• MTA earns $2M federal grant for third-rail heaters · With a little help from the federal government, the MTA will get to explore the joys of central air. Last week, the MTA secured a $2 million stimulus grant that will fund the installation of 350 wireless control points for a third-rail heating system. The MTA will be able to monitor third rail heaters from a central location and turn them on or off depending on outside weather conditions. The agency says this technological innovation will reduce energy consumption by around 23,000 megawatt hours and save $1.6 million annually.

    This central heating program will replace the MTA’s current “always on” system. Right now, the 1000 third rail heaters are left on throughout the fall, winter and early spring regardless of whether or not icy conditions exist. The wireless central system should be operational by January 2012. “This project is part of the MTA’s overall commitment to lower energy costs and reduce our carbon footprint while putting more people to work as we continue to modernize our infrastructure,” MTA Chairman and CEO Jay Walder said in a statement. · (1)


The current contract plan for the Second Ave. Subway. (Via the MTA’s Sept. 24 presentation to CB 8. Click to enlarge.)

Over the weekend, a few SAS commenters got into a long discussion about the pace of work — or lack thereof — along Second Ave. People who are in the neighborhood on a daily basis see little day-to-day progress while those who come through the Upper East Side see that something has happened but aren’t quite sure what.

Meanwhile, as time ticks on, the MTA’s plans for a tunnel boring machine launch fall further behind schedule. At one point, the TBM work was set to wrap up by Christmas of 2009. Later on, the TBM should have launched in July. Now, with unstable buildings and negligent landlords plaguing construction, utility relocation work is progressing south of the launch box area, but the tunnel boring machine and the excavations that require blasting are in limbo.

OldScheduleLargeA few weeks ago, at a Community Board 8 meeting, the MTA unveiled a new schedule of contracts for the Second Ave. Subway. Ben at The Launch Box wrote upsome observations and analysis of this new document, and I’ve posted it above. Click the thumbnail at right for a comparison to a schedule released three years ago on July 11, 2006.

If we didn’t know about the myriad delays that have plagued the Second Ave. Subway, it would be shocking to see a timeline of this project pushed back four years over the span of 36 months. With contract lengths receding ever on into the future, it is of little wonder that people in the neighborhood think nothing is getting done.

Off the bat, we can see that the TBM launch box duration is a major source of delay. Originally slated to take 37 months, that aspect of the project is now scheduled for 51 months. It didn’t get started on time and won’t wrap up until June 2011. The station work too is set for a longer timeline. In 2006, the MTA budgeted 54 months for the 96th St. station work, 25 months for a retrofitting of the current 63rd St. stop on the F and 49 months each for the stations planned for 72nd St. and 86th St. The systems work and test runs were to take 53 months.

Those timelines have been blown out of the water. The 96th St. station is set to take 72 months to build; the 63rd St. stop will be under construction for 30 months; the actual work on the 86th St. stop will take 60 months; and the 72nd St. stop will be completed in 62 months. Systems work will last for 67 months, and Transit plans to run non-revenue tests for three months before an estimated December 2016 completion date. At the Launch Box, Ben notes that overall construction time has increased from seven years and one month to nine years eight months.

So what then are the causes? Soon, the MTA Inspector General will release a report that promises to be critical of the pace of construction. The Launch Box targets four specific problem areas: Utility relocation took far longer than expected; contracts were awarded later than expected; final design elements were not finalized until late in the process due to requests from the community for additional review; and real estate acquisition and stabilization problems have slowed down the overall process.

In the end, we knew the Second Ave. Subway has suffered through delays. With the hard evidence, though, it’s very tough to believe the delays are a thing of the past and that this subway line will open by the end of 2016 or the start of 2017. At what point does the MTA throw in the towel? When do we look for surface-based, light-rail solutions to the East Side transit congestion problems? Can the city afford to wait another seven or eight years for a subway line that may never fully open when more cost-efficient solutions are out there?

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New luggage racks are coming to seven airport-bound bus routes. (Photo courtesy of New York City Transit)

As urban airports go, New York City’s are generally transit-accessible. Subway lines to JFK’s Airtrain lead to 50-minute rides from midtown Manhattan, and although no subway heads directly to LaGuardia Airport, the M60 is a popular route for those flying out of the city’s soon-to-be 70-year-old commercial airport.

