StationAgent When I exited from the IND train at 40th and 6th Ave. on Friday afternoon, the sign shown at right greeted me. It was hanging on the former token booth located at the back entrance to this well-traveled station. While the 40th St. entrance is used mainly by people on the way to work, it is at the southwest corner of Bryant Park, and more than a few lost souls traverse its turnstiles.

Yesterday, though, as part of the MTA’s cost-cutting measures, the Station Customer Assistant assigned to this booth is no longer there. Straphangers can still enter at this southern end of the station with a MetroCard, and the MetroCard Vending Machines will still dispense cards (or eat your money). Those in need of help, however, will have to venture up to 42nd St. and 6th for a 24-hour station agent.

Throughout the city, I saw signs such as that one this weekend. At the 1st Ave. entrance to the F/V stop at 2nd Ave., a sign warned customers at 1 a.m. on Sunday morning about the lack of a station agent. Not every station enjoyed community support and outrage over these cuts as the F/G stop at Carroll St. (For a full list of the 86 station booths now without an agent, check out Comptroller Thompson’s search tool.)

With these cuts came a new round of articles from people on the street proclaiming the end of subway safety as we know it. Jeff Wilkins from the Daily News tracked down a few scared people. “I’m concerned for my safety,” Lunie Menard, a daily user of the Newkirk Ave. station, said. “If I’m down there by myself and someone’s working, at least I know there’s two of us. There’s safety in numbers. We need more people down there, not less.”

Bryan Walker expressed similar concerns at the A/C Utica Ave. stop in Bed-Stuy. “So I’ll have to phone someone at the other end of the station to let them know I’m being mugged,” he said. “That makes no sense.”

Walker’s and Menard’s statements hit upon the psychological aspects of the station agents. Generally, these agents are helpful when they can assist customers with MetroCard problems, stroller and wheelchair issues or directions. When crime comes into play, the agents aren’t required to assist and have made headlines in the past for doing nothing when straphangers are in trouble.

As news of the cuts has built over the last year, I’ve explored the ways in which the mere presence of the agents could act as a deterrent. For its part, the MTA has these safety concerns weren’t part of their financial equation. “Safety isn’t even a consideration,” Charles Seaton, and NYC Transit spokesperson, said. “Crime is down at stations across the city. The NYPD is doing a good job of patrolling them.”

For better or worse, we’ll find out who’s right. Crime might be down because the MTA placed eyes and ears in the stations. While these agents weren’t able to stop a crime in progress, the fact that they were there could have deterred numerous perps. With the MTA’s station agent cuts underway, if crime increases, we’ll know why.

Categories : Subway Security
Comments (23)

I’ll get to the weekend service advisories in a minute. Let’s head out to the Rockaways for a few paragraphs first.

Due to station rehabilitation work on the Manhattan-bound platforms at Beach 105th and Beach 90th Sts., those two stations are currently closed until December 21, 2009. The Far Rockaway-bound platforms at Beach 67th, Beach 44th and Beach 25th Sts. are closed until mid-January 2010.

According to the MTA, when those stations are through, the opposite platforms will close for rehab work. After those five stations are completed, Transit will get to work on Beach 60, Beach 36th and Beach 98th Sts. The final station rehab will be at Far Rockaway-Mott Ave. The authority has putt this seemingly random pattern in place to ensure that only alternate stations are closed. “Customers are never more than one station away from a fully-open station,” Transit said in a statement. The bad news is that these projects will often require full weekend shutdowns of either the Far Rockaway or Rockaway Park branch of the A train.

This $117 million rehab plan includes “new canopies over the stairs and platforms, redesign of the area around the station booth, renewal of mezzanine and platform floors, replacing platform edges and ADA tactile warning strips, the installation of vandal-resistant fluorescent lighting and a new, high-quality public address system. ADA elevators will be installed at the Far Rockaway-Mott Avenue station.” For stations on the periphery of the system, this work is badly-needed.

