For years, as our subway system has seen record ridership increases, the bus system has seen something of the opposite. Ridership has steadily declined over the years, and the MTA’s own actions in the form of service cuts have done little to stem the tide away from buses. On the one hand, I don’t blame people for not using local buses. As I’ve written before, they’re slow and unreliable and run entirely at the whims of surface traffic.
But on the other hand, the local bus network is a vital part of the city. Even if buses stop too frequently, they serve neighborhoods not easily connected by subway routes and offer increased mobility options for millions. In a sense, the MTA’s bus woes are entirely due to a lack of trying, and a few new studies underscore how simple changes can have a positive effect on ridership.
Our first glimpse at trends in bus ridership comes from within New York City itself. As BusTime has spread throughout the city, its system-wide deployment has coincided with a modest but steady increase in ridership. As CityLab notes, highlighting a study out of City College, bus ridership has jumped by around 2 percent following the availability of BusTime. It’s not easy to say if this is a situation where correlation and causation are related, and the MTA hasn’t publicly divulged user statistics on BusTime. But real-time information empowers potential riders to make informed and should drive up ridership as more people adapt the technology.
Eric Jaffe sums up the study:
A new study of a real-time bus arrival program in New York City offers an encouraging (if qualified) answer: it does generate new trips, though mostly for high-traffic routes. Candace Brakewood of the City College of New York and collaborators analyzed ridership patterns following the city’s roll-out of its Bus Time website. In a new paper they report a measurable jump in ridership (around 2 percent) that works out to upwards of $6.3 million in new revenue over the three-year study period…
Brakewood and company tracked bus ridership from January 2011 through December 2013. During that time New York launched real-time bus tracking in all of Staten Island, the Bronx, and Manhattan. (The program has since launched in every borough.) The researchers compared pre- and post-launch ridership to get a sense of just how influential Bus Time was in rider decisions. They accounted for key variables such as fare and service changes, seasonal patterns, the opening of the Citi Bike system, and Hurricane Sandy.
On average, across all the bus lines included in the Bus Time scope, real-time information contributed to about 118 new weekday trips—a 1.7 percent bump. The more significant increases only occurred on the most-traveled routes, where real-time info led to 340 new daily trips, or a 2.3 percent spike.
For bus routes that often lose substantial money on a per-rider basis, even these modest gains can go a long way toward staving off potential service cuts. As Jaffe notes, these findings are in line with similar studies conducted in other cities, and a potential barrier to a higher increase is the rate of adaptation. I rarely see people waiting at bus stops checking for real-time information. Perhaps a public awareness campaign on the existence of BusTime may be in order.
Meanwhile, another study highlights a simple way to speed up buses that the MTA uses only on Select Bus Service routes. Examining San Francisco’s bus boarding policies, Muni officials noted that multi-door boarding significantly lowers dwell times. In New York, we’ve seen the practical affects of this finding as the time savings for Select Bus Service routes is due nearly entirely to pre-boarding fare payment and multi-door boarding options.
The key to the San Francisco study lies in the economics of it. Muni notes in the report [pdf] that “transit operations have improved without adverse financial impacts.” The SF agency added a rear-door card reader and increased fare evasion patrols to fight potential jumpers. With a modicum of effort, the MTA could implement something similar, especially along high-volume routes, and could improve bus service in New York without the multi-year rollout and brouhaha that accompanies every single Select Bus Service routes. It’s certainly worth a thought or two.
Not too much, not too little. As always, these come to me via the MTA. Any inaccuracies or errors are theirs and not mine. Check the signs at your local station before venturing out this weekend.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, Bronx-bound 1 trains run express from 96 St to 137 St. For service to 103 St, 110 St, 116 St, and 125 St, take the uptown 1 to 137 St or 168 St and transfer to a South Ferry-bound 1. From these stations, take a South Ferry-bound 1 to 96 St and transfer to an uptown 1.
From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, March 15, South Ferry-bound 1 trains run express from Van Cortlandt Park-242 St to 215 St. For service to 238 St, 231 St, and 225 St, take the Bx9 bus instead. From 238 St, walk or take the Bx9 bus to 242 St and transfer to a South Ferry-bound 1 train.
