• 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)

AtheistAd Let’s talk for a minute about God. Or maybe I should say: Let’s talk for a minute about those who don’t believe God, a god, any gods exist. Now, I’m not going to get all religious on you, but a recent advertisement in the subways has raised the ire of, well, anyone religious who does not respond well to people with beliefs that may differ from their own.

The brouhaha over the ad at right started last week when Jennifer 8. Lee of The Times first reported on the impending atheist ads. An anonymous donor paid the $25,000 in order for the Big Apple Coalition of Reason to place this pro-atheism ad in 12 subway stations systemwide for one month. Deemed the cheapest advertising solution — a subway car costs $70,000 for a month and Times Square billboards go for $45-$50,000 — the ad will appear at the three 14th St. stations on the West Side; 23rd St. on the 8th Ave. line; Penn Station in three locations; 86th and 96th Sts. on Lexington; 42nd St. at Bryant Park; Lincoln Center, 72nd and 86th Sts. along Central Park West; and W. 4th St.

Of course, whenever religion is involved, people tend to grow a little hot under the collar. Jason Fink of amNew York tracked down some disgruntled straphangers. “I teach my children to believe in God and lead a life faithful to Him,” Aime Roberts of the Bronx said of the ads. “If my children see these ads that say there is no God, they’ll think their mother is lying.”

Another woman — obviously ill-informed of the Constitution — used the ad to bash the MTA. “The MTA can just do whatever it wants and get away with it,” Charlene McNair-Lawery of Brooklyn said to Fink. Of course, since the MTA is a government entity, freedom of religions and various sundry First Amendment concerns practically guarantee that this ad will appear, and an agency spokesman said that only nudity and vulgar language are prohibited in advertisements shown on MTA property.

The real fun began when Sean Hannity jumped into the fray. In one clip, the Fox News commentator posed a question, “Can you imagine the outrage if a Christian group put pro-God ads in the New York City subways? What outrage.” But as Subway Sights noted, Christians have been plastering the 41st St. walkway at Times Square with pro-Christianity placards for years, and other religious-themed materials abound underground.

So 400 words into this post, where does that leave us? With a big to do about nothing. The MTA has to place the ad, and for $25,000, they certainly will. Meanwhile, I have to wonder if subway advertising is really this insidious. Do we look at the ads we see every day? Clyde Haberman accused the Train of Thought program of being too gloomy last week, but outside of MTA PSAs and Doctor Zizmor, can anyone name something hawked in the subway?

For most of us, the subway is a chance to escape. We read our books; we do our crossword puzzles; we zone out to music on our iPods. If someone wants to preach, go for it. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before, and most of us won’t even notice it’s there anyway.

Categories : Subway Advertising
Comments (19)

A few months ago, the MTA unveiled the details of its first subway station naming rights contract. For $200,000 a year over 20 years, Barclays will attach its name to the Atlantic Ave./Pacific St. stop. Once — or if — the new Nets arena opens at that location, the station will become Barclays Center/Atlantic Ave./Pacific St. It is geographically accurate, if a bit unwieldy, and we all know that the MTA needs the cash.

Additionally, we’ve often discussed expanding the MTA’s economic horizons by instituting an Adopt-a-Station program. Similar to the Adopt-a-Highway program in place across the nation, local businesses would pay to get their names on the station. These businesses could then be responsible for ensuring the cleanliness of subway stations or the money could go toward renovation and rehabilitation projects at that station. It is an unorthodox call, to be sure, but not out of the realm of the ordinary.

In fact, that is just what the Chicago Transit Authority may do. According to a CTA spokesperson, Apple and the Windy City’s transit authority are in talks to have the computer giant sponsor a station rehab. Lewis Lazare of the Chicago Sun-Times reports:

A CTA spokeswoman confirmed that the transit authority is in talks with the computer and iPhone behemoth about a deal that could net the cash-strapped CTA as much as $4 million in funding from Apple to pay for an upgrade of the run-down subway station at North and Clybourn, which is adjacent to an Apple retail store now under construction and expected to open next year.

In exchange for its millions, Apple would receive first dibs on any and all advertising that eventually goes up at the rehabbed subway stop, which would allow Apple to create what is known as a “station domination” advertising effect at the North and Clybourn station.

According to Lazare’s report, the funding deal would not include naming rights. Chicago is not yet ready to turn over the names of their El stops to private corporations.

For Chicago, a deal of this nature makes perfect sense. The CTA is in worse financial straits than the MTA and has recently proposed massive service cuts and a 30 percent fare hike. They desperately need any money they can get.

So again, though, I propose this idea for New York. At some point, the MTA should seriously considering looking at local business investment in subway stations. The agency’s new modular approach to station rehabilitation and component replacement is a bid step in the right direction and helps alleviate the nearly unattainable State of Good Repair for the system’s stations. With a little bit of creativity, the money though is out there, and we need not look further than Chicago and to Apple for proof.

