Archive for New York City Transit
In a few weeks, Veronique Hakim will assume the position as President of New York City Transit, and her first task will be a big one as Joseph Leader, the senior vice president in charge of the Department of Subways, is retiring this Friday. Leader was appointed in 2013, and the Daily News broke word of his departure yesterday afternoon.
As the News notes, Leader’s departure comes at a time of increased ridership but also increased frustration as crowding is at historic highs and subway rides seem slower and less pleasant than ever. Leader was a major proponent of the current FASTRACK maintenance program, and The News notes that Leader’s “last major initiative was an attempt to get trains moving more smoothly through the overcrowded and problem-plagued system” that involved using “subway station platform workers to move riders in and out of trains faster and boost[ing] maintenance and inspections.” Whether the latter has been a success is hard to say. Without boosting frequency and overall system capacity, these efforts strike me as the proverbial lipstick on a pig.
So as Hakim arrives, she’ll be able to appoint her own right-hand aide to head up the largest subway system in America at a time of ever-increasing crowds and capacity concerns. Due to work shift rules, the MTA’s lead time for increasing service can run anywhere from six to nine months — which means, based on recent trends, that gains from increased capacity will be wiped out by the interim increase in ridership. Shortening this lag should be one of Hakim and her next SVP of subways’ top priorities. For now, Wynton Habersham, Transit’s Vice President and Chief Officer of Service Delivery, will serve as the interim SVP of subways.
Following up on last week’s report, one-time MTA executive and current New Jersey Transit Executive Director Veronique Hakim has accepted the position as president of the New York City Transit Authority. Widely considered as the number two transit gig in the country behind MTA CEO and Chair, the TA president is in charge of the vast network of subways and buses that currently serve over 8 million New Yorkers per day. Hakim, a 20-year vet of the agency, is the first woman to be appointed to the job, and her arrival comes at a time when the subways are sagging under the weight of ever-increasing demand.
Hakim’s appointment is another in the revolving door of transit politics, and some have grumbled about the “inside baseball” nature of her return. She spent 23 years at the MTA, as an attorney with both New York City Transit and Capital Construction, before heading up the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and New Jersey Transit. Yet, she’s a qualified pick who’s earned praise from others in the industry, and it’s high time the men’s club atop the MTA’s leadership positions is broken. “Our transit network is the lifeblood of the entire region, and I am glad to welcome Ronnie back to New York City Transit and to entrust her with the responsibility of ensuring safe and reliable service even as ridership grows every month,” MTA Chairman and CEO Prendergast said. “Ronnie’s comprehensive transportation experience, her detailed vision for the future and her demonstrated ability to bring real improvements to customers make her the right person to tackle New York City Transit’s challenges now.”
Her tenure begins on December 28, the Monday in between Christmas and New Years, and she’ll take over from interim head James Ferrara, who will remain as the President of MTA Bridges & Tunnels. “Having spent more than two decades of my life at the MTA, I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to lead New York City Transit at a time when surging ridership is affecting every element of its operations,” Hakim said. “Subway and bus customers have high expectations for the network they rely on every day, and I look forward to meeting their expectations of safety, reliability and quality at New York City Transit.”
Meanwhile, Transit’s gain is someone else’s loss, and the someone else in this case is our neighbor to the west. For New Jersey Transit, Hakim’s departure is another in a long line of troubles for the agency in recent years. Kate Hinds summed up seven of them for WNYC yesterday afternoon, and tops among those was brain drain. In addition to Hakim, NJ Transit has lost its rail ops head who was involved in planning for a new trans-Hudson tunnel, its capital program head, and a travel forecast official. This is a problem for an agency that’s struggling to maintain, let alone grow, amidst lukewarm state support but increasing ridership demands. Considering how tough it’s been for transit agencies to replace top talent lately, NJ Transit may be on the precipice of a problem. More on that later.
The revolving door of the transit world may keep spinning through the MTA’s top positions, according to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal. A few months after Carmen Biacno retired as president of New York City Transit, the MTA may be narrowing its search to a former executive now working in New Jersey. As Andrew Tangel reported last week, the agency may tab current NJ Transit Executive Director Ronnie Hakim for the vacancy atop Transit. Hakim, an MTA vet who has spent the last five years leading various Garden State agencies, would be the first female to lead Transit.
