• Wanted: A few good subway maps · I’m currently working on a post about the evolution of the New York City subway map and the various ways in which station location and geographical information are presented on maps from around the globe. I’ve come to the realization though that I do not have a few maps I might need for this project, and so I’m going to attempt to crowd-source. Do you, loyal SAS readers, have any subway maps from the early or mid 1990s lying around? Do you want to find a new home for them (or lend them to me for a bit)? If so, please contact me. · (2)
  • MTA awards last major East Side Access contract · As the Second Ave. Subway battles problems and delays, the MTA’s East Side Access project is moving ahead mostly as scheduled. Yesterday, the MTA awarded a $659 million tunneling contract to a joint venture team of Granite Construction Inc., Traylor Bros. Inc. and Frontier-Kemper Constructors Inc. The contract, according to the Associated Press, covers the “Queens Bored Tunnels and Structures for Long Island Rail Road’s East Side Access project in New York. The work to be done on the project represents the last major link in the tunnels from Queens to Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan.”

    Work on this tunnel is scheduled to take 42 months and will begin immediately. Reports the AP, “The companies will excavate and concrete line four bored tunnels beneath an active rail storage yard. The tunnels will total nearly two miles in length and about 22 feet in diameter. The work also includes excavating three emergency exit structures, underpinning existing bridges and demolishing various rail yard buildings.” Although it will not meet its original 2012 completion date, the East Side Access project remains on track for a 2015 opening. · (6)

Now and then, we leave New York for glimpses of life in other transit systems. While TWU members are protesting MTA’s current labor policies, other public transit systems are running into their own labor-induced fiscal problems. Today’s journey out of New York City takes us south to Washington, D.C., where the WMATA is in its own financial bind.

The excellent urban planning and pro-pedestrian and -transit blog Greater Greater Washington has tirelessly covered Metro issued in the District. Over the last few weeks, David Alpert and his team of contributors have explored the WMATA’s $100 million budget gap. To us, that figure represents small beans. After all, what is a $100 million gap after a year spent talking about a $1.5 billion gap? Yet, the vitality and viable of the D.C. area is heavily dependent upon a properly functioning Metro system.

Michael Perkins first tackled the causes of the gap a few weeks ago. According to Perkins, over half of the raise is related to increased labor costs. Nearly $20 million will go to mandatory 3 percent pay raises for WMATA employees, and another $33 million comes from pension, health care and benefits plan increases. MetroAccess, the WMATA equivalent of our ParaTransit service, will cost an additional $19.7 million. Energy costs round out the budget deficit.

To a tee, D.C. is facing the same problems as New York City. The MTA is facing a mandatory three-year, 11-percent raise for its employees. Pension and health care costs continue to rise, and ParaTransit’s economics were a sticking point during last winter’s fare hike debate.

A few days after exploring the sources of the deficit, Perkins examined some gap-closing measures. His main proposal examined a rather modest (by New York’s standards) five percent fare increase with fees designed to reward constant riders. The WMATA can also ask Maryland, Virginia and the federal government for more money. The MTA doesn’t enjoy that luxury but isn’t beholden to three ideologically different and very fickle overseers. Finally, Perkins explored some service cuts and cost reductions including turning escalators into staircases during off-peak hours as a way to save energy.

The GGW series wrapped up last week with an exploration of the long-term financial plans for the America’s Subway. While the MTA just announced a $28.8 billion five-year capital plan, the WMATA believes it needs just $7.6 billion over the next ten years to acehive and maintain its own State of Good Repair. Without more borrowing or contributions from the three jurisdictions served by Metro, the DC subway system will begin a slide into disrepair.

In the end, I’m not surprised by any of these fiscal challenges facing the WMATA. Around the country, the story is the same. High operations costs coupled with ever-increasing compensation packages for workers along with a weakening economy are sending the nation’s transportation authorities into fiscal difficulties. Although these networks move millions of people every day, the federal government is loath to invest in them as heavily as they do roads, and cities such as New York, Washington and Chicago are left with severely unfounded infrastructure agencies that are also heavily in debt. When will that policy change?

Categories : WMATA
Comments (6)
  • Maloney slams SAS and MTA inspector general investigates · As the timeline for the Second Ave. Subway stretches infinitely into the future, politicians and watchdogs are growing tired of frequent delays and no promises of a full subway line. Originally set to open in 2012, Phase I of the SAS may now open for business by the end of 2017 if everything as it is now continues apace. In a recent review of the project, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney rated it a B- and warned that delays could push the completion date well into 2018. While Maloney praised the project for creating thousands of jobs, managers, she said, have not kept the new subway line on budget or on time.