From 6:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday, March 14, and from 9:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Sunday, March 15, 1 trains run every 16 minutes between 137 St and 242 St. The last stop for some 1 trains headed toward Van Cortlandt Park-242 St is 137 St. To continue your trip, transfer at 137 St to a Van Cortlandt Park-242 St-bound 1.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 13 to 6:00 a.m. Sunday, March 15, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, March 15 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, Bronx-bound 4 trains run express from 14 St-Union Sq to Grand Central-42 St.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, Brooklyn-bound 4 trains run local from 125 St to Grand Central-42 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, 5 trains are suspended in both directions between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St. 5 service operates every 20 minutes between E 180 St and Grand Central-42 St, days and evenings only. Free shuttle buses operate all weekend between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St, stopping at Baychester Av, Gun Hill Rd, Pelham Pkwy, and Morris Park. Transfer between trains and shuttle buses at E 180 St.
From 7:45 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Sunday, March 15, 5 trains are suspended in both directions between E 180 St and 149 St-Grand Concourse. Take the 2 instead. Transfer between 2 and 5 trains at 149 St-Grand Concourse. Trains from Manhattan skip 138 St-Grand Concourse. Take the 4 instead.
From 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, March 14, and from 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Sunday, March 15, Bowling Green-bound 5 trains run local from 125 St to Grand Central-42 St. 5 trains run every 20 minutes.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, Bronx-bound 6 trains run express from 14 St-Union Square to Grand Central.
From 6:45 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 7:00 p.m. Sunday, March 15, Brooklyn Bridge-bound 6 trains run express from Parkchester to Hunts Point Av.
From 2:15 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 4:30 a.m. Monday, March 16, 7 trains are suspended in both directions between Times Sq-42 St and Hunters Point Av.
- Use E, F, N and Q trains for service between Manhattan and Queens. The 42 Street S Shuttle operates overnight.
- Free shuttle buses operate between Vernon Blvd-Jackson Av and Queensboro Plaza, stopping at Hunters Point Av, Court Sq, and Queens Plaza.
From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, March 15, Flushing-Main St bound 7 trains run express from Queensboro Plaza to 74 St-Broadway. For service to 33 St, 40 St, 46 St, 52 St, and 69 St, take the Flushing-Main St bound 7 to 61 St-Woodside or 74 St-Broadway and transfer to a Hunters Point Av-bound 7. From these stations, take a Hunters Point Av-bound 7 train to 61 St-Woodside or Queensboro Plaza and transfer to a Flushing-Main St bound 7.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 13 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, March 15, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, March 15 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, Inwood-207 St bound A trains run express from Canal St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, A trains are suspended in both directions between Ozone Park-Lefferts Blvd and Rockaway Blvd. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service via 80 St. Howard Beach/Far Rockaway-bound A trains skip 88 St.
- For service to 88 St, take the A to 80 St and transfer to free shuttle buses.
- For service from 88 St toward the Rockaways, take a Brooklyn-bound A to 80 St and transfer to a Howard Beach/Far Rockaway-bound A.
- A service operates between Inwood-207 St and Howard Beach/Far Rockaway.
- Free shuttle buses operate between 80 St and Ozone Park-Lefferts Blvd, stopping at 88 St, Rockaway Blvd, 104 St, and 111 St. Transfer between shuttle buses and A trains at 80 St.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, March 14 and Sunday, March 15, 168 St-bound C trains run express from Canal St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, D trains run local in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and 34 St-Herald Sq.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, Norwood-205 St bound D trains run local from 36 St to DeKalb Av.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, Jamaica Center-Parsons Archer bound E trains run express from Canal St to 34 St-Penn St.
From 10:45 p.m. Friday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, Jamaica-179 St bound F trains skip 75 Av, Van Wyck Blvd, and Sutphin Blvd.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 13 to 8:00 p.m. Sunday, March 15, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound F trains skip Avenue I, Avenue N, and Avenue U.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, Astoria-Ditmars Blvd bound N trains run local from Lexington Av-59 St to DeKalb Av.
From 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Saturday, March 14 and from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Sunday, March 15, Q service is extended to Astoria-Ditmars Blvd.
42 St Shuttle
From 12:01 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. Saturday to Monday, March 14 to March 16, the 42 St S Shuttle operates overnight due to work on the 7 Flushing Line.
Much like the PATH’s new World Trade Center Hub itself, every new article about the absurdly expensive subway stop and the man who designed it is superfluous. We learned from a thorough Times investigation late last year that everyone — from the governors of New Jersey and New York to Mayor Bloomberg to the MTA and the 1 train to the Port Authority to Santiago Calatrava — bears some responsibility from the $4 billion boondoggle. Yet, Calatrava can’t help himself, and when the media comes a-knockin’, he’s the first person in line to attempt to defend himself from charges of egotism and excess in the realm of capital-A Architecture.