And yet, despite this transit-oriented approach to air travel, it is remarkably inconvenient to take a suitcase on public transportation. Have you tried lugging a giant wheeling suitcase on the subway, let alone the M60? It is a royal hassle.

Today, at the end of a semi-three-day weekend during which many New Yorkers travel, New York City Transit has unveiled a pilot program to equip airport-bound buses with luggage racks. The new racks, shown above, “should make for a more comfortable ride for passengers carrying luggage onboard while providing more room for everyone,” says the agency’s press release. No longer will suitcases block the narrow bus aisles. Instead, a good six bags can be stored on these luggage racks leading to more space and freer aisles.

Although the convenience of these racks is nearly indisputable, MTA plans a trial run and slow roll-out on seven airport-bound bus lines. The first luggage rack went into service today on the M60, and the rack is located across from the bus’ rear exit door.

“We believe that the racks will be a great amenity, making things more comfortable for our customers and even helping our bus operators speed their trips. We are going to have our managers out monitoring these buses, asking our customers and bus operators if they are seeing an improvement,” Joseph Smith, the Department of Buses’ senior V.P., said. “If the results are positive, we will expand the installation of the racks to other buses on these routes.”

For now, look for the customer-focused initiative to pop up on the M60, B15, Q3, Q10, Q33, Q48 and Q72 routes. Ten buses total will be outfitted with these luggage racks, and it won’t be long before taking the bus to airport is even easier than it is today.

Categories : Buses
Comments (10)
  • How were your weekend travels? · For the past five days, we’ve heard a lot about the substantial service changes that were in effect this past weekend. On Wednesday, news outlets started proclaming the end of days, and nearly every line suffered a diversion. Still, when I took the trains this weekend, it just wasn’t that bad. My Q went local in Manhattan; my N local in Brooklyn. My travels took a few extra minutes and were probably more circuitous than they otherwise would have been. I was however expecting a lot worse.

    Apparently, I was the exception to the rule. I didn’t need to rely on the L and its shuttle buses, the F and its shuttle buses or any of the Upper Manhattan stops. Glenn Collins of The Times tracked down a bunch of unprepared straphangers, and they related their horror stories to the Grey Lady. People bemoan the construction without understanding its purpose, but more telling are their approaches — or non-approaches — to informing themselves about the service change ahead of time.

    Every weekend, the MTA changes service, and it’s hard to believe that people haven’t yet learned to look for advisories ahead of time or come prepared for longer commutes. I am sympathetic to a point because getting around on the weekends is no longer easy, but straphangers need to take the initiative to solve their commutes. The information is out there. Go forth and plan. · (9)

The F line, much maligned and often overcrowded, is near and dear to my heart. I live nearby the stop at 7th Ave. in Brooklyn and often find myself relying on it for travel to and from home and parts of Brooklyn or Manhattan. A few years ago, securing F express service became a cause célèbre for me and a few Brooklyn transit advocates.

During our discussions about F express service, the MTA informed us that the option would not be available until after the Culver Viaduct rehabilitation is finished in 2013. We were prepared to wait, but our efforts aroused the attention of a State Senator from the area. With complaints mounting about the F service, Daniel Squadron asked the MTA to perform a comprehensive study of the 27-mile F long. The agency released report — available here as a PDF — on Friday, and it is a rather critical of the current conditions along the second longest subway line in the city.

Citing the fact that parts of the line are 90 years old, the report notes how prone to delays and problems the F is. “Reliability of the F, as on all other lines in the subway, is affected by infrastructure condition, maintenance and renewal; in the case of the F, the need to renew key assets in the coming years is becoming critical, due to their age and condition. As assets age, they become more prone to breakdown, thus adversely affecting reliability,” it reads. Simply put, the F line is falling apart.

The report features a lot of technical MTA-speak. It delves into a discussion on merges and diverges, shared trackage and component replacement plans. It discusses the mean distance between car failures and talks about who the F rolling stock features five different classes of cars — many of which are slated for retirement in 2010. It analyzes controllable on-time performance and absolute on-time performance. It examines ridership numbers and a passenger environment service.

