• Skanska hits a Second Ave. water main · Construction crews at work on relocating utilities along Second Ave. hit a water main yesterday afternoon. Skanska workers digging at 66th St. ruptured a pipe and subsequently flooded a mechanical room at the Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Service was not interrupted, and the water was cleared quickly. Skanska, reports The Post will fund the necessary infrastructure repairs. · (0)

TaxiLogo Did you know that taxi fares increase on Sunday? Did you know that the increase goes to the MTA?

As part of the piecemeal MTA bailout package, Albany approved a 50-cent surcharge on all metered taxi rides. That surcharge goes into effect on Sunday, and as amNew York’s Heather Haddon reports, neither cabs drivers nor taxi passengers are looking forward to it.

With the price just to enter a cab heading up to $3.00, New Yorkers are bemoaning the fees. “It was already out of control. Now it’s even worse,” Kim Dae, a so-called “frequent taxi rider” and West Village resident, said. Of course, therein lies the rub. Ms. Dae lives in the West Village, an area serviced by around 11 subway lines depending upon by which stop she lives. She might enjoy taking a cab, but the millions of us who ride the subway every day need the trains to run.

The taxi drivers, though, may have a legitimate gripe with the surcharge. Writes Haddon:

Taxi drivers are livid about the new fee, saying it will be difficult to collect and hurt their business. They are also fuming that new door stickers list the initial fare as $3, making it seem like drivers are getting a raise, said Bhairavi Desai, director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents 12,000 drivers.

“We think it’s deceptive,” Desai said.

The tax will be itemized on ride receipts, and listed on the interior TV screens and rate cards, a Taxi and Limousine Commission spokesman said. “The TLC will continually monitor the proper implementation of the meter change,” the agency said in a statement.

The enforcement and collection issues remain unaddressed. Critics of the taxi surcharge plan have long wondered how much it will cost simply to collect fifty cents per taxi ride from the city’s licensed hacks. It will require more diligent record-keeper than that currently employed by drivers to the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

Drivers, meanwhile, as Desai points out, draw the short straw. If the surcharge is not clearly demarcated as supporting the MTA, riders will think the drivers are drawing in more revenue when, in fact, the opposite is true. Tips may go down, and the already-strained driver/passenger relationship may get worse.

To end Haddon’s piece, Straphangers Campaign head Gene Russianoff issued a platitude as a statement. “No one likes a tax,” he said, “but no one likes a sky-high transit fare or cuts to service either.” The answer, though, is simple, and it is one I have repeated numerous times. Instead of taxing the taxis, toll the bridges. The money would flow directly from the MTA and would represent a more equitable reallocation of resources than the taxi surcharge will.

On Wednesday, Lieutenant Governor Richard Ravitch told an audience at NYU that bridge tolls will one day happen. When it does, the city and its public transit will be better off for it, and we can attempt to leave this stopgap array of taxes and fees in the dust.

Categories : MTA Economics, Taxis
Comments (16)

Yesterday, I examined Bloomberg’s transportation record in the run-up to next week’s mayoral race. Today, let’s explore what Bill Thompson is proposing for he alleges to be a sensible transit strategy for New York City.

For much of the election cycle, current Comptroller Bill Thompson has been mostly silent on the issue of public transportation in New York City. While he has taken a seemingly pro-car stand against bike lanes (October, September), his statements about transit have been seemingly muted.

Muted, that is, until this week. On Tuesday, Thompson attempted to engage in a war of words over transit with Mayor Bloomberg. Per Celeste Katz, Thompson faulted Bloomberg for the MTA’s problems:

Thompson says Bloomberg’s “top-down decision-making approach has led to two fare hikes in 15 months, service cuts, and crumbling subway stations. As fares have gone up, the Mayor and his MTA appointees have been largely silent.”

Thompson said he’d “appoint MTA Board members who are transit activists and more representatives of the riding public—unlike the Bloomberg Administration’s loyalists who have no special knowledge or even prior familiarity with transit. And my appointees will be instructed that raising fares will not be the silver bullet solution to the MTA’s mismanagement and bloated budget.”

In one sense, Thompson is right. Bloomberg’s MTA Board appointees have no real transit experience and no special knowledge to bring to the table. The four votes under mayoral control include a pair of lawyers, a former OMB head and an ex-city official. True advocates for sensible transit they are not.

