A few weeks ago, I mentioned the launch party for the Riders Alliance without providing too many more details about the organization. Pete Donohue profiled their efforts, but as a board member of the organization, I can speak more to their goals. It is a new transit advocacy group that should fill in the gaps left by the others in the field.
Essentially, the Riders Alliance is an organization with an aim of organizing transit riders into political blocks. As many people from one neighborhood want similar transit improvements, the Riders Alliance is focused on garnering grassroots support by organizing riders to pressure elected officials on funding and the MTA on service patterns. Eventually, if the organization can build enough popular support, its endgoal involves long-term solutions to New York City’s transit problems.
One of the Riders Alliance’s early efforts involves the G train. I think the G train gets a bad rap amongst its riders, but it certainly has its problems. Generally, the G train arrives on time and serves as a vital link between neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, but it doesn’t run particularly frequently. The short cars lead to crowded rush hour conditions, and its riders all want more service and better connections to other routes. In a sense, then, it’s ripe for a grassroots organizing effort, and that’s just what the Riders Alliance is doing.
As The Brooklyn Paper noted, the Riders Alliance is calling for better G train service. The group is working with residents to call for more frequent service and out-of-system transfers between the J/M/Z at Hewes St. The MTA isn’t so keen to give on these issues. Here’s the essential debate:
Members of the Riders Alliance claim the MTA is shooting itself in the foot by refusing to run G trains more reliably, allow free above-ground transfers to nearby lines, or add more rolling stock to the diminutive four-car line. “If they make the changes, the increased ridership will bring in the money that will justify the changes,” said Dustin Joyce, who claims the transit authority’s lack of interest in the line is hindering the growth of G-dependent neighborhoods including Greenpoint, Fort Greene, and Bedford-Stuyvesant, among others. “They could attract a lot more development in those neighborhoods if they had reliable transit.”
Infrastructure and transportation experts including New York University adjunct professor Sarah Kaufman say the MTA must do everything it can to lure more riders rather than let lousy service ride. “In other cities, transit companies are almost begging people to take transit instead of driving,” said Kaufman. “In New York City, trains are at capacity during rush hour, but that’s not true in the outer boroughs. There is room to attract more people into public transit in the outer boroughs and keep them out of traffic.”
But the MTA refutes the paradox and says it won’t budge until more riders flock to the much-maligned line. “We schedule service to match ridership,” said agency spokesman Charles Seaton, who added that the MTA has already made concessions G train riders when it dropped its own initiative to eliminate five beloved stops in Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, and Kensington earlier this year.
The Brooklyn Paper calls it a catch-22, and it’s one I’m inclined to believe. The G train has such a negative reputation amongst potential riders who live along the line that many will do all they can to avoid taking it. I’m no exception as a few weeks ago, I opted to take the 7 from Long Island City to Grand Central and the 4 to Brooklyn rather than take the G back to Park Slope. I didn’t want to risk a 10- or 15-minute wait late on a Friday night.
Picking up on this idea, Cap’n Transit notes that the G extension to Church Ave. has seemingly driven ridership and urges the MTA to at least give increased service a try. The only thing they have to lose is money, and they could gain it all back from increased ridership. It’s worth a try.
Ultimately, increased service — and a free transfer I barely discussed here — are simple fixes with which the MTA, if properly funded, could experiment. The MTA should be in the business of maximizing ridership but instead is in the business of maximizing economic efficiency as best it can while carrying billions in debt. A rider advocacy group with the right aim and the right focus could fix these problems, and the G train provides a perfect test run for the Riders Alliance as it launches an ambitious effort to re-imagine the city’s transit advocacy work.