Archive for Asides
Happy Thanksgiving! Trains are operating on a Sunday schedule today, and so it this site. I’ll be back on Friday with more content. Just as an update: There will be no podcast this week. Eric was sick last week, and we decided that the short week wouldn’t be an ideal one. We’ll be back with “The Next Stop Is…” next Wednesday. As an added note, Second Ave. Sagas recently passed its seventh anniversary, and I just wanted to say thanks for reading throughout the years. The site wouldn’t be the same without all of you.
As Sam Schwartz’s Move NY traffic pricing plan once again makes the rounds, the usual suspects are lining up in support (and against) the proposal. A new mayoral administration could give supporters a chance to make waves, but this plan may live or die in the hands of Albany. Unsurprisingly, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is not racing to throw his weight behind it.
To reporters yesterday, Cuomo made a brief remark on the plan, showing his skeptical hand. “The East River bridge tools were brought up may times before, he said. “It’s a proposal that’s been brought up almost every year for the past several years. It hasn’t passed in the past and I don’t believe it will pass now.” Cuomo, of course, has the power to turn his words into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and he’s not even giving the plan a fair shakedown. I’m not surprised.
But should we be disappointed? Cuomo isn’t rushing out to support a traffic pricing plan for reasons I may not support, but a few good minds have cast some doubt on Schwartz’s current proposal. To get a sense of what, I’d direct you to a series of posts Cap’n Transit posted in 2012. He noted that the plan isn’t fair or equitable and went about discussing how it has incentives for future drivers and uninspired proposals and empty promises for bus service while overvaluing community boards and generally misses the point. I’m glad to see a traffic pricing plan back in the news, but it’s clear we have a long way to go before we reach a solution acceptable to everyone.
As the Friends of the QueensWay continue their taxpayer-supported push to develop a greenway on the fallow Rockaway Beach Branch right-of-way, Phil Goldfeder, Assembly representative from New York’s 23rd district, announced a competing study to be undertaken by Queens College urban studies students that will ascertain the best uses for the right-of-way. Goldfeder, a supporter of rail, has called this effort a “comprehensive and objective” one that will “assess the community impact of the proposed options for the abandoned tracks,” as compared with the park-only assessment underway by the Trust for Public Land.
In announcing the study, Goldfeder noted the disparity in focus. On Twitter, he said that the QueensWay team is wasting “tax money on expensive consultants” while the Queens College will “utilize local experts” and “undertake real objective study.” This new examination of the right of way is expected to take nine months, and it will include a full needs assessment as well as a cost analysis of the various options. Additionally, Congressmen Gregory Meeks (NY-5) and Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8) continue to work with Goldfeder as well to ascertain if Sandy recovery money can be used for reactivated rail service.
In a subsequent press release, the Assembly rep added, “The Queens College Department of Urban Studies’ Office of Community Studies is renowned for its community-based research. It is the perfect partner to help determine what is in the best interest of Queens and city residents. Now that the MTA has signaled an interest in reactivating the Rockaway Beach Rail Line as an efficient and cost-effective way to significantly increase public transit for Queens residents, it’s important we do appropriate studies to determine the next steps. While other groups are using tax dollars to hire expensive consultants and do one-sided studies, we’re utilizing local expert resources and educating our students while supporting an objective study that will enormously benefit all our hardworking Queens families.”
The details are still coming out, but for those of us very hesitant to embrace a QueensWay solution that would essentially cut off the rail option forever, this is a best-case scenario. A third party will assess the various proposed uses and develop cost estimates for each case. We’ll find out what rail reactivation would take, what usage a park would get, and what doing nothing would mean for Queens. Clawing back part of this process from the Trust for Public Land is a very good step indeed.
The Second Ave. Subway took another step toward completion today — and Upper East Side residents will now get something of a reprieve — as the agency announced that all blasting for Phase 1 construction is complete. The controlled explosions began in November of 2009, and the final blast, for a future escalator at the north side of 86th St., took place at 5:21 p.m. this past Monday. “This is a significant milestone, and one which I am sure will be welcomed by all of our Second Avenue community neighbors,” Michael Horodniceanu, President of MTA Capital Construction, said.
