While most of us take the subway every day, how many of us know anything about the people who conduct the trains? When I asked my friends who their favorite subway conductors were, most of their responses were things like “That guy on the A who sings the names of the stations” or “One time I had a conductor on the N who not only announced the stops but said which tourist attractions were near each one.”

Well, I have a favorite driver – his name is Eric Booker, and he conducts the 7 train. However, Eric’s not terribly famous for his day job. Under his nickname, “Badlands,” he’s one of the country’s foremost champions in a very unusual sport – competitive eating. Booker holds records in events from hamentaschen to burritos to peas. He’s one of the IFOCE (International Federation of Competitive Eating)’s biggest celebrities and makes regular appearances at the best-known eating competition of all, the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Contest, held every Fourth of July on Coney Island.

When he’s not eating or conducting the 7 train, “Badlands” is also an aspiring rapper. You can check out one of his songs (which is about Krystal hamburgers, obviously) here.

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According to the New York Daily News, a straphanger snapped a photograph of a young boy apparently conducting a Lexington-line train.

The New York Daily News reported Jules Cattie, 41, a lawyer, said he was shocked to see the boy at the controls of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority train Monday with the adult driver alongside.

Cattie said that moments after boarding the Lexington Avenue train at Fulton Street, he heard the female train conductor say, “It’s green, speed up,” he quoted her as allegedly saying. “Yellow, slow down.” Cattie thought she was training a new operator, but looked in the conductor’s compartment window and saw the child; he took the photo before disembarking at 42nd Street, the newspaper said.

The MTA has said that they will investigate Mr. Cattie’s allegations. Is this like when I was a little kid on an airplane and we were allowed to go up and meet the pilot, and then get that little gold pin shaped like wings? I mean, they only let me go into the cockpit, not fly the plane.

Categories : MTA, MTA Absurdity
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Hi, everyone. My name is Lilit Marcus and I’ll be doing some guest posts over the next couple of days while Benjamin is away. My normal home is over at Save the Assistants, but I’m happy to have the opportunity to branch out a little bit.

As Benjamin noted last week, many riders are happy with the new G train extension to Church Avenue in Brooklyn. I live in Williamsburg close to the Metropolitan G stop, and I’ve been a longtime fan of the train – my boyfriend of two years lives in Long Island City, and I’ve told people we might not be together if dating him meant I had to go into Manhattan and switch trains twice. I’ve also had a soft spot for the G train ever since reading Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn, where the protagonist notes that the G is the underdog of the subway system, suffering from insecurity because it’s the only train that doesn’t touch Manhattan.

While the G extension further into Brooklyn is a great (albeit temporary) start, there are two other issues I’d like to see the G address:

1. The G, in order to be even more efficient, needs to extend one stop further past Court Square and go to Queens Plaza. This would connect the G easily with the E, V, and R lines. When the G used to run more reliably to Forest Hills on nights and weekends, it made it a lot easier for G riders to connect with other lines in Queens. Before the extension to Church Avenue, I also thought it would be great for the G to somehow go to Atlantic Avenue, but I can deal with walking from the Fulton Street stop.

2. Get some more damn cars. It’s great that the G now has a longer route and serves more neighborhoods (and that it extends to Coney Island many weekends in place of the F), so it’s more than time to have more than four cars per train. How many of you have had the classic “first time on the G” moment when you realize that you’re standing at the wrong end of the platform and have to haul ass in order to squeeze into the last car? The G isn’t the Times Square/Grand Central shuttle, OK? Time to give it more capacity.

Categories : Brooklyn, Queens
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While a part of the Albany compromise for the MTA bailout included a freeze on fare hikes until 2011, the whispers of an unplanned fare hike swirled amidst stories of the MTA’s poor fiscal state. Today, though, the agency put these rumors to bed with a release of its preliminary financial plan.

The latest iteration of the plan covers the 2010 fiscal year and includes a four-year budget projection as well. With money coming in from the payroll tax, fares and services are set to remain constant in 2010 but with hikes set to 7.5 percent and tied roughly into inflation scheduled for both 2011 and 2013.

The press release from the Authority bulleted the important parts:

  • As promised to the Governor and Legislature, the 2010 budget includes no service cuts or fare increases.
  • Projected cash balances of $29 million in 2009, $39 million in 2010 and $1 million in 2011. Manageable deficits are projected for 2012 and 2013.
  • Significant spending restraints, building on the substantial expense reduction taken in 2009 to save $64 million in 2010. These savings grow to $279 million by 2013.

