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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A long, long time ago in May of 2008, I wrote about the perennially out-of-service escalators at Union Square. These entombed egress options were to be maintained by the managers of the Zeckendorf Towers but have sat dormant for months.

This year, as Transit wrapped up installation of the green motion-sensitive escalators at Union Square, many of them stopped working, and the authority encountered some difficulty in getting these formerly moving staircases fixed. It has, in other words, been a rough 15 months for the MTA and its escalators.

But no more! According to a report in today’s amNew York, the various broken escalators are heading down the road to repair. Heather Haddon writes:

Zeckendorf Towers, a condo owner, built the escalators at the southeast corner of Union Square station. The stairways have been out for years, a source of constant frustration for less able-bodied riders. “This is criminal,” said Aladin Haidalgo, 59, a Brooklyn rider struggling to walk up the subway stairs with a cane Monday. “It’s a major impediment.”

Zeckendorf tried to sock NYC Transit with the bill for the escalators, but the company recently agreed to pony up for the millions of dollar in repairs, transit spokesman Paul Fleuranges said. Fleuranges could not say when the escalators will be fixed, as it’s up to the owner. A spokesman for Zeckendorf declined comment.

Meanwhile, the MTA has made strides in taking care of its own equipment. After months of outages, all 12 escalators now run at Herald Square, the system’s third busiest station. The MTA recently spent $36 million to overhaul the escalators, but the contractor did not install them properly. The escalators broke a total of 150 times during the first part of this year, with three of the stairways not running at all, according to MTA figures.

Haddon notes the sea change in agency approach. In the past, the MTA has not pursued private developers who have been negligent in maintaining these escalators. With funds tight and more pressure on the authority to be more accountable for the state of the system, Transit has changed its tune. “It’s a philosophical change,” Ellyn Shannon of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA said to amNew York. “Access to the system is now important to them whether they own the escalator or not.”

Meanwhile, these management companies and escalator contractors must fulfill their legal obligations, and the MTA should not allow them to avoid these repairs. It’s been a long time coming, and somewhere, Mitch Hedberg is smiling. After all, as he once said, “An escalator is never temporarily out order; it’s temporarily stairs.”

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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The art installation at the new 96th St. stationhouse has been designed by Antenna Design and Urbahn Architects.

The New York City subway system is not known for its gentle sounds. Rather, the screech of metal on metal, the incessant whir of air conditioners struggling to work, the feedback loops produced by sub-par public address systems and the constant exhortations to “stand clear of the closing doors” provide a dissonant soundtrack to our daily trips underground.

What if, though, our wait for a train wasn’t marked by the rush of an express but rather the chirping of crickets and the sounds of the good old outdoors? Can art in the subways actually serve to calm harried New Yorkers? If the MTA gives its approval to an Arts for Transit plan, the new stationhouse at 96th St. and Broadway set to open late next year will feature a soundtrack of sounds from nature and other elements designed to slow down frantic straphangers.

Michael Grynbaum, new transit writer for The Times, has more on this unique installation:

By the fall of 2010, when construction on the station is expected to be complete, subway riders will enter an arched glass-and-steel structure housing an exhibit that is a striking contrast to the traditional tile mosaics and sculptures that populate the underground rail system.

Nearly 200 stainless-steel flowers will hang 12 feet above the turnstiles, mounted in staggered patterns across seven ceiling beams. The flowers, weighing about three pounds apiece, will be allowed to sway slightly, creating the effect of a shimmering garden levitating above the stairways that lead down to the platforms.

The nature noises, which are pending final review by the authority’s staff, would be focused by directional speakers on small areas of the station, allowing riders to “walk through” the sounds.

The modern garden and its accompanying soundtrack are a tribute to the geographic provenance of the 96th Street station, which was built in 1904 in a neighborhood known as Bloomingdale, after a Dutch word translated as “vale of flowers.” Although the station now sits amid rows of high-rise apartment buildings and noisy intersections, the hilly area was once known for its picturesque natural landscape.

“The installation is a memento of nature past, so that subway riders may be reminded of a time before the area became an urban neighborhood,” the designers, Sigi Moeslinger and Masamichi Udagawa, wrote in an introductory note.

Now, before New Yorkers not used to change in their morning routines get all bent out of shape, the two designers — working under the name Antenna Designs — are veterans of the subway system. They have designed the R142, R142A and R143 cars currently in use on various Transit lines, and for better or worse, they produced the MetroCard Vending Machine designs as well. They promise that this new exhibit will fit in perfectly.

