By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Ivan Colon had waited nearly an hour for the R train while on his way home from work on a recent evening. By the time he arrived at the 95th Street station, he was tired and annoyed that his trip had taken so long. There, at the station, was a member of the Riders Alliance, a citywide non-profit organization that organizes transit customers into groups to advocate or better service.
The Riders Alliance member was collecting signatures on a petition to demand better service on the R line. “They caught me on a perfect day,” Colon said. Not only did he sign the petition, he also joined the Riders Alliance.
“It feels good to be working toward better R train service instead of just complaining about how long I have to wait for a train,” he said.
The alliance, which formed in May of 2012, has already set up membership groups in Greenpoint to work on improving G train service, and in two neighborhoods in Queens. The organization has now set up shop in Bay Ridge. “. We’re a grass roots organization. We fight neighborhood by neighborhood,” said Rebecca Bailin, a community organizer for the alliance.
The goal of the alliance is to organize riders into a politically active group that will reach out to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and to their local elected officials and demand improvements in bus and subway service. Each neighborhood group sets specific goals.
In the case of Bay Ridge, “we’ve had four meetings so far,” Bailin said. “Folks in Bay Ridge have really big concerns about their transit services,” she said.
Bay Ridge resident Andrew Gounardes, who joined the alliance a few months ago, said the group has prioritized a wish list of service improvements members would like to see. The group has written a letter to the MTA outlining the improvements needed. The group’s goals are: 1) Improve R train service in terms of frequency of trains, 2) Restore the B37 bus on Third Avenue. The MTA eliminated the bus line in 2010, 3) Institute more frequent service on the B63 bus on Fifth Avenue, and 4) Construct elevators in R train stations on Fourth Avenue.
“The MTA is planning to construct an elevator at the 86th Street station. But we could really use elevators all along the line,” Gounardes said. “The population of Bay Ridge is nearly 20 percent senior citizens. Many older people have trouble navigating the stairs to go into the subway system. People who are physically disabled also have trouble going up and down the stairs,” he said.
Gounardes said the fight for better transit service has drawn lots of interest in Bay Ridge. “A lot of people come to the meetings. And they’re new faces, not the same group of dedicated community activists you usually see at Bay Ridge civic meetings,” he said.
The group wants to work with the MTA, not be an enemy of the transit agency, Gounardes said. “We’ve not trying to antagonize them. Our goal is to be service oriented,” he said.
Another member, Sylvia Naismith, said she joined the alliance because she wants to make the subways safer and more efficient. “I’m a lifelong resident of Bay Ridge and the transit service has always been a big concern of mine. Years ago, when the R train was called the RR train, my friends and I used to say RR stood for ‘Rarely Runs.’ I now take the express bus to get to work in midtown because the R train runs too slow,” she said.
“I have a 20 year old daughter who has sometimes had to wait 45 minutes for an R train at the 59th Street station at night. There’s no one there. And there are no announcements as to when the train is coming. So, the problems with the R train are now being visited on a second generation,” Naismith said.
“I joined the alliance because I think that instead of screaming into the subway tunnel as the train leaves me, I can do something to make things better. I was on 86th Street the other day asking people to sign our petition,” she said.