Check out this video from City Harvest. As part of their efforts at reminding New Yorkers not to waste food during the holiday season, they loaded up a subway car full of apples and filmed it arriving at the shuttle platform at Grand Central.

Well, not really. The apples are computer-generated, but the ad, shot entirely on an iPhone camera, looks pretty slick. It certainly gets the point across. Draftcb, the agency behind this subway-themed public service announcement, put out a video showing how they put this one together. Watch it after the jump.

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Categories : Subway Advertising
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As I mentioned last Friday, with tourists and the holiday come far fewer weekend service changes. Since this is the first weekend of the month, Transit, as part of an effort to better prepare riders for the travails of weekend travel, sent out a glance ahead at this month’s major projects, and for the most part, the changes are rather non-disruptive.

The full release is available here, but even the highlights aren’t that major. Most of the projects impact stations at outer reaches of the outer boroughs, and those that do impact the central travel corridors are wrapped up this weekend or next. By the time tourists descend upon Manhattan, subway service will be near normal. It almost makes me appreciate the throngs of tourists who pack midtown.

Anyway, you know the drill. Don’t forget to check out our map from Subway Weekender that shows just how the subway changes impact travel. Download this week’s version right here or by clicking on the image below. Remember: These weekend service changes come to me from the MTA and are subject to change without notice. Check signs in your local station and listen for on-board announcements for up-to-the minute changes. The specific alerts follow.

Uptown service on the R/W line is restored at Cortlandt St. as of November 25, 2009. The downtown platform remains closed. (Ed. note: For more on the reopening of Cortlandt St., check out this post.)

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, December 5 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 7, Manhattan-bound 2 trains skip Burke and Allerton Avenues, Pelham Parkway, and Bronx Park East due to track cable work.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, December 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 7, there are no 5 trains between Dyre Avenue and 149th Street-Grand Concourse due to installation of communications equipment. Free shuttle buses and 2 trains provide alternate service.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, December 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday, December 6, Manhattan-bound 7 trains skip 111th, 103rd, 90th, and 82nd Streets due to track panel installation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, December 5 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 7, uptown A trains run express from 125th to 168th Streets due to the track chip-out near 163rd Street.

From 10:30 p.m. Friday, December 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 7, free shuttle buses replace A trains between Far Rockaway and Beach 98th Street due to station rehabs at Beach 67th Street, Beach 44th Street, and Beach 25th Street.

From 6:30 a.m. to midnight, Saturday, December 5 and Sunday, December 6, uptown C trains skip 135th, 155th, and 163rd Streets due to the track chip-out near 163rd Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, December 5 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 7, uptown D trains run local from 125th Street to 145th Street due to the track chip-out at 163rd Street. (The D replaces the suspended C at 135th Street.)

From 5 a.m. Saturday, December 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday, December 6, Coney Island-bound D trains run on the N line from 36th Street to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue due to track panel installation at 20th Avenue.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, December 5 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 7, Manhattan-bound E trains skip Van Wyck Boulevard due to cable work south of Parsons Blvd.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, December 5 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 7, Manhattan-bound F trains skip Sutphin and Van Wyck Blvds. due to cable work south of Parsons Blvd.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, December 5 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 7, Manhattan-bound F trains run express on the E from Roosevelt Avenue to 5th Avenue-53rd Street; trains resume on the F route at 47th-50th Sts. due to signal and track work.

This isn’t one of the service advisories the MTA sent to me, but the G is actually running all the way to Forest Hills this weekend. I guess the stars are aligned just right for once this year.

From 5 a.m. Saturday, December 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday, December 6, the last stop for some Coney Island-bound N trains is Kings Highway due to track panel installation at 20th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, December 5 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 7, Coney Island-bound Q trains skip Avenue J due to station rehabilitation.

– Rockaway Shuttle
From 10:30 p.m. Friday, December 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 7, there are no S trains to Rockaway Park due to station rehab work at Beach 67th, Beach 44th, and Beach 25th Streets. Customers should take the A instead.

Categories : Service Advisories
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  • So who hates the new Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Mobility Tax? · Why, everyone! The Mid-Hudson News says Dutchess County lawmakers want to repeal the tax, and the Times Herald-Record notes how Orange County business owners ripped into MTA CEO and Chair Jay Walder over the financial impact of the tax. The Poughkeepsie Journal, meanwhile, urges the state to overturn the tax because it overburdens businesses outside of the city who don’t enjoy nearly the same levels of public transit as the city does. At the same time, the paper urges the city to adopt either congestion pricing or East River Bridge tolls as more equitable funding routes.