According to Tangel, Hakim’s appointment is not yet a sure thing. She’s still negotiating her departure from New Jersey Transit, a spot she’s held only since early 2014, and even though she would lend stability at the top to NYC Transit, NJ Transit would continue to suffer from frequent turnover. Hakim was previously a lawyer with Transit and with MTA Capital Construction and served briefly as an interim president of MTACC before Michael Horodniceanu took over.
If Hakim assumes the position, her challenges are formidable. The subway system is literally bursting at the seams, and the MTA’s 20-year plan isn’t fast enough to address crowds that have made peak-hour commuting a truly miserable and frustrating experience every morning. The agency has also struggled to maintain the system and has a backlog of Sandy recovery work to get through. Hakim is competent, but with 23 years of MTA experience in her pocket, she’s very much an “Inside Baseball” pick at a time when the agency needs to be more nimble and flexible than it is.
Over the past decade, the MTA has ping-ponged through an era of uncertain leadership. The agency has burned through Lee Sander and Jay Walder and Joe Lhota, along with a few interim heads, and Tom Prendergast, now on the job for nearly three years, is the longest tenured MTA Chair since Peter Kalikow stepped down toward the end of 2007. With such frequent turnover, it’s been exceedingly hard for the MTA to plan for now or the future, and it’s starting to show.
October is the busiest time of year for subway ridership, and the last few days have been absolutely brutal. I can tell you what it’s like to ride from Brooklyn to Midtown and back every day, and while my tales are simply one person’s experiences, I’ve heard from many riders throughout the city who have experienced the same frustrating commutes. At 8:20 a.m., I’ve had to let B or Q trains pass me by; at 8:10 a.m. at the 6 train’s 4th uptown stop in Manhattan, I’ve been packed tighter than a sardine in a tin can. At times when I used to be able to grab a seat on the way home at night, I’ve had to stand from Grand Central to Nevins St. Wait times are long; trains are crowded; and there’s no relief in sight.
This problem — of uncomfortable rides, disgruntled customers and every-increasing ridership — is one of both the MTA’s doing and a lack of investment. The MTA sets its own load guidelines, and trains are crowded because that’s how the agency can wring every dollar possible out of the system. Service was far more frequent when the subways first ran in the early 1900s than it is today, but with the MTA’s budget operating on razor-thin margins, the MTA has to run what a consultant would call efficient operations. That means riders don’t get more more train than they want, even if it means a six-minute wait for a packed 6 train during the a.m. rush.
The other MTA problem is a lack of foresight and money. The agency hasn’t planned for a spike in ridership, and the crowds in the subway, as Charles Komanoff recently discussed, are approaching something akin to gridlock. There’s no room for more passengers, and the technology that enables the MTA to run trains more frequently is years away from implementation. It is also, as I’ve discussed recently, far too expensive for the MTA to implement these upgrades and far too late to be planning them only now. Planning for today’s crowds tomorrow is a recipe for failure, and we are up a creek without a paddle.
There is some modicum of relief on the horizon as the MTA announced some service increases on Thursday, but for some reason of economics, these changes don’t go into effect for another nine months. So that’s nine more months of overcrowded trains (that also seem to run slower than ever). Transit says they are adding service on 12 lines though the “most significant changes” are on the 42nd St. shuttle — hardly a move that does much for the rest of us. The C train will see three additional trips on Sundays as well.
The MTA summed up these service increases “Other major lines that will be increasing service include the Seventh Avenue 1/2 lines, with a total of five additional round trips during peak and evening hours; the Eighth Avenue A/C/E lines, with three additional round trips during midday and evening hours and three more round trips on Sunday mornings; the J/M/Z lines, with a total of three additional weekday round trips; and the system’s busiest route: the Lexington Avenue 4/5/6 lines, with seven additional weekday evening round trips.”
For the meager cost of just $5.8 million annually — barely a fraction of 1% percent of the agency’s budget — headways will be shortened by around 30 seconds in the evening. This is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to improving commutes.
Even in announcing these upgrades, Transit officials seemed to nod more toward the constraints of improving service than toward the benefits of these added runs. “Our subway system is more than a century old and even where we are aided by new technology, we are still limited by the overall age and condition of the system and the maintenance that is needed to run trains safely,” James Ferrara, interim president of Transit, said. “Making these service changes wherever we can lets us make the best use of existing resources as we expand to keep up with private sector development.”
