Southeast Queens Straphangers Demand Congestion Pricing At Jamaica Rally

Riders board a train at the Jamaica LIRR station.  Eagle  photos by Jonathan Sperling.

Riders board a train at the Jamaica LIRR station. Eagle photos by Jonathan Sperling.

By Jonathan Sperling

Rain and wind were not enough to deter a group of Southeast Queens commuters and activists from urging state lawmakers to adopt congestion pricing to pay for transit improvements during a rally at the Jamaica Center subway station on March 21.

As advocates and commuters spoke, at least five “dollar vans” — large taxis that drive Southeast Queens straphangers from their subway-starved areas to transit hubs — pulled up next to a station entrance.

Transit advocates urged state legislators to pass congestion pricing at a rally outside of the Jamaica Center subway station.

Transit advocates urged state legislators to pass congestion pricing at a rally outside of the Jamaica Center subway station.

One Southeast Queens resident who attended the rally told the Eagle that the vans illustrate the issues faced by public transit users from St. Albans, Rosedale, Queens Village, Laurelton and other Southeast Queens transit deserts: irregular bus service.

Members of Riders Alliance, NYPIRG’s Straphangers Campaign and Transportation Alternatives and other advocacy groups said a surcharge on drivers who travel into part of Manhattan would generate revenue to help fund the broken MTA.

“We want to make sure that congestion pricing is passed, and if it is passed, that people from Southeast Queens are able to see funding from it,” said Riders Alliance member Natasha Saunders, a St. Albans resident. “I’ve seen how the absence of funding created unreliable bus and train service in my neighborhood, and how that affects the community and myself.”

Transit advocates have long argued that the revenue generated from the surcharge would help commuters from Southeast Queens experience more reliable subway service, affordable Long Island Rail Road service and faster, more dependable express bus service.

“I have this cane in order to get on the bus, with the old diesel buses. They suck. I hate that,” said Jeanne Majors, a Jamaica resident who often takes the Q4, Q5 and Q84 buses down Merrick Boulevard in order to get to church.

“My concern with that is the diesel. When they pass by, I’m on the first floor of my building, so I’ve got to close the window. The smell — that is not environmentally friendly,” Majors continued.

Majors added that though the MTA has upgraded some of its bus fleet, some of the agency’s buses are still decades old, joking that the same buses that she took as a Jamaica High School student in 1967 seem to still be chugging along the borough’s byways.

The MTA told the Brooklyn Eagle on Tuesday that it will send new bus models to communities currently served by a disproportionate number of older, higher polluting buses by the end of the year following reports of service disparities.

Natasha Saunders of Riders Alliance spoke to commuters and advocates at a rally to pass congestion pricing outside of Jamaica Center.

Natasha Saunders of Riders Alliance spoke to commuters and advocates at a rally to pass congestion pricing outside of Jamaica Center.

Residents and activists at the rally noted that the Q5, which travels down Merrick Boulevard, and the Q83, which travels down Liberty Avenue, are also subject to overcrowding, delays and irregular service.

A report published by the Bus Turnaround Coalition gave more than 50 percent of city buses a “D” or “F” grade based on speed and service predictability, among other factors. The report found that the Q5, which earned a “D” grade, travels an average of 8.1 mph, and that the bus route often experiences “bunching” — when a bus scheduled to arrive before the bus in front of it ends up arriving at the same time, making service redundant.

The Bus Turnaround Coalition also found that the Q4 is even worse, averaging speeds of just 7.3 mph, earning it a “D” grade overall. The Q84 fared a bit better, averaging 9 mph and earning a passing “C” grade.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the MTA have both spoken out in support of congestion pricing. The concept gained even more traction last year, when Democrats won the majority of seats in the state Senate.