Lousy Commutes? Transit Advocates Throw the Book at Andrew Cuomo!

You could write a book with all the bad commutes New York City residents have experienced — so the Riders Alliance DID!

Must-read? "The Worst Commutes of 2018" is the Riders Alliance's latest effort to get Gov. Cuomo to fix the subway system.
Must-read? "The Worst Commutes of 2018" is the Riders Alliance's latest effort to get Gov. Cuomo to fix the subway system.

SB Donation NYC header 2Mostly, we look at the crumbling subway and bus system in raw, cold data — cratering ridership numbers, ever-upward fare projections, depressing maintenance statistics.

But sometimes, it’s best to put a human face on the story of transit misery.

On Monday, the Riders Alliance did just that, releasing its long-awaited book, “The Worst Commutes of 2018.”

We wish we could say it fiction. The book, which is dedicated to “New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the leaders and members of the Assembly and Senate,” aims to remind lawmakers of “the big toll of poor transit service and the anxiety it brings New York’s working families.” The group says congestion pricing would end a “generation of disinvestment” at the MTA while also improving the delivery of goods and services from a reduction in traffic.

The book contains 45 commuter horror stories. We’ve excerpted the best of the worst below (read the full book here):

Thank God I Didn’t Have to go to the Bathroom

I got stuck on a G for nearly two and a half hours because of signal problems in the entire area surrounding Bergen Street.Thank god I didn’t have to go to the bathroom and thank god I have a phone fully charged and a book. I thought, “Ok, this is it, these are the people I will spend the rest of my life with. I’ll never see my cat again or my partner and we will starve to death in the G train.” I was going into some pretty dark places of my mind. I was thinking, “What is happening in the world outside? Is this going to be on NBC4? I bet people are tweeting right now about how shitty the G train is. I have lost two hours of my life I’ll never regain.” I thought,“This is it. I need to make peace with this, become friends with all my fellow inmates, and just accept it.” People began sharing stories about where they were supposed to be, and what they were missing. Upon release, I immediately contacted a Lyft. No way in Dante’s G train hell was I going to get inside another public transit vehicle.

Tara S.

I Missed My Job Interview

I was nearly an hour late to an important third round job interview at Burberry. I live in Jamaica and take the E to 34th Street, which normally takes me 45 minutes (at the most).The morning of my inter- view, scheduled for 11 am on 57th Street, I left at 10am. I anticipated arriving at the location at least 15 minutes early, including the walk. But the E stalled for at least 10 minutes before reaching Kew Gardens, the next stop. I tried to call the interviewer but I kept losing service. Then the train proceeded to stall and crawl in and between each stop going all the way throughout Queens. At 11:50, I finally arrived and the interviewer was very perturbed. She told me,“I saw online there was a power outage at 42nd street, so I understand.” Had the booth attendant told us the train would be delayed, I would have called in at 10 am or taken the LIRR, but that didn’t happen. I haven’t heard from them since. Thanks, MTA.

Dave W.

I Am On Thin Ice at Work Due to Timeliness

I, along with many coworkers, am on thin ice due to timeliness. My once 25-minute commute now has me leaving more than an hour early for work “just to be safe.” Only I still find myself arriving late. For the last two weeks, the EMFR trains have stopped running at 9:30 pm. But that’s when I get out of work. Even when I leave early, I still somehow miss the last train home because they close inexplicably early! Last week, miraculously catching my train, I stayed on board until 36th Street in Queens. Like most trips in and out of Queens, there were delays. After 45 minutes, I had to just get out and take a cab home — only to have to do the same thing over again the next night. I’m looking for new work within walking distance so I can avoid taking the train on nights like this. I also miss being able to explore the city reliably. It’s sad.

Nicollina A.