The latest entry in the media coverage surrounding the Spanish architect and the world’s most expensive subway station comes to us via a New York Magazine profile. Similar to the coverages in The Times this winter, it offloads enough blame on the shoulders of long-gone state officials and Port Authority executives to make its point, but it also serves, for some reason, as a platform for Santiago Calatrava and his supporters to pat themselves on the back for a job not too poorly done. Andrew Rice, a contributing editor with the magazine, spends a lot of time doting over Calatrava and his design, and while the building makes for an impressive sight, it’s still just a subway station.
I’ve had my say on the PATH Hub over the years. At a time when transit dollars are scarce, spending $4 billion on a mall-cum-subway stop will always seem irresponsible to me, even when the building is open and, in the eyes of many, a commercial success. For nearly the same amount of money, we could have had a new phase for the Second Ave. Subway, most of the worst-case scenario ARC overruns covered, or numerous other capacity-adding transit projects. Instead we have this, and it should serve as a lesson to future generations of politicians and bureaucrats.
But I can’t ignore this piece entirely; it has too many good quotes and lines. So let’s run down some of the best. Try as it might, the New York Magazine piece just can’t help itself from casting doubt on all of Calatrava’s detractors, and the results are something to behold.
The question remains, however, whether it will all have been worth $4 billion. Calatrava’s patrons at the Port Authority no longer seem convinced. “If we were looking at it today,” says Patrick Foye, the agency’s executive director, “we might come to different judgments about how those dollars ought to be spent.” In private, Foye is apparently openly hostile to the project. “He thinks it’s a boondoggle,” says a former government official who remains engaged with the redevelopment of the World Trade Center.
Calatrava is walking away with a nice chunk of change at the expense of taxpayers:
An STV spokeswoman confirms that Calatrava’s firm has a 20 percent share of the contract, which indicates he has made around $83 million to date. Calatrava told me that it wasn’t his job to monitor the budget. “It is very difficult,” he said. “I have never estimated anything in this project, because there was a whole team, maybe 25 people, working the whole time on cost estimation and cost control. But I kept looking at those fellows and telling them this is like geology: You only know what you have under your feet when you excavate.”
Meanwhile, the Port Authority thinks its crap don’t stink:
“It’s the most architecturally complex structure ever built by humankind,” said Steven Plate, the PA’s director of construction at the World Trade Center. “But it’s a piece of art.” … “I think we are even more beautiful and more functional than Grand Central station,” Plate said. Though he is a civil engineer, he is no political neophyte — he used to be the mayor of Glen Ridge, New Jersey — and when he escorted me into the areas still under construction, he seemed intent on sending a calculated message: This isn’t our building’s fault.
Finally, my two favorite — both of which feature some adult language in the form of the F word:
Recently, at a public talk that was later widely circulated as a web video, the architects Michael Graves and Peter Eisenman offered a scathing assessment, accusing him of “arrogance” and immoderation. “Cala-fucking-trava! My God, what a waste,” Graves said. “?‘I will make wings for you, and this subway station will cost $4 billion’ … Meanwhile, the kids don’t have erasers on their pencils.”
Of course, you can simultaneously admire the design’s ambition and wonder whether it was worthwhile. “He’s one of the great designers,” says Mitchell Moss, director of NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation. “But this is a fucking train to Jersey.”
And Moss’ words are, in a nutshell, what this whole thing was all about. It’s just a station for a subway with seven stops in New Jersey.
I recently had the opportunity to look at a calendar, and I was shocked to discover that it’s 2015, by many accounts the 15th year of the 21st Century. Considering how much time has elapsed since the heady days of the Y2K threat, that Limp Bizkit song called, for some reason, “9 Teen 90 Nine,” and unironic promises to “party like it’s 1999,” you would think that the country’s busiest transit agency would have perhaps planned for the 21st Century by now. You could be forgiven for being wrong.
In a move that resembles a bit of Orwellian nomenclature, the MTA, according to Pete Donohue, has named a Vice President of 21st Century Service Delivery. Better late than never, right? Here’s the story:
Transit officials recently created a new top-tier executive position for the subway system: vice president of 21st Century Service Delivery. The job was given to NYC Transit division veteran John Gaul.