Before the MTA can sign off on it, they have to ensure that the chirping crickets are ADA compliant. The sounds can’t be too loud so as to block out important — and not-so-important — public address announcements in the station, and the visually-impaired must be able to hear the MetroCard Vending Machines’ automated instructions.

Still, with a sound installation in place on the B/D/F/V platform at Herald Square, this latest proposal is probably heading for approval. After all, we could use a few more crickets in New York City anyway. A screaming siren and the screech of brakes aren’t the most comforting of sounds.

Categories : Arts for Transit
Comments (3)
  • Thinking about expanding the naming rights offerings · The MTA’s decision, announced two weeks ago at the agency’s last board meeting, to sell the naming rights at the Atlantic Ave./Pacific St. subway station to the Barclays Center has sparked some interesting debate. Some think the MTA is sacrificing ease of system use while others — including me — have no problem with it as long as the corporate name is attached to the station and does not replace the geographic identifiers. Either way, the transit agency and other cash-strapped government entities throughout the country are thinking about expanding the naming rights program.

    The city’s Department of Parks and Recreation are pondering the move, and the MTA will continue to be aggressive in its pursuit of corporate advertising dollars. After all, the authority has seen ad revenue jump from $30 million in the mid-1990s to $120 million in 2008. Advertising Age explored the thinking behind these deals in a piece last week. Until transit authorities are properly funded, these naming rights deals and other station-wide advertising efforts may just be a necessary fiscal evil. · (5)
  • Paying more and getting more · As we debate ways to fund mass transit to keep fares low and service expansions on the table, Cap’n Transit focuses on another aspect of MTA fares. The Cap’n mused over the weekend on how much more would riders pay for a faster and more comfortable ride. I know plenty of Queens residents who pay for LIRR service or Express Bus options while the subway covers the same ground simply because those are more comfortable and quicker routes home. The MTA, he says, should figure out ways to integrate these various modes of intra-city transit more than they already do. · (6)

As 2009 unfolds, employers in the 12 counties serviced by the MTA — the so-called Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District — will be levied a payroll tax designed to help cover a multi-billion-dollar MTA budget gap. This tax forces everyone to pay for transit. It makes no distinction between those who use the system and those who don’t, between those who drive and intentionally eschew mass transit to the detriment of urban dwellers and those who embrace the subway as a cheap, reasonably efficient and environmentally-friendly way of commuting around New York City.

It doesn’t have to be like that. There are reasonable and feasible, if politically less palatable, solutions to the mass transit funding problem. Furthermore, these proposals help push the goals of a complex and complete mass transit network: They encourage people in transit-rich areas to leave their cars at home and use the social and environmental alternative.

As I took on some of the advocates and reporter who cover mass transit last week, I want to move on to similar topics. One of the problems with the state of mass transit advocacy is that those running the show are not always propagating other solutions. We talk about being anti-fare hike and anti-service cuts, but we also need to be pro-something. Whether that’s pro-payroll tax or pro-congestion fee, it’s important to push these other alternatives while also protesting Albany inaction and the specter of a more expensive subway ride. Over the next few weeks, I’ll explore some alternatives to a payroll tax. Today, we start with on-street parking.

I live in one of the more expensive neighborhoods in Brooklyn. A quick search on Trulia reveals some pretty shocking real estate numbers with homes listed for as much as $1218 per square foot and an average price somewhere around the $700 mark. Meanwhile, to park in this neighborhood costs a grand total of $0 and the need to move the car in question once a week. That makes no sense.

From where I sit right now, I am approximately 0.5 miles away from four subway stops at four different parts of Park Slope that serve, at various times, 10 different subway lines. The Atlantic Ave./Pacific St. station is another ten minutes away. The vast majority of cars, therefore, in this neighborhood are a luxury. Owners have them for weekend getaways and other commutes. Do they have a right to park them for free?

According to Wikipedia’s entry on parking spaces, a curbside space is on average 160 square feet. In real estate terms, using that $700 figure, parking spots could cost up to $112,000. Do we need to provide people in such transit-rich neighborhoods with free on-street parking? Of course not. The city is just squandering a resource for no real reason.