There’s no good answer here. Unless there is a mass migration away from New York City, the subways will remain crowded. Ideally, Transit is assessing how to deal not with 6 million daily customers but with 6.3 or 6.5. It’s really only a matter of time unless the system — and the city — simply cannot handle that volume. But that’s a future we’d all rather not contemplate.
Over the past few/10/20/30/50 years, the New York City Transit Authority has engaged in an elusive game of repair. In transit-speak, the agency wants to achieve a state of good repair for its systems and stations, and although trains now run much more reliably than they did in the late 1970s and 1980s thanks to aggressive track replacement and signal work, our subway system’s stations are by and large in bad shape. As many have pointed out, attempting to achieve a state of good repair for a system with nearly 800 miles of track and a soon-to-be 469 stations is a Sisyphean task.
That Greek mythological figure is exactly how the city’s Citizens Budget Commission described the MTA’s effort in its latest report on the elusive State of Good Repair. Released last week, the report [pdf] essentially states what we all knew: The MTA is very unlikely to ever attain a State of Good Repair. Although that’s the headline, though, that’s not quite the main attraction. The MTA is never going to achieve a state of good repair because time keeps moving forward. A state rehabbed 20 years ago will need another overhaul in 15 years, and that’s just the unavoidable truth of a 35-year lifespan. The inefficiencies in the MTA’s progress though are dragging down the system.
More recently, the MTA has admitted that achieving a State of Good Repair is essentially impossible and has shifted to a component-based approach to station maintenance. This way, key elements such as staircases or platform lighting are repaired while other elements that may not affect the customer environment are left to the winds of time. This too has its problems as the CBC report details.
But enough of generalities. Let’s talk about the report. The CBC analyzed the MTA’s component-based approach and found that nearly a quarter of the MTA’s components are serious deficient, and 33 stations — including some high-profile, high-traffic ones — have less than half of their components in an acceptable state of repair. These include 7th Ave. on the Brighton Line and Grand Army Plaza (shown above), two of my local stations, and 16 in Queens, most serving the 7, N/Q or J trains.
With this in mind, the CBC asked if the MTA is allocating enough funding to its State of Good Repair efforts and what else the agency could be doing to speed up State of Good Repair efforts. I found their answers both frustrating and insufficient. For the first question, the CBC questioned the MTA’s prioritizing spending on expansion efforts such as East Side Access or Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway over repair works. To me, this misses the forest for the trees. If New York is to grow and remain competitive globally, it absolutely has to expand its high-speed, high-capacity transit network, and the only way to do that is through subway expansion. We can and have talked about the problem with these capital projects’ costs, but New York City can’t afford a future without an expanding subway network.
On the second issue, the CBC took a look at station repair costs, and it wasn’t pretty. Of the 42 station renovation efforts under the last five-year capital plan, 28 were over budget, and 10 saw their costs double. That’s setting aside the fact that the MTA accomplishes only 8 of these per year. Costs have increased at a rate that outpaces inflation, and the CBC, in so many words, notes that ADA-compliance often costs more than the benefits it delivers.
To achieve cost savings, the CBC urges the MTA to “make effective use” of public-private partnerships — which has proven easier said than done time after time. One of the CBC ideas — subway station conservancies modeled on the Department of Parks’ example. The CBC notes that “appropriate governance” would be required to avoid “inequities among neighborhoods,” but that has not exactly worked out well for the city’s parks. An adopt-a-station program would need aggressive oversight and some sort of redistribution scheme to ensure that those stations in Queens get the same investment as the ones in Midtown.
In a way, the CBC report though ignores what I mentioned earlier: The MTA cannot maintain and achieve a State of Good Repair, and the agency recognizes this. With 468 stations, the work is never-ending, and the MTA has to figure out a way to ensure that funding is sustainable and sufficient for a never-ending renovation scheme that considers a 35- or 40-year useful life. That is, if a station is renovated now, it will have to be re-done in 2050, and stations that were overhauled in 1995 are up for renovation again in 2030.
