Louise Salant goes to Manhattan at least five days each week on the 1 train to meet with her students. The private music teacher travels with a large suitcase on wheels, which holds 10 child-sized piano keyboards, an accordion, an electronic orchestra, and songbooks.
The bag weighs 30 pounds, and that doesn’t even include a second bag sitting on top.
Salant needs the elevators to meet the 1 train at the stop at West 231st Street and Broadway some three stories above street level. Yet, at least several times a week, she’ll discover they’re not working.
“It could be working, and then all of a sudden, it goes out of order,” Salant, 66, said. “When the elevator is broken at West 231st Street and Broadway, I can try the one across the street. If that’s working, I’ll ride to the end of the line, and … then continue back downtown. But, that generally makes me late for my appointments.”
If no elevators are working, and she simply doesn’t have time, she’ll try to drag her heavy bags up the stairs, hoping a fellow passenger might offer to help.
An audit released last week by city comptroller Scott Stringer showed 80 percent of the elevators and escalators he randomly tested throughout the five boroughs did not receive all scheduled preventive maintenance. Even more, 32 percent failed one or more MTA inspections and had been shut down for safety concerns.
Stringer didn’t test the train elevators in The Riverdale Press coverage area, but he might not have had to, at least according to some.
“They’re pretty good but mostly, they’re slow,” said Thomas Stabb, as he stood at the bus stop on West 231st Street and Broadway.
Stabb, who is in his 40s, uses the elevators “almost every day,” but typically just limits it to the mornings. The elevators usually work, he said, but there has been a few times they have been shut down for maintenance, which happens every few months or so.
On days when the elevator is out of order, Stabb uses the stairs. Yet for older people, Stabb added taking the stairs could be a hardship.
Laura Novich, 31, uses the elevators about once per month, and when she does, they generally work. On days when she travels with her daughter and the elevator is out of service, “I have to go back home and change my whole plan of how to get my baby into the city,” she said.
Climbing the steps carrying her daughter, stroller, diaper bag, her own tote bag and other items, is “nearly impossible.”
“Even if they offer a shuttle bus to the next station with an elevator, I still cannot get on the bus with my baby because you can’t have a baby in a stroller on the bus,” Novich said. “It’s just easier to change my plans than to rely on the MTA.”
Rodrick Wallace, 75, said the elevators are frequently out during bad weather. Wallace, a member of a transportation advocacy group known as the Ad Hoc Committee, said snow can be the worst, because elevators become pretty jammed with sand and salt.
“It spends a lot of time broken,” Wallace said.
A scientist, Wallace typically carries equipment on the train like a microscope. For his hobby as a photographer, he lugs camera equipment, which can weigh up to 20 pounds.
“It’s not just hard on the elderly, it’s hard on people with small children,” Wallace said.
Wallace’s Ad Hoc group earlier this year organized a petition with more than 1,000 signatures requesting the Metropolitan Transportation Authority add more buses to the Bx10 and Bx20 lines.
In addition to her extending her travel time, a non-working elevator costs Salant money. With her bags in tow, Salant doesn’t always know if an elevator is out of service until after she’s off the train and leaving the platform. Then, she has to pay an additional fare to get back on the train to ride the end of the route.
MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz called the accounts of problems with the elevators at 231st and Broadway “grossly inaccurate.”
“In the past month, we had one lengthy outage of (one of the elevators there) that lasted one day and five hours,” Ortiz said. Since January, the availability of both elevators have been above 96 percent.
“That means that aside from the one outage I mentioned, and routine scheduled maintenance, these elevators are fine,” he added.
Stringer’s audit showed just one-fifth of the escalators and elevators sampled received their scheduled preventive maintenance service, while another 31 percent had that maintenance canceled.
The comptroller gave more than a dozen recommendations to address the matter, including setting realistic targets for maintenance service assignments and to ensure there’s enough staffing available.
The problems with elevator service rest with Gov. Andrew Cuomo for not adequately funding the MTA, both Salant and Wallace said. Cuomo’s executive budget calls for $65 million in cuts to the division.
“This is a serious blow against economic activity in New York City,” Wallace said. “Public transit is the grease of the wheel of the New York City economy, and Cuomo should get with the program.”
“It just seems like it’s a hopeless situation that you just have to grit your teeth,” Salant said.