Archive for International Subways
Every now and then, I like to check in on how some of the other global subway systems are faring. Today, we have some interesting news out of the United Kingdom where Boris Johnson and Transport for London have ushered in a move long necessary.
As far as mad rushes go, it’s quite a sight to stand in Trafalgar Square a little before 12:30 a.m. on a Friday night as Londoners and tourists alike stream through the fare gates in an effort to catch the last Tube train home. TfL makes its operating hours very well known, and as that last train time inches closer, walks become jogs, jogs become sprints. That is one train no one wants to miss.
Because the Tubes don’t run for five hours every night, London is a relatively early town. The night owl bus service is far superior to most cities’ bustitution plans — Boston, I’m looking at you — but restaurants and bars close up shop far earlier there than here. It’s always been a sore subject for Londoners, but change is a-comin’.
Last week, London mayor Boris Johnson announced that, starting in 2015, some Tube trains will operate overnight during the weekends. It is a major sea change for London. Katrin Bennhold has a report for The Times:
The London Underground is facing one of the most drastic overhauls in its 150-year history. Starting in 2015, its trains will start running throughout the night, and most of its ticket offices will be replaced by upgraded machines or turnstiles that accept contactless bank cards as part of a plan meant to bring the world’s oldest subway system “into the 21st century.”
The announcement on Thursday brought mixed reactions. In a capital that prides itself on its theater scene and night life, the prospect of 24-hour train service has been one of the most popular campaign pledges of Mayor Boris Johnson. But at a time of sluggish economic growth, declining real wages and austerity policies, the planned closing of ticket offices, which will cost about 750 Underground workers their jobs, has angered transport unions. Some warned that it could prompt the first major strikes in four years…
The 24-hour service will start in 2015 on five lines during Friday and Saturday nights and is expected to eventually be extended to other lines and nights of the week. Among the pilot lines are the Piccadilly, the Victoria, the Central, the Jubilee and important sections of the Northern. Ticketing and the current system of payment cards, known as Oyster cards, will start to be phased out next year, when the Underground will encourage passengers to move to a system of direct payments by using bank debit cards. Already, ticket offices sell less than 3 percent of the tickets used for the system, down from 10 percent 10 years ago, Transport for London said.
This is a small story, but there’s a lot going on here. Besides the welcome news that Tube service will run throughout the weekend on some of the busier lines, that London is phasing out the Oyster card before New York even adopts a contactless payment system is intriguing. London is looking to a bank card-based system just as New York is. Hopefully, the two transit systems are keeping each other appraised of their moves and the payment standards.
So London gets its 24-hour subway, finally, in 2015, and the Oyster Card will go the way of the token. Our MetroCards will be around through the end of this decade, but at least we’ve had overnight train service since the beginning.
As my Brighton Beach-bound B train departed DeKalb Avenue last night, the conductor mangled the next stop. “Barclays Center, Atlantic-Pacific,” he said, promoting the corporate sponsorship while restoring the station complex’s former name to what many consider it to be the rightful position. I chuckled at the name and realized that $200,000 a year doesn’t go that far. It is but a drop in the bucket as far as the MTA’s bottom line is concerned, and yet it seems to represent the pinnacle of subway corporate sponsorship in New York City.
Now, in this age of transit austerity, naming rights and creative corporate partnerships seem to be the ideas that just won’t die. Every now and then some state legislature is urging his or her local transit agency to go out and find some corporate sponsors. They wonder how hard it can really be. After all, sports teams and non-profits do this all the time.
If only life and the advertising industry were that easy. Transit agencies though do not carry positive connotations as sports stadiums do. People scorn the subways and look down upon the MTA. Thus, transit naming rights are a delicate matter for any corporation, and the executives in charge know it. Barclays was willing to pony up the bucks because the arena is a destination atop the old Atlantic Ave./Pacific St. station. For everyone else, the equation tilts toward no investment.
That said, the effort to secure these dollars goes ever onward. Yesterday, the Madrid Metro announced a three-year, €3 million deal to rename an entire subway line for Vodafone, the European cell phone carrier. As part of the agreement, all signs and maps in the system’s 272 stations and 2311 cars will include the Vodafone logo along with the Line 2 and Sol station names. Recorded announcements will include the name, and Vodafone will earn some display advertising rights in stations as well.
For Madrid, this figure represents a 10 percent bump in advertising income, but it’s a modest amount at best. In U.S. dollars, the investment is $1.3 million a year for an entire line that sees 122,000 passengers a day. Still, Ignacio González, president of the Community of Madrid, boasted of the deal, “Naming rights are an enormous source of income for the metro. We have another 11 lines and many more stations to offer.” Enormous is all relative.