Categories : CTA
Comments (21)
  • Paterson: Schools to be reimbursed for MTA tax · When the state legislature passed the MTA bailout this spring, numerous organizations cried foul over the 0.33 percent payroll tax. Schools and non-profits led the charge, but small businesses weren’t silent either. Earlier this year, Gov. David Paterson announced that, despite a $3 billion budget gap, New York State would reimburse schools for the payroll tax, but last year, he put a scare into education officials when he said the state would not be able to deliver all promised funds to schools this year. This week, after Republican representatives cried foul, Paterson reiterated his stance that schools will be reimbursed. Opposition remains to the payroll tax, however, and the state would be wise to look into congestion pricing or East River Bridge tools as a more viable and equitable solution to the MTA’s fiscal woes. · (2)

The MTA’s station agents have made the headlines lately. Over the summer and into September, the stories concerned the MTA’s plans to eliminate a few hundred agents and the potential impact unstaffed stations would have on the system. A few weeks into the great Station Agent Elimination Project, nothing much has changed underground.

Meanwhile, at the same time as efforts to cut the station agents gained headlines, the MTA was engaged in something of a sting operation. Using college interns to pose as subway riders, the line general manager on the Number 4 line graded his station clerks. Eitan Gavish and Pete Donohue have a little bit more about this story:

Subway managers on the No. 4 line used college interns posing as straphangers to rate clerks in terms of how helpful and courteous they were when approached. “It’s like a mystery shopper program,” NYC Transit Charles Seaton said Friday, referring to storeowners’ use of fake shoppers to review staff and other retail workers. The young subway sleuths in Operation Courtesy made their rounds on the Lexington Ave. line during the summer.

Results are still being compiled, but some workers behind the glass apparently needed immediate polishing. “Some have been spoken to on an informal basis,” Seaton said, stressing the reviews will not lead to disciplinary charges. “You get all kinds. You get nice people, some not so nice at all,” said a clerk, who also did not want to be named.

William Henderson, executive director of the MTA’s Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, said he believed the vast majority of clerks were professional. “There are people who are very good, friendly and adept at dealing with the public, and some who may need to be coached a little bit on how to do a better job,” Henderson said.

That is, word for word, the Daily News’ entire story. Considering the implications of the eventual report and the ways in which Transit went about assessing their workers, that’s a rather short piece.

So without having the report in front of me, I can make a few educated guess about what we’ll find out and what it means for the station clerks. I think we’ll find out, as Henderson said, that some are better than others at their jobs, but I think we’ll find out that far more of the station clerks are either apathetic or disrespectful toward straphangers in need. I say that not out of malice for the station clerks but from first-hand experience underground. Some station clerks are very friendly; others can’t be bothered for the time of day and wouldn’t know their ways around the neighborhoods in which they work.

The real impact of this report though will be twofold. First, how will the MTA work to correct the problem of poor customer relationships? In the end, station clerks, while they serve a job, are the faces of the MTA. They are what many New Yorkers consider to be the epitome of the MTA. If the station clerks are rude, straphangers think poorly of the entire system. If the experiences at the booths are bad, riders are bound to consider the agency inept in its hiring and personnel decisions. A better training program for station clerks will be a must.

On the other hand, how will station clerks — union employees, at that — respond to the MTA’s backhanded attempts at judging them? At a time when Transit is trying to eliminate station clerks to save jobs, the clerks are being undermined in a sense by their bosses. Instead of an open review process, the MTA has employed an undercover system to judge first hand just how these employees are doing in their jobs. At a time when labor relations are tense, this move might not go over too well.

The commenters on the Daily News aren’t too sympathetic to the station clerks, and stories of rudeness abounds. I’ll pass final judgment when the report is released, but in this area, the MTA can show improvement.

Comments (17)

As Second Ave. Sagas nears its third birthday, I’m always looking for ways to expand my offerings to my readers. The site started out as a one-a-day blog back in 2006, and I’ve expanded it to feature at least three posts per day. I’ve brought on some guest columnists, and I’ve encouraged readers to interact with me via a Twitter account and a Facebook page.

Today, I’d like to introduce a new weekend feature for the site. Every Friday, when I post the Weekend Service Advisories, I’m going to include a map courtesy of Subway Weekender that shows just how the subway changes impact travel. Shawn Lynch, the founder of Subway Weekender and the man behind the map, has been kind enough to supply me with his PDF of weekend service changes, and I will include it every Friday in the post. You can find this week’s by clicking on the image below or downloading it from here.

Remember: These weekend service changes come to me from the MTA and are subject to change without notice. Check signs in your local station and listen for on-board announcements for up-to-the minute changes. Click the image below to download the weekend service map in PDF format. The service alerts follow.