Additionally, the heave construction for the 96th Street station cavern wrapped earlier this month. The $365 million contract award to a joint venture of E.E. Cruz and Company and Tully Construction Company Joint Venture is the third of ten to finish for the long-delayed subway line. This contract involved utility relocation, demolition of existing buildings, underpinning, slurry wall construction, station excavation, and concrete placement of the station invert slab of the main station, entrances, and ancillary facilities. Crews relocated approximately 82,000 linear feet of Con Ed cables and 4500 feet of Verizon cables and removed 440,000 tons of soil, rock and concrete debris.
The MTA says that completion of Phase 1 is still on pace for December of 2016. So we have now just three more years to go before the Second Ave. Subway becomes, in part, a reality.
The target date to wrap the MTA’s installation of communications-based train control along Flushing Line has been delayed six months until mid-2017, the agency said in documents released this weekend. As part of the update to the Capital Program Oversight Committee, the MTA noted that the $550 million project remains on budget, but due, in part, to complications from Sandy, the project’s substantial completion date has been pushed back from the fourth quarter of 2016 to the second quarter of 2017.
According to the documents, two issues could further impact this date. The first concerned the availability of test tracks for the CBTC-enabled R188s. These cars were due to be tested on the Rockaway Test Track, but this stretch of railbed was damaged during Sandy. The delay in repairing the test track has pushed back the date for final delivery of the R188s from February 2016 to August 2016.
Second, the MTA fingers “G.O. Availability” as a concern. As CBTC work means many weekends without 7 train service into and out of Queens, the agency has been working with community leaders along the Flushing Line to better plan outages. As the Board materials say, though, “if track outages for this project are delayed/denied, the project’s milestones will be delayed.” In other words, if the MTA can’t schedule G.O.’s, it can’t perform the work on time. I’ll continue to follow this story, but for now, the expected completion date is slipping.
The MTA dropped their latest board committee materials this afternoon, and buried in the 281-page Transit Committee pdf is word of a service increase due to arrive in June. Already, the MTA has announced plans to increase G and M train service, and now we learn that the 2, 3, 4, 5, A, E, F and L lines will see modest bumps in service as well.
The details small, but the changes can reduce waiting times during specific time frames, particularly along the West Side IRT lines. The 2 and 3 trains will see three new weekday round trips each while A service will be increased by two round trips. The rest will see one additional round trip per weekday while Saturday and Sunday L service will be bumped up by four round trips each. In terms of wait times, the changes on the 2 and 3 will reduce average headways from 5.5 minutes to 4.6 during the 8 p.m. to 11 p.m window, and the weekend L train headways will drop from 6.3 and 7.1 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. to 5.2 and 5.7 minutes respectively. Those are significant reductions during high-volume times from an agency that has long since resisted adding service.
According to the board materials, the service increases are driven by customer demand and the need to meet “MTA Board-adopted loading guidelines.” The changes will cost $4.3 million annually and are in line with the 2014 projected operating budget. The Board need not take any action as this is an informational update, but straphangers will enjoy increased service come June.
When last we saw the lockbox bill, it had begun to garner upstate support but hadn’t yet been presented to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his signature. Well, late last week, the bill moved to the governor’s desk, and advocates are again calling upon Cuomo to sign the measure. Today, a statewide coalition of organizations representing labor, business, transit, the environment, disabled, aging, faith-based, smart growth, good government, bicycling, housing, and transportation groups sent the governor a letter [pdf] urging him to move on the bill.
The letter, which highlights previous efforts to pass this protective measure and the way the impact statement was stripped from the 2011 measure, lays it on the line. “Raiding dedicated transit funds is poor policy, and a breach of trust with the public who rightly believe that transit funds should go to improving transit. One quarter of the State’s workforce relies on mass transit to get to work. They, their employers, and the economy rely on these dedicated taxes to help pay for subway, bus and commuter operations and transit capital projects,” the advocates say. “Given your commitment to rebuilding and renewing New York’s economy and infrastructure, and increasing fiscal transparency and public accountability, we join the 213 members of the New York State legislature in asking you to sign the ‘transit lock box’ bill.”
Interestingly, one potential advocate — MTA head Tom Prendergast — discussed the lockbox earlier this fall and expressed only lukewarm support for it. “While I like lockboxes,” he said at a Crain’s New York business breakfast in September, “I don’t get unduly tied to them and at the end of the day, if the money we need comes our way, that’s what I’m looking forward to.” Still, New York and its myriad transit riders would be better off and better informed with the lockbox protections firmly in place.
