Despite increased attention to the program of sexual offenses underground and a recent PSA campaign targeting subway gropers and flashers, sexual harassment of women remains the top quality-of-life crime in the subways. At a joint meeting of the City Council’s transportation, women’s issues and public safety committee today, officials discussed their stark findings, and it is clear that women face a substantial risk of underground harassment.

Jennifer 8. Lee of The Times covered the meeting:

The peak times in which women report sexual harassment or assaults on the subways are the late morning rush, roughly 8 to 10 a.m., followed by the early afternoon rush, 4 to 6 p.m. One stretch of the subways — the crowded Nos. 4, 5 and 6 lines between Grand Central Terminal and Union Station — is a particular source of complaints. And the average age of the men arrested for sexual offenses on the subways is 39…

First to testify on Thursday was James P. Hall, chief of the Police Department’s Transit Bureau, who said that sexual harassment was the “No. 1 quality of life offense on the subway.” Chief Hall reported that as of Nov. 15, there had been 587 reports of sex offenses in the subway system this year. “However, we strongly suspect this is a highly underreported crime,” he said.

The police have arrested 412 people for sex offenses in the subway so far this year. Of that number, 71 had committed prior sexual offenses and 14 were registered sex offenders. Five of the 14 were the most serious level of sex offender, Level 3.

As the council members clamored for more enforcement, the MTA explained its recent efforts to combat these crimes. The PSA poster, above, will remain in place at least through January, and astute straphangers may have heard a recent addition to the automated announcements prevalent in the new train cars: “A crowded train is no excuse for an improper touch. Don’t stand for it, feel ashamed or be afraid to speak up.”

The MTA is fast to remind its passengers to say something if they see something. The same holds for these quality-of-life offenses. No one should be subjected to rude sexual behavior while riding the rails, but it is a deeply disturbing fact of life in the New York subways.

Categories : Subway Security
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Meet Richard Brodsky. He is an influential Assembly representative from Westchester, and he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. More about him in a minute.

Yesterday afternoon, the New York State Assembly approved a sweeping bill that would bring more oversight to the state’s 700 public authorities. Spurred on in part by rampant construction delays, cost overruns and general mismanagement at the MTA, this measure — soon to be approved by the State Senate — would impose more bureaucracy on the bureaucracy. Jeremy W. Peters of The Times has more:

State authorities — which range in size from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, with an $11 billion annual budget, to small ones like the Binghamton Parking Authority — would have to reveal more detailed financial plans and allow the state comptroller to audit any contract of more than $1 million that is awarded noncompetitively.

Under the measure, certain large authorities, like the Long Island Power Authority and the Thruway Authority, could not appoint leaders without Senate consent. The new rules would also restrict the sale of land at below-market values, a practice intended to spur development that has been abused by authorities over the years.

The legislation makes efforts to rein in the debt that state authorities and their subsidiaries have taken on — around $150 billion is outstanding — by requiring them to produce guidelines to better manage how they borrow.

“This is a massive reform of a system that was in many ways corrupt, inefficient and dangerous,” said [Brodsky, a leader of the ] efforts in the Legislature to impose more control over the authorities. “These were Soviet-style bureaucracies doing the right thing some of the time, but rife with corruption and off on their own, outside the control of democratic institutions…Those days are over.”

Now, this all sounds well and good. There’s no doubt that New York’s public authorities, long a stronghold of the powerful, operate as a quasi-government within the state. Since the days of Robert Moses’ entrenchment at Triborough, New York’s authorities have needed more control and oversight. If this measure prevents sweetheart land deals similar to the one Bruce Ratner may enjoy for the Vanderbilt Yards land rights, I’m a-OK with that. Who can complain about reducing borderline corrupt or shady practices?

What bothers me, though, are willfully ignorant public statements by our elected representatives. In the Daily News coverage of the Assembly’s vote, Brodsky speaks at length about his targeting the MTA with this measure. “This is the most fundamental reform of Albany in decades,” he said. “This means the repeated catastrophies [sic] we’ve seen at the MTA on fare policy, on contract letting, on two sets of books, those days are over,” he said.