Gaul’s will focus on improving customer service, relieving subway overcrowding and spearheading other priorities such as a new fare-paying system to replace the MetroCard, Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Kevin Ortiz said.
“He will lead efforts to redefine how we deliver customer service within our system; everything from train service to how we communicate with our customers, how we can accelerate bringing new technology into the system … and how we can strategically and aggressively enhance capacity within our system.”
Color me highly skeptical, but shouldn’t the MTA have been playing for the 21st Century, say, 20 or 25 years ago and not a decade and a half into the 21st Century? On a more practical and less snarky level, none of the elements of Gaul’s job that Donohue described are particularly unique to the 21st Century. If anything, Gaul is helping the agency catch up to where they should have been where the 21st Century dawned.
In presenting the story to the Daily News, Transit sources cited a slew of technological advancements and initiatives that won’t wrap for a few more years. We see mention of a new fare-payment system that should have been implemented already and likely won’t be fully installed before a quarter of the 21st Century elapses. We see a nod to the Help Point customer intercom system, a technology rendered redundant by cell phone service and one hardly new to transit systems (or college campuses) across the nation. We see Transit officials hoping that Gaul can work to “relieve subway overcrowding” — something that can’t be accomplished without signal upgrades and perhaps automatic train operations. By and large, these are late 20th century challenges not otherwise unique to our times.
So what should a 21st Century Service Delivery ops team work towards? For one — and especially for the MTA — the eyes should be focused on mid-21st Century anticipations. Speed up the pace of technological adoption and work on those B Division countdown clocks with some urgency, but also work to anticipate new transit trends in both customer-facing technologies but also in service patterns. How can the MTA grow today to meet demands of New Yorkers in 30 or 40 years? Inevitably, that would require serious cost and efficiency improvements. Is Gaul up to that challenge?
Ultimately, the MTA as a whole should be looking to the 21st Century. One position alone won’t be sufficient, and perception that this is nothing more than a nod to progress (rather than actual progress itself) will be tough. Gene Russianoff, in a statement to Donohue, said it best, “What should the chief goal of the new 21st century subways and buses vice president? Why, to get the transit agency into the 21st century before it ends.”
By some counts, Tom Prendergast is the sixth person to head up the MTA in the time since I started this site back in November of 2006. Peter Kalikow was the MTA chairman then, and when his term expired, he was replaced by the two-headed leadership of Dale Hemmerdinger and Lee Sander. That pairing proved short-lived for political purposes, and Jay Walder took over in 2009 after Helen Williams served as the interim head. Amidst tense relationships with both the TWU and then-new Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Walder departed for Hong Kong, and Joe Lhota took over until he ran for mayor. Prendergast has served in the role since the start of 2013 — seemingly eternity for an MTA head.
In an ideal world, the MTA head would serve a full six-year term as Peter Stengl, Virgil Conway and Kalikow did. But the best laid plans often run afoul of politics, and the turmoil at the top has reverberated throughout the organization. Efforts at trimming the MTA fat have succeeded, but plans to, say, bring countdown clocks to the B Division haven’t progressed much. Now, the six-year term that began with Walder’s appointment in 2009 is set to expire at the end of June, and the governor hasn’t indicated if he plans to stick with Prendergast.
In a piece in today’s Daily News, Pete Donohue highlights statements from transit advocates and MTA Board members who wish to see Prendergast reappointed. Gene Russianoff called Prendergast “the perfect transit advocate for a system badly in need of adequate funding,” and others closely associated with the MTA offered similar support. “He’s a serious transportation professional who has brought tremendous stability and a forward-looking perspective to the MTA. I expect as long a tenure as possible, because God knows, as an institution, we’ve been hobbled by a succession of short-term chairmen,” Fernando Ferrar, the Board’s vice chair, said.
To me, it’s a no-brainer to reappoint Prendergast if he’s interested in sticking around. The MTA needs state support and leadership continuity to address a yawning $15.2 billion gap in the capital plan, and the Sandy recover efforts will continue, likely for the next 3-4 years. Prendergast has a good working relationship with the MTA’s unions and, to a greater degree than other recent MTA Chairs, the respect of enough representatives in Albany to be an effective champion for the agency. Cuomo shouldn’t wait until June or later to make a move here, but timely decisions relating to transit sadly do not appear to be on our governor’s agenda.
