From 1986-2000, New York license plates were rather iconic in their simplicity. Featuring a white background with a red trim and Lady Liberty in the center, the state license plates screamed New York. In 2000, the state announced plans to shift to the new blue-based license plates with Niagara Falls in one corner and Manhattan’s skyline in the other. Due to both registration enforcement and the desires to represent upstate New York, the license plates had to change.

Now, just eight years after the new plates debuted, it is time once again for New Yorkers to purchase new license plates for the DMV. The new design, shown above, returns New York to its yellow and blue license plates roots, but few are happy with the requirement to spend $25 on new license plates.

According to the DMV, the current license plates were guaranteed for only five years. After half a decade, the license plates, according to state officials, begin to lose their reflectivity and show the effects of wear and tear. Meanwhile, new law enforcement technologies have come into play that rely on shiny license plates. “License plates are a fundamental tool of law enforcement that has been enhanced in recent years through a variety of technologies that improve their readability, especially under low light conditions,” State Police Superintendent Harry J. Corbitt said. “The State Police has worked cooperatively with DMV to ensure that the new plates will continue to serve the law enforcement community effectively.”

Or something like that. The real answer is, of course, one of economics. By requiring and charging for new license plates, the state can generate revenue at a time when it has none. In fact, David J. Swarts, Commissioner of Motor Vehicles and Chair of the Governor’s Traffic Safety admitted as much. “The bold colors of the new license plate reflect New York’s force and its resilience,” he said. “These new plates, in the official colors of the State of New York, will help maintain highway safety, reduce the number of unregistered and uninsured vehicles on our roads, and generate $129 million in General Fund revenue over two years, which will help address the State’s financial crisis.”

As numerous New Yorkers have been speaking out against the new license plates over the last two days, we turn then to this plan’s relationship to the MTA. On its surface, the state’s need to fill its General Fund coffers has nothing to do with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Yet, the funding plan should.

When the state levied payroll taxes and automobile registration fees on MTA counties, it did so because the MTA needed money and these counties benefit from a healthy mass transit network. Politicians and small business owners complained, and in fact, efforts to repeal the taxes are ongoing today. However, whether business owners know this or not, these counties stand to lose more economically from reduced transit service. In other words, residents outside of the city enjoy significant externalities due to the presence of public transit options whether they use Metro-North, the LIRR or New York City Transit offerings or not.

With the license plates, the state is making a pure and simple money grab. If the outrage over these new license plates isn’t at least as large as the Putnam and Dutchess County protests against the MTA, then it is not a stretch to say that the residents and politicians from these areas simply do not understand economics of access and the interplay between urban and suburban areas.

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Wrapped subway cars, the world’s best present. (Photos by NGC/ Hoff Productions)

Tonight at 8 p.m. the National Geographic channel will go behind the scenes of the subway car manufacturing process. The latest installment in the Ultimate Factories series, tonight’s show will follow the manufacturing process for one of the new R160 cars as it goes from France to Brazil to upstate New York before arriving in our subway system.


Neil Genzling, TV critic for The Times has already seen the show, and he praises it for the clips of the reefing process.

For regular users of the subway what’s likely to get the heart really racing comes near the end, when the program takes a brief detour to show what happens to retired subway cars. That’s when we see the gray monstrosities being deep-sixed 20 miles off the Maryland coast to create an artificial reef for marine life.

Watching those cars going under feels like revenge, or vindication, or something, for all those appointments missed because the R and the N — the Rarely and the Never — didn’t show up, or because an indecipherable intercom failed to convey that the E train was going to skip the next 20 stops, or insert your own subway nightmare here.

For those further interested in the companies that make the trains, Infrastructurist’s Yonah Freemark has published a series of posts about train manufacturing companies. He started with Alstom, moved on to Bomardier, then examined Talgo and looked at the Japanese newcomers. Good stuff.

After the jump, a four-minute video preview of tonight’s show. Read More→

Categories : Rolling Stock
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ATUTWU200 Over the last few months, the MTA’s generally tenuous relationship with its union workers — and in particular, the Transport Workers Union — has become strained, and it’s starting to fray. The trouble started when an arbitration panel awarded the TWU 11 percent in raises over the next three years, and although the process was called “binding arbitration,” the MTA could legally appeal the decision on certain grounds. When the agency opted for this path, labor peace started to deteriorate, and things are slowly coming to a head.

We start first with a non-TWU story and with a follow up to last week’s tragic accident that left a pedestrian dead after getting struck by a bus while he was cross the street. On Tuesday, I reported that this bus driver had been suspended for texting behind the wheel. Protests by the Amalgamated Transit Union, though, led to a simple suspension.

Yesterday, the Daily News added a shocking twist to this sad story. The driver had been posting nasty notes about passengers on his Facebook page. According to the report, these notes were about “killing, committing suicide and beating people.” Now, the MTA Inspector General Barry Kluger has initiated a probe to find out why Transit did not initiate a psychological evaluation of Jeremy Philhower and why the agency faced such fierce resistance when they it tried to dismiss this driver. This accident — seemingly avoidable — should lead to a change in the way these cases are handled by both the unions and the MTA.