But on the other hand, Thompson misses the point. Bloomberg’s supposed “top-down decision-making approach” hasn’t led to the fare hikes. Rather, his withdrawal of city subsidies for the MTA has led to some major budgetary constraints at the transit agency. The city once contributed up to 10 percent of the MTA’s capital budget; now, the Big Apple sends just $60 million — or one percent of the MTA’s capital budget — to the agency. If Thompson were serious about supporting transit and if he wanted to attack Bloomberg, that would be his talking point.

So what then has Thompson been saying? He has a page on his campaign website dedicated to transit, but unlike Bloomberg, he has no long-term mobility plan. Rather, Thompson advocates for nothing too radical. He will:

  • Appoint transit activists who represent riders to the MTA Board.
  • Support tighter control and more oversight of public authorities.
  • Fight for more city-based MTA funding.
  • “Review MTA capital projects to make sure projects like the 7-line extension continue to make economic and transportation sense. If they don’t, look at other options like light rail or BRT that could do the job less expensively.”
  • Expand the Bus Rapid Transit system.
  • Maintain the station agent program.
  • “Object when the MTA tries to cut service, as it recently did on 38 bus lines with little public input and little justification.”
  • “Involve the public from the beginning in making decisions about transportation, so that residents are not blind-sided about decisions that affect their commutes or businesses.”

The bullets in quotes are his words; the rest are paraphrased. My favorite is the one about objecting to MTA service cuts. He won’t promise to fund the MTA, but he will object! That’s standing up for New Yorkers.

Thompson’s transit policies show no coherence and no plan. He wants to “involve the public” even though the public has already been involved. He wants to review MTA capital projects even though he has no authority to do so, and he doesn’t seem to understand that the 7 line extension is a city-funded project that won’t be stopped right now.

I don’t believe a Thompson mayoralty would bring much innovation to transit. If he is elected, though, his impact on the MTA will be minimal. The same holds true for Bloomberg. Unless these two candidates are willing to fork over the big bucks, their transit campaigns are mostly just talking points and populist appeals with little force behind the words.

Categories : MTA Politics
Comments (9)
  • MTA approves TFL deal, but some Londoners object · Jay Walder, as I reported last week, wants to bring some Transport for London consultants to New York to help modernize the MTA and improve its operational efficiencies. Yesterday, the MTA Board approved the unique no-bid, two-year contract to pay up to $200 an hour in expenses and salary for this consulting gig, but not everyone was happy about it.

    In fact, the loudest dissent seemed to come from London. Bob Crow, union leader for the U.K.’s Rail Maritime and Transport workers, noted the labor ramifications of the deal. “If these people are as good as they are being cracked up to be, then they should remain in London sorting out our problems, not swanning across to New York,” he said in London. “We will make sure our members know that the same senior T.F.L. managers who have been attacking our campaign for a decent pay increase are queuing up to jet over to New York on $200 an hour,” Mr. Crow said.

    Transport for London, meanwhile, reassured its constituents that New York City taxpayers and not Londoners would be footing the bill for this consulting gig aimed at bringing technological innovations to our subway system. “We will ensure,” the U.K. agency said in statement, “that this arrangement financially benefits London, as well as providing New York with the benefit of London’s experience in Oyster technology and the provision of customer information.” · (8)

The TWU and the MTA are engaged in something of a fight right now. After agreeing to binding arbitration over a labor contract, the MTA has appealed an award of an 11 percent raise for the TWU on the grounds that the arbitration panel made errors of law in considering the agency’s ability to pay. Despite the use of the word “binding” in the arbitration format, this appeal is legally permissible, and TWU workers have been loath to recognize that truth.

In a sense, then, as the MTA and TWU are engaged in a legal fight, the two sides are also engaged in a public relations battle. The TWU is trying to portray the MTA as a management-heavy organization intent on paying its countless executives far more than they deserve. On the other hand, the MTA is trying to make the case that the 11 percent raises over the next three years will foist more unscheduled fare hikes onto a public already paying too much for its subway service.

And so yesterday, at Jay Walder’s first MTA Board, the TWU opted to take the low road. Andreeva Pinder, a station agent and TWU executive, resorted to a playground insult in her discussion about the elmination of the station agents. “Month after month we beseech you to safeguard your riders. But you people are so removed from reality,” Pinder said. “You guys are just a bunch of doody-heads.”