For years, the MTA has tried to do away with station agents. Since they no longer sell tokens, their roles have been greatly reduced. They serve some nominal safety function as a deterrent against crime — though the fact that agents don’t leave booths limits this impact. Meanwhile, over the past seven years, as the MTA has cut costs, station agents have dwindled by 20 percent, and some stations that straddle wide avenues with no crossovers have no agents in sight.
Now, according to Pete Donohue’s latest column, the agency would like to do away with token booths entirely. The MTA wouldn’t fire the agents — at least no right away — but the MTA wants them out of their booths. Donohue has more:
The token booth clerk is going the way of the token itself. Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Thomas Prendergast is looking to redeploy token booth clerks who now spend their entire shifts inside locked cubicles.
“What we’re trying to do is move to a day where we are actually utilizing our employes in ways that are rewarding for them . . . but also provide a more needed service for us in the form of a customer service agent that would be able to be out and about in the station,” Prendergast said during a state Senate committee hearing on authority finances…
Now, the MTA is again thinking outside the booth. “We can all understand and agree, a visible presence of someone on the platform observing and seeing something going on and reporting on it is of value to the system, and that’s the direction in which we’d like to move,” Prendergast said.
But the MTA also is installing intercoms on platforms so riders can report things themselves. Stations are also being wired for cellphone service. And the MTA plans on introducing by 2019 “new fare payment technology” that could entail riders paying at turnstiles with their smartphones or bank-issued credit and debit cards. There were 3,303 token booth clerks a decade ago. There are 2,600 now. There will be far fewer in 2025.
In his piece, Donohue casts a skeptical eye on the idea. He compares it to the MTA’s plan late last decade to introduce those burgundy vest-sported courtesy workers who replaced shuttered station booths and were quickly dismissed when economic troubles hit. I can’t blame anyone for objecting, and we haven’t even heard from union officials yet.
The question that needs to be answered, though, is whether this is a feasible and good idea. The union, as I mentioned, will raise a stink. They’ve pointed to safety concerns in the past and don’t feel that station agents are equipped to handle face-to-face interactions with unruly passengers. But what do agents do? They sometimes know directions, sometimes will assist with damaged or malfunctioning MetroCards. But their impact is largely psychological. If they were eliminated, would the vast majority of subway riders even notice? I don’t think so.
I’ll format these later.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 6 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 9, 1 trains are suspended in both directions between 14 St and South Ferry. Take 23 trains and free shuttle buses. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service between Chambers St and South Ferry.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 9, 2 trains run local in both directions between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.
From 6:30 a.m. to 12 midnight, Saturday, March 7 and Sunday March 8, 3 trains run local in both directions between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 6 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 9, 5 trains are suspended in both directions between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St. 5 service operates every 20 minutes between E 180 St and Grand Central-42 St, days and evenings only. Free shuttle buses operate all weekend between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St, stopping at Baychester Av, Gun Hill Rd, Pelham Pkwy, and Morris Park. Transfer between trains and shuttle buses at E 180 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 6 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 9, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from 3 Av-138 St to Hunts Point Av.
From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, March 7 to 4:30 a.m. Monday, March 9, 7 trains are suspended in both directions between Times Sq-42 St and 74 St-Broadway. Use EFN and R trains for service between Manhattan and Queens. E trains will operate more frequently. The 42 Street S shuttle operates overnight. Free shuttle buses operate along two routes:
· Between Vernon Blvd-Jackson Av and Queensboro Plaza, stopping at Hunters Point Av, Court Sq, and Queens Plaza.
· Between Queensboro Plaza and 74 St-Broadway, stopping at 33 St, 40 St, 46 St, 52 St, 61 St-Woodside, and 69 St.
From 10:45 p.m. Friday, March 6 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, March 8, and from 10:45 p.m. Sunday, March 8 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 9, Queens-bound A trains run express from 168 St to 125 St.
From 6:30 a.m. to 12 midnight Saturday, March 7 and Sunday, March 8, Euclid Av-bound C trains run express from 168 St to 125 St.
From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, March 7 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, March 8, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound D trains are rerouted via the N line from 36 St to Coney Island-Stillwell Av.
· For Service To 9 Av, Fort Hamilton Pkwy, 50 St, 55 St, 71 St, 79 St, 18 Av, 20 Av, Bay Pkwy, 25 Av, and Bay 50 St, take the Coney Island-bound D to 62 St-New Utrecht Av or Coney Island-Stillwell Av and transfer to a Manhattan-bound D train.
