As 2009 unfolds, employers in the 12 counties serviced by the MTA — the so-called Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District — will be levied a payroll tax designed to help cover a multi-billion-dollar MTA budget gap. This tax forces everyone to pay for transit. It makes no distinction between those who use the system and those who don’t, between those who drive and intentionally eschew mass transit to the detriment of urban dwellers and those who embrace the subway as a cheap, reasonably efficient and environmentally-friendly way of commuting around New York City.

It doesn’t have to be like that. There are reasonable and feasible, if politically less palatable, solutions to the mass transit funding problem. Furthermore, these proposals help push the goals of a complex and complete mass transit network: They encourage people in transit-rich areas to leave their cars at home and use the social and environmental alternative.

As I took on some of the advocates and reporter who cover mass transit last week, I want to move on to similar topics. One of the problems with the state of mass transit advocacy is that those running the show are not always propagating other solutions. We talk about being anti-fare hike and anti-service cuts, but we also need to be pro-something. Whether that’s pro-payroll tax or pro-congestion fee, it’s important to push these other alternatives while also protesting Albany inaction and the specter of a more expensive subway ride. Over the next few weeks, I’ll explore some alternatives to a payroll tax. Today, we start with on-street parking.

I live in one of the more expensive neighborhoods in Brooklyn. A quick search on Trulia reveals some pretty shocking real estate numbers with homes listed for as much as $1218 per square foot and an average price somewhere around the $700 mark. Meanwhile, to park in this neighborhood costs a grand total of $0 and the need to move the car in question once a week. That makes no sense.

From where I sit right now, I am approximately 0.5 miles away from four subway stops at four different parts of Park Slope that serve, at various times, 10 different subway lines. The Atlantic Ave./Pacific St. station is another ten minutes away. The vast majority of cars, therefore, in this neighborhood are a luxury. Owners have them for weekend getaways and other commutes. Do they have a right to park them for free?

According to Wikipedia’s entry on parking spaces, a curbside space is on average 160 square feet. In real estate terms, using that $700 figure, parking spots could cost up to $112,000. Do we need to provide people in such transit-rich neighborhoods with free on-street parking? Of course not. The city is just squandering a resource for no real reason.

Now, the city could sell parking spots for a one-time fee based upon the neighborhood in which a driver wishes to park and the average real estate value of that land. This would never pass political muster. The more sensible way is to charge rent. Market rent on that 160-square-foot parking space would be a few thousand dollars a year, and that money would quickly solve not only the MTA’s deficit problem but its capital expansion funding issues as well. Those who choose to enjoy the luxury of a car in an urban area can support the subway system that benefits all.

Of course, even a few thousand dollars a year wouldn’t earn political support, but a few hundred bucks for a residential parking permit isn’t outlandish. Washington, DC, charges $15 a year for a parking permit; Philadelphia asks for $35 once and $20 perpetually. New York could charge $200 and still be practically giving away the spaces.

Drivers get defensive about their parking spots, but the city doesn’t need to kowtow to them. We pay to use roads, taxis and subways. Why shouldn’t we be charged for and collect revenue from the spaces on the streets as well?

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While the weekend changes due to track work are light, there are a few overall service changes to be aware of this weekend. Trains on Friday and Saturday will run on a Saturday schedule, but on Saturday night, Transit will provide additional service on the 1, C, L and the 42nd Street Shuttle after the fireworks from approximately 10 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Additionally, the Staten Island Ferry will not run from approximately 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. The last boat will leave the terminals at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, and the subsequent Staten Island-bound ferry will leave at 10:30 p.m. while the next Manhattan-bound boat won’t depart until 11:30 p.m.

Have a safe weekend. I’ll see you all on Monday.

From 4 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday, July 5, Manhattan-bound 7 trains skip 111th, 103rd, 90th, 82nd, 74th, 69th, 46th, 40th, and 33rd, Streets.

From 12:30 a.m. to 5 a.m. Friday, July 3, and from 12:01 a.m. Saturday, Jul 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 6, Jamaica-bound F trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to track and roadbed replacement at Grand Avenue.

From 11:30 p.m. Thursday, July 2 to 5 a.m. Friday, July 3, and from 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 6, Manhattan-bound F trains run local from Forest Hills-71st Avenue to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to due to track and roadbed replacement at Grand Avenue.

Until further notice, the G route is extended from Smith-9th Sts. to Church Avenue F station due to the rehabilitation of the Culver Viaduct.

From 8:30 p.m. Thursday, July 2 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 6, there is no G train service between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers should take the E or R instead.