From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, October 25, uptown 1 trains skip 103rd, 110th, 116th, and 125th Streets due to rail replacement.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, downtown 1/2 trains skip 86th, 79th, 66th, 59th, and 50th Streets due to station rehab work at 96th Street and 59th Street and tunnel lighting installation.


From 12:01 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Saturday, October 24 and Sunday, October 25, and from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, 3 train service is extended to/from 34th Street (instead of Times Square-42nd Street) due to station rehab work at 96th Street and 59th Street and tunnel lighting installation.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, downtown 4 trains run local from 125th Street to Brooklyn Bridge due to Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer construction.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, uptown 4 trains run express from Brooklyn Bridge to 14th Street, then local to 125th Street due to Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer construction.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, there are no 5 trains between Bowling Green and Grand Central-42nd Street due to Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer construction. Customers should take the 4 instead.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, uptown 6 trains run express from Brooklyn Bridge to 14th Street due to Broadway-Lafayette Street to Bleecker Street transfer construction.


From 4 a.m. Saturday, October 24 to 10 p.m. Sunday, October 25, Manhattan-bound 7 trains skip 111th, 103rd, 90th, 82nd, 74th, 69th, 52nd, 46th, 40th, and 33rd Streets due to track panel installation.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 23 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, free shuttle buses replace A trains between 207th Street and 168th Street due to tunnel and lighting rehabilitation. Customers may transfer between the Broadway or Fort Washington Avenue shuttle buses and the A trains at 168th Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, A trains run local between 168th Street and 145th Street due to tunnel and lighting rehabilitation.


From 10:30 p.m. Friday, October 23 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, free shuttle buses replace the A between Far Rockaway and Beach 98th Street. There are no Rockaway Shuttle S trains to Rockaway Park due to station rehabilitation at Beach 67th Street, Beach 44th Street and Beach 25th Street.


At all times until December 21, 2009, Manhattan-bound A platforms at Beach 90th and Beach 105th Streets are closed for rehabilitation. At all times until January 18, 2010, Far Rockaway-bound S platforms at Beach 67th, Beach 44th, and Beach 25 Streets are closed for rehabilitation.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, downtown A trains skip 50th, 23rd, and Spring Streets due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization project.


From 6:30 a.m. to midnight, Saturday, October 24 and Sunday, October 25, downtown C trains skip 50th, 23rd, and Spring Streets due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization project.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, there are no C trains between 168th and 145th Streets due to tunnel and lighting rehabilitation. Customers should take the A instead.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, D trains run local between 34th Street-Herald Square and West 4th Street due to the 5th Avenue Interlocking Signal System Modernization.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, D trains run local between DeKalb Avenue and 36th Street due to the Culver Viaduct Reconstruction.


From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday, October 25, Manhattan-bound D trains run on the N line from Stillwell Avenue to 36th Street (Brooklyn) due to switch repairs at Bay 50th Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, E trains are rerouted on the F line between Manhattan and Queens due to the 5th Avenue Interlocking Signal System Modernization:

  • There are no E trains between 34th Street and World Trade Center.
  • Queens-bound E trains run on the F from 34th Street-Herald Square to 21st Street-Queensbridge; trains resume normal E service from Roosevelt Avenue to Jamaica Center.
  • Manhattan-bound E trains run on the F line from 47th-50th Streets to 34th Street/Herald Square.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, Queens-bound E platforms at Queens Plaza, 23rd Street-Ely Avenue, Lexington Avenue-53rd Street and 5th Avenue stations are closed due to the 5th Avenue Interlocking Signal System Modernization: Customers may take the R, G or 6 instead. Note: Free shuttle buses connect the Court Square G/23rd Street-Ely Avenue, Queens Plaza, and 21st Street-Queensbridge F stations.


From 12:01 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Saturday, October 24, Manhattan-bound E trains run express from Roosevelt Avenue to Queens Plaza due to track repairs.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 23 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, there are no F trains between Jay Street and Church Avenue due to the Culver Viaduct Reconstruction. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service.


From 12:01 a.m. to 12 noon, Saturday, October 24, Brooklyn-bound G trains run express from Roosevelt Avenue to Queens Plaza due to track repairs.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 23 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, free shuttle buses replace G trains between Bergen Street and Church Avenue due to the Culver Viaduct Reconstruction.


From 8:30 p.m. to midnight Friday, October 23, and from 6:30 a.m. to midnight Saturday, October 24 and Sunday, October 25, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square due to the 5th Avenue Interlocking Signal System Modernization. Brooklyn-bound G customers may take the R to Queens Plaza and transfer to a shuttle bus connecting to Court Square. Queens-bound G customers may take the R instead.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 23 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, free shuttle buses replace L trains between Lorimer Street and Myrtle-Wyckoff Avenues due to a track chip-out at Jefferson Street station.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, N trains run local between DeKalb Avenue and 59th Street (Brooklyn) due to the Culver Viaduct Reconstruction.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, N trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge between DeKalb Avenue and Canal Street in both directions due to general maintenance.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, Coney Island-bound Q trains skip Avenue J due to station rehabilitation.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, Q trains run local between 57th Street-7th Avenue and Canal Street due to general maintenance.


