• A defense and another Day of Outrage from the TWU · As the MTA continues to fight the TWU’s arbitration victory, the Transit Workers Union will keep on protesting the authority’s actions. Yesterday, union lawyers filed a response to the MTA’s appeal in the Manhattan Supreme Court. As Pete Donohue reports, the 67-page appeal claims that an 11 percent raise over three years is “just and reasonable,” the legal standard for the arbitration award. Meanwhile, the union will stage another Day of Outrage next Tuesday. This time, transit workers will march from Cadman Plaza across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall at 4 p.m. on Oct. 28. For more info, check out the Local 100 poster announcing the protest. · (11)

The Citizens Budget Commission has joined the long line of watchdog organizations bashing the MTA for its inability to manage its capital construction program. With a new five-year plan out that currently suffers from a $10.8 billion budget gap, the CBC report criticizes the MTA for its lack of fiscal awareness and its inability to control the cost and completion schedule for its big-ticket projects.

For long-time readers of Second Ave. Sagas and for anyone who follows subway news, this report is hardly a surprise. After all, the Second Ave. Subway completion date has been pushed by nearly a decade since it was first announced, and the Fulton St. Transit Center is nearly 100 percent over budget and five or six years behind schedule. But the CBC report — available here as a PDF — is fairly stunning in its depth. On nearly every capital campaign project, the MTA has either not met costs or can’t meet its own construction timeline.

“The MTA should do a better job of managing its capital plans and be more realistic in what it promises to accomplish,” Charles Brecher, research director of the Citizens Budget Commission, said. “Now is the time to make improvements, so that the next plan is one on which the MTA can actually deliver.”

The CBC report examined nearly 800 MTA projects that totaled $18.6 billion and came away with the following conclusions as presented in its executive summary:

  • The MTA Board does not provide the public, or even collect for itself, sufficient information to determine whether the projects in the five-year plan are progressing in accordance with the plan. Available reports do not cover all of the projects in the plan, do not correspond to items and categories in the plan for covered items, and do not relate consistently to project milestones other than start and completion.
  • The limited information available for the projects indicates that the MTA encounters significant delays in work of all types with major problems in the mega-projects and signal and communication projects, but notable delays also in less complex work such as the replacement of subway cars. Of the five mega-projects, only the South Ferry Terminal has progressed substantially in accordance with the schedule; three others are delayed by at least one year, and the Fulton Street Transit Center is currently set for completion in 2014, five years behind schedule…
  • Many projects are completed close to the initial cost estimates, but cost estimates are problematic for some mega-projects, and some important signal and communication projects are seriously over budget. The cost of the Fulton Street Transit Center is nearly 90 percent above the initial estimate, and the South Ferry terminal is 24 percent above the initial estimate…Communication projects with large cost increases include Automatic Train Supervision (35 percent), customer information service on the Canarsie Line (55 percent), and computer-based train control on the Canarsie Line (51 percent).

The report highlights many of the projects I have followed over the last three years. In addition to the big-ticket items, the CBC notes that the roll-out of train information boards and an improved public address system along the A Division lines is now four years behind schedule. Even some new rolling stock orders were delayed by eight months.

To solve the problem, the CBC issued three recommendations:

  • The MTA should commit to an improved management information system for tracking capital projects and to greater transparency in informing the public about the status of its capital projects. The public should know how its money is being used. More information should be assembled centrally, it should be kept in a consistent format with clear milestones for assessing progress, and it should be made publicly available on the MTA’s website.
  • The MTA should improve its capacity to manage mega-projects and improvements in signaling and communication systems. These are the areas of greatest delays and cost increases, and they account for large sums in the proposed five- year capital plan. New procedures and an expanded pool of personnel with relevant expertise are urgently needed within the agency.
  • The next five-year plan should be based on a realistic assessment of what can be accomplished. At the end of the 2000-2004 plan fully 365 projects costing over $4.8 billion, or more than one-quarter of the total plan, had not reached the stage expected when the plan was approved. Much of the work undertaken during the 2005-2007 period examined was for projects in the previous five-year plan. It is likely that a similar proportion of the work included in the current 2005-2009 plan will have to be extended into future years. The new plan for 2010-2014 should be more realistic in anticipating the new work that can be accomplished and the funding needed to support it.