Closer to home, the Massachusetts Senate wants the MBTA to sell station naming rights, and these politicians seem to think they can out-do Madrid. Their off-the-cuff estimates believe the MBTA can generate $20 million in revenue. It’s unclear over what time period the MBTA would realize should revenue, but this isn’t the first time Massachusetts has pondered such an arrangement. So far, though, no naming rights deals have materialized in Boston, but the politicians press on, undeterred by the fiscal reality.
The promise of naming rights revenue, I’ve long maintained, is a false one that allows politicians to shirk on their responsibilities to transit agencies. Instead of finding long-term, sustainable funding sources, politicians point fingers at transit agencies that simply cannot sell undesirable or less-than-lucrative naming rights to their transit assets. Thus, transit systems do not get paid, and transit agencies do not enjoy progressive policies or true investments. Madrid’s $3.9-million, three-year deal should be a warning: The money for transformative transit investments won’t be found in naming rights, and the sooner politicians who control the purse strings come to grips with that reality, the better off the transit riding public will be.
Nearly five years ago, then-MTA Executive Director and CEO Lee Sander celebrated the 40th anniversary of the founding of the MTA by trumpeting the agency’s next four decades. He spoke as a visionary would, highlighting train routes the city needs to expand and compete over the next four years. Most optimistic — for New York — was his vision for a circumferential subway route through Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.
Known as the Triboro RX route in planning circles, this train line would use preexisting rights-of-way to connect Outer Borough neighborhoods with radial subway lines, and if the city could enjoy it by 2048, we’d be golden. Or at least that’s what the New York City-centric thinking went. Most other cities have more ambitious plans than that, luckily for them. Let’s look across the pond at a recently completed orbital line.
This past weekend, London celebrated the completion of the London Overground orbital loop. Using preexisting rights of way, the new surface rail skirts the congested core of the city and connects key underground routes. As The Atlantic Cities site notes, it’s a part of London’s so-called “make do and mend” transit efforts. Feargus O’Sullivan has this report:
This new line will ease pressure elsewhere and allow travelers to circumnavigate the city without passing through its congested core. Colored rust on the city’s transit map, the new line looks like a huge clockwork orange, closely connecting neighborhoods that were once strangers to each other and further helping the ongoing march eastwards of London’s city center. It’s all part of an ongoing radical overhaul of London’s public transport system, the scale and ambition of which the city (or any western European capital, for that matter) hasn’t seen since at least the 1980s. And it’s all arrived so quietly.
It’s not surprising that this revolution has gone largely unnoticed internationally. When a sparkling new metro line is unveiled, transit geeks across the world drool, myself included. By contrast, London’s new links (part of a growing network under the umbrella name London Overground) have arrived through creating new, tunnelled connections that bolt together old, underexploited tracks, a sort of make-do-and-mend network. This doesn’t make it any less effective, and the Overground is already helping to redraw the London map and, as one of the UK’s most reliable railways, it’s making the city that bit more liveable…
This new network is already re-chanelling the flow of London transit. Nowadays, many London office jobs are in the redeveloped former docks in the East, while much of London’s nightlife has also moved to the area just north. The Overground makes getting to these areas while bypassing the historic center much easier. It’s also helping to create a new commuter drainage basin for Docklands jobs. South East London has pretty much the last pockets of affordable Victorian property in the city and they’re now within 30 minutes of financial centers like Canary Wharf. Now that Londoners are giving up on the city’s West as an exorbitant playpen for super-rich property speculators, the Overground’s improvements both reflect and facilitate the city’s shift in gravity eastwards.
For more background on the Overground, check out London Reconnections and, in particular, this 2011 post. The site has tirelessly chronicled London’s efforts to improve its transit network, and as New York builds the small Second Ave. Subway, London has constructed the Overground orbital with Crossrail set for a 2018 revenue service date. If only we could do the same in New York.
We could though, and it wouldn’t take much creativity. The Triboro RX line is New York’s answer to the London Overground. Similar to London’s new route (as one TFL planner noted), New York’s proposed circumferential route uses existing rights of way and existing tracks to build out a better transit connection. As the last part of the Overground required 1.3 kilometers of new rail, Triboro RX would require some construction and upgrades, but the path is there, waiting for rail service.
