• In resignation letter, Roberts calls for more funding · Last Wednesday, New York City Transit President Howard Roberts announced his resignation effective the end of November. Tom Prendergast will assume the role, and according to Roberts’ resignation letter, he inherits a system in dire need of both physical maintenance and the proper funding for the job. amNew York got its hands on the letter, and the excerpt the free daily printed is a predictable but important indictment of New York’s commitment to transit. The subway’s “greatness,” Roberts said, “certainly does not lie in the condition of its physical assets,” Roberts wrote. “Only a fraction of the funds needed to bring the system up to a good state of repair … have materialized.” Prendergast certainly has his work cut out for him. · (0)

GoogleTransitSubway Generally, I have enjoyed the Google Maps integration of the MTA’s subway and bus network. Since Sept. 2008, Google Maps users have been able to generate intra-city subway directions through Google Transit and the main Google Maps interface. As Google recently expanded some of its transit offerings, it’s worth a minute to explore some of the problems with this partnership.

First, the news: Google has added a transit layer to its map of New York City. As On NY Turf and Gypsy Maps have already done through the Google Maps API, so now has Google. As the search engine giant’s Lat Long blog reports, “To turn it on, just point Google Maps to somewhere in New York, click on the ‘More…’ button at top-right, and select ‘Transit.'”

The map itself is interactive. By clicking on a station name, a potential traveler will see the lines that serve that station highlighted while a pop-out bubble displays the station information. Furthermore, Friday saw the transit layer make its debut on the Google Maps mobile application as well. For those with an internet connection, the subway map on Google is now far more accessible than anything available on the MTA’s website.

There is, however, a problem with Google Transit. It doesn’t stay up-to-date with MTA changes. For example, the new South Ferry station that connects the 1 with the BMT stop at Whitehall St. isn’t reflected on Google Transit. That station opened in February. The G train extension, in place since July and on HopStop since then, hasn’t been entered into the Google Maps’ iteration of the New York City subway system either. Bus route changes aren’t incorporated into the map either.

Overall, Google Transit’s service should be a boon for New Yorkers. Other cities — D.C comes to mind — are clamoring for it. But in reality, the service is only as good as those supporting it. If Google can’t find the time to update its map when the MTA changes its service patterns and opens new transfers or stations, it won’t benefit the rest of us who turn to it for directions. It is technology gone almost right, and for once, this one is on Google and not the MTA.

Update 2:28 p.m.: As a few people have noted in the comments (here and here), Google Transit relies on data feeds from transit authorities to maintain up-to-date maps and scheduling info. One commenter notes that the MTA is not providing licensed developers with timely updates and may not be doing so with Google either. I’ve posted the question to Transit and will post what, if anything, I can find out. Still, enough licensees have maps more current than Google’s pre-February/new South Ferry iteration.

Categories : MTA Technology
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Beyond the sounds of the wheels clanking over tracks, the wind rushing past speedy subway cars and the endless cacophony of feedback loops and unnecessary public address announcements, our subway system is filled with the music of buskers and musicians. For decades, musicians have roamed subway cars and camped out on subway platforms and station mezzanines to serenade harried passengers on their ways to, well, wherever.

On my rides, I sometimes wait for the train to the tunes of a folk guitarist or a violinist. At W. 4th St., I’ll often catch a glimpse of the Xylopholks, pictured above, as they play their odd mix of bass+vibes while bedecked in alien or muppet costumes. The older man playing Nino Rota’s score from The Godfather on his accordion is always a welcome addition to a subway wait while the couple banging out rhythms on their plastic jugs are entertaining if deafening. We all have been subjected to more mariachi bands than we can count, and Asian strummers abound.

These, though, are the buskers. They are not a part of the MTA’s officially sanctioned Music Under New York program. Those are the folks with special banners who are approved to perform in designated areas. Despite this sanction, as City Lore, a subway musicians advocacy group, points out, although Transit can limit musical performances underground, it cannot ban them. Buskers are allowed to compete for ears — and donations — with the MUNY musicians.

In amNew York today, Heather Haddon reports on a conflict between cops and independent musicians. According to City Lore officials, cops have taken to harassing and ticketed musicians who are allowed to be performing. Some artists believe that the cops are, in the words of Haddon, “targeting musicians who have not been officially sanctioned by the MTA under its Music Under New York program.”