    While I’m still waiting to get a copy of the report, the Daily News offers up its own shortened version: Maloney’s office is critical of the MTA’s inability to recognize potential problem spots — such as structurally deficient buildings — ahead of time, and she feels many delays could have been avoided or included in initial project assessments. Meanwhile, Barry Kluger, the MTA’s inspector general, will soon issue his own report on the delays and problems associated with the long-awaited Second Ave. Subway. This probe, according to The Post, will examine “the MTA’s repeated contract revisions, the amount of money it allocated to buy real estate to continue the project, and the reported trouble between the agency and Con Edison.”

    Finally, in other (bad) Second Ave. Subway news, the MTA has been unable to secure a blasting permit due to two shaky buildings on East 92nd St. I first tackled this issue two weeks ago, and the MTA has remained in a holding pattern since June. Although the agency says the delay in securing the permit will not push back the completion date, the longer the delays go, the less likely that reality becomes. The MTA and the building’s owners are still battling over who exactly is responsible for the cracks that appeared in the building. The MTA says these buildings were structurally unsound before work began, and records support these contentions. The landlords say underground work exacerbated the problems. · (7)
  • TWU protests set to give MTA ‘a taste of hell’ · As the MTA continues its push to appeal the binding arbitration decision that guarantees TWU Local 100 workers an 11 percent raise spread over three years, TWU organizers are fighting back. After a picket really last week in front of MTA Headquarters, the labor union is planning two more days of protests. The union members will rally from 4:30 p.m to 7 p.m. today in front of MTA HQ at 44th St. and Madison Ave. More ominous though is the transit-wide protest set for Oct. 14. It is being billed on the TWU’s website as the first day of outrage, and the TWU promises to give the MTA (and perhaps its riders) “a taste of hell.” I do believe a labor battle is brewing, and the city’s transit systems will serve as Ground Zero for the fight. [Daily News] · (18)

7th Ave. Tiles 1

To you and me, this 7th Ave. station on the IND Culver line is not in very good repair. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Since the New York City subways reached their nadir in the 1970s, the MTA has striven to achieve a State of Good Repair. While an admirable goal, it is a very limited one that is nearly impossible to reach or maintain. After falling decades behind in a planned station-by-station overhaul, the MTA, in its next five-year capital plan, is moving toward a more efficient component-based maintenance system that will better restore the system to that State of Good Repair.

One of the larger obstacles with the term is that it is a phrase of art, and few agencies can agree on its meaning. In a paper published earlier this year, the Transportation Research Board tried to define Good Repair, and the Federal Transit Administration sees a major backlog in projects designed to achieve a State of Good Repair for transit systems across the country.

Internally, the MTA says that a State of Good Repair is achieved “when the infrastructure components are replaced on a schedule consistent with their life expectancy.” In othe words, train cars have to be replaced as they break down, and fare payment systems, as I explored yesterday, have to be upgraded when the technology becomes obsolete. What happens though when parts of a station are in an adequate state of repair while other cosmetic parts aren’t? What happens when half of a platform needs an overhaul and the other does not?

For years, the MTA’s plan has not answered these questions. Rather, beginning in 1982 and set to run through 2020, the MTA’s State of Good Repair plan consisted simply of a station-by-station 100 percent renovation with emergency repairs made at other stations as necessary. Now, though, over 200 stations remain in need of renovations, and a system-wide overhaul would not wrap up until 2050. By then, the stations first renovated in the mid 1980s and early 1990s would need to be redone again. Meanwhile, as stations not scheduled for renovations for decades fall apart, as MTA documents say, “some stations that were rehabilitated in earlier capital programs have components that require repair.”

In the new capital plan, though, the MTA is loosening its approach toward station repairs. Instead of station-wide renovations that leave some stations waiting decades for a renovation, the new approach will be component-based. “The current labels no longer adequately describe the condition of the MTA’s infrastructure,” an attachment to the 2010-2014 Capital Plan reads. “This is because assets are comprised of many components, which have varying normal replacement requirements. These components must be regularly replaced for the total asset to remain in good repair. Future plans will evaluate the repair needs of the components in establishing the assets overall state of good repair.”

Recognizing that a subway station is “not a single asset,” the MTA is moving to a modular State of Good Repair component replacement plan while still maintaining the current station renovate pace. To do, the MTA has broken down its system into ten component parts: interior stairs; street stairs; platform edges; windscreens; canopies; platform floors, walls and ceilings; platform columns and thru-spans; mezzanine floors, walls and ceilings; vent bays; and the all-encompassing other.

