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Politicians, civic groups, and commuters gathered yesterday by the Astoria-Ditmars subway stop to mark the death-iversary of their dearly departeds: the W train and the QM22 bus line. One year ago, the MTA eliminated the W and V trains and dozens of bus lines, and reduced services throughout the system. We’ve all felt the pain since — MIA buses, sweltering long waits on the platforms, having to listen to crazy people go completely aggro. But the folks in Astoria have taken it even more personally. And they want their bus back.
Speakers at the “memorial service,” who were interrupted several times by the rumblings of the rush hour Q and N trains overhead, criticized service cuts and called for restoration of the QM22 line, which ran from Jackson Heights to Midtown Manhattan. Earlier this year, Brooklynites successfully lobbied the MTA into resurrecting a few bus lines. Now Astoria residents want some outer borough love, too.
Former QM22 riders, unlike most of us who do everything in our power to avoid eye contact with fellow commuters, actually conversed every day on the way to work, and became good friends. They visited with each other. They partied together. Their curious friendships were even featured in the New York Times. Dorothy Leonard said that QM22 riders had become “like a family,” and that killing the line had broken up the family. She attended the memorial service with Pam and Debbie — two good friends she’d met from taking the bus to work for over 20 years.
Brodie Enoch of Transportation Alternatives also waxed wistful about bus lines now gone: “There are good days and bad days — like some days the bus flies by and splashes water on you; it’s just like your ex throwing stuff at you. But you were always happy when they got here. Once you lose the other half, you still miss them.”
In May, civic association leader Rosie Poveromo sent a letter to the MTA asking for reinstatement of the QM22 bus. The MTA wrote back, citing low ridership. (Advocates say that the bus serves older folks who have a hard time walking up to the elevated train stations. Also, they say slight route changes and better information would have brought more riders.) The MTA also provided alternate route suggestions, all involving at least one bus or subway transfer. And finally, the MTA bemoaned “financial constraints.”
Ali Fadil, the intrepid teenager who has been lobbying for the QM22 since last year and who once helped organize stopgap private service on the route, said the money problems were bogus. He says city subsidies to the MTA should be able to offset the costs of running the bus. In general, though, it seems public knowledge of and influence upon MTA’s financial planning is tenuous at best.
That should change soon. Last week New York State legislators found time to pass, along with gay marriage and rent regulations, the Lockbox bill. The bill will require full disclosure of how funds diverted from the MTA into other pots will affect public transportation.
Democratic District Leader Costa Constantinides, who was in attendance alongside fellow legislators Peter Vallone, Jr. (City Council) and Aravella Simotas (Assembly), acknowledged economic difficulties but said we need to find more creative solutions. For instance, Why do we need those digital next train signs? “I’m a New Yorker,” Constantinides said. “We know when the next train is coming. I just stick my head out to look.”