What London has that New York does not is leadership devoted to transit. We don’t need ambitious plans or money to dig out new tunnels. We have the plans, and we have the path. We just need politicians willing to commit as Boris Johnson has. For London, the Overground is just the beginning while for New York, Triboro RX remains a dream. As the self-proclaimed center of the universe, though, New York City can ill afford to fall behind its international competitors, but without real transit leadership, that’s exactly what’s happening.
The naming rights wave has become a plague throughout North America. What started a successful one-off in Philadelphia with AT&T purchasing the rights to SEPTA’s stadium stop has turned into an unobtainable Holy Grail for cash-strapped transit agencies. If they could just convince major companies and big advertisers to pony up dollars for naming rights, all of the financial ills can be cured. Or at least, that’s the thinking.
Over the last year or so, we’ve seen countless cities bring up naming rights deals. Chicago tried to parlay the success of its venture with Apple into a broader attempt to attract corporate sponsors. Austin and New Jersey Transit have mentioned their interest, and Boston too wants to lure in naming partners.
It is, though, just a mirage. Companies don’t draw much power from teaming up with transit agencies that often aren’t very popular in the public mind to stick their names on stations that attract a few thousand folks per day. Still, that won’t stop everyone from trying, and this time, it’s Toronto’s turn.
The story from Canada is frankly hilarious. Toronto has a $774 million budget gap, and it thanks it can close a significant portion of that gap by renaming everything. Never mind that few cities have been able to attract $10 million in naming rights, let alone a few hundred. “As long as it’s called the right name — Spadina McDonald’s, whatever — if it brings in revenue, I honestly don’t believe anyone cares,” City Councillor Doug Ford said.
Toronto officials claim that the TTC is in dire need of both an infusion of cash and some renovations. If private companies want to help out, some will welcome them with open arms. Others, however, seem to recognize the reality of the situation. “There is not big money in them there hills,” Joe Mihevc said. “You need millions of dollars to fix up a subway. It really is not the way we should be naming these public assets.”
The complaints put forward by those in support of the deal in Toronto are the same we’ve heard everywhere. Station names should retain their geographic signifiers as both tourists, locals and everyone in between need to be able to navigate the system. If corporations are willing to work out deals within those parameters involving significant amounts of cash, TTC officials are certainly willing to listen. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
The problem, as it always is, boils down to the dollars. Naming rights deals are over. The Nationals, playing in a new baseball stadium in DC, haven’t found a corporate naming partner in four years. The Meadowlands closer to home are still just that. On a more local level, authorities often find it difficult to scrounge up those willing to commit to more ambitious display ads or wrapped subway cars. Naming rights are rarely even on the table.
For all of the talk of naming rights as the next great thing, the largest deals barely deliver revenue. Barclays will append its name to Atlantic/Pacific for a few hundred thousand dollars a year over 20 years. AT&T’s deal with SEPTA runs for a few million over five years. Other than that, politicians and transit planners are wasting their time and shirking their duties. Across the country, officials should try to find true and steady sources of revenue. Naming rights just represent an idea that wasn’t very good in the first place and hasn’t led to any significant amounts of money.
Here in New York City, we are witnesses the slow but inexorable death of the MetroCard. Despite the fact that the technology is alive and well underground, forces are plotting behind the scenes to replace. Later this year, the MTA will issue an RFP for companies who will bring a contactless, credit- and bank-card-based fare payment system into the subways, and sometime in the hazy future, the MetroCard will be a historical footnote.
In London, a city that already has its own contactless payment system, things are moving faster. According to recent reports from the other side of the Atlantic, Transport for London will have a bank card system in place by 2012, and it will be the first international city with a major public transit network to do so.
Rail.co’s A. Samuel has more:
By the end of 2012 card readers across the whole of the Transport for London (TfL) network will have been upgraded so that a touch of a contactless bank or credit card will allow passengers to touch in and out for pay as you go travel on the bus, Tube, Docklands Light Railway (DLR), Tram and London Overground network.
The new system will be up and running on all of London’s 8,000 buses in time for the 2012 Games, enabling quick and easy bus travel for the millions of visitors who will flock to the Capital to enjoy the greatest show on earth.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: “It is tip top news that from next year a simple tap of a contactless bank card will be enough to whizz you from A to B in this great city. London leads the way in so many different fields and we will be the first in the world to allow the millions using our Tube, trams, buses and trains to benefit from the ease of using this technology.”
London is one of many cities globally working informally together to help create a network of reciprocal credit- and bank-card readers. Authorities in London, Paris, New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Salt Lake City and Sydney are working with the banking industry to ensure a secure, simple and quick solution that can scale across cities and countries. The example for London concerns tourists who are fresh off a plane but don’t want to confront the challenges of purchasing a fare card in a foreign city.
