Morning commute disaster on subways sparks renewed call for city takeover

It's not often that delays are so bad trains actually go backward, which is exactly what happened in Brooklyn on Monday.
It’s not often that delays are so bad trains actually go backward, which is exactly what happened in Brooklyn on Monday. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Andrew Burton

Monday’s epic subway meltdown led the City Council speaker to call for the city’s takeover of subway and bus service from the state-run MTA.

A signal problem spawned the hellish morning, this time on the F and G lines in Brooklyn. At one point, a Manhattan-bound F train between the Bergen Street and Carroll Street stations had to reverse to Carroll Street to let off harried passengers.

“This isn’t the direction the F train usually runs on these tracks,” tweeted commuter Joe Murphy, deadpan, along with a video of the reversing train.

Photos on social media showed riders packed into subway cars and on platforms of nearby lines where they tried to transfer. Council Speaker Johnson took to Twitter to call for drastic action.

“Mayors come & go but the MTA sadly is a constant lesson in diffuse accountability,” Johnson tweeted.

Shams Tarek, an MTA spokesman, said the signal problem appeared to have been caused by a communication cable that failed to transmit data. The F train that reversed "couldn’t proceed," Tarek said, and had to double back to drop off riders.

Advocates from the nonprofit Riders Alliance rallied in the afternoon against failing subway and bus service, calling for Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers to prioritize fixing the city’s transit network through the passage of congestion pricing and other new revenue streams for the beleaguered MTA, which is also proposing service cuts while in the midst of a financial crisis.

The group put together a book of riders’ tales of terrible subway service, titled “The Worst Commutes of 2018,” and sent copies to Cuomo, Andrea Stewart-Cousins — the incoming State Senate majority leader — and to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

As of now, the Riders Alliance is not endorsing the idea of transferring control of subways and buses to the city.

“Right now the subways and buses belong to the governor,” said Riders Alliance spokesman Danny Pearlstein. “He governs the MTA, he appoints all the members of the MTA’s board, he appoints the leadership of the MTA, and he controls the state budget process, which is the only mechanism within the state for raising the amount of revenue required to fix the subway. So we’re looking squarely at Gov. Cuomo and the state legislature in Albany to fix our subway in the coming legislative session.”

At a LaGuardia Airport event last Thursday, Cuomo pledged to pass a congestion pricing program in Albany during the next legislative session. Congestion pricing is expected to help but not completely close the MTA’s looming budget gap. The governor also lamented a lack of accountability at the authority — even though he is closely involved in leadership — and suggested that he would push for even more control of the MTA.

The governor already appoints the chairman and CEO at the authority, as well as six of the 14 voting seats on its board.

“They put the MTA together purposely to avoid anyone having direct authority,” Cuomo said at the time. “And that is an operational impediment and one that we’re going to address next year.”