It’s almost surprising that it took the CBC two years to release this report. After all, a quick glance at the MTA’s website reveals that information is scare. For example, the page detailing construction progress for the 7 line extension hasn’t been updated since November 2008. That’s hardly informative.

For their part, the MTA said that they are working on the issues of transparency. “Today the MTA previewed an online dashboard that will provide the public with clear, updated information about all of the projects in the upcoming capital program,” MTA Spokesman Jeremy Soffin said.“For the first time, you’ll be able to search by project type, line or station to find out exactly where construction stands, why the work is necessary and whether it is on budget. The dashboard will be available online by the end of the year. We look forward to engaging with the Citizens Budget Commission and others in the ongoing public discussion on the MTA’s critical capital program.”

That dashboard would be a great step in the right direction for the MTA. There is but one question about it: Can the agency deliver it to the public on time?

Categories : MTA Construction
Comments (13)
  • CBC: MTA projects very delayed · Just in case we needed confirmation for what we already know, the Citizen’s Budget Commission has released a report slamming the MTA’s construction efforts. Basically, every major project is late and overbudget, and the transit authority doesn’t do enough to, in the words of the Crain’s report, “collect sufficient information to determine whether projects are progressing as anticipated.” I’ll have more on this report later this evening. For now, read the report here as a PDF. The MTA has already pledged to improve its transparency, and we’re still eagerly awaiting the MTA Inspector General’s report on the Second Ave. Subway project. · (2)
  • Walder to continue fight against arbitration award · For the first time since assuming his duties as MTA CEO and Chairman, Jay Walder said yesterday that he would continue the MTA’s legal battle against the TWU arbitration award. Speaking with Daily News reporters yesterday, Walder said the wage reward would cost the MTA $350 million over three years at a time when the agency can least afford it. As is their legal right, the MTA’s lawyers are arguing that the arbitration panel made “factual and legal errors” in awarding TWU workers 11 percent raises over the next three years. Although Walder has offered to meet with current TWU head Curtis Tate, the interim president has so far declined the meeting, and Walder won’t stop the arbitration appeal. “The MTA started the process before I arrived,” he said. “That process is continuing, and I support the process. I think we should go ahead.” · (1)

BusSignB57 As far as public transit imagery goes, London’s buses are among the more iconic vehicles in the world. The red double-deckers just scream London, and the system is generally fast and efficient.

Here in New York, the buses are pretty much the exact opposite of that. They’re slow, unreliable and don’t enjoy any sort of preferential lane treatment. Commuters often see riding a bus as a chore rather than a convenience. But that will change if Jay Walder has his way.

The New Yorker-turned-Londoner-turned New York knows what an efficient and reliable bus system can do for surface transit. In fact, across the Atlantic, where Walder helped lead Transport for London, buses carry more passengers than the Tubes, and now Jay wants to improve New York’s bus system. He spoke at length with Times reporter Michael Grynbaum about our buses, and the takeaway is simple: “In London, you carry nearly twice as many people in the bus system as you do on the Underground,” he said. “We must close the gap and make more of the bus system.”

Grynbaum had more about Walder’s plans:

Mr. Walder’s plans include an expansion of dedicated bus lanes with stricter enforcement, aided by cameras mounted on street poles and on the buses themselves that can snap photos of offending cars. He wants to introduce the contactless fare cards — which can be quickly waved over a sensor — to the subways and buses, reducing boarding times. And he wants GPS devices on buses so passengers can tell when a bus is coming, even if the familiar bulky shape is not visible on the horizon.

“What I’d like you to think about is a train system with rubber-tire vehicles,” Mr. Walder said, peering out at the passing street. A single red car was parked in the bus-only lane on Flatbush Avenue, forcing the bus to merge into an adjacent lane and bringing traffic to a standstill.

“We’re on a bus right now where every seat is full,” he said. “How many people are on this bus? Seventy-five? But we haven’t prioritized this bus any differently than a car which has one person in it.”

That last line — prioritizing a full bus with 75 times as many people as most cars — proves to me that Walder gets it. Buses can be an effective tool used to get people out of their cars. Doing so, of course, requires enforcement, and the new MTA head is ready to go bat for his buses. “If I put train tracks down the street, you wouldn’t park your car on them. If I said this is a bus lane, somehow it becomes fair game,” he said to The Times. “One person’s use of a road impacts upon another person’s use of the road. My point is, if we have to make a choice, make the choice for the bus, not for the car.”

