Archive for Asides
New Yorkers are long accustomed to sharing their subway rides with all sorts of wild life. Cockroach sightings underground are, sadly, not rare, and rats scurry along train tracks searching for food. At outdoor stations, pigeons are known to amble into a train car or two in search of an errant french fry. The latest hangers-on though we could all do without.
Over the past few weeks, even though the larger epidemic was supposedly on the wane, numerous reports of bed bugs on subway trains — in particular the N line — have emerged, and in a column earlier this week, Pete Donohue of the Daily News reported at least 21 sightings in August. According to the columnist, the N train leads the way with nine sightings while the Q had three and the 6 two. Bugs were also spotted on the 3, 4, 5 and L trains and in crew rooms in Astoria, East New York and Coney Island.
As far as the extent of the problem, the MTA has worked to downplay the sightings. The agency says it has found “no bedbug infestations on any trains,” and crews inspect and fumigate train cars nearly immediately. “This is an interesting story but not a big problem,” spokesman Adam Lisberg said to the News. Still, it’s clear from rapid response times that the MTA is treating these reports very seriously, as they should.
For the last few years, there’s been an ongoing “will they or won’t they” watch concerning future phases of the Second Ave. Subway. With Phase 1 funded and set to open at the end of 2016, the MTA could have been preparing to get started on Phase 2 — the northern extension to 125th St. — but with finances shaky and labor contracts outstanding, the agency had kept its plans close to the vest. Well, the future for the Second Ave. Subway is no longer a secret as MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast stated today that substantial funding for Phase 2 will be included in the 2015-2019 five-year capital plan.
While fielding questions during an Assembly hearing, Prendergast announced that the MTA will ask for $1.5 billion for Phase 2 construction. This total is approximately one-third the estimated cost, and the expectation is that the feds will kick in additional money with the rest to be determined. Phase 2 is a key part of this project as it connects the northern extension of the Q train to the Lexington Ave. line and Metro-North station at 125th St. and can help alleviate a lot of the pressure on the 4, 5 and 6 trains. I’ll have more on this later, but this is a welcome development and very, very good news.
Here is an interesting bit from Newsday: While the UTU has not officially requested a 60-day delay for its looming summer strike, union officials have floated the idea of pushing the strike back from the summer to mid-September. The strike would begin on September 17 instead of July 19, seemingly sparing Long Island’s summer tourism season.
“Our members care about Long Island and its economy,” Anthony Simon, general chairman of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union/United Transportation Union, said to the Long Island newspaper. “All we would need is the MTA to mutually agree on the extension.”
The MTA seems willing to entertain the request, thus giving both sides more time to work out a deal. Overall, though, this is an interesting political move by the UTU. It shows their willingness to recognize the public need, and it pushes the strike date closer and closer to Election Day. I have a hard time believing Gov. Andrew Cuomo, looking for a resounding victory, would allow a strike seven weeks before New York voters head to the polls, and the UTU knows this as well. As always, stay tuned.
Late last week, a bunch of politicians gathered on the Upper East Side to celebrate the ongoing progress toward completion for Phase I of the Second Ave. Subway. At the time, the project was approximately 960 days away from revenue service, and after nine decades, everyone’s feeling pretty good. “For years, people have been asking me if they will live long enough to ride the 2nd Ave subway. Usually I’ve had to respond that it depends on your age,” State Senator Liz Krueger said, “but now I finally feel we can say with confidence, ‘Get ready: We will soon have a new subway to ride.’”
It would, obviously enough, be a good time to think about starting the funding push, let alone the work, for Phase II. The second part of this multi-step project is a northern extension from 96th St., through preexisting tunnel and some new stations to a connection to the 4/5/6 and Metro-North underneath 125th St. It was initially estimated to cost around the same as Phase I, as the station caverns and auxiliary structures drive the expense, and it’s a key element to the East Harlem transportation picture.
