A subway station house grows in Manhattan. (Photos by Marsha Berkowitz)

The 96th St. station on the West Side IRT is currently a mess. As part of an $80 million overhaul of this heavily-trafficked station, the MTA is constructing a brand new station house in the middle of Broadway close to 95th st.

This station will be one of the Stations of the Future the MTA has been promoting lately. It will be fully ADA-compliant and will eliminate the current design flaw that forces Upper West Siders to go down a flight of stairs, swipe through, go down another flight of stairs and then climb back up to the platform. On the inside, it will eventually look like this:

inside96st

For now, though, it is just a skeleton. A few months behind schedule, the new station house is slowly rising above Broadway. When I got word of the topping out of the new station, I sent Second Ave. Sagas’ Upper West Side correspondent — more affectionately known as my mom — to snap some pictures. The slideshow is below. One day — and according to my other UWS correspondent familiarly known as my dad, that day should be in September 2010 — that station with its new tiles and all will glimmer above Broadway.

Categories : MTA Construction
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  • Silver: Assembly will pass something · As the Senate continues to make a collective fool out of itself debate an MTA funding plan, Sheldon Silver’s Assembly has emerged as a voice of reason. Silver, who came out weeks ago in favor of a modified Ravitch Plan, is ready to do whatever it takes to deliver funding to the beleaguered transit agency. He reiterated that stance in an interview with Politicker NY’s Jimmy Vielkind yesterday.

    First, he voiced Assembly support for the current Senate plan — if the Senate can pass it. “The actions of the board cannot stand,” he said, “and we will do whatever we can with the Senate to make sure that the outrageous fare increases are rescinded. If the Senate’s plan is the only plan that they can pass that accomplishes that goal in the Senate, then we will look at it very seriously.”

    Interestingly enough, though, he didn’t stop there. Silver also said he would hold an Assembly vote on his own modified version of the Ravitch plan if the Senate fails to enact anything. This is a shrewd political move because it will both force the Senate to confront its inability to do anything, and it will force Assembly representatives to go on record with a yea-or-nay vote on the tax-and-toll plan. Whether Silver goes through with this move is a different story altogether. “Nobody likes taxing people, nobody likes raising money,” he said. “But nobody likes fare increases or service cuts. So we have to go with the lesser of two evils.” · (3)

Every time the MTA gears up to raise fares, my inbox gets flooded with the same question: Should I, savvy straphangers want to know, stock up on Unlimited Ride Metrocards?

Usually, the MTA allows a few weeks — or even months — as the grace period. When the agency raised fares last March, stockpiled Metrocards were good until June. With finances very tight at the MTA, this time around, though, New Yorkers will enjoy a sunset period of only a few days.

Metro’s Patrick Arden broke the news this morning, and as the MTA prepares internally for no Senate-approved funding plan, New Yorkers will have just a few days to start swiping unused Metrocards.

Here’s how it works: On May 31, 2009, transit fares across the Metrocard-accessible New York City Transit region will increase. With no Senate plan, the increases will look like this: The base fare will increase to $2.50 with a 15 percent pay-per-ride discount for every amount over $7. Unlimited ride Metrocards will be priced at $9.50 (one-day pass), $31 (seven-day pass), $59 (14-day pass) and $103 (30-day pass).

The anti-hoarding plan institutes a very short sunset date. As Arden explains, “All unlimited ride cards purchased now must be swiped for the first time on or before June 8 in order to get their full allotment of days.”

In fact, this plan is an expiration plan and not really a sunset plan. The MTA has set expiration dates for all unlimited ride cards. If a Metrocard user has an unswiped card on that date, he or she can send it back to Transit for a refund. Those dates are: June 14 for seven-day cards; June 21 for 14-day cards; and July 7 for 30-day cards. That’s why these cards must be swiped on or before June 8.