Haddon reports:

Veteran transit musicians say police harassment has grown to disturbing levels in recent months, leading some to fear that independent performers could be driven out of the subways. “It’s a game to drive you crazy,” said Mark “Shakerleg” Nicosia, 34, a subway drummer who has been ticketed repeatedly this year…

A NYPD spokesman said they are not “going after” musicians, and tickets are issued only when individuals are causing excessive noise, upsetting crowds and obstructing pedestrians.

According to several musicians, the NYPD issued a memo last year that instructed officers to ticket any artist not affiliated with Music Under New York, which provides designated subways spots for 100 participating artists. “It’s become very obvious they are trying to kick us out. And there’s no arguing,” said Theo Eastwind, 34, a subway musician for 15 years, who said he was shown the memo.

Per Haddon, the police say no memo exists, and she could not reach the MTA for comment on the story. Still, musicians say that performers in Times Square and Union Square are particularly vulnerable to the tickets, and a City Lore survey found “widespread harassment.” Generally, judges dismiss tickets for “insufficient evidence,” reports Haddon.

As City Lore and musicians lament the decline of charm, character and personality, I am inclined to agree. We all have moments when subway musicians are annoying. No one wants to hear that tone-deaf beggar butcher “I Can’t Help Myself” again, and the mariachi bands are, well, mariachi bands. But the musicians do indeed lend some personality to the drab underground trips that mark our days. I’m happy to listen to a tune while I wait for a train, and if I don’t like it, the other end of the platform beckons. For those who aren’t breaking laws or violating rules, it should just be that simple.

Photo of the Xylopholks by flickr user rachelkramerbusseldotcom.

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Yet again, the media is having a field day with the weekend service advisories. Although I have been posting them for the last three years, the rest of New York seems to be shocked. The Post calls this weekend a disaster.

To that end, the MTA has issued a press release previewing November. Although the posters will go up in stations as scheduled on Thursday, this month’s service advisories are now online. Straphangers can find one less thing to complain about concerning the MTA.

With that said, on to the service advisories. Don’t forget to check out our map from Subway Weekender that shows just how the subway changes impact travel. Download this week’s map 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.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 9, uptown 1/2 trains skip 50th, 59th, 66th, 79th and 86th Streets due to flood mitigation work at 72nd Street, station rehabs at 96th Street and 59th Street-Columbus Circle and tunnel lighting rehabilitation.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 9, downtown 4 trains run local from 125th Street to Brooklyn Bridge due to Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer construction.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 9, uptown 4 trains run express from Brooklyn Bridge to 14th Street, then local to 125th Street due to Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer construction.


From 6:30 a.m. to midnight Saturday, November 7 and Sunday, November 8, there are no 5 trains between Bowling Green and Grand Central-42nd Street due to Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer construction. Customers should take the 4 instead.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 9, uptown 6 trains run express from Brooklyn Bridge to 14th Street due to Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer construction.


From 4 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 10 p.m. Sunday, November 8, Manhattan-bound 7 trains skip 69th, 52nd, 46th, 40th, and 33rd Streets due to track panel installation.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 9, downtown A trains run local from 168th Street to Jay Street due to the Jay Street station rehabilitation and the construction of an underground connector to Lawrence Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 9, uptown A trains run local from Jay Street to 125th Street, then express to 168th Street due to the Jay Street station rehabilitation and the construction of an underground connector to Lawrence Street.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, November 6 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 9, free shuttle buses replace A trains between Jay Street and Utica Avenue due to the Jay Street station rehabilitation and the construction of an underground connector to Lawrence Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 9, A trains run local between Utica Avenue and Euclid Avenue due to the Jay Street station rehabilitation and the construction of an underground connector to Lawrence Street.


At all times until January 18, 2010, Far Rockaway-bound A platforms at Beach 67th, Beach 44th, and Beach 25th Streets are closed for rehabilitation.


At all times until December 21, 2009, Manhattan-bound AS platforms at Beach 90th and Beach 105th Streets are closed for rehabilitation. Free shuttle buses replace S trains between Rockaway Park and Beach 60th Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 9, there is no C train service due to the Jay Street station rehabilitation and the construction of an underground connector to Lawrence Street. The A train and free shuttle buses provide alternate service.


