Service of So Many Vehicles and No Way to Get Anywhere

December 14th, 2016

Categories: City Living, Taxi, Traffic, Transportation, Travel

Traffic jam in Paris

The first time I felt stranded in a city swarming with cars was in Teheran long ago. The feeling of frustration, helplessness and dread is always the same. I think: “How will I get where I need to be on time or at all?” We were miles from our hotel, there were no taxis, we spoke not a word of Farsi and had no clue about public transportation.

The next time this happened was in Paris years later and years ago. The trick then was to know the number of a responsible car service. This didn’t always work either even when the concierge of a well regarded hotel placed the call. At least Paris has a superb metro system though it’s not fun taking public transportation very late at night when you’re dressed up and in uncomfortable shoes.

Back in NYC last week we waited 45 minutes for the cross-town bus at traffic jam in nyc49th and First Avenue, a jaunt from a subway. It never came. Everyone at the stop when we arrived eventually gave up. Meanwhile countless busses raced along First Avenue.

We left frantic calls on our friend’s mobile phone to make alternate plans. He held the tickets to Radio City Music Hall‘s Christmas Show and was waiting for us outside. My phone went dead. It needed a charge. We walked to Second Avenue hoping for better luck and mercifully someone hopped out of a cab which we dashed into. The driver charged my phone; we were able to connect with our friend but gosh–the stress to get there dampened our enthusiasm.

Lucky the show was spectacular as that’s what we remember when we think of that evening.

“There are rideshare options in your city!” some readers are yelling at their computer screens. My response: “I don’t have access to apps to hire Uber, Lyft, Gett or Juno car services. Does everyone?” Why don’t I? I need to set aside 3 hours to wait my turn at the Apple Store to acquire a new password/Apple ID in order to download apps. Something happened with my old one. The daunting potential time waste has put me off.

Second avenue subwayThe city is strangled by traffic. In addition to the annual influx of holiday shoppers and tourists eager to see the tree at Rockefeller Center, the stroke in midtown traffic caused by security around the President-elect’s Fifth Avenue midtown office/home will ensure that for blocks we continue to suffer for four years. In addition, the Governor has promised to complete the first stretch of the Second Avenue subway [photo left] by year’s end. To satisfy his ego, he has workers at it 24/7 and the avenue shrinks to one lane around 72nd Street. This subway has been in the works for 70 years at least when the first bond issues were floated. So what’s a few more days?

A sidebar: To feed a MetroCard for access to busses in NYC a person needs access to the subway which is usually up or down flights of stairs. Doesn’t that eliminate people for whom stairs are an issue? Grand Central Station no longer sells the cards on the main floor. Maybe you can buy or feed a card in a convenient spot somewhere else in the city but I don’t know where.

So how should people plan on getting around in cities?


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16 Responses to “Service of So Many Vehicles and No Way to Get Anywhere”

  1. David Reich Said:

    Uber has been fantastic everytime I’ve used it — here in NYC and in L.A., Chicago, Seattle, Portland OR. Downloading the app was quick and simple. I suggest you give it a try. Of course, as you noted, even Uber can’t make traffic disappear. I guess that’;s just part of life in this great city, although we do have the often-faster option of subways.

    Re MetroCards, there are some kiosks at ground level, like at Grand Central, the Times Square subway hub and I’m sure several other spots.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’ll have to try Uber once the ID situation is cleared up with Apple and I have access to apps.

    Almost a year ago, Grand Central removed the kiosk to buy or feed MetroCards. It lived with all the kiosks to buy railroad tickets. I’ll check to see if they’ve replaced it. I don’t think I’ve been to the Times Square subway hub. Glad to know that it’s at ground level. There should be many places to buy MetroCards in a city like this that discourages street traffic and encourages people to use public transportation.

  3. hb Said:

    Thanks to continuing growth and economic development, urban population density has become a real and growing worldwide problem. New York, although traffic is worse than ever, is better off than most of its peers despite its gross mismanagement of traffic issues such as parking, bicycles and deliveries and dismal urban planning. Unfortunately, things are going to get much worse bere they get better, if ever.

    The worst traffic I have ever experienced was in Lagos, Nigeria during the oil boom of the 1970s. Lagos, which now has a population of over 20 million, was large even them, and just as desperately poor in a desperately poor and backward country.

