• Where have you gone, Dale Hemmerdinger? · On Oct. 5, Jay Walder assumed his role as the current CEO and Chairman of the MTA, and upon his arrival, outgoing chair Dale Hemmerdinger returned to his real estate roots. Hemmerdinger, a major player in New York State’s Democratic party, was not out of a public role for long though. As The Observer reported a few weeks ago, Hemmerdinger was nominated to the Port Authority board in mid-October by Gov. David Paterson. Even more so than the MTA Board, the Port Authority’s board has become a dumping ground for what reporter Eliot Brown termed “many a campaign donor, budding politicians in search of a placeholder, and onetime political heavyweights who have passed their peaks.” Political patronage lives on in New York. · (4)

Please Stop Cutting Your Nails On The Subway by flickr user Dan Dickinson

Picture a straphanger riding a half-empty subway when a clicking sound, familiar but out of place on a train, starts filling the train car. Furtively, the unsuspecting straphanger glances around at his fellow riders searching out the source of the sound when the wandering eyes alight on a man — and generally it is indeed a man — working on his nails. Clip. Pause. Examine. Clip. Pause. Examine. The excess part of the nail floats gently down to the subway floor.

Once the public groomer gets off the train, maybe our straphanger ambles past this makeshift home bathroom on the way out at his destination and stops to examine the floor of the subway. Strewn about, of course, are fingernail clippings, left for all time — or at least until the train reaches its terminal — to serve as a warning to those that might sit in that seat. A person with no manners or concept of public spaces sat here, they scream.

Nail clipping is but one form of grooming New Yorkers seem to save for the public subway. Some women use the trains as space for their makeup; others floss; some dress. More respecting subway riders, though, have had enough of it.

On Friday, Lion Calandra, identified as a freelance copy editor, added to City Room’s Complaint Box. Her piece was a rant against public grooming, and it ties in nicely with the series on underground ethics I’ve written over the last few months. She asks,” When did grooming become a spectator sport?”

These days, if someone seated near me on my morning ride is putting on makeup, someone else is clipping his fingernails (and, on one odd occasion this summer, a toenail). Or they’re plucking eyebrows, tying ties, squeezing pimples, even spraying perfume. There are those who just have to bathe themselves in lotion. Others are brushing their hair. It’s the full monty, commuter style…

We’re all strapped for time. If a person cannot manage to keep personal business personal, then it’s time for a major life overhaul. Yes, it’s hard to juggle life’s obligations. But, for the record, I don’t want to see others plucking their eyebrows or flossing their teeth. I hate to see myself doing it. I also don’t want to be in the cloud of cologne wafting through the air by the mad spritzer sitting 20 feet from me. It irks my allergies. It takes only a few extra minutes before bedtime or in the morning to tend to personal hygiene, which becomes much less hygienic when it’s done on the subway seat where some vagrant just spent the night.

Calandra makes her rant out to be about her, but it’s really about all of us. To understand that, we should set some ground rules. Some public appearance prepping is acceptable on the subway. I don’t mind if someone rushed for time has to apply some mascara or lipstick on the train. I don’t care — and in fact have done so myself — when someone has to take a second to knot a tie. These actions are fairly self-contained and don’t involve leaving anything on the ground or bothering other passengers.

But the lines should be drawn at anything that falls on the ground, makes a mess or is generally an activity suited for a bathroom sink. I don’t cut my nails while sitting over my living room couch; I wouldn’t even think about doing it on the subway. No one should, and the same can be said about removing nail polish, plucking eyebrows or flossing.

How then can straphangers go about enforcing social norms on the subway? Calandra was told to “mind your own business” when she politely asked a rider flossing to “do that at home.” The first step is to assess the person flossing. If he or she looks unhinged or, you know, bigger than you, probably don’t pick that fight. Second, being sweet-as-sugar polite is the way to go: “Excuse me please, but would you mind not cutting your nails here? It’s unsanitary and disrespectful to other riders.” Some will react badly; some may think twice about what they’re doing.

That decision to ask though is one up to all of us. If no one takes that first step, if no one notices the pigish behavior and makes a scene out of it, it will continue. Calandra blames YouTube for publicizing private moments; I blame people too oblivious to think about where they are and the straphangers who are unwilling to ask them to stop.

