The trains and buses are crammed with commuters, and the platforms are packed with impatient late-comers who are instructed to remember that there's more on the way. So don't push or shove, and please stand clear of the closing doors.
Meanwhile, in Queens, the Q74 ambles its way up Main Street, winding through the light traffic, unperturbed by the usual chaos that plagues mass transit in New York. Vacant seats outnumber riders on the bus. And on the one that follows it, and on the one after that.
The Q74 cut its engines for the final time June 25, part of the MTA's effort to reduce its $800 million budget deficit. In total, two subway lines and 37 bus routes were eliminated throughout the city, including four others in Queens.
“I feel terribly sad and upset,” Aster Williams, a student from Kew Gardens working his way to Queens College, said as he rode the Q74 on its last day of service. “This bus services so many schools. People really need it.”
The bus ran from Kew Gardens Hills to Queens College in Flushing on weekdays only. It did not offer weekend service. The MTA estimates that cutting the route will save $1.2 million; the total amount saved from all the service cuts is projected to reach almost $100 million.
According to the MTA, the Q74 serviced 2,100 riders during the week, the most of any bus line that was cut in Queens. But a final ride on the Q74 showed the bus remains empty for most of its route. As it sped past stops like an express line, 2,000-plus weekly riders seemed like a generous estimate.
Halfway to Flushing and there were only four people on the bus, including Francine Murray of Kew Gardens, who has been a routine user of the Q74 for ten years. “I work up by the college and this bus is very convenient for me,” she said. “I don’t know how I’m going to get around without it.”
The MTA estimates the removal of the Q74 will increase the commuting time of riders who used it by an average of 11 minutes.
“People are going to have to start getting creative,” said Denis Nugent, an MTA bus driver for 31 years who regularly worked the Q74 route. “They‘ll have to take a few buses now to get where they‘re going.
“It’s unbelievable that they’re discontinuing this route,” he added. “It‘s not the busiest, but sometimes it gets full, people standing from front to rear.”
While he spoke, some people were already fast at work planning their new, post-Q74 commutes. “I’ll have to take two buses or a train and a bus to get” to Queens College said Williams, who thinks the change will cost him 15 extra minutes or more.
After the still-empty bus turned onto Horace Harding, the stops started taking longer. A group of college students came onboard, breaking the silence with their lively chatter.
By five o’clock in the evening the Q74 was stuck in traffic along Main Street heading towards Kew Gardens and - surprise - it was actually crowded with people. A young girl gave up her seat for an elderly man. The air-conditioning whispered weakly, but no one seemed to mind.
Stop after stop, more people got on. This week, they’ll all have to find another way home.