Meanwhile, TfL says the new system will lead to a more efficient and money-saving approach to fare collection. The MTA has noted the same benefits and believes this is a prime example of how spending capital dollars will lead to savings on the operations side of the ledger. How the system works in London will help illuminate how ours in the U.S. will eventually work as well.
Of course, this news out of the U.K. is intriguing because of the timeframe. New York City has been testing some form of a PayPass trial on and off for nearly five years, but because London has the Oyster card infrastructure in place, it can rapidly move to a credit card-based fare solution. We have to wait because our system must undergo an entire top-to-bottom overhaul.
Still, I’m intrigued by the idea of an international standard, and as long as New York’s project is moving forward, I don’t mind the wait. It will be a few years, but slowly, the technology is moving forward.
GOOD Magazine recently asked its readers to opine on their favorite transit systems throughout the world, and they published some answers earlier this week. The rest, which are available right here on GOOD’s Facebook page, ran the global gamut. People seem to love Paris’ Metro, and Tokyo’s system earned a few pluses as well. While one or two people mentioned New York, the bulk of the comments about our system concerned its cleanliness.
So why, I wondered, does New York’s subway system get such little love? It’s one of the few 24-hour systems around the world, and it powers the city. We have new rolling stock, and crime has declined precipitously over the past 15 years as ridership spikes. Perhaps, then, the problem is one of use vs. comfort and the reality of public perception. New York’s subway is very utilitarian in that it’s great for getting to and from various places in New York City and horrendous to look at. As the cars are new, the stations are not, and rats, garbage and grime mar most of the stops.
Is there a way to fix this image problem? Despite rising fares, the subways still remain very cheap in New York City, and the average fare, in inflation-adjusted dollars, is lower today than it was in 1996. Yet, until the system looks nicer, and the physical plant — that is, the stations — doesn’t appear to be falling apart, our subway system won’t earn too many accolades from those who ride around the world.
In 2016 (or 2017 or 2018), the MTA is going to unveil a new subway line. The Second Ave. Subway‘s Phase 1 will run from 57th St. and Broadway to 96th St. and 2nd Ave. It will cost nearly $5 billion. One day in the future, a full-length subway route will run from 125th St. to Hanover Square, and it will be seen as a great accomplishment in the history of a city that hasn’t expanded its system since the mid-1930s.
Today, in Beijing, the Chinese are celebrating the opening of five new subway lines that cover over 67 miles. It cost just over $9 billion to build this brand new system, and Chinese authorities believe it will help ease congestion and bring economic development to poor areas of the vast country’s capital. The Chinese aren’t done either. They plan to build out the Beijing subway, currently just over 200 miles, to 348 miles by 2015 and to as much as 600 miles by 2020.
So as we sit here waiting for a two-mile subway extension to open in six years if we’re lucky, I have to wonder: Where did it all go wrong? How will we compete in a global economy if our competitors are doubling and tripling their subway lines while we can’t get 12,000 new feet built at a reasonable price and in a reasonable amount of time?
For decades, New York City has been the transit capital of the U.S.A. We enjoy an expansive 468-station, 722-mile subway system that runs 24 hours a day and stretches across five boroughs. Transit’s daily ridership is higher than the combined total from every other subway system in the country, and without the subways, New York City as it is today would simply not be a viable geographic urban hub.
But over the last four decades, as the region has struggled to maintain its vast infrastructure, expansion plans have fallen by the wayside. Since the opening of the Chrystie St. Connection in 1968, the city hasn’t built out its system. A modest expansion along Archer Ave. and the completion of the 63rd St. tunnel were the major projects during the 1980s and 1990s. Today, at a cost of nearly $7 billion, the MTA is adding one stop to the 7 line and three along the Upper East Side’s stretch of Second Ave. It isn’t, by any means, impressive.
Three thousand miles away, on the coast known more for its cars than its trains, the City of Angels is working toward its own subway system. Los Angeles is planning to spend $40 billions on a 28-mile expansion of its rail transit system. The city will build an 8.6-mile extension of the Purple Line through Koreatown, an 11-mile addition to the Gold Line, an 8.5-mile light-rail route from LAX and another light rail route from Santa Monica to Culver City Adam Nagourney in The Times today takes a look at this reimagining of the Los Angeles transitscape:
Taken together, these developments have emboldened mass transit enthusiasts here and lent credibility to what has become something of a legacy project for Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, who ran for office pledging to build a transit system that would upend long-established commuting habits and ease what has long been a bane of life in Los Angeles.