In the end, though, the report boils down to a few main conclusions: The F is a patchwork line made out of parts of varying ages and varying quality. Its oldest sections — between Ditmas Ave. and Ave. X — are 90; its youngest piece — South of W. 8th St. to Coney Island — is just five years old. Because of these discrepancies, the F line is overtaxed and in need of maintenance, oversight and investment.

The report, however, doesn’t make too many out-of-the-box recommendations. In fact, many of the suggestions are in the process of being implemented and capital investment projects are already underway. It urges the following and notes the implementation timeline:

  • Reorganizing line management, to provide greater accountability over multiple disciplines (July 2009).
  • Establishing a task force of senior managers to review F line operations and develop strategies for improvements (Fall 2009).
  • Reviewing the schedules and service design of the F to assess potential operational and service changes, including modifications to Queens/Manhattan service (underway) and express service in Brooklyn (to be undertaken prior to the completion in 2013 of the ongoing Culver Viaduct project).
  • Undertaking a train load analysis to provide line management with critical information for evening out train loads (underway).
  • Assigning more reliable cars to the F (July 2009), reducing the number of separate car classes operating on the F from 5 to 2 (July 2009), assigning a dedicated car maintenance manager to the F (September 2009), and continuing to place new cars into F service (underway).
  • Modifying delay management strategies to reduce reliance on skipping stations (July 2009).
  • Renewing aging infrastructure, including, but not limited to, reconstructing the Culver Viaduct (underway), rehabilitating key stations like Jay Street (underway), and modernizing critical components of the signal system (planned for the 2010-14 Capital Program).
  • Developing strategies to reduce the impact of maintenance and infrastructure renewal work on operations (underway), including coordinating previously separate maintenance activities, establishing a “Scheduled Maintenance System” for signal repairs and heavy maintenance gangs for track repairs, and installing track barriers during long-term projects to reduce the need to slow down when passing work zones.

New York City Transit President Howard Roberts noted that many of the projects are already in place. “While we are already in the midst of several capital projects aimed at improving service for F Line riders, there are measures underway that will move our customers closer to the type of service that they pay for and that they deserve,” said Roberts.

To me, this report doesn’t say anything new. The MTA knows the F is a problem, and the authority already had measures in place to fix those problems. Why did they fulfill Squadron’s request for a report? How much did it cost them? Would we see similar results if this investigation were repeated on, say, the J or the R line? Is adding another layer of management going to solve these problem?

Transit should certainly be praised for a critical self-examination, but Straphanger Joe and Jane could just as easily evaluate the F line. We know it’s a subpar line. Now, we have to see if a report produced at the behest of a State Senator can improve these poor conditions.

Categories : F Express Plan
Comments (17)

Earlier this week, I dropped a short post about how bad this weekend’s service changes will be. Now that Friday is upon us, we can see for ourselves the carnage, and it’s bad. If you’re planning on going anywhere this weekend, leave a lot of extra time for travel.

Remember: These service advisories come to me via the MTA and are subject to change without notice. Listen for announcements on board and check the signs in your local station. The Subway Weekend map will be particularly helpful this week.

Because there are so many updates, I’m going to stick them after a jump so the rest of the SAS content from this week doesn’t get buried.

Click through for the myriad service advisories.

Categories : Service Advisories
Comments (42)

The TWU doth protest much

By · Comments (23) ·

TWUProtestPoster As the MTA continues to work on its appeal of the TWU’s arbitration victory, the union is fighting back. Although the transit agency claims it cannot afford to give its workers a mandatory 11 percent raise over the next three years, the union is urging the authority to respect the law. Until now, protests have largely been directed at MTA headquarters and Mayor Bloomberg, who supports the appeal, but next week, Straphangers will begin to fill the effects of a disgruntled TWU.

On Wednesday, Oct. 14, TWU members are going to participate in what leadership is calling “A Day of Outrage.” Union heads are calling for the participation of “all divisions, all members,” and the transit slowdown could make for a messy commute. The TWU says they are not asking their members do anything illegal or even anything at all, but that excuse seems far too convenient to me.