From 5 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 9, Bronx-bound D trains run local from 125th Street to 145th Street due to a track chip out.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, November 6 to 12 noon Saturday, November 7, free shuttle buses replace D trains between Norwood 205th Street and Bedford Park Blvd. due to conduit and fiber optic cable installation between Bedford Park Boulevard and Norwood 205th Street.


From 5 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 10 p.m. Sunday, November 8, Manhattan-bound D trains run on the N line from Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue to 36th Street due to track panel installation north of 62nd Street.


From 12:01 a.m. to 12 noon Sunday, November 8, Manhattan-bound E trains run express from Roosevelt Avenue to Queens Plaza due to electrical work along the track.


At all times until Saturday, November 7, 2009, Queens-bound E/G/R trains skip Northern Boulevard due to closure of the northern-side street stairway.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 12 noon Sunday, November 8, Manhattan-bound F trains run on the E line from Roosevelt Avenue to 5th Avenue-53rd Street; trains resume on the F route at 47th-50th Sts. due to station and rail maintenance.


From 8:30 p.m. Friday, November 6 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 9, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square due to replacement of a broken pipe in the track bed. Customers should take the E or R instead.


From 1:15 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, November 7, J trains run in two sections due to track cleaning:

  • Between Jamaica Center and Essex Street and
  • Between Essex Street and Chambers Street


From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, November 7 and Sunday, November 8, Manhattan-bound N trains skip 30th Avenue, Broadway, 36th Avenue and 39th Avenue (in Queens) due to rail replacement.


From 6:30 a.m. to 12 noon, Sunday, November 8, Manhattan-bound R trains run express from Roosevelt Avenue to Queens Plaza due to electrical work along the track.

Categories : Service Advisories
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As Michael Bloomberg campaigned for a third term as mayor, the MTA became his public whipping boy. He wanted to offer free crosstown buses and improvements to subway service in general. His “Plan to Reform Mass Transit” dominated headlines in August and airwaves in September.

Now that Bloomberg has secured his third term, though, he is humming a slightly different tune. The Mayor says he won’t increase city contributions to the MTA and seemed to dodge questions about his mass transit plan. How utterly disappointing and yet oh-so-predictable. Michael Grynbaum of The Times has more:

On Thursday, however, in his first public appearance with Jay H. Walder, the authority’s new chairman, Mr. Bloomberg’s fiery words had been replaced by something less aggressive: a plea for patience. Asked about a much-discussed proposal to make crosstown buses available to riders at no cost — a pledge repeated in bold print on thousands of his campaign mailers and pamphlets — the mayor appeared to retreat from his plan. “We have not talked about that one yet,” he began, noting that new technology, like computerized fare cards that could speed up boarding times, “might be able to accomplish part of that.”

“I thought it was a good idea, although, the real issue there, there’s two things we’re trying to do: one is to make it easier for people to go back and forth, but two is also to stop the delays from getting on and off the buses,” the mayor said. “That’s another one of these things down the road. I think there’s a whole bunch of things that we laid out that we can explore together.”

The mayor then quickly moved on to the next question.

An aide to the mayor said later that it would be impossible for Mr. Bloomberg to announce progress on every initiative so soon after the election. “We still believe in the proposal,” the aide said. “Are we guaranteeing everything is going to happen? No, we don’t control the M.T.A.”

Indeed, Mr. Bloomberg controls only 4 of 14 votes on the authority’s board. And he said on Thursday that he did not plan to increase the city’s contribution to the authority’s operating budget.

As Grynbaum notes, the City and the MTA announce not a partnership but the opportunity to explore a potential partnership. The Mayor and Walder announced a plan to study 311 integration with the MTA. The press release hedged its bets, though, in stating that the two parties “agreed to work together to see if the 311 could be the right fit for the MTA’s customer service needs.”

“We pledged to build a stronger relationship between the City and the MTA, so we can build the modern and efficient mass transit system New York City deserves,” Bloomberg said. “Today, we take the first step by agreeing to work toward utilizing the power of 311 to make life a little easier for the 8.5 million people who take mass transit every day in the city. If we can have one number to call to receive subway and bus information, report problems or get directions, it would bring the same great service that New Yorkers have gotten from City government since 2003 to the MTA.”

Agreeing to explore whether or not two sides can work together is a far cry from delivering actual results. As Bloomberg heads into a third term with a whole slew of campaign promises in hand, he should deliver. He owes it to us, and he owes it to the MTA.