I Have No Idea Why, But it Took More than Two Hours

At 8:35 am, I left my house in Astoria. At 8:45, I approached my station to find the surrounding streets filled with confused people. They seemed listless, meandering in all directions, on their phones, asking each other questions with no answers, crowding all the bus stops. No CitiBikes were available. At 8:48, though, I boarded an N train but then the announcement came: “We are having significant delays. I have no idea when we will start moving.” At 9 we started moving. At 9:02 we stopped, having only traveled 1 stop. At 9:10, I got off the train in response to the following announcement: “What the crap is that? Why didn’t we tell the customers? Why didn’t they tell us at the terminal? … Ladies and gentlemen, we are not moving. I have no idea when we will ever start moving. We recommend you take the M60 at street-level.” By 9:12 I was at the bus stop but didn’t get on the bus for another 33 minutes. Another hour later, more than two hours after leaving home and still bewildered by our subway, I arrived at work in Chelsea.

Eugene L.

I Could Have Walked Home — And Back — In Less Time

After a long day at work, I went to the City Hall station where I hoped to catch the southbound R train to Brooklyn.After a45-minute wait, my foolish hopes were dashed when we were told to take the R train to Canal Street and from there board a southbound train to Brooklyn. After an additional 15 minute wait, I took the northbound train to Canal Street, where I waited another 35 minutes for a train to Brooklyn. While I was waiting, it occurred to me that I left my office more than 90 minutes earlier and I was further away from home than when I started. It took an additional torturous hour to get home. I calculated that my 7-mile commute had an average rate of speed of 1.2 miles an hour. I could have walked home and back to work in less time.What other subway system can boast that type of service?

John R.


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  • The commute to pick up my son from Jackson Heights to Sunnyside (6 stops on the 7 train of various slow/quickness, a long slog on the Q32) that I just decided it was better to walk the 2.5 miles each way to fit in exercise. Each way it is between 45-55 minutes door-to-door. On a really good day it is 30-35 minutes to walk, wait for 7, take it, walk again) and Q32 is a real crapshoot.

    Last Thursday it was raining, so we needed to take the 7 train. We got on the platform and there was sick passenger up ahead. Then when it finally cleared we had to wait thru 4 trains and crammed on the 4th one – and I mean crammed – and it took pick up to home one hour and 11 minutes. I could have walked in 50 minutes. I knew I was gonna regret taking transit and thought I may have preferred just getting wet and relying on my own energy.

    But of course this story is nothing compared to the stories in this book!

  • Joe R.

    I invariably walk to downtown Flushing when I do the same calculus. I figure 15 to 20 minutes to walk to and wait for the bus, 20 to 25 minute bus ride, so the trip takes anywhere from 35 to 50 minutes. It’s 3.1 miles the way I walk, which takes me about 40 to 45 minutes, depending upon the weather (i.e. I walk faster in cooler weather when my body can better dissipate the heat). At worst the walking takes me 10 minutes extra over the bus, but typically it’s a wash, or slightly faster. Even if I reliably saved 10 minutes each way, that’s not worth $2.75 to me. Plus I could use the exercise anyway.

    If downtown Flushing had safe bike parking, then it would be a slam dunk to bike there. About 10 to 12 minutes each way for me. That’s less than I would typically be waiting for the next bus.

    It’s just amazing that public transit is often so slow in this city that walking is time competitive, never mind biking.

  • Daphna

    I read all the stories and I highly recommend that each commuter explore bicycle commuting. I have at times managed commutes that were as long as 14 miles each way on a regular bike because it was more reliable and more enjoyable than mass transit. Bike commutes of shorter mileage are easy and are a no-brainer over mass transit.

  • Joe R.

    Yes. I’ve ridden 17.5 miles each way to my friend’s place in Coney Island. By public transit it’s at least an hour, 30 minutes. I made it 15 minutes quicker than that without really killing myself.

  • If you are able bodied and unless you can get a bus that doesn’t get stuck in traffic or have any slow issues, you might as well walk any trip under 2 or 3 miles. Often when my wife and I would go to the movies (2.3 miles on Northern Blvd bus) we would walk over and then start walking in the direction of where the bus would take us. We always agreed that once we got to within a mile of the theater we would keep walking. Over 50% of the time that happened.

