We close out the week with the last of the fare hikes for now. As the MTA reminded us last week, at 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, the new toll rates on the MTA Bridges and Tunnels crossings go into effect. Check out the press release for the specifics; it’s far too complicated to reproduce here on a summer Friday afternoon.

As a companion piece to the toll increases, Gridlock Sam chimes in with his take on the East River bridge tolls. His idea actually makes sense. He urges the MTA to lower the rates on the currently-tolled bridges and tunnels while implementing tolls on the currently-free crossings.

After rehashing the problems of the current system, Sam offers up an obvious solution:

So how can we be fair to travel between the boroughs and still raise enough money for transit? First, reduce the tolls at every bridge that has nothing to do with Manhattan. Slash the tolls by $1 from today’s levels at the Whitestone, Throgs Neck, Triborough (Bronx-Queens plaza), Cross Bay and Marine Parkway bridges – and by $2 at the Verrazano Bridge. Freeze these rates by law for a full 10 years.

Next, correct Mayor William Gaynor’s 1911 blunder. The Brooklyn, Williamsburg, Queensboro and Manhattan bridges all had tolls until 1911. Car drivers paid a dime but those on horseback just 3 cents. Then the mayor removed the tolls. I had to live with this mistake as chief engineer of the Department of Transportation in the 1980s, when our bridges were crumbling from lack of funds. Put them back!

Start charging trucks both ways to cross the Verrazano Bridge to reduce the incentive to travel through Manhattan. It’s easy with E-ZPass. The bottom line? A lot of neighborhoods separated by boroughs would be better linked. Lots of people will save money. And we would also raise about a half-billion dollars per year for bridge maintenance and transit.

To which, I say, “Duh.” One day, someone in New York will have the political will and the political guts to see this through. For now, we stumble on.

Below are your weekend service advisories. As always, these are coming to you verbatim from the MTA and are subject to change with little or no notice. Check signs as you travel and be sure to listen to announcements on board the trains.

From 11:30 P.M. Friday, July 10 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, there are no 1 trains between Van Cortlandt Park-242nd Street and 137th Street-City College due to station painting and flood mitigation work at 157th Street and the installation of communications equipment between 145th and 181st Streets. A trains, the M3 bus and free shuttle buses provide alternate service. The best route to Washington Heights and the Bronx is to transfer between the 1 and A at 59th Street. Then transfer between the A and the shuttle bus at 168th Street or 207th Street. – For more on this service change, check out this press release. It fleshes out what exactly is going on up there.

From 12:01 a.m. to 7 a.m. Saturday, July 11, from 12:01 a.m. to 8 a.m. Sunday, July 12 and from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, Brooklyn-bound 2 and 4 trains skip Bergen Street, Grand Army Plaza and Eastern Parkway due to rail installation and switch renewal.

From 12:01 a.m. Sunday, July 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, 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, July 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, 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 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, there are no 5 trains between Grand Central and Bowling Green due to Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer construction. Customers may take the 4 instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, Manhattan-bound 6 trains run express from Hunts Point Avenue to 3rd Avenue due to platform edge rehabilitation at Cypress Avenue, East 143rd Street, East 149th Street and Longwood Avenue stations.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, uptown 6 trains run express from Brooklyn Bridge to 14th Street due to Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer construction.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, July 11, Manhattan-bound D trains skip 174th-175th and 170th Streets due to track cleaning.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 10 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, Manhattan-bound E and F trains run local from Forest Hills-71st Avenue to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to due to track and roadbed replacement at Grand Avenue.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, July 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, Jamaica-bound E and F trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to track and roadbed replacement at Grand Avenue.

At all times, 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. Friday, July 10 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, 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. Friday, July 10 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, G trains run every 20 minutes between Court Square and Church Avenue due to rail repairs.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 10 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, free shuttle buses replace L trains between Lorimer Street and Myrtle Avenue due to track chip-out at Jefferson Street station.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m., Saturday, July 11, uptown Q trains run local from Canal Street to 34th Street due to track cleaning. – This reminds me of a trip to the dentist.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday, July 12, uptown Q trains run local from 42nd Street to 57th Street due to track cleaning.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, July 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 13, R trains are extended to the 179th Street F station due to track and roadbed replacement at Grand Avenue.