Brodsky is doing no one a favor by rehashing the old and tired claim about the MTA’s two sets of books. The charges come out of a 2003 State Comptroller report by Alan Hevesi, the since-disgraced politician. Eventually, not one, but two state courts ruled that Hevesi’s charges were flat-out false. (Click here for Times coverage from 2003.) Yet, the Internet is replete with people too lazy to investigate the truth: There never were two sets of books.

Brodsky was right to push for authority oversight in some form. The system doesn’t work as well as it should. But he has to take responsibility for his words, and the repeating old charges about two sets of books just makes him look petty while creating confusion and sowing ignorance among those he represents. Fix the MTa, but fix problems that exist and not ones that do not.

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One day, this cavern will be a subway stop at 34th St. and 11th Ave. (Photo courtesy of MTA Capital Construction)

When the MTA announced its projected budget on Wednesday afternoon, the news focused around the steady fare for 2010. At the time, I promised more news this evening if the budget documents warranted further exploration, and they do not. So instead of more numbers about projected revenue and ridership, let’s head underground.

Since late June, when the MTA stuck with its 2013 target date for revenue service along the 7 line extension, news from the Far West Side has been scarce. Although I wondered if stimulus funds would save the station at 41st and 10th Ave., those funds and plans have yet to materialize. The station remains as dead as it was in September when funding concerns killed it, and neither the city nor the MTA has leapt at the chance to avoid making a costly construction mistake by not building it.

A few days ago, though, the MTA’s Capital Construction division finally updated the 7 line construction website with three pictures of the progress. One, seen above, shows significant progress at the 34th St. station cavern. Some concrete is in place, and the waterproofing has been installed. The other photos simply show some men working and some cables and ventilation for the tunnel boring machines. Thrilling stuff.

Meanwhile, in its document dump of MTA Board committee materials, the agency provided us with more concrete information about the 7 line extension. Found in the Capital Construction PDF, we know how detailed budget info and a set timeline for the extension. According to current estimates, this project — a one-stop extension of the 7 line from 41st between 7th and 8th Aves. to 34th St. and 11th Ave. with tail tracks do the mid 20s will cost $2,152,946,333. With this project set to add a little bit more than a mile to the 7 line, the cost of underground construction in New York City is prohibitively expensive.

According to the MTA documents, the project is still on target for a late 2013 debut. Originally, the agency had hoped to debut the 7 line service in 2012 after starting construction in 2006. The work, however, did not begin until December 15, 2007, and as such, the revenue service start date was delayed. We should not lose sight of the fact that, despite this early hiccup, the project has stayed on schedule since construction began nearly two years ago.

As for the nitty gritty, those tunnel boring machines are working their ways through the Far West Side. Through October 26, over 1800 feet of tunnel — or 19 percent of the project’s total — had been carved. As the picture shows, one machine has reached 34th St., and the other is set to get there by early December. Crews are continuing to work on the abandoned lower level platform beneath the 8th Ave. stop at 42nd St. to underpin the current A/C/E station. The new extension will pass directly through the abandoned stop and under the current station.

In the end, that’s about all she wrote for this update. The city still has not submitted to the MTA the necessary agreements for the agency to finalize station entrance designs, but that is a mere technicality at this point. If all holds according to plan, in four years, the 7 line extension — not quite a Subway to Nowhere, but not really a subway to anywhere other than the Javits Center right now — will open on time.

Categories : 7 Line Extension
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Earlier this morning, the MTA released its $11 billion proposed budget for 2010, and although the agency plans to raise fares to match inflation in both 2011 and 2013, the document contains nary a mention of service cuts or fare hikes next year. During the MTA Board meeting, Jay Walder explained how the agency would engage in a significant overhaul to improve operations efficiency and why the agency is setting aside $85 million in reserve.

Despite the good news on fare hikes and service cuts, Walder cautioned that the authority is not yet on a sound financial footing. “From a narrow context, we see increased stability and are grateful that we can present a balanced budget without impacting our customers,” the new MTA Chair and CEO said. “But the MTA remains in a very fragile position with a number of risks on the horizon. This fiscal reality demands that we permanently overhaul the way the MTA does business. The bottom line is that there is no more money for us in Albany, and we will learn to do more with the funding we have.”

Walder will soon chair a working group designed to explore MTA efficiently. It will examine the ways the agency can “fundamentally change its business model to operate more cost effectively, improve performance and provide better value to taxpayers and customers,” according to an agency press release.