    In a nutshell, these folks outside of the city are both right and wrong. Businesses and counties outside of the city benefit from having a fully-funded MTA and would probably lose more than they give up in taxes if the MTA’s transportation network failed. But at the same time, congestion pricing and East River Bridge tolls are both more equitable and better for the environment than a payroll tax. Those ideas will one day be implemented, and as more representatives out of the city witness the pains of the payroll tax, they can begin to put pressure on the state’s legislative leaders to adopt congestion pricing in the city. · (15)

When the MTA raised fares earlier this year and continued the 15 percent pay-per-ride bonuses, the agency inadvertently created a crisis of mathematics among New York City’s straphangers. With a base fare of $2.25 and a volume discount, a rider has to buy 20 rides for $45 to earn a bonus of $6.75 that results in 23 rides for the price of the original 20. Yikes.

For the less mathematically inclined among us, this discount and the new fare brings the discounted pay-per-ride cost to $1.96. That’s an ugly uneven number, and apparently, many New Yorkers cannot be bothered to do this math. As the Daily News reported earlier this week, many subways are frustrated by the uneven amouns left on their MetroCards.

In a sense, the real problem is ignorance. Riders simply do not know that token booth clerks will combine leftover amounts on old cards. “I have a whole pile of them sitting in a jewelry box on top of my dresser,” Megan Hunt, 36, of Chelsea, said to the News. “There are at least 40 cards and some only have a nickel. I don’t know what to do with them, but I can’t throw them out.”

Although I’m usually critical of anecdotal news coverage, this frustration is part of a larger trend. As the News reported earlier this week, the MTA will recover $53.3 million in what they term fare media liability this year. That figure shatters last year’s record take of $40 million in unused fares.

As spokespeople at the MTA have told me, that figure counts only unused pay-per-ride money, and it is a significant figure at a time when the MTA is struggling for dollars. As straphangers toss out cards with small change, the nickels and dimes start to add up.

But on the other side of the equation are the unlimited ride cards. Recent numbers show that these cards are more than fully utilized by consumers. According to numbers supplied to me by Transit, the average number of swipes per MetroCard for the third quarter of 2009 is as follows:

Card Type Avg. Swipes Card Cost Cost Per Ride
30-Day 71.51 $88 $1.23
14-Day 39.02 $51.50 $1.32
7-Day 20.21 $27 $1.34

As we see, unlimited riders clearly get the most of their subway cards. The average user reduces the fare to nearly a dollar below the $2.25 mark and well clear of the $1.96 pay-per-ride discount. Because a large percent of straphangers are using some unlimited ride card, the average subway fare (for September) was $1.48 per ride. That’s downright cheap.

So why then is there such a discrepancy between the Unlimited Ride usage figures and the pay-per-ride leftover that has led to a $53 million recovery on behalf of the MTA? The MTA speculated that the fare media liability total was a result of the higher fares rather than the math involved in MetroCard transactions. More people are spending more money and are discarding a higher volume of cards.

But even with a base fare increase of 12.5 percent, the fare media liability is up over 30 percent over last year’s total. It’s my belief that New Yorkers in a hurry simply do not want to face the math involved in MetroCard calculations and do not know about the opportunity to have token booth clerks combine used cards. In the end, the MTA recovers some of the money they lose to the unlimited ride cards, and those people who don’t want to make the effort to solve a simple problem lose out. It is economic efficiency at its finest.

Categories : MetroCard
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When yesterday’s news broke that the state would reduce its funding commitments to the MTA by $140 million, the F word emerged. Two MTA Board Members mentioned fare hikes as a way to meet any potential budget gaps brought on by the latest round of state cuts. Jay Walder, the MTA’s CEO and chairman, downplayed those fears.

Walder, talking after a hearing on the MTA’s ambitious 2010-2014 capital plan, stressed the agency’s commitment to its current plan. He did, however, hedge his bets. “It is my intent to stay with the schedule of fare hikes that was agreed with the Legislature in May, which does not call for a fare hike in 2010,” Walder said to reporters. “It is my intent to stay with that.”

By using “intent,” Walder is certainly keeping the option to raise fares on the table, but he stressed the MTA’s need to streamline their internal operations. “We have a responsibility now to be able to try to show how we can tighten our belt and how we can do things more efficiently and productively,” he said.

