Hot on the heels of Albany’s appeals to populist anger at the MTA comes more news about the state of the proposed Ravitch plan to save transit. It sounds like there will be some backroom politicking over the next few weeks as the MTA Board’s self-imposed March 25 deadline draws near.

In a somewhat surprising about-face, the New York Post urges Malcolm Smith to see Sheldon Silver’s $2 toll plan through the Senate. The Post has mostly protested taxes and tolls, but this latest missive believes that, because Richard Ravitch is a trustworthy source, the MTA really does have this budget problem. Another audit just months after Ravitch conducted his own thorough investigation would be an unnecessary and costly political diversion.

“Smith doesn’t seem to have the foggiest idea of how to save the system. And if he doesn’t know, how will he convince defiant members?” writes the paper’s editorial board. ” If he thinks the Senate’s constituents will be unhappy with tolls, what will they say about massive fare hikes? Or, in the not-too-distant future, a crippled mass transit system? It’s that serious.”

The Daily News’ editorial board takes a similar tone with Smith. Blame him, they say, when the MTA is in shambles.

Business leaders who recognize what an underfunded MTA means to the economy are calling upon State GOP representatives to support a bailout. New York’s partisan lines are thickly drawn, but if the business community starts pushing this proposal, state Republicans may just rally behind the tolls.

Finally, the Post notes the MTA bailout may get stuck in Albany for months. Senator Smith has indicted that he wants to tie the MTA’s money into the state budget, and any deal on the state budget is still months away. Smith’s office publicly denied this allegation and has stressed a desire for a speedy resolution to this problem.

That sound you hear is the Doomsday clock ticking ever closer to midnight.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
Comments (1)

In 2003, the MTA was no better off in the eyes of the public than it is now. That year, the agency was accused of cooking up two sets of books in order to justify a fare hike. One set showed the agency operating a deficit; the other showed a historic surplus.

At the time, Alan Hevesi unleashed a scathing report about the MTA’s behavior, and the agency was judged permanently guilty in the eyes of public opinion. It would be a watershed moment in the history of government — or quasi-government — agency corruption.

Fast forward to 2009. None of the MTA officials or board members responsible for the “two sets of books” scandal is still in power. Instead, the MTA Board is headed up by people with bona fide transit credentials, and the agency has attempted to be more transparent. Still, after years of governmental neglect, the MTA’s finances are in legitimate disarray, and if to close what may be nearly a $2 billion budget gap, the MTA will have to implement a Doomsday budget on March 25 if the state doesn’t act.

For its part, the State Senate can’t get over a scandal six years in the past. Glenn Blain and Pete Donohue tell of state Democrats questioning the MTA’s credibility:

Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) said the Metropolitan Transportation Authority “does not have a history of being forthright in terms of their budget. You know, they kept two books at a time.”

Senate Dems planned a “full vetting of MTA finances” and want to strengthen the state controller’s oversight of the authority, Smith said in a statement last night. Senate action on any bailout plan wouldn’t happen this week, a Smith spokesman said.

The “two sets of books” phrase was popularized in a legal challenge of MTA fare hikes in 2003. A suit based on reports by the state and city controllers claimed the MTA misled the public by exaggerating its financial situation. Two trial judges agreed, but an appeals panel overruled them. It unanimously declared “the record does not support the lower court rulings that the 2003 and 2004 deficit was ‘fictional.’”

Smith, it seems, is willing to penalize the MTA — and by extension, all New Yorkers — for a story that broke six years ago and was resolved by the state courts half a decade ago. At what point does this fishing expedition become simply that? Smith doesn’t want to confront the hard truth of Senate inaction and would rather pawn off these problems on the good old public scapegoat version of the MTA.

Ignore the fact that 22 of 62 State Senators weren’t even in the legislative body when this scandal broke. Ignore the fact that we should vote out any who don’t support the MTA. Just think about that time when bad MTA leaders cooked the books. Clearly, the only logical result is another audit, and by golly, that’s just what the Senate Dems are getting three weeks before doomsday.

Elliot Sander, the current MTA head who actually knows what he’s doing, had the best response to the Albany inanities: “The time for excuses is over. Albany needs to act.” Hear, hear.