Furthermore, the new strategy will be a three-tiered approach. As I mentioned above, full-scale station rehabilitation will continue apace. Station renewals — comprehensive improvements designed to replace components rated a three or worse on a five-point scale — will “refresh the appearance of the station.” Component renewals will “repair or replacement of individual station components in need of repair.” According to the MTA, “These investments will be based on the appropriate replacement cycles for individual components, and will be performed in a manner that is minimally intrusive to the customer experience.”

With this new plan in place, the MTA has an ambitious goal. All components rated a 3.5 or lower will be replaced within 15 years, and then Transit will maintain a 20-year cycle for all renewal-level maintenance projects. It is an ambitious plan to say the least but one that addresses the key shortcomings of the State of Good Repair concepts.

The news coverage of this inside-MTA overhaul has focused primarily on the stations set to receive upgrades. The Post looked at the 25 stations slated for an overhaul while the Daily News highlighted Seneca Ave., a station in Queens in which 86 percent of the components are in need of replacement. That is hardly the story though. Rather, the MTA is set to begin a method of overhauling the system that should modernize and maintain the parts in need of repair while recognizing that a systematic station-by-station overhaul is inadequate for our infrastructure needs. That’s a far better way to tackle repairs than trying to attain the unreachable State of Good Repair.

Comments (9)

For the last few months, the MTA and Chris Schoenfeld, a Second Ave. Sagas advertiser and the programmer behind the Station Stops blog and Metro-North scheduling iPhone application, have been engaged in a legal battle over data. The MTA has at times erroneously claimed copyright in its scheduling data and has generally made life tough for Schoenfeld. While you can read all about this conflict in my extensive post on the MTA’s struggles in an age of open information, the transit agency is not certain how it wants to proceed in a digital era.

The MTA is, of course, not alone in this sense. Public authority and governmental agencies are among the last to adopt technological innovation. While data in our wired world of 2009 wants to be freely available for people with the time and knowledge to create useful applications with it, government entities are hesitant to cede control of its information to those without ready access to it. Although programmers attach their names to these applications and draw revenue, when scheduling data is incorrect, the MTA would bear the brunt of the criticism. Or so the argument goes.

After this legal fight, though, the MTA claims it is turning a corner with its information. The agency has dropped its claims against Schoenfeld and a similar Long Island Rail Road application, and although Station Stops is still not available on the iPhone App Store, the MTA is changing its approach to data and developers, according to an article in today’s Times. Michael Grynbaum reports on this sea change at MTA headquarters:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said that it needed to ensure that information provided to the public was accurate, and that it was concerned about protecting its copyrighted logos, maps and other trademarks. A spokesman said that a licensing program offered an additional layer of scrutiny and protected the public’s interest in information that is produced with taxpayer dollars.

Christopher P. Boylan, the director of corporate and community affairs for the authority, said the agency was moving toward a more open stance with its data. Right now, for instance, many agencies offer their raw data on a shared Web site; New York’s agency makes it available only on a compact disc. Mr. Boylan said that and other policies may change soon.

“All of a sudden the word ‘apps’ has become part of the lingo,” he said. “We probably wouldn’t be having this conversation six months ago, exactly like this.”

Authority officials readily admit that their Web operations could use sprucing up. “We don’t have a staff that sits around thinking about apps,” Mr. Boylan said.

Based on the way the MTA’s website looks and navigates, I don’t think they have a staff sitting around thinking about something as basic as a transit web portal, let alone mobile phone applications. The MTA should not be afraid admit this institutional shortcoming and by opening up its data, outsource a potential solution to its digital problem.

It’s hard to tell based on Grynbaum’s article just what approach the MTA will be trying. The agency will still fiercely protect its trademarks and will ask for royalty fees for the use of copyrighted symbols — subway bullets and maps. As I explored a few weeks ago, the agency has no legal grounds for a copyright claim to its schedule data though.

Politicians throughout the country have pressured government agencies to open its scheduling data to a hungry public, and the MTA is no exception. Schoenfeld called upon some politicians to side with him in his David-vs.-Goliath fight, and the MTA may be ready to respond. For now, this is a provisional victory for transit advocates and riders. I won’t celebrate until we actually see the data out there for the world’s enjoyment. Progress, it seems, will be incremental.

Categories : MTA Technology
Comments (3)

When they MTA Board approved the 2010-2014 capital plan last week, they killed the MetroCard. With little fan fare or much attention beyond a short article in the Daily News, the MTA Board has sentenced the MetroCard to death. If all goes according to plan, Jay Walder will oversee the debut of a contact-less fare system sans the MetroCard by 2014.

