Advocates gathered in Bedford-Stuyvesant on March 17 to urge Governor Kathy Hochul to increase funding for public transportation in the Big Apple in the ongoing state budget negotiations.
“What we’re asking is for the governor to stand behind all of these millions of riders that depend on this system and prop it up and provide the world class service that everyone kind of expects from a city like New York,” said Derrick Holmes of Riders Alliance.
At the rally, which took place at the Utica Avenue subway station, several speakers voiced their opposition to the legislature’s ‘one house’ budget released earlier this week, which ignored advocates’ push for $300 million in funding for more frequent off-peak transportation service — which would “cut long waits, speed transit trips and attract more riders, improving safety and combating climate change.”
Holmes noted that many New York straphangers utilize routes that require multiple transfers, and one late train can often add twenty to thirty minutes to their commute.
“We’re trying to change that because for millions of people, this is a daily thing where they don’t have reliable service, they’re late to work, late to school, late to appointments. That’s not something that should be happening in New York City, a city that’s so dependent on a public transit system,” he said.
The group created and proposed “Six Minute Service” — a plan guaranteeing that no rider will have to wait more than six minutes for a train or bus in New York, even during off-peak hours, which include weekends.
State Senator Andrew Gounardes spoke at the rally, and argued that a better funded, more reliable public transportation system is a major key towards the recovery process from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We want to talk about recovery, we want to talk about getting people back to the [subway] system. We want to talk about the future of New York City and New York State — it begins and starts right here with a fully funded and fully reliable and fully frequent transit system. That’s why we’re not going to stop fighting, Gounardes said to the crowd. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure we get every penny possible into that pot of gold.”
Riders give more than just the $2.75 needed for public transit, according to Danna Dennis. With unreliable services and delayed commutes, New Yorkers have spent time and energy in a system that “fails us every day.”
“Riders are definitely paying enough. Beyond the $2.75 that they pay, when you say ‘just wake up earlier,’ I’ve seen people wake up early and transit still fails them,” she said.
So, when the budget proposal lacked funding for the Six Minute Service idea, the group sprung into action with Friday’s demonstration.
“We were going to do outreach but it kind of pivoted to more of a rally because of the announcement around the ‘one-house’ budgets. Just seeing that the Six Minute Service wasn’t in there was completely disappointing,” Dennis said. “But we definitely want to make sure that the Governor is hearing us and, at the end, both speakers of the houses are hearing us as well.”
Hochul’s Fiscal Budget report for 2024 proposed a package of additional funding for public transportation and the MTA, allotting “over $400 million in operating efficiencies to reduce expenses and improve service” and “$300 million in one-time state aid to address the extraordinary impact on MTA operating revenues”.
There was no mention of allotting the $300 million towards improving transit times directly. There was also no mention of the Six Minute Service plan from either the Senate or Assembly.
Dennis, who now commutes into the city from New Jersey after being priced out of her Bedford-Stuyvasent neighborhood, said that better transportation options would give her more time with her family and ensure a higher quality of life for all New Yorkers.
“It would affect me in the way of having more time with my family, being able to make sure that I can pick my kids up on time from daycare, and making sure that I can get to work on time. I think it really does barrel down to time,” she said.
Following the rally, Riders Alliance began canvassing the area, informing Bedford-Stuyvesant commuters on their demand for better service.
“We owe it to riders,” Dennis told Brooklyn Paper. “Albany owes it to riders. We shouldn’t be demanding it.”