By MARK SULEYMANOV
After six years of hibernation, the W train is back in service but its revival has forced cutbacks to other trains along the line and some already disgruntled commuters aren’t happy.
W trains returned on Nov. 6 and will serve riders from Whitehall Street in Lower Manhattan to Astoria in Queens. To make the line work, however, the MTA was forced to cut back 20 runs along the N, Q and R lines, leaving riders to question how effective fewer trains will be.
Council members Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) recently took issue with the W train slowing down Q, N and R lines. In a joint statement, Bramer and Constantinides called out the MTA and demanded something be done immediately.
“It is unacceptable that increased service for Upper East Side residents has translated to fewer trains for people in Queens, who have just as much right to functional, timely public transit as Manhattanites,” they said in the statement. “We are demanding that the MTA restore these 20 trains to the N/W line in Astoria—because all New York City residents should have access to transit.”
Astoria resident Derek Norman, a student at Brooklyn College, says that he and several neighbors he knows in Astoria have noticed a cutback in service recently.
“Since the W train, a lot of people in the neighborhood have been talking about the MTA running less trains because found they aren’t being utilized as much,” he said, adding that this has angered local residents.
Norman, 26, who has lived in Astoria for the last three years, said that he relies on the M and R trains to travel in and out of Queens. However, with the W train’s comeback, Q trains, starting next month, will no longer service commuters to Queens. Instead, the W train will take straphangers to Astoria and the Q – starting in December – will terminate along the Second Avenue line at 96th Street. Until then, Q trains’ last stop will be at 57th Street and 7th Avenue in Manhattan.
W trains will operate on weekdays only and Norman is among those who fear reduced service on weekends.
“It can be rough on weekends; I walk about 10 minutes down the road to the N or Q,” he said. “I could usually depend on the N or Q train to be consistent and frequent, especially late at night.”
Riders not directly impacted by the service are concerned, too. Forest Hills resident David Russell, who mainly uses E or F train service between Queens, Manhattan, and occasionally Brooklyn, is frustrated with infrequent trains servicing Queens and the length of his commute.
“Children have been conceived and born in the time it takes to go from Forest Hills to the Port Authority,” Russell said.
To remedy the situation, Russell, 23, a freelance journalist, would “like to see more trains” dispatched to and from Queens to make for a smoother commute. Norman, on the other hand, wants to see changes that aren’t merely cosmetic.
“The only real change we’ve seen here [in Queens] was the MTA replacing the signs and a different letter rolling up to the platform,” Norman said.
MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said that during rush hour, trains will run as usual without conflict. The 20 fewer trains during the weekdays would come during off-peak hours. The N and W trains run less often than Q and R trains because the W operates in Brooklyn, he said.
Even as some riders cope with the changes the W train is bringing, the MTA announced last week two possible plans for a fare hike: Plan A would keep the $2.75 base fare but reduce the bonus each card buyer receives from 11 percent to 5 percent; Plan B would raise the base fare to $3.00 but increase the bonus to 16 percent.
Meetings are scheduled in every borough starting next month to discuss fare hike, which would be the fifth one since 2009. Several advocacy groups have spoken out against an increase to use public transportation.
“If the MTA continues down this path, New York City riders will find themselves increasingly crushed with by far the highest “fare box burden” in the nation – and growing,” the Straphangers Campaign said. “In plain English, New York City riders will be forced to pick up a great deal of the agency’s $15 billion annual operating costs.”
In response, the MTA has called the proposed increase “modest.” MTA Chief Financial Officer Robert Foran said that “the cost-cutting we’ve done has avoided a 20 percent fare or toll increase over this period of time.”
Freelance actor Dante Jayce, who primarily uses the D train to travel to auditions from his Bay Ridge home to Manhattan, says he hasn’t noticed a sharp decline in service, but questions an increased fare with new lines – such as the W – potentially slowing riders down.
“Well I wonder if they really need to add a train line,” Jayce said. “I don’t think the fares should be raised – if the new line is causing more expenses, they should first worry about improving service on existing train lines.
“I already can’t really afford it,” Jayce said of the MTA’s fare. “[It] probably will make me skip some lunches here and there.”
Russell says that while he’s not thrilled with the idea of paying more, he “wouldn’t mind if the service was better.”
Since its return two weeks ago, W train service has run on schedule for most trips; the high point came on Nov. 15 when the train ran 97 percent as scheduled compared to the rest of system at 78 percent.
However, new MTA data revealed earlier this month shows train delays were up 21 percent in August – before the W Train’s return — mostly due to overcrowding. Regardless of the train line, riders want to see better service before a fare increase.
“If the trains become less frequent and undependable, then the MTA should expect crowded platforms and some serious frustration,” Norman said. “For almost three dollars a fare, you’d think they might focus a little less on the alphabet and a little more on the service.”
Video by Mark Suleymanov