The story of the MetroCard begins in June 1993 when the MTA handed out 3000 sample MetroCards for use in the system. At the time, the agency had plans to introduce the technology in 1994 and roll it out system-wide by 1997. Transit officials had hoped to integrate the card to enable users to pay for “telephone calls, snacks or other purchases at subway kiosks” with their MetroCards. That plan has clearly not come to fruition.

BlueMetroCard By 1997, when the MetroCards turned from blue to gold, the technology was already obsolete. That year, Hong Kong launched the Octopus Card and became the first municipality to use a contactless smart card for its public transit fare payment system. While the MTA’s MetroCard has become ubiquitous in New York, cities around the globe from London to Washington, DC, have all embraced a smart card-type payment program.

Now, though, the smart card movement is on the way out, and as the MetroCard nears its two-decade mark — antiquity in technological years — the MTA will spend nearly a total of $220 million over the next five years to assess potential replacements. The end product will, according to MTA documents, allow for unified fare payments across New York City Transit, Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North. “This system will speed payment, improve access to the system and provide opportunities for more seamless fare policy throughout the MTA region,” an MTA memo on the capital plan said.

Right now, the agency does not know exactly what its next fare payment plan will resemble. For the last few years, Transit had been testing a MasterCard-based trial along Lexington Ave. called “Tap & Go.” Riders with credit cards equipped with an RFID chip could just tap into the system and speed through the turnstile. That system will soon be expanded to buses and could provide a model for the future.

While I have long assumed that smart cards similar to the WMATA’s SmartCard or London’s Oyster Card would be our future, the MTA documents and a few recent studies now have me convinced otherwise. Late last week, Michael Frumin passed along a 2008 article portending the end of the Oyster Card by 2010. The MTA itself says it will explore “standard bank and credit cards, pre-paid transit payment cards, key-tags and smart phones” as next-generation payment modes. If the MTA develops and integrates this technology properly, it will not resemble either the MetroCard or familiar smart card currently in use across the globe.

In the end, the smart chip technology and next-gen fare modalities will allow the MTA more flexibility and will improve access to the system. Bus boarding speeds will stand to benefit greatly from a touch-and-go system while a credit- or debit-card based system would reduce the need for in-system cash handling. The new system will be designed to allow for what the MTA terms “inter-model fare payment options,” and the agency hopes to offer simplified and expanded fare payment options.

The MTA is not known for its technological innovation. It lags behind in website development and cannot get a train-arrival board program off the ground. But by devoting serious attention to its fare payment system and bringing a technologically-minded expert to head up the system, the agency could be turning a corner. If the MetroCard is the price we pay for it, I will mourn but not miss that gold and blue piece of plastic.

Categories : MetroCard
Comments (28)

I’ve been running Second Ave. Sagas for nearly three years now, and I’ve built up a steady and devoted readership. At first, I was lucky to get my family and friends reading, but now people interested in transit issues check out this site just about everyday. It takes a lot of hard work and determination (and maybe some stubbornness) to build a site, and those of us who do rarely thank the readers who make it possible.

So this weekend, I want to thank everyone who reads everyday for stopping by. I want to thank those who contribute for commenting and those who e-mail me for getting in touch. I should also thank the three sites that have sent me the most traffic recently: Lockhart Steele and Joey Arak over at Curbed, the entire Times Metro desk at City Room and everyone at Streetsblog. To them, I tip my cap.

* * *

Below are the weekend service advisories. These come to me via the MTA and are subject to change without notice. Remember to check for signs at your local station and listen to on-board announcements for up-to-the-minute changes.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, September 25 to 9 a.m. Saturday, September 26, and from 11:30 p.m. Saturday, September 26 to 10 a.m. Sunday, September 27, there are no 1 trains between 14th Street and South Ferry. The 2 and 3 trains provide alternate service between 14th Street and Chambers Street. Free shuttle buses replace 1 trains between Chambers Street and South Ferry. These changes are due to track maintenance.


From 12:01 a.m. to 9 a.m. Saturday, September 26 and from 12:01 a.m. to 10 a.m. Sunday, September 27, 1 trains skip 28th, 23rd, and 18th Streets in both directions due to track maintenance. 2 and 3 trains provide alternate service.


From 12:01 a.m. to 9 a.m. Saturday, September 26 and from 12:01 a.m. to 10 a.m. Sunday, September 27, 2 and 3 trains run local between 96th Street and Chambers Street due to track maintenance.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 28, 4 trains run local between 125th Street and Brooklyn Bridge due to communications cable work.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 28, there are no 4 trains between Bowling Green and Utica Avenue due to communications cable work. The 3 and N provide alternate service. Note: 3 trains are extended to New Lots Avenue all weekend.