Pete Donohue has more about the potential protests:

Straphangers beware: your commute could take longer next Wednesday because of the simmering contract dispute between transit workers and the MTA. A text message urging bus drivers to “slow it down” during a “day of outrage” circulated among drivers in at least four depots on Thursday. “Do everything by the book,” the text message making the rounds urged. “Slow it down. Pass it on.”

Some subway workers told the Daily News they hadn’t received the call to action – but said it wouldn’t take much for underground workers to go on the offensive. “There’s an awful lot of anger out here right now,” a motorman said…

A spokesman last night said the union is not involved in the current texted call to action. “These texts are either made up or intended to misrepresent,” the spokesman said. “They did not originate from TWU directly or indirectly.”

Still, track worker and TWU presidential candidate John Samuelsen said he wouldn’t be surprised if there’s “a spontaneous fight back against what transit workers see as an attack by the MTA. I think the MTA underestimates the resolve of transit workers to take action into their own hands.”

I’ve said this before, and I will say again now: If the TWU starts making life miserable for commuters, they will quickly lose any public support they may have right now. Although I don’t believe the arbitration ruling was a fair one for the MTA and I firmly believe in the MTA’s procedurally and substantial right to seek an appeal, the TWU can make a strong case for public sympathy. The decision, after all, was supposed to be binding. Yet, once the TWU starts messing with the public, riders will respond in turn.

For now, I’m not buying the TWU’s argument that this direction for a slow down didn’t come from the union. They’re actively promoting it on their website. I see that, and I assume a connection as most people would. This is a dangerous game the TWU and MTA are playing against each other, and no matter who wins, the straphanging public may be the biggest losers.

Categories : TWU
Comments (23)

Every five years since the mid-1980s, the MTA has presented a five-year capital plan to Albany for approval. Designed to keep the subways up and running while allowing for necessary improvements and expansion, these five-year plans have been vital for the renaissance of the New York City subway system. Coupled with a generally sunny economic outlook, the MTA has never had a problem securing the billions it asks for every half a decade.

Now, though, the MTA is in trouble. Already enjoying the fruits of a multi-billion dollar bailout package that covers its operations budget deficit, the MTA has a giant $10 billion hole in its $28.1 billion 2010-2014 capital plan. When the transit authority went to Albany for the bailout, the state legislatures were well aware of this capital problem, and instead of passing a package that would have funded the capital plan, they put it off for another day when the economy improved.

As the credit markets have not improved as quickly as Gov. David Paterson’s economic team had hoped they would, the governor is now warning that the MTA’s capital plan — and NYDOT’s own five-year $25.8 billion capital plan — are “unaffordable” right now. In a statement about DOT’s plan, he lobbed a grenade at both of these capital programs:

“Today the State Department of Transportation submitted their proposed 2010-2015 five year capital program as required by the MTA financing legislation I signed into law earlier this year…

Unfortunately this plan, and the plan the MTA submitted on October 1, are simply unaffordable given New York’s current fiscal condition. I will not agree to raise taxes, which would be required to fund these plans, as Congress has not renewed the federal multi-year transportation program and State revenues continue to decline.

If the Legislature does not work with me to address the budget deficit, it will become increasingly difficult to enact a necessary and affordable road and bridge plan for New York. We cannot afford a multi-year plan until the economy improves, the federal government provides adequate multi-year funding, and the Legislature joins me to seriously address the structural imbalance in the state budget. This plan must be need based; fiscally prudent without relying heavily on bonding; balance transit, rail and highway needs; and support the economic growth of New York.”

For coverage on the non-renewal of the federal transportation program, check out Transportation for America and Streetsblog Capitol Hill. We’ll focus on what Paterson said about the state’s commitment to its transportation infrastructure.

Now, Paterson’s comments are alarming for the simple reason that he is deeply unpopular and shouldn’t be afraid of a using his veto. He may face a primary challenge next year, and electorally and politically, he may be a lame duck right now. If he doesn’t feel the state can afford these programs, he can veto the eventual Senate and Assembly approval.