From 11 p.m. Thursday, July 2 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 6, G trains run every 20 minutes between Court Square and Smith-9th Streets.

Categories : Service Advisories
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In the annals of New York City subway history, nothing is more fetishized and analyzed than the Massimo Vignelli 1970s-era subway map. Over the last few years, I’ve written posts about Vignelli’s signage, an update to the Vignelli map and the Vignelli-inspired KickMap. I also own a handful of Vignelli maps from various years.

This latest find, though, takes the cake. As you can see, it is a dress with the Vignelli subway map reproduced on it. It is a silk piece part of the Francis New York spring collection. A buddy of mine found it at Nordstrom’s site where it is on sale for $249.90. My favorite part are the straps, each featuring a different Vignelli-colored subway line.

Click through for a view of the back. As today is July 3, mostly a day off from work, I won’t be posting much more. I’ll be back with the service advisories later today. Happy Fourth of July!

Read More→

Categories : Subway Maps
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In August 2007, a torrential rain storm knocked out nearly the entire New York subway system for hours. With the underground floods came a bunch of alarming developments. The MTA’s website couldn’t withstand the onslaught of visitors; their emergency alert system for service advisories was non-existent; and their anti-flood measures were ineffective at best and mostly useless. Over the last few years, the MTA has beefed up its website infrastructure and now provides near-real-time text alerts. The flood prevention was the last to come, but it’s finally in place and working.

According to Pete Donohue, the MTA completed a $31-million flood-prevention program. The highlight of this effort was a move to raise 1500 streetlevel grates a few inches off the ground. Instead of funneling rainwater underground and onto subway tracks and platforms, the waters are now siphoned to flood drains.

While New Yorkers saw the second-wettest June on record, weather-related subway delays are down significantly. For that, the agency deserves praise. Twenty-two months after a crippling storm, the system is ready for nature’s wrath.

New York City Transit is quite pleased with the performance of the grates. Paul Fleuranges sent me the above picture (which you can click to enlarge) and added a note about their use particularly on June 18 when the city received 1.84 inches of rain. “There’s no doubt given the amount of rain we’ve had this month, and the propensity of Hillside to flood out, we would have had serious problems if not for the grates,” he said.

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When the MTA, with much fanfare, raised the fares this past week, many riders complained that they were paying more for the same level of service. New Yorkers, it seems, do not realize that without the fare hikes, they would suffer through crippling service cuts. These straphangers also seem to be more willing to pay higher fares for more service.

It’s not quite true that the MTA did not extend service though, and I want to take a brief second to talk about a couple of recent service extensions. These aren’t quite the service upgrades we need or want, but for now, they will have to do.

First, on Monday, Transit started running the 5 train into Brooklyn during midday, off-peak hours. For years, the 5 had a varying schedule for peak and off-peak hours. It would run express to Flatbush Ave. only from 6:15 to 10 a.m. and from 3:15 to 8:45 p.m. Now, the 5 runs to Flatbush Ave. from 6:15 a.m. straight through until 8:45 p.m. The Franklin St. transfers for midday Flatbush-bound travelers along the East Side IRT has been eliminated. Overall, the MTA has implemented this change to provide more consistent service while working to alleviate the overcrowding on the 4. Sounds good to me.

Further south in Brooklyn, this Sunday marks the extension of the G train to Church Ave. While the G signage has already been updated, the changes go into effect this weekend. The G will now continue south from Smith/9th Sts. with stops at 4th Ave.-9th Street, 7th Ave, 15th Street-Prospect Park, Fort Hamilton Parkway and Church Ave. Riders on the G can now get a one-seat ride from Kensington, Park Slope and Windsor Terrace to Williamsburg and Long Island City, and the stop at 4th Ave.-9th St. offers a connection to the M and R.

This service extension is a direct result of the Culver Viaduct rehabilitation project. However, if it is successful, Transit has expressed a willingness to make it a permanent change. It could also open up the possibility of F Express service in Brooklyn.

Finally, Transit recently wrapped up a 4 express pilot program in the Bronx as well. We’re still waiting for the results, but this too could be a new service option.

These are but small additions to a vast system, but every service extension helps.

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This is a rather confusing, confounding and interesting article in today’s Daily News. In it, Pete Donohue reports on and seemingly criticizes a few MTA divisions for health care spending. Take a look:

Nice perk if you can get it.

Three MTA divisions will pay up to $600,000 over five years for an executive medical program providing head-to-toe physicals and sophisticated tests – free of charge. In addition to basic medical plans, suits at NYC Transit, MTA Bus and MTA Bridges and Tunnels get more comprehensive health care for which other staffers have to pay deductibles or co-payments.

