it was probably the first and last time they took the railroad. Not a way to build a clientele for mass transit.

It is also doubtful if the NFL will ever agree to another Super Bowl at the Meadowlands. Bottom line: Don’t advertise your service for an event that you claim you have been planning for two years, if you are not prepared to handle the crowds, and there have been severe delays at past events. At least apologize for your failure instead of making flimsy excuses.

When money is appropriated for new mass transit projects, many questions arise regarding the benefits, expense and necessity for those projects:

  • The proposed Moynihan Station (skip to section 4.1) to replace Penn Station in Manhattan does not add any new track capacity.
  • The new Tappan Zee Bridge will not include any form of mass rapid transit, but does not preclude it being added in the future.
  • The new PATH terminal at the World Trade Center will cost $3.7 billion and will be the most expensive subway station in the world. Can we really afford to splurge on art when funds are so limited?
  • A new $1.5 billion PATH extension to Newark Airport from Newark’s Penn Station is planned. Why is that necessary when a convenient transfer to New Jersey Transit already exists and the new service will still not provide a one-seat ride.

Necessary Projects Are Not Even Considered

We still do not have a one-seat mass transit ride from Manhattan to either JFK or La Guardia airports and probably will never have one. A one-seat ride to JFK could have been a possibility if the abandoned Rockaway Beach branch were reactivated instead of spending $3 billion on AirTrain, which only conveniently serves Long Island riders. If AirTrain did not destroy the section of Queens near the VanWyck Expressway, why should politicians claim that constructing a similar elevated structure over the Grand Central Parkway to extend the N line to La Guardia will destroy Astoria?

  • Long promised extensions of the Nostrand and Utica Avenue Lines are off the table.
  • No one ever considered off-street bus terminals in Flushing, Downtown Brooklyn, the Flatbush Nostrand Junction or the Brooklyn Army Terminal as a way of reducing on-street traffic congestion.
  • There is no funding for new rail freight tunnels across the Narrows to reduce truck traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway or a new rail passenger tunnel across the Hudson.
  • The Triboro RX line has been on the back burner for over forty years and is going nowhere.

It Does Not End There
Unnecessary or overly expensive capital projects that are long delayed and over budget while ignoring needed projects is not the only way mass transit riders get screwed.

The B44 SBS was implemented as a poor substitute for a subway line. New parking and turning regulations were put in place to speed traffic, but they are not enforced. The result is that bus traffic is still delayed through the Flatbush / Nostrand Junction, a problem SBS was supposed to reduce or eliminate. Two promised lanes of through traffic becomes one in Crown Heights, causing massive delays to automobile and truck traffic due to non-enforcement of curbside parking during the morning rush hour.

Routing problems with local buses have been ignored for more than 70 years. Only now is bus bunching getting some attention with Bus Time. It was already due to have been implemented in Brooklyn and we are still waiting. Instead of providing the number of minutes away the next bus is at bus shelters, as promised, Bus Time will only tell smartphone users how far away a bus is by distance, asking riders to convert distance into time.

Floor and some wall tile at subway stations rehabbed over the past 20 years are already crumbling when original tile lasted more than 60 years. Yet no one is held accountable.


When will our politicians wake up and realize how vital good mass transit is to the economy of our region and provide the funds we need? We hear a lot about the need for pre-K for our youth. Every time a major league team needs a new stadium, they get it. You would never hear a politician say we can only afford to subsidize a new stadium for the Yankees or the Mets, but not both. Former Borough President Marty Markowitz was gung-ho for the Nets to come to Brooklyn, which is now a reality.

Yet when it comes to mass transit, we always have to make a choice between projects, and most of the time we get neither. In my lifetime, I have already seen three Yankee Stadiums, but am still waiting for the first Second Avenue Subway, which may never be completed in Manhattan or extended to Brooklyn.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.

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  1. They don’t give a shit. The politicians are too busy with getting support from the unions, banks and builders who all profit from the exorbitant expenditure of public funds that go into this. Heads should be rolling if a project is delayed that much and ends up costing triple the original estimate. How does something like this even cost that much? There is some gross negligence simewhere that people need to expose. Meanwhile rush hour will continue to be damn near impossible to get a seat and lucky to have standing room

  2. That’s pretty much what I have been saying all along. If there is a transit improvement like the #7 extension, it is to help the politically connected banks, developers, construction firms, etc. Bloomberg wanted to help all his developer, builder friends. No other politician could have pulled tat project off. He found city money to do it although we had a budget crisis.