(Franklin Avenue)
From 6:30 a.m. Saturday, July 11 to 7 p.m. Sunday, July 12, there are no Franklin Avenue Shuttle trains between Franklin Avenue and Prospect Park due to preparation work for rail repairs. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service.

Categories : Service Advisories
Comments (4)
  • Getting to know Helena Williams · At some point in the near-future, Helena Williams will no longer be the Interim CEO and Executive Director of the MTA. When that will be, though, is anyone’s guess. Gov. David Paterson and the State Senate are far too concerned with other events to worry about something that actually impacts the lives of millions of New Yorkers, and so in the meantime, Williams will hold down her interim position as well as her job as the president of the Long Island Rail Road.

    We don’t know much about Williams beyond her accomplishments. She arrived quietly after Elliot Sander stepped down. Today, though, we can gain some insight into her work and life. Diane Vacca at Women’s Voice for Change interviewed Williams. While the talk, by the end, strays away from transit and into a discussion on Williams’ love of cooking and her daughter, it is an interesting glimpse into the life of the woman in charge of the MTA nonetheless. · (1)

026_graphic As the MTA’s project to bring communications-based train control to the L line continues apace, Transit is beginning its plan to bring CBTC to the 7 line. As The Post reported this morning, the MTA is now taking bids on the project to automate the IRT Flushing Line. Officials believe it will cost $348 million to complete this 6.5-year project.

According to The Post, the MTA hopes to have a contract signed by the end of the year. Getting this project set up for 2016 makes it better late than never. However, as Larry Littlefield noted in the Streetsblog comments earlier today, if this project costs $350 million just to implement, what will be the cost of maintenance and upkeep?

The article in The Post rehashes the various safety concerns that anti-CBTC (and generally anti-job elimination) groups have, and Transit responds. The reality is that CBTC, as implemented throughout the nation, is a safe alternative to human control and allows for more trains per line than human control does. Transit does not plan to eliminate drivers and has a built-in redundancy system as well.

Finally, as a postscript of sorts, Beth Stebner and Tom Namako end their article with what I consider to be an egregious quote. “It’s a great idea,” Anna Callahan, a rider on the 7, said. “But I’d rather those millions of dollars go toward lowering my fare.”

This is a prime example of my questioning those who cover the subway. Callahan has absolutely no idea what she is talking about here, and including her quote just serves to subtly and unnecessarily bash the MTA. While there is a real need for modern signal technology and train control, there’s no need for Callahan’s ill-informed opinion on it. That’s not helping the discourse.

Categories : MTA Technology
Comments (21)

Last month, the Senior Senator from the Great State of New York issued a call for the MTA to outfit their commuter rail trains with wireless Internet. I used his call as a launching point for a brief discussion on how Amtrak, Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road should all be equipped for wireless.

Today, we learn that the MTA, both independent of and because of Schumer’s call, is moving the ball on their wireless plans. Late last week, the agency issued a Request for Expressions of Interest for wireless access on commuter rail trains and in stations. Proposals are due on September 1, and the MTA will establish a timeline of access and hopefully technological adoption in the fall.

Agency officials said that they had these plans in the works prior to Schumer’s comments. “We had [the proposal] in the works prior to the Schumer announcement,” MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said to amNew York’s Heather Haddon.

Meanwhile, MuniWireless, a municipal wireless access blog, has the full RFEI. The full document is 50 pages long and includes a breakdown of ridership demographics and daily station ridership figures. It will make sense to outfit the more popular ones with wireless and to skip some of the lesser used stations.

NYCWireless notes that the RFEI does not include free wi-fi. Dana Spiegel believes that, since these networks are expensive to install and maintain, the MTA will have to charge for wireless access aboard the trains.

In the end, as the RFEI says, this early-stage request will give the MTA “the opportunity to review different technologies and solutions and to evaluate different business cases. As an option, one or both of the Railroads may decide to permit a technical trial of one or more technical solutions at no cost to the Railroads. After the Railroads review the responses to the RFEI (and the results of technical trials, if any), a decision will be made whether to proceed with a wide scale on-train and/or station wireless broadband implementation pursuant to a subsequent request for proposals (“RFP”).”

It’s early for sure, but it’s a start. As I mentioned yesterday in discussing Transit’s public address problem, the authority has lagged across all divisions in bringing new technology on line. To see them moving forward on this project and with an aggressive two-month time frame gives me home for transit-related technology improvements sooner rather than later.