Meanwhile, the report has led to some interesting examinations of MTA funding schemes. Christopher Bonanos at New York Magazine asked if real estate developers should fund MTA repairs. Playing off of the One Vanderbilt investment in the Grand Central station, he urges real estate developers to pony up money for subway improvements and throws in the carrot of zoning variances or subway-level real estate:
Every giant glass tower that goes up in midtown adds a few hundred occupants (at least) to the grid. Each building increases the load on city services: water, sewer, electrical, transit. Setting aside the big transfer points like Times Square, a local midtown subway stop serves about 20,000 or so riders on a weekday. Add ten new apartment buildings in the neighborhood, and that number of users will go up by a significant percentage. If those buildings’ developers are relying on city systems, they should pay for their improvement. Every giant new tower, or group of towers, should be matched with a renovated station down the block…The MTA could even sweeten the deal by throwing in a lease on some of its own wasted real estate. Some of the giant mezzanine spaces of the A-C-E stations, for example, could easily garage a few shops. Chipotle and Starbucks probably wouldn’t want to be in the grimy stations that exist now — but in fresh, bright renovated ones? Why not? In exchange for building out the stores, the developer would get a share of the rental revenue for, say, a decade.
On the other hand, Rebecca Baird-Remba at New York Yimby cast a skeptical eye at P3s as a be-all and end-all solution for transit funding woes. She feels that New York State requires formal legislation overseeing P3s before the MTA could rely on them for serious transit funding, but ultimately, these one-offs are alluring.
All in all, it’s a tough balance. The MTA isn’t going to achieve a state of good repair, but station repairs should move faster than they do. Again, though, without a serious conversation on cost control and an aggressive cost-cutting initiative by the MTA, we will be paying more for less as the years go by. Even Sisyphus didn’t have it that bad.
For a map showing how your local station stacks up against the system’s worst, check out this interactive overview from the CBC.
Thomas DiNapoli has served as New York State Comptroller nearly as long as I’ve run this site. He’s outlived governors and MTA Chairs alike at this point, but he’s still chugging along. One of the problems I’ve had with his “audits” of the MTA is that, for those who pay close attention to these sorts of things, they aren’t too insightful. He hasn’t identified the key problems plaguing the agency — namely, the insanely high capital construction costs and lack of productivity for the dollars — and his reports generally take public information and condense them into soundbites. His latest audit is no different, but it’s worth spending some time with it and the MTA’s response.
In his latest report — the PDF is right here — DiNapoli took all of the MTA’s on-time performance numbers the agency shares once a month at its board meetings and determined what Transit officials have been saying for some time: The subways’ on-time performance has been dreadful, and it’s getting worse. In 2013 and 2014, Transit had set an on-time performance goal for itself of over 91 percent, but weekday trains were on time 80.5 percent of the time in 2013 and just 74 percent of the time in 2014. Instead of combatting the problem, the MTA has instead lowered its on-time performance goal to 75 percent, far below national average.
“The subways are New York City’s arteries yet on-time performance continues to be an issue,” DiNapoli said. “The MTA has actually lowered its own expectations for addressing subway delays. We’re encouraged that MTA has put more money toward improving the ride for straphangers, hopefully it will help improve on-time performance.”
The audit’s recommendations aren’t much. DiNapoli has asked the MTA to identify the sources of delays, come up with a plan to mitigate these delays and then track performance monthly. Yet again, that sounds like something the transit agency already does even if their mitigation plans aren’t particularly effective.
Things got interesting though in the back-and-forth between the New York comptroller and agency officials responding to the audit. Transit has long maintained that on-time performance — the time a train actually arrives at a terminal — doesn’t much matter so long as even headways are maintained. I believe the agency is ultimately correct, but it’s not a point that’s going to win them much sympathy from a public that, by and large, has no idea what “headways” mean. Riders will hear trains are late; nod their heads in agreement; and sigh in exasperation.
Anyway, in response, the MTA highlighted wait assessment as their primary internal metric of even and reliable service and claimed that they already know why trains are delayed. They cited fallout from record ridership, new flagging rules and ongoing maintenance, and unexpected and emergency maintenance as the main causes. “New York City Transit does not have a single policy or directive on reducing delays and improving on-time performance, nor should we,” agency officials said in response. “Providing high-quality service is our central objective, and it is inherent in everything we do…We do not wish to compartmentalize responsibility for improving service performance. Therefore, it is neither practical nor desirable to condense our performance related activities into one policy (or even several policies).”