    Shows where there is a will, there is a way. That’s why when a politician claim’s a lack of funds, it’s just BS because they just don’t want to do it.

    The PATH fiasco at WTC is inexcusable, and no one is accountable. We could have had a perfectly functional new terminal at a third the cost.

  3. You might wanna rewrite the part about the Tappan Zee Bridge. Even after the new bridge is built, Rockland County will still run the Tappan Zee Express bus over the bridge and word is that they’re gonna up the service (although the frequencies aren’t too bad now) so technically there’s still some form of mass transit on the new bridge.

  4. Well, aside from the politics: the new #7 extension is gonna bring in ten thousands of new commuters a day. And *compared to other projects* in NYC it’s not even delayed by that much (that’s not to say it isn’t, just less then others). So out of all the extensions/projects, I’d say that one’s one of the better ones.

  5. Well, to be fair: in all the cities I’ve been (including the one where I live where I use public transport frequently) I’ve never ever expected a seat in rush hour. Even standing room is a wish.
    Not to say nothing needs to be done about it, just sayin’ that that’s a problem pretty much everywhere. Rush = crowded, that’ll always be the case, wherever you are in the world and dreaming about having a seat (or sometimes standing room) is, well, just a dream.

  6. What about jam packed trains on weekends or after 10 at night?We have plenty of that also in spite of the service guidelines which doesn’t account for things like uneven loading among the cars, you can’t walk between cars to find less crowded ones like you used to be able to do and trains are not evenly spaced out.

  7. But the point is that it wasn’t done to help existing transit riders but to stimulate new development to make the rich richer.

    Should that have been the priority when there are so many transit projects to help existing riders that have been thought about for 70 years but will most probably will never be built?

  8. Sure, it wasn’t the point but given the fact that it’ll attract so many riders makes it at least a worthwhile project of which you can actually look back and say: “Money well spent.” At least, IMHO.

  9. You say “why should politicians claim that constructing a similar elevated structure over the Grand Central Parkway to extend the N line to La Guardia will destroy Astoria?” In fact they don’t say that. That was not the routing that NIMBYs fought against. That routing was from the end of the Ditmars station on the N line straight up 31st St, then east along, roughly, 20th Ave, largely a residential area. A routing along the GCP would not, in fact, destroy Astoria, but it would be logistically difficult to get tracks through the barrier of the Hell Gate viaduct that crosses the Parkway near Steinway St.

  10. I could be wrong but I thought I read somewhere that Peter Vallone also opposed the Grand Central routing. I don’t see why it would be logistically difficult to cross the Hell Gate viaduct. The structure would just have to rise up above it at that point. We have highways passing over other highways don’t we? We also have double decked Els. They are possible to build.

    Anyway there was also another route proposed, which was an extension of the 7 line from Willets Point through an industrial area that the City wants to turn into a new shopping center, which is obviously more important. With some planning, both goals are possible. But obviously, improving transit in this City is not a high priority to this City and that is the major point I am making. Mass transit riders get screwed.

  11. Yeah let’s spend billions on a new Moynihan Station….oh wait no new tracks…LMFAO….then who does it benifit?

  12. Go look at the structure or at some photos. It is very tall. Running a subway above it would be a gargantuan task.

  13. The construction and engineering firms, the bankers, and the politicians who receive campaign contributions for supporting it.

  14. The PATH extension is just to save a few dollars for riders. It costs twice as much to ride NJ Transit from Newark Penn Station to New York than PATH

  15. I think the MTA should not even worry about the people in the suburbs and focus on the actual residents of the city. If people wanna move to the boring little suburbs then let the pay the extra money and deal with the long commutes. The MTA is going great lengths to service the out of towners but are forgetting about the actual people of NYC

  16. Who cares about the Tappen Zee Bridge though. It does not help the residents of the city. It helps the snobby surburban people than don’t have business coming down to the city in the first place. The mayor should really get on the MTA’s back to shift its focus to the residents of New York City rather than trying to help people in little no name towns in the middle of nowhere.

  17. That is an incredibly shortsighted claim. First off, you come off as snobby by calling suburban residents snobs. Second, the MTA has markets outside of New York City; in fact, the MTA has markets in three neighboring states. Granted, the MTA isn’t doing everything possible to help NYC, but it doesn’t mean the opposite is true outside of NYC. Just because NYC has the largest MTA market doesn’t mean that the others should be ignored.