Next, we arrive at an Op-Ed by Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute. She takes the MTA to task for its role the TWU arbitration process:

Arbitration likely was a ruse, although we don’t know for sure. We can guess that neither Gov. Paterson nor the MTA thought that awarding huge raises would fly publicly, especially when the MTA needed a multibillion-dollar bailout.

But nobody wanted to annoy the TWU. It seems likely that the arbitrators were brought in to insulate the pols from public anger. Just two weeks ago, Paterson maintained this fiction, saying that, though “we don’t have the money,” the arbitrators “probably made the correct ruling technically.”

And the MTA wasn’t exactly careful, on behalf of the taxpayers, to assure a pristine process. It was almost unbelievably outrageous, as we learned long after the fact, that the “indepen dent” arbitrator on the three-man panel — former Deputy Mayor John Zuccotti, who represented the public — agreed, with the MTA’s support, to fork over his $116,000 “fee” to a TWU-controlled charity.

That is, the MTA used a supposedly independent process to wash a payment back to its “adversary” in the arbitration.

Gelinas calls for the state legislature to fix the way the MTA negotiates with its unions. She wants to see an end to what she terms “backroom deals,” and she wants the authority, going through some lean economic times, to be able to exert pressure on the unions to get more out of their workers. The politics of Gelinas’ Manhattan Institute may be more to the right than those of many New Yorkers, but she raises some questions here for the MTA that need to be aired.

Finally, with the MTA Board set to meet next Wednesday, the TWU will host another Day of Outrage protest in front of MTA headquarters. Meanwhile, the Union has appealed to the U.N.’s International Labor Organization in an effort to get New York State’s anti-strike Taylor Law repealed. Although the United Nation’s labor commission has no binding authority over New York state law, a statement against the Taylor could, in the words of one labor expert, “influence decisions by local lawmakers.”

I get the sense that, if the law allowed them to do so, the city’s transit unions would be on the verge of a strike. As the MTA’s appeal continues, as cost-cutting measures come into play, these labor wars will only grow more acrimonious.

Categories : ATU, TWU
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Then-MTA head Lee Sander, left, with Mayor Bloomberg, Jorge Posada and Brian Cashman during the May unveiling of the Metro-North Yankee stadium stop. Photo by Benjamin Kabak.

For the New York Yankees, the first season in the team’s new stadium ended in grand fashion. A week ago, the team captured the franchise’s 27th World Series Championship with a victory at home. As part of the new infrastructure supporting the stadium, Metro-North began train service to the area, and the transit agency says that it too had a season for the ages.

According to numbers released by the agency, 6009 people — or 12 percent of the total stadium attendance — took Metro-North to Yankee Stadium for Game 6 of the World Series. That record day capped a season well within the projections, and Metro-North officials were pleased with the ridership levels and revenue streams from the new station. “Overall, for the first season, the results are very good. It is a big success,” Howard Permut, president of Metro-North, said.

Long a part of the plan to use construction of a new Yankee Stadium to help aid in the revitalization of the South Bronx, the Metro-North stop was nearly discarded when the MTA and the City could not agree to a funding plan. In May 2007, two years before the projected opening date, though, the City agreed to pay $38 million in construction costs as long as the MTA footed the bill for the other $53 million. The Yankees, prime beneficiaries of the station, contributed nothing.

In late May, the station opened for service, and as the Yanks’ successful baseball season wore on, the station grew in popularity. For weekday games, ridership averaged to 2900 people per game. During the weekend, that number reached 4000, and prior to the playoffs, the single most popular game was the Saturday, August 8 affair against the Red Sox. Approximately 5600 fans took Metro-North to that game. During October, the station’s popularity hit its peak. For the eight playoff home games, Metro-North averaged 4800 riders per game.

Amidst these numbers, Metro-North officials all but guaranteed the future benefits of the Yankee Stadium stop. “The success of this station is assured as more and more people try the service,” Permut said. “Those who have left their cars behind are generating very positive word-of-mouth evidence that the railroad is safe, easy, fast, reliable, and beats driving and parking.”

Yet, despite these assurances, these ridership totals are lower than initial projections. During the build-up to the station’s opening, Metro-North documents believed that between 6000-10,000 fans per game would flock to the commuter rail station. Although Metro-North officials blame a rainier-than-usual summer and the fact that the Yanks rarely sold out their stadium as causes for their low ridership totals, I’m willing to chalk that up to Year One. Fans were not aware of this new option, and as word-of-mouth spread, more left their cars at home and turned to the trains.

Still, the real test for the Metro-North stop at the country’s most transit-accessible baseball stadium will be next season. Coming off of a World Series title, the Yankees will again draw between 48,000-50,000 fans per game, and the station should see ridership figures approach that projected average. With just 100 riders per day passing through the station on non-game days, more Yankee fans will have to turn to the station for it to meet projections.

Even with these numbers, though, the station is providing revenue for Metro-North. The agency drew in approximately $200,000 in advertising and expects to net another $10,000 in vending machine sales. And that is good news for the cash-strapped MTA.

Categories : Metro-North
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  • 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
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  • 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)
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