    With the oil price rise in 1974 foreign exchange had flooded largely into the hands of the urban elite, most of who lived in Lagos. They used it to buy automobiles, and traffic came to a standstill. To unstick it, the government decreed that cars with even numbered license plates could only be driven every other day, and likewise with odd numbered ones. Did traffic get better? Not for long because everybody went out and bought another car on which they put an alternately numbered plate. Meanwhile, the country’s vast hordes of hungry poor went right on being malnourished.

    I’m not sure that traffic will get that bad here, but it is not going to get better until the ice caps break up and we start to see our streets flooding as the oceans rise. You don’t think that can happen? Just visit Venice in the winter and see St. Mark’s square under three feet of water.

    How does one get about with too much traffic? Move somewhere where there are less people.

  4. EAM Said:

    I agree with David. When we were in Minnesota this past summer, we went to the airport which was nearly out of rental cars. As an alternative to paying $500 for a car, we went with Uber which was very convenient. But, I will say I haven’t used the app- my sister had it on her phone. Recently, in the city, I was in a “legit” cab and noticed one of the Uber drivers was driving very erratically swerving in and out of traffic, dangerously so. If it feels uncomfortable when you get in the car, you shouldn’t be obligated to stay.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Hurricane Sandy rushing into hospital basements and subway tunnels in Manhattan should be enough of a reminder for those who don’t believe in global warming and rising oceans but as dramatic was walking through St. Mark’s Square on catering tables in Venice, as you mentioned. Water lapped the tops of the tables. We hopped from one to the other even in the Cathedral where water soaked the entrance and ignored the insult to the structure’s marble floors.

    The Lagos situation puts the inconvenience of traffic on our lives in perspective. I won’t complain anymore. I plan to clear away what’s preventing me from downloading apps and give one of the ride-sharing services a try.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Oh dear! You frightened me with your vivid description of the Uber driver. I will ask around the office to see what folks think of other services though all have their risks, even Yellow Cabs. A mutual friend of ours [yours and mine] was in a horrible accident a year or so ago in a Yellow Cab driven by a crazy man. Her back and legs gave her horrendous trouble for months after that–she was almost flat on her back.

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    Traffic snarls are a way of life and have been for years, so there’s little use complaining, since it won’t help. Locally, there’s ongoing rage over the LIE, the NJ Turnpike among other cluttered roads, and nothing happens. Every road carries the potential of accidents resulting in delays, so why sweat the small stuff? Turn on the radio, enjoy, and rejoice at not being involved in that accident!

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    How often do I see a clump of busses? All the time. There’s so much that can be done and wouldn’t cost a cent such as spreading them out.

    GPS programs track the whereabouts of each bus and I assume that there is a person watching the screen and traffic patterns. No reason this person can’t contact a bus driver on one route and have him/her change to another. Nobody does that–they sure didn’t do it the other night when countless EMPTY busses marked “OUT OF SERVICE” raced along First Avenue and not one turned to go crosstown. Makes no sense.

    I used to have a client on 12th Avenue in the 20s. I’d take a subway to 23rd and could rarely count on getting a crosstown bus within 20 minutes even if there wasn’t an ounce of traffic on that street. Good for the taxi business but gosh.

    As for the LIE and NJ Turnpike, there are people who must travel in a car as they lug heavy tools or sample books for their jobs or who are in sales with many stops to make each day. Then there are those who won’t give public transportation a try which louses it up for the others. If gas prices zoom as they are expected to do next year, at least people in the latter group might give trains and busses a try.

  9. DManzaluni Said:

    Apple will rectify the ID problem, which I have also had, over a phone call, because it is stopping you from SPENDING MONEY WITH THEM!

    When you see an empty bus speeding past you, it is not out of service because the driver (or controller in that control room) has decided to take it for a joy ride or to get a Frappacino: Dont you realize that it is probably on positioning precisely because of the problem you have identified!!

    And why are people who are OBVIOUSLY NOT UBER USERS pretending that Uber drivers drive badly? Not sure about other cities but they are infinitely better than fresh-off-the-boat cab drivers!

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    First the Out of Service busses. They were racing down the middle of First Avenue. On the right side of the avenue busses that pick up passengers were gliding by. There were plenty of them. I promise. [Your description made me giggle, however. When I lived in Brooklyn Heights a zillion years ago fire engines would park outside a grocery store–not a Starbucks with Frappachinos–but I always wondered why one of the firemen couldn’t walk to the store to buy provisions.]