Categories : MTA Technology
Comments (14)

In amNew York today, Heather Haddon tackles the problem with the public address system along the G train. While she gets the story right — the lack of public address system is a big problem — there are some deep-seated issues at play here that did not get any press.

Basically, the story is simple: Many of the G train stops do not have a public address system. Thus, passengers do not know when the train is coming and cannot be told of unscheduled delays and problems further up the line. Haddon notes that a signal problem earlier this week laid passengers up at Hoyt-Schermerhorn for nearly an hour with no word of a delay.

Her first point is that the station agent elimination, planned a slow phase-out, will cause problems. “NYC Transit is eliminating hundreds of station agents across the system through attrition, so G riders craving information may need to develop ESP,” she writes.

That is obscuring the real story. Earlier this week, when the G train was laid up at Hoyt-Schermerhorn, the station agents will still in place. Yet riders still had no idea what was going on because NYC Transit lacks a comprehensive internal communications system.

Station agents at Hoyt-Schermerhorn don’t know what’s happening down the line at, say, Classon or Flushing Aves. With or without station agents, waiting for a delayed train is still just one big guessing game. Meanwhile, every station will still have at least one agent. Technically, those workers, if they knew of the problem, could still provide updates.

Haddon explores the real issue a few paragraphs later:

A 2005 report by the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee found that nearly a third of the 468 stations lacked PA systems. Transit installed speakers connecting to some token booths since, but the G seems to have gotten the short end of the stick.

At the Court Square stop in Queens, for example, an address system feeds to the E line but not the neighboring G. The next G stop, 21 Street, also lacks a PA. “It’s a big gap,” said Ellyn Shannon of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee. “There’s no means of communication.”

The MTA planned to replace all of the PA systems by 2009. Instead, it prioritized the installation of the digital boards on subway platforms. The boards are up and running on the L line, but rampant problems with the contractor has slowed the expansion to a crawl. The boards won’t go live in 156 stations until 2011, five years after the deadline, according to the most recent report by an independent engineer mandated to study MTA projects.

Because funds are tight, the MTA was not able to pursue the true solution: a unified public address system and digital notification boards. Now, with some station agents on the way out, the system will be understaffed and lacking enough technology to support the reduction. And that, my friends, is why we need proper levels of investment into transit infrastructure.

Categories : MTA Technology
Comments (6)

For many in New York State politics, 2009 has been the year of Richard Ravitch. He was appointed in 2008 to head a commission designed to save the MTA from fiscal ruin, and as the first five months of 2009 unfolded, he was front and center during contentious fare hike hearings and State Senate debates over a controversial tax-and-toll rescue plan. Eventually, the Senate passed a watered-down version of the Ravitch Plan that incorporated his payroll tax and various other fees but not the East River Bridge Tolls. No matter the outcome, everyone praised Ravitch for his tireless efforts and calm demeanor.

Yesterday, Ravitch, who celebrated his 76th birthday on Tuesday, received a late present from Gov. David Paterson. In an effort to end the partisan wrangling and 31-31 standoff in the State Senate, Paterson appointed Ravitch as the state’s new lieutenant governor. The position had been empty since Paterson assumed the governorship from Eliot Spitzer last March. While largely ceremonial, the lieutenant governor is responsible for casting tie-breaking votes in the Senate and for taking over when the governor is out of state. Since Pedro Espada had laid temporary claim to the latter duties, Paterson had been under pressure to pick someone — anyone — to head off a full coup by the feckless politician from the Bronx and/or Westchester.

When the Ravitch news came down late in the day, a few transit watchers e-mailed me with the alert. Did I think, they wanted to know, if the Ravitch appointment is a harbinger of good things to come for the MTA? After all, Ravitch is one of the authority’s leading proponents, and he can, in the parlance of New York State politics, get things done. As Gary Reilly mused on his blog, “Now if Ravitch can get a second bite at the apple with the MTA funding situation (bridge tolls et al) we might have some hope yet.”

While I would love to see Ravitch usher through some groundbreaking MTA legislation and initiatives over the next 15 months, I can’t get too excited about his new role. First, Paterson named Ravitch to the spot simply because he is largely bullet-proof. Many politicians — including New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo — do not believe Paterson has the constitutional authority to name a new Lieutenant Governor. State Republicans and perhaps Cuomo as well will pursue a legal halt to this appointment.