DiNapoli, in his response to Transit’s response, noted that wait assessment has also declined and urged the MTA to attempt some sort of root-cause analysis. Of course, the root-cause analysis should recommend more subway lines and faster upgrade to a technology that allows for more trains per hour. That recommendation carries a high price tag and a multi-year lead time that won’t do much to solve the current problem. Thus, it’s not one designed to appease politicians who must run for office every few years.
Ultimately, no matter how you slice or dice it, performance has suffered, and the MTA hasn’t been able to overcome ridership that isn’t showing signs of doing anything other than increasing. DiNapoli may have pointed out the obvious, but sometimes, the obvious needs pointing out. Is it going to get better? Can it?
Postscript: On the Queens Boulevard Line
While we’re on the subject of delays, riders on the Queens Boulevard Line should gear up for a rough few weeks. Starting on Monday and running through September 4, Transit has to curtail all service along the line for work on the express tracks. The agency waited until 2 p.m. on the day before work is set to start to announce this bad news:
Transit forces are rebuilding sections of the express tracks through this area. Express E and F trains which usually travel at higher speeds will be required to slow to 10 mph through the work zones, reducing the number of trains that can use these lines each hour.
Some E and F trains will run on the local tracks, reducing the number of M and R local trains which can operate on those tracks. There will be no E service to or from Jamaica-179 St; customers should use the F instead and transfer at Union Turnpike. Customers on all four subway lines that use the Queens Boulevard route should expect less frequent service and should plan extra time for their travels.
This vital work is necessary to keep the express tracks in a state of good repair along the Queens Boulevard line, which is the second-busiest line in the entire subway system. The work was scheduled for the last three weeks of summer because it is typically one of the lowest-ridership periods of the entire year.
Even with ridership lower than normal, this work is going to cause headaches for a lot of people over the next few weeks. Delayed service, indeed.
With Carmen Bianco retiring on August 21, the MTA has named Bridge & Tunnel President James Ferrara as interim NYC Transit president. Ferrara likely won’t get the job permanently, but it provides agency continuity as he is a long-time MTA guy. No word yet on the candidates to replace Bianco.
Now, onto the weekend work. These come to me from the MTA so check signs, station announcements, carrier pigeon messages, etc.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, August 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 17, 1 trains are suspended in both directions between 14 St and South Ferry. 2 3 trains run local in both directions between 34 St-Penn Station and Chambers St. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service between Chambers St and South Ferry.
From 3:30 a.m. Saturday, August 15 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, August 16, 2 trains are suspended in both directions between E 180 St and 149 St-Grand Concourse.
Free shuttle buses operate along two routes:
- Express shuttle buses run between E 180 St and 149 St-Grand Concourse, stopping at the Hunts Point Av 6 station and 3 Av-149 St.
- Local shuttle buses make all stops between E 180 St and 149 St-Grand Concourse. Transfer between trains and free shuttle buses at E 180 St, Hunts Point Av, and/or 149 St-Grand Concourse.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, August 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 17, 2 trains run local in both directions between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.
From 6:30 a.m. to 12 midnight, Saturday, August 15 and Sunday, August 16, 3 trains run local in both directions between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 14 to 7:30 a.m. Sunday, August 16, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, August 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 17, Crown Hts-Utica Av bound 4 trains run express from 14 St-Union Sq to Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, August 15 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 17, Crown Hts-Utica Av bound 4 trains run local from 125 St to 14 St-Union Sq.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 17, 5 service is suspended. Take the 2 4 6 and free shuttle buses instead. Free shuttle buses operate along two routes:
- Limited shuttle buses make all stops between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St, and run express to 149 St-Grand Concourse, stopping at the Hunts Point Av 6 station and 3 Av-149 St (from 3:30 AM Sat to 10 PM Sun).
- Dyre Av Local shuttle buses make all stops between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St only (from 11:45 PM Fri to 3:30 AM Sat, and from 10 PM Sun to 5 AM Mon).