Comments (20)
  • NYC cabbies crave credit cards · Because I got my start as a transportation policy junkie while analyzing the hybridization of New York’s taxi fleet back in college, I have a soft spot for news about the taxi industry. Earlier this week, The Times reported on cabbies’ views on credit cards two years after the city began requiring yellow cabs to accept plastic. Although the drivers at first complained about taking them, they are now unsurprisingly awfully accepting of the cards. Why? Because income is up. Since the automated payment system offers up more generous tips than most people give when paying by cash and because it’s now easier to hop into a cab when someone is cashless, drivers are reaping more money due to the advent of cabs that take credit cards. And to think, all of that complaining two years ago and dire warnings over less revenue was for naught. · (3)
  • Behind-the-wheel texting as a non-fireable offense · In the State of New York, it is illegal to use a handheld phone while driving. Since the start of this month, it has also been illegal to text while behind the wheel. Luckily for one New York City Transit bus driver, he got caught texting while driving before the Nov. 1 ban went into effect. So that means this bus driver gets to keep his job, right? Well, what if I told you he subsequently hit and killed a pedestrian crossing the street? What if I told you this bus drivers had been suspended for texting but was not fired despite Transit’s wishes? Rather, the arbitrator in this labor dispute decided to send the driver to what the Daily News called “driver safety and customer service training courses.”

    Today, in the wake of this tragedy, the Daily News editorial staff wonders why Transit does not have the power to fire a driver caught on the phone. It is a very good question. According to the editorial, 108 drivers were “disciplined for using phones.” Already this year, due to increased enforcement efforts, that number is up to 170, and the News urges a sensible brightline policy: “More enforcement won’t amount to anything until a zero-tolerance standard is set: If you use a cell or text while in command of a bus, you will never drive for the TA again.” Sounds about right to me. · (21)

When the Straphangers Campaign released their latest takedown of the MTA’s bus system last week, something about it bothered me. While the Campaign doled out its usual Pokey and Schleppie awards for, respectively, the slowest and least reliable bus routes, they added a Trekkie, highlighting the MTA’s longest bus routes.

On the surface, the purpose of the Trekkie seemed to be to highlight the inanities of long bus routes. The M4 won the award for a rather circuitous route that runs from Penn Station up Madison Ave. to Fort Tryon in Northern Manhattan. The route is slightly more than 11 miles, and on-time end-to-end trip would take an hour and 50 minutes — or 23 minutes longer than Amtrak’s Northeast Regional service from Penn Station to Philadelphia.

Two items with similar themes that I read over the weekend made me realize the problem with this new award: It doesn’t highlight an understanding of local bus service. First, Andrew left a comment on my original post over the weekend. “I don’t see the point of the Trekkie,” he said. “Nobody rides a long local bus route like the M4 from start to finish. If you want to go from Penn Station to Fort Tryon, take the A train.”

Then, in a Brooklyn Eagle piece in which he tries to verify the Straphangers’ findings, Harold Egeln offers up a critique of the Straphangers’ survey. Although he focuses on the B63, winner of Brooklyn’s borough-specific Pokey Award, his observation is just as valid for the Trekkie:

Slow, yes. But the fact is that the bus serves an economically vibrant route brimming with shops, restaurants, schools and businesses, and directly serves Business Improvement Districts in Bay Ridge, Park Slope, Sunset Park and the proposed Atlantic Avenue BID area.>

That hyperlocal nature of the bus route is what makes the system effective. That ride along the B63 covers approximately 7.3 miles and does so at an average speed of 4.9 miles per hour. By any standard, that is a slow ride, but the point of the bus isn’t to provide end-to-end transportation. For that, a non-physically disabled rider would simply take the R from 95th St. to Atlantic Ave./Pacific St.

Rather, the bus is designed to provide easy access across various commercial strips, BIDs and residential neighborhoods. A properly designed and routed bus system will allow residents from nearby residential areas fast and reliable service to business areas that are just too far to walk. A good bus system will complement a subway system by providing service to those in-between areas. For someone at 60th and Fifth Ave. who wants to go to the Guggenheim, It doesn’t make sense to walk all the way over to Lexington Ave. to take the subway, but it does make sense to wait for that Trekkie M4 bus for a 28-block ride.

New York City’s bus system runs into problems when the bus is viewed not as a complement to the subway but as a replacement. It runs into problems along busy corridors — Fordham Road, 34th St., 2nd Ave. and 1st Ave. all come to mind — across which there is no subway service. Here, where buses are subject to the whims of surface traffic and the subway is just too far away or not an option at all, buses drag. No pre-boarding fare payment options create long load times. Non-preferential signal treatment and no dedicated bus lanes or adequate lane enforcement leaves buses stuck in traffic.

