Seven months ago, bus driver Edwin Thomas was murdered when he refused to give a free transfer to someone who had paid his fare. At the time, the MTA promised increased safety measures for very vulnerable bus drivers. Yet, as Heather Haddon detailed in amNew York earlier this week, those measures have yet to arrive.

Writes Haddon:

Nearly 180 bus drivers were injured between July 2008 and June 2009, almost double the previous year, according to the union’s data. But figuring out a fix hasn’t proved so easy, leaving drivers at risk and causing delays for passengers when an incident forces a bus out of service.

NYC Transit experimented with partitions on buses running in Brooklyn earlier this year, but drivers said they caused glare from sun reflecting into the mirrors, Watt said.

Transit hopes to move ahead with the partitions but has not determined a final design, said spokesman Charles Seaton. Officials did not provide a timetable.

Bus systems in Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C. have already installed plastic partitions to protect drivers where they sit and have received mixed reviews. Los Angeles bus officials said drivers found the partitions confining and hot. “We should expect some level of protection,” said Israel Rivera, a Bronx bus driver and union activist. “We come to work and wait to be assaulted again.”

And so the drivers wait. They wait for something bad to happen, and they wait for the proper protective measures. What will come first?

Categories : Buses
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As this week of bad news for the Second Ave. Subway draws to a close, we return again to a question of transit on the Upper East Side? As they do every time another SAS delay is announced, Streetsblog advocated for a BRT solution to the Second Ave. problem. But is that a realistic replacement for a full Second Ave. subway?

In rehashing their BRT argument for Second Ave. — one they explored in February — Ben Fried and Streetsblog made a rather bold claim. “On the east side of Manhattan,” Fried writes, “the right BRT configuration would carry almost as many commuters as the Second Avenue Subway, for a fraction of the cost.”

The Overhead Wire jumped all over this one. Pantograph Trolleypole, the pseudonymous author of TOW, did not believe this Streetsblog claim to be an accurate statement. While calling the BRT option “inferior transit,” the Wire levels this charge:

For a fraction of the cost you get a fraction of the ridership and a fraction of the service. How many buses and how many Union wages would it take to get that level of service? Let’s all imagine how much it would cost operationally to carry ~7 million daily subway riders on buses every day in addition to the 2.3 million people that already ride buses in New York. Let’s see what kind of a city New York would be without the Subway. There is a specific crowding issue that needs to be addressed on the east side and if you amortize that $5 billion over the lifetime of the tunnels it is well worth the investment over centuries of use.

Forgetting the seven million figure, let’s look at some real numbers. According to the Second Ave. Subway environmental impact statement, the MTA estimates that 200,000 riders a day will use just Phase I of the new line. When — or if — the whole line is completed, the MTA believes that 500,000 a day will rely on some part of the Second Ave. Subway. Some of those will be new riders while others will be eschewing the overcrowded Lexington Ave. line for an emptier, more convenient train.

Let’s assume that, for a bus-rapid transit lane on Second Ave., the MTA uses the current high-capacity ride in its fleet. The articulated buses can fit 145 passengers. To meet the demand of just 200,000 passengers, the MTA would have to run around 58 buses per hour for 24 hours. Simply put, that’s impossible. To cover even half of the projected 200,000 for Phase I, the MTA would have to run a bus every two minutes throughout the day. We can’t even consider meeting the 500,000 projected number for a full line.

In the end, bus-rapid transit along Second Ave. probably should be implemented but not as a replacement for a subway. It should be implemented because it will cut down on the space available to cars and eliminate drivers while encouraging mass transit. It will provide an area of the city not too near a subway with a better option than the 4/5/6. But as the numbers show, BRT cannot replace a subway line. It can’t meet the demand, and it can’t do what the MTA wants the Second Ave. Subway to do.

As the city grows and the current subway system reaches capacity, we need to add transit options that allow for this expansion. While far more expensive, a subway can service more people than BRT. That’s what we need along Second Ave.

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While we’ve been busy covering the wall-to-wall news concerning the delayed Second Ave. Subway, another important transit story has cropped up as well. As The Times detailed today, a Long Island native who joined Al Qaeada last year supplied sensitive transit information to the terrorist network.

He also told Brooklyn federal prosecutors and F.B.I. agents about discussions he had with operational planners from Al Qaeda about a plot to blow up a Long Island Rail Road train inside Pennsylvania Station, according to several law enforcement officials.

