Around once a year, the ill-conceived plans to build, well, something out to the Stewart Airport in Orange County make headlines, and every year, I ask for that money to spent on more worthy projects. (See 2007 and 2008.)

The Stewart Airport issue is once again back in the news, and again, I’m inclined to speak out against it. This time around, the story is about the short list of potential options for this airport connection. Judy Rife writes:

A short list of options for improving bus and rail service to Stewart International Airport and New York City has emerged from the 106 suggestions that Metro-North and the Port Authority have been mulling for the past year.

Still in the running are a new rail link between the airport and Metro-North’s Salisbury Mills station, bus service between Stewart and Salisbury Mills as well as Metro-North’s Beacon station and New York City, and bus service between the airport and new or expanded park-and-rides in a roughly 45-mile radius.

Out are such ideas as ferry service between Newburgh and New York City — the trip would be too long, involve too many transfers and be unreliable in bad weather. A new rail link between the airport and Beacon didn’t make the cut because of environmental impact and cost. And light rail or automated guideways between the airport and train stations lost out to more flexible and much cheaper buses.

That study nearly $4.67 million, and right now there, it seems as though there is no more cash in hand for further movement. The rail link, by the way, would probably cost upwards of $1 billion. Meanwhile, with Airtran out at Stewart, passenger volumes are poised to hit an all-time low and could sink lower. Talk about no return for an investment.

Right now, I’m not the only one who is no fan of this project. Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic examined the issue today and walked away with the same conclusions:

The airport is quite far away from the city’s population centers and will therefore have difficulty attracting crowds from the city; the airport’s current offerings of flights to just five destinations — Philadelphia, Atlanta, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, and Detroit — indicate that a serious increase in demand there from locals is unlikely over the next few years. Few commuters are going to be willing ride the 90 minute plus train between Penn Station and the airport, so why is this link a priority? It certainly doesn’t seem likely to cut down on air congestion.

Let’s imagine that the $1 billion existed to build this project, unlikely enough considering the MTA’s dismal fiscal situation. Wouldn’t it make more sense, from the perspective of improving transit, to spend it on desperately needed projects such as the Second Avenue Subway? People in Orange County — population 350,000 — may want more transit, but so do the roughly 350,000 people who live in East Harlem and the Upper East Side, and the latter group, to say the least, is far more likely to use public transportation than the former. Certainly, cheap express buses should be considered, but a rail link seems completely unnecessary.

That about says it all. I’m all in favor of bringing more mass transit to the upstate counties that are underserved by the state’s public transit options, but we should do so in a cost-efficient way. This airport rail link may have been a good idea a few decades ago, but right now, it’s time to scrap those plans.

Categories : Metro-North
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Not the most practical of emergency exits. (Photo by flickr user rlboston)

As the great social mixing bowl of New York City, the subways provide ample opportunities for people from all walks of life to interact on a daily basis and make choices that impact each other. Should one offer to give up a seat? Should one cut one’s nails on a half-empty train? Should one block the doorways as other straphangers try to exit?

While the answers to those three questions are “probably,” “definitely not” and “get the hell out of the way,” other debates are not so clear cut in the minds of many riders. Enter the emergency exit. The emergency exit doors represent the pinnacle and subway egress. The gates are alarmed sometimes, and they’re far faster than the traditional ways to leave the system. A commuter in a rush will bypass long lines at the HEET exits or turnstiles, and if the alarm goes off, so what? While it is against New York City Transit regulations to use the emergency exists in non-emergency situations, that stops no one.

Yesterday, as part of a new series on Underground Ethics, Hillary Fields, a writer and editor at Beliefnet, inaugurated her column with some musings on the Emergency Exit debate. She writes:

Each morning, as I approach the IRT line, the dilemma looms larger and larger. The Subway Emergency Exit. Meant, as is so clearly blazoned on its push-bar, to be used only in cases of, you know… emergency. Should you dare to make it your egress, it will shrill loudly–nay, I daresay deafeningly–piercing the eardrums of all those around you. The sound echoes off the dingy station tiles, lingers unendingly in the air, pisses off the riders on the platform, wears out the alarms, and drives the beleaguered station agent just that tiny bit closer to a lethal meltdown.