NYC Transit Spokesman Paul Fleuranges urged riders to adhere to the time limits. “In order to get the full value on a time-based card, you have to use it for the first time no later than June 8,” he said to Arden. “The most important thing is, the first day it stops working, send it in. Go to the station booth and ask for a pre-addressed posted envelope, and we’ll send you back the prorated value.”

In a nutshell, this is a clear indication of the MTA’s precarious fiscal position. They can’t afford not to be drawing in the extra money, and the need the funds as soon as possible. While this entire process has been one big game of political chicken between the Senate and the MTA, the transit authority is serious about raising these fares and is going to do all it can to collect the money it needs to stay afloat.

Categories : Fare Hikes, MetroCard
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  • The problem with the escalators · Last August, New York City Transit installed motion-sensitive “green” escalators to much fanfare. On the first day of service, some of them had already broken down, and it’s been nothing but trouble for Transit since then. As both amNew York and WCBS TV reported on this week, Transit is having a hard time getting its contractor to make good on its product.

    In a nutshell, here’s what happened: The MTA spent $36 million to replace Herald Square’s 12 escalators. Fujitec America, the contractor, supposedly did not install the escalators properly, and now that the company is out of the heavy-duty escalator comapny, they haven’t been quick to make repairs. “The escalators are under warranty and while the vendor has made some of the required repairs, they have not done so at the pace we would have liked,” Transit spokesman Paul Fleurangs told CBS 2.

    NYC Transit President Howard Roberts echoed Fleuranges. “We respond as quickly as possible in house,” he said during a board meeting. “But we have little leverage with our current contracts to get warranty repairs made.” I’d love to see the terms of that escalator installation contract because it sounds like some deal for Fujitec. · (5)

While Gov. David Paterson called the latest Senate plan for the MTA “worth considering” and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith claims he has the votes to pass it, the fate of this new funding plan is far from clear. Already today, I’ve delved into the taxi surcharge problem. That appears to be just one of many hurdles this new bill faces.

First up is internal dissent among the state Democrats. According to The Times, four Senate Dems will not support a payroll tax. The new plan calls for a payroll tax for all 12 MTA counties, but the tax will be lower in the outlying counties. This makes no sense on its surface because it actually costs more to the MTA to serve those areas further away from the New York City core, but whatever. If it wins votes, it wins votes

The problem is that it’s not winning votes. “I remain opposed to the imposition and use of a payroll tax,” Craig M. Johnson, Democratic senator from Nassau County, said. He — along with fellow Democrats Brian Foley (Suffolk County), Andrea Stewart-Cousins (Westchester) and Suzi Oppenheimer (Westchester) — remains opposed to any and all tax plans.

With these four Democrats in opposition, Malcolm Smith would have to pick up four members of the state G.O.P. Senate contingent. As we learned last night, though, right now Republicans are opposed to the tax plan as well with maybe one — Frank Padavan of Queens — open to supporting this funding plan. Maybe.

Today, Republicans voiced anew their opposition to the plan and raised some valid concerns that transcend ideological lines. “It’s an insult to upstate and downstate,” Martin Golden, Brooklyn Republican, said. “We’re going to put $200 million in taxes on the backs of the cabdrivers and the people who live in the City of New York.”

Martin’s point is echoed in a brief piece by NY1. This new plan has all sorts of mismatched priorities. Basically, the cab fare increase, a hyperlocal way of raising revenue, would go to upstate projects and districts that have never seen a yellow taxi. Meanwhile, New York City dwellers and drivers would get a reprieve from shouldering much of the burden because the licensing registration fee increases would apply to everyone across the board in all MTA counties. Those living outside of the city where car ownership rates are higher would be funding the subway system.

In an ideal world, the MTA funding plan would require money collected in New York City to be reinvested in New York City; money collected upstate to be funneled back upstate; and money collected in Westchester and Long Island to go toward transit and infrastructure there. This new plan accomplishes none of those goals and doesn’t seem to have the support it needs to pass the Senate. How utterly disappointing and how utterly typical.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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The latest MTA funding package put forward by the Senate has a taxi problem. With taxi advocates agitating against the plan and practical collection problems cropping up, this reliance on a new taxi surcharge might just be enough to sink the whole thing.