The information prompted a flurry of security activity over the Thanksgiving holiday as the authorities scrambled to take extra precautions, though it did not appear the planned attack had yet been put into motion.

The slight, dark-haired and pale-skinned Mr. Vinas, who the officials said began formally cooperating with federal authorities about two months later, also admitted assisting Al Qaeda by providing ?expert advice and assistance? that was ?derived from specialized knowledge of the New York transit system and the Long Island Rail Road,? according to the court papers.

Two officials said that Mr. Vinas, who lived in Patchogue until he went to Pakistan, learned about the Long Island Rail Road as a regular rider and shared that information with Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, who had planned to use it in an attack. But neither official would provide specifics, and it appeared that Mr. Vinas?s knowledge of details of the planned attack may have been limited. The officials, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.

In the end, thankfully, nothing happened during the Thanksgiving period, and the FBI says everything is under control. This revelation though returns the spotlight to the oft-ignored issue of the security of our transit infrastructure.

For their part, the MTA, part of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, acknowledged being in ” in constant communication with local and federal authorities as the investigation involving Bryant Neal Vinas developed,” according to a statement released earlier this week. “There was never an imminent threat to the system,” said the agency. “The security of our entire transportation network and the safety of our customers continue to be the MTA’s top priorities.”

No one is sure how Vinas, never an employee of the MTA or its vendors, received his information, and The Times and other news outlets did not reveal the nature or extent of the information revealed. The Daily News claims that Vinas provided information on New York City Transit as well but knew nothing more than any other commuter.

While we bemoan a lack of closed-circuit cameras and the porous nature of the subway system, the threat out there can be very real, and law information officials are working to guard our infrastructure. That, by itself, is far more comforting than random bag searches, constant “important messages from the NYPD” and the ever-ubiquitous “If you see something, say something” campaign.

Categories : Subway Security
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As the Upper East Side comes to grips with news of massive delays for Phase I of the Second Ave. Subway, everyone is feeling the sting. Homeowners and tenants now face the threat of construction for the better part of the next nine years; businesses are trying to cope with the mess; and even the real estate industry — a prime beneficiary of a new subway line — is suffering through some subway-inspired problems.

We start with real estate. Writing for The Real Deal, Sara Polsky explores how the construction delays are impacting the already-slow Upper East Side market. Brokers are concerned that the constant construction and increasing delays present short-term challenges to the area that could easily deter would-be buyers. She writes:

Between now and whenever the subway is completed, said Halstead Property Senior Vice President Rena Goldstein, it could be difficult to interest buyers in Upper East Side properties east of Third Avenue. Goldstein said she chose not to show one Second Avenue apartment in the 70s to buyers searching for a pied-à-terre because she knew they didn’t want to live near construction for the next seven or eight years.

“It’s going to be a lot harder to sell property [on the Upper East Side]… it’s going to be like that for a long time.” The construction will likely mean fewer customers for local businesses, leading some to close, she said — another negative for prospective residents. “When stores start to become empty, then it impacts negatively on the community around it and …on the value of apartments.”

While other real estate agents disagreed with Goldstein and noted that a new subway line would dramatically increase values along avenues that are currently far from transit, these brokers were concerned about the eventual overall fate of the project. Polsky details:

One concern for potential buyers as the project is delayed, [Kathy] Braddock the consultant said, is whether it will be finished at all. If the city’s finances make it impossible to complete the project, a hole in the ground, “no matter what the price [of real estate], would be a deterrent,” she said. And some buyers might expect discounts now because of the construction’s expected impact on the neighborhood.

But once the subway is completed, [Asher ] Alcobi said it will boost prices in the area significantly and could have a wide-ranging impact on city real estate. Wall Street employees might relocate uptown from the Financial District, and subway access to East Harlem could improve development there, Alcobi said. And buyers who previously refused to look east of Third Avenue will broaden their horizons, Halstead’s Goldstein added, noting: “the far East Side will come up in value.”

Right now, though, the uncertainty of the project is leaving more than just real estate values in flux. Business is suffering as well. Tom Topousis and Perry Chairamonte of The Post talked to some of the small business owners along Second Ave. in the 90s, and none of them were too happy with the delays.

Ruffino Lubis of Kim’s Shoe Repair sounded concerned over the future of his business. “We’ve lost 50 percent of our business since this started. My customers can’t park anywhere,” Lubis said. “It’s going to be pretty desperate. I worry that we can’t stay open.”

