As part of the political give-and-take between the state legislature and the MTA, the leadership structure of the transit agency will soon undergo a change. Right now, Elliot Sander is the full-time CEO and executive director of the authority while Dale Hemmerdinger is the part-time, unpaid chairman of the board.

The new scheme is part of the State Senate’s over-the-top and largely unnecessary effort to draw more transparency out of one of the more transparent public-benefit corporations around. Instead of two men sharing power, only one person will occupy the full-time paid position of chairman and CEO. If this streamlined leader so choose, he or she may bring on an executive director, but that executive director will be subordinate to the chairman/CEO.

With this framework on the way, the speculatin’ has begun: Who will stay? Who will go? Who will replace whom?

Right now, the answers to these questions are unclear. In March, I reported on a story concerning the future of Elliot Sander. At the time, anonymous whisperings indicated that Sander would lose his job and that David Paterson will appoint one of his own to fill the top slot. Remember, Sander is an Eliot Spitzer appointee.

Today, the news looks a little different. As the Daily News reports, the legislature has just killed Hemmerdinger’s job. While the real estate developer was to be in charge until 2011, the legislature has given him 30 more days on the job.

While transit advocates hope that Sander and his policy wonk background stay on the job, Bobby Cuza reported today that Sander’s fate is unknown. “I think it’s really up to the governor to decide. This is a really important position in terms of the State of New York, and I really think it’s up to the governor,” Sander said to NY1.

I’d stick with Sander. He’s become the face of a beleaguered transit agency, and I think he’s done an admirable job steering the MTA through an unavoidable and unsolvable crisis. He has a vision for the future and could produce a sound transit policy for New York City. Soon enough, though, we’ll see what David Paterson, the only man whose vote counts, has to say.

Categories : MTA Politics
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When the Senate finally approved the MTA funding, our state’s less-than-august legislature did so with nary an air of finality. They do so more with the last sigh of someone fed up with the topic.

For months — since February — the state legislature has dealt with transit issues on a near-daily basis. They have known for over a year that the MTA’s financial Doomsday would arrive in 2009, and they did nothing. While Gov. David Paterson solicited a Richard Ravitch-inspired plan that would have cut congestion while funding a transit renaissance in New York, our backwards legislature couldn’t stomach the costs of that plan.

In the end, the Senate acted six weeks after the MTA’s self-imposed deadline passed. They acted at the 11th Hour and at the behest of a very unpopular governor. The resulting compromise — discussed in detail here — are far from satisfactory, and while the ink has hardly dried on the approved bill, it is receiving a less-than-enthusiastic reception. William Neuman and Nicholas Confessiore have more:

The State Legislature passed a series of new taxes and fees late Wednesday night meant to keep New York’s base subway fare from rising above $2.25 this year. But the hastily drafted bill, approved largely along party lines, raised many questions about how the plan would work and how effective it would be in stabilizing the struggling Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

In the short term, the plan would appear to raise significantly less money this year than in some earlier projections, although legislative staff members said it would be enough to get the authority through the year. There were also questions about how a 50-cent surcharge on yellow cab rides in New York City would be collected from thousands of taxi drivers and owners…

Questions also remained about the authority’s capital spending program, which is only partially financed in the rescue plan.

The bill’s problems though are immediately evident. First are the economics behind it. The MTA is facing a deficit this year of $1.8 billion. Since the taxation and fee structure won’t be enacted until part of the way through 2009 though, the money may not be there to cover the whole deficit.

According to reporters from Albany, the MTA will receive just $1.1 billion this year. Where the other $700 million will come from is up in the air. A recent move by the MTA Board to lengthen the agency’s fiscal year to 18 months may provide them with an opportunity in 2010 to balance the books this year. The answers though are hazy.

Of additional concern are problems of collection. As the Daily News editorial board explained yesterday, no one knows how to collect this taxi surcharge. The Taxi and Limousine Commission has never enacted a city-wide fee of this nature, and considering the relatively loose and independent reporting procedures for cab fares, there is no simple system in place here.

Beyond the short-term impact though are the long-term problems. As John Petro from the Drum Major Institute detailed in a short post entitled “MTA Rescue Spineless” and on SAS yesterday, Albany is again forcing the MTA to borrow to maintain a state of good repair and fund necessary upgrades and expansion plans.