For those interested, the budget documents can be found here on the MTA’s website. The two piece go in depth into a budgeting process that requires the MTA to pass a balanced budget by the end of December. For now, the biggest piece of news is the $85 million reserve the MTA has in place to cover cost overruns.

The money for this reserve, according to MTA CFO Gary Dellaversoncame from three sources. Although real estate taxes were lower than anticipated, ridership figures, as I noted earlier today, have been higher than exepcted this year. Furthermore, summer belt-tightening measures have led to lower-than-expected spending.

To that end, the $85 million reserve will play an important role in avoiding a budget crunch next year on two fronts. First, the state and city are faced with significant fiscal problems and are threatening to cut contributions to the MTA further than they already have. Second, if the MTA loses its appeal of the TWU arbitration award, labor costs will eat up almost the entirety of this reserve.

I’ll have more on this proposed budget later tonight after I have some time to read through the materials. For now, though, Straphangers can breath a sigh of relief. For the first time since 2007, the MTA believes it will not have to raise fares.

Categories : MTA Economics
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  • DOT ‘might’ include separated lanes for East Side SBS · When we talked about the MTA/DOT plans for the 1st and 2nd Aves. Select Bus Service routes late last week, it was with dismay that we realized physically separated lanes were not a part of the original renderings. Today, the Department of Transportation provides us with a glimmer of hope for a sensible East Side solution. According to Janette Sadik-Kahn, Mayor Bloomberg’s transportation commissioner, her agency might, in the words of Pete Donohue, “place barriers along some stretches to keep cars and trucks from invading the bus-only lanes.” Although barriers along “some” stretches would be a start, this project will need physically separated lanes along the length of the entire route to truly speed up bus service.

    In the meantime, we wait. The MTA has begun to purchase 62-foot buses with three doors in advance of this project, and the Department of Transportation will unveil final plans for the route next month. Only then can we judge the potential for reform at the surface level, and in the meantime, we should urge a sensible acceptance of separated lanes. · (6)


A bad economy has led to a slight decline in subway ridership this year. (To clarify, the bottom line is weekday ridership and the top line is the combined ridership for Saturday and Sunday.)

As part of the MTA’s bailout package, Albany required the transit authority to become more transparent. For an agency that had actually been working toward providing more information over the last few years, this was a simple request, and this month, for the first time, the MTA has made all committee and board meeting materials publicly available.

For transit junkies, having ready access to this information is similar to Christmas in November, but it comes with a downside. As with many document dumps, there is, simply put, far too much information out there, and most of it doesn’t matter. Every-day procurement orders don’t provide us with a deep understanding about the goings-on at the MTA.

Still, it’s important to understand the parts of these documents that do matter, and to that end, I’ve been working my way through the Transit committee documents. Generally, I’m intrigued by the ridership numbers. These figures drive the economy of the MTA. Since the agency is so dependent upon fare-box revenue, ridership numbers can significantly impact the bottom line, and every year, the agency uses the previous year’s numbers along with external economic condition to project ridership levels and, thus, revenue totals. The November documents feature the September ridership numbers. Let’s drill down.


Across all modes, weekday ridership figures for Transit were down 5.3 percent over September 2008. The agency attributes this to “the weaker economy, the June 2009 fare increase and calendar differences,” meaning more weekend days in September 2009 than in September 2008. The rolling average weekday ridership is down slightly as well. But lower ridership totals do not automatically mean revenue loss for the MTA. For that, we turn to the chart detailing projected revenue numbers vs. actual revenue collected.


As you can see, September’s total revenue figures were, at least preliminarily, higher than anticipated. Subway revenue was up 2.5 percent over initial projections, easily enough to make up for lower-than-expected bus ridership totals. Transit credits “lower-than-anticipated job losses” on the “higher-than-forecasted subway ridership” figures.

Take a closer look at the Fare Media Liability line. This item details money the MTA has captured due to unused value on expired MetroCards. For the month of September, the MTA recouped $5 million in pre-paid fares that went unswiped. September’s figured was 25 percent over the estimated value, and over the course of a year, that would net the agency $60 million in recovered revenue.