While it doesn’t really matter that shoe repair customers on the Upper East Side can’t park anywhere, the bigger issue is access. With the avenue a perpetual construction zone, sidewalk access is severely limited, and foot traffic has disappeared. Once the tunnel-boring machines are in and the MTA can cover up the hole, pedestrian traffic and business should pick up. For now, though, these never-ending delays are slowly choking a neighborhood.

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While on Monday the MTA warned that the Second Ave. Subway may not be open until 2017, the Federal Transit Authority is far more pessimistic. In fact, the Feds’ worst-case scenario has Phase I of the new subway line wrapping up in mid-2018 and for a cost of over $5.7 billion, a potential 30 percent increase over the MTA’s current budget projections.

Yesterday morning, the MTA Board’s capital construction committee met to discuss the state of the authority’s current big-ticket items. Foremost on the agenda was the oft-delayed Second Ave. Subway, and the news was not good. In a presentation of a yearlong study focusing on the Second Ave. Subway, the MTA had determined that the project has been mismanaged and under-projected. In a similar study, the FTA believed that the MTA’s adjusted projections could be far too optimistic.

The graph above — click here to enlarge — tell the story. Heather Haddon of amNew York first sent it to me when I e-mailed her about her story. Michael Grynbaum and The Times has made the full eight-page presentation avaliable on Scribd.

The story is simple: The MTA has been unable to meet any of its self-imposed deadlines, and it now faces the prospects of massive cost overruns and a six-year delay in delivering Phase I of the Second Ave. Subway. Original plans called for the entire line to be constructed by 2020. That is but a pipe dream right now.

The FTA numbers are alarming. The MTA is budgeting for an expected cost of $4.451 billion with a high end of $4.775 billion. The FTA believes a low budget estimate to be $4.978 billion with an August 2017 completion date. The federal government’s high end is $5.728 billion — over $1 billion more than the current MTA estimate — with a June 2018 opening date.

Michael Horodniceanu, the president of MTA Capital Construction, grew defensive during Wednesday’s meeting. He claimed that the federal government had “made different assumptions,” but as you can see, these high FTA estimates as presented by the MTA were already scrubbed of the potential rolling stock costs. He also claims, as Pete Donohue reported, that “the latest delay is partly because the MTA broke up large construction tasks into smaller projects to foster more competition among contractors and lower authority expenses.”

In addressing the board, Horodniceanu made a few bold promises he probably can’t keep. “Our original schedules were extremely optimistic,” he said, later adding, “We will deliver. You can hold me accountable to our numbers.”

In June, Horodniceanu made a similar claim with regards to the Fulton St. Hub. It will, he said of that long-delayed project, be open by 2014, seven years beyond its original schedule but in line with the MTA’s estimates in 2009.

Meanwhile, the vultures are circling. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer wants an investigation into the delays. “I call on the MTA Inspector General to open an immediate investigation of what has caused this latest delay,” he said in a statement. “The people and businesses of our city deserve not an endless list of excuses and rising costs, but an actual subway that will reduce crowding on the Lexington Avenue lines and provide service to East Side residents who have not had trains for decades.”

As time moves on, though, Stringer’s words will be forgotten. The Second Ave. Subway, funded and under construction for not the first time in its tortured history, marches further into the future. As we turn calendar pages, these completion dates come not closer but ever more distant. When will this subway arrive? When will someone take responsibility for this monumental disaster, a boondoggle on the Upper East Side?

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  • FTA: MTA timeline, budget for SAS wildly optimistic · According to a report presented at the MTA Board’s capital construction committee meeting this morning, the Federal Transit Administrative believes the MTA’s timeline and budget for the Second Ave. Subway to be overly aggressive. I’ll have a full report on this development later tonight, but the FTA believes that Phase I of the new subway line won’t be completed until 2018 and could cost nearly $6 billion. The MTA is sticking with its estimated completion date of late 2016 or mid 2017 and a budget under $5 billion. · (5)

With little fanfare last week, the State Senate and New York Assembly passed a bill to reform the way New York State Authorities — including the MTA — do business. Ostensibly, the purpose of the bill is to create an independent budget office with a variety of powers over authorities, but I have to wonder if it’s the right type of oversight for the MTA.