The MTA big wigs said all the right things. “We are grateful to Governor Paterson and the Legislature for their strong commitment to the transit system during this current economic downturn,” MTA Board Chairman H. Dale Hemmerdinger said with some rhetorical flourishes. “Meeting the MTA’s fiduciary responsibilities while sparing our customers from the drastic and painful measures proposed earlier this year will help us keep to our mission of providing safe, dependable and affordable public transportation.”

The interesting part of the timing of this announcement though is the fact that the final budget isn’t due for nearly five months. The MTA Board won’t pass the budget until December. In the meantime, the Board will hold extensive public comments on their latest financial plan and should try to wrangle more money from the state. Congestion pricing and East River tolls await.

Categories : Fare Hikes
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Yesterday, as part of my ongoing series focusing on improperly rolled roll signs, we looked at the now-defunct Grand St. shuttle. Today, we look at another shuttle with an odd designation.

Tucked away in a relatively quiet corner of Queens, past Howard Beach and the JFK Airport stop, are the Rockaways. Made famous by the Ramones, the Rockaways feature some beaches, some great surfing and a long ride back to Manhattan. The strait also features an odd subway configuration. Some A trains hit Broad Channel and then go north to Far Rockaway while other A trains and a shuttle train head south to Rockaway Park.

On the map, that Rockaway Park shuttle is gray, similar to the Franklin St. and 42nd St. shuttles. But out there in the far reaches of Queens, the shuttle is known as the H train. A few weeks ago, Mike Kocurek was waiting at Jay St. when an escaped H train rolled by. He snapped the above picture, and we were reminded of a train that runs but not far in a place most New Yorkers never visit.

On another note, this is my last post on Second Ave. Sagas for about a week and a half. I’m traveling out of the country with limited access to the Internet. I have a great slate of guest columnists lined up. Be sure to stop by and give them your support. I’ll be back at the end of next week.

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  • A long and tortured SAS timeline · Late last week, New York Magazine’s Sam Jewler and I exchanged a few e-mails about the history of the Second Ave. Subway. What emerged was this very thorough timeline designed to complement the timeline on my site. As you can see, it is a rather dubious timeline, filled with stops and starts. When the Second Ave. Subway was first announced in 1929, it was due for a completion between 1938 and 1941. Here we are, 80 years later, still waiting for a subway whose completion date keeps drifting further and further into the future. · (0)

For nearly twenty years between the 1980s and the early 2000s, various sides of the Manhattan Bridge were closed to train traffic. While I take my Q and B trips over the bridge for granted, Brooklyn residents know the pain of a closed bridge. What many do not realize is why the bridge was closed.

When the Manhattan Bridge was first built, it contained a huge engineering flaw. Because the four subway tracks — two on the south side and two on the north — were built on the outside of the bridge as opposed to the center, the bridge would sway as the heavy trains drove back and forth between Brooklyn and Manhattan. As trains — and people — grew heavier, so did the stress on the bridge.

In the early 1980s, as New York City Transit was busy restoring its degraded system to a state of good repair, an examination of the Manhattan Bridge revealed some serious structural damage. In 1985, the north tracks were shuttered for three years. In 1988 through the summer of 2001, the south tracks were closed. From 2001 through early 2004, the north tracks were closed again. Finally, in February 2004, nearly two decades after repairs started the bridge reopened.

We are still feeling the effects of this design flaw. Every few months, the MTA closes the bridge to train traffic and examines the structural integrity of the nearly 100-year-old bridge. The above video underscores the problem. It is a stop-motion video shot from the Brooklyn side of the bridge, and it underscores just how much the bridge sways as trains go across it.

So the next time you find yourself on a B or Q making the scenic trip across the East River, don’t think too much about the bridge beneath. You might find yourself swaying along with it.

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At the end of May, a loyal Second Ave. Sagas reader sent me a picture of the 13 train. The photo was one of an erroneously rolled roll sign on the 1 train. The 13, we discovered, was there to provide the MTA with some flexibility in terms of service along the West Side IRT (1/2/3 trains).

Over the last few weeks, I’ve received pictures of a few other incorrectly labeled trains. This one comes to us via reader Mark Krotov. While at the Broadway/Lafayette station a few weeks ago, Mark witnessed a rare spotting of the once-common orange shuttle.

