Archive for MTA Technology
An intriguing press advisory from the MTA came through my inbox on Thursday afternoon. Later this morning at 9 a.m., outgoing MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph Lhota will, the advisory said, make a “major announcement regarding improvements to service-related information the MTA provides to subway riders.” With just the right amount of intrigue, this release had me wondering about the info soon to be unveiled. I guessed that the information would involve a public release of the MTA’s real-time tracking of subways currently used only via the A Division countdown clocks.
Late on Thursday, I learned I was right. Via a Ted Mann scoop in The Wall Street Journal comes word that the MTA is set to release an app with real-time information on the location of seven subway lines. The early release will, as astute readers may have already guessed, include train arrival information for the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 trains and the 42nd St. shuttle. The L will follow within the next year and the 7 once the Flushing CBTC installation is complete. It is a game-changer in the way New Yorkers use and relate to these subway lines.
Mann had the details:
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority expects to release on Friday its Subway Time app for passengers with iPhones and iPod Touch devices. Android and Windows versions of the app are in development and the agency is currently considering how to integrate the real-time arrival information on its existing website. The breakthrough, long awaited by many of the city’s straphangers, will allow at least some riders to plan their commute by the minute for the first time in the system’s 108-year history…
For the subway system’s 5.5 million daily riders, however, the launch of the new app also lays bare the ways aging infrastructure and a slow pace of investment have left the transit network far behind contemporaries in other cities. The new app will cover only about a third of the subway system, and agency officials acknowledged that it will likely take years of work and hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment before conveniences increasingly common elsewhere are standard in the Big Apple.
The rest, encompassing two-thirds of its total stations and roughly 60% of its daily ridership, continues to rely on signal technology dating to the middle of the 20th century or earlier. It will be years before those lines have signal systems that can generate the digital information that drives countdown clocks on platforms and apps on cellphones with live updates. “The technology it uses has remained little changed since a time before computers, microprocessors, wireless telephones or hand-held electronic devices,” said Thomas Prendergast, president of the MTA’s transit division. “It is a time-tested, fail-safe system that continues to flawlessly perform its vital intended function: preventing collisions. But it cannot offer us a digital feed.”
According to Mann’s report, the data for the new app will be stored in the cloud and not on MTA’s servers. Thus, demand — which I would imagine to be steep — won’t swamp the MTA’s website. Eventually, the MTA will open the data feed to third-party app developers as well. Pushing a policy of open data, the MTA has long believed that third party developers have the ability and expertise often not found at the transit agency to push useful and slick-looking apps to the public using available transit data.
For now, though, this is a Big Deal. As Mann details, the MTA is once again hardly a technological leader in this field. Various transit agencies across the U.S. and throughout the world have made real-time train location data available to riders, and the MTA’s implementation, as the excerpt above notes, leaves much of the subway system without countdown clocks and an app feed. Still, straphangers for many popular subway lines will now have the ability to know when their next train is coming at any time of the day.
For decades, New Yorkers have been left to the whims of the subway system. We enter the system hoping for the best and often expecting the worst. Now, for seven subway lines, it’s going to change. As Lhota said, “The days of rushing to a subway station only to find yourself waiting motionless in a state of uncertainty are coming to an end.” For riders at many subway stations, the uncertain wait will now forever be a thing of the past.
As we know, New York City buses are slow and unreliable. Delayed by the vagaries of surface traffic, the city’s buses rarely stay on schedule and inch along surface streets. Buses are underutilized and often looked down upon by even their own riders. Few advances in the way we treat buses represent lost opportunities to move New Yorkers quickly and efficiently.
Over the past few years, as bus-tracking technology has swept the globe, New York has slowly embraced it. An expensive pilot program along 34th St. brought proprietary technology and countdown clocks to the heavily-trafficked corridor, but when the MTA searched for a system-wide solution, the agency instead went with a distance-based tracking system and no countdown clocks. BusTime is an open-source solution with flexibility for growth and real cost savings over closed systems.
BusTime, of course, isn’t perfect. It requires the user to possess a smart phone or texting capabilities and actually know that the technology is in place. It is a distance-based system, and for a bus to travel 1.3 miles depends upon the route, the time of day and the traffic in front of it. New Yorkers like to know time in minutes, not miles. (For a succinct summary of the MTA’s failed countdown clock efforts, check out this Daily News overview.)