The new plan — outlined here — is centered around a new taxi surcharge. The Senate will soon vote on whether or not to institute a $1 drop-off fee for all New York City taxi rides. This fee will lead to at least $190 million — and probably well over $200 million — in revenue. Half of that money will go to fund upstate roads and bridges, a point with which transit advocates have taken issue.

The eventual destination for those funds, though, is besides the point. Just how will the city collect this money to siphon off to the MTA and the upstate transportation infrastructure fund? Crain’s delved into the issue, and many aren’t sure it’s possible. “We can’t figure that out,” Ethan Gerber, a taxi lobbyist, said to the New York-based business journal. “Most people still pay by cash.”

Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and his office punted on the issue. “I don’t think that has been worked out,” a spokesman for his office said. “There’s of course a technical aspect, just as there was for the collecting tolls.” That is, of course, a false argument as the collecting of tolls would have required the simple installation of high-speed tolling technology. Toll problem solved.

Daniel Massey and Erik Engquist have more from a taxi industry intent on protesting this hearty fee:

Taxi drivers said the $1 fee would eat into their already slim profit margins. “This is a wage cut on taxi drivers,” said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents 12,000 drivers. “Drivers would really suffer for a long time if this were to pass.”

Ms. Desai was leading a delegation of drivers to Albany on Tuesday to give legislators an earful. Thousands more are expected to participate in a phone-in campaign to legislators’ offices. “Who has ever heard of a private industry bailing out a government agency?” she asked…

The Alliance also agrees there would be no easy way for the state to collect the surcharge and charges that lawmakers lack a fundamental understanding of the industry. “There is an underlying assumption here that the money will just be deducted from paychecks and easily collected by the state,” Ms. Desai wrote in a letter to Gov. David Paterson, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Mr. Smith. “This is absolutely false.”

As anyone with any inkling of a clue about the taxi industry knows, cab drivers rent their cars for a flat fee each day and keep all of the cash they make. Instituting a $1-per-ride fee will either lead to more off-the-books rides or rampantly inefficiently collecting practices. Yet again the Senate has shown an inability to understand how transportation works in New York City.

Outside of these practical concerns, cab drivers are concerned about their bottom lines. Some taxi driver advocates believed rides could drop as much as 33 percent, and it’s nearly undeniable that tips will continue to drop as they do every time taxi fares go up.

For its faults, the Ravitch Plan got it right. It penalized the people taking advantage of the free roads and did so in a way that would have benefited the MTA specifically and New York City on the whole. This latest plan is just a mess, and while it may have enough votes to pass, it’s just another bad political compromise from the Senate.

Categories : Doomsday Budget, Taxis
Comments (20)

As transit advocates and State Senators have a chance to digest the latest MTA funding plan, two questions have continued to pop up: Does this latest plan have a chance to pass the Senate? Does it accomplish what it needs to accomplish?

Unfortunately for transit advocates, these two questions often lead to different answers. We want to see a solid commitment to mass transit; we want to see measures to return the streets to pedestrians and transit; we want to discourage the car-owning minority in New York City from unnecessary driving.

In answer to the question of support among advocates, Ben Fried at Streetsblog comes down firmly on the side of no. He outlines his five reasons why this plan doesn’t do what it should:

  1. Raising tolls on MTA crossings while keeping East and Harlem River bridges free gives car commuters and truckers even more incentive to detour across city streets to the free crossings. Neighborhoods like Downtown Brooklyn, Long Island City, Williamsburg and the Lower East Side that are already pulverized by traffic will see things get worse.
  2. Raising fees on car ownership through higher registration and licensing fees does nothing to discourage car use, and may actually encourage people to drive more in order to get more bang for their buck. Using tolls or congestion fees to price driving would have the opposite effect.
  3. Raising the cost of car sharing, rentals and taxis makes it tougher to live without a car. And, like higher ownership fees, increasing these one-time charges encourages renters to maximize their driving. Congestion pricing or tolls are far superior.
  4. Unlike private motorists taxi drivers faced with higher fees will increase their driving. Why? Since passengers will choose to ride less, given the higher fare, cabbies will have to drive more to recoup the flat fee they pay to operate a taxi.
  5. Using cab fees to pay for highway and bridge projects outside of the city transfers wealth from the dense, environmentally sustainable city to the car-dependent suburbs. If anything, taxes on cabs should fund the city bridges and streets used by those cabs.

There’s not much left to add to Fried’s analysis. He hits all the key issues and the complaints that I’ve had with the plan — poorly thought-out licensing fees, encouraging driving — are reflected in Fried’s word.

So then if we’re going to settle for a less-than-stellar pro-transit funding plan, does it have the political support to pass muster in the Senate? The answer is maybe, according to Elizabeth Benjamin.

If the Senate Democrats were hoping to capture support among the city’s Republican senators with their latest MTA bailout plan, the early returns are not promising, the DN’s Glenn Blain reports.

Of the three, only Sen. Frank Padavan of Queens seemed open to supporting the plan. Brooklyn Sen. Martin Golden and Staten Island Sen. Andrew Lanza both said they haven’t yet had the opportunity to review the new plan in detail (as of last night, it existed only in the form of a concept and had not yet been drafted into a bill).

But upon hearing the details as they were presented to reporters by the Senate Democrats’ spokesman Austin Shafran, both Golden and Lanza expressed misgivings about the proposal – especially its reliance on a payroll tax. “I just don’t see how I could vote for that type of a tax increase again into the city of New York after what they’ve already done with the tax increase in this budget,” Golden said Monday night.

That’s not a positive prognosis for the bill really. It doesn’t really line up with what transit advocates want, and it doesn’t seem have to the support it may need. Once again, the State Senate has seemingly failed to deliver, and even if this bill passes, it’s tough to say that it addresses the MTA’s long-term funding needs. Where is the political will when we need it most?

Categories : Doomsday Budget
Comments (8)
  • Bloomie: You can count on me, maybe · Yesterday afternoon, I discussed how Mayor Bloomberg had been notably and intentionally missing from the MTA funding debate. The Mayor apparently didn’t like the article in The Times and responded in kind. “I did work very hard to get Democratic votes for congestion pricing,” he said on Monday, “and I’ll work very hard to get Republican votes for the current plan. But you don’t do that, once again, in front of the cameras. This is not about me.”

    Bloomberg may have a chance to make good on his promise as the Senate gears up to debate yet another MTA funding plan. All he has to do is deliver a few G.O.P. votes, and he can take some credit in rescuing transit. As politically uncomfortable a move it may be for the Mayor, the city needs him to do it. · (0)

Toward the end of the day on Monday, I reported on stirrings of yet another Senate Democratic funding plan for the MTA. When an aide to Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith introduced the plan — yet to be submitted as a bill — to the press today, the early word wasn’t too far off.

Before, we analyze, let’s run down the plan. Elizabeth Benjamin has the details, and I’m borrowing some of this from her.

  • Payroll Tax: 34 cents per $100 in the 12-county MTA region. However, the new proposal includes a graduated tax. The counties further away from the City will pay less. Revenue: $1.49 billion
  • Taxi Surcharge: $1 taxi drop-off fee. Revenue: $190 million (half for upstate debt service payments)
  • Motor Vehicle Registration Fee: $25. Revenue: $130 million
  • Auto Rental Surcharge: An increase from six to 11 percent. Revenue: $35 million
  • Licensing Fees: 25 percent increase. Revenue: $10.5 million
  • MTA Accountability: Required outside audit; merger of the CEO and chairman positions; two members, one each appointed by the Senate and Assembly; online publishing of the budget, capital plan and executive perks.
  • Fare Increase: 8 percent.