It is then a bit concerning to hear the MTA be a bit non-committal as the deadline for funding for the next capital program looms. In the past, the agency has noted that, while the EIS will be updated, the project is still an important one, and powerful politicians have urged the MTA to keep building. Still, MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendgast said this week, as amNY reports, “it’s too early to tell what will and won’t be included” in the next five-year plan.
The MTA has to shift its focus to climate change-related work to shore up the system in the event of another Sandy-type flood event, but the Second Ave. Subway is an important element of any plan to improve mobility and reduce NYC’s dependency on car travel. The MTA shouldn’t wait until 2016, when everyone is celebrating the ribbon cutting for the Second Ave. Subway, to start planning for Phases II (or III or IV). The time to act is now, and politicians and agency officials should do what they can to move this behemoth forward.
With a potential strike looming and plans for substitute bus service starting to roll forward, the Long Island Rail Road has a new president. In a surprising announcement that came after the MTA Board voted today to issue an RFP for substitute bus service in the event of a strike this summer, MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast announced that Patrick A. Nowakowski would take over as head of the LIRR from Helena Williams. It’s not clear why Williams is leaving, but her departure now leaves the MTA with no female agency presidents.
Nowakowski, who was educated at the University of Delaware and Drexel’s business school, comes to the LIRR after spending five years as Executive Director of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, more commonly known as the WMATA’s Silver Line. He spent 27 years prior to that working in various roles with SEPTA, and departs DC as questions and ambiguities surrounding the revenue service date for the Silver Line have started to mount.
“Pat Nowakowski is a railroad expert with a rare mix of skills and a long career of accomplishments, and I am pleased to welcome him to the Long Island Rail Road,” Prendergast said in a statement. “Our customers have high expectations for safe and reliable service, and events last year throughout the MTA family have shown why we must always stay focused on the basics of how best to provide that service.”
Meanwhile, the MTA offered no indication as to the circumstances surrounding Williams’ departure, but it’s likely that looming labor unrest played no small role in the move. Williams had served as LIRR head for seven years and spent a few months as the MTA’s interim Executive Director and CEO in 2009 following Lee Sander’s resignation. She was the first female to head an MTA agency and the first female LIRR president.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast and TWU Local 100 President John Samuelson just wrapped up a press conference during which the MTA and TWU announced a tentative agreement on a new labor deal. It’s a five-year deal with raises in all five years — 1 percent retroactively for the first two and 2 percent for each of the last three years. There are no work rule reforms, but TWU healthcare contributions will increase from 1.5 percent to 2 percent. And the MTA does not expect this deal to impact its planned fare hikes or razor-thin operations margins in the out-years in its financial plan. You may be wondering how; I know I am.
We don’t yet have any of the details behind the math, but estimates are that this deal could add around $150-$200 million per year to the MTA’s operations budget. The MTA has continually noted that need to secure net-zero wage increases in order to avoid jeopardizing its capital plan, but this deal contains none of that. So where does that leave us? It leaves me concerned that the riders will bear the brunt of the costs either through more deferred maintenance, no real capital expansion plans, higher fare hikes down the road, service cuts or a combination of everything. I hope I’m wrong, but this is an election year we’re in. These are the transit politics coming from up high in Albany.
As time marches on and the subways enjoy record-setting crowds (more on that later), various capital construction deadlines are fast approaching. As we know, two megaprojects — the 7 line extension and the Fulton St. Transit Center — are due to wrap this year, after nearly seven years of construction. Due to the delays plaguing the escalators and elevators at the deep 34th St. station along 11th Ave., the Fulton St. ribbon-cutting has leap-frogged the 7 line. According to MTA Board documents released yesterday, Fulton St. will open to public on Thursday, June 26, 2014. Save the date.
Meanwhile, mitigation work and acceptance testing continues on the Far West Side, and the MTA is still committed to delivering the 7 line in the fall, nearly 11 months later than scheduled. For now, the official word is still “November,” but according to an engineering report contained within the MTA’s materials this week, that date could hit December if problems aren’t resolved. The winter solstice is December 21. So the MTA has three weeks in December in which it is still technically fall to deliver the project. Hold your breath.