“I’m all for preventative care but you shouldn’t offer something to managers that the workers can’t get,” Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign said.

I’d say that’s a perk of being the manager. Upper level managers at private companies enjoy perks, and if the MTA wants to compete for the services of qualified people, they’ll dole out the perks too. In defense of the health care, Paul Fleuranges, a spokesman at Transit, says that this preventative health care expenditure outweighs the cost of treating illness later on.

In the end, this seems to me to be much ado about nothing. The $600,000 is but a drop in the MTA’s financial bucket, and the agency — as it should be — is spending far more on health care and pensions for its union workers as well. If anything, this story just makes the case for cheaper universal health coverage than it does for a poorly-run MTA. Still, anything to generate some populist outrage, right?

Categories : MTA Economics
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As part of my series of posts questioning the current state of subway advocacy and news coverage, earlier this week, I, with an assist from Chris O’Leary at the fledgling site On Transport, questioned the effectiveness of the Straphangers Campaign in organizing against the most recent fare hikes and advocating for sensible funding solutions for mass transit in New York City.

The gist piece focused around how the Straphangers were seemingly a non-entity, content to release their annual State of the Subway and Subway Shmutz reports while not making their voices heard enough on the fare hikes. The comments to the post have turned into a lively debate with many readers taking my side and advocates from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and Transportation Alternatives speaking out in defense of the Straphangers.

Late yesterday afternoon, Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, responded, and I wanted to reproduce his comment in full. It was never my intention to criticize Mr. Russianoff himself. He has been a tireless subway champion for decades, but as the most vocal face of the Straphangers, he bore the brunt of my critique. Below is his response, and following that, my comments:

In the Second Avenues Saga blog for June 30th, you say the Straphangers Campaign was not “a force” in the recent fare hike. You quote someone who says “we sat on our hands.” That’s just not true. Below I lay out what we did and how it shaped the final outcome.

In December 2008, a State commission headed by former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch issued a report laying out a program to provide the MTA with long-term stable funding, as well as providing incentives to use transit. The specific program called for $5 tolls on the currently “free” East and Harlem River Bridges, a far more modest fare hike than proposed by the MTA and a broad-based payroll tax imposed in the 12-county region served by the MTA. The message of the plan was simple: In a tough economy, transit needed help from those who benefited from the system: riders, drivers and businesses.

Also in December, the MTA proposed massive fare hikes – with the base fare going from $2.00 to $2.50 and the 30-day unlimited-ride MetroCard going from $81 to $103 – along with severe service cuts, including eliminating several subway lines and 20 bus routes.

Given the need for action, the Straphangers Campaign directed its efforts to educating the public on the need for new transit funding for the MTA. We did this in coalition, working with many other groups, including the Regional Plan Association, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Transportation Alternatives, Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resource Defense Council and General Contractors Association.

The Fight

We did a great deal of work, as described in this list below. We think it worked. One State Senator – Bill Perkins of Harlem – said he had never received so many letters and calls on one issue as he had on the fare hike. We:

1. Helped raise widespread public awareness of what we called “the mother of all fare hikes” and the proposed service cuts. For example, we asked the New York City Independent Budget Office to review the original MTA proposals. The IBO concluded (correctly) that a 30-day unlimited-ride MetroCard would go from $81 to a shocking $103. In addition, we convinced MTA to release numbers of what the fare box ratio (the percentage of expenses borne by riders) would be if “Doomsday” budget were adopted. It turned out that the fare box burden on subway riders would grow from 68% to 83% of expenses; in comparison the national average for large systems is 37%, according to the Federal Transit Administration. Our fact sheets on the MTA’s finances our web site,

2. Distributed 150,000 education leaflets to subway and bus riders and commuters between November and May, educating riders about the MTA financial crisis, including both its operating and capital needs. Published two fact sheets, one on proposed service cuts, one on the proposed fare hike; distributed at fare increase hearings.

3. Organized turnout for five MTA fare increase/service cut hearings in winter, 2009, with a strong emphasis on specific cuts in service. MTA officials reported a doubling in attendance and testimony from the 2007 fare hearings. Distributed talking points fact sheet at hearing.

4. Held three mock “funerals,” protesting MTA proposal to kill G, M, W and Z lines; public officials participated. The funerals included a bagpipe player, a wreath and eulogies.

5. Sent out 20 global e-mails to Straphangers e-mail list of 18,000. Posted breaking events and news clippings on Campaign website. Global emails were also send to our “fans” on Facebook.