“This put to rest all this talk of, ‘Will we ever build a subway?’ ” Mr. Villaraigosa said, somewhat triumphantly, in an interview. “This is a big deal. People have been talking about it for years. And they were making fun of me: ‘Where is the subway?!’ ”
Los Angeles once had a large, intricate and thriving public transportation system, with so-called Yellow Car trolleys that ran on downtown streets and a vast network of Red Cars, operated by the Pacific Electric Railroad, that ran throughout the region. This was dismantled amid the city’s fervent embrace of the automobile (encouraged, in no small part, by oil interests in Los Angeles that realized the economic potential of the car).
But with a vote by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority’s board last month to approve the Purple Line expansion, there is a consensus that these projects are going to be built, even among those who describe them as a waste of money in a region that will never embrace mass transit. The projects are being financed by a half-cent sales tax surcharge approved by Los Angeles voters two years ago and expected to raise $40 billion over the next 30 years.
Yet, in LA, as the pipe dream of the Subway to the Sea inches closer to reality, residents, planners and politicians are still questioning the wisdom behind the spending. For Mayor Villaraigosa, the $40 billion appears as a traditional bond issue. Since the city plans to add distance and capacity, they can bond against future anticipated fare revenue, but even then, many wonder if Los Angeles can become a city of the subway.
One mass transit consultant from the Bay Area has labeled the plan in no uncertain terms. “They have been pushing rail expansion for decades now,” Tom Rubin said, “and it has not had much of an impact in terms of increasing transit ridership. The big problem is that these are very, very expensive, and we wind up spending so much money on building these rail lines that there is not enough to operate bus service. So we wind up cutting back on bus operations and then raising fares, which drives the riders away.”
Rubin highlights the same capital-vs.-operations battle being fought in New York, but he seems to ignore that adding distance to rail makes pushing for it as a viable modality more appealing. If the subway goes where people need it to go, they will leave their cars behind. If, as promised, a 50-minute drive becomes a 25-minute subway ride, driving becomes a waste of time.
“The science of public transit is not too complicated,” Robert Cervero, director of Berkeley’s Transportation Center, said to The Times. “It comes down to how time-competitive transit is with the private car. If it takes two to three times longer to get from Point A to Point B by transit, the vast majority of folks will drive. If it’s faster going by bus or train, then most will forsake their car and ride transit.” (Jonathan Hiskes at Grist disputes this simplification.)
Ultimately, Los Angeles won’t move ahead of New York anytime soon, but the Land of Freeways is moving forward. On the East Coast, we’re stuck in neutral. Saddled with debt, unable to issue bonds appropriately and faced with crushing costs, our 106-year-old subway system expands outward slowly, if at all.
Ever so slowly, the MTA is forging ahead with a pilot to bring next-generation fare payment technology to New York City. The MetroCard with its swipe and magnetic strip has been outdated since the day it was introduced to the subway system, and Jay Walder, who helped usher in the age of the contactless Oyster Card in London, is pushing forward with a plan to tie subway entrance fees into credit cards with smart chips in them. By reducing the costs of fare collection by just a few cents, the MTA would save tens of millions of dollars every year, and New Yorkers wouldn’t have to carry yet another piece of plastic around with them.
Today, we learn that Transport for London is working on its own plans to bring a credit card-based contactless payment system to the Underground, and they’re doing so in conjunction with the MTA, among others. According to The Telegraph, Transport for London officials are in talks with a number of international cities to ensure a common standard for next-gen fare payment plans. These cities include New York, Boston, Chicago, Paris, Sydney and Manchester.
Needless to say, a fare cooperative on an international level would be a boon for travelers. It would encourage even more subway use among tourists as negotiating potentially foreign fare systems would no longer be an obstacle to use. This is forward-thinking policy on a global scale.
Jason Shelowitz, the man behind the guerrilla art subway etiquette posters, is inspiring some copy cats. After Jayshells’ posters earned some headlines last week, Toronto’s National Post produced some subway etiquette PSAs of their own.
Calling themselves the Toronto Transit Civility Commission, the writers say that people are mostly concerned with unnecessary noise, bad body odor and those who clip their nails on the subway. The same boorish behavior we see in New York appears to be endemic outside of the Big Apple.
My favorite one, though, is the anthropomorphic backpack. Too many people believe they can put their bags — and feet — on empty subway seats, and then they stare daggars at anyone audacious enough to ask them to move. Here in New York, the MTA claims courtesy is contagious, but I haven’t seen that disease spread yet.