Categories : MTA Economics
Comments (19)

Cell service in the New York City subway has become something of a afterthought around town. Every two years or so, the story pops up in the news, and the MTA claims cell service underground is “coming soon.”

In fact, 18 months ago, the MTA signed a contract to start rolling out cellular service to every underground station. The pilot program was originally supposed to be ready two years after that. I wonder if we’ll actually see cell service in six months or so. Anyone want to bet on it?

Meanwhile, down in DC, where the cavernous Metro is, at some places, hundreds of feet deeper than the New York City subways, cell service for Verizon customers has been a fact of life for DC riders since the WMATA and Verizon started developing a system back in 1993. This collaborative effort between the transit agency and a cell carrier led to a Verizon-built and -owned network, and the WMATA got a free underground radio system out of the deal.

Yesterday, Metro announced that the entire system would be covered by all major U.S. cell carriers and Wi-Fi service by 2012. New York will have to play catch-up soon. Dr. Gridlock of The Washington Post reports:

Twenty of the busiest underground stations will have expanded cell phone service by the end of this year, and the entire rail system will be equipped by 2012, Metro said in an announcement this afternoon…

Four companies — Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, AT&T and T-Mobile — will build a new wireless infrastructure in the underground rail system during the next four years, the announcement said. The companies will design, build, operate, maintain and own one wireless network. They also will build a second wireless network, which Metro will own, operate and maintain for its operational and public safety communications…

The wireless contract will generate a minimum of nearly $25 million during the initial 15-year term and an additional $27 million during the five, two-year renewal terms, Metro said. Other FCC licensed and unlicensed carriers can gain access to the networks either through entering into agreements with Metro or the group of carriers, all of which will produce additional revenue for the transit agency.

Thus, the obvious question: If the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority can enter into such a favorable deal, why can’t the Metropolitan Transportation Authority?

I understand that New York City’s system is far more extensive and significantly older than D.C.’s Metro. It’s also much closer to the surface and, to my amateur eye, would seem to be far more conducive to underground cellular service than a system that features stations 160 feet below ground.

While the MTA struggles to find money to cover operating expenses, the transit agency has to keep an eye out to the future. It has to be able to maintain New York’s competitive edge in a cutthroat global economy. Inevitably, that means equipping the city with a state-of-the-art transportation system. If DC can do it, so could New York.

Categories : Subway Cell Service
Comments (23)

Twenty two days isn’t a very long time, but that’s all the state legislature has left if they want to save the MTA — and New Yorkers — from massive MTA fare hikes and service cuts. Meanwhile, storm clouds are gathering in Albany for an epic fight over the fiscal future of transit in the New York City Metropolitan Area.

On one side is Sheldon Silver and his version of the Ravitch Commission recommendations. He supports the payroll tax and East River crossing tolls, but instead of the $5 fee Richard Ravitch proposed, Silver wants to start things off with a $2 fare, even with the current subway rate. It won’t stave off the inevitable cuts and hikes, but it’s better than inaction.

On the other side is, well, everyone else. Some of Silver’s fellow Assembly representatives and some State Senators are decrying the toll plan on the same old populist line. These tolls will somehow hurt middle class New Yorkers. Those are, by the way, the same middle class New Yorkers who don’t own cars, don’t drive back and forth to work each day and do rely on the subways, buses and commuter rails to get around the region. When someone in the media will tell representatives such as Adriano Espaillat, Rory Lancman and Jose Peralta that, I do not know.

Also on the agin’ side is Comptroller William C. Thompson. The New York City official and potential mayoral candidate voiced his strident opposition to tolls and again called attention to his plan to drastically increase driver licensing fees. Again, this is a perfect example of a politician putting forward a plan that would have a disproportionate impact on those who can least afford it without creating a true distribution of responsibility for the MTA’s financial picture based on use of bridges, roads and rails.

Finally, we have State Senator Malcolm Smith. The Senate Majority Leader is wavering on the toll plan. He doesn’t understand how the MTA, behind Richard Ravitch’s suggestions, could go from needing a $5 toll to suddenly being satisfied with a $2 toll. As a result, he has called for and gotten the go ahead to conduct at MTA audit. It’s doubtful that the MTA audit will be completed in three weeks and a day, and the answer to his quandary is simple really. The MTA knows that its best hope politically is a $2 toll. Some of the money they need is again far more preferable to none.