Now, though, some politicians and advocates aren’t happy. Noting how countdown clocks make subway waits more tolerable and empower riders, they want countdown clocks, and they wait them now. Earlier this week, Council Member Brad Lander announced a new initiative aimed at convincing the MTA to install countdown clocks on bus shelters. Lander is leading the way with a piece of legislation that “calls upon the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Department of Transportation, and Cemusa to work together to install bus arrival time displays in bus shelters using data from the MTA’s Bus Time technology.”
Streetsblog had more from the press conference:
With countdown clocks already available in many subway stations, Lander and advocates say bus riders deserve the same convenience, and that not everyone has access to a cell phone or the Internet before catching a bus…Lander’s office estimates that the counters cost between $4,000 and $6,000 to purchase and between $1,000 and $1,600 to maintain each year, based on figures from other cities with bus countdown clocks, including Washington, DC, Boston, Albany and Syracuse.
The MTA has argued that countdown clocks at bus stops provide marginal benefit to riders at relatively high costs, and is focused on rolling out its BusTime program citywide by the end of next year. By that time, Lander would like a plan for bringing countdown clocks to the city’s 3,300 bus shelters. The route to achieving that goal is murky; Lander introduced the resolution to start the discussion.
Lander said that, ideally, revenue from advertising on countdown screens would fund the installation and maintenance of the clocks. If advertising could not cover all costs, he suggested they could be borne in part by Business Improvement Districts, council member discretionary funds or other local partners interested in bringing clocks to their areas. Lander added that bus countdown clocks were a popular idea during the last round of participatory budgeting in his district.
I have a simple challenge for Brad Lander: He feels it will cost up to $20 million to install countdown clocks that can use the BusTime API to pull data (although reliably converting distance to time is another issue). He believes it will cost around $5.28 million for maintenance each year. Instead of passing a symbolic resolution urging a solution, simply find a way to pay for the clocks. The $20 million outlay is hardly a huge expense, but it’s one the MTA doesn’t want to and cannot fund right now. Lander could.
It’s easy to talk about countdown clocks, but there’s been a concerted and logical effort to adopt a tracking system for a reasonable amount of money that doesn’t use clocks. Ideally, timers would be prevalent, but they are less reliable than GPS-based distance measurements. Now, though, a group of politicians want transit improvements at a concrete cost. Deliver the funding, and the clocks could become a reality.
Over the years, the MTA has struggled to keep its subway system water-free. When the Sandy storm surge inundated the system’s East River tunnels, the problem was laid bare for all to see. As most experts agree that the next storm is simply a matter of when and not if, the MTA will have to do something to address its vulnerable infrastructure, and that something might just be a giant plug.
The immediate history of the MTA’s water problems started a few years ago when a torrential summer storm led to massive flooding. This wasn’t the first time vulnerable areas suffered water damage, and the MTA decided to do something about it. Street-level grates were raised a few inches, and staircases were elevated as well. For normal storms, these measures alleviated the water problems, but for hurricane storm surges, the MTA’s temporary and permanent preventative initiatives were quickly overwhelmed.
We lose sight of what happened to the subways because the MTA was able to respond quickly to the problem. Some service was up and running within days, and nearly everything is back to normal. But the system suffered extensive exposure to salt water, and even outside of the fiscal costs of the clean-up, key equipment — signals, switches, track beds, wiring — will now have a short shelf lives. Protection remains key.
To that end, scientists with the Department of Homeland Security are working on developing a tunnel plug, and The Times went in depth into the project today. The key parts:
The idea is a simple one: rather than retrofitting tunnels with metal floodgates or other expensive structures, the project aims to use a relatively cheap inflatable plug to hold back floodwaters. In theory, it would be like blowing up a balloon inside a tube. But in practice, developing a plug that is strong, durable, quick to install and foolproof to deploy is a difficult engineering task, one made even more challenging because of the pliable, relatively lightweight materials required…
A subway tunnel is hardly a pristine environment; it is full of grease and grime — and, often, rats. “That’s something we’ve talked about,” Dr. Fortune said. “We’ve actually put Vectran samples in tunnels, to see if rats ate it. They didn’t.”