From 6:30 a.m. to 12 Noon, Saturday, October 24, Manhattan-bound R trains run express from Roosevelt Avenue to Queens Plaza due to track repairs.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, shuttle trains will operate all weekend between 36th Street-Brooklyn and Bay Ridge-95th Street due to general maintenance.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 26, there are no R trains between 34th Street-Herald Square and 36th Street (Brooklyn) due to general maintenance. Customers should take the N or 4 instead.

Categories : Service Advisories
Comments (3)
  • MTA looking to reactivate SI’s North Shore Rail · As far as transit goes, Staten Island is the neglected borough. It has some express bus service, a ferry and one rail line, but hardly anyone who lives on the island thinks highly of its mass transit options. Borough President James Molinaro has made beefing up public transportation one of his biggest issues, and today, the MTA announced a $1.5 million contract with SYSTRA Engineering to determine the fate of the North Shore Rail line. SYSTRA, a frequent MTA consultant, will spend nine months studying whether the rail line should be reactivated for trains or turned into dedicated bus lanes. (For a sense of the route, check out this Wikipedia entry.)

    After this initial study is complete, the MTA would have to engage in a costly Environmental Impact Study. Although the money isn’t there yet for the EIS, it’s promising to see the MTA expending some effort on Staten Island, and the MTA acknowledged as much. “We’re excited to be moving forward with new ideas for improving mobility on the north and west shores of Staten Island,” MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said to SILive.com’s Maura Yates. “This study will shed light on the benefits and costs of several transit possibilities, and we look forward to an informed dialogue with Staten Island residents.” · (31)

Jay Walder is currently the MTA CEO and Chairman because of the success he enjoyed in London and then at McKinsey as a transit consultant. A veteran of New York’s MTA, he helped turn around Transport for London and led an effort to modernize the system. Now, as New York’s transit network stands in need of some major investment and massive upgrades, Walder is looking to bring his team from London across the pond to help drag the MTA into the 21st Century.

He is surrounding himself with his team, though, in an interesting and intriguing fashion. Instead of contracting out to a high-priced consultant firm such as McKinsey, he has proposed a deal that would bring Transport for London officials to the states on a two-year, no-bid consulting deal. It is an unorthodox approach toward transit management, but it just might work. Micheal Grynbaum has the details:

The arrangement, unusual for a pair of public agencies, would be worth up to $500,000 and would pay for Mr. Walder’s former colleagues to fly across the pond and work as on-site consultants in New York. The Londoners’ salary and benefits, along with travel and lodging, would be covered by public funds.

Many of Mr. Walder’s top priorities for the New York system — including computerized, scannable fare cards and arrival-time clocks at bus and subway stops — are modeled after similar programs he introduced in London, where he worked until 2006. “Rather than having to bring in high-priced consultants, we’re getting experts with success already in doing these things, and getting them at public sector costs,” said Jeremy Soffin, a spokesman for the authority.

Staff members from the London agency would charge $125 to $200 an hour, according to a document released this week. The authority called those rates “fair and reasonable,” and said the fees were half what a private consultant might charge.

Reaction to the deal from transit experts and advocates was mixed. Nicole Gelinas as the conservative Manhattan Institute told Grynbaum that she is hesitant over the no-bid contract. “A no-bid contract with a former employer could set a bad precedent,” she said. “Mr. Walder has to bend over backwards here to explain what exactly these people will bring to the table that we can’t get through the expertise for which we’re already paying him.”

Gene Russianoff though was more willing to give Walder the benefit of the doubt. “I think he’s made a case that he’s going to get value for the deal,” the Straphangers Campaign head said. “He deserves a chance to do it on his own terms.”

In the end, the MTA Board will have to approve the contract, and even the no-bid nature of it shouldn’t turn them off from it. They don’t need to make it a precedent if they are clear that it is a one-time offer.

My only gripe with this deal is its duration. It is definitely a cheaper deal than one the MTA would sign with McKinsey’s transit experts, but does the MTA need a two-year treatment with Transport for London? Can they bring the good ideas with them for 12 months?

As Walder wraps up his third week in the job, he has shown a willingness to throw out new ideas and bring in new people with a background of success. His desire to succeed and his background as a transit expert — as opposed to a real estate magnate or politically-connected businessman — are manifesting themselves. We can only he can deliver the results we need.

Categories : MTA
Comments (17)
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