NEW YORK (Reuters) - This is one contest no New York City subway rider wants to win.
An advocacy group for city commuters on Tuesday awarded its first “Worst Commute of the Week” award to a librarian from the borough of Queens for her story of an agonizing two-hour wait in a tunnel one stop from her home after skipping a restroom visit before leaving work.
The Riders Alliance awards are aimed at shaming New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state’s Legislature into enacting a long-term plan to fund and fix the city’s declining subway system.
The inaugural winner, City University librarian Jennifer Tang, recounted being trapped underground on a train when the last five minutes of her ride home from Manhattan to the Forest Hills neighborhood in the borough of Queens on Jan. 20 deteriorated into two hours.
“I hadn’t used the bathroom, figuring I only had a 30-minute commute from Manhattan to Queens,” Tang, 49, said in an interview. Then the train stopped and an announcement warned of signal problems.
“Five minutes became 10 minutes, became 20 minutes, became one hour, became one hour and 50 minutes,” said Tang, who was in pain and urgently hoping the subway would quickly reach her destination. “Now, before boarding the subway, even if it’s for one stop, I use the bathroom.”
The Riders Alliance invited commuters to share their stories using the hashtag #WorstCommute. Winners of the contest receive a chocolate replica of the MetroCard, which the subway system’s roughly 6 million daily riders swipe to enter stations.
Cuomo controls the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the public agency that runs the subways. His transportation spokesman, Peter Ajemian, said, “The Governor has taken aggressive action to fix the subways.”
Ajemian said Cuomo’s actions have included funding the state’s half of the “Subway Action Plan,” and redirecting revenue streams directly to the MTA, and investing $8.6 billion in the MTA’s capital program. He said the governor’s office will work with the state legislature and New York City to ensure funding for the subways.
Overall subway on-time performance has plummeted to 65 percent - a drop of 15 percentage points over the past several years and the worst of any major transit system in the world, the Riders Alliance said.
Train delays more than tripled from 2012 to 2017 and subway speeds are now slower than they were in 1950, it said.
Tang said the Jan. 20 incident stands out as a personal worst in a lifetime of subway riding: “Even in the ‘70s when I almost got mugged on the subway, I never had such as horrible experience on the train.”
Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Scott Malone & Shri Navaratnam