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 14 to 5:00 a.m. Saturday, August 17, Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall bound 6 trains run express from 14 St-Union Sq to Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 17, Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall bound 6 trains run express from Pelham Bay Park to Parkchester.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 17, A trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, August 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 17, A trains run local in both directions between W4 St-Wash Sq and 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 14 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, August 16, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, August 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 17, Inwood-207 St bound A trains run express from 125 St to 168 St.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, August 15 and Sunday, August 16, C trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, August 15 and Sunday, August 16, 168 St-bound C trains run express from 125 St to 168 St.
From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, August 15 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, August 16, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound D trains are rerouted via the N line from 36 St to Coney Island-Stillwell Ave.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 17, E trains are suspended in both directions between Jamaica Center-Parsons/Archer and Briarwood. Free shuttle buses operate between Jamaica Center-Parsons/Archer and Union Tpke, stopping at Sutphin Blvd-Archer Av, Jamaica-Van Wyck, and Briarwood. For additional connections between Manhattan and Jamaica Center, consider the A and J via a transfer at Broadway Junction.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, August 15 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 17, E trains run local in both directions between Queens Plaza and Forest Hills-71 Av.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 17, Jamaica-179 St bound F trains run express from Neptune Av to Smith-9 Sts.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, August 15 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 17, F trains run local in both directions between 21 St-Queensbridge and Forest Hills-71 Av.
From 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday, August 1, and Sunday, August 2, L service operates in two sections.
- Between 8 Av and Broadway Junction.
- Between Broadway Junction and Rockaway Pkwy, every 24 minutes.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 17, Astoria-Ditmars Blvd bound N trains are rerouted via the D line from Coney Island-Stillwell Av to 36 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 17, Astoria-Ditmars Blvd bound N trains skip 49 St.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, August 15 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 17, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound N trains skip 45 St and 53 St.
From 11:15 p.m. Friday, August 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 17, Manhattan-bound Q trains run express from Kings Hwy to Prospect Park.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 14 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, August 16, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, August 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 17, Manhattan-bound Q trains skip 49 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, August 14 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, August 16, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, August 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, August 17, 36 St-bound R trains stop at 53 St and 45 St.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, August 15, and Sunday, August 16, Uptown R trains skip 49 St.
The long-running joke about the MTA’s pilot programs is that they never end; they just fade away. Over the years, the MTA has announced a few high-profile pilot programs — a contact-less fare payment system, strip maps in certain stations to aid in navigation — that seem to simply die from lack of attention. Just take a look through these Google searches for some indication of the reasonably good ideas the agency has pushed through the pilot phase only to see fall be the wayside when agency leadership changes.
One of the few pilot programs with legs — and one that survived the end of the Jay Walder Era — concerns trash cans. This program — which is still in the pilot phase after nearly four years — involves reducing trash the MTA has to collect by simply removing trash cans. If there’s nowhere to deposit trash, the theory goes, the vast majority of people will simply take the trash with them until they pass a trash can. Now, some people are bound to litter whether there’s a trash can nearby or not, but the MTA and other international transit agencies have determined that the vast majority of people won’t discard garbage without a can around. It’s an idea that many struggle with but one that’s proven successful.
The MTA first announced this program back in October of 2011, and I was a bit skeptical as I believed the key to eliminating trash was to ban food. But as time passed, the program seemed to work. Coverage in February of 2012 indicated that the agency had less trash to collect and clean from stations without trash cans, and in May of that year, they announced a program expansion. In August 2012, they added eight more stations, and 29 addition stops saw their garbage cans disappear in early 2014.
Now, touting the program’s success, the MTA is going to not expand it but simply continue it for another 6-12 months to study its effect. It’s not clear why so many years of data isn’t enough to merit expansion, but the MTA wants to continue to analyze the program. “This pilot appears counterintuitive but when we placed notices at the pilot stations indicating that the cans had been removed and asked the customers for their cooperation, it looks like they listened,” New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco said. “Given these results, we’ll continue the pilot and monitor and collect additional data at stations.”
In announcing the continuation of what has become the MTA’s most active pilot program, the agency noted that garbage collection is down significantly at the 39 stations under review. The early stations have seen bag collection drop by two-thirds while the stations that saw cans removed just last year have undergone a 36% reduction in trash. Meanwhile, overall trash volumes and, more importantly, rat population at stations without trash cans have declined.
