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MTA Service Changes Confound Riders in Chinatown

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

CHINATOWN — Upper East Sider Fran Eubanks spent nearly an hour Wednesday waiting for a bus that never came.

After the MTA’s newest service changes took effect Monday, the M15 bus she was expecting to take uptown from City Hall had been replaced by the M9.

This was news to her.

“I’m standing there, there’s a bus stop, but there’s no bus,” said Eubanks, who’s in her 40s, of reading a now-defunct M15 sign that still stands at a bus stop near City Hall.

She ended up walking to Chatham Square in Chinatown to catch the M9 uptown, where many of her fellow straphangers waited equally confounded.

The MTA’s most recent modifications have had an even greater impact in this neighborhood, as the transit agency has not provided permanent route change notifications in Chinese for the many non-English speakers living there.

The new route information translated into Chinese for non-English speakers at bus stops along East Broadway.
The new route information translated into Chinese for non-English speakers at bus stops along East Broadway.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Hedlund

“It is a sign of deep disrespect towards New York’s immigrant communities that these signs were not installed months ago,” lower Manhattan Councilwoman Chin said in a letter to the MTA on Tuesday, adding that some of the revised signs instruct non-native speakers — in English — to use the MTA’s website for assistance.

“Failing to notify non-English speaking New Yorkers about these cuts is particularly glaring because they rely on public transportation.”

By Wednesday, someone at the MTA had affixed laminated, Chinese-language notices above many of the new bus signs along East Broadway, a Chin staffer said.

But the flimsy handbills didn’t always cure the confusion facing regular riders.

Some would-be passengers waiting on East Broadway for the M15, whose route moved two blocks south to Madison Street as part of the service changes, watched multiple M9 buses pass before finally asking the driver where to go.

“Here, it’s kind of hard to find someone to speak English,” said Ashley Z., 13, who commutes by bus from her home in Chinatown to school farther uptown.

She explained that her grandmother waited at the bus stop for an hour the other day before Ashley had to come and translated the route changes for her.

“It affects a lot of people,” she said.

A spokeswoman for NYC Transit admitted that converting all the signage across the city has proven “very difficult,” but said that adding permanent foreign-language information is not part of the MTA’s plan.

“Due to the extent and complexity of the service changes, NYC Transit directed non-English speaking customers to its website, which provides Google translation into over 80 languages,” said spokeswoman Deirdre Parker, adding that a phone number for an MTA translation service is also available at the stops.

Chin noted in her letter that more than 47 percent of New Yorkers live in households where languages other than English are spoken, and that the MTA had three months to address the issue since approving the service changes.

She said the temporary signage will do for now, but that longer-term measures need to be taken in heavily immigrant communities like Chinatown.

“Though these signs should have been up a long time ago, I’m glad they finally got their act together to put them up," Chin said.

"But make no mistake: this is only a first step. We must make sure that these signs go up throughout the city in non-English speaking communities, and I urge the MTA to do so immediately.”