New York City subway riders have had some creative nonsense thrown their way lately, including but definitely not limited to: a lit firecracker; a prolific emergency-brake-pulling malcontent; and an overflowing toilet clogging rush hour service. But on Friday morning, the MTA dusted off one of its classic horrors: the broken subway elevator.
Riders say they were trapped for upwards of 80 (!) minutes on an “unbearably hot” elevator at the 72nd St. Q train station, beginning at 9 a.m. Firefighters quickly arrived on the scene, but a spokesperson for the FDNY told Gothamist that it “took a while to access due to where they were.”
“It’s a blind shaft below the ground,” the spokesperson explained. “So, they’re trapped in the middle of brick.” All 17 stuck commuters were freed about an hour after the firefighters showed up. Authorities said no one was injured, though people were understandably shaken up.
NYC Transit President Andy Byford addressed the incident during an unrelated press conference on Friday, blaming the third-party contractor, Schindler, that operates the elevator. “Obviously we’re now having urgent discussions with Schindler about why that elevator stalled,” Byford said. “The bottom line is we’re going to hold them to account. I do not want my customers trapped in elevators, period.” (Schindler did not immediately respond to Gothamist’s inquiries.)
Of course, accessibility advocates have long pointed out that the subway’s elevators are notoriously unreliable. A 2017 audit by the city’s comptroller found that the MTA skipped out on scheduled maintenance for nearly 80 percent of the sampled escalators and elevators; the situation was even worse for the system’s 53 elevators that are privately owned and operated—an arrangement that developers may accept in exchange for building concessions from the city.
Before holding nearly 20 New Yorkers hostage earlier today, this particular elevator was installed as part of the Second Avenue Subway project only two years ago. But just because the infrastructure isn’t aged, doesn’t mean it’s functional: A study by the Transit Center found that in the first quarter of 2017, the new elevator at Lex/63rd Street, just one stop from this morning’s failure, was out of service more often than any other elevator in the whole system.
And would you look at that: It just happened again.