If the agency begins to run low on cash, as Michael Grynbaum and Colin Moynihan noted, the MTA will have few options. The decision to eliminate station agents system-wide saved just a few million dollars. To find $140 million worth of service cuts would result in a death blow to efficient subway service. Hopefully, the economy will hold, and we will be saved a small fare hike before a larger one arrives, as scheduled, in 2011.

Meanwhile, as the bad news from Albany overshadowed Walder’s appearance in front of the State Senate on Thursday, the MTA head tried to forge ahead with his vision to bring technological innovations to an agency sorely lacking in that field. “I have to tell you, when I first arrived at the MTA, people kept telling me the MTA doesn’t do technology,” Walder said. “Well, that’s simply not acceptable.”

The State Senators were far more skeptical and questioned the need for basic transit technologies such as train and bus arrival boards. Sen. Craig Johnson, a Democrat from North Hempstead called these clocks “a very nice idea” but was otherwise dismissive. “New Yorkers, whether you’re a suburbanite commuter or you live in the five boroughs, have been living without time clocks for a number of years,” Thompson said. “It seems a little bit like a luxury.”

According to our elected officials, then, a modern transit network and up-to-date infrastructure technology is a luxury. No wonder it has become a struggle to secure sensible funding for public transportation in New York.

More ominous, though, were Senate warnings about the MTA’s proposed $28.8 billion five-year capital plan. For the first time since these capital investments dragged the MTA out of the mire of the 1970s, the Senate does not know how it will fund a proposed five-year plan. The agency has secured money for all but $10 billion, but that gap represents a third of the planned spending. “Do you have a way to come up with the $10 billion? I don’t think Albany is coming up with $10 billion,” Johnson said.

For the MTA, a less-than-fully funded plan will lead to some serious capital soul searching. The next five-year plan includes money for the East Side Access project and another $1.5 billion for Phase I of the Second Ave. Subway. The MTA simply cannot cut those projects. The Second Ave. Subway, in particular, has burned through too much money, has taken too much time and has disrupted too many lives for the MTA to yet again seal up Second Ave. without a subway underneath it.

So we are left with another sorry reflection on the state of politics and economics in New York City: no money for transit; no will to explore modern-day technological innovations; and no respect for the future development of the city. The cuts may come; the fare hikes will definitely come; and because the state will not adequately fund the underground engine that drives New York’s economy, the MTA is left spinning its wheels and begging, time after time, for more money.

Categories : MTA Economics
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The Holiday Nostalgia Train shown here in 2007. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Lately, as part of an effort to remember the city’s transit past while providing for a neat way to get more people interested in the subways, New York City Transit has rolled out the Nostalgia Train with some regularity. These retrofitted and well-maintained vintage subway cars have made trips to and from Yankee and Shea Stadium during their final games and up to the Bronx for the playoffs this year.

Yet, through it all, December has, for the last few years, been a time for Nostalgia Train rides, and this year is no different. Transit announced this afternoon that the Nostalgia Train will be running along the V line from 2nd Ave. to Queens Plaza on Sundays in December. The train will operate between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. with trips leaving every 90 minutes from 2nd Ave.

“With a little bit of luck and good timing, riders will be able to catch a ride on this classic subway train at stations along the V line between Queens Plaza and Second Avenue.” Steven Feil, MTA New York City Transit’s Senior Vice President of the Department of Subways, said.

The train set will feature cars that were in service between the 1930s and 1970s. All have been maintained by Transit, and most are kept at the Transit Museum. Among the highlights are Car No. 100, an R1-type that was the first car ordered for the opening of the IND subway line; Car No. 484, an R4 made by American Car & Foundry that received a PA system and bulls-eye lighting in 1946; and Car No. 1575, an R7 that was rebuilt after a crash as the prototype for the R10. With wicker seats and ceiling fans, these cars are definitely curiosities as compared with today’s modern rolling stock.

Yesterday, in writing about the MTA’s plan to run vintage buses along 42nd Street, a few readers started debating the merits of these gimmicky holiday specials. Although running Nostalgia Trains and buses makes for nice photo opportunities, critics argue, they don’t do much to push transit forward. I believe that these trains serve as a draw though. By bringing out cars that look different and are evocative of the past, people are interested in transit. Even if just for a few hours, a heightened awareness of what’s happening underground is well worth it.

