Pictured from left to right are Queens Chamber CEO & President Thomas Grech, Seth Pinsky of RXR Realty, Andy Byford of the New York Transit Authority, Lysa Scully of the Port Authority, Mark Scheinberg of the Greater New York Automobiles Dealers Association, and Queens Chamber Board Chair Thomas Santucci. (Photos: Dominick Totino)
BY BENJAMIN FANG
Queens Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Thomas Grech likes to say that Queens is the place you used to travel through, and now it’s the place you travel to.
As the borough grows in popularity and population, Queens still faces significant transportation challenges, from a decrepit subway system to airports that lack the necessary infrastructure to accommodate a growing ridership.
At the chamber’s expo at Citi Field, transit leaders from all modes of transportation discussed some of these challenges facing residents, small businesses and visitors.
From a trains perspective, New York City Transit president Andy Byford delved into “Fast Forward,” a strategic vision to modernize the operation of the city’s subway and bus systems.
A 29-year transit veteran of subway systems in London, Sydney and Toronto, Byford said the challenges facing New York City’s century-old system is a “triple whammy” of ever-rising ridership, aging infrastructure and limited funding.
Fast Forward proposes a top-to-bottom, all-out modernization of “every single aspect of our operations,” Byford said, including an overhaul of the MTA’s culture.
“I think it has to be done, we must bite the bullet,” he said. “If we put off the substantial investment that’s needed for this plan, it will only get harder and more expensive.”
Put together in less than 100 days, the plan focuses on four priorities: transforming the subway, reimagining the bus network, expanding accessibility and making customers feel more valued.
Those goals are built on three foundations, Byford said, including agility and accountability, safety and security, and customer service and communication.
Fast Forward will speed up the resignaling of the subway system, which at its current pace, would take up to five decades to complete. Under the new plan, in 10 years the MTA plans to modernize the signals for 11 subway lines.
To do that, the agency plans to work on more than one line at once, embrace new technologies and take a fresh look at closures. Byford warned that there must be extensive weekend closures, but there is “no gain without pain.”
“Bear with us, this will all be worth it,” he said. “At the end of that 10 years, you will have way greater reliability and way more service.”
On the accessibility aspect, Byford said the MTA will double the rate of installation of elevators at train stations. Within five years, their goal is to have a system where customers with disabilities are no more than two stops from an accessible station.
Then there’s the question of funding. Byford said the MTA already gets a lot of money annually, including $18 billion under their five-year capital plan. What the agency will work on is making better use of those funds.
“What we can do is shuffle the money around to get on with the accessibility and signal upgrades we’re pursuing,” he said. “Some things don’t need more funding, they just need better management focus.”