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Straphangers are inconvenienced by the MTA all the time. This is especially true on the weekends, when construction-based service interruption after service interruption can turn a 10-minute commute into an hour-long, three-transfer horror show.
The people of Long Island City, faced with an upcoming nine weeks of weekend delays on the 7 Train, are refusing to take the agency’s transit abuse without a fight. A coalition of neighborhood businesses, non-profits and community leaders, led by City Councilman Eric Gioia, gathered early Sunday afternoon at the Vernon Blvd./Jackson Ave. 7 station — the last stop in Queens — to demand more from the MTA beyond a shuttle bus to Queensboro Plaza.
“We’re here to say, in a united voice, enough is enough,” said Gioia. “Somebody needs to stand up for the public and say that we just can’t take this anymore, paying more and getting less.”
The lack of direct service to Manhattan, without a transfer to the Astoria-based N train, will have the effect of destroying weekend commerce in Long Island City, according to Gioia. The crowds won’t come to PS1 and the hipster-filled cafes, surmised Gioia and his allies, without shuttle bus service from Grand Central Station to the closed 7 train stations.
The councilman also called for increased bus service on colder days and discounted Long Island Rail Road fares for Queens residents on the weekends, adding that the current situation is “unacceptable.”
While asking for the famously inept MTA to provide supplementary bus service may not seem like much of a solution, that direct line between Long Island City and Manhattan is critical, according to those who will be affected by the closures.
Sheila Lewandowski, director of the Chocolate Factory Theater, said her organization was anticipating a 50 percent drop in presale tickets for February, due to the lack of subway service to her neighborhood. Local businesses echoed similar concerns.
“The message the MTA is sending to us is, ‘Shut down on weekends,'” said Lewandowski.
In its own defense, the MTA stated that weekends meant fewer riders on the 7 train, thus making it the best time to do necessary track work. And, since the work is being done outdoors, it must take place during daylight hours. The agency added that it is understanding of the needs of its customers (it has combined two projects into one construction schedule) but cannot delay the work, lest the tracks deteriorate to unsafe levels.
“We fully recognize the inconvenience this disruption in normal service causes our riders but it would be simply unacceptable for us not to make these critical investments or do maintenance work on the system,” said an MTA statement. “That would be turning the clock back to the 70’s and early 80’s, and that is something we won’t entertain.”
Gioia said that thanks to the poor planning of the MTA, commuters in his district were now faced with two grim choices: a mix of shuttle buses and train transfers quadrupling their commute time, or a $30-$40 cab ride. That, he said, is just plain unfair, especially when the MTA is threatening to raise fares.
“The MTA is saying to the people of Queens, ‘This winter, you’re on your own.’ And the people of Queens are saying, ‘We demand more, we expect more,'” said Gioia. “If you’re asking us to pay more on our MetroCards, then please at least give us the bare essentials.”