Today, the Grand St. shuttle is but a memory for New Yorkers, but for long stretches of time in the 1980s and 1990s, the B and D were disrupted due to extensive work on the Manhattan Bridge. At various times the shuttle ran from as far north as 57th St. along Sixth Ave. to Grand St. in Chinatown. The final shuttles rolled down the line in 2004 after being in service for parts of the mid-1980s, the mid-1990s and the early 2000s.

The Manhattan Bridge, with the train tracks on the outside, required extensive repair work, and the shuttle would come to symbolize the frustration of traveling into and out of Brooklyn and around Lower Manhattan. With work completed, for now, on the bridge, the parts of Brooklyn along the BMT Brighton Line (B/Q) have seen a population explosion, and the orange Grand St./Sixth Ave. Shuttle is but a memory in the minds of the straphanging public.

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  • Praising the G train Church Ave. extension · The better part of recent coverage of the G train has not been favorable. The line is often termed the Ghost train, and riders along the IND Crosstown Line, the only major subway route to skirt Manhattan, are used to long waits for small trains. It is the neglected stepchild of New York City Transit. At the start of July, due to work on the Culver Viaduct, the MTA extended the G train to Church Ave. in the heart of Kensington, Brooklyn. All of a sudden, as Bobby Allyn reported for City Room last week, everyone loves the G train. It’s the one-seat ride from Long Island City to Park Slope and beyond. Who could complain?

    While it’s easy to dismiss this news as the afterglow of a new marriage, there is something to this latest news. For the next four years, the G train will be running to Church Ave. because Transit has no choice. It’s the only place at which the train can turn around. But if the demand is there, if the ridership is there, Transit will consider making this change a permanent one. Both Brooklyn and Queens would benefit from added G service. · (20)

We spent much of last week concerned about the most recent round of Second Ave. Subway delays, and in doing so, a potentially explosive story concerning New York City Transit slipped through the tracks. According to a report in the Daily News last week, Transit took a $1 million hit and jeopardized a strong position vis-a-vis its labor relations when it allowed potential worker health care contributions to lapse.

Pete Donohue broke the story last week:

The transit workers contract reached after the December 2005 bus and subway strike allowed management for the first time to make paycheck deductions to help defray soaring expenses. The rate – 1.5% of earnings – went into effect retroactively for 2006. It could be increased annually and was bumped up to 1.53% for 2007.

While health care expenses continued to escalate for the agency, NYC Transit managers opted not to hike the contribution rate for 2008. Instead, transit brass agreed with Transport Workers Union Local 100’s interpretation of the contract on how to determine if contributions should be increased or kept flat.

The decision has raised eyebrows inside and outside the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Interim MTA Chief Executive Officer Helena Williams was concerned last month after learning NYC Transit, the main subway and bus division, didn’t increase the contribution rate, a statement released by MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said. Williams asked the MTA auditor to do a “full review.”

“Ballooning health care costs are putting enormous pressure on the MTA’s budget, and escalating employee contributions are critical to defraying these costs,” Williams said.

According to union leaders, Transit officials were concerned that they would lose on the issue in arbitration. With relations between the union and the MTA so tenuous as late, Transit reportedly did not want to risk pushing the issue.

The next day, former MTA Chair Peter Kalikow expressed his outrage over the news. “What did we go through a strike for?” he said to Donohue. “So we could give it back to them? It’s outrageous.”

On Friday, the Daily News editorial board called Transit President Howard Roberts a subway sellout. “He must be held accountable,” they wrote while Kalikow chimed in with his own op-ed. He called it a “shady deal” and claimed that the union “has wormed its way out of paying anything for health care.”

I’m not so sure I can get that worked up about this announcement. Roberts’ decision will probably cost the MTA around $1 million and may cost them up to $4 million, if everything goes wrong. Meanwhile, any improvement in labor relations could save the MTA far more than that.

As I’ve written about this year, the MTA has some serious labor problems. They are beholden to a very generous pension plan with escalating costs threatening to get out of hand. This health care story is hardly worth the trouble. Maybe another contractual interpretation would have bolstered the MTA’s position, but maybe it wouldn’t have. Perhaps I don’t see why ex-MTA officials are so up in arms, and as interim MTA head Helena Williams looks into this issue, I doubt she’ll find much.

Categories : TWU
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