Currently, the bill is sitting on Gov. David Paterson’s desk, awaiting action, and as The Times’ Danny Hakim reports, his approval is no sure thing. Governors, after all, can exercise significant power over state authorities, and the state’s top executives have been loathe to hand over any of their power to the (dysfunctional) legislative branch.

For now, though, the bill’s fate is neither here nor there. Let’s instead take a look at how this act — full text available here — will impact the MTA. Hakim writes:

The legislation would create an independent budget office with an array of powers over authorities, including the ability to issue subpoenas as part of investigations. Authorities would also be required to turn over financial records to the budget office.

Contracts awarded by authorities over $1 million would have to be reviewed by the state comptroller. New limits would be placed on the ability of authorities to issue debt, a major area of concern among financial watchdogs.

The legislation makes clear that those who serve on authority boards have a fiduciary responsibility to the authority and its mission. Spelling out this duty holds directors to a defined standard of conduct and is aimed at curbing favoritism and corruption.

The Straphangers Campaign issued a press release late last week praising the Senate and Assembly for passing this measure. The PIRG also explained some of the logistics:

The bill (Assembly bill 2209 and Senate bill 1537) would create a new Public Authorities Budget Office directly responsible for monitoring and reporting on the State’s public authorities. A similar agency in New York City (the Independent Budget Office) has helped hold City government accountable. In many cases, its agreement with the City has enhanced the City’s credibility. The director of the State Public Authorities Budget Office would be appointed by the Governor and served for a fixed four-year term.

If anything, this act sounds as though it would simply create another layer of red tape for the MTA and similar public authorities. I don’t have enough knowledge of the city’s IBO and its impact to assess how a similar body on a state level would function, but I believe the MTA needs a greater level of oversight than that offered up by this act.

As I mentioned earlier today, the MTA needs to be held accountable for its failures. That public undertaking needs to extend far beyond a rubber stamp for high contracts and a symbolic slap on the wrist by yet another state organization. How that potential MTA oversight board will look is frankly outside the scope of my expertise, but this state Public Authorities Budget Office doesn’t sound as though it will do the job.

Categories : MTA Politics
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  • Under Bloomberg’s thumb, Senate GOP kills Second Ave. tax abatement · As the Second Ave. Subway construction threatens to drag on for another eight years, business along the torn-up avenue are facing hard times. Construction zones limit access to the sidewalks, and foot traffic has all but dried up. In an effort to ease the financial burdens on these business owners, Assembly Member Micah Kellner sponsored a bill to create a property tax abatement for those inside the MTA-defined construction zone. It was a generally harmless piece of legislation that should have been allowed to pass.

    But Mayor Bloomberg had other plans. Taking advantage of the turmoil in the State Senate brought on by the four Senate hold outs, Bloomberg asked the State Republicans to quash this bill, and the GOP, beholden to Bloomberg’s support and money, obliged. As Republicans threatened to vote it down, the bill was yanked from the legislative agenda last week, put on the backburner for a day when the Democrats’ 32-member majority is in place.

    Dan Rivoli of Our Town, an Upper East Side community paper, reports on the fallout from the bill’s failure. Kellner and the Upper East Side business owners are angry at the Mayor. Meanwhile, the State GOP and Bloomberg claim they still support businesses impacted by the construction but claim the city cannot afford tax abatements for everyone and want to be able to control the zone of impact. What a mess. · (4)

Four years ago in 2005, then-MTA Chair Peter Kalikow promised a Second Ave. Subway — or at least part of one — by 2012. Right away, that target date seemed optimistic, and as time wore on, it became clear that the new subway extension wouldn’t become a reality until 2015 at the earliest.

As the last four years have gone by, this Phase I completion date has stretched on and on. The tunnel-boring machines have yet to arrive, and the dates just kept receding further into the distant. Early 2015, late 2015, early 2016, late 2016.

When the news broke yesterday afternoon that the Second Ave. Subway could be delayed until 2017, the city gave it a collective shrug. Media members and transit advocates seemed to express their fair share of outrage, but even Gene Russianoff, the supposed go-to guy for all things transit, excused the MTA. “It will not come as shock to the American people that the Second Ave. subway is behind schedule,” Russianoff said. “It’s a big complicated project. I think part of this is bowing to the economic realities of what money is available and when.”

Except Russianoff’s statement doesn’t jibe with reality. As The Post reported, these constant delays are the result of an overly ambitious original schedule. Tom Namako reported that “installing reinforcement walls along the Second Avenue line was taking twice as long as expected, and a contractor on the East Side Access project was defaulted for not performing the work as promised.”