“The reduction in trash in these stations reduced the number of bags to be stored and, consequently, improved the customer experience by reducing the potential bags visible to customers as well as the potential food available to rodents,” Senior Vice President of Subways Joseph Leader said. “Additionally, the significant reduction in trash reduced the need for trash pickups in the pilot stations, which freed up personnel for deployment to other stations.”
It’s not entirely clear where Transit goes from here. They still have another 429 stations with trash cans that could be added to this pilot, and they seem hesitant to include any of the popular stations. Flushing-Main St. on the 7 and 8th St.-NYU on the R remain the two most crowded stations without trash cans, and anecdotally, I’ve certainly not noticed a decrease in cleanliness at either stop.
Ultimately, the MTA can’t eliminate all litter without overly aggressive enforcement, but it seems that removing trash cans can cut down on the garbage the agency has to remove to street level from an above- or underground subway system. So why not keep expanding? After a while, pilot programs have to move into the realm of permanence, and this one seems a good candidate for rapid expansion. After all, it’s been nearly four years.
Thanks to a move north for my lawyerly career, my daily commute now takes me through the 51st St. station along the 6, and on the way home on Monday, I caught my first glimpse of the MTA’s latest pilot program. In a public awareness campaign that echoes back to the mid-1990s, Transit is testing two platform designs reminding passengers to get out of the way of those exiting trains. It’s a common courtesy that shouldn’t need to be repeated, but it’s also one that often escapes subway riders who rush to board crowded trains as soon as the doors open.
The two designs employ the familiar green characters from the MTA’s ongoing “Courtesy Counts” campaign and remind riders to “Step Aside” to “Speed Your Ride.” The idea behind the message rests in the MTA’s capacity constraints. The agency has recently reported that a recent jump in delays is due nearly entirely to crowds. As more people try to cram into subway cars, trains aren’t able to speedily move through stations. Thus, the MTA wants to streamline the border process, and in addition to this decal, the agency is trying to use customer service agents to herd passengers.
The design I saw is unique to 51st St. for now, and the pilot in place at one stop north at 59th St. looks slightly different. Consider it A/B testing for Transit:
As my Instagram photo atop this post shows, the installation also comes with signs hanging at around eye level on the platform support beams. I’ve had a chance to see it in action for only one train, and while one passenger was, at first, standing in the middle of the “Keep Clear” area, he moved over once the downtown 6 train arrived.
For the MTA, this slogan is not a new one. They employed it in 1996 to decidedly mixed results. A New York Times column expressed skepticism while a short AP story from early 1997 illustrated how nearly all riders simply ignored it. But times have changed, and the MTA is hoping this pilot will yield some improvements. Whether it survives the pilot stage — unlike those handy strip maps — remains to be seen. For now, though, it is apparently the best the MTA can do to help improve crush-load subway operations without an infusion of dollars in the billions. What that says about our hopes for an easy commute is something we best not dwell upon.
The revolving door atop the MTA’s power structure continues to spin as New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco announced his plans to retire this summer. Bianco, 63, took over the role in April of 2013 when Tom Prendergast was elevated to MTA Chair, and he had previously spent over three years as the Senior Vice President of Subways. He was the seventh New York City Transit President and, outside of Howard Robers, the shortest-tenured one.
As with any agency head, Bianco’s time as president has seen its ups and downs — though the downs were brought about by forces of nature largely outside of anyone’s control. As VP and later President, he led an agency working to overcome the damage wrought by Superstorm Sandy and developed the early years of Transit’s $4 billion Fix & Fortify spending plan. Meanwhile, on the positive side, the subways now serve up to 6 million riders per day, and overall daily NYC Transit ridership has topped 8.2 million. The team Bianco put into place is working to increase subway capacity too, though changes (cough cough open gangways cough cough) can’t come soon enough.
MTA officials, meanwhile, praised Bianco and pledged to conduct a wide search for his replacement. “Carmen Bianco is a one-of-a-kind leader as well as a trusted friend, and while I understand why he is ready to retire now, we will all miss his detailed experience, his thoughtful perspective and his constant drive to make transit better for both our customers and our employees,” Prendergast said in a statement. “Through initiatives like establishing the FASTRACK program for subway maintenance and aggressively bringing new technology into the system, Carmen made the organizational culture of New York City Transit reflect the priorities that our customers expect. He will be missed.”