But by naming Ravitch, a largely non-controversial figure and a beloved New York State bureaucrat, he has thrown the ball back into Cuomo’s court. As Steve Kornacki wrote, it was a perfectly executed and rather savvy Hail Mary pass from a reluctant governor who hasn’t show much in that regard. As Paterson tries to get the state government back on track, as he deals with a faltering economy and numerous other problems, transit will as always sit on the backburner until a crisis arises again in six or ten or twelve months.

I wish Ravitch, with his new-found position as the state’s number two guy, could bring about the transit revolution that we need and want. His boss though doesn’t have the political capital do it, and Ravitch’s role will be to act as a peacemaker and peacekeeper until the state elects a new governor in 2010. We can dream, but don’t hold your breath. Transit advocates are in it for the long haul even as our best ally finds himself in an unlikely position.

Categories : MTA Politics
Comments (3)
  • Knowing the rules underground · Chew on this: Gothamist points us to a blog post by an Ulster County man who was visiting New York this weekend. John Kuhner complains about the way he was treated by the cops at 5:30 a.m. in the morning when he and six other passengers were ticketed for various disorderly conduct violations. Kuhner’s violation? He had his feet on the seats which is a clear no-no under NYC Transit regulations. In the rambling post, Kuhner claims that the cops did not ticket a woman who had bags on the seat next to her, but that’s not a violation unless the bags “interfere or tend to interfere with the operation of the Authority’s transit system or the comfort of other passengers.” C’est la vie.

    In the end, I wonder about the rules. I wonder how many people bother to read notices posted in stations concerning Transit’s Rules of Conduct. I wonder how many other random sweeps the cops conduct to catch those putting feet up on the seat. I’m not really sympathetic to Kuhner’s plot. You break the rules; you pay price. Plus, I don’t march up to Claryville, NY to put my feet on his furniture; why should he be allowed to put his feet up on the subway? The cops might not catch everyone, but that’s life. The rules are out there. Learn ’em. · (12)


At the intersection of 7th Ave. and Greenwich Ave. on the southeast side of the street sits a triangular lot. This lot is not just any lot. It is a historic piece of village land. It is the inspiration for one of Edward Hopper’s most famous works of art and is currently home to the 9/11 Tiles for America memorial. This land is also owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the MTA now needs to do something with it.

The functional plans for this plot are less than romantic. New York City Transit plans to construct a emergency ventilation plant for both the 7th Ave. lines that run north/south near that point and the 8th Ave. line that cuts east/west under Greenwich Ave. to and from West 4th St. The neighborhood though is reluctant to part with its corner, and both sides are working together to come up with an acceptable plan. Albert Amateau reports in The Villager:

New York City Transit last week presented three basic design suggestions for the emergency ventilation tower planned for the triangle at Seventh Ave. South and Greenwich Ave., where thousands of Sept. 11 memorial tiles have been hanging on a chain-link fence for the past eight years. Neighbors at the June 22 presentation were glad the plans provided for space to display at least some of the tiles, but they were disappointed with the tower design options, which they characterized as “off the rack” and not worthy of the Greenwich Village Historic District.

Last year Transit chose a plan for a combined emergency ventilation plant for both the Seventh Ave. and the Eighth Ave. subway lines that includes a 38-foot-tall tower on the triangle property that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority owns. However, Community Board 2 had recommended the plant be built entirely below street level.

The above-ground option was deemed to be least expensive — $79.5 million compared to $93.7 million to $124 million for eight other site options — and to have the least impact on vehicle and pedestrian traffic, according to the project’s final environmental impact statement.

Community Board 2 members were lukewarm in their views on the tower. “We’ve been grappling with the ventilation plant issue for some time now,” Brad Hoylman, former C.B. 2 chairperson, said to Amateau. “We asked for a distinctive design for the building, not least because it’s at the gateway to the Greenwich Village Historic District, and because it includes an important piece of recent history.”

Today, Curbed posted slides from the MTA’s presentation, and the one I featured at the top of this post is my choice. As Judith Kunoff, an architect at Transit explained, this version incorporates the Tiles for America memorial into a structure reminiscent of the historic dinner from Nighthawks.

Hopefully, when all is said and done, both the history and memory from this corner will be a part of a functional piece of transit equipment. Incorporating neighborhood design elements into necessary infrastructure serve to make the city friendlier and more livable.