So why the f*&k does everyone and his brother think it’s OK to use it instead of the turnstiles?

It is, of course, a personal decision and one many make to maximize time, other riders be damned. Fields takes a life lesson from her emergency exit experiences. “It amazes me,” she writes, “how expedience takes precedence over values at times like these, and perhaps can explain some of the other behaviors I see on the fly.”

Anyway, check out this new series. It will make for some interesting debates over how to approach personal actions underground. No one, after all, likes hearing the emergency exit siren, and everyone likes to exit the subway faster than that other person on the train who elbowed them on the way up the stairs. Choices, choices, choices.

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Pedestrians take advantage of a car-free Broadway in Times Square on Sunday. (Photo by flickr user bmaryman)

Recently, Janette Sadik-Khan and her revolutionary livable streets plans have been garnering a lot of headlines. With the pedestrian takeover of Broadway around the Times Square and Herald Square areas, Sadik-Khan has thrust her pro-bike, pro-pedestrian, anti-car, anti-congestion policies onto the crossroads of New York.

In an effort to bring Sadik-Khan’s vision and personality to those impacted by her decisions, New York Magazine wrote a sprawling profile of the DOT commissioner. Various sites have covered the profile, but I wanted to highlight a few points.

First are the comparisons to Robert Moses. “One of the good legacies of Robert Moses is that, because he paved so much, we’re able to reclaim it and reuse it,” Sadik-Khan said. “It’s sort of like Jane Jacobs’s revenge on Robert Moses.”

In the past, I’ve called for a Robert Moses-type figure to lead the city’s much-needed transit revolution. I’m almost on board with Sadik-Khan’s plan, except for one detail: She hasn’t embraced the transit expansion aspects of a livable streets plan. Getting cars off the roads and restoring the streets to those who walk and bike is an admirable goal, but the second part of that plan is to offer more mass transit options. People can still get around fast when they need, and they won’t be compelled to drive.

The New York Magazine piece does not comfort me:

While Sadik-Khan seems genuinely taken by the idea of bus rapid transit, she has clearly put it on the back burner—even though it would likely have practical and utilitarian appeal. But getting a new bus system going is a lot less sexy than making pop-up public spaces, or leading Bike to Work Day rides, like she did last Friday. It would take longer, cost more, and require a lot more bureaucratic tussling (with the MTA, no less). It would be a different kind of revolution—slower, more compromised, perhaps more lasting—and would probably require a different kind of revolutionary leader.

The plans are out there. Some people want streetcars for Brooklyn, and the DOT Commissioner plans to work this summer with the MTA to identify more bus rapid transit corridors.

The truth is, though, that Sadik-Khan could implement BRT with the same sense of purpose as she has livable streets. She could close road sections on cross streets and avenues while installing dedicated bus lanes with separated lanes and pre-board fare options. She could connect disparate parts of the city that aren’t transit accessible right now, and she could do it while pushing her pro-bike, pro-pedestrian plans. After all, making the city more livable involves transit, and if the will exists, we shouldn’t sacrifice the chance to expand our public transportation network.

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Over the last two and a half years, I haven’t said much on the Atlantic Yards deal. No Land Grab and Atlantic Yards Report have that beat more than covered. A development this week though warrants some discussion.

First, a recap. In 2004, when the MTA was considering selling the development rights to the land above the LIRR’s Atlantic Yards, the authority received a $214 million appraisal. At first, the MTA seemed ready to negotiate with Forest City Ratner for $50 million, but the agency faced some blowback under this below-market deal. With Extell offering up $150 million and some strings, Forest City Ranter up its price to $100 million, and the MTA accepted.

The public cried foul over this sweetheart deal. How could a cash-straped agency accept over 50 percent less than the market value of the land? Over the years, nothing has happened there, and Bruce Ratner has yet to make a payment on the land. He and his company have been mired in eminent domain lawsuits and, with the recent economic downtown, may or may not have the funds on hand to start construction.