Finally, over on the East Side, the Second Ave. Subway continues to be on pace for a December 2016 revenue start date, but the documents detail some slippage. Construction crews have burned through approximately half of the project’s planned contingency days, and a few delivery dates have been pushed back. Still, until we hear otherwise, December 2016 it is. That’s only 33 months away, and the real estate market is responding in turn.
For a variety of reasons, none of them bad, I don’t have the time this evening to write a full post in advance of Monday morning. I’ll have something up later in the day, but in the meantime, I have two important items, one much more serious than the other.
We’ll start with the good: This Wednesday plays host to my Problem Solvers Q-and-A at the Transit Museum on the future of the MetroCard. I’ll be interviewing Michael DeVitto, Vice President and Program Executive for fare payment programs at NYC Transit, and we’ll be discussing what’s next for the 21-year-old card, what will replace it and when. I have a sneaking suspicion DeVitto will not reveal that we’re heading back to the age of the token, but you never know. The 6:30 p.m. event is free, but the Transit Museum requests you RSVP. I’m looking forward to this one.
And now the bad: I didn’t have a chance to give this story its due last week, but there was a major data breach concerning personal information of over 15,000 salaried Transit employees. As The Post reported, the information — including names and social security numbers of current and retired workers — was discovered on a CD-ROM that had been left instead a refurbished disk drive. The MTA is investigating the cause of the breach, and officials have noted that the existence of such an unencrypted disk is a breach of internal policies. So far, the data, as The Post notes, has not been used for “malicious purposes.”
As the PATH’s World Trade Center hub opens piece by piece, the city’s architect critics are starting to poke around inside of Santiago Calatrava’s marble-lined subway palace. In a piece scheduled to appear in The Times tomorrow, David Dunlap gives the new Platform A a once over, and he’s not impressed. As Dunlap sums it up, “Clunky fixtures and some rough workmanship in the underground mezzanine of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub…detract from what is meant to be breathtaking grandeur.”
As you read through the rest of Dunlap’s takedown, keep in mind that the structure is still unfinished, but in light of the fact that others have sued Santiago Calatrava over shoddy workmanship, this can hardly be a surprise. Great designs on paper that are tough and expensive to execute are, after all, a hallmark of the architect.
My favorite part of Dunlap’s column, though, comes in the form of a quote from Frank Lorino, one of the architects working for Santiago Calatrava New York/Festina Lente. “We have fought to bring the highest degree of quality to the project,” he said to The Times, “but the concerns of time, budget and scheduling have often taken precedence over quality.” Someone associated with Santiago Calatrava’s $4 billion subway station is complaining about the concerns of budget. I have no further words, your honor.
When I first launched the “Problem Solvers” series with the Transit Museum, I knew that I wanted to focus a session on the future of the MetroCard. For a few years, I’ve tried to schedule a sit-down with the right someone at the MTA to discuss the agency’s next-generation fare payment plans and the prognosis for the familiar piece of plastic New Yorkers carry with themselves 24-7.
At first, I couldn’t get anyone because the MTA didn’t really know what it was going to do replace the MetroCard; it knew only that by 2019 it would be too expensive to maintain the current system. But now I have some exciting news: The next “Problem Solvers” Q-and-A session, set for March 19, will focus on the MetroCard’s future. Joining me at 6:30 p.m. at the Transit Museum in Brooklyn will be Michael DeVitto, Vice President and Program Executive for fare payment programs at NYC Transit. We will discuss the future of the MetroCard, current initiatives on new fare technology, and all that goes into designing a fare system for the city’s transit network. We will, of course, talk about progress toward a new fare payment system.
“Problem Solvers” is a free event hosted by the Transit Museum, and this session is slated for Wednesday, March 19th at 6:30 p.m. (with doors at 6). Please RSVP here and join me for what should be an illuminating and informative conversation on a topic I’ve followed closely over the past seven and a half years.