Anyway, below are your weekend service advisories. These are coming to me from the MTA and are subject to change without notice. Check signs in your local station and listen to all on-board announcements as you travel.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 21, uptown 1 trains skip 96th Street due to station rehabilitation.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, September 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 21, there are no 1 trains operating between 34th Street and South Ferry due to a track chip-out at Chambers Street station. 2 and 3 trains provide alternate service between 34th Street and Chambers Street. Free shuttle buses replace 1 trains between Chambers Street and South Ferry. Note: Downtown 23 trains skip Christopher, Houston, Canal, and Franklin Streets.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 21, uptown 2 trains run local from Chambers Street to 86th Street, then skip 96th Street. Downtown 2 trains run local from 96th Street to 14th Street. These changes are due to a track chip-out at Chambers Street and station rehabilitation at 96th Street.

From 6:30 a.m. to midnight, Saturday, September 19 and Sunday, September 20, downtown 3 trains run local from 96th Street to 14th Street due to a track chip-out at Chambers Street.

From 6:30 a.m. to midnight, Saturday, September 19 and Sunday, September 20, uptown 3 trains run local from Chambers Street to 86th Street, then skip 96th Street due to a track chip-out at Chambers Street and station rehabilitation at 96th Street. Note: Overnight uptown 3 trains run local from 72nd to 86th Streets, then skip 96th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 21, 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 Streets 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 rehabilitation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 21, D trains run local in both directions between 34th Street and West 4th Street due to a track chip-out in the 53rd Street tunnel.

From 5 a.m. Saturday, September 19 to 10 p.m. Sunday, September 20, Coney Island-bound D trains run on the N line from 36th Street to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue due to 38th Street Yard work.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 21, 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 Streets; trains resume normal E service from 5th Avenue to Jamaica Center.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 21, 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 or G instead. Note: Free shuttle buses connect the Court Square G/23rd Street-Ely Avenue, Queens Plaza, and 21st Street-Queensbridge F stations.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, September 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 21, Jamaica-bound E trains run local from Queens Plaza to Roosevelt Avenue due to track maintenance.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 21, Jamaica-bound E trains run express from Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Street due to cable work north of Roosevelt Avenue.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, September 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 21, Manhattan-bound E trains run local on the F from Roosevelt Avenue to 21st Street-Queensbridge due to track maintenance.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, September 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 21, F trains run local between Roosevelt Avenue and 21st Street-Queensbridge due to track maintenance.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, September 19, Manhattan-bound F trains skip 169th Street due to track cleaning.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday, September 20, Jamaica-bound F trains skip 169th Street due to track cleaning.

From 8:30 p.m. to midnight Friday, September 18, and from 6:30 a.m. to midnight Saturday, September 19 and Sunday, September 20, 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 and transfer to a shuttle bus connecting to Court Square. Queens-bound customers may take the E instead. Note: Queens-bound E and R trains run express from Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Avenue.

From 12:01 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. Saturday, September 19 and Sunday, September 20, and from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Monday, September 21, Queens-bound G trains run express from Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to cable work north of Roosevelt Avenue.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 21, Brooklyn-bound N trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge from DeKalb Avenue to Canal Street due to station rehabilitation and construction of the Lawrence Street to Jay Street underground connector.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, September 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 21, Brooklyn-bound N trains run local between Pacific Street and 59th Street in Brooklyn due to station rehabilitation and construction of the Lawrence Street to Jay Street underground connector.

From 9:30 a.m. Friday, September 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 21, free shuttle buses replace Q trains between Prospect Park and Kings Highway due to rehabilitation of some Brighton Line stations.

From 6:30 a.m. to midnight Saturday, September 19 and Sunday, September 20, Queens-bound R trains run express from Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to cable work north of Roosevelt Avenue.

From 6:30 a.m. to midnight Saturday, September 19 and Sunday, September 20, Brooklyn-bound R trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge from Canal Street to DeKalb Avenue due to station rehabilitation and construction of the underground connector at Lawrence Street.

From 10:30 p.m. Friday, September 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 21, there are no Rockaway Park Shuttle S trains between Broad Channel and Rockaway Park due to station rehabilitation at Beach 105th Street and Beach 90th Street stations and track panel work. A trains and free shuttle buses provide alternate service.

Categories : Service Advisories
Comments (2)

Earlier this week, a reporter from CBS2 e-mailed me with a question. Had I heard, she wanted to know, of straphangers being charged for MetroCard swipes even after the message on the turnstile machine said “Please swipe again”?

My response was no, and I elaborated. When the machine urges a straphanger to “Please swipe again,” the person swiping has to do so at the same machine. Maybe, I speculated, these riders did not know this rule and had moved to a different machine. The reporter informed me that this wasn’t the case, and I wondered if the MTA’s 15-year-old MetroCard technology was beginning to break down.