Comments (5)

As part of my efforts to expand the dialogue on transit funding solutions and the measures for which advocates should push, I jumped into the fray Monday with a call for market-rate on-street parking spots. The proposal generated a lot of talk with most in favor to a tiered on-street parking system that somehow does not encourage more driving.

Today, I want to look at another approach — a very extreme approach at that — to the MTA’s funding problems: Is it possible to fund the system solely through farebox recovery? In other words, how high would the MTA’s fares have to go for the agency to cover its deficit by itself? The answer is rather terrifying.

During the fare hike debate and the discussion over the MTA’s fiscal future that unfolded for nearly four months this year, various numbers concerning farebox revenue were bandied about. The widely accepted formula centers around the idea that, counting passengers who opt out of mass transit, for each one percent the fare goes up, the MTA captures an additional $50 million in revenue. A ten percent increase nets $500 million, and that 23 percent increase with which we were threatened last November would have resulted in a $1.15 billion windfall for the MTA.

This is some easy math then. If the MTA were to attempt to cover their $1.8 billion revenue through farebox money alone, the agency would have to raise fares by 36 percent. The prices would contain a certain element of sticker shock. Those 30-Day Unlimited Ride MetroCards would cost $110. The base fare would have jumped from $2 to $2.75. Tolls and commuter rail fares would seem equally as steep.

Now, on the one hand, those fares sound expensive. On the other, by tying fare hikes into the cost of inflation, we’ll be there soon enough. Meanwhile, is a $110 30-day ride card that out of the realm of the ordinary? Based on the numbers from my two MetroCard Challenges, my average fare would wind up at around $1.50. That’s what it cost to ride the rails from November 12, 1995 until May 3, 2003.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, maybe one of the real financial problems is that New Yorkers are expecting a cheap and subsidized subway fare but put pressure on the MTA to make that a reality. Straphangers are barking up the wrong trees. The MTA can impact those financial indicators that are within its jurisdiction. That includes fares and services. Politicians though can ensure that the MTA is getting a subsidy that allows it to avoid this hypothetical 36 percent fare increase.

Last year, I proposed doubling the fares and a lengthy and contentious discussion ensued on this site. This proposal — a 36-percent increase and a budget relying nearly 75-90 percent on farebox recovery revenue — is equally as absurd. Maybe, though, it needs to happen before our politicians become wise to the ways of mass transit. Don’t worry, though; I won’t be on the steps of City Hall pulling for this one.

Categories : MTA Economics
Comments (14)

The true sign of an expert subway rider is the knowledge concerning door choice. I know which set of doors will leave my right at the staircase for my morning commute, and I know which set of doors will open so I can be the first out of the station on the way home at night. Not everyone though pays as much attention to their commutes as I do, and sometimes, we find ourselves en route to an unfamiliar station. At that point, the door choice becomes a guessing game. Well, to borrow a phrase, there’s now an app for that.

As City Room’s Jennifer 8. Lee reported this morning, a mobile start-up called Exit Strategy New York has released an application available for iPhone, Blackberry, the Android and the Kindle that higlights the exits as stations around the city. A brother-and-sister team put in the legwork and spent countless hours charting the system over the last few months to bring this info to the masses. “It’s incredible, you can be off by an entire avenue,” Jonathan Wegener, one of the company founders, said. “You are three or four minutes off from where you thought you were going to be.”

Per the company’s official backstory, Wegener and his sister Ashley simply camped out in train stations. They write, “At each subway station, they waited for the train to come so they could mark which door of the train aligned with the exits. At stations with multiple stairwells, they figured out which were the most efficient ones. They did this, again and again and again, in hundreds of subway stations.” That’s fairly ingenious.

In the end, they compiled information on car door locations, exit placement and even the hours of operation for those stations with part-time exits. Not everything was as easy as counting doors though. Amusingly enough, according to the programmers, they ran into some problems with the varying car lengths. When the F trains switched from sets of eight 75-foot-long R46 cars to 10 60-foot-long R160 cars, the app had to be updated in development.

The app went on sale today, and it is available for $2.99 for Blackberry and $1.99 for the other platforms. It features exit information every stop in Manhattan and much of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx and should eventually include every station. It also works offline. I’ll download this one soon and give it a spin on my Blackberry. Expect a review in a few days.

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