Categories : MTA Politics
Comments (3)
  • MTA payroll tax under fire as Walder talks 2010 · MTA economics are never far from the news pages, and this week, two developments sparked headlines. In Albany, five State Senators have introduced a measure to repeal the payroll tax, and although many state representatives have not offered up another plan, this gang of five has. Their “revenue-neutral” plan calls for fare increases of 13 percent for Metro-North riders in Orange, Rockland, Dutchess and Putnam counties and in Connecticut. This, they say, is a more equitable way to fund the MTA. It does not, however, address the economic externalities — increased property values, general mobility — that all residents of those counties enjoy by having accessible and affordable public transit service the area.

    Meanwhile, closer to home, MTA CEO and Chairman Jay Walder has not ruled out a 2010 fare hike if Gov. David Paterson’s threats to slash over $100 million in state contributions to the MTA come to pass. Paterson recently announced that every state agency would see reduced contributions from the state as New York looks to shore up a massive budget hole. To balance the MTA’s ledger, then, Walder may have to examine the fares. “We don’t know yet what the circumstances will be and I don’t want to be in the range of conjecturing what’s going to happen,” he said to The Post. “Clearly, there is a discussion taking place in Albany about what they need to do in terms of the deficit-reduction plan that will take place. And we will deal with all the circumstances as they come up.” · (6)

Amidst news of upheaval at New York City Transit and some changes atop the MTA management structure, the Straphangers Campaign announced its latest awards for New York City’s much-maligned bus system. The group closed with calls for bus reform as new MTA CEO and Chair Jay Walder looks to improve the city’s surface transit options.

As has become an annual tradition, the Straphangers doled out awards for the slowest bus and the least reliable bus. This year, the group added an award for the bus with the longest scheduled run time end-to-end. This award could be bolstered with a distance comparison amongst bus lines, but it certainly underscores the absurdities of taking buses in New York City along certain routes.

The slowest bus this year is again a crosstown bus in Manhattan. The M42 was clocked at average speeds of 3.7 mph at noon on a weekday as it ventured across the busy thoroughfare. “The M42,” the Straphangers press release said, “would lose a race with a five-year-old riding a motorized tricycle with a speed of 5 mph, as advertised by X-Treme Scooters.”

This year, the group also highlighted slow buses in the Outer Boroughs. Averaging just 5.1 miles per hour, the B63 was Brooklyn’s slowest. The Bronx’s Bx19 averaged 4.9 mph while Queens’ Q56 reached 6.3 mph, still slowing than my average running pace over five miles. Staten Island’s S42, the slowest of that borough’s buses, was downright speedy at 10.6 miles per hour.

The Schleppie, an award for the bus with the least reliable service, went to a Brooklyn-based route. The B44 “arrived bunched together or came with big gaps in service” 21.7 percent of the time, according to official Transit statistics. The M15 took home the title for Manhattan.

Finally, the group handed out the Trekkie to the M4. This bus runs from Penn Station to Fort Tryon, a route of approximately 11 miles, and is schedule to take an hour and 50 minutes. As the Straphangers note, Amtrak from Penn Station arrives in Philadelphia, 99 miles away, in at most an hour and 27 minutes.

The real meat of the report, though, comes at the end when the Straphangers talk about speeding up buses. “The only way to stem the tide of falling bus speeds is by giving buses more priority on the street than the rest of traffic,” Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives said.

In effect, the MTA and NYCDOT need to implement a few key upgrades to improve bus service. A pre-board fare payment system or a contactless mode of payment would greatly enhance bus loading efficiency. A system of physically separated bus lanes with priority signaling would do wonders for New York’s buses. Finally, enforcement of bus lanes should be a priority as well.

These options are not revolutionary. They are in place in numerous countries and cities around the globe, and Walder should pursue them as low-cost, high-result techniques for improving bus service. The MTA, too, knows this and in a statement responding to the survey, discussed new approaches to buses:

Buses were introduced to New York City more than 100 years ago and despite being, by far, the most efficient vehicles on rubber tires as far as the numbers of people they carry, they are still forced to vie for the same street space as a single-occupant automobile. However, with recent innovations such as Select Bus Service (SBS) and signal light prioritization, as well as plans to further improve service recently outlined by MTA Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jay H. Walder, it is important for the city’s 2.3 million bus customers to know that we are working to achieve improvements in bus speeds and reliability.