From 6:30 a.m. to midnight Saturday, September 26 and Sunday, September, 27, there are no 5 trains between Grand Central-42nd Street and Bowling Green due to communications cable work. Customers should take the 4 instead.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 28, Manhattan-bound 6 trains run express from Hunts Point Avenue to 3rd Avenue-138th Street due to a concrete pour at East 143rd Street-St. Mary’s Street.


At all times until December 21, 2009, Manhattan-bound A trains skip Beach 90th and Beach 105th due to station rehabilitation.


At all times until January 18, 2010, Far Rockaway-bound A trains skip Beach 67th, Beach 44th, and Beach 25th Streets due to station rehabilitations.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 28, A trains run local between Jay Street and Euclid Avenue due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization Project.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 28, Manhattan-bound A trains run on the F from Jay Street to West 4th Street, then run local to 59th Street due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization Project.


From 6:30 a.m. to midnight, Saturday, September 26 and Sunday, September 27, there are no C trains between Chambers Street-World Trace Center and Euclid Avenue due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization Project. Customers should take the A instead. Note: C trains run on the E track at Chambers Street-World Trade Center.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 28, D trains run local between 34th Street and West 4th Street due to a track chip-out in the 53rd Street tunnel.


From 12:01 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Saturday, September 26 and Sunday, September 27 and from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Monday, September 28, Coney Island-bound D trains run express from Pacific Street to 36th Street due to platform edge repair.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 28, E trains are rerouted on the F line in Manhattan and Queens due to a track chip-out in the 53rd Street tunnel:

  • There are no E trains between 34th Street and World Trade Center. Customers should take the A instead.
  • Manhattan-bound E trains run on the F line from Roosevelt Avenue to 34th Street/Herald Square.
  • Queens-bound E trains run on the F from 34th Street-Herald Square to 47th – 50th Sts.; trains resume normal E service from 5th Avenue to Jamaica Center.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 28, Manhattan-bound E platforms at Queens Plaza, 23rd Street/Ely Avenue, Lexington Avenue-53rd Street and 5th Avenue stations are closed due to a track chip-out in the 53rd Street tunnel. 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 8:30 p.m. to midnight Friday, September 25, and from 6:30 a.m. to midnight Saturday, September 26 and Sunday, September 27, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square due to the track chip-out in the 53rd Street tunnel. Brooklyn-bound customers may take the R to Queens Plaza, transfer to a shuttle bus connecting to Court Square. Queens-bound customers may take the E instead.


From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, September 26, downtown N trains skip 49th Street due to track cleaning.


From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday, September 27, downtown N trains skip 28th, 23rd, 8th and Prince Streets due to track cleaning.


From 12:01 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Saturday, September 26 and Sunday, September 27 and from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Monday, September 28, Coney Island-bound N trains run express from Pacific Street to 59th Street due to platform edge repair.


From 9:30 a.m. Friday, September 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 28, there are no Q trains between Prospect Park and Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue due to Brighton Stations Rehabilitation. Free shuttle buses and the D, F and N trains provide alternate service.


From 6:30 a.m. to midnight Saturday, September 26 and Sunday, September 27, 95th Street-bound R trains run express in Brooklyn from Pacific Street to 59th Street due to platform edge repair.


From 12:01 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Saturday, September 26 and Sunday, September 27, and from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Monday, September 28, Manhattan-bound R trains run local in Brooklyn from 59th Street to 36th Street due to platform edge repair.

Categories : Service Advisories
Comments (14)
  • Technology to improve a commute · Ten days ago, I linked to a WNYC series about improving our commutes and asked SAS readers to opine about their daily trips to and from home. Yesterday, WNYC dropped another podcast about improving our commutes. This one was on technology and its impact on the commute. The comments on WNYC’s website are telling. Most commuters are relying on iPhone applications, Google Maps, HopStop for the directions and the Kindle and iPods for distractions. Think bigger, I say.

    The best way for the MTA to improve my commute would be to offer real-time transit information on its website and for every station to be equipped with train arrival boards. I live five minutes from my subway stop. If I could check the status of my train and then arrive at the station just in time, I could streamline my commute. If I knew how long I would have to wait for a train, I could better temper my expectations and scheduling. While both of these proposals would require true technological investments, a system truly prepared and designed for the 21st Century should feature this information technology. · (4)
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