Today, CBS2’s Kirstin Cole published her story on the MetroCard problems. A few travelers have complained that, in the words of Cole, “they’ve been ripped off, after swiping MetroCards and having fares deducted – yet have been blocked from going through the turnstile.”

There is, however, a minor problem. When CBS2 and the MTA looked into the usage patterns of one of the allegedly ripped off MetroCards, they found no problems. “The MTA investigated Ostow’s card and did find she had been double charged on a cross-town bus,” Cole reports, “but said they couldn’t find any evidence of fare snatching in the subway.” The MetroCard’s owner claims there were no extra charges because the station clerk checked the card and allowed her to enter through the gate after verifying the fault swipe.

So is there a real story here? The turnstiles suffer through around 7 million swipes per weekday. Some are bound to malfunction, and generally, an MTA station staffer can fix the problem in a matter of minutes. It seems to me that the bigger issue concern rider knowledge. If straphangers do not know they can get refunds, if they don’t know to swipe at the same turnstile, they will feel ripped off. But this is not some nefarious MTA plot to secure more revenue. For that, we have fare hikes.

Categories : MetroCard
Comments (16)
  • Relying on the Feds for Moynihan Station · Yesterday, I examined how the ball is rolling again for Moynihan Station, and late in the day, Eliot Brown from The Observer emailed me a link to a piece he had written about the federal involvement in the project. Brown writes that to get funding for the new station, the supporters are going to be relying heavily on the Obama Administration’s transportation investment plans. Gov. Paterson may ask for $398 million in stimulus funding, and the state hopes that President Obama’s high-speed rail imitative will send some money to Moynihan as well. Brown also explores how the project is closer to a reality now that its supporters have broken it into bite-sized pieces and are no longer pushing a massive overhaul of the Madison Square Garden area. [The Observer] · (0)

It’s Comptroller Week on Second Ave. Sagas. Hot on the heels of his report that the MTA is spending frivolously on contracts, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has issued another report on the state on the MTA. In this one, he tells us something that we already know: The MTA’s latest capital plan proposal faces a funding gap of $9.9 billion and will depend too heavily on debt.

While I first explored this problem when the MTA announced its capital plan a few months ago, DiNapoli explores the issue in depth. According to the comptroller, only 67 percent of the plan has funding, and this figure does not include any money for the Second Ave. Subway. “Maintaining and expanding the MTA’s public transportation system is vital to the region’s economy, but finding adequate resources to meet demand will be difficult in the current economic environment,” DiNapoli said. “The MTA plans to close the funding gap with debt if it does not receive any additional aid, but that much new debt would strain the operating budget and increase pressure to raise fares and tolls.”

According to DiNapoli’s report, available here as a PDF, the budgeting and funding plan for the capital program is rather problematic. His office released more in a press release:

DiNapoli’s report indicates approximately 75 percent of the MTA’s proposed $28 billion capital program is allocated to maintain and modernize the existing system (i.e., the core program). Of this amount, the New York City Transit Authority would receive 65 percent, the Long Island Rail Road would receive 13 percent, the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority would receive almost 12 percent and the Metro-North Railroad would receive about 8.5 percent. Another $5.7 billion would be allocated to complete East Side Access and Phase 1 of the Second Avenue Subway.

While the MTA has identified funding for the first two years of the program, the program has a funding shortfall of $9.9 billion over the following three years. DiNapoli’s report found that the funding gap could grow because the MTA is counting on a 56 percent increase in federal funding compared to the current five-year program.

The MTA’s July 2009 four-year financial plan assumes it will sell $16.5 billion in new debt to help finance its 2010-2014 capital program if it receives no additional financial assistance. This assumption is based on the planned issuance of $6 billion in bonds backed by new State revenues and another $9.9 billion in debt to cover the funding shortfall. Under such a scenario, debt service would more than double to $3.5 billion in 2020 from $1.5 billion in 2009.

Debt service is expected to consume 16.6 percent of revenues in 2009 and DiNapoli projects that it could consume 24.6 percent of revenue by 2017, assuming no future fare hikes, if the MTA undertakes a borrowing of that magnitude.

