going down

Pol Blasts Company Responsible for Fixes on Subway’s Worst Escalator

A privately maintained escalator at the Lexington Avenue-53rd Street station has been down since late January.
A privately maintained escalator at the Lexington Avenue-53rd Street station has been down since late January. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The subway system’s lousiest escalator should be on track for a replacement, said a Manhattan City Council member who decried “inexcusable” constant breakdowns in the city’s ninth-busiest station.

“There’s somebody here who’s responsible, who should be holding up their end of the deal,” Councilmember Keith Powers told THE CITY. “But they have not been doing that.”

THE CITY last week flagged the escalator leading to the E and M trains’ platform at the Lexington Avenue-53rd Street stop as the worst-performing of 42 privately operated escalators in the subway system. The escalator worked just 18.6% of the time over the first three months of 2019.

That prompted Powers to fire off a letter to Metropolitan 885 Third Avenue Leasehold LLC, reminding the firm of a 1984 agreement its predecessor entered into with the city that charged the company with maintaining sections of the station.

The letter notes the escalator, built in 1985, “has reached the end of its useful life,” and called on the company charged with maintaining it to provide a “clear timeline” for replacement.

“We’re hoping this kick-starts a conversation to pick up the pace and do the right thing,” Powers told THE CITY.

Reliability in Steep Decline

The escalator’s 24-hour availability rate has been in freefall for two years. In the first quarter of 2017, the privately owned escalator had a 24-hour availability rate of almost 85%, according to MTA statistics. That figure plunged to 25.5% last year.

“I’ve never seen it work — ever,” said Adrian Conoboy, who was on the platform Tuesday with his wife, Roz, who is set to give birth this week. “If you’re a pregnant lady or if you have a disability, it’s rather limiting.”

Adrian and Roz Conoboy say they've never seen the escalator work.
Adrian and Roz Conoboy say they’ve never seen the escalator work. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

When 599 Lexington Ave. opened, the subway improvements included a passageway linking what had been two separate stations along with new elevators, escalators and new station entrances at a transit complex that in 2017 was the ninth-busiest in the city.

An MTA website that lists the real-time status of escalators and elevators systemwide says the escalator is supposed to be back in service June 1.

A man who answered the phone at Metropolitan 885 Third Avenue Leasehold declined to comment. “If this is about the escalator, I can’t talk to you,” he said.

The city’s Buildings Department has issued three violations to the owners, who in 2011, opted to repair, rather than replace, the escalator, following an extended outage.

In a statement, MTA spokesperson Shams Tarek said, “The performance of this escalator and its owner in maintaining and repairing it are unacceptable and we are working with city agencies to explore all possible remedies on behalf of our customers.”

Riders at the station — who also can reach the platform by taking the stairs, an elevator or other escalators — said they’re not optimistic the yellow barriers to the privately owned escalator would be coming down soon.

“It hasn’t been fixed before, why would they do it now?” said Trevor Lovitt, 29.

“This is pure negligence,” said Mirtha Fortuniy, 72. “A lot of people could really use that escalator.”

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