That is a direct quote from Pinder’s testimony. She got up in front of a bunch of MTA executives and called them doody heads. No wonder people don’t think too highly of MTA employees. Pinder, as those with long memories may recall, once had to be forcibly escorted out of an MTA Board meeting when she spoke for 30 minutes instead of the allotted three.

Words such as these do no one any favors. First, Pinder’s initial claims — that the lack of station agents has led to some sort of MTA-produced anarchy — simply isn’t true. At the entrances now lacking station agents, the subways still operate with the same old efficiency. Crime is not up, and straphangers are not getting hopelessly lost. Meanwhile, resorting to childish names might sound funny at the time, but it’s tough to earn the respect of a skeptical public even if Pinder may have tried to make a valid point.

In the end, this fight will continue, and if yesterday’s words were any indication, it may get nastier before it is resolved. I’m no expert in arbitration law and cannot proffer an opinion on the outcome of the MTA’s appeal. If the courts, though, side with the agency, an all-out labor war could ensue.

* * *

In other arbitration news, John Zuccotti, the arbitrator who awarded the TWU its raises, billed the MTA $900 an hour for his work, and the new MTA leadership is outraged. The bill came to $400,000 for his services, and although the MTA and the TWU are to split the total, anonymous MTA board members were outraged that former head Elliot Sander negotiated such a rate. George Nicolau, another arbitrator, charged just $34,000. Someone somewhere down the line negotiated a bad deal.

Categories : TWU
Comments (9)

After months of wrangling with landlords and the city, the MTA last week decided to fork over $500,000 to shore up the shaky buildings along Second Ave. The start of these buildings, structural deficient since before the start of Second Ave. Subway construction, had been holding up the controlled blasting needed to get the Upper East Side launch box ready for the tunnel-boring machine.

Well, the wait is finally over. With a tip of the hat to Ben at The Launch Box, we learn that the MTA has been issued its FDNY permit, and controlled blasting along Second Ave. will start on November 2. The MTA’s SAS construction website features a notice about the blasting. It says:

The Second Avenue Subway project will be using a well established excavation technique called controlled blasting to facilitate the excavation of the Tunnel Boring Machine Launch Box. We have used this technique at many of our projects in Manhattan.

Controlled blasting activities are scheduled to begin the week of November 2, 2009.

The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) has approved a controlled blasting plan for the area of Second Avenue between 91st and 93rd Street which will be carried out in coordination with the MTA and S3 Tunnel Constructors. All blasting will be conducted under the direction and regulations of the FDNY. Blasting is permitted to take place during the approved Second Ave Subway working hours of 7 AM to 10 PM, although, every effort will be made to limit blasting to daylight hours.

Blasting Procedures

  • All pedestrian and vehicle traffic will be temporarily stopped during each blast occurrence. Blasting will occur approximately 4 to 5 times daily, with each blast lasting no more than one minute.
  • There will be a warning whistle before each blast
    • 1 whistle as a warning sound
    • 2 whistles indicate the blast is imminent
    • 3 whistles indicate the blast is complete and all is clear.
  • Flagging personnel will be positioned at the north, south, east and west corners of the blast zone to inform and direct pedestrians.
  • Signs will be posted around the work site that will state: DANGER BLASTING- NO RADIO TRANSMITTING

As required by New York State regulations, and monitored by FDNY, all explosive materials are delivered to and from the work site daily.

Vibration and noise limits have been established by the MTA and the project designer. The vibration and noise readings will be monitored by the construction management team.

Please direct any questions or concerns to Marcus Book, Assistant Director, MTA NYC Transit Government and Community Relations at 646-252-2675 or Claudia Wilson at the work site at 212-792-9716.

For the MTA, this blasting will be a major step forward in Second Ave. subway construction. Those of us eagerly anticipating whatever part of this line will arrive in the next seven or eight years have been awaiting the blasting stage. Hopefully, the residents and businesses already impacted by the construction can take some solace in the fact that the MTA is moving ahead with this project.

Comments (5)

BloombergHeadshot Unintentionally, it’s turned into Mayor Bloomberg Day here on SAS. This morning, I examined Bloomberg’s claims about the 7 line extension and questioned whether or not this project represents a needed expansion and a good use of dollars. This afternoon, let’s look at this overall transit record.

Yesterday, Graham Beck of the Gotham Gazette offered up his take on Bloomberg’s transportation record. Generally, says Beck, Bloomberg has a strong transportation record for pedestrians and bicyclists. His Department of Transportation under Janette Sadik-Kahn has reclaimed public spaces and streets for pedestrians, and he has put a strong emphasis on making New York City more bike-friendly. Although congestion pricing failed, non-auto modes account for all of the transportation growth in the city, and New York, a walker’s heaven, is far more friendly to pedestrians than it has been since the advent of the automobile.

