THE COMMUTE: Okay, so it is President’s Day, but some people still have to get to work. Not every company gives its employees the day off. The MTA has decided, however, to treat today as if it were still the weekend by continuing its weekend maintenance work throughout today. That means no Brighton line between Prospect Park and Manhattan. Good luck with the shuttle bus from Prospect Park to Atlantic Avenue. You can avoid the Q altogether by taking a crosstown bus (B1, B3, B4, B6, B7, B9, B11, B36 or B82) to the F train instead of having to deal with shuttle buses or by taking the B44 to the Junction.
Hopefully, the decision to suspend the Q will not turn into another MTA fiasco like The Brooklyn Paper reported last week when the MTA made an error in judgment by not providing enough shuttle buses while the L was out of service, and the customers and businesses suffered. If you are a regular Q rider who needs the train to get to work today, let us know in the comments how your day went, transit-wise.
Now the MTA is making another decision that not only shows a lack of concern for the needs of its riders, but is wasteful as well. As any passenger can tell you, there are not enough benches when waiting for a train, especially during peak hours. The MTA has decided to purchase additional benches, but not to supplement the ones we already have. No, the MTA will use these new benches to replace the ones currently in use.
That’s right. They will scrap perfectly good wooden benches that could last another 20 or 30 years if maintained properly. Even worse, the five-seater wooden benches will be replaced with three-seater stainless steel benches, reducing the amount of seating available instead of increasing it.
Did the public have a say in this decision? According to a 2010 article in amNewYork, the MTA sought the public’s opinion on the replacement for the wooden benches. “In coming months, officials will install prototypes of the two competing benches at an undisclosed station to get the public’s feedback.” However the results of that test were never disclosed.
So much for MTA transparency.
The wood benches currently in use replaced older wood benches, with higher backs and without seat partitions, in use since the subway was built. Although the ones they replaced were still perfectly functional, a new design was chosen with partitions to discourage the homeless from laying down on them.
Now they are being replaced once again because some fear the current benches are plagued with bed bugs and are unhygienic. The MTA states that the stainless steel is “easier and less costly to maintain.”
Maintain? Are they kidding? How have they been “maintaining” these fine wooden benches? By occasionally spraying them with disinfectant, if they were doing even that much? They were installed and left to rot, especially the ones installed outdoors without any overhead protection, such as the one at Newkirk Avenue, which was replaced during the recent station improvements there.
Anyone knows that wood benches need to be refinished from time to time, in the very least with a layer of polyurethane. Stripping the wood first would be better, but not necessary, unless they are extremely worn. Yet, the MTA has done nothing to keep the benches in shape. What about the stainless steel? Is it American made or the cheap Japanese variety that will start to rust within a few years? With the MTA usually choosing the lowest bidder, your guess is as good as mine. Will they be freezing cold in the winter and scorching hot in the blazing summer sun?
If they did not wish to purchase additional wood benches, fine — but don’t throw away perfectly good ones. The first wood benches lasted for more than 50 years and could have lasted longer. The current ones are a mere 20- or 30-years-old, and many are newer. Will the older ones be discarded first or will the MTA not even bother to check their age before replacing them?
And what is the MTA proposing to do with these supposedly “unhygienic” and bed bug-infested benches? Sell them to you, of course, so you can take the bed bugs home! Why are our elected officials not speaking out over this latest outrage? They could at least insist that the new stainless steel benches supplement the existing benches instead of replacing them.
Do you notice how the MTA is talking out of both sides of its mouth and no one seems to notice? They are replacing the benches because they are unhygienic, but they want you to purchase them for a mere $650 each. What did they cost new and how much are the replacement benches costing? With all the claimed MTA transparency, try finding the answers to those questions. Double talk is the MTA’s specialty. They do it all the time.
In 2010, the eastern portion of the B4 from Sheepshead Bay Station to Knapp Street was discontinued on weekends and weekday middays and evenings due to low ridership. The initial proposal called for total elimination of the route east of Sheepshead Bay Station until I was able to get them to partially rescind their decision.
Several years ago, when I proposed that the B4 be split into two routes to increase reliability — one route operating from Bay Ridge to Sheepshead Bay Station, and another from KeySpan (now Municipal Credit Union [MCU]) Park to Knapp Street and continue further north on Knapp Street to Avenue U and perhaps Kings Plaza — the MTA rejected it, stating the following:
“A high volume of current B4 customers travel from Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst, west of the Sheepshead Bay Station, to areas east of the station. This suggestion would require those customers to transfer.”
So the MTA had a problem with a “high volume” of passengers transferring, but a few years later had no problem when passengers could not take the bus at all because it was eliminated. Suddenly, the “high volume” became low ridership when the MTA wanted to discontinue service. This is why you cannot trust anything the MTA tells you, because they manufacture their “facts” at will.
The MTA Continues To Waste Money
The MTA claims to be cash strapped. We have subway stations that are literally falling apart. The brand new South Ferry Station is leaking after less than three years and will need continuing maintenance to prevent conditions from getting worse.
The tile at the Borough Hall #4 and #5 Station was replaced in 2004 to mark the IRT centennial. Just a few years later it is all falling apart while the 90-year-old tile on the adjacent #2 and #3 station is still in good condition. The current Capital Budget includes $203,000 to replace the tile a second time.
Whether these problems are with the contract specifications, adherence to the contract, the contractors, the materials used, or improper installation, these need to be investigated. Now these situations have to be corrected and that costs money the MTA does not have. Yet they have money for new benches they do not need.
If the benches were periodically maintained with a protective coating, they could look new for years and bed bugs could not hide in the crevasses. They are structurally sound and were built to last for at least 50 years, and are not nearly that old. How long will the new stainless steel benches last, or will there be a new scandal when they start to rust or when there is a lawsuit because someone received a burn from 150 degree steel on a 100 degree day? Will the MTA then have to place warning signs on the benches that they may be very hot in the summer?
The MTA is continuing to not to show enough concern for its passengers as evidenced by:
- Assuming no one has to go to work on President’s Day by continuing its weekend construction
- By not supplying enough shuttle buses for L train riders, and
- By reducing available seating on stations, replacing five seat wooden benches with three seat stainless steel benches that will be subject to temperature extremes.
The new MTA chairman, Joe Lhota, has opportunities to start showing that he cares about the passengers. Thus far he has done this by not supporting the proposed subway food ban, now before the New York State Senate. Lhota told The New York Times:
“I do not support the bill. It severely hurts and impacts minority communities. I don’t want to deny the kid the only time that day he’s going to get food.”
He needs to show more concern, for example, by not short-changing riders by shutting down subway lines at inappropriate times, providing enough replacement service, and by stopping the scrapping of the wooden benches and see they start getting some much-needed maintenance.
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).