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Riders, advocates react to Gov. Cuomo’s subway plan

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks as he announced changes

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks as he announced changes to the New York subway system as part of a broader state plan to improve mass transit at the New York Transit Museum Friday, Jan. 8, 2016, in Brooklyn. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Reactions to the range of transit proposals that Gov. Andrew Cuomo pitched on Friday have so far been mixed from riders, advocates, industry groups and MTA officials.

The ideas from the governor include fully and partially closing 30 subway stations to modernize them, similar to Fastrack or how the MTA replaced the R train tube between Brooklyn and Manhattan following Superstorm Sandy. The closures would range from six weeks to a year, with contractors both designing and rebuilding stations. Currently, renovating a station on late nights and weekends can take up to two to three years.

Cuomo also proposed Wi-Fi at every underground stop by the end of the year, instead of 2017; USB chargers in hundreds of subway cars and stations, and replacing the MetroCard more quickly.

“We have made mistakes,” said Cuomo, who is in charge of the state-run MTA, at the New York Transit Museum. “We’re going forth on a new track to get these things done.”

Rider and safe streets advocate Brian Van Nieuwenhoven, 36, of Gramercy said he would like the governor to focus more on adding more service and making existing service more reliable.

“It’s disappointing if one of the MTA’s top projects in the next five years is to implement a payment system that only catches us up to NJ Transit’s current payment system offerings,” he said.

Andrea Simon, 28, a No. 6 train rider from Murray Hill, said she is looking forward to charging her phone on the train.

“Half the time I’m looking for an outlet somewhere,” she said. “It’s about time. If they’re offering it in restaurants and coffee shops, why not offer it throughout the whole city?”

Barber Kenneth Navarro, 23, of Port Richmond was concerned people would be on their phones even more than they are now-- but that it would be helpful to reach police.

“It’s good if something bad happens, like an emergency,” he said. “Too much of anything is not good for anybody. You need to pay attention to your surroundings and be aware of what’s going on.”

There is also significant concern over whether the MTA’s five-year capital plan will be approved soon by a state board. The delay is snagging projects like bringing the LIRR to Grand Central.

“Everything that the governor laid out the other day, riders are looking for, but the elephant in the room is that the capital plan is over a year late,” said Nick Sifuentes, the deputy director of the Riders Alliance.

The MTA is relying instead on sources of capital dollars like tolls on bridges, which do not involve the state board.

“They can only do that for so long,” said Denise Richardson, the executive director of the General Contractors Association. “That works in the short-term.”

The Association, which represents 175 private companies that do 80% of the MTA’s capital work, was also concerned about money being redirected from projects to pay for new proposals.

Cuomo said on Friday that the MTA would become much more efficient in doing its work, and that no additional money would go to the capital plan for the ideas.

“We support the governor’s MTA initiatives, but do not want to see funds diverted from projects that are already in the capital plan,” said Richardson.

MTA board member Allen Cappelli, who represents Staten Island, was concerned about the capital plan as well.

“Having these amenities that we have been pushing for will make the riding experience better,” said Cappelli. “But if we really want to ease the commuters’ pain, we need the capital budget approved, and a steady infusion of capital dollars to reduce platform waits and increase the transit footprint.”

The Straphangers Campaign, an advocacy group, said they don’t hate any of Gov. Cuomo’s ideas, but that the MTA will get blowback on station closures.

“They’re going to do them quickly because they’re going to close them, which won’t be popular in those communities,” said Gene Russianoff, who heads the group.

He said he supported phone chargers in the transit system, but hoped they won’t fuel crime.

“You don’t want someone grabbing the cord and running off with your cell phone,” Russianoff added. “They caution people not to flash their cell phones, so they should design it so you have some ream of control.”

When the Mayor’s Office was asked about Gov. Cuomo’s ideas, a spokeswoman noted the city’s contribution to the MTA’s capital plan, as well as its plan to cope with aging infrastructure, climate change and a quickly growing population.

“The City’s historic $2.5 billion capital contribution to the MTA will help ensure a more reliable, effective, and safe transit system for New Yorkers — and it’s vital that the plan is quickly approved so that our OneNYC priorities that will reduce crowding and delays, in addition to these modernization measures, can immediately move forward,” said spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick.

Outside of the subway, Cuomo announced other major transportation initiatives last week, to gear up for his State of the State speech on Wednesday. They included building a new LIRR track, redesigning Penn Station and giving upstate New York more than $20 billion for new roads.


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