Of all the myriad charms of the Queens Boulevard corridor, perhaps the best-kept secret is its terrific access to public transportation. Most of us, when outsiders find out where we live, have heard the same retort: “That's so far away from the city!” But for those who want and need easy access to Manhattan's office towers and entertainment options, the subway is right there, an express train never far away, ready to whisk riders to Midtown in 20 minutes or so. Trains are frequent, and $2 is a small price to pay to get around. A monthly MetroCard costs $81, which isn't half bad to get from Point A to Point B ad infinitum. Think about how much more a car would cost—and how much more of a hassle it would be.
But change is coming, and Obama voters might be unpleasantly surprised to learn that change isn't always good. For one thing, as of the end of May — just weeks away, really — a single ride is jumping to $2.50. Fifty cents doesn't sound like much, but when you consider that's a hike of 25 percent, it sounds more than a little worse. Monthly fares are rising even more, to a jaw-dropping $103. Prefer to take the Long Island Rail Road? I prefer the cheaper, more-frequent, not-much-slower subway, but some people here swear by it, and for their trouble, they'll be paying about 23 percent more.
When these increases were just a rumor, a rider-advocacy group ran ads suggesting that for $103, your dank, dirty subway station should include a sauna and Pilates classes. You may not get luxury services for your extra cash, but at least you'll get something, right? After all, more money should pay for more stuff. Well, if that's what you're expecting, you don't know the MTA very well. Actually, you'll get less—much less.
The G line will no longer run all the way to Forest Hills, though Queens-to-Brooklyn commuters know it rarely does now despite being advertised as such. It will instead end at Court Square in Long Island City. Extending it just one stop farther to Queens Plaza would have made transferring far less painful, but seemingly nobody at the MTA thought of that. Riders on the J and Z will lose express service, making the long trips common on that line even longer.
One of the best things about the subway is how often it arrives, but weekend wait times will increase to 10 minutes—and that's the stated time, not how often the trains will really come—on pretty much every line running through our neighborhoods. Meanwhile, night owls will find themselves waiting a soul-crushing 30 minutes for trains between 2 and 5 a.m.
Whenever the MTA moans about financial woes, which is almost all the time, I can't help but think back to less than two years ago, when the agency announced a budget surplus of about $1 billion. Did we ever figure out what happened to that money? Not even the Yankees, who open their massively overbudget new stadium in the Bronx today, can squander so much of New Yorkers' money with so little accountability. Sometimes I'm almost inclined to feel sorry for these people, what with their convincing claims of lackluster state support, but then I remember that $1 billion. Works every time.
There's some concern that Central Queens residents are disproportionately getting the shaft with these new cuts, but I'm not so sure—everybody will have to deal with steep fare increases, service is getting cut nearly everywhere, and $2.50 from Forest Hills to Wall Street is still a better deal than $2.50 from East 86th Street to East 42nd Street. Just thank your lucky stars the MTA hasn't discovered tiered pricing yet.
But whether or not we're second-class citizens, one thing's for sure: We're still getting the shaft.
The writer, Steve Tiszenkel is the host of the Website Queens Central.com. Log on to read more about Forest Hills and surrounding neighborhoods.