In the middle of this imperfect storm is Richard Ravitch. He is the subject of a sympathetic profile by Sam Roberts in The Times today. Everyone loves him; everyone — from Silver on down — trusts him; and yet politicians are still hung up a six-year-old bookkeeping scandal that was perpetrated by a bunch of people no longer in charge. Old stereotypes and prejudices die hard, and while the battle lines are drawn, Ravitch will have to help guide the proper pieces into position. New York City is depending on it.

Categories : Ravitch Commission
Comments (5)
  • South Ferry opening day still unknown · The oft-delayed opening of the new South Ferry terminal on the 1 has been postponed again. After a construction problem rendered the station non-ADA compliant, it seemed as though the station would open at the end of February. Now that February has come and gone, the station remains in MTA construction limbo.

    Last week, amNew York reported that the station would be completed in May and open before then. I checked in with the MTA, and Deputy Press Secretary Aaron Donovan told me that the station will be completed in April. Right now, the crews are fixing the ADA issue while continuing work on aspects of the station — the air-tempering system and canopy — that won’t be completed until after the ribbon-cutting. When that will be though is anyone’s guess as the MTA has, in the words of Donovan, “not yet determined the opening date for the new station.” · (3)

One day, our GPS bus locator system will come.

In a way, the MTA’s on-going, never-fulfilled plan to equip the city’s bus system with a GPS-based locator system is the Second Ave. Subway of our generation. For 13 years now, the MTA has tried to get this system off the ground, and for 13 years, the agency has run up against a series of institutional and technological roadblocks. This plan — active in cities around the world — remains an elusive dream to New Yorkers who look for the next bus by walking through two lanes of traffic and peering down an avenue block.

The latest effort to implement a system that would alert riders of the time until the next bus came to a crashing halt at the end of January. At the time, MTA officials told the City Council that the tracking times for bus arrivals were inaccurate, and they were pulling the plug on the project yet again.

Yesterday, The City Section in Sunday’s Times eulogized the latest GPS attempt. Writes Sophia Hollander:

A blank electronic board at the M15 bus shelter was intended to avert just this situation by providing real-time updates to riders. Instead, it has become the latest failure in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s longstanding attempt to use GPS tracking to manage buses more efficiently and offer riders information about arrival times. Other cities, including Chicago and London, have successfully implemented the technology.

The M.T.A. issued its first contract for the system in 1996. Several companies and more than a decade later, there are no official plans on what to try next. James Anyansi, an M.T.A. spokesman, said the current project had been scuttled by technical problems, and in a dispiriting sign of its demise, all 15 electronic boards are to be dismantled by the end of next month.

Predictably, the reaction among bus riders and those who support the devices has been one of unhappiness. “The public is very unsympathetic to the saga that’s been bus tracking,” said Gene Russianoff, chief spokesman for the Straphangers Campaign, a rider advocacy group.

Anyansi told Hollander the MTA is “committed to developing a reliable system,” but when that will come online is anyone’s guess.

At this point, we don’t really know why this system failed. MTA officials have blamed the tall buildings for interfering with GPS-based technology. However, Google’s Latitude, a mobile phone-based locator program, seems to work fine in New York City. Others have suggested that bus officials are to blame. Still others wonder why a cellular-based system that uses each bus to transmit its location to receivers at stations further on down the land can’t be developed.

If Roosevelt Island can sustain a GPS-based tracking system, the rest of New York City should have one too. This is a funeral for an MTA technology that we just shouldn’t be having.

* * *

A Note on the Weather: Supposedly, New York City is in for up to a foot of snow by the time the morning rush hour kicks off on Monday. New York City Transit is well aware of the impending snow, and Paul Fleuranges, the corporate communications V.P. at Transit, sent out an e-mail this evening detailing the agency’s plans.

In a nutshell, NYCT is preparing for a full fleet of subways and buses right now, but they recognize that travel could be significantly slower than usual in the morning. They are station emergency crews near problem areas and plan to keep the above-ground switches as clear as possible. Keep your eye on the MTA’s website for weather-related service advisories.

