Our transportation system is facing a crisis and everyone is sharing in the pain. But what are commuters supposed to do when their subway is a mess? This is a question I asked some of the brightest transit advocacy minds last week. They might be advocates, but they are also daily commuters, dealing with repercussions of delayed trains, missed meetings, and late day care pick-ups.
John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance, suggested riders use the delays to voice their concerns: “Take your complaint to the top! With the newly installed wi-fi in stations, riders should demand action from the person who can actually fix their commute: tweet @NYGovCuomo or call 518-474-8390 extension 1 to tell Governor Cuomo it’s time for him to show leadership and address the crisis of delays and crowding for New York’s transit riders.” John’s colleague had an oped in the NY Times with a similar message.
Gene Russianoff of the New York Public Interest Research Group had a more creative approach: “Whenever I’m stuck in a dystopian subway jam, I ask myself, what would Dante do? No, not the Mayor’s son. I mean the 13th century poet Dante Alighieri. Dante is famous for handing out harsh but fair punishments.”
Russianoff said the worst place in his inferno is naturally reserved for Robert Moses, the infamous highway builder. “His ashes sit in an urn that is within ear shot of the Bronx River Parkway (I kid you not!),” Russianoff says.
You could dream, or you could take a bike. “Take advantage of New York’s always-expanding bike lane network, and CitiBike, the biggest and best bike share system in the U.S.” suggested Jon Orcutt, director of policy and communications at Transit Center and a chief architect of the New York City share bike share system.
Dani Simons, director of communications at Motivate, who runs CitiBike, also said bikes are part of the answer. “Try bike share or your own personal bike,” she said. “Whether you are connecting to transit or taking a trip that might not be well served by existing transit, millions of people across the U.S. use bike share to go where they want to go, when they want to go. And a lot of them find they feel better physically and mentally when they do it.”
“What should be in every commuter’s survival pack these days: snorkel gear, good running shoes and a full flask,” advised Janna Chernetz, New Jersey Director at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and a daily commuter into Manhattan from the Garden State.
Like John, Janna had tips for how commuters could use delays to advoate for a better transit experience. “Commuters should be documenting their experiences and expressing their concerns and frustrations directly to their federal, state and local elected officials and the board members for the transit agencies.”
Adriana Espinoza, NYC Program Manager at the New York League of Conservation Voters had two pieces of advice: “First, have a back-up plan ready, and second, learn your local bus routes.”
She learned about the need for a backup plan the hard way after recently paying $40 for a cab to get to work after finding out that all the trains on the B/D/Q line were shut down.
“Not only was I angry about spending the money, I hated being part of the traffic congestion headed into Manhattan. I realized I needed to have a better plan for when it inevitably happens again. I am now prepared with a backup plan to commute via bus.”
She suggests relying personal stories to elected officials. “Next time this happens to you, make a phone call or write an email to your elected officials explaining exactly what’s at stake for you. Are you at risk of losing your job if you’re late to work? Do you have employees, clients, or students relying on you to be somewhere on time?”
A few RPA staff suggested videos and other resources. Alison Henry, associate planner, suggested that delayed commuters watch RPA’s video explaining Communications-Based Train Control to learn “why their trains are so messed up.”
And Rich Barone, Vice President for Transportation at RPA had a simpler answer, “if you have a seat, take a nap,” he said.
So take it from the experts, call, tweet, dream, bike, watch… or sleep.
Photo: Thomas De Los Santos