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  • In budget deal, state cuts $140 million for MTA · In October, when Gov. David Paterson announced a statewide financial crisis, he threatened to cut $113 million in state subsidies to the MTA. Yesterday, the state legislature passed their revised appropriations bill, and the cuts are worse than expected. The new budget — which you can view here — strips approximately $140 million from the MTA. “This is not good news,” non-voting MTA Board member Andrew Albert said to the Daily News.

    With the bad news came rumblings of a fare hike. The MTA does not plan to institute another fare hike until 2011, but with this unexpected dip in funding, no options are off the table. Mitchell Pally, another board member, said that the agency is “going to do everything possible to keep fares and service at the same level,” and just three weeks ago, Jay Walder pledged to avoid a 2010 fare hike. Yet, if an unexpected MTA budget gap opens up next year, the agency will have few options as the state tightens its purse strings. · (8)

MTAIGlogo In June, The Times reported on the MTA’s decision to eliminate its dedicated emergency response team. In November 2008, ABC News tracked a bunch of MTA workers who weren’t really working. In both instances, Barry Kluger, the MTA Inspector General, decided to investigate these allegations, and this week, he released his reports on these incidents.

Transit’s Emergency Response coordination lacking

Throughout the 1990s, New York City’s First Responders — Fire, Police, OEM — urged the MTA to streamline its emergency response team. It suffered from a lack of centralized leadership, poor communication and vague planning and operational standards. It took a delayed response to a track fire in 2006 to spur Transit into forming the Rapid Transit Emergency Response team.

In March 2008, the team came together with seven emergency response officers heading the emergency oversight. Then, in March 2009, as part of a cost-cutting measure, the MTA eliminated it and returned emergency response over to a rotating cast of managers. When the June Times article was published, Transit President Howard Roberts said he was still working to firm up a better solution that would also save the agency money, and MTA Inspector General Barry Kluger launched his investigation.

Nearly six months later, Roberts is no longer the head of Transit, and according to Kluger’s report, Transit’s emergency response protocols are still lacking. With new line managers and group general managers in place, the ERO teams are no longer sure to whom they should report. Kluger now calls for a clarification of Transit’s “emergency response function regarding the role of the ERO; training; communication; proximity response;
continuity of knowledge; reporting for duty; and equipment.”

“We also recommended that NYC Transit designate an emergency response coordinator to properly guide and facilitate the planning and implementation of emergency response activities through the reorganization of Subways,” the report, available here as a PDF, says.

In October, Roberts agreed to many of Kluger’s preliminary recommendations but not the one urging for a solitary emergency response coordinator. The IG report again calls for a streamlined leadership, better training requirements and more thorough communications controls.

Transit spokesman Charles Seaton told me the agency will be addressing these concerns. “In working with the Inspector General on the analysis of his report, we have already begun incorporating many of his recommendations,” he said in a statement. “[Wednesday was] the first day on the job for the new President of MTA New York City Transit and he will make it his priority to review the contents of the report. As always, our top concern remains the safety and security of our customers.” Better to resolve this one before we learn the hard way that Transit’s emergency response protocols are lacking.

Access schedules to blame for idle track workers; cost to agency $10 million

On the other side of the tracks, we have MTA work crews with a reputation for laziness. We’ve read stories of sleeping station agents and construction teams doing little work. The fault, it seems, does not lie solely with the workers. In a second report, available here, Kluger blames track access schedules for nearly $10 million in lost productivity for the MTA.

The problem here is one of scheduling. The daytime MTA work crews — approximately 455 total workers — are schedule for shifts that run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but because of the morning and afternoon rush hours, Transit limits track access to the four hours between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. This problem plagues workers schedule to work both in the tunnels and on the MTA’s elevated structures.

Furthermore, both communications and planning efforts suffer as well. Some workers do not receive daily assignments until two hours into their shifts, and they aren’t cleared to enter the tracks until even later in the day. For workers on site, tools and equipment arrivals “are not coordinated with the start of work,” the report says.

In the end, the Inspector General’s recommendations and Transit’s response to them will not be popular with labor leaders. The MTAIG urged Transit to schedule more work for weekends when track access is uninterrupted for the duration of the eight-hour shifts and called upon Transit to better formulate a “reasonably restrictive weekend leave policy.” While Transit endorsed shifting workers to weekend shifts, the agency was not keen on restricting its leave policy.

TWU officials responded with a less-than-conciliatory note. And who can blame them? After all, unions came about partly to enforce a work week with weekends and appropriate family time off.

“The answer” — to the MTA’s work schedule woes — “is not to punish track workers and our families for the MTA’s gross mismanagement,” John Samuelsen of TWU Local 100 said. “If the MTA moves to take track workers from our families on both Saturday and Sunday every week, there will be swift intervention from TWU Local 100.”