Yet, Bloomberg’s record on the MTA is far from stellar. In fact, as Beck says, the MTA’s financial straits have come about “at least in part because of funding choices made by the mayor.” The most visible public transportation moment of Bloomberg’s first eight years came in 2005 when the city faced a transit workers strike. As Beck reports, “Fifty-one percent [of city residents] said his handling of the situation was not so good or poor, while 45 percent said it was great or good.”

Although Bloomberg controls just four of the 17 seats on the MTA Board and four of its 13 votes, his record on public transit is decided mixed. Beck’s overall analysis of Bloomberg’s direct contributions to the MTA bears repeating:

During [the] long-gone good years, Bloomberg cut the city’s contribution to the MTA. It is now about $60 million a year, or just 1 percent of the authority’s capital budget. Previously, the city’s contribution equaled about 10 percent of the MTA’s capital budget. The cut has inspired some advocates, like John Petro of the Drum Major Institute, to claim that Bloomberg is “shortchanging mass transit” and others like Veronica Vanterpool of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign to call for the city to increase its aid to the MTA.

Certainly, Bloomberg has campaigned as though the decrease hadn’t happened. In August he released Moving NYC, a populist, voter-friendly, MTA-dependant transit platform that suggests a slew of new proposals, like free cross-town buses, that are either inspired ideas or empty promises.

If the voters re-elect Bloomberg in November, we’ll have four more years to find out if he is really the MetroCard Mayor or merely another politician in a big black SUV.

Bloomberg is basing much of his campaign on that Moving NYC proposal, and I’ve already questioned the originality of his place. He is basically repacking ideas that are already out there and supported by transit advocates as a campaign proposal. Many of the ideas — such as the F express plan — are already on the MTA’s “to do” list, and others require something — money — with which the mayor has been seemingly loathe to provide the MTA.

That, as Beck notes, is the rub. If Bloomberg is serious about transit, if he wants to be that MetroCard Mayor, he will find a way to deliver the bucks to the MTA. If not, then he is all talk and little action, concerned more with a 7 line extension that benefits his real estate developer plans than any true overhaul that improves transit in New York City. Only time will tell.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk a look at William Thompson, currently comptroller and Democratic mayoral hopeful, and his plan for transit. Although it is not nearly as extensive as Bloomberg’s, he too is putting transportation reform on his agenda.

Categories : MTA Politics
Comments (13)

As the city gears up to vote in next week’s mayoral election, Michael Bloomberg has hit the campaign trail hard. He’s spending his billions and touting his record in search of a third term made possible, of course, by some underhanded term limit dealings.

On Monday, Bloomberg’s five-borough tour took him to NYU where he delivered a speech envisioning 2013, the supposed end of what would be his then-12-year turn as head of the city. During the speech, he spoke briefly about the 7 line extension, a subway line to nowhere and Bloomberg’s favorite MTA pet project. His excerpt on this city-funded extension was brief:

And Queens residents who work at the Javits Center, or elsewhere on the Far West Side, will begin riding the Number 7 Train past Times Square to 11th Avenue and down to 34th Street.

It’s the first new subway track the City has built in more than four decades – and we’re on schedule to complete it on time and on budget in 2013.

With an assist from the history of the New York City subway system and the Citizens Budget Commission, let’s fact-check the mayor. We start with a history lesson. Although the 7 line extension may be the first Manhattan-based subway expansion in decades, another line in Queens is less than four decades old. In 1975, the city began work on the Archer Ave. extension, a remnant of the Second System. Although work was slowed due to a lack of funds, that line opened in 1988.

Technically, the mayor is correct in saying that the 7 line extension is the first new subway track the City has built in more than four decades, but the 7 line isn’t the first new subway extension in that time. In 1988, the Archer Ave. Line, a remnant of the famous Second System, opened, and work on that subway extension had started in the 1970s and continued through the 1980s. The line itself opened in 1988.

