MTA struggles to keep Herald Square escalators moving
A straphanger makes his way down an out-of-service escalator at th 34th Street Herald Square subway stop. (Photo By RJ Mickelson)
Straphangers are getting a lot of exercise lately at the Herald Square subway station.
Escalators in the systems third-busiest station have ground to a halt, forcing commuters to find ones that work or simply to use the stairs.
The problem has gone on for months, despite many of the escalators being installed last year. Yesterday, five of the 12 escalators at the station were down.
We come here specifically for the escalators, said Hyman Muchnich, 84, of Brooklyn Heights. Theyre supposed to make it easier.
The MTA spent $36 million last year to overhaul the Herald Square escalators. But the contractor, Fujitec America, didnt install the equipment correctly and must make mechanical adjustments, New York City Transit officials said.
Throughout the subway system, the average number of failures on MTA-operated escalators jumped 46 percent in the last quarter of 2008 compared to 2006, according to the latest Transit reports.We respond as quickly as possible in house, said Transit President Howard Roberts during a recent MTA board meeting. But we have little leverage with our current contracts to ... get warranty repairs made.
Fujitec America could not be reached for comment Sunday.
An out-of-service escalator can severely curtail subway access for the elderly, the disabled or straphangers weighed down by a stroller or heavy bags. The longest escalator out at Herald Square yesterday has 46 steps. At least one sign at the station says some escalators wont be back up until next month.
You have a lot of mobile seniors in New York City, said Evelyn Moss, 60, of Brooklyn. We need some kind of way to get down to the subway.
But the problems arent all Transits fault; some escalators are privately-owned, like the one at Union Square thats been out for at least a year.
Up until recently, the MTA contracted with escalator companies that would install them for the cheapest price, creating a patchwork of models that require unique parts and service.
For example, the MTA has struggled to fix the escalators at the Flushing/Main Street No. 7 station as they are found nowhere else in the world, making it a scavenger hunt to find replacement parts. The escalators have gone down chronically since they were installed a decade ago.
It has broken down so many times that no one can remember to count, said Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing).
MTA officials have acknowledged that the systems escalators need more attention.
Last year, Transit officials began replacing machine parts on a regular basis and rigged an alert system for when a device goes down.
Melinda Hsia contributed to this story.
By the numbers
163: Number of MTA-operated escalators
10: Their average age in years
3,500: Number of escalator outages during the last quarter of 2008
310: Average number of hours between an escalator failure during that period