Future plans call for the eventual expansion of SBS routes, new methods of fare payment, stricter bus lane enforcement, the use of cameras to nab offenders and the development of a reliable system offering next bus information to waiting bus customers. Since the start-up of SBS, travel times across the Bronx route have been reduced by 20%, ridership has increased, and an overwhelming majority of customers have indicated that they are satisfied or very satisfied with the service.

Better bus service for all. It’s a simple mantra easy to implement and with obvious immediate benefits. Let’s see it happen.

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Just one day after Howard Roberts resigned as the president of New York City Transit, MTA CEO and Chairman Jay Walder has tabbed Tom Prendergast as his replacement. Prendergast, 57, is a veteran of the MTA and had been serving as CEO of Vancouver’s South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority. He stepped down from his post at TransLink today to prepare for the move back to New York.

Predergast will bring to Transit 30 years of experience in the industry. He worked at both the Chicago Transit Authority and the Federal Transit Administration before landing in New York in 1982. For 18 years, he rose thorough the managerial ranks at NYC Transit. He served as Senior Vice President of Subways from 1990-2000 and as President of the Long Island Rail Road from 1994-2000. Before joining TransLink in 2008, he worked as a consultant on numerous transportation infrastructure projects.

“It is a tremendous honor to return home to lead the outstanding men and women who run one of the world’s great transit systems,” Prendergast said in a statement today. “I look forward to working with Jay Walder to implement the customer service improvements that New Yorkers deserve. Running New York City Transit is one of the great challenges and honors in the profession, and I will bring all of my energy and passion to the job.”

In July 2008, Predergast left the private sector to move to Canada, and today, his departure, less than 18 months after landing in Vancouver, came as a shock. He put it, though, in terms New Yorkers can understand today. “Leaving TransLink is difficult because this is a great organization with great people and potential,” he said. “But at the end of the day, for me, being asked to run New York’s transit authority is like being asked to play in Yankee Stadium: You just don’t say no.”

Prendergast will inherit a position faced with numerous difficulties. The subway infrastructure is sagging under its age, and the MTA is about to begin a component-based repair program that should streamline State of Good Repair efforts. Meanwhile, Jay Walder has been very vocal in his desire to see technological innovation and 21st Century upgrades arrive in New York City. Still, many believe Prendergast to be a top candidate for the job. “I believe he is universally recognized as one of the leading lights in transit management,” an anonymous source told the Daily News.

Walder, in a statement, echoed that praise. “Tom is a leader who brings an extraordinary variety of experiences from around the world to a system that he already knows extremely well,” he said. “Tom’s work running one of the most technologically sophisticated systems in Vancouver will be invaluable as we take the MTA to the next level in performance and customer service.”

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CortlandtEntrance

Wet Paint signs portend an impending opening. (Photo by Matthew Denker)

Last night, on my way back to Brooklyn via an N local train, we slowly rolled past Cortlandt St., and I noted how the station no longer resembled a construction site. At least on the northbound platform, everything is nearly in place. The turnstiles and fences have been installed; the MetroCard Vending Machines are in place; the token booth is back.

According to MTA documents, the northbound platform itself will reopen in December, but the Dey St. connector won’t open until 2012. This morning, Matthew Denker sent me the above photo, and although wooden fencing still blocks the new staircase, the construction sheds no longer cover the station entrance. Transit is clearly gearing up for a reopening.

Shuttered since 2005 and a short walk from both the Rector St. and City Hall stops along the BMT Broadway line, the four-year absence of this station hasn’t been as bad for the area as it could have been. Lower Manhattan workers and residents and Century 21 shoppers, though, will be happy to see it reopen. I wonder, ifthe Dey St. passageway and the out-of-system connection to the Fulton St. subways will be featured on the sign in two or three years. Slowly, slowly, the pieces of the Fulton St. Hub are opening up.

Categories : Fulton Street
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  • A morning off · With the Yankees winning the World Series and the celebration continuing on into the wee hours of the morning, I’m taking the first half of Thursday off. I’ll be back this afternoon with some news about the slowest buses in the city and some state representatives who want to repeal the MTA payroll tax three days after it went into effect. Color me unsurprised on both fronts. · (4)
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