Year-to-date, the agency has recouped $7 million more than expected via the fare media liability route. I’ll have to find out if this figure includes Unlimited Ride MetroCards that aren’t used often enough to pay for themselves. For example, if buy a pay-per-ride card with the 15 percent bonus, I, in effect, pay $1.96 per ride. If I buy a 30-day card for $89 and use it 45 or fewer times, my rides cost more than that $1.96 per swipe. The MTA could claim recouped revenue off of underutilized Unlimited Ride cards.


Finally, we arrive at my favorite chart in which Transit divulges how much we actually pay for our subway rides. The posted fare may be $2.25 per ride, but no one pays that. Amongst pay-per-ride discounts and unlimited card purchases, the average subway fare was $1.55 this past September. A year ago, the average fare was $1.41, and that ten percent increase can be attributed to the fare hike.

As always, the MTA urges a historical, pre-MetroCard fare incentives comparison. “The September 2009 average fare was 9.6¢ above the average fare of $1.379 in September 1996, before MetroCard fare incentives began,” the document says. “In constant 1996 dollars, the September 2009 average fare was $1.04, 34¢ lower than in 1996.” Personally, I spent the last month tracking my MetroCard usage and made 88 swipes last month for a total of $1.01 per ride.

It’s tough to draw too many conclusions from just one month’s worth of data, but I can say that the subways remain popular despite the fare hikes. Furthermore, the subways remain a pretty good deal too. We may complain about the shortcomings of the MTA, but we don’t pay a lot for the millions of rides we New Yorkers take each month.

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During the buildup to the near-enactment of the Doomsday budget and the subsequent Albany bailout, supporters for Access-A-Ride were among the most vocal. The MTA had planned to save a significant chunk of change by jacking up fares and cutting some services, but the activists, citing ADA compliance, dominating many of the public fare hike hearings. In the end, Access-A-Ride was left unscathed. Although the service costs the MTA well over $60 per ride, users are charged just the regular subway fare for it, and determinations of eligibility are left up to Transit employees.

With that in mind, is it any wonder that Fox 5 has found some rather shady practices within this paratransit structure? According to an undercover investigation conducted by John Deutzman, abuse of this service is rampant. Deutzman tells the story of an auxiliary police officer who used Access-A-Ride to travel so he could march in a parade. The officer denied the accusation. At another point, they found an Access-A-Ride van idling but empty in Lower Manhattan as the driver took a nap. Supposedly, a scheduling snafu was to blame.

In the end, this story isn’t so shocking as it is an example of the problems with bureaucracy. There is no effective oversight over Access-A-Ride, and powerful lobbying forces work to keep the service as it is. It will cost around $451 million to run paratransit this year. For that much, we should demand more accountability.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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Train arrival boards at Nevins St., seen here last December, will remain unused for four months longer than originally anticipated. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

When we last checked in on New York City Transit’s plan to bring train arrival boards to New York, the $200 million project was set to debut along the IRT’s numbered subway lines in December 2010. At the time, Transit warned that this date was “subject to the successful resolution of contractual issues,” and I called that language a big red flag.

Unsurprisingly, then, Transit’s efforts to bring this much-needed and decade-old technology to New York City are officially delayed. This news was hidden in the copious amounts of material the MTA Board put online in advance of Monday’s committee meetings, and Michael Grynbaum gently broke the news this evening.

Grynbaum’s story focuses around the three Bronx stations that will see their train arrival boards activated next month as part of a preview. Considering, though, that these signs have been in use along the L line since 2006, that’s hardly the big news. The delay is though, and he writes:

Still, riders may want to hold off celebrating just yet. Last month, officials said they hoped to install all clocks at 152 subway stations by December 2010; that is now expected to be April 2011.

And while the No. 6 line, with 700,000 rides a day, is the city’s busiest, the stations selected for next month’s rollout are some of the sleepiest. On average, those stations — Brook Avenue, East 149th Street and Longwood Avenue — each carry about 4,500 rides each weekday, fewer than 3 percent of the rides handled at Grand Central…“Work was completed first at those stations, that’s why they will be the first to be turned on,” said Charles Seaton, a spokesman for New York City Transit.

There is, of course, more bad news. When I first wrote about the train board project in early October, the Transit documents alleged a cost for just this IRT rollout of $171 million. Now, Transit is estimating the costs of installing this system at the 156 A Division stations at $199.6 million.