In the end, the Trekkie is a funny idea from the Straphangers Campaign, but it doesn’t work. It highlights the absurdity of long bus rides while ignoring the purpose of long bus routes. To enhance public transit, we need those long local routes. To improve the buses, though, we need a better Bus Rapid Transit plan.

Categories : Buses
Comments (24)
  • In resignation letter, Roberts calls for more funding · Last Wednesday, New York City Transit President Howard Roberts announced his resignation effective the end of November. Tom Prendergast will assume the role, and according to Roberts’ resignation letter, he inherits a system in dire need of both physical maintenance and the proper funding for the job. amNew York got its hands on the letter, and the excerpt the free daily printed is a predictable but important indictment of New York’s commitment to transit. The subway’s “greatness,” Roberts said, “certainly does not lie in the condition of its physical assets,” Roberts wrote. “Only a fraction of the funds needed to bring the system up to a good state of repair … have materialized.” Prendergast certainly has his work cut out for him. · (0)

GoogleTransitSubway Generally, I have enjoyed the Google Maps integration of the MTA’s subway and bus network. Since Sept. 2008, Google Maps users have been able to generate intra-city subway directions through Google Transit and the main Google Maps interface. As Google recently expanded some of its transit offerings, it’s worth a minute to explore some of the problems with this partnership.

First, the news: Google has added a transit layer to its map of New York City. As On NY Turf and Gypsy Maps have already done through the Google Maps API, so now has Google. As the search engine giant’s Lat Long blog reports, “To turn it on, just point Google Maps to somewhere in New York, click on the ‘More…’ button at top-right, and select ‘Transit.'”

The map itself is interactive. By clicking on a station name, a potential traveler will see the lines that serve that station highlighted while a pop-out bubble displays the station information. Furthermore, Friday saw the transit layer make its debut on the Google Maps mobile application as well. For those with an internet connection, the subway map on Google is now far more accessible than anything available on the MTA’s website.

There is, however, a problem with Google Transit. It doesn’t stay up-to-date with MTA changes. For example, the new South Ferry station that connects the 1 with the BMT stop at Whitehall St. isn’t reflected on Google Transit. That station opened in February. The G train extension, in place since July and on HopStop since then, hasn’t been entered into the Google Maps’ iteration of the New York City subway system either. Bus route changes aren’t incorporated into the map either.

Overall, Google Transit’s service should be a boon for New Yorkers. Other cities — D.C comes to mind — are clamoring for it. But in reality, the service is only as good as those supporting it. If Google can’t find the time to update its map when the MTA changes its service patterns and opens new transfers or stations, it won’t benefit the rest of us who turn to it for directions. It is technology gone almost right, and for once, this one is on Google and not the MTA.

Update 2:28 p.m.: As a few people have noted in the comments (here and here), Google Transit relies on data feeds from transit authorities to maintain up-to-date maps and scheduling info. One commenter notes that the MTA is not providing licensed developers with timely updates and may not be doing so with Google either. I’ve posted the question to Transit and will post what, if anything, I can find out. Still, enough licensees have maps more current than Google’s pre-February/new South Ferry iteration.

Categories : MTA Technology
Comments (12)

Beyond the sounds of the wheels clanking over tracks, the wind rushing past speedy subway cars and the endless cacophony of feedback loops and unnecessary public address announcements, our subway system is filled with the music of buskers and musicians. For decades, musicians have roamed subway cars and camped out on subway platforms and station mezzanines to serenade harried passengers on their ways to, well, wherever.

On my rides, I sometimes wait for the train to the tunes of a folk guitarist or a violinist. At W. 4th St., I’ll often catch a glimpse of the Xylopholks, pictured above, as they play their odd mix of bass+vibes while bedecked in alien or muppet costumes. The older man playing Nino Rota’s score from The Godfather on his accordion is always a welcome addition to a subway wait while the couple banging out rhythms on their plastic jugs are entertaining if deafening. We all have been subjected to more mariachi bands than we can count, and Asian strummers abound.

These, though, are the buskers. They are not a part of the MTA’s officially sanctioned Music Under New York program. Those are the folks with special banners who are approved to perform in designated areas. Despite this sanction, as City Lore, a subway musicians advocacy group, points out, although Transit can limit musical performances underground, it cannot ban them. Buskers are allowed to compete for ears — and donations — with the MUNY musicians.

