The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will not add V train cars to the G train, according to transit activists involved in negotiations with the M.T.A. over just such an addition. On March 4, Jim Trent, transportation chair of the Queens Civic Associaion, and John Leon of the advocacy group Save the G, met with M.T.A. representatives to discuss moving cars from the V to the G. The agency’s response? Out of the question.
The agency has no plans to shorten the V, confirms M.T.A. spokesman Charles Seaton, since it’s an engineering impossibility to swap out pairs of cars. Moving them between matching lines is doable—as long as it’s letters with letters, numbers with numbers—but for the past 15 years, the V and G cars have been locked in "married quads" of four trains.
Yet, members of Save the G insist that something must be done to alleviate rush hour crowding on the G. "When you look at the strain on the rest of the system, [the V is] inequitable," says the group’s co-founder, Teresa Toro. "You’re not kicking [V riders] off the train. You’re just proposing that they have a slightly less luxurious ride."
The idea of switching cars goes back almost seven years, and originates with Mr. Trent. In 2001, the M.T.A. cut trips to almost half the G’s stations—from Forest Hills-71st Ave to Queens Plaza in Queens—and shortened its six-car trains to four. Soon after, it launched the eight-car V train. (The M.T.A. denies the cars went to the V, although transit advocates disagree.)
Since 1998, turnstile counts at G-only stations have risen from 9.3 million to 12.6 million fares per year, even as the M.T.A. has reduced service. During the morning rush in north Brooklyn, riders are often unable to board trains overflowing with northbound passengers. "I’ve been borderline assaulted trying to get on the G in the morning," says Alexis, an editorial coordinator and frequent G rider. After she transfers to the V at 23rd St-Ely Avenue? She almost always gets a seat.
However, the M.T.A.’s Mr. Seaton says that the V train controls ridership on the E, and "has been very successful at doing that." Currently, the M.T.A. estimates 30 million annual G riders, compared to the V’s 40 million. The G also came in first place for seat availability in a 2007 Straphangers Campaign transit survey.
But as Fredrik Anderson, transit chair of the Fort Greene Association, points out, the G is a "lifeline" train. Almost two-thirds of the stops on its current route are G-only; the V has no dedicated stops. And travel between and within the city’s outer boroughs is only going to grow as developers have their way with Queens and Brooklyn.
So Ms. Toro is looking to the future. "Ridership’s going up—don’t let this be another L train situation," she said, referring to jam-packed cars and rider dissatisfaction on the L. The Straphangers survey ranks the L train 21 out of 22 lines in terms of "chance of getting a seat."
Meanwhile, in Greenpoint, city officials have rezoned industrial districts, making way for condominiums. Further south, neighborhoods are home to skyrocketing real estate values. And, across the borough, locals are likely to forgo Manhattan for Bedford Avenue or Smith Street at night, necessitating a trip aboard their very own local. The G connects these neighborhoods, as well as cultural institutions such as the Brooklyn Academy of Music and MoMA’s contemporary art museum, P.S. 1.
The struggles of the G train, however, have long mirrored those of the communities that rely on it. In Community Board 3 (Bedford-Stuyvesant, Stuyvesant Heights and Ocean Hill), roughly a third of residents lived below the poverty line in 2000. Yet the neighborhoods have been changing. Census statistics reveal an increasingly white population in Community Board 2, which includes Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. In Community Board 3, the median household income increased by 4.6 percent in the 1990′s—and the median housing value by 17.3 percent. And in Community Board 1 (Williamsburg-Greenpoint), the population of college graduates doubled between 1990 and 2000.
These new residents are eager to speak up about transportation issues.
Save the G’s Mr. Leon, a Greenpoint resident, believes the line’s most pressing issue is eliminating the "G train sprint." Since the 300-foot trains are shorter than their platforms, G commuters are often caught running to jump aboard, a problem exacerbated by the infrequency of the trains. Mr. Leon sees this as an accident waiting to happen, and one that could be avoided by moving cars from the V.
Others believe the real problem with the G is its frequency, not its length. The Fort Greene Association’s Mr. Anderson would rather see a fixed G schedule ("2:12, 2:22, 2:32…") than longer trains, although he too supports moving cars from the V. "I think it’s really good for Brooklyn for the G to be longer and more reliable," he said.
In the evening rush, G trains are scheduled to arrive every eight minutes, compared to the system’s average of five minutes and 46 seconds, according to the Straphangers Survey. The M.T.A. has proposed service increases on the G, although only during off-peak hours and at the expense of weekend and weeknight service past Court Square in Queens.
"It really looks like a dead end, or an end of the line in terms of anything else," said Mr. Trent of moving V cars to the G. "I just didn’t see that there was an opening for continued discussions and continued negotiations."
Ms. Toro, however, sees otherwise. "Shame on them for lying!" she fumes, explaining that the M.T.A.’s definition of "impossible" is different from hers. And now that she has gone through the proper channels—the e-mails, the phone calls, the formal meetings—she plans to try different methods. Ms. Toro declined to elaborate. She wants to preserve the element of surprise.