There are also obstructions like tracks, as well an electrified third rail, pipes and safety walkways, all of which could cause gaps between the plug and the tunnel walls. Most of the obstructions can be dealt with by modifying a short section of the tunnel to accommodate the plug, which is 32 feet long when inflated. Sharp corners can be curved, flush tracks of the type used at grade crossings can be installed, the third rail can be discontinued for a stretch, and pipes can be made to swing against the ceiling.
Those modifications will reduce potential gaps but not eliminate them. In the most recent test, when Dr. Barbero and a colleague, Eduardo M. Sosa, inspected the front of the plug, they discovered a two-inch gap in one corner. The procedure called for filling the plug with water to pressurize it further, and then introducing water behind it to simulate a flood. But a plumbing failure, unrelated to the plug, ended the test prematurely. It was repeated successfully several days later, Dr. Fortune said, and the plug held back all but a small amount of water.
Henry Fountain’s article explores the construction of the plug. It consists of three layers of durable yet flexible materials. It also explores placement: The plug is designed to fold into the sides of the tunnel and can be deployed remotely. The key questions though concern cost and effectiveness. One plug costs around $400,000, and the MTA, for instance, would need a considerable number of these plugs to adequately protect the porous tunnels.
Effectiveness though remains the biggest concern. The MTA’s tunnels are vulnerable at key access points, but plugging tunnels would simply displace water flow to other vulnerable areas. What success is accomplished if floodwaters destroy a train station but spare the tunnels? The MTA also, as The Times notes, must deal with water that enters through ventilation grates and various other entry points. The plugs can only do so much.
Short of sealing up the system, though, these plugs may be one of the more promising areas of progress. The clock is ticking, and the MTA doesn’t have time on its side. Can something like this be in place before the next flood arrives? If the money is there, a solution will be too.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen Transit begin the process of bringing real-time bus tracking to New York City. Eschewing an expensive, closed solution, the MTA instead went the open source route and has been developing BusTime, with its public API, in house for nearly two years. I explored the inner workings of the technology as it existed in February of 2011. Since then, a few routes in Brooklyn and Manhattan along with all of Staten Island have been added to BusTime, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Now, it’s nearing time for its Bronx debut.
Earlier this week, during testimony in front of the City Council, Craig Stewart, a Senior Corporate Management from Transit, said that the Bronx would, in fact, receive BusTime by the end of the month. “We are scheduled to fully deploy BusTime in the Bronx by the end of this month and to have it in all remaining boroughs by the end of 2013,” he said. “It is worth noting that customer feedback on the MTA Bus Time initiative has been overwhelmingly positive.” According to The Daily News, nearly 30 percent of Staten Island bus riders have used the service.
Available online via a mobile or full-featured browser and with the information accessible via text message as well, BusTime informs riders of how far away the next bus along the chosen route is. It’s a little less precise than a countdown clock with minutes, but bus travel time varies based on surface traffic. From my use of it in Brooklyn, it seems to take only a few refreshes to ascertain how long a wait will be and how distance translates into time. As the city-wide rollout continues, this technology should vastly improve the experience of traveling on — and waiting for — our buses. Now how about more dedicated lanes and a city-wide pre-board payment system?
Over the past few years, the MTA has engaged in a rapid about-face on its handling of technology. Despite the revolving door at the top of the agency’s executive chain, Lee Sander, Jay Walder and Joe Lhota have all embraced and pushed forward various technological efforts. From countdown clocks to real-time data streams to information dashboards and an embrace of apps, the MTA has moved, if not to the forefront, at least forward in the realm of transit technologies.
Yesterday, in an effort to exert some of its oversight influence over the MTA, the City Council’s Transportation Committee hauled in a few agency officials to take about technology. By and large, we know the story: The MTA has a series of technology initiatives that are moving forward, some faster than others. The countdown clocks, for instance, have arrived on the A Division lines but will take some time to appear on the lettered subway lines. Yet, the testimony, offered by Craig Stewart, a Senior Corporate Management from Transit, and the subsequent questioning offers an insight into some ongoing projects. I’m going to provide a few updates from the hearings, and right now, we start with the countdown clocks and the availability of real-time data.
Now that Transit has added countdown clocks to the numbered train lines, the authority is rolling in data, very little of which has been made public. That will change soon. As I first reported in May, Transit will soon release both their own train tracking app and an open API for the real-time data stream. While no date has been established for the release, things are moving quickly.