At a time when labor relations between the TWU and the MTA are tense, Transit is going to have to ask its workers to make a pretty significant time concession. I don’t see the union being too amenable to it.

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Vintage Bus at the Transit Museum Bus Festival, 2007

A vintage bus at the Transit Museum’s Bus Festival in 2007. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

As part of a holiday celebration, New York City Transit is running vintage buses along 42nd St. this month. These buses, which began running last Monday, will run through December during the week. A series of 1950s buses will run the route of the M42 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., surprising midtown workers and tourists a like.

“These buses are a living, breathing part of the city’s history,” Joseph Smith, MTA Bus Company president and Senior Vice President of Buses for MTA NYC Transit, asid. “Riding on these buses is a fantastic counterpoint to the vehicles we operate currently. It’s obvious that we have come a long way since the 1950s and, despite the charm of the older equipment, our customers are benefiting from major advances in bus efficiency, design and accessibility.”

Currently, Transit keeps 19 historic buses on hand. The one shown above is a 1917 wood-bodied double decker operated by the now-defunct Fifth Ave. Coach Company. Although that 90-year-old vehicle will remain up on blocks, so to speak, the MTA will roll out Bus No. 3100, a 1956 GM model that was the first air conditioned bus in the city; Bus No. 9098, a 1958 General Motors specialty that was among the first to feature fiberglass seats; and Bus. No. 2969, a GM from 1948 and one of the city’s first 40-foot-long buses.

Despite the old school wheels, don’t worry about digging out some dimes and nickels to pay the fare. As Transit said, everything but the fare box is original, and these buses will take MetroCards.

Stayed tomorrow for an announcement about the Nostalgia Trains running throughout the month of December.

Categories : Buses
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SIRLogo Earlier this year, the cars that run along Staten Island Railway, the city’s loneliest train route, came back from the Coney Island railyard all prettied up. To go along with a rehab, the cars all received new logo bullets to strengthen their ties to the SIR. That’s probably the best news to come from this railway all year.

In an article that reads like a laundry list of bad news, Maura Yates from the Staten Island Advance went through the trials and tribulations of the SIR earlier this week. We start with ridership.

More than any other MTA-run train line in the city, the Staten Island Railway is very dependent on the economy. Because the line doesn’t offer up any connections off of Staten Island besides at the ferry terminal where boats head to Lower Manhattan, when demand for access to Wall St., when firms stay laying off workers, ridership drops. After serving a record 4.4 million passengers in 2008, ridership is down six percent through 2009.

To make matters worse for Staten Island, soon more riders will have to pay. Currently, passengers can travel for free between Tottenville and Tompkinsville with fare collection at the ferry terminal only. In January, to combat the rising number of passengers who walk to and from Tompkinsville, the MTA will begin fare collection efforts at the railway’s second most northern station. Whether or not this will negatively impact ridership remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, Yates profiles a few projects bogged down with problems:

Unveiled with much fanfare in 2007, a $1.75 million security monitoring system, including surveillance cameras and a push-button intercom on the wall of the platform waiting area, was first installed at the Old Town station in Grasmere, the site of a brutal mugging in 2005. Funded by City Councilman James Oddo and former state Sen. John Marchi, the system was originally expected to be rolled out to all stations along the 15-mile route by the end of this year.

The closed circuit television monitoring system is still functional, and has already been credited with at least two arrests, including a purse-snatching at Old Town, said Railway chief John Gaul. But plastic bags are now covering the intercom button, which was disconnected after problems with the fiber optic cables connecting the stations to a monitoring center at St. George. The project remains a top priority and the system is expected to be back up and running by next October, Gaul said.

Started in 2007, the project to re-tile the 60-year-old walls of the St. George station and lay a new terrazzo floor was sidelined after it was determined the aging floor needed to be reinforced after decades of pounding by commuters. Borough President James Molinaro offered $1 million to assist in the rehabilitation, to modernize the rail station to match the new ferry terminal upstairs. “A year from now, the rider should experience a seamless transition,” Gaul said.

One day, perhaps, the subway will reach to Staten Island and offer up a speedier ride to the rest of New York City. A harbor tunnel would certainly qualify as a megaproject. For now, though, the Staten Island Railway is suffering through the same problems delays and technological upgrades as other ongoing subway projects. Alas.

Categories : Staten Island
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