In his dubious transit plan for New York City, Michael Bloomberg has made improving the buses a top priority. With Walder, the MTA CEO and Chairman, fully on board, nothing is stopping the city from overhauling the bus lane system. Without securing approval from Albany, New York could install a series of dedicated bus lanes and preferential signaling. The NYPD could ramp up bus lane enforcement, and the MTA can implement pre-boarding fare payment systems as they research and develop a contactless fare card.

The buses are New York’s most underutilized resource. They show up sometimes and generally not with any correlation to the posted schedule. They slog through rush hour traffic at speeds often slower than a quick walk. We know the system needs work, and we know the city leaders are paying lip service to the improvements. Now let’s see some action.

Categories : Buses
Comments (25)
  • In DC, underground cell coverage expanded · Over the last few years, I’ve followed the MTA’s attempt at bringing cell phone service to its underground platforms while, at the same time, exploring how Washington’s WMATA has far surpassed the MTA in this technological effort. This past weekend, the Metro moved yet another step ahead of New York City as it expanded cell service at its busiest stations. While Verizon customers have enjoyed underground coverage for years, Friday marked the start of underground service for AT&T, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile at the system’s 20 most popular stations.

    Friday’s service debut was just the start of an ambitious roll-out of cellular subway service. By the end of next month, D.C. straphangers will enjoy continuous street-to-platform coverage, and in a year from now, the unwired 27 underground stations will be hooked into the cell network. In Oct. 2012, full underground service inside the tunnels will debut. As D.C. moves ahead, here in New York, we’re just spinning our wireless wheels waiting for someone to bring cell service to the subways. · (14)
  • At Grand Central, one extra minute · For those commuters destined for Metro-North and running a few seconds later, worry not. As The Times reported this weekend, those MTA train schedules are a minute off. It is, according to Metro-North, the railroad’s policy to hold trains at Grand Central Terminal for one minute beyond the scheduled departure time so that late-running passengers have a chance to catch their trains. Michael Grynbaum tested this claim and found that, on average, trains leave 58 seconds late with some trains staying for more than 80 seconds beyond their scheduled departure time. This extra minute of “gate time” has been in place for decades, and the trains quickly meet their timetables at subsequent stops where the scheduled departure time always applies. How’s that for customer service? · (6)

On Friday afternoon — a very good time to deliver some bad news — Gov. David Paterson did just that. The state, he said, faces a projected budget deficit of nearly $50 million over the next three and a half years, and to close a gap of $3 billion for the current fiscal year, the Governor has proposed a slew of cuts that include pain for the MTA. The state may cut $113 million in MTA subsidies, and that dreaded F-word may be back on the table.

For the MTA, this news is bad. Although the budget proposal requires legislative approval, it’s hard to imagine the already-stingy state subsidies surviving these fiscal cutbacks unscathed. As William Henderson, the executive director of the MTA’s Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee said to The Times, “I would never bet against the state taking money back from the MTA.”

Meanwhile, the MTA’s finances are precarious as it stands now. With fewer state subsidies, the agency would be thurst again into a politically-charged financial crisis. How, then, would the MTA address th? Why, by foisting into the riders through either fare hikes, service cuts or some combination of both. Michael Grynbaum explores the pain the MTA might have to suffer through:

Any loss of financing means cuts, and the authority would have to choose from a limited list of unpleasant options. Fare increases may be the least likely option. In July, the authority announced a budget with no fare increases in 2010, a reprieve that was characterized as a sort of miracle after the crisis of late spring, when a last-minute rescue plan from Albany closed a gaping shortfall.

An abrupt fare increase could be a political disaster. Still, fare increases of 7.5 percent are planned for 2011 and 2013, so a sudden loss of financing could spur an accelerated schedule. “The money has to come from someplace,” Mr. Henderson said. To make up a $100 million shortfall, the authority would have to raise fares again by roughly 2 percent, assuming no other cost-saving measures. Fares and tolls rose about 10 percent this summer.

Service cuts could also help close the gap, but even significant changes rarely amount to big savings. Removing nearly 300 station agents from the subways last month saved $5.7 million. Overnight closing of four downtown stations on the N line would save $390,000; eliminating the W train would save $3 million; and closing the Z line and shortening the M would save $2.4 million, according to authority projections in March, when those closings were being considered.