Categories : Buses
Comments (4)

The streets in a city are for people. That is, after all, the point of living an urban life. We don’t want to be beholden to automobiles to get around. We want to enjoy walking unencumbered by all that comes with living in a suburb.

In a way, while revenue for the MTA was one of its main goals, congestion pricing would have gone a long way toward returning New York City’s streets to its people. By disincentivizing driving, by charging tolls, by closing lanes, cities can turn the tide on congestion.

While proponents of more lanes claim those lanes alleviate traffic, as we learned from Robert Moses, more roads simply means more cars. The opposite is true too: Fewer lanes lead to fewer cars. This May, in what is being hailed as a groundbreaking move for an American city, New York City will close Broadway to cars from 47th to 42nd Sts. and then from 35th to 32nd Sts. As anyone who has every walked around Times Square or Herald Square knows, the people need this space.

For more on this plan, check out Streetsblog’s coverage here and here; take a peak at the NYCDOT documents about the closures; and listen to Janette Sadik-Kahn, DOT commissioner, discuss it Brian Lehrer.

Hopefully, this will be a successful pilot program with many more pedestrian-friendly and livable streets plans to come. Now on with the service advisories.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 2, uptown 1 & 2 trains skip 79th and 86th Street due to tunnel lighting rehabilitation.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 2, 2 trains run in two sections (due to switch renewal at Nostrand Avenue):

  • Between 241st Street and Franklin Avenue and
  • Between Franklin and Flatbush Avenues


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 2, free shuttle buses replace 3 trains between Franklin and Utica Avenues due to switch renewal at Nostrand Avenue.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 2, shuttle trains run between Utica and New Lots Avenues due to switch renewal at Nostrand Avenue.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 2, there is no 4 train service between Atlantic and Utica Avenues. Free shuttle buses replace 4 trains between Franklin and Utica Avenues. These changes are due to switch renewal at Nostrand Avenue. The 2 & 3 and free shuttle buses provide alternative service.


From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, March 2, Bronx-bound 4 trains run express from 167th Street to Mosholu Parkway due to switch replacement north of Burnside Avenue.


From 12:01 a.m. to 7 a.m. Saturday, February 28; from 12:01 a.m. to 8 a.m. Sunday, March 1; and from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Monday, March 2, Brooklyn-bound 4 trains run local from Grand Central-42nd Street to Brooklyn Bridge due to rail repairs.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 2, there is no 5 train service between Bowling Green and East 180th Street due to track panel installation north of Gun Hill Road and cable tray installation north of East 180th Street. Customers may take the 2 or 4 instead. 5 shuttle trains run every 30 minutes between Dyre Avenue and East 180th Street.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 2, there are no 7 trains between Times Square-42nd Street and Queensboro Plaza due to track panel installation on the Davis Street curve and security conduit and cable installation in the under river tube. The NQ and free shuttle buses provide alternate service. The 42nd Street Shuttle S operates overnight to replace 7 service between Times Square-42nd Street and Grand Central-42nd Street.


From 12:01 a.m. to 8 a.m. Saturday, February 28; from 8 p.m. Saturday, February 28 to 8 a.m. Sunday, March 1; and from 8 p.m. Sunday, March 1 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 2, Queens-bound A trains run local from 168th Street to Euclid Avenue due to Chambers Street Signal Modernization.


From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, February 28 and Sunday, March 1, Queens-bound A trains run local from 168th to 59th Streets, then express to Canal Street, then local to Euclid Avenue. These changes are due to rail work.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 2, Manhattan-bound A trains run local from Euclid Avenue to Jay Street, then on the F line to West 4th Street, then local A service to 168th Street. These changes are due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 2, there are no C trains running due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization. Customers should take the A instead and note that Manhattan-bound A trains run on the F line from Jay Street to West 4th Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 2, uptown D trains run local from 59th Street to 145th Street due to switch renewal south of 81st Street.


From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday, February 28 and Sunday, March 1, downtown E trains skip 23rd and Spring Streets due to rail work.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 2, Manhattan-bound F trains skip Ft. Hamilton Parkway, 15th Street-Prospect Park and 4th Avenue due to rehabilitation of the Caton Avenue substation.