Now, the city could sell parking spots for a one-time fee based upon the neighborhood in which a driver wishes to park and the average real estate value of that land. This would never pass political muster. The more sensible way is to charge rent. Market rent on that 160-square-foot parking space would be a few thousand dollars a year, and that money would quickly solve not only the MTA’s deficit problem but its capital expansion funding issues as well. Those who choose to enjoy the luxury of a car in an urban area can support the subway system that benefits all.

Of course, even a few thousand dollars a year wouldn’t earn political support, but a few hundred bucks for a residential parking permit isn’t outlandish. Washington, DC, charges $15 a year for a parking permit; Philadelphia asks for $35 once and $20 perpetually. New York could charge $200 and still be practically giving away the spaces.

Drivers get defensive about their parking spots, but the city doesn’t need to kowtow to them. We pay to use roads, taxis and subways. Why shouldn’t we be charged for and collect revenue from the spaces on the streets as well?

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While the weekend changes due to track work are light, there are a few overall service changes to be aware of this weekend. Trains on Friday and Saturday will run on a Saturday schedule, but on Saturday night, Transit will provide additional service on the 1, C, L and the 42nd Street Shuttle after the fireworks from approximately 10 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Additionally, the Staten Island Ferry will not run from approximately 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. The last boat will leave the terminals at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, and the subsequent Staten Island-bound ferry will leave at 10:30 p.m. while the next Manhattan-bound boat won’t depart until 11:30 p.m.

Have a safe weekend. I’ll see you all on Monday.

From 4 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday, July 5, Manhattan-bound 7 trains skip 111th, 103rd, 90th, 82nd, 74th, 69th, 46th, 40th, and 33rd, Streets.

From 12:30 a.m. to 5 a.m. Friday, July 3, and from 12:01 a.m. Saturday, Jul 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 6, Jamaica-bound F trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to track and roadbed replacement at Grand Avenue.

From 11:30 p.m. Thursday, July 2 to 5 a.m. Friday, July 3, and from 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 6, Manhattan-bound F trains run local from Forest Hills-71st Avenue to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to due to track and roadbed replacement at Grand Avenue.

Until further notice, the G route is extended from Smith-9th Sts. to Church Avenue F station due to the rehabilitation of the Culver Viaduct.

From 8:30 p.m. Thursday, July 2 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 6, there is no G train service between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers should take the E or R instead.

From 11 p.m. Thursday, July 2 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 6, G trains run every 20 minutes between Court Square and Smith-9th Streets.

Categories : Service Advisories
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In the annals of New York City subway history, nothing is more fetishized and analyzed than the Massimo Vignelli 1970s-era subway map. Over the last few years, I’ve written posts about Vignelli’s signage, an update to the Vignelli map and the Vignelli-inspired KickMap. I also own a handful of Vignelli maps from various years.

This latest find, though, takes the cake. As you can see, it is a dress with the Vignelli subway map reproduced on it. It is a silk piece part of the Francis New York spring collection. A buddy of mine found it at Nordstrom’s site where it is on sale for $249.90. My favorite part are the straps, each featuring a different Vignelli-colored subway line.

Click through for a view of the back. As today is July 3, mostly a day off from work, I won’t be posting much more. I’ll be back with the service advisories later today. Happy Fourth of July!

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Categories : Subway Maps
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In August 2007, a torrential rain storm knocked out nearly the entire New York subway system for hours. With the underground floods came a bunch of alarming developments. The MTA’s website couldn’t withstand the onslaught of visitors; their emergency alert system for service advisories was non-existent; and their anti-flood measures were ineffective at best and mostly useless. Over the last few years, the MTA has beefed up its website infrastructure and now provides near-real-time text alerts. The flood prevention was the last to come, but it’s finally in place and working.

According to Pete Donohue, the MTA completed a $31-million flood-prevention program. The highlight of this effort was a move to raise 1500 streetlevel grates a few inches off the ground. Instead of funneling rainwater underground and onto subway tracks and platforms, the waters are now siphoned to flood drains.

While New Yorkers saw the second-wettest June on record, weather-related subway delays are down significantly. For that, the agency deserves praise. Twenty-two months after a crippling storm, the system is ready for nature’s wrath.

New York City Transit is quite pleased with the performance of the grates. Paul Fleuranges sent me the above picture (which you can click to enlarge) and added a note about their use particularly on June 18 when the city received 1.84 inches of rain. “There’s no doubt given the amount of rain we’ve had this month, and the propensity of Hillside to flood out, we would have had serious problems if not for the grates,” he said.

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