  • JarekFA

    I wonder where John R. was going as there are many alternate train routes he could’ve taken to catch the R further south. From the City Hall, it’s a very short walk to the City Hall 4/5 and the Park Place 2/3 –> both of which he could’ve taken to get to Atlantic.

    What would be really nice, however, and apparently won’t happen since the MTA is run by fiscal incompetent idiots — would be running the J from Broad St down the Bay Ridge line through the Montague tunnel. They terminate the J/Z at Broad St though it has a direct connection through such that it could replicate the R train. You frequently see R train issues at Canal (in which they then run the R over the congested Manhattan Bridge) and that appears to have been the case here. But if he ultimately needs to get on an R for Bay Ridge, having the J run to Bay Ridge would provide a much needed alternate path.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “I got stuck on a G for nearly two and a half hours because of signal problems in the entire area surrounding Bergen Street.”

    Could have been this morning. If you are on the train you are screwed, but there are other people who weren’t already trapped and didn’t think to walk 15 minutes to another line.

    Sorry Millennials from elsewhere, but I’ve got the ultimate LOL.

    The other members of my family have smartphones and use Lyft (I don’t). This morning, before I left for work (no bike, office Christmas party after work), my daughter called and let me know the F and G weren’t running in Brooklyn, but to (guess what) signal problems at Bergen Street. She hopped the B61 bus and caught the R at 4th Avenue and 9th Street, and a little later I did the same.

    Here’s the LOL. Neither she nor I noticed any particular crowding in the B61 bus. But she checked Lyft, and saw that surge pricing was up to $30 for people trying to get to the 2/3 at Grand Army Plaza. As if there were all these people who didn’t realize that there were these other vehicles that, if they were also taking the subway, they could ride for free.

    And I’m not even talking about bikes, I’m talking about the bus.

    I wonder if there were any Citibikes available in Windsor Terrace?

  • These horror stories are frustrating for the people to whom they happen. And they happen too often.

    But they still represent a small fraction of all subway rides. It is important to remember that the subway, even in its current state, delivers the vast majority of its riders to their destinations on time.

    Also, lest someone believe that these stories are typical, we must remember that a project such as this book represents a classic case of selection bias, in that people write out only their bad experiences. If I were asked to describe my experiences on the J train (which I take whenever I don’t ride my bike due to bad weather or injury or laziness) over the past five years, my report would say that the ride is reliable and comfortable, during both rush hours and late nights. One time during a heavy snowstorm I was stuck for two hours in a J train that couldn’t move on the outdoor tracks. But, apart from that single extraordinarily unpleasant experience, the J train has been consistently superb, getting me between Woodhaven and Downtown Manhattan in well under an hour — and with a seat each way. No one is going to publish a book full of dull stories like that.

    I am 100% in favour of congestion pricing. But I don’t like the misrepresentation of our subway system, which, though beset with problems of age and bad policy, remains something that we can be proud of.

  • Rider

    Most people know the bus is unreliable and unpleasant, Larry. And not many people are willing to suffer the environmental exposure necessary to ride a bike in this town. With Lyft at least you sit in traffic in a comfortable car.

  • Rider

    The whole point of it was to share bad experiences. And maybe the J is not as bad as the other lines, but there are many people who suffer multiple times a week from the MTA’s failures, which are about to get much worse due to the combination of a service cut and a fare hike–at a time when the economy is booming.

  • LM

    Bicycle commuting is great, but not everyone can ride a bicycle. My partner has a physical condition and is unable to ride a bike. It’s really upsetting how often he is late to important meetings (or our dates) because the MTA is so bad. Walking is also difficult for him, and taking the bus is simply just a joke. I can’t imagine why anyone with mobility challenges would want to stay here if they have the resources to leave. The MTA sucks and is no where close to providing equitable access for residents.

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