As DiNapoli analyzed the MTA’s current financial state, his findings are fairly drastic. The MTA, he says, will need $128.8 billion over the next twenty years simply to “restore and modernize the existing system.” Additional funds, he says in the understatement of the year, “would be needed to expand the system to meet future needs.”

On Wednesday, the MTA Board is going to approve the next five-year capital plan. It will then head off to the state for a Senatorial debate. It is missing funding for Phase II of the Second Ave. Subway; it includes debt service that will grow from $1.5 billion this year to $3.5 billion by 2020; and it is vitally necessary for the MTA to maintain a state of good repair. And that is one bad financial bind.

Categories : MTA Economics
Comments (7)
  • Seabrook, Pally support union arbitration win · Two MTA Board members, one with close ties to labor, have come out against the agency’s decision to appeal the binding TWU arbitration win. Mitchell Pally and Norman Seabrook, the head of the New York City Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, urged the transit authority to drop its suit challenging the arbitration award. The MTA is attempting to appeal the guaranteed 11 percent raises over three years on the grounds that it would be a financial hardship to pay them. Seabrook said that the MTA’s legal maneuverings present a “clear message to all municipal workers in the city and state that managers want to have their cake and eat it, too – that if a decision comes down they don’t like, they’ll take you to court and strip you of it.” He also presented a Board motion to halt the challenge, and the Board will discuss the motion at its meeting on Wednesday. · (3)
  • Board approves Walder, compensation and all · While the Mayor wasn’t too happy with it, the MTA Board voted yesterday in a closed session to approve Jay Walder as MTA head along with his compensation package. Wadler, who is leaving London to move back to New York, negotiated a Golden Parachute provision that enables him to secure more than twice his annual salary if pushed out of the job before his six-year term is up. The Mayor had objected on ground of fiscal policy.

    Meanwhile, as Walder prepares to take over an agency with a $12 billion budget and 67,000 employees on Oct. 5, Christian Wolmer, London’s leading transit expert, examines Walder’s time in London. He is full of praise for Walder the financial and technological guru, but some of his sources question whether Walder is fit for leadership of such an expansive and important public authority. “I would love to have Jay implement a project for me, but I would not like to see him run an organization,” an anonymous former colleague of Walder’s said. Walder is qualified as a veteran of transit agencies for the job, but I hope we don’t come to miss Lee Sander and rue the Senate’s ouster of him the hard way. · (0)


Amtrak may one day be operating out of the Farley Post Office. (Photo courtesy of Friends of Moynihan Station)

Every few months, Senator Chuck Schumer’s desires to get Moynihan Station off the drawing board and onto 8th Ave. rear its head. Over the last week, twin news stories have pushed this new depot — a much-needed replacement for Penn Station — onto the news pages and into the minds of transit advocates.

The more recent story focuses on Amtrak. For years, Moynihan Station had been held up and generally left for dead because the rail giant had not signed onto the project. This week, though, Amtrak agreed to move its operations to Moynihan Station. According to Schumer’s office, Amtrak agreed to the deal after being promised more revenue from retail shops and a few design changes.

With Amtrak on board, the biggest hurdle to the project now seemingly becomes money. The project is estimated to cost up to $1.5 billion, and while the Feds have guaranteed at least $200 million, that still leaves a sizable gap. According to the Daily News, Mayor Bloomberg was “noncommittal” about the city’s involvement in the project. He would rather pay to extend the 7 nowhere than help build a much-needed railhub in Midtown.

In other Moynihan-related news, Metro-North announced a new study of Metro-North access to Penn Station. The agency became an environmental review nearly ten years ago and had reduced its initial proposal to four alternatives: two for the Hudson Line and two for the New Haven line. No matter the final choice, these routes were projected to provide service at all times and include stations on the far west side of Manhattan that aren’t served by regional rail.

Now, after consulting with the FTA, Metro-North will proceed with a study of full service for both the Hudson and New Haven lines. Hudson Line service would run into Penn Station via the current Amtrak Empire Connection with two new stations — one near W. 125th St. and one on the Upper West Side. In March, I noted that the W. 60th area seemed a likely spot for a Metro-North stop. The New Haven line will run to Penn Station via the Hell Gate Line, and it will stop at three stations in the east Bronx — one at Co-Op City, one at Parkchester and one near Hunts Point.