Paterson’s office claimed that the budget cuts would not leave the MTA in an untenable financial situation, but a spokesman noted the across-the-board impact of the state deficit. “Whether it’s the state government, or the city government, or the MTA,” Matt Anderson, an Albany spokesman said to The Times, “everyone has to manage reductions in resources responsibly to maintain their credit rating.”

And so we are left right back where we started the year — or the decade. The state is going to try to further reduce the money it sends to the MTA, and an agency straining to meet ridership demand for service is going to see its budget slashed further. We need a true commitment to mass transit funding, and as the state may be in fiscal straits, the MTA will suffer for it.

Categories : MTA Economics
Comments (10)

Friday already. This week flew by. Anyway, while the New York media is not all a-panic over the service changes, this weekend is pretty much about as bad as last weekend. Shuttle buses and service changes abound. Check out Subway Weekender for the map.

Remember: This service changes are coming to me from the MTA and are subject to change with no notice. Listen for on-board announcements and check signs at your local subway station. You know the drill.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, downtown 1/2 trains skip 86th, 79th, 66th, 59th, and 50th Streets due to station rehab work at 96th Street and 59th Street and tunnel lighting installation.

From 5 a.m. to 12 noon, Sunday, October 18, Manhattan-bound 2 trains skip Jackson Avenue due to rail repairs.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, 3 trains are extended to/from 34th Street due to station rehab work at 96th Street and 59th Street and tunnel lighting installation.

From 1 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sunday, October 18, Manhattan-bound 4 trains run local from 125th Street to 42nd Street-Grand Central due to cable work.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, there are no 5 trains between Dyre Avenue and 149th Street-Grand Concourse due to cable work. Free shuttle buses replace the 5 between Dyre Avenue and East 180th Street. 2 trains make all stops between East 180th Street and 149th Street-Grand Concourse.

From 6:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, October 18, Manhattan-bound 5 trains run local from 125th Street to 42nd Street-Grand Central due to cable work.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, free shuttle buses replace A trains between 207th Street and 168th Street due to tunnel and lighting rehabilitation. Customers may transfer between the Broadway or Fort Washington Avenue shuttle buses and the A trains at 168th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, downtown A trains skip 50th, 23rd, and Spring Streets due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization project.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, free shuttle buses replace the A and S between Howard Beach-JFK Airport and the Rockaways due to rehabilitation work on the South Channel Bridge and station rehab work at five stations. Customers may transfer between the A train and the Far Rockaway or Rockaway Park shuttle buses at Howard Beach.

From 6:30 a.m. to midnight, Saturday, October 17 and Sunday, October 18, downtown C trains skip 50th, 23rd, and Spring Streets due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization project.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, there are no C trains between 168th and 145th due to tunnel and lighting rehabilitation. Customers should take the A instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, D trains run local between 34th Street and West 4th Street due to the 5th Avenue Interlocking Signal System Modernization.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, D trains run local between DeKalb Avenue and 36th Street due to the Culver Viaduct Reconstruction.

From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday, October 18, Manhattan-bound D trains run on the N line from Stillwell Avenue to 36th Street due to switch repairs at Bay 50th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, E trains are rerouted on the F line between Manhattan and Queens due to the 5th Avenue Interlocking Signal System Modernization:

  • There are no E trains between 34th Street and World Trade Center.
  • Queens-bound E trains run on the F from 34th Street-Herald Square to 21st Street-Queensbridge; trains resume normal E service from Roosevelt Avenue to Jamaica Center.
  • Manhattan-bound E trains run on the F line from 47th-50th Streets to 34th Street/Herald Square.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, Queens-bound E platforms at Queens Plaza, 23rd Street-Ely Avenue, Lexington Avenue-53rd Street and 5th Avenue stations are closed due to the 5th Avenue Interlocking Signal System Modernization. Customers may take the R, G or 6 instead. Note: Free shuttle buses connect the Court Square G/23rd Street-Ely Avenue, Queens Plaza, and 21st Street-Queensbridge F stations.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, there is no F trains service between Jay Street and Church Avenue due to the Culver Viaduct Reconstruction. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service.

From 8:30 p.m. to midnight Friday, October 16, and from 6:30 a.m. to midnight Saturday, October 17 and Sunday, October 18, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square due to the 5th Avenue Interlocking Signal System Modernization. Brooklyn-bound G customers may take the R to Queens Plaza and transfer to a shuttle bus connecting to Court Square. Queens-bound G customers may take the R instead.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, free shuttle buses replace G trains between Bergen Street and Church Avenue due to the Culver Viaduct Reconstruction.

