• A bus ride quieter than most · I currently live on the second floor of a building on 7th Ave. in Park Slope. Although the B67 doesn’t run when I want to, it runs often enough to make its presence known throughout the day. It noisly pulls up, sometimes idling at the traffic light, sometimes slowing down to make a stop, and it is loud. With a new generation of buses, though, the MTA hopes to solve that problem.

    In late August, Transit announced a pilot program featuring turbine hybrid buses These DesignLine vehicles are both environmentally friendly and very quiet. At the time, Transit had planned a 90-day trial with a decision to order more of these buses coming shortly after the test runs wrapped up, and right now, three of these buses are in service in Brooklyn and Mahattan.

    No decision has yet been reached to order 87 more of these buses at a cost of $559,000 per vehicle, but as the MTA gears up to invest in a four-year, $1.96 billion effort to replace 2500 old buses, the DesignLine vehicles are receiving their fair share of praise. Michael Grynbaum spoke to those who have ridden the DesignLine buses, and in general, the people approve. The drivers noted the smoother acceleration, and the passengers were appreciative of the quieter ride. Now if only the city would do something about the painfully slow crosstown trips. · (20)

A fancy new bus won’t held speed up the crosstown travel time.

One of the great aspects about New York City’s bus network is how extensive it is. Every major artery in the city and many minor ones have bus routes that run throughout most of the day. But for more trafficked routes — those that mirror subway lines along Manhattan’s, Queens’, Brooklyn’s and the Bronx’s major roads — speed is a problem. Because the city does not have dedicated bus lanes, because police do not enforce marked bus lanes and because cars unnecessarily fill the streets, buses simply are not a viable means of crosstown travel.

Every year, the Straphangers Campaign hands out its Pokey award to the city’s slowest bus, and this year, the M42 took home the honors. It achieved, they said, an average speed of 3.7 miles per hour at noon on a weekday. For many of us, that’s a brisk walking pace.

Last week, Pete Donohue tested that claim and found that the bus is, in reality, even slower. Due to cars, trucks and vans double parking or using the bus lane, what should be a convenient ride across the street is far from it. He writes:

On just one rush-hour ride last week, nearly two dozen vehicles were parked or idled in the bus-only lane, which stretches roughly from Ninth to Third Aves.

The entire trip, from First to 12th Aves., is just over 2 miles. The trip took 43 minutes, even on a day when traffic was much lighter than usual. The average speed: approximately 2.85 mph, slower than the average person walks…

“If the lanes were clear, it would make it a lot easier to go across town,” [M42 driver Vincent] Mashburn said. “No delays. No one blocking us. We could come in, pick up passengers and move.”

During Donohue’s crosstown experiment, he saw empty police vans and patrol cars blocking the bus lane. He witnessed a line of taxis and livery cabs parked in a bus lane outside of Port Authority, and he saw a U.S. Postal Service truck and other assorted delivery vans blocking the bus’s progress.

The police vans, while not a new problem, are particularly distressing. Who is going to follow the bus lane rules if police are openly flaunting them? The same holds true for the postal service as well.

In the end, Donohue’s experience is not an isolated one. Buses are inefficient for crosstown travel and downright painful for long distances. His article underscores the need for camera enforcement and physically separated bus lanes. The MTA and NYC DOT are engaged in an extensive effort to bring bus rapid transit service to the city, and those planning would do well to read Donohue’s article and pay careful attention to the lessons in it.

Categories : Buses
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MobileDevices As mobile device use permeates our society and smartphone penetration rates soar, application development has become the wave of the present. From the mundane — the weather, the nearest restaurants — to the complex — what subway car should I ride in if I want to exit efficiently at another station — mobile applications have revolutionized the way urban dwellers interact with their cities.

This weekend, The Times explored the onslaught of applications in an article about the inner workings of the Apple iPhone Application store. With low barriers to entry, low development costs and the opportunities to realize a high profit margin, programmers continue to search for ways to make life more convenient for those who carry advanced mobile devices.

Enter urban governments. For years, government operated not quite in secrecy but not with great transparency. Before the Internet Age ushered in a digital way of life, condensing and synthesizing data was simply too onerous for the work. But now that information and records are kept online, government agencies are suddenly finding themselves besieged with requests to make the information available. Some governments, in fact, are complying with the requests, writes Claire Cain Miller in today’s Times.

“It will change the way citizens and government interact, but perhaps most important, it’s going to change the way elected officials and civil servants deliver programs, services and promises,” Gavin Newsom, San Francisco’s mayor, said. “I can’t wait until it challenges and infuriates the bureaucracy.”

Miller talks more about this push for more publicly-available data:

Advocates of these open-data efforts say they can help citizens figure out what is going on in their backyards and judge how their government is performing.

But programmers have had trouble getting their hands on some data. And some activists and software developers wonder whether historically reticent governments will release data that exposes problems or only information that makes them look good.

It is too early to say whether releasing city data will actually make civil servants more accountable, but it can clearly be useful. Even data about mundane things like public transit and traffic can improve people’s lives when it is packaged and customized in an accessible way — a situation that governments themselves may not be equipped to realize.

So what does this have to do with the MTA? Well, although Newsom is waiting for this drive toward openness to infuriate the bureaucracy, we have already seen it in practice here in New York. In September, I wrote a lengthy piece about the MTA’s struggles in an age of open information. At the time, they were battling Chris Schoenfeld, creator of the Station Stops iPhone App (and an advertiser here) as well as a few other application developers over information that was not really theirs to copyright.

The MTA has long held a reluctance to release application-ready data such as schedules because the agency doesn’t want to become responsible in the eyes of the public when the applications offer up improper or wrong information. On the one hand, the MTA’s rationale seems to be somewhat sound, but the other, it is a weak defense against the opportunities afforded developers and, by extension, the public were the agency to release detailed schedules, maps, exit locations, etc. The possibilities are truly endless.

As Miller’s article notes, government agencies often do not have the capacity to offer up mobile applications as sophisticated as those developed by private programmers. It’s not a part of the part of the expertise expect of, say, transit experts, and we need not look further than the MTA’s current website for validation of that fact.

Meanwhile, under Jay Walder’s short tenure as CEO and Chairman and at the command of Albany, the authority has begun to release more materials about board meetings and the agency’s finances. The rest of their data — the currency of developers who want to improve everyday life while making a few bucks — shouldn’t be far behind.

Categories : MTA Technology
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  • When to catch the Nostalgia Train · As reported last week, Transit is running the holiday Nostalgia Train every Sunday this month. Some people riding along the Sixth Ave. line will be pleasantly surprised when the train shows up; others want to know the times. Luckily, Subchat has a timetable. According to one poster there, the trains will leave 2nd Ave. every 90 minutes starting at 10:01 a.m. The last ride to Queens Plaza departs at 4:01 p.m. The trains leave Queens Plaza starting at 10:44 a.m. and continuing every 90 minutes until the last train departs at 4:44 p.m. If you hurry, there’s still time to catch the last few rides today. · (3)

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.

Read More→

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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