In amNew York today, Heather Haddon reports on a conflict between cops and independent musicians. According to City Lore officials, cops have taken to harassing and ticketed musicians who are allowed to be performing. Some artists believe that the cops are, in the words of Haddon, “targeting musicians who have not been officially sanctioned by the MTA under its Music Under New York program.”

Haddon reports:

Veteran transit musicians say police harassment has grown to disturbing levels in recent months, leading some to fear that independent performers could be driven out of the subways. “It’s a game to drive you crazy,” said Mark “Shakerleg” Nicosia, 34, a subway drummer who has been ticketed repeatedly this year…

A NYPD spokesman said they are not “going after” musicians, and tickets are issued only when individuals are causing excessive noise, upsetting crowds and obstructing pedestrians.

According to several musicians, the NYPD issued a memo last year that instructed officers to ticket any artist not affiliated with Music Under New York, which provides designated subways spots for 100 participating artists. “It’s become very obvious they are trying to kick us out. And there’s no arguing,” said Theo Eastwind, 34, a subway musician for 15 years, who said he was shown the memo.

Per Haddon, the police say no memo exists, and she could not reach the MTA for comment on the story. Still, musicians say that performers in Times Square and Union Square are particularly vulnerable to the tickets, and a City Lore survey found “widespread harassment.” Generally, judges dismiss tickets for “insufficient evidence,” reports Haddon.

As City Lore and musicians lament the decline of charm, character and personality, I am inclined to agree. We all have moments when subway musicians are annoying. No one wants to hear that tone-deaf beggar butcher “I Can’t Help Myself” again, and the mariachi bands are, well, mariachi bands. But the musicians do indeed lend some personality to the drab underground trips that mark our days. I’m happy to listen to a tune while I wait for a train, and if I don’t like it, the other end of the platform beckons. For those who aren’t breaking laws or violating rules, it should just be that simple.

Photo of the Xylopholks by flickr user rachelkramerbusseldotcom.

Comments (27)

Yet again, the media is having a field day with the weekend service advisories. Although I have been posting them for the last three years, the rest of New York seems to be shocked. The Post calls this weekend a disaster.

To that end, the MTA has issued a press release previewing November. Although the posters will go up in stations as scheduled on Thursday, this month’s service advisories are now online. Straphangers can find one less thing to complain about concerning the MTA.

With that said, on to the service advisories. Don’t forget to check out our map from Subway Weekender that shows just how the subway changes impact travel. Download this week’s map right here or by clicking on the image below. Remember: These weekend service changes come to me from the MTA and are subject to change without notice. Check signs in your local station and listen for on-board announcements for up-to-the minute changes. The specific alerts follow.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 9, uptown 1/2 trains skip 50th, 59th, 66th, 79th and 86th Streets due to flood mitigation work at 72nd Street, station rehabs at 96th Street and 59th Street-Columbus Circle and tunnel lighting rehabilitation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 9, 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, November 7 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 9, 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 6:30 a.m. to midnight Saturday, November 7 and Sunday, November 8, there are no 5 trains between Bowling Green and Grand Central-42nd Street due to Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer construction. Customers should take the 4 instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 9, uptown 6 trains run express from Brooklyn Bridge to 14th Street due to Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer construction.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 10 p.m. Sunday, November 8, Manhattan-bound 7 trains skip 69th, 52nd, 46th, 40th, and 33rd Streets due to track panel installation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 9, downtown A trains run local from 168th Street to Jay Street due to the Jay Street station rehabilitation and the construction of an underground connector to Lawrence Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 9, uptown A trains run local from Jay Street to 125th Street, then express to 168th Street due to the Jay Street station rehabilitation and the construction of an underground connector to Lawrence Street.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, November 6 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 9, free shuttle buses replace A trains between Jay Street and Utica Avenue due to the Jay Street station rehabilitation and the construction of an underground connector to Lawrence Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 9, A trains run local between Utica Avenue and Euclid Avenue due to the Jay Street station rehabilitation and the construction of an underground connector to Lawrence Street.

At all times until January 18, 2010, Far Rockaway-bound A platforms at Beach 67th, Beach 44th, and Beach 25th Streets are closed for rehabilitation.

At all times until December 21, 2009, Manhattan-bound AS platforms at Beach 90th and Beach 105th Streets are closed for rehabilitation. Free shuttle buses replace S trains between Rockaway Park and Beach 60th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 9, there is no C train service due to the Jay Street station rehabilitation and the construction of an underground connector to Lawrence Street. The A train and free shuttle buses provide alternate service.