· For Service From these stations, take a Manhattan-bound D train to 62 St-New Utrecht Av or 36 St and transfer to a Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound D train.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 9, D trains run local in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and 34 St-Herald Sq.
From 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday, March 7 and from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Sunday, March 8, E trains operate more frequently between Manhattan and Queens. E customers traveling to Jamaica-Van Wyck, Sutphin Blvd (AirTrain JFK), and Jamaica Center please note that some E trains traveling from Manhattan are rerouted to the Jamaica-179 St F station. Please check destination signs and listen to announcements.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 6 to 8:00 p.m. Sunday, March 8, Jamaica-179 St bound F trains run express from Avenue X to Smith-9 Sts.
S 42 St Shuttle
From 12:01 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. Saturday to Monday, March 7 to March 9, the 42 St S Shuttle operates overnight.
— Tri-State (@Tri_State) March 4, 2015
Although this site is largely focused on New York City transit, it’s hard to ignore New Jersey’s impact on the region. I don’t quite follow the daily ins and outs of New Jersey’s transportation scene as I do New York’s as that is a frustratingly Sisyphean, but as the state with the fifth greatest number of unlinked transit trips in the nation — and one that feeds directly into New York City — we can’t just ignore it under a more transit-friendly administration is in place. These days, we’re talking fare hikes.
The scandal of the week from the Garden State involves Exxon. The state had sued for over $8 billion in environmental damages, and the suit was headed to a damages determination when Gov. Chris Christie opted to settle for $225 million, cents on the dollars. From news stories to Op-Ed columns, The Times has covered this environmental and taxpayer scandal closely since breaking the story last week, and it’s worth paying attention here as it reverberates from a local to a national level. But that’s hardly the only story at play.
Yet again, New Jersey Transit is gearing up to raise its fares, and the hike — designed to cover an operating budget gap — could be by as much as 25 percent. Larry Higgs had the story:
NJ Transit commuters should brace themselves for possible fare hikes of 25 percent or more in addition to service cuts, a transit advocate warns, as the agency struggles to close an $80 million budget gap.
And while NJ Transit officials insist a fare increase would be lower than 2010’s fare hike and is on the table only as a “last resort,” the last time the agency faced an $80 million budget gap, in 1981, it jacked fares by 50 percent over three years and introduced significant service cutbacks. “It’s a safe assumption it will be greater than 25 percent by the amount of revenue needed to fill the hole,” said Veronica Vanterpool, Tri-State Transportation Campaign executive director. “The funding structure for NJ Transit is broken. What we need is a new funding structure.”
Other factors that could affect a fare increase include the cost to settle expired contracts with 20 unions, which make up more than 9,000 of NJ Transit’s 11,000 employees. Many of those contracts expired five and six years ago. However, any fare increase under consideration will include those contract costs, said Nancy Snyder, an NJ Transit spokeswoman. “We recognize the 2010 fare adjustment was a serious burden on customers,” Snyder said. “We would not repeat that level of adjustment, which was required because of years of refusing to make tough choices including retraining costs and adjusting fares to meet needs.”
New Jersey Transit, as we know, hasn’t been a paragon of a well-run transit agency. Their utter lack of emergency flood preparedness cost them a few hundred million dollars in damage due to Hurricane Sandy, and Gov. Christie’s decision to kill ARC without a potential replacement has saddled the agency with the same operations challenges it has faced for decades. The sources of the $80 million gap, as others have noted, are numerous and include raising costs and increased spending on labor. The fare hikes to cover this gap will be steep.
Meanwhile, it’s worthy pondering how and why New Jersey’s drivers get off so easily. Even as hundreds of millions of transit riders pass through the Garden State’s transit network, drivers haven’t seen a corresponding increase in the gas tax in 25 years. The imbalance affects us all as it leads to more cars on the road and less money to maintain or even expand the transit network. It’s a strange and uncomfortable situation that isn’t going to change any time soon.
It’s not a good time right now to be angling for projects that are in the MTA’s 2015-2019 Capital Program. Agency head Tom Prendergast has started to discus prioritization in the face of a $15 billion funding gap, and the MTA is — painfully, rightfully — going to prioritize system maintenance and modernization over expansion. This is a very costly decision as institutional memory and lessons learned from recent expansion projects will fade away as the MTA’s network doesn’t expand to meet growing demand. We could see a future without more phases of the Second Ave. Subway, B Division countdown clocks and other growth options unless Albany makes some tough but necessary decisions.
