Driver of SUV impaled by subway plank speaks out; activists say incident is a call to action

WOODSIDE, Queens — He was inches away from possibly losing his life, and now, the man whose vehicle was impaled by a long wooden plank that fell from an elevated subway track is talking about the ordeal.

Also speaking out, in the wake of the potentially deadly accident, are activists, and at least one elected official.

They say that his case demonstrates why more money needs to be raised, through congestion pricing, to fix the public transportation system. Not everyone agrees, however.

Mahboob Lodhi had just finished his shift as a Lyft driver Thursday afternoon when the plank fell from the elevated 7 train's tracks over Roosevelt Avenue at 65th Place. It dropped through his SUV's windshield like a spear, leaving glass and other debris about twelve inches from Lodhi's seat.

Nobody was in the passenger seat at the time. Lodhi said he's speechless over what had happened. "This situation," he said, "I don't have an answer."

In the day since the vehicle impaling took place, Lodhi has gotten his windshield replaced. He said that he knows he's lucky to have survived unscathed.

"I'm nervous right now," he said about the prospect of driving under the elevated tracks ever again.

The MTA had the section of track where the incident happened cleared out. The wood had come from a temporary service platform that was never dismantled, when it should have been years ago, according to the transportation authority.

Activists on Friday said that that's not nearly enough.

Members of The Riders Alliance, a transit customers' activist group, rode the 7 train at midday on Friday, polling straphangers about their needs for improved service, and advocating for one major change. It was pointed out by State Sen. Jessica Ramos, who’d joined the transit activists.

"We saw yesterday just how dangerous our divestment from the MTA has been," Sen. Ramos told PIX11. "Congestion pricing can bring us some of the revenue that we need to get some of the [transit improvements] that we deserve."

She said that congestion pricing, the program in which any vehicle traveling in Manhattan below 60th Street, would raise $1.5 billion a year for the MTA to fix trains and buses. Some riders agreed.

"I think it would have to be done, if there's no other way to get revenue," said Thomas Semins, a subway passenger from Staten Island, who commutes on the 7 train to Queens.

Since February 1st, yellow cabs and green cabs have been required by the state to charge passengers a $2.50 congestion pricing fee, in addition to a 50-cent fee that's been charged for the last 10 years. The cab drivers' organization says that congestion pricing doesn't help them, since it reduces ridership.

"It is crushing people," said Bhairavi Desai, the president of the New York Taxi Workers' Alliance. "In the overall plan," she said, "the state needs to exempt yellow and green cabs."

Her organization supports raising taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers and on stock transactions, instead of subjecting cabs to congestion pricing.

Congestion pricing will be an issue in the upcoming legislative session. With Democrats, who generally favor the plan, dominating both houses of the legislature as well as the governor's mansion, the chance of its passage is high, though not guaranteed.

The state fiscal year, in which a budget needs to be passed, begins April 1st.

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