    I thought it very strange re. Apple for the very reason you state. I went there one day and was advised to stand “over there in that line in order to make an appointment.” That was IT for me. Going to Apple for this in the first place was the advice given me by a Verizon person who wasn’t interested in what I asked him about my account. I should not have listened to him.

    Since I wrote the post I had a computer problem that my amazing IT person came to fix. He was suspicious of my needing a new ID and long story short, he fixed whatever and signed me up for Uber. I usually walk or take the subway when alone but plan on trying out the Uber service someday.

    One of my favorite cab ride stories happened in Philadelphia long before GPS or today’s mobile phones. It was Sunday, the poor man didn’t speak a word of English and didn’t know the city. Imagine how scary it would be to be plopped down in an unfamiliar city where you don’t speak the language and need to make a living. It took a long while but we got where we meant to be–a few blocks away if I recall–but close enough!

  11. JM Said:

    When I go to NYU for a doctor’s appmt in NYC, I go by train from Valhalla to Grand Central and walk from there to East 32nd Street. We can walk faster than taking a taxi bc of the traffic jam in that area. The Queens midtown tunnel traffic is part of the problem—entering & exiting around 33rd St.
    We try to time the lights always crossing @ the corners. It takes us 10-12 minutes to get to my appmts & we don’t run.

    On the way back we grab a bite to eat always @ the same deli restaurant on 3rd Ave.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I wonder if you eat at Stark’s on Third Ave? If you are in the mood for a change, there is a wonderful old fashioned Spanish restaurant, El Pote, between 38-39 and Second Ave. that has two amazing specials daily. On Tuesday there’s paella. Yum. I haven’t been to Bloom’s on Lexington Avenue and about 40th in ages but it, too, made great deli sandwiches and serve real pickles. I am stupidly fussy about pickles and can detect a jarred pickle [ugh] from miles away. I only like Jewish pickles, not too sour, NEVER from a jar.

    In any case, you remind me of my sister who walks most places no matter how far!

  13. JM Said:

    We regularly eat a @ Blooms after my appmt on our way back to Grand Central. Our ticket home is half the price of a ticket on the train bc the platform vending machines don’t sell senior tickets probably bc the senior eligibility can’t be verified.

    We buy our return ticket from the main window @ GCS. This may help you for seniors!

  14. hb Said:


    When I buy from the vending machine on the platform in Dover Plains, NY, I have the option to pay for the senior ticket. If a 20 or 40 year old handed such a ticket to the conductor he/she would simply ask for more money. I suggest you take another look next time you’re at the station. Also, if you buy your ticket from the conductor as a senior, there is no fee and you’d get the senior rate, at least that’s how it works from farther upstate on Metro North. And they are set up to take credit cards which is handy.

  15. RCF Said:

    Two thoughts: how far is too far? Walking a mile does not seem bad. Walking 5 miles does.
    And how can you plan ahead when you are in a strange city? Planning ahead seems to be an important part of travelling.

    My daughter does not drive, and so she walks everywhere or uses public transportation. She likes to know where she is in a city, so likes to walk when it is reasonable to do so, and is safe. She always plans ahead and has a fail-safe plan for if she is late – usually using a cab. She also uses Google maps on her cell phone for information about how to get where she wants to get and what public transportation means are available. There is also Uber. If your phone is not working, that makes all this very difficult.

    Such situations often prevent people from visiting strange cities, which is too bad. Thank you for the questions!

  16. hb Said:


    I agree with you and your daughter–planning is key. Last time I was in Paris my husband and I made a game of planning the best subway to take to get from the hotel to XYZ place before we set foot on the sidewalk. I can live without the tension of feeling lost or stranded.

    I am convinced that someone I know was not accepted into the graduate program he desperately wanted to attend because he was very late to his interview. And why was that? His cab driver had no idea where the place was and got lost. This was long before GPS and mobile phones but not before maps–and telephones to call a place to learn the best route.

    The first time I went to visit a new client in Minnesota I arrived the day before, rented a car, jumped on the highway, took the exit and drove by the place so that I knew I wouldn’t get lost in the morning traffic the next day. Sure makes for a better night’s sleep with an A personality like mine!

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