“The MTA is very close to being able to provide real-time train arrival data without having to go into the station,” head agency spokesman Adam Lisberg said to The Daily News. “We want everyone to access the countdown clocks on numbered lines just by looking at their phone.”
The news on countdown clocks for the B Division trains though — the lettered lines less the L train — is a bit hazier. In prepared testimony, Stewart had the following to say. The emphasis is mine.
With respect to the B Division (lettered lines), NYC Transit has completed work at 24 stations on the Canarsie L line. This system was commissioned in 2007 as a standalone system that interfaces with the Canarsie Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) system for train prediction information. The B Division has presented unique challenges due to its size and complexity when compared to the A Division. having 288 stations versus 156 on the A Division, 141 route miles versus 66 route miles on the A Division and 317 trains versus 203 peak trains on the A Division. Furthermore, the B Division does not have the Automatic Train Supervision (ATS) system, which provided a common platform that greatly facilitated the installation of Next Train Arrival Information on the A Division. Finally, most of the B Division is comprised of territory with four tracks and many interconnecting lines along its routes, making it impractical to replicate the approach taken for the A Division.
We have undertaken a few pilots in an effort to identify an interim measure for providing service information to B Division customers, including most recently, the use of electronic signage; however, those efforts have all fallen short in yielding the level and type of information we are seeking to provide our customers. Our ultimate goal is, of course, to develop similar capabilities for the B Division as exists currently on the A Division. However, it will take substantial investments to fully deploy the projected improvements in capability. To ease the delay, we are working on strategies to deploy functionality so that passenger benefits can be delivered as early as possible. This phased deployment will result in improvements that may not necessarily be across all areas. In order to begin providing benefits as quickly as possible, we have established an initial goal of providing the current B Division next train arrival information to customers by capturing dispatch/schedule information electronically.
NYC Transit will soon start design work under several projects to begin capturing train information across the B Division. Collecting train location information is a prerequisite step to providing real-time train arrival information and may take several years to accomplish. This design effort will also help us to determine the most viable options for implementation.
The MTA hopes to bring such countdown clocks to the B Division within 3-5 years, but that timeline is malleable. It depends upon funding and ease of implementation, two things with which the MTA has struggled over its history. Meanwhile, the agency will focus on providing train information via the new PA system, recently installed and upgraded in all B Division stations. It’s a baby step before taking the big and complicated technological leap.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen straphangers come to embrace the MTA’s countdown clocks as a much-needed piece of transit technology. Having information on wait times leads to happier and more informed commuters, and the clamor to bring such technology to the lettered B Division subway lines has grown only louder. The countdown clocks aren’t the only pieces of travel-improving technology that have been warmly embraced by the city’s transit travelers, and two recent articles shed some light on other improvements.
First up, we have word out of Staten Island that Bus Time, the MTA’s in-house solution to real-time bus tracking, has proven popular. According to the MTA, nearly 33,000 bus riders on Staten Island — or a quarter of the borough’s riders — have checked in on the location of their bus, and the entire system has received over a million hits.
I’ve used it regularly along the B63′s route through Brooklyn, and while not having a time-based model takes some adjustment, I’ve been able to figure out approximately how long a wait would be based on distance. While such a calculation may vary from line to line, the system seems to be popular and both more flexible and less expensive than proprietary ones. The Bronx will get its deployment before the year is out.
Next, we have an udate on underground wifi. Straphangers waiting for trains and passing through wired stations have enjoyed the free service from Boingo and Google Offers as Transit Wireless continues to build out its subway cell and wifi network. The current Google sponsorship expires in September, but Transit Wireless says they plan on lining up similar deals for continued free service.
The company, meanwhile, says it’s still on track to bring 30 more stations online before the end of the year. “If you got a long commute, that could be as long as 30 minutes, that you are basically without any type of connectivity which some for people is like cutting off their arm,” Dawn Callahan, an official at Boingo, said. “So I think that this presents people a way for them to stay connected.”
As New York City Transit’s effort to replace the MetroCard with something a bit more modern slowly inches forward, Metro-North will be testing a smartphone-based paperless ticket system this summer. The railroad announced today a project in conjunction with Masabi that will allow its riders to user a smartphone app to buy tickets. Eventually, there will be no need for cash, frustrating lines at ticket machines or steep on-board surcharges for last-minute purchases.