6. Helped direct several events, including a rally in Union Square conducted with a group mounting a transit funding campaign on Facebook.

7. Talked with dozens of decision-makers and spent many days in Albany. Testified at hearing on Ravitch plan held by New York State Senate members Martin Malave Dilan and Bill Perkins.

8. Helped lead the effort for a $125,000 media outreach campaign with an ad on 3,000 subway cars for one month. (The ad can be found at:…..300ppi.pdf )

9. Testified during 17 public comments periods at MTA Board and committee meetings; held a dozen protests at MTA Board meetings.

10. Collected over 1,000 handwritten letters addressed to State Senators, Assembly Members and other State leaders.

The Outcome

In early May, the State adopted an MTA “bailout” program worth $1.8 billion annually. In many ways, it tracked the Ravitch program. Both plans called for $1.5 billion in a new payroll “mobility” tax; both called for a moderate fare increase; and both called for new taxes and fees on automobile use.

It is in this last part of the adopted plan that it differs from the Ravitch Commission proposal. Ravitch had called for a $5 toll on the East and Harlem River Bridges, although he had stated his support for a subsequent proposal for $2 tolls, which would have produced about $300 million annually. The final State bailout called for a similar amount of revenue from four sources: increased drivers license and registration fees, an increased automobile rental tax and a 50-cent taxicab drop off fee.

The impact on motor vehicle use of the tolls as opposed to the adopted measures is not fully known. That said, it is likely that it is not significant. In addition, the original plan for improved bus service – which included 300 new buses – was eliminated in the final plan.

Lastly, the final plan fully funds the MTA’s five-year capital program for only its first two years out of five. The issue will be back before the State, although the hope is that the economy will improve and that already-dedicated existing transit taxes will yield added revenues.

So there is a lot more transit work to do. And, as in the past, we – and others – will continue to do it.

Chris at On Transport received the same reply, and what he said in response rings true. “The issue here is not what was done (and I will gladly eat crow for being a bit dramatic in saying they “sat on their hands”), but what could have been done,” he writes.

O’Leary continued: “It’s fantastic that a State Senator received such an overwhelming number of letters. That’s proof that there is strength in numbers. But there are millions of transit riders each day in New York. When only a tiny fraction sign a petition or join a Facebook group, there is more that can be done. And that aside, there were a lot of people who were a little lost about what to do other than signing a petition or joining a Facebook group. ”

From personally experience, it took me five tries to get on the Straphangers’ press release distribution list. Their Web site doesn’t feature an updated selection of releases. In fact, it hasn’t been materially updated since the early 2000s. Outside of a Rider’s Diary forum, there is no interactivity, and in today’s world of powerful and positive online advocacy, the lack of a blog or similar social networking/social media component is a detriment.

As Lindsey Lusher Shute said in the comments to my earlier post, we could support the Straphangers by advocating with our check books. I appreciate the precarious financial position these small groups are in, but we need more than just money. We — Chris at On Transport and I here — are just two of the many people who, if asked, would contribute our time and energy to the cause.

Right now, we need groups that can reach more than just 18,000 of the 5.2 million subway riders a day. Maybe that beings with us; maybe it begins with the behind-the-scenes work the Straphangers are doing. Either way, the public face of transportation advocacy needs to be more vocal and wide-reaching than it is today for us to make headway against stubborn politicians and a willingly ignorant voter base.

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  • Tenants upset at Second Ave. evacuations · Yesterday afternoon, I reported on a building evacuation along Second Ave. near the Second Ave. Subway work zone. Due to a leaning structure, residents and businesses were ordered out of their homes and shops late Monday evening. Today, the Post follows up with the displaced few, and they are clearly not happy. They’re annoyed at the city for not giving them more warning; they’re annoyed at the MTA because, well, that’s all the rage.

    There’s a catch though. The city and the MTA are blaming the building owners. The MTA had sent a warning about the building to the DOB in 2006 prior to the start of work on the city’s latest subway line, and the DOB has responded in turn. “We issued an order to do repairs, and it appears that was not done,” DOB spokesman Tony Sclafani said to the Post reporters. While it sounds as though a negligent landlord may be to blame, the PR storm is brewing. It’s reassuring to see city and MTA officials heading this one off before it can explode. · (6)

Every few months, Lenore Skenazy’s tale of allowing her nine-year-old son to ride the subways alone rears it head. In fact, few stories about New York City parenting generate as much discussion as this one did.

