My Love/Hate Relationship with the MTA

This relationship is long and frought with ups and downs, like any long-term relationship. It started when I was about 6 years old, and my grandmother would take me into the City. Those trips were great, and I loved them. I especially loved going to the very, very front of the train to watch the tracks out the window of the front door. And if I got really lucky, the train engineer would let me blast the horn as we passed a crossing. Those were some really good times.

Fast forward to my summer working in the city as an undergraduate. That summer I had a train riding partner, who got on one station after me, so I always tried to save him a seat. Commuting wasn’t so bad, and getting on where we did, seats were generally available. Except for the days when the train was “running short,” meaning there were 2 cars fewer than normal. And invariably, it’s raining, so now every one crams into 8 cars instead of 10 holding wet coats, umbrellas and the like. Sure, it’s the most convinient way into the city, but Good Lord, there were times we hated the LIRR that summer. (Not to mention my friend’s daily complaint when the 5:33 express to Valley Stream, not stopping at Jamaica, STOPPED AT JAMAICA. “This train isn’t supposed to stop, it’s express.” Of course, the doors never opened, so they didn’t call it a stop. A mere semantic argument for my friend, who was never appeased.)

Now, I live in Queens, and to get to Columbia every morning, I have to take an E train to a B or D to a 1 or 9. The commute varies in time based on how quickly a transfer comes, as well as other assorted vagaries of the subway system. So sure, maybe I can get from Forest Hills to the Upper West Side in 45 minutes….in CONCEPT. But now there’s track repair, leading to speed restrictions on the E between Continental and Roosevelt Avenues. So the train goes about as fast as I can walk. So instead I take the QM4 express bus to Herald Square and get on a B or D from there. But the Bus is $5!!! So then I get to the B or D, but there’s some fire somewhere, so if I’m at 7th Ave connecting from the E, I have to walk from there to Columbus Circle and catch the 1/9 there, and pay another fare. If I’m at Herald Square, it’s a walk to Penn Station to catch the 2/3 there. So I’m on the 2/3 to 96th and the 1/9. But there’s a (pick one..or two) stalled train/smoke condition/dead man blocking the tracks at 103rd, so the 1/9 locals trains run express to 137th. Great if you’re going to 137th. I go to 116th. No stop for Noyam! So, we get out of the Subway at 96th, and walk to Amsterdam Avenue to catch an M11 bus. Back to surface transportation. So I wait. I watch an M7 go by (doesn’t stop at 116th and Amsterdam). I wait. I look at my watch, and decide that cab’s not worth it, because I’m already 15 minutes late. Finally, a bus comes. I get on, pay another fare (I already used my transfer going from QM4 to 1/9), and we ride. At the next stop, a wheelchair passenger gets on, which takes a few minutes (even though watching the stair mechanism turn into an elevator is very cool). Then at the next stop, another wheelchair passenger gets on. Of course, as luck would have it, they both want to get off at the same stop, before mine. So the bus pulls up, the driver goes to do the mechanism, first wheelchair gets on, and…can’t get off because the bus is too close to the curb. Back up into the bus, back to the front, drive 2 feet, back to the back, redo the whole thing, and then unload the two wheelchair passengers. Finally, to my stop. As if ordained by God, we just miss the light, because my stop is on the other side of the intersection. Today’s 45 minute conceptual commute lasted from 8:30 to 10:15. It’s like Nais Chanuka. A commute that should have lasted 45 minutes, lasted 8 DAYS!

But at least watching the wheelchair mechanism was cool.


4 responses to “My Love/Hate Relationship with the MTA

  1. I share your “love” for public transportaion. I have mastered the system i.e. I know just where to get on the train so that the doors open exactly where I need to be to transfer or exit amongst many other things that many people would consider OCD. I have some suggestions for your current commute:
    Firstly, the slow ride b/w Continental and Roosevelt, while very annoying, would only add 10-13 minutes to your commute still better (and cheaper) than the Express Bus to the Subway.

    Additionally, the delays do not affect the local trains so you can take the V. The V is awesome b/c you’re guaranteed a seat and the entire ride into the city will only take an additional 10-15 minutes – well worth the seat in my opinion and certainly worth it through April 8th when the construction work on the express lines is scheduled to end.

    I should do commute planning!


  2. First let me say that I know exactly where to stand to catch my trains. I think I freak some people out, who see walk to specific spot on the platfrom, and stop on a dime.

    Second, your advice about taking a local train to Roosevelt is OK, but I think I would go crazy during the 5 extra stops. And if you want a confortable seat, the express bus is unbeatable.

    And no commute planning could account for the crap I went through this morning.

  3. Trust me with the local. You’re sitting with the paper (or Gemara if so inclined) and you don’t even notice the extra stops let alone the 3,000 people who have shoved onto your train by the second stop. As they say “Once you go local you never go back.” I don’t like buses in general b/c they make me nauseas but especially at $5 which would make me even more nauseas.

    P.S. I love the transfer at Seventh Ave. from the E to the B-D b/c in my law school days I knew exactly where to stand so the door opened at the top of the staircase and if the B or D was in the station downstairs I would trample old ladies and jump down the entire flight of stairs to make the train – just to get to school and cut class.

    Commuter Planner, Inc.

  4. I really love driving to work…

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