One year later, the MTA completed work on a Tunnel to Nowhere. In 1989, the 63rd St. tunnel opened. At the time, it connected the East Side with, well, nowhere. The 6th Ave. line extended north past 57th St. to 63rd St. and Lexington and then under the East River with a stop at Roosevelt Island and then a terminus at 21st St./Queensbridge. Until 2001, when a connector to the IND Queens Boulevard line finally opened, this stump sat but 1500 feet away from the bustling Queens plaza. All of those projects have happened in the time during which Bloomberg claimed the city did not construct any new subway tracks.

And now we turn to the CBC’s report on the state of MTA construction. The report devotes three paragraphs to the 7 line extension, and it reminds us that the tunnel was to be completed in September 2012 with the new station operational by June 2013. Although the tunnel should still be finished by September 2012, the MTA estimates an on-time completion date for the entire project of November 2014.

Furthermore, the city reneged on its promise to fund a station — or even a shell of a station — at 41st and 10th Ave. As it stands, the 7 line extension will run from Times Square, through a neighborhood badly in need of a train stop to 34th St. and 11th Ave. to find only a run-down convention center and a train yard that may one day be developed into a mixed-use property. It truly is the new Subway to Nowhere.

Bloomberg can tout his transit record all he wants. When the best part of his opponent Bill Thompson’s transit plan is a promise to “object when when the MTA tries to cut service,” it’s clear that Bloomberg is running against someone unprepared for the job. But that doesn’t mean we should give our incumbent a free pass. The 7 line extension is not the only new subway in four decades; it isn’t on time; and it isn’t as originally promised. It’s arguably a bad use of money, and it will result in a subway line with few passengers that won’t alleviate overcrowding at a time when trains stuffed to the gills dominate the system.

Categories : 7 Line Extension
Comments (28)
  • Under new metric, Transit finds more trains late · In an effort to improve its internal metrics, New York City Transit recently reevaluated the way it judges on-time train performance. Now that the agency is counting delays brought about by service changes or construction and maintenance disruptions, the numbers look ugly. According to a report released today, Transit’s on-time rate has plummeted to 50 percent on the weekends and 75 percent during the week. “I actually have a couple of horror stories here with respect to the different lines that have particularly low absolute on-time performance,” NYC Transit President Howard Roberts said, referring to the 1 line which had been slowed due to the ceiling collapse at 181st St.

    While I understand the need to measure on-time train performance, I have to wonder if this is the right metric. New Yorkers don’t really expect subway trains to run “on time” because the schedules, while available, are rarely used and aren’t considered gospel. The better indication of on-time performance involves train wait times. If I just miss a B train during the day, I expect to wait 8-10 minutes for the next one. If I’m waiting longer than that — no matter what time the schedule comes — I consider the next train to be late. I also come prepared for longer headways on the weekends considering the extent of the service changes. My approach, though, is simple: If the trains run on time, great; just don’t make me wait longer than I ought to for the next one. · (2)

For the last few weeks, Jay Walder has been preaching responsible investment and an increased attention toward improving surface transit. He knows that the agency he heads has long been plagued by an inability to manage its capital projects, and a CBC report issued last week confirmed a history of cost overruns and missed deadlines.

Today, in a short piece in The Post, Walder talks about his new approach toward cost overruns: They will not be tolerated. The first thing to go is a $2 million overrun for a public plaza at South Ferry. Tom Namako reports:

Hands off straphangers’ wallets! That was the message new MTA chief Jay Walder had for agency and city officials yesterday when he vetoed any move to spend an additional $2 million in cost overruns at the new South Ferry station.

Walder said he would rather scale down the last part of the project — an outdoor plaza connecting Staten Island Ferry service to the subway station — than lay out any more dough. “If we need to reduce the scope to stay within the budget, then we should reduce the scope to stay within the budget. But there is no more money,” Walder told the MTA’s head of construction at a public meeting.

Allan Cappelli, one of the board members from Staten Island, worried that ferry riders would be stranded “out in the rain.” That seems to be a bit of a stretch. But as Walder threatened to downsize other costly projects, I have to wonder if this is the right approach.

Currently, the MTA is facing capital funding gaps in the billions of dollars. The agency is facing cost overruns of the same magnitude along Second Ave. and at Fulton St. Does skimping on a public plaza for a mere fraction of the savings make sense?

The MTA needs to take a good hard look at the funding for its major billion-dollar projects and figure out ways to save. It makes sense to put forward a consistent approach to cost overruns, and for that, $2 million will be cut from the South Ferry project. This is but small beans compared to the MTA’s true fiscal problems.

Categories : MTA Economics
Comments (15)
Page 366 of 533« First...364365366367368...Last »