From 5 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 9, Bronx-bound D trains run local from 125th Street to 145th Street due to a track chip out.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, November 6 to 12 noon Saturday, November 7, free shuttle buses replace D trains between Norwood 205th Street and Bedford Park Blvd. due to conduit and fiber optic cable installation between Bedford Park Boulevard and Norwood 205th Street.

From 5 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 10 p.m. Sunday, November 8, Manhattan-bound D trains run on the N line from Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue to 36th Street due to track panel installation north of 62nd Street.

From 12:01 a.m. to 12 noon Sunday, November 8, Manhattan-bound E trains run express from Roosevelt Avenue to Queens Plaza due to electrical work along the track.

At all times until Saturday, November 7, 2009, Queens-bound E/G/R trains skip Northern Boulevard due to closure of the northern-side street stairway.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 7 to 12 noon Sunday, November 8, Manhattan-bound F trains run on the E line from Roosevelt Avenue to 5th Avenue-53rd Street; trains resume on the F route at 47th-50th Sts. due to station and rail maintenance.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, November 6 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 9, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square due to replacement of a broken pipe in the track bed. Customers should take the E or R instead.

From 1:15 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, November 7, J trains run in two sections due to track cleaning:

  • Between Jamaica Center and Essex Street and
  • Between Essex Street and Chambers Street

From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, November 7 and Sunday, November 8, Manhattan-bound N trains skip 30th Avenue, Broadway, 36th Avenue and 39th Avenue (in Queens) due to rail replacement.

From 6:30 a.m. to 12 noon, Sunday, November 8, Manhattan-bound R trains run express from Roosevelt Avenue to Queens Plaza due to electrical work along the track.

Categories : Service Advisories
Comments (5)

As Michael Bloomberg campaigned for a third term as mayor, the MTA became his public whipping boy. He wanted to offer free crosstown buses and improvements to subway service in general. His “Plan to Reform Mass Transit” dominated headlines in August and airwaves in September.

Now that Bloomberg has secured his third term, though, he is humming a slightly different tune. The Mayor says he won’t increase city contributions to the MTA and seemed to dodge questions about his mass transit plan. How utterly disappointing and yet oh-so-predictable. Michael Grynbaum of The Times has more:

On Thursday, however, in his first public appearance with Jay H. Walder, the authority’s new chairman, Mr. Bloomberg’s fiery words had been replaced by something less aggressive: a plea for patience. Asked about a much-discussed proposal to make crosstown buses available to riders at no cost — a pledge repeated in bold print on thousands of his campaign mailers and pamphlets — the mayor appeared to retreat from his plan. “We have not talked about that one yet,” he began, noting that new technology, like computerized fare cards that could speed up boarding times, “might be able to accomplish part of that.”

“I thought it was a good idea, although, the real issue there, there’s two things we’re trying to do: one is to make it easier for people to go back and forth, but two is also to stop the delays from getting on and off the buses,” the mayor said. “That’s another one of these things down the road. I think there’s a whole bunch of things that we laid out that we can explore together.”

The mayor then quickly moved on to the next question.

An aide to the mayor said later that it would be impossible for Mr. Bloomberg to announce progress on every initiative so soon after the election. “We still believe in the proposal,” the aide said. “Are we guaranteeing everything is going to happen? No, we don’t control the M.T.A.”

Indeed, Mr. Bloomberg controls only 4 of 14 votes on the authority’s board. And he said on Thursday that he did not plan to increase the city’s contribution to the authority’s operating budget.

As Grynbaum notes, the City and the MTA announce not a partnership but the opportunity to explore a potential partnership. The Mayor and Walder announced a plan to study 311 integration with the MTA. The press release hedged its bets, though, in stating that the two parties “agreed to work together to see if the 311 could be the right fit for the MTA’s customer service needs.”

“We pledged to build a stronger relationship between the City and the MTA, so we can build the modern and efficient mass transit system New York City deserves,” Bloomberg said. “Today, we take the first step by agreeing to work toward utilizing the power of 311 to make life a little easier for the 8.5 million people who take mass transit every day in the city. If we can have one number to call to receive subway and bus information, report problems or get directions, it would bring the same great service that New Yorkers have gotten from City government since 2003 to the MTA.”

Agreeing to explore whether or not two sides can work together is a far cry from delivering actual results. As Bloomberg heads into a third term with a whole slew of campaign promises in hand, he should deliver. He owes it to us, and he owes it to the MTA.

Categories : MTA Politics
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