For those who want something not in the MTA’s capital plan (and who aren’t named Cuomo), times are even tougher. The MTA isn’t exactly receptive to ideas they haven’t put forward, and the agency is especially unwilling to look at plans without political backing and money behind them. Still, that’s not stopping the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation for continue its uphill fight for West Shore light rail.
Over the past few years, in fits and starts, Staten Island’s transit options have come under scrutiny. The MTA and NYC DOT have tried to bring Select Bus Service to the isolated borough, but politicians have pushed back hard on everything from dedicated bus lanes to flashing lights. Meanwhile, the MTA has examined reactivating the North Shore right-of-way, but the alternatives analysis disappointing picked a BRT option over light rail. Still, those fighting for more transit are eying the West Shore for light rail, and they’re not giving up.
Vincente Barrone of the Staten Island Advance has the latest:
With huge development anticipated for Staten Island’s West Shore, the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation (SIEDC) refuses to let its West Shore light rail proposal die. Steve Grillo, the SIEDC vice president, has been championing the service over the past decade, garnering support from virtually every local politician without successfully finding a financial sponsor. “It’s been really good in terms of support,” he said. “We recently had the letter of support from [U.S. Senators] Gillibrand and Schumer’s office. So that’s great having both senators on board. All local elected officials have supported this. So right now the obstacles are the transportation agencies.”
…The rail line would run a 13.1-mile route along the Island’s West Shore, with stops from Richmond Valley to Elm Park. The proposed line would carry Island commuters to the Bayonne Bridge to connect with New Jersey Transit’s Hudson Bergen Light Rail Line. Currently, the SIEDC needs $5 million to conduct an alternative analysis study. A necessary step to receive any federal funding, the study would offer a comprehensive look at the proposal that would determine the most feasible mass transit options for the corridor…
Grillo has talked about the plan with the state and city transportation commissioners in the past to no avail. He’s also spoken with high-ranking officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which is currently dealing with its own funding quagmire…MTA’s Island board member Allen Cappelli says that the MTA should be able to find money for the study. “The funding needed is pittance,” said Cappelli. “We’re talking spare change that fell into the MTA’s sofa, which is why it’s so appalling that it hasn’t been picked up.”
The problem, as I’ve said before, concerns a champion. This West Shore line has no political champion. It has no one opening up the wallet to find money for a study, and it’s coming out at a time when the MTA is fighting for itself first and other projects second. It’s certainly worthwhile and deserves more of a look that anyone in the city seems willing to give, and that’s a shame.
Grillo, meanwhile, isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade. In the piece, he calls Select Bus Service “bus rapid transit light, at best” and expresses his desire for better Staten Island transit. “We need 21st century solutions for 21st century problems,” he said. “What we’re getting from our agencies are out-of-date ideas.” Out of date and out of money.
Just a reminder that my next “Problem Solvers” event at the Transit Museum — the first since last spring’s session on the MetroCard — is set for tomorrow night. The topic is the MTA’s post-Sandy Fix & Fortify program, an ongoing effort to recover from Superstorm Sandy and work to alleviate the affect another hurricane or similar storm could have on the region and its transit network. I’ll be interviewing John O’Grady, an engineer with over 25 years’ experience at the MTA and in capital construction who currently serves as a vice president for infrastructure and facilities. The talk will start at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 3.
It’s hard to believe the storm swept through well over two years ago, and as we know, the MTA’s challenges are immense. The new South Ferry station, totaled by the storm surge, isn’t expected to reopen until mid-2017 or even early 2018, according to the latest MTA materials, and although the Montague St. Tunnel has reopened following 14 months’ of repairs, the MTA has to address saltwater damage in many of the other East River Tunnels. During the talk tomorrow, we’ll discuss the work that went into the Montague Tube repairs and the way the MTA is managing the project. We’ll touch on some flood-remediation efforts and the MTA’s attempts at ensuring the next big storm isn’t nearly as disruptive or destructive to the subway system.
As noted, the festivities start at 6:30 p.m. at the Transit Museum in Downtown Brooklyn. As the Museum would like to better support its programming, the event carries with it a modest $10 charge (though museum members still get in for free). As a bonus, though, at 7:30 p.m., the Museum will put Sandy artifacts on display and discuss the process of retrieving and cataloging these items. Most of the public saw only the photos, but the destruction wrought by the storm was substantial. Pick up your tickets right here. Hopefully, I’ll see you tomorrow.