“Without long-term investments in capital needs, the MTA will forever be facing budget shortfalls, deferred maintenance, crumbling stations, and stalled projects,” he writes. “We will be back at square one soon enough. This vicious cycle needs to end.”

Petro is spot-on. The approach to transit in New York City is completely broken. We may have averted Doomsday today, but these issues will not go away until the state’s approach to transportation undergoes a massive reform. As long-time SAS reader Boris said earlier this week, “Even among New Yorkers there are many people who don’t think the subway can, or should, be better than it is. It’s all they know.” That attitude is a recipe for sub-par transit in a city aiming to keep up with smarter and better-equipped global competitors.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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  • Creative bus shelters outside of New York · As street furniture goes, the bus shelters in New York City are pretty bland. While sleek, the new CEMUSA shelters could belong in Any Town, Any State, USA. That’s not a problem germane to New York though. Bus shelters should be far more functional than decorative.

    Now and then though a little creativity can brighten up an urban cityscape. To that end, Toxel, a design blog, presents 15 unusual and creative bus stops. The swing in London, the hammock in Vancouver, and the air conditioned shelter in Dubai are my favorites. · (2)

As the Bishop-approved 7 line extension marches inevitably toward a 2013 completion, questions about the project continue to swirl. The City and MTA are at an impasse over the funding for a planned station at 10th and 41st St., and with the Hudson Yards project decades away from reality, this West Side extension will serve an area rich in space and poor in actual riders for some time.

Today, as the city comes to terms with the compromise transit package soon to be pass in Albany, the fate of the 7 line may again be at a turning point. According to The Daily News and some leading transit advocates, aspects of the 7 line extension — including the purchasing of new cars — are not high on the MTA’s priority list. As such, the new station at 34th and 11th Ave. will exist and serve whatever is in the area, but the MTA may not have the money for new cars to adequate service the entire line.

Pete Donohue has more:

Straphangers could wind up with an extended No. 7 subway line – but not more frequent train service – if the MTA has to adopt a leaner capital plan, experts said.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials have envisioned a 2010-2014 capital construction and maintenance program in the range of $25 billion to $30 billion. But transit managers will have to cancel or delay some big-ticket items if Albany doesn’t provide enough funding to pay such a large tab.

Buying additional subway cars to expand the No. 7 line fleet is one move that could be shelved, according to Bob Yaro of the Regional Plan Association. “You would be spending billions of dollars on the No. 7 line extension, but without the additional cars, you wouldn’t be able to handle an increase in ridership,” Yaro said.

Donohue notes that on the MTA’s prioritized list of capital projects, the 7 line extension is in the third tier. The agency would first like to complete the installation of new tracking, the upgrading of power and tunnel exhaust systems and an overhaul of their old buses. The second tier contains the expansion projects for the East Side, and the third tier, for now, features future legs of the Second Ave. Subway, money for a 21st century communications and signal system and the 7 line car purchases.

We could debate the wisdom in that allocation for a while. I’d argue that a communications and signal system should probably be prioritized in the first tier, but the logistic behind that project are substantial.

Maybe in the end, the state delivers the money, and the MTA can go ahead will all three tiers of its capital program. For now, though, the 7 line extension remains a troubled project, a victim of inter-agency fighting and competing agency aims. To build it without the added capacity would be a disservice to hundreds of thousands of Queens commuters.

Categories : 7 Line Extension
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In the eyes of the vast majority of New Yorkers, Gov. David Paterson will emerge as something of a transit savior this week. As the press has noted in detail, he brokered the the deal to save the MTA. He worked out a compromise among Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and the Senate Democrats that guarantees around $2.2 billion a year to the MTA.

It is a plan without bridge tolls and without much in the way of resources for the MTA’s capital needs. It is a plan that includes a payroll tax, a taxi charge and a slew of registration fees. It features a 10-percent fare hike this year and mandated hikes in 2011 and 2013. It also avoids Doomsday, and for that — for the simple act of getting something together months after a March 26 deadline — the politicians will pat themselves on the back.

“This has been very difficult on the commuters of the MTA region,” Paterson said last night. “We can assure them this evening that there will be no surprises, that there will be no further cuts or fears about fare hikes or toll increases. We have resolved that issue this evening.”

If only life were that simple. Anyway, let’s look, courtesy of Gotham Gazette at what we do know. David King writes:

The plan will raise $1.5 billion a year from a payroll tax of 34 cents of every$100 dollars of payroll that will target all employers in the 12 counties that serve the MTA. The state will reimburse school districts for the payroll tax they contribute.