For their parts, Assembly members are more willing to explore funding alternatives. Although upstate Republicans were complaining about preferential treatment for the MTA at the expense of roads, downstaters recognize that both systems need to be funded and maintained. “Our infrastructure is the backbone of our economy, and we cannot allow it to be crippled,” Westchester Democrat Richard Brodsky said.

The Senate Transportation Committee too sounds as though it will pass both spending plans. “While I understand the state’s fiscal predicament, and applaud Governor Paterson’s efforts to remedy it, I cannot condone actions on his part to undermine the legislature and be both the judge and jury on an issue as important as statewide transportation,” Martin Dilan (D-Brooklyn) said. “If the Governor wanted a ‘need-based’ priority plan, he should have asked the executive agency responsible for drafting one to do so.”

I am hopeful that the MTA will not be left out in the cold, but if the state fails to guarantee its spending plan, it may be left with having to make some hard choices. The agency will either have to reduce the plan to around three years from its current five-year term or choose to cut some projects. Threatening to eliminate station renewal plans could spur political action as constituents complain to their representatives.

When push comes to shove, Paterson is probably engaged in a bit of politicking. It is, however, dangerous to play with the infrastructure upon which this city is so dependent. Playing with funding will only get him burned.

Categories : MTA Politics
Comments (5)


A few weeks ago, GOOD Magazine unveiled a new series called Cities, Rethought. The feature, created in collaboration with IBM, explores the problems urban areas face and the ways in which these systems can be fixed through novel uses of technology.

As part of the introduction to the series, GOOD posted the above graphic on its website. The Oliver Munday creation delves into the pieces and systems that make up New York City. For a bigger and more interactive version, click here.

As you can see, the subways feature prominently in New York’s make-up. They cost nearly $8 billion a year to run and ferry 7.4 million people per day. Although the subways come in fifth in expenditures to government, health, education and utilities, this graph helps to underscore one of my overarching themes on Second Ave. Sagas: We need a more forward-looking transit policy in this city because the subways are vital to the economic well-being and future success of the New York Metropolitan area.

Without the subways, the city would cease to function. Yet, politicians begrudgingly fund the MTA, and New Yorkers treat it as though it is an unloved but necessary part of the day. With the right level of investment, with the right leaders pushing for the right reforms, the system could be faster, smoother, cleaner and more vast than it is today. To stay atop the global economy, New York will need a sensible transit plan for the next few decades, but until people — the 7.4 million of us who ride the subway every day — start urging our politicians to invest, we’ll be stuck with what we have.

Comments (7)
  • On station agents: to miss them or not · With the station agent cutbacks now in effect for three weeks, Michael Grynbaum of The Times hit the subways to pick up some anecdotal feedback about the impact of the cuts. The results are as we would imagine: Some people are concerned about safety; some people with big items can’t navigate the turnstiles and locked emergency exit gates; others — mostly non-English speaking tourists — are getting lost and cannot find anyone to give directions while snack vendors and newsstand workers are reluctantly turning into de facto station assistants. Still others are not bothered by the lack of station agents and note that life underground will continue as usual.

    It is, of course, an interesting debate and one we’ve had on numerous occasions here. Yet, still the same questionable claims are being made. Norman Seabrook, an MTA Board member, heaves the terrorist argument. “We just witnessed a sleeper cell that was taken down for possibly contaminating the subway system,” he said to Grynbaum. “It’s imperative that we have as many eyes and ears as possible.” The NYPD and federal agents, though, intercepted this threat long before anyone working at a station booth could see something.

    Earlier this week, Straphangers guru Gene Russianoff called upon Jay Walder to restore the agents. Walder though noted that with tough economic times and fare technology that no longer relies on someone selling tokens, the agents became expendable. Until the cash is there, the agents will not be. In the end, I am left where I always am. In cases of crime, the station agents have a duty to call for help but no legal duty to interfere. Their mere presence can do serve a deterrent purpose, and they do serve a customer assistance and relations purpose. Although many station agents knew little to nothing about the neighborhood above them, people often need the help to navigate around or into and out of the system. To miss them or not, the debate continues. · (7)
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