Of those who went on the record yesterday, only Bill Henderson of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA really had anything blunt to say. “Time is money,” he said to The Post “Just stretching the project out, you have construction supervision you pay for and construction inspection. There’s costs to all of that.”

What we don’t hear are mea culpas, explanations and apologies. We get our news delivered to us based upon reports that Daily News and Post reporters have gotten through sources. We don’t hear anyone at the MTA standing up and admitting that they were overly-ambitious half a decade ago. We don’t hear anyone at the MTA explaining how, in five years, other nations built entire subway lines when we can’t even build a 30-block subway extension. We don’t hear promises for reform or accountability, and it’s time we did.

Last month, in taking about the Fulton St. Hub, another long-delayed MTA construction boondoggle, Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu promised a 2014 delivery date for the project. Considering that the hub was supposed to be done two years ago from today, his promise — “What I present today, I stand by. I expect you to hold me accountable to it.” — hardly seems headline-worthy. And yet because someone from the MTA had the audacity to take responsibility, it was.

Today, we deserve another session with Horodniceanu. We need to hear Jay Walder promise a thorough investigation into the causes of this delay, and we need to hear him threaten to clean house if the MTA can’t complete projects on time — or at least more on time than five years too late. A new era of accountability has to begin before politicians and the straphanging New Yorkers begin to trust the MTA. The Second Ave. Subway, a metaphor for all things wrong with New York City, will continue to serve as a stark reminder of the obstacles facing transit in the city.

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120px-NYCS-bull-trans-T.svg The MTA started running a series of SubTalk ads last October designed to promote the Second Ave. Subway. “Starting in 2015,” these ads read, “the new Second Avenue Subway will help relieve overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue lines. Overdue, but excellent news.”

That was a very bold statement to put onto paper, as as we learned in April, the MTA wasn’t going to be able to fulfill that promise. A little less than three months ago, the Daily News reported on an internal preliminary MTA study proclaiming a delayed 2016 opening for the Second Ave. Subway. Today, the news gets a little worse, as the preliminary study turns finals and concludes that the new subway line may not be ready until the middle of 2017. It will also cost approximately $100 million more than last expected.

Pete Donohue of the Daily News has more on this dismaying, but not unexpected, turn of events:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has finished an in-depth analysis of the work schedule, budget and potential hurdles for the long-awaited addition to the system, sources told the News. The conclusion: the official completion date for phase one of the project should be pushed from June 2015 to December 2016, with possible future delays placing the opening in the summer of 2017, the sources said…

The original schedule for the first phase projected a 2012 completion date but MTA officials have pushed the date back several times over the years – most recently in March 2008. Officials then cited higher than expected construction costs, which required design and planning changes. Officials also have said the earlier projections were overly optimistic…

The Second Ave. budget is revised upwards slightly to $4.4 billion from about $4.3 billion.

So since this project began, the completion date for Phase I, featuring just three subway stations and a segment of tunnel just 30 blocks long, has been pushed back by five years. The new line won’t open until nearly a full decade after the groundbreaking.

For now, work will continue on Phase I because the Federal Transit Administration is footing a significant portion of the bill, and the Feds want results. Beyond that, it’s all up in the air. Phase II should be relatively easy because some of the tunnel is already in place from previous failed Second Ave. subway efforts. It will be decades though before the Second Ave. Subway reaches south of 63rd St. The Q will just be making its lonely ride north of 57th St. along Second Ave. by itself with nary a T train in sight.

The Daily News article — which also notes a 17-month delay to Sept. 2016 for the opening of the East Side Access tunnel — features a poll that speaks volumes of public faith in the MTA. “When do you predict the line will ever be completed?” the paper asks. Just one percent of respondents chose “I believe what the MTA tells me, so 2016″ while 28 percent went with “At least 5 years longer than whatever the MTA says.” A whopping 71 percent though chose “when pigs fly” as the completion date for Phase I of the Second Ave. Subway.

Someday, we may get the drive to expand the subways. Someday, politicians and power brokers will realize the importance of additional capacity. For now, as the price creeps up, as the opening day recedes into the distant future, as the marginal returns for this subway diminish, we’ll just have to wait for the Second Ave. Subway, an 80-year promise for New York City, unfulfilled forever.

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