  • $500 million will be raised from a 10 percent increase. Politicians had hoped to limit any fare increase to 8 percent.
  • 85 million will be raised from a fifty-cent surcharge on taxi rides. The fee was reduced from the originally proposed $1.
  • $130 million will be raised from a $25 fee on vehicle registrations in the 12-county MTA region.
  • $35 million will be raised from an increase of the fee on car rentals.
  • $10.5 million will come from an increase on the fee on driver’s licenses.

And thus, as long as the economy doesn’t continue to nose dive, as long as payrolls stay steady, as long as taxi rides stay constant and driver’s licensing and car registration numbers do not dip, the MTA won’t have to worry about that pesky multi-billion-dollar budget gap.

On the fare front, details are still sketchy. We’ll know more once the MTA releases its official figures later this week. William Neuman and Nicholas Confessiore have some preliminary numbers. The base fare will increase from $2.00 to $2.25 and a 30-day unlimited ride MetroCard will cost around $89, up from $81 but a far cry from Doomsday’s $103 price tag. Fares are also set to rise by 7.5 percent in 2011 and 2013 to match cost-of-living increases..

On the capital funding front, Nueuman and Confessiore offer up a few details. They write, “Under the agreement, about $400 million will be set aside each year from the payroll tax proceeds for capital needs. That will pay the cost of borrowing about $6.5 billion through bonds, enough to get a start on the capital plan.”

The problem of course is that final phrase. It’s “enough to get a start on the capital plan,” and it’s enough to set the MTA back on a course of building through borrowing. I guess we should be thankful the capital plan was given any consideration. Earlier this week, as Streetsblog noted on Monday, Paterson had removed capital funding from the rescue plan after a weekend tirade from Sheldon Silver. Facing pressure from transit advocates and editorials from The Post, The Daily News and The Times, the politicians caved.

While the legislature will probably vote later today to approve this funding package, the work of the transit advocates is just beginning. As this debate has shown, New Yorkers are woefully uneducated on transit issues, and politicians aren’t helping the cause. The MTA needed to avoid this Doomsday, but it also needs the other half of the Ravitch Report — long-term capital investments and system-wide improvements. We can’t rest until that day arrives.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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Every now and then, as I’m on my way back to Brooklyn from W. 4th St., I’ll spy a life-sized Cookie Monster banging on the xylophone and a weird-looking pink thing strumming a bass. These two musicians are members of the Xylopholks, and a few weeks ago Flavorwire’s Mandy Van Deven interviewed the eccentric-looking group. The group talks about playing in the subway, seeing the shocked looks on the faces of other straphangers and getting harassed by the police. Check them out in the video above.

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  • Summer rollout set for system-wide line managers · In an effort to improve on-time train performance and overall station cleanliness, New York City Transit is rolling out the line manager program to all lettered trains this summer. This B Division roll-out comes amidst uncertainty surrounding the financial future of the MTA, but leaders at Transit feel this General Manager program improves service. “If you have a single individual focusing on everything that happens or doesn’t happen on a given line, you’re going to see improvements,” Roberts said to The Daily News.

    I’m still a little hazy as to the details of this program. According to the Line GM website, every single line has a different line manager. That may make sense for the IRT lines that, at some point, all end up as the only train serving some sections of track. But for the lettered lines, it would make more sense for different sections of the routes to have different managers. The B, V and W trains, for instance, never stop at stations that do not enjoy service from at least one other train line, and a redundantly staffed line manager program seems to defeat the purpose. · (9)

The final two pieces of the Democratic puzzle have fallen into place. After closed-door meetings in Albany on Monday, the final two Democratic holdouts in the State Senate — Craig M. Johnson and Brian X. Foley, both of Long Island — have agreed to support the latest iteration of the MTA funding plan.

This plan, according to reports, will generate approximately $1.7 billion in revenue for the beleaguered MTA. It culls this money from a small payroll tax in the counties in and around New York City that receive MTA service, a 50-cent taxi drop-off surcharge and higher fees for car registration and driver’s licenses.

William Neuman and Nicholas Confessore of The Times had more on the back-room politicking that has resulted in something of an MTA funding plan:

The senators said they were swayed by a commitment from Gov. David A. Paterson to reimburse school districts for the cost of a payroll tax that is the centerpiece of the rescue plan.