My first question is an obvious — and admittedly snarky — one: With the exception of the perks, the MTA budget and capital planning documents are already posted online. Has anyone in the Senate ever bothered to visit the MTA website? Anyway, that’s the plan.

The immediate question surrounding this proposal concerns the support of the rest of the Senate. Does the plan have the support of at least 32 members of the Senate? Does the Gang of Four support it? Will any state G.O.P. representatives voice their support of it? Jimmy Vielkind posed these questions and received no answers.

“We did not take a count,” Austin Shafran, a Senate spokesman, said. “What we felt we had to do was to do something that addressed the needs of the M.T.A. We’re confident that we’ll have 32 votes.”

Of course, the Senators were saying the same thing a few weeks ago when Smith was trying to cajole his party into supporting the tax-and-toll plan. We all know how that ended up.

On the Assembly side of the debate, Speaker Sheldon Silver all but guaranteed his chamber’s support for any MTA funding plan that gets through the Senate. “I am willing to support any plan that provides a stable, long term funding stream for mass transit and apportions the burden equitably among everyone who has a stake in the MTA’s future,” Silver said in a statement late Monday. “I have not had an opportunity to fully review the Senate’s plan, but if it can accomplish both of those objectives and command the support of the majority of Senators then it is an alternative we’re prepared to take very seriously.”

Procedurally, the bill will probably be introduced today and will require a three-day “aging” period. A vote could come at the end of this week, but in all likelihood, we won’t know the future of the MTA until next week.

For the MTA, his bill would shelve most, if not all, of the planned service cuts. We should still be stuck with a fare hike, and the bridges — the same bridges that cost me a Metrocard swipe each day to cross — would remain free. We would be hit with more driver’s licensing fees even if we don’t drive, and the taxi drivers are going to raise hell about this plan. But that’s that. Now let’s see the Senate actually pass it.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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The Gang of Four have spoken. While rumors of a soda tax to help fund the MTA were swirling earlier today, the latest Senate financing plan for the MTA includes a series of surcharges, fees, fare hikes and taxes designed to close the transit agency’s budget gap.

The latest proposal, allegedly endorsed by the group of four state senators who refuse to endorse tolls, is an amalgamation of all of the proposed plans so far. It’s not clear how or even if it accomplish the goal of funding future MTA capital programs as the Ravitch Commission’s report did, and with payroll — and no exemptions for that tax — a centerpiece of the plan, it won’t have the support of the state G.O.P. either.

Jimmy Vielkind at Politcker NY had a rundown of the plan. According to Vielkind, the plan looks a little something like this:

  • A drop-off tax for taxis of either 50 cents or a dollar, depending upon how much is needed for upstate roads bridges.
  • A car registration surcharge.
  • A payroll tax, without exemption for school districts or non-profits.
  • A driver’s license surcharge.
  • The smaller fare hike proposed by the M.T.A.

So that’s that. The Democrats are willing to give some money to upstate roads while making cabs more expensive. That’s sure to go over well with Bhairavi Desai and the Taxi Workers Alliance. I hope the Democrats have shored up the support of upstate Democrats and at least some Republican if they’re willing to pork up this bill for upstate roads and bridges.

Meanwhile, this bill doesn’t do a terrible job of spreading the pain, but it targets the wrong people. By instituting a driver’s license surcharge, the state is penalizing people like me who have a license but rarely use it. They should be taxing the people who drive on unnecessarily free bridges and not those of us who want a government-issued identification card. It’s a fix that will impact far more people than the tolling plan and in worse ways.

Albany has taken a good idea and turned it into a bad one, but that’s the way New York State politics works. If there’s more on this bill today, I’ll have it. The plan should be written up by tomorrow, and then it’s just a matter of political support. Again.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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