Documents say that the budget increase of nearly $30 million is due to “increased…labor costs, in-house construction, consultant services and additional work orders.” The contractors, says Transit, “believe this estimate is sufficient for current work in schedule barring any unforeseen developments.” The MTA, it seems, specializes in unforeseen developments.

And so we continue to wait for a service riders in Washington, D.C., London, Paris and even Rome have enjoyed for years. We wait for Transit to drag its 105-year-old system kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. We wait for not even half of the stations to receive a simple notification system. We still don’t know when or if the B Division will receive these boards, but for now, as with most other MTA projects, these arrival boards are behind schedule and over budget. No one is too surprised.

Categories : MTA Technology
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  • On inappropriate iPhone videos · These days, sound bleeding from subpar headphones creates many a frustration subway ride, and one day, I’ll tackle the subject of personal music underground. I wanted, though, to direct everyone’s attention to a rather amusing article from last week’s Washington Post with the headline “Publicly, a whole new lewdness” and the subhead “Everywhere you look, porn is suddenly inescapable.”

    As you might imagine, it is about the myriad ways people are using their iPhones, iPods and portable video devices to view pornography in public. In particular, Post staff writer Monica Hesse is concerned about the way Metro riders have caught others watching adult films on board. She tells the story of a seat mate who started watching her neighbor’s video with him after it caught her eye. That tale sounds a bit apocryphal though.

    Personally, I’ll sometimes glimpse bits and pieces of familiar movies or a recent episode of Lost while riding the subway, but I have yet to catch anyone watching porn while riding the train. I’ve seen what Hesse calls “Drive-By Porn” — when a neighboring SUV on the highway has a porn cued up on the internal DVD player. The subways, though, have remained adult film-free for me. How about for you? · (6)

Remember the halcyon days of late last week when Gov. David Paterson announced a new plan to replace every New York license plate while charging $25 a car? At the time, state officials claimed that the reflectivity of our current blue plates had run its course and also that the $25 charge would help draw in $129 million over two years.

At the time, I called the fee a pure and simple money grab. Up nearly $20 per car over the 2001 plate replacement fees, the state was simply trying to make money, and I believed that if the outrage over this fee was not at least as loud as the protests over the MTA’s payroll tax, something would be rotten in the state of New York.

Well, now that the state legislature is promising to repeal the fee, I got my wish but for all the wrong reasons. As Michael Grynbaum explores in The Times today, car owners raised a stink because they can’t be bothered to pay for their driving. These upstate drivers claim urban dwellers benefit. Writes Grynbaum:

Leaders in both chambers of the Legislature said they expected to repeal the mandatory charge before April 1, when it was scheduled to go into effect. Lawmakers said they planned to find another way to raise the $130 million in annual revenue that would have been generated, but none offered any immediate ideas.

The fee, up from $5.50 in 2001, had been raised in part to generate more revenue amid the fiscal crisis. Drivers would have received a redesigned plate with a more reflective surface.

But upstate officials argued that they were being forced to pay a charge that city dwellers, who often use mass transit, could avoid. The fee’s demise came a day before a planned protest outside the Capitol.

Considering how New York City subsidizes the rest of the state and considering the price we pay environmentally and socially for driving, that claim is a baseless one. In fact, over at Streetsblog, one commenter highlights the hypocrisy. “Doesn’t anyone in Albany have the brains or the guts to point out that NYC residents, while they may be better positioned to ‘avoid’ the $25 plate surcharge, already pay more than their fair share for road upkeep and mass transit infrastructure, all of which is used to varying degrees by upstate residents whining about $25/car/yr?” BicyclesOnly asked. Of course they don’t.

I’ve never been a complete anti-car evangelic. In the right circumstances, automobiles have their places in society. Yet, sound investment in mass transit and public transportation is vital to New York’s future success and the overall health of our state and nation. Even if we doubt the sincerity of a replacement license plate plan and see through the fees as a blatant money grab, we shouldn’t allow drivers to avoid paying the costs of driving. Maybe city dwellers don’t have to pay the license plate fee, but we have to pay a far greater share of fees and taxes than those upstaters do. Albany shouldn’t lose sight of that reality.

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