The final environmental assessment will be completed in 2011, and it will incorporate information about the long-range plans for Penn Station. That is, of course, where Moynihan Station comes in. It will behoove Amtrak, the city and state to finalize Moynihan Plans so that Metro-North can proceed with their expansion plans. One day, we may yet have more Metro-North options on the west side and a fancy train station in midtown. Slowly, New York will earn a station better equipped for rail travel than the current Penn Station.

Comments (39)

Right now, in my wallet, I have three MetroCards. One is my standard 30-Day Unlimited Ride card I use when I’m not planning on being out of the city for an extended period of time. The other two have cash on them. One currently has $10.50 and the other has $1.00. The one with just a buck is set to expire at the end of September.

For me to make full use of these pay-per-ride cards, I’d have to do some fancy math. The card with more money has 4 rides with $1.50 left over; the card with a dollar is useless until I add more money. With the new fare scheme for pay-per-ride cards — $2.25 per ride with a 15 percent discount at $8 and over — I am not alone in possessing MetroCards with awkward amounts of money left on them. In fact, the MTA is counting on just this problem for some of its budget.

Heather Haddon in amNew York details how the MTA relies on unused MetroCards for millions of dollars in revenue. The agency knows that people throw out MetroCards with money, and the agency is now including these millions in its budget estimates for 2010. Haddon reports:

Straphangers threw out an estimated $40 million in unused or unrefunded fare money in 2008, according to agency documents. The MetroCard windfall was up a whopping 38 percent from two years earlier.

What’s more, NYC Transit is budgeting for that revenue to increase to $48 million next year because of the recent fare hike…

At least two other transit agencies decline to budget for unused fares, arguing the revenue is a moving target that can’t be relied on for operations. “It’s a tricky one to compute. We don’t recognize it as a revenue source,” said Cathy Asato, a spokeswoman for the Metro in Washington D.C.

A MTA spokesman said including the figure for unused fares adds transparency, and all revenue estimates are updated three times a year.

Currently, straphangers with expired MetroCards can transfer the unused fare to new cards up to two years past the expiration date on the back. According to Transit spokesperson Paul Fleuranges, the agency fields approximately 1500 refund requests per month, but with fare math becoming increasingly complicated, busy New Yorkers are content to let the dollars slip away.

This fiscal reality could lead to a conflict of interests for those in charge. Transit should tell its riders how to use all of the money straphangers put on MetroCards, but if the agency needs the revenue to meet its budget estimates, officials may be less than forthcoming with refund information.

As far as I can tell, this $40 million doesn’t include Unlimited Ride MetroCards that do not pay for themselves. The MTA could, in fact, be recovering more than just the 21 million unused rides they currently take in.

Categories : MetroCard, MTA Economics
Comments (23)

The city’s billionaire businessman mayor isn’t happy with Jay Walder’s compensation package, and Bloomberg is going to make his displeasure known by withholding his MTA votes when the transit agency’s board meets to confirm its new Chair and CEO.

Bloomberg’s unhappiness focuses around Walder’s Golden Parachute provisions. When Gov. David Paterson nominated Walder as head of the MTA, the Board attached a severance scheme to the deal. Walder is due to server a six-year term, but if he is kicked out — by the State Senate, by Paterson’s successor — Walder earns severance. If he doesn’t serve the full term, he earns a $350,000 severance, or the equivalent of one year’s salary. If he is booted within six months, he earns an additional $500,000, and if he is removed after six months but before a year, he earns another $400,000. This number dwindles as time and Walder’s tenure goes on.

According to reports from July, these conditions were necessary to attract Walder away from his job in London. The transit expert had a comfortable role at McKinsey, the consulting firm, and a life in London. He wouldn’t come to New York with the risk that he would be fired within a year. “If you want to bring in people of the highest caliber, you have to be willing to pay them salaries that are commiserate with what others in the industry are getting,” MTA board member Mitchell Pally said at the time.

Now, Bloomberg is upset the MTA for what he feels is an overly generous compensation package issued during a bad time for the state economy. Because Bloomberg respects Walder and feels uncomfortable making a big issue about, the four votes Bloomberg controls will abstain from voting on Walder. In the end, this is a political statement by a candidate running for office on a platform of reforming the MTA and not a mayoral judgment on Walder. The new MTA head won’t be overpaid or overcompensated, and Bloomberg the business man knows that. Welcome to campaign season.

Categories : MTA Politics
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