“We are as excited to begin testing the next generation ticket selling technology as we were when we introduced ticket vending machines a quarter of a century ago,” Metro-North President Howard Permut said in a statement. “Our customers adapted quickly to TVMs and the machines became the preferred way to buy tickets. The latest test is intended to ensure that the newest technology will be equally easy to use, as well as secure and reliable.”
The initial pilot, however, is a strange one as Metro-North employees will act as guinea pigs. They’ll have the free app on their phones and will purchase the tickets — any type — for use. The e-tickets will show an image a conductor can then validate with a barcode scanner. The initial pilot will include a time measurement study to compare electronic purchases with on-board transactions and inspection efforts. The MTA will also keep an eye on anti-fraud measures before decided whether or not to expand this program to all riders.
I expect this to be a smooth and quick pilt. Masabi is a leader in the field in the U.K. with smartphone ticketing apps available for 13 rail agencies. The company is also assisted the MBTA in a smartphone ticketing project as well. The only drawback I see here is that the LIRR isn’t involved. Provincial agency turf lines know no bounds, it seems.
There is something nearly incongruous about Wi-Fi service in the New York City subway system. On the one hand, the visuals in many subway stations are not appealing as water-stained walls, strange odors and general disarray are common signs of aging infrastructure. On the other hand, the stainless steel rolling stock matches the backs of Apple’s popular iPads, and technology has become, in the minds of some, synonymous with progress.
So, enter Wi-Fi. As part of Transit Wireless’ slow-moving but supposedly steady rollout of cell service to underground New York City subway stations, Boingo will be providing Wi-Fi service as well, and this summer, thanks to Google, the access is free. Beginning this past Monday at the same six stations already wired for cell service, Google, via a promotion run by Google Offers, subsidized the Wi-Fi. For travelers in Chelsea at the 14th St. stations at 6th, 7th, and 8th Avenues as well as the stop at 23rd and 8th, free Wi-Fi can help while away the time spent waiting for a train.
Google’s offer runs through September 7. After that, and at others as they come online, Boingo will be charging an access fee. Is it worth it to pay to surf the Internet for four or six or ten minutes before the next train arrives? I doubt it, but that won’t stop some straphangers from ponying up the dough.
So what’s in it for Google? Why the free summer? The Awl late last week explored the economics of information as Google, thanks to its terms of usage, gets to track everyone’s subway-based browsing habits. Ad Week had a similarly interesting take and one that made me ponder the MTA’s own approach to subway advertising. Tim Peterson wrote on Boingo’s attempts at securing future sponsors for free service:
To better customize its offerings, Google is splicing NYC into three regions, so those WiFi freeloaders who elect to sign up for Offers at one of the SoHo hotspots will receive NYC Downtown offers. Those near Madison Square Garden will receive NYC Midtown offers. “Whether it’s finding a great deal for a new restaurant or an outdoor adventure, Google Offers is all about helping people make the most of their city, while saving money. With free WiFi in subway stations and Boingo hotzones across Manhattan, people can easily browse the Internet or discover great deals from nearby businesses while they’re on the go,” said a Google spokesperson.
The campaign is a brand-awareness play for Google, but Boingo is using it as a pilot to test out its sponsor-driven WiFi initiative. “The goal is, by time this runs out, to have another advertiser lined up,” said Christian Gunning, Boingo’s director of corporate communications. Subway riders in particular are a valuable demo for advertisers to target, he said, with more than 70 percent between the ages of 18 and 54 and more than 35 percent exceeding $75,000 in annual income.
In addition to the six subway stations participating in the Google Offers pilot, Boingo plans to add 30 more New York City hotspots by the end of the year and will be selling brands exclusive network-wide sponsorships, Gunning said.
Google, one of the nation’s more successful advertising agencies at this point in its corporate history, seems to think subway riders are “a valuable demo for advertisers to target.” They’re not wrong per se, but it’s a thought that isn’t expressed frequently. It’s certainly true that the MTA has been more aggressive in courting advertisers lately as a fully wrapped Shuttle and 6 train are both common. Plus, dynamic video ads outside stations have upped the ante as well.
Still, I can’t help but wonder about the ad rates when Dr. Zizmor, ASA and Monroe College feature so prominently throughout the system. Pulp novels still take out placards, and many stations feature no ads at all. Perhaps those one-offs maintain some of the lost charm of in-car subway advertising, but perhaps the folks selling the ads could shift focus a bit. If Google thinks we’re a valuable demographic for ads, someone with money to spend should too.