  18. I understand the MTA has markets outside of NYC, However New York City should be its primary focus because it has the most ridership and it is the most important part of the MTA in terms of ridership and revenue. Also this a a site regarding a neighborhood in New York City so obviously readers are going to be more in favor of improvements being done here instead of in places most of us have never even been to. I think that the mayor should get on the MTA’s back to stop worrying about these small towns and to start worrying about the subway system actually in New York City. It really is ridiculous how the MTA is worried about transporting passengers from the middle of nowhere to NYC, while Staten Island still does not have a direct subway line to Manhattan and the second avenue subway is still not done

  19. Actually, the Tappan Zee Bridge is outside the MTA’s jurisdiction. It is operated by the NY Thruway Authority. You can’t blame the MTA for everything.

  20. But you can avoid that cost if you take PATH from NY to Newark Penn Station and change for NJT there to the airport as many do. And who is to say that PATH would not charge an extra fare to ride the extension, so you woud save very little?

  21. ahh okay thanks for the info did not realize this. I figured the MTA had a hand in all the transit projects. However the mayor needs to step in somewhere because no real New Yorker would really care if the path and new Jersey trains ever existed.

  22. why would someone from NYC go to NJ (let alone of the the most dangerous cities in NJ) for an airport when we already have 2 airports here in NY. Newark is one of the worst cities in America and I would never even think about taking the train there, let alone flying from that city.

  23. Staten Island subway is never gonna happen anyway. MTA or not. And why the whining about SAS? Yes, it should’ve been done 70 years ago but it’s being done now and the people in the tunnel work their asses off. It’s not like it’s all fun and games down there, you’d be surprised how crappy the jobs actually are. Maybe you should walk a day in their shoes?

    Meanwhile, the funds for SAS Phase II are coming along so this time it at least *looks* like they’re serious about it.

    Like Allan said: you can’t blame MTA for everything.

  24. Phase II is just for a few more stops to 125 Street which shouldn’t even be built. It should just go north straight to the Bronx and through the Bronx as originally planned. Anyway I seriously doubt if Phases 3 and 4 to Hanover Square will ever be built.

    With all of Staten Island’s political power, they will get a tunnel before the SAS is extended to Brooklyn. Remember the new tunnel proposed by Pataki for a train from the WTC to JFK?

  25. New Yorkers do travel to New Jersey and Port Authority money could be put to better use. You know there once was a proposal to connect PATH at the WTC to the Number 6 train via a two block extension. Might have been possible for the $3 Billion they are spending on that new terminal. So everything is interrelated.

    If the MTA operated the Tappan Zee Bridge the current toll would be $15 round trip, not the current $6 round trip.

  26. Why would someoe want to go to New Jersey? Have you ever seen the traffic on the GW Bridge?

    Anyway I went to Newark Airport three times in the past few years. One reason is that most United flights are only out of Newark, not NY Airports and it’s not a bad trip either. You never leave the train station, so you never see Newark. Also, every section of Newark is not bad. You only know what you read and hear from the media.

    The way you describe Newark, is exactly how most of the country viewed New York in the 70s and 80s, when our crime rate was high that the entire city was bad and they would never want to come here. Of course, being from here, you knew better.

    You really need to get out more and make less generalizations.

  27. Is the bus that expensive? Wow, overpriced it is then. Or you mean NJ Transit’s trains? Please, next time make sure there’s an extinction.

  28. True that. IMHO, as the cheapest solution for the existing trains, they should find a way to make walking b/w cars possible w/o being dangerous. That would at least permit for more even loadings.

  29. It’s not dangerous except on the long cars. People did it for over a hundred years without any problem. Then you have a few drunks or kids playing between the cars who fall in and everything changes. We all have to suffer. You only have to be careful around turns and during starts and stops. At minimum they could allow it at terminal stations when trains are standing still. The problem is that today society believes it has to legislate common sense. Also, summonses provide extra revenue for the city.

  30. I didn’t say it would be built tomorrow. Perhaps in another 50 years. My point was that it will be built before another Manhattan Brooklyn Tunnel for the Second Avenue subway.

  31. I think he is talking about NJT trains and you only save five or ten minutes. Fares for the same trips need to be rationalized between modes. Same thing for using the LIRR for intercity trips is more expensive than express buses.

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