Mr. Johnson said that after discussing the issue with the majority leader, he was comfortable that “the residents of school districts are going to be protected appropriately when it comes to school taxes.”

Mr. Johnson and Mr. Foley said, however, that their support was contingent on the final wording of the rescue legislation, which is still being negotiated.

“There’s a framework that we believe we have agreed upon,” Mr. Smith said. “However, as I will always tell people, the devil’s in the details.”

Without this funding plan in place, the MTA is prepared to enact a Doomsday budget scenario. Service across the city will be scaled back or eliminated, and the fares will skyrocket by nearly 25 percent. Our precious 30-day Unlimited Ride MetroCards would cost $103.

As The Daily News’ Glenn Blain and Pete Donohue note though, the Senate plan will roll back those hikes and cuts. According to the two reporters, the MTA will increase the base fare to $2.25 instead of $2.50, and monthly MetroCards will cost $88. Meanwhile, the MTA will be able to mainatin the bus and subway routes scheduled for elimination, and service can remain at current levels.

For now, this is something of a victory for transit advocates. The state is, pending passage of this bill, finally providing for a dedicate source of revenue for the MTA. This is not just a one-year stop-gap measure. This payroll tax and taxi surcharge will remain in place in perpetuity.

However, all is not well with the MTA and this plan. As it stands right now, this plan will generate around $1.76 billion for the transit system. With a projected deficit this year of $1.8 billion and a projected deficit of over $2 billion for 2010, this new money will be just enough for the MTA to get by. I’ll examine the capital funding issues later today, but prospects are hazy, at best, for the MTA’s state of good repair program and its expansion plans.

Politically, for now, this move will reassure the voting public in New York that the State Senate is keeping an eye on transit. I don’t really trust that eye, and I don’t really see our legislature dedicated to a long-term solution. Today, though, Doomsday is one step closer to being one step further away.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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pelham123 In 1974, Joseph Sargent made a movie out of a John Godey book about a trainjacking in New York City. The movie — The Taking of Pelham One Two Three — is so quintessentially an element of 1970s New York City that a remake, while inevitable, is simply unnecessary.

In just over five weeks, though, Tony Scott’s remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 — now with numbers instead of words — will hit theaters, and buzz over the film is building. Instead of the witty banter between Walter Malthau and Robert Shaw, viewers will get the intensity of Denzel Washington and the mania of John Travolta. I fear for the charm of this movie.

This weekend, two major papers on both sides of the country chatted with Scott about the movie. We start in Los Angeles with the L.A. Times’ profile of a reinvented movie. As part of the paper’s summer movie preview, Chris Lee chatted with the director about his concept of a story from another era. The new film, seemingly a product of the technology-driven post-9/11 world in which we live, will feature some live-blogging, some webcams and some online work in the hunt for the criminals behind the train takeover. It is, says Scott, a very different movie from its predecessor.

“Even though it’s the same basic story, the films have very different sensibilities,” the director noted. “Brian Helgeland, the writer, came to me two years ago and said he was going to reinvent it, put a spin on it. He always comes up with something that inspires me.”

Meanwhile, in our own Times’ summer movie preview, one-time Subwayland columnist Randy Kennedy delved into the retelling of Pelham 1 2 3. Kennedy looks at how Tony Scott earned the cooperation of New York City Transit and was allowed to film most of the movie in the system. He used the outer abandoned platforms at Hoyt-Schermerhorn for some scenes and the 7 platform at Grand Central for others.

“We thought, ‘This is our movie — it’s about New York City Transit — and we really wanted it look great,’” Alberteen Anderson, director of film and special events for the MTA, said to The Times.

It wasn’t all fun and games though for Scott and the MTA. While film crews had to combat a live third rail and soot-filled tunnels, the rest of New York wasn’t so keen on adjusting their schedules for the filming. “The general public late at night is not all that cooperative,” Scott said. “Not that I blame them. It’s late. They just want to get home.”

The MTA was less diplomatic. “We will never shoot at that station again,” Anderson said of Grand Central Terminal.

In the end, Kenendy profiles a director who, despite having never really ridden the subway prior to preparing for this film, remains committed to deliver a product that even the most astute of railfans can appreciate. The film may not have the novelty and allure of the original. It won’t feel, as the old one does, like a movie from a time during which story and character counted more than explosions and action. But it will star our subway system, and come June 12, I’ll go see it.

Categories : Subway Movies
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