From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, October 17 and Sunday, October 18, Manhattan-bound J trains skip Flushing Avenue, Lorimer and Hewes Streets due to rail work at Flushing Avenue and Lorimer Street.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, free shuttle buses replace L trains between Lorimer Street and Myrtle-Wyckoff Avenues due to a track chip-out at Jefferson Street station.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, N trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge between DeKalb Avenue and Canal Street in both directions due to general maintenance.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, N trains run local between DeKalb Avenue and 36th Street (Brooklyn) due to general maintenance.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, Q trains run local between 57th Street-7th Avenue and Canal Street due to general maintenance.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, shuttle trains will operate all weekend between 95th Street and 36th Street (Brooklyn) due to general maintenance.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 19, there are no R trains between 34th Street-Herald Square and 36th Street (Brooklyn) due to general maintenance. Customers should take the N or 4 instead.

Categories : Service Advisories
Comments (5)

When plans for the current iteration of the Second Ave. Subway were first unveiled, the MTA opted against making the SAS a four-track line with express service. Only at 72nd St. would there be a third track, and that track, subsequently shelved due to rising costs, was included to orchestrate the Q’s merge from the Broadway line onto the T’s Second Ave. line and to provide for a mid-route turnaround.

Transit watchers were not pleased with the lack of express service. Considering the length of the route and its projected ridership — around 200,000 per day for just Phase I and 500,000 per day for the entire line — Second Ave. was ripe for an express line. Instead, the MTA altered the spacing of the stations and lengthened mezzanine station access to better serve neighborhoods. The 72nd St. station, for example, will have an entrance between 74th and 75th Sts. while the 86th St. station will have a southern egress between 83rd and 84th Sts. Thus, a station stop at 79th St. was deemed to be unnecessarily redundant.

Today, at the excellent Greater Greater Washington, Matt Johnson tackles the lack of express tracks in the DC Metro, and his discussion on foresight and the reasons behind including and not building a four-track system is certainly relevant to the SAS. Noting that the threshold for express service is around 300,000 riders per day, he tackles the politics and economics behind express service in the context of the WMATA’s planned Dulles extension:

Think about the position in which these planners found themselves. Considering the three-state makeup of the region, it is amazing we even have Metro. The funding problem is perhaps one of the most complex in the nation and a four-track subway would have roughly doubled the cost of the system.

Given that, had planners pressed for a four-track system, Metro would either be half the size it is today, would have taken twice as long to build, or would have been killed outright. The debate we’re having with the Tysons/Dulles Silver Line right now is case-in-point. Already the project has been sliced and diced in terms of frill, and it’s still uncertain whether it will ever reach the airport. The first phase dangled right on the cusp of being too expensive for FTA’s criteria, and several times the project looked all but dead. If things like redundant elevators and the familiar hexagonal tiles might be enough to kill the project, can you imagine the reaction of FTA if Virginia demanded four tracks?

No. We cannot fault Metro’s designers on the four-track front. Politics is the art of the possible, and thanks to their hard efforts, unlike many cities that were considering heavy rail in the 1970s, we actually built our system. And we finished it. Atlanta, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and Miami never achieved their full transit vision. Even here the belt-tightening Reagan years contributed to an extended construction period. Metro was supposed to be finished by 1983, but it wasn’t actually complete for another 18 years. Not until the Green Line to Branch Avenue opened in 2001 did the dashed lines on the Metro map turn solid.

New York’s MTA isn’t in quite the same position as the WMATA. It is beholden only to the state (and city) for funding as opposed to two states and the federal government. Yet, the same problems and lessons apply. It would be too costly today to fund express tracks along Second Ave. We talk about how the SAS is, per mile, the most expensive subway ever built. The cost would be prohibitive with just an added track for one-way rush hour express service let alone a four track tunnel.

The real problem though will come in the future. What will we do when trains break down and hold up the line? What will we do when express service is needed because the local trains are at capacity? The untenable solution would be to construct a time machine and convince New York to build this subway system in the 1930s or 1940s or 1950s when the four-track option was on the table. For now, we’ll just have to live with a two-track line if and when it opens.

Comments (39)
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