Flash foward to now. As the final lawsuits wind their ways through the legal system, the Nets and Ratner claim they will soon start construction on the planned arena for the Atlantic Yards area. But first, Ratner is going to get even more favorable terms from the MTA in an effort to boost his floundering projects. Mike McLaughlin of The Brooklyn Paper reports:

Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner is poised to receive new generous terms from the MTA that could jumpstart his stalled mega-project even as a new report revealed that the city and state would actually lose money on the $4-billion arena, housing and office complex.

Helena Williams, president of Long Island Rail Road and the interim executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, told a state Senate committee on Friday that she’s in “intense negotiations” with Forest City Ratner to alter the deal to sell the Vanderbilt rail yards to the developer.

Ratner agreed to pay $100 million to acquire air rights to build over the trench between Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street. But pleading hardship due to the global credit crunch, Ratner is looking to pay perhaps as little as $20 million up front and to spread the remainder out of over years.

And the MTA appears to be on board.

A report in The Post indicated that the MTA could get $50 million instead of the promised $100 million.

So let me get this straight. A few months after the MTA needed an Albany bailout to avoid Doomsday cuts, they’re going to accept $50 million less than they had originally agreed to and $164 million less than market rate for the Atlantic Yards land, and this is somehow acceptable? No wonder the public does not trust the MTA.

Categories : Brooklyn
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  • As Queensboro turns 100, a reminder of tolls gone by · Over the weekend, the Queensboro Bridge turned 100, and the city celebrated with a processional of old cars across the span and some East River fireworks. As part of the celebration, Gridlock Sam made light of the fact that cars had to pay three cents to cross the bridge in 1909. The audience reportedly chuckled. A toll — all of three cents — to cross an East River Bridge! Imagine that!

    To those of us in favor of East River tolls as a way to fund the MTA, a toll 100 years ago is no laughing matter. It is a sign that free trips across the East River are not a God-given right. It is a sign that people 100 years ago had a better sense of transportation policies than we do now. Three cents in 1909 money would be a hair under 75 cents today, and all of a sudden, the idea of tolls across the East River to help fund the MTA seems more inevitable. After all, if 1909 New York could do it, why can’t the 2009 version do the same? · (3)

sander Elliot Sander is the unfortunate victim of circumstance, and we the subway-riding public are worse off for it.

Up until around around 10 days ago, Elliot Sander was the CEO and Executive Director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. At a time when the agency was suffering through a crippling financial crisis, his was a thankless job, but Sander was the right man for it. A run through his faculty profile at NYU Wagner School of Public Service shows a highly qualified and extremely experienced transit expert.

When the MTA had to turn, cap in hand, to Albany this year, politicians trotted out the old tired tropes in an effort to portray the MTA as a less than scrupulous organization. Some claimed the MTA keeps two sets of books, a charge found to be untrue in a court of law. Others called the agency heads “untrustworthy and corrupt,” as Sander puts it an Op-Ed in The Times today. In the end, the MTA, a transit agency entrusted with making the trains on time, were no match for a bunch of politicians whose specialties all seem to be making themselves look good even when approving poorly-constructed funding fixes.

In the end, despite his qualifications and despite his clear success — major projects moving forward, modernization efforts, on-time performance — Sander became the sacrificial lamb. He was ousted from a position most suited to his talents after less than 29 months on the job, and transit advocates all over the city lost a very important ally in the fight for better service in the city. Today, in a piece in The Times, Sander fights back. He writes:

The M.T.A.’s shortcomings are well known: crowded subway cars (ridership has increased by 50 percent in the past decade), outdated signal technology that limits the number of trains that can run per hour, decaying subway stations, buses stuck in traffic, the still incomplete Second Avenue line…

The M.T.A. has long been burdened by convoluted and overlapping operating charters, work rules and politically dictated mandates. But during my two years as chief executive we made significant progress in consolidating the back office functions of seven regional agencies — those in charge of trains and buses as well as bridges and tunnels. We arranged for the two commuter railroads, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North, to save money by jointly purchasing equipment and supplies. And we merged what had been three bus companies into one.

Only with genuine support from our elected officials can the next chief executive keep improving the transit system. With enough financing, for example, the M.T.A. could form a single regional bus authority to provide seamless service from Suffolk County to Westchester County. And with the Legislature’s political support for labor negotiations, the agency