Bay Ridge

Council speaker pushes for municipal control of transit system

January 9, 2019 By Meaghan McGoldrick Brooklyn Daily Eagle
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Councilmember Justin Brannan held a press conference in the 77th Street R train station in conjunction with surveying riders about their commute. Eagle photo by Meaghan McGoldrick

Corey Johnson wants to fight data with data.

The City Council speaker joined Councilmember Justin Brannan inside the infamous R train’s 77th Street subway station during the evening rush on Tuesday to call for municipal control of the subways while also fetching rider feedback.

“What we hear on a regular basis is the data and statistics from the MTA [about things such as] delays, on-time improvements, and what the other numbers are,” said Johnson, who, in the next two months, plans to unveil a comprehensive plan to strengthen subway service citywide, “but what we really want to hear is from straphangers and from riders. What’s their perspective?”

Of course, Johnson said, “Anyone can go on Twitter at any moment and know what their perspective is, but we want to do this is a more scientific way.”

And so, members of Johnson’s staff joined the two councilmembers in handing out leaflets about the survey — available online through Friday — and in encouraging straphangers to take a second to fill out the 14-point questionnaire in live time on a tablet.

Queries touched on everything from delays and frequency to comfort, communication and the MTA’s proposed fare hike.

As of Tuesday night, Johnson and his staff had collected close to 300 in-station responses and over 1,000 more online. Surveys will be collected through the end of the week online, as well as at stations in all five boroughs.

This is just the first step, the speaker said, in regaining control of what he believes is long-owed to the city.

“[Gov. Andrew Cuomo] today said to the Daily News Editorial Board that he thinks that the MTA needs to be blown up,” Johnson told reporters. “I think that one way to blow it up is to have a conversation about removing New York City Transit, and the tunnels and bridges, giving them back to the city, breaking out the LIRR and Metro-North and having a conversation about what municipal control would mean for subways and buses in New York City.”

Brannan agreed.

“The time has come for a real discussion about municipal control of the subways,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle. “The idea that a state senator who represents a town that borders Canada has more say over our buses and subways than our local elected officials is absolutely ridiculous.”

Similarly, Brannan held nothing back when it came to the issue of service itself — especially along his district’s notoriously unreliable R line.

“Like the Pink Floyd song, we have become comfortably numb to how bad our commutes have become. So, [Tuesday] night we hit 77th Street so riders could tell us exactly where it hurts,” he said. “I ride the subway to City Hall every week. The R train really holds the crown of terrible. It was terrible before the whole world realized the subways were terrible.”

Straphangers shared similar sentiments.

“I find it annoying when the R is delayed and the conductor yells over the loudspeaker at every stop that if there isn’t room in the overcrowded train to wait for the one directly behind that one,” said Bay Ridge resident Edyta Lipinski. “Meanwhile, the train that’s ‘directly behind’ is now delayed and what should’ve been a 10-minute wait for the train turns into 30.”

Still, Johnson is optimistic that this week’s number-crunching will serve as the first step towards bettering the city’s transit system.

“Right now you have an unaccountable, unelected board that makes decisions that most people don’t know about or can’t participate in, which is why I think a conversation about municipal control is necessary to increase accountability,” he stressed.

As for the survey, Johnson said, “We’re at a pretty good sample size so far. We want this to be something that we can actually use in a very meaningful way.”