In the auditorium of P.S./I.S. 78, MTA representatives described in detail the scope and scale of the three-part service project responsible for the suspension. Services to be performed include track panel replacement, tunnel repair and the installation of the communication-based train control system that will allow for a 10 percent increase in the number of 7 trains every hour.
Several business owners expressed frustration with weekend service suspension, including Richard Mazda, art director for the Secret Theater and chair of the LIC Arts Open.
This year, the open is scheduled for May 14-18, which overlaps with a weekend that will see extended closure. On the closing weekend of the festival, there will be no 7 trains between Vernon Blvd.-Jackson Ave. and 74th St in Jackson Heights. Mazda fears this will affect attendance.
NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco said that though service outages can be inconvenient, it is imperative for the agency to stick to its service schedules. He reminded riders that subway service has come a long way in the past 30 years.
“In 1982, for those of you that are old like me, there were these red flag areas. We had derailments happening on a regular basis,” Bianco said, adding pointedly, “We can't let the system degrade.”
The hottest point of contention caused by the shutdown is the MTA’s refusal to provide shuttle bus service to and from Manhattan.
Currently, shuttle buses transport weekend commuters to and from Vernon Blvd.-Jackson Ave., Hunters Point Ave., and Court Square, with connections to Queensboro Plaza to connect with the N and Q trains, and Queens Plaza, to connect with E and R trains.
Locals are unsatisfied with this arrangement.
Bianco told supporters of shuttle service to Manhattan that the MTA has plenty of data showing such service is unfeasible. One issue cited by MTA representatives in the past is the lack of bus parking space near Grand Central Station.
“With all due respect, I think we all fundamentally disagree with that assessment,” Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer told Bianco, generating resounding applause from his constituents in the crowd. “A shuttle bus from Vernon that would go right to the Midtown Tunnel, that would be so doable.”
After Bianco repeatedly asserted that the choice not to provide shuttle service to and from Manhattan is well informed and data-driven, State Senator Michael Gianaris asked the transit president, “Is that just anecdotal? Did you make that up?”
Bianco assured him, “We have lots of data,” to which Gianaris shot back, “We asked for that a while ago, but we're still waiting.”
Resident Frank Carrado felt that Queensboro Plaza, with its multiple staircases, is a poor transfer location for elderly and disabled riders. He resorted to flattery to convince Bianco to consider a Grand Central-bound shuttle bus.
“You people would look terrific; I think people would love it,” Carrado told Bianco.
There were also questions surrounding the decision to perform maintenance and upgrades on the weekend instead of during low-density late weeknight hours, a common practice on other subway lines.
“We cannot do that on an elevated line,” Bianco said, citing safety concerns for track workers. “We have to do it during daylight.”
In an interview, Bianco clarified that he will provide data supporting the infeasibility of a Grand Central station shuttle to elected officials, though he would not provide a timeline for release.
Bianco also pointed out that the current round of repairs and upgrades is not going to be the last, and that 7 train riders can expect to see service shutdowns continuing at intervals for the next three years.
“It will go on until 2015 and then the majority of the work will be east of LIC,” Bianco Said. “The entire project will not wrap up until 2017. I apologize for the inconvenience, but we really must get this work done.”