Genting, the operators of the Resorts World Casino at the Aqueduct Racetrack, are still interested in purchasing the naming rights for a nearby station on the A train, the Daily News reported today. According to the brief story, MTA officials last week told State Senators that talks between the two parties were still “preliminary,” but the interest appears to be mutual.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of Genting’s interest in naming rights. In August, at the ribbon-cutting for renovated Aqueduct Racetrack stop, casino officials suggested that they wanted to pursue a naming rights arrangement. “We’ve been asking them for the last several months what we can do to get the station named after us,” Edward Farrell, president of Resorts World Casino New York City, said to New York 1 in August. “We definitely want it done.”
If Genting wants it done, the MTA should move forward at the chance to realize some revenue at a station primed for naming rights. As of now, only Manhattan-bound A trains stop at this station, but politicians hope the casino’s popularity will lead to a new platform and entry point on the Rockaway-bound side as well. Meanwhile, many casino-bound straphangers use the A — and this station — to reach the city’s sole casino. A deal won’t fetch the same $200,000 annual fee Barclays is paying for naming rights to the former Atlantic Ave./Pacific St. stop, but any additional amount should be welcomed.
With just a few weeks to go before the rules implementing the Taxi of Tomorrow were to take effect, one of Mayor Bloomberg’s signature plans may be dead as a New York State judge ruled today that the city does not have the authority to implement such a plan. In siding with the taxi industry over the city in the battle over the Nissan NV200, Judge Shlomo Hagler summed up his view, “Simply stated, the power to contract and compel medallion owners to purchase the Nissan NV200 from Nissan for ten years does not exist in the City Charter.” Rather, Hagler opined, the City Council should set these standards.
Bloomberg, no friend of the taxi industry, had first announced the Taxi of Tomorrow competition as a way to leverage the city’s purchasing power while selecting cars that were safe and spacious. The move has come under fire in recent months though as the Nissan NV200s are not as fuel-efficient as the options available for the current fleet and aren’t handicap-accessible either. His administration will appeal, but it is unclear if our next mayor would continue the site as both Joe Lhota and Bill de Blasio have not embraced the Taxi of Tomorrow.
Meanwhile, as Ted Mann notes in The Journal, this ruling could leave the city liable to Nissan for some costs as well. As Mann writes, “The carmaker’s contract with the TLC would permit it to recoup design and production costs in the event the taxi project is cancelled by the city. Nissan estimated those costs, in a document previously filed with the court, at roughly $50 million, though some familiar with the matter have said the costs could be higher.”
The MTA Board voted this afternoon to approve some form of ticket credit for riders of Metro-North’s New Haven Line who hold weekly or monthly tickets valid during the current power outage. The railroad has not yet determined how the credit will be structured or when it will be available, but the agency plans to release further information later this week. All in all, the credit is expected to cost the MTA approximately $2 million per week in lost revenue, and it is likely that the agency will seek to recoup costs from Con Edison.
“Because of the unprecedented magnitude and duration of this disruption, the MTA Board has concluded that a credit for our customers is simply the right thing to do,” MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast said in a statement. “I want to thank my fellow board members for taking swift action to address this situation while we work to support Con Edison in restoring full power to the line.”
Metro-North, meanwhile, is adding five more peak-hour trains tomorrow, bringing service back to about 65 percent of normal. In my view, that means any credit for tomorrow should top out at 35 percent of the pro-rated value of a ticket. During a press conference this afternoon, MTA officials cautioned that the refund should not set a precedent for future service disruptions, and some board members rightly argued that Metrocard holders should have received a similar credit for Sandy-related outages last year. In the poll I conducted earlier today, those voting for some form of refund eked out a 51-49 win over those voting against any refund.
Meanwhile, for those wondering what to do with their newfound riches sure to total ones or perhaps tens of dollars, why not check out the new Shake Shack in Grand Central Terminal which is opening on Saturday? The burger joint replaces Zocalo and will be forking over rent of around half a million per year for the next ten years with the MTA owed 8 percent of gross sales over a certain threshold amount.