From 8:30 p.m. Friday, February 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 2 (until further notice), there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers should take the E or R instead.


From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, February 28, Queens-bound J trains skip Hewes Street, Lorimer Street and Flushing Avenue due to rail work.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 2, Manhattan-bound N & R trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge from DeKalb Avenue to Canal Street due to subway tunnel rehabilitation.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 2, N trains run local between Pacific Street (Brooklyn) and 59th Street-4th Avenue (Brooklyn) due to work on the Broadway-Lafayette/Bleecker Street transfer connection.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 2, Q trains run local between Canal Street and 57th Street and are extended to the Ditmars Boulevard N station due to track panel installation on the Davis Street curve and security conduit and cable installation in the under river tube.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 2, Manhattan-bound Q trains run express from Kings Highway to Prospect Park and bypass Newkirk Avenue due to station rehabilitation.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, February 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 2, midnight R shuttle trains terminate at 59th Street-4th Avenue due to work on the Broadway-Lafayette/Bleecker Street transfer connection.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, February 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 2, the 42nd Street Shuttle S operates overnight to replace 7 service between Times Square-42nd Street and Grand Central-42nd Street due to track panel installation on the Davis Street curve and security conduit and cable installation in the under river tube.

Categories : Service Advisories
Comments (3)
  • SAS in line for $280M Federal grant · I nearly missed this teeny story in The Post this week: Sen. Chuck Schumer has guaranteed $490 million in federal money for the city’s ongoing transportation projects. The East Side Access project will get $210 million, and the Second Ave. Subway, so near and dear to my heart, will receive $280 million. That’s enough for about, oh, one block of construction. · (4)

It’s fairly ironic that Sheldon Silver, New York State Assembly speaker, is earning kudos for his brave step in embracing East River Bridge tolls to save the MTA. A little less than a year ago, transit-watchers were railing on Silver for quashing congestion pricing in committee, and had Silver seen Mayor Bloomberg’s plan through the Assembly, the MTA wouldn’t be in nearly as dire financial straits as it is today.

But for now, we’ll have to let congestion pricing bygones be bygones. The MTA needs this bailout, and based on the misguided opposition of State Senate Democrats and illogical rumblings from Marty Markowitz, Silver and his proponents have an uphill battle.

To that end, Silver seems to have at least two of the major city newspapers lining up behind him. The Daily News begrudgingly embraced Silver’s plan while noting the absurdities in protecting drivers:

On the lower East Side, represented by Speaker Sheldon Silver, 82% of households do not own cars and more than half the commuters take mass transit to work. Across the river, in Williamsburg and Bushwick, represented by Assemblyman Vito Lopez, three-quarters of the households don’t own cars and less than 2% drive to work.

Even so, it took until last night for Silver to float a sketch of a plan for scaled-down tolls, and Lopez has trashed tolls. You’d expect better from pols with districts that would be hammered by service cuts. Silver’s constituents would lose the W line and get fewer trains on 10 other lines. Three bus routes (M6, B39 and X25) would be dumped, and others would have weekend and night service service chopped. Lopez’s district would lose the Z train and get fewer runs on the M, J and L. The B39 bus would vanish, and weekend and night service on other lines would be wiped out.

The transportation patterns are similar in legislative districts across the city. Lawmakers must come to their senses and protect the well-being of the bulk of their constituents with properly funded mass transit. To reject tolls without a smart alternative would betray the greater good.

Today, The Times opines in favor of the Silver plan as well. Like the News, the Gray Lady’s editorial board is less than thrilled with the watered down version of the plan but sees it as the MTA’s last hope. While recognizing that Silver is “probably the only one in Albany with enough clout to sell such a compromise,” the paper calls his efforts to deliver this toll “mak[ing] amends” for killing congestion pricing.

At this point, it doesn’t matter how it gets done or who does it. It doesn’t matter what Silver did ten months ago or how he’ll feel ten months from now. If he is the one with the political will to save the MTA, we’ll have to hope for the best. MTA officials know that Silver’s plan won’t go far enough, but that’s a bridge we’ll have to cross after we toll it.

Categories : Ravitch Commission
Comments (1)
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