NEW YORK—Before subways shut down because of Hurricane Sandy, three women spent more than 24 hours on the subway system, trying to break a record.
Stefanie Gray, with a co-worker and friend, boarded the subway on Oct. 23, seeking to break the Guinness World Record for how quickly someone can visit every subway station in the system.
The record is 22 hours, 56 minutes, and 36 seconds, set in January 2010.
The rules stipulate that one must stop at every station with the doors open, so the trio could, for example, take the No. 7 train to Flushing then take the express train back to Manhattan.
Gray even received encouragement before she started from the chief of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which runs the subway system.
But, the three women did not break the record in the end. They were disrupted by having a subway car they were in emptied out by police at 5:00 a.m., and long waits in the Bronx and the Rockaways in Brooklyn.
“Ultimately I was just held back by shoddy service,” said Gray.
The trip ultimately took about 30 hours.
But the trip was still successful, said Gray, who works as a campaign coordinator with Transportation Alternatives, an organization that advocates for bicycling, walking, and public transit.
The goal apart from breaking the record was to raise awareness of an online petition. Created by Transportation Alternatives, the petition urges Gov. Andrew Cuomo to stop the looming fare hikes for subways, buses, and commuter rail in the area, controlled by the MTA.
There has been a decline in service since 2010, said Gray. Service cuts were made then to plug budget deficits, resulting in the loss of two train lines and 36 bus routes, though the MTA did restore some of those service cuts recently.
“Elected officials … don’t realize that a reliable and affordable system is the backbone to New York’s economy,” said Gray.
Politicians in Albany have siphoned about $260 million over the last three years from what was slated to be dedicated transit funding, according to Transportation Alternatives.
In a separate measure, some state officials are fighting to get rid of the payroll mobility tax, one that levies a small tax on businesses throughout the regions served by the MTA. The MTA gets about $1.5 billion yearly from the tax.
“The vast majority of riders have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes,” said Gray. “And really Albany is responsible for crippling the MTA’s budget more than anything.”
Gray and her companions received support along the way during the trip.
Her phone began running out of batteries—especially because of her furiously paced tweeting when she had cellphone service—by the time the trio had traveled around Lower Manhattan.
They were heading on the A, C line out to the Rockaways. Someone who was following their progress connected them with Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder, who met them at a station in the Rockaways with a mobile battery-charging device.“We were really shocked,” she said. They also had a friend meet up with them later who brought a turkey sandwich (“that wasn’t shared,” she said), some sodas, and some water, and many riders connected with them either in person, sharing their thoughts, or on Twitter.
They had also brought snacks and drinks along, and stopped to go to the bathroom at a few stations.
Gray has advice for riders who have been dreading the next service hike.
“Please sign our petition,” she said. They hope to get up to 50,000 signatures before Nov. 7, when the first public hearings about the fare hike options are held on Long Island and in Brooklyn (there are currently 17,343 signatures).
Gray plans to try to break the record again in the future. When? “I don’t know,” she said. But they will start from the Rockaways next time.
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