A few weeks after the story first broke, I defended Skenazy. I grew up in New York City when the subways weren’t as safe as they are now, and I first started riding alone during the Giuliani years. As long as children are taught safety tricks and tips of the trains, there should be no problems.

Today, Beliefet’s Hillary Fields, author of the subway ethics posts we’ve discussed lately, chimed in on the topic. In theory, she says, she supports Skenazy and believes that children — especially those growing up in urban environments — need to foster their independence. In practice, though, her answer is different:

However. I also live in NYC. And I take the subway. As you’ll have seen from my prior posts on the subject, my commute is not exactly my favorite part of my day. And my faith in my fellow man is at a lowwww ebb whenever I head underground. I tend to see everyone around me as a perv, a stalker, and a loony. As a teen riding on the train to school, I can’t tell you the number of times I had my bum grabbed or saw some guy flashing his privates (or worse). Maybe I’m being a wuss, but I really could have done without those ‘learning experiences.’ So, stats or no stats, I don’t think I’d have done what this mum did.

Now, Hillary was a teen in the subways during a different era in New York City history. Today’s teens don’t suffer the same fears or insecurities underground that those of us who grew up in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s did. The subways are more crowded and better patrolled than they used to be. Still, groping is a very big problem.

Maybe the answer to this underground ethical quandary is a sexist one. Maybe younger boys can ride the subways alone before young girls can. Maybe girls need to be taught a different set of subway safety and self-defense skills than boys do. I’m not a parent; I don’t know.

In the end, I still haven’t changed my mind since last April. The subway is an integral part of life in New York, and parents should teach their children how to ride the rails alone as soon as the parents feel their children can handle it. I was probably around 11 or 12 when I first rode the subway alone. It turned out to be empowering and ultimately safe.

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One of the many charges leveled against the MTA concerns the amount of money those at the top get paid. It’s outrageous that former CEO and Executive Director earned $290,000 in 2008, right? It’s crazy that upper level management should get fairly compensated! Let’s cut their salaries before raising the fares.

Frankly, that’s an illogical line of reasoning. Sander in 2008 oversaw an agency that consisted of 78,393 paid employees. His successor will oversee one that features nearly as many, and a CEO working in the private sector would receive well more than ten times what Sander’s take-home pay amounted to last year. Sander and the agency presidents each making $200,000 a year or more aren’t overpaid.

That isn’t to say that all is A-OK with regards to the MTA’s payroll. Now that the Empire Center for New York State Policy, an off-shoot of the Manhattan Institute, has publicized salary information for all MTA employees, we can better understand what the MTA’s labor costs and challenges are.

The information for the MTA is available here as a searchable database. It includes, per the See Through NY Web site, “names, positions, wage and salary rates, and total pay (including overtime and other extras) of every individual who worked for the MTA during the 2008 calendar year.” While searching through it can be more than a little overwhelming, the Empire Center has put out a press release with some top-line information:

More than 10 percent of the MTA’s workforce–8,214 individuals in all–took home $100,000 or more in total pay, including overtime. The MTA’s six-figure club included:

  • 10 employees who earned more than $250,000, averaging $102,000 over their base salaries;
  • 44 employees who earned between $200,000 and $250,000, averaging $89,000 over their base salaries;
  • 600 employees who earned between $150,000 and $200,000; and
  • 7,560 individuals who earned between $100,000 and $150,000.

Eleven of the 654 employees who earned more than $150,000 in 2008 were Long Island Railroad car repairmen who earned an average of $206,000—which was $143,000 over their average base pay rate of $63,000. Other popular titles in the $150,000-and-over category included:

  • 62 Long Island Railroad and Metro-North Railroad conductors who averaged $83,000 over their base salaries which averaged only $82,000;
  • 40 police officers averaging $79,000 over their average base pay of $90,000;
  • 39 gang foremen averaging $87,000 over their average base pay of $79,300; and
  • 30 Long Island Railroad engineers averaging $103,000 over their average base pay of $73,000.

It seems as though the MTA could save on labor costs simply by hiring more workers and eliminating overtime. How many hours must these workers be putting in to nearly double their salaries? That is a prime example of poor upper management and oversight.

In the end, the MTA’s fiercest critiques will decry this information as yet another sign that MTA workers are overpaid. That isn’t really true. This people are paid at levels that are fairly compensatory. The problem is that there are just too many of them. The MTA needs to cut internally, but a true slicing and dicing of the authority’s payrolls would require a complete reorganization of the seven-agency beast that is the MTA. I just don’t know, though, who has the clout to fight the unions and Albany. It would be quite the uphill battle.

Categories : MTA Economics
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