An eagle-eyed straphanger spotted these countdown clocks on the B Division yesterday. Although he said an R came first, the point remains that some technology that had been in the discussion stages seems to be moving closer toward a reality. While A Division stations currently enjoy countdown clocks everywhere, bringing a similar PA/CIS system to the B Division would be costly and time-consuming. So what’s going on here?
I reached out to Transit to track down more information and learned that this clock is part of a test that hasn’t quite yet begun. The plan is to test the clocks at 14th St., 23rd St. and 28th Sts. along the BMT Broadway Line, and the underlying technology uses Optical Character Recognition and some scheduling information. Right now, Transit says they are still working with vendors to configure the software, and the customer information screens may display some messages while the tests move forward.
As I understand, OCR can be used to identify train sets based on scans of the car numbers as they move through the system. Such a technology can offer similar results to the A Division’s clocks, but the underlying technology is entirely different. I’ll try to have more on OCR soon, but it seems as though the plans to bring some type of countdown clock to the B Division are beginning to move forward.
Any veteran subway rider knows to dread an announcement concerning “an unavoidable delay.” Such a proclamation can precede an endless wait in a tunnel somewhere as some mysterious problem causes back-ups up and down the line. Details are scarce, and the waits infuriating. But what if those unavoidable delays aren’t so unavoidable after all?
For straphangers stuck in a train, the MTA delivers scant information. We never find out the why or wherefore of the service delay unless we seek it out. Yesterday, though, the Straphangers Campaign pulled back the curtain a bit, and after analyzing the 2011 service delays, what they found were a bunch of potentially avoidable delays based on the city’s aging subway signal system.
By analyzing the MTA’s text message alert system, the Straphangers produced a report on subway delays. The total world of delays included 4580 alerts, and the Straphangers determined that 1613 of them — or 35 percent of the total — were uncontrollable. That is, they involved sick passengers or police activity outside of the realm of the MTA. The remainder were indeed avoidable.
The remaining 2967 alerts encompassed delays due to signal or mechanical problems, and over 1000 of those were due to signal problems. The advocacy group offered up some topline summaries:
- The 2 line had the most controllable significant incidents in 2011. The 2 line accounted for 251 out of 2,967, or 8% of all controllable significant incidents.
- The 5 line came in a close second, with 247 controllable significant incidents. This was also 8% of all controllable significant incidents.
- The G line had the fewest controllable significant incidents in 2011. The G line accounted for 45, or 2%, of all controllable significant incidents.
- The most frequently occurring type of controllable significant incidents in 2011 was signal problems. This reason accounted for 36% of all controllable significant incidents.
The 2 and 5 lines, of course, share trackage in both Brooklyn and the Bronx so it’s no surprise that those two lines are intertwined in their delays. As critics of the G may say, since the train never runs, it can’t be delayed (but we know those numbers are due to the fact that it’s a one-train route from Queens until Bergen Street).
For its part, the MTA didn’t dispute these findings. “We agree with the Straphangers’ assessment that signal issues contribute to delays,” the authority said in a statement. “That is why signal upgrades remain a top priority and are a crucial part of our capital program. FASTRACK is also helping to improve how we maintain and improve our signals network.”
The Straphangers posed a few questions based on their data, and one in particular caught my eye. “Are there explanations,” they asked, “for why signal and mechanical problems constitute more than two-thirds of all significant controllable incidents?” The easy answer concerns the age of the subway infrastructure. Simply put, the equipment is very, very old; some signals are pushing 70. This technology needs to be better maintained and, more importantly, upgraded both to maintain current capacity and throughput and allow the MTA to expand its services.
A few weeks ago, I bemoaned the threat of a less ambitious capital plan. Joe Lhota had spoken then of looking at ways to spend less for a few years but invest in the hidden infrastructure. “It’s about signals,” he said. “If we’re going to have more throughput, we’re going to put more trains on the same track, and we’re going to have to have more modernized signals.”
So maybe this is indeed all about signals. The MTA plans to spend around $3 billion on signals over the next few years and will look to increase that amount when the pressures of funding — but not building — the megaprojects start to come off the books in 2015. Can we wait a few more years to upgrade this vital, if hidden, part of the subway system? We may have little choice, but all of a sudden, that less-than-ambitious capital plan looks a little more promising.