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City council leader visits Bronx, lends ear to commuter transit ills

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A small crew from City Council Speaker Corey Johnson's office stood in the cramped quarters of the downtown 1 train’s elevated station at West 238th Street and Broadway on  Friday. They weren't waiting for a train, just  inviting riders to share how they felt about life as straphangers.

It was a kind of calm yet energized nip in the air, save for the occasional rumble of aging trains passing through. All before rush hour’s mad bustle, and before Johnson — who not only leads city council, but also is the city's acting public advocate — arrived.

Johnson was wrapping a five-day transit tour, spanning all five boroughs, conducting a citywide survey of people who not only rely on trains and buses every day, but even those who just ride it from time to time. He was seeking feedback from transit commuters on what they’d like to see done in the way of fixing up the transit system that might make their lives a little easier — at least as far as getting around the city.

The romp kicked off Jan. 7 in Queens before hitting Brooklyn on Tuesday, sailing down to Staten Island Wednesday, into Manhattan Thursday, and finally landing in the Bronx Friday.

First stop there was West 238th, where Johnson — along with Councilman Andrew Cohen, newly-anointed state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz — hustled after riders inviting their feedback on the system they’d just rode.

Time is ripe for changing that system, Cohen said, and the state needs to step up to the task.

“Despite what you may have heard, the governor controls the MTA,” Cohen said.

And it’s not just the subway that needs major improvement. “The bus service, I get perpetual complaints about that daily. When I ride to City Hall at all hours of the day, in the middle of the day, the subway is very crowded.

“It’s in need of a cash infusion and modernization, and I think that the state really needs to do their part.”

Especially since riders already pay the fares, Cohen added. “It’s not like we’re not paying our share. It’s really a commitment from Albany to do the right thing” that’s lacking.

Both Johnson and Biaggi are pushing for that to happen — now. But they claim riders’ feedback is crucial to help them do the job justice. And that, at least, is fairly easy, Johnson said — in fact, taking the survey takes literally a minute, Johnson said, as one rider started taking one in Spanish on the uptown platform at West 238th.

“We always hear the MTA says, ‘Oh, the trains are delayed,’” Johnson said. “We want to hear from riders, the public.”

“We want to get this right,” Biaggi added. Commuters “should be able to go to and from work in a very safe way, in a very reliable way, and it’s up to us to make sure that happens.”

After a few more rounds of scrambling after departing commuters for feedback, Johnson zipped off to what would be the final stop of his tour — at the 2, 4 and 5 train stop at East 149th Street and the Grand Concourse in the South Bronx — where he’d meet up with Councilman Rafael Salamanca and borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., to hear from even more straphangers.

“We have to fund the MTA’s ‘Fast Forward’ plan,” to fix the system quickly, and safely, Johnson said, before dashing off. “The city has to work with Albany. We need to work with everyone to get the funding that’s needed to get the MTA” to operating on a level where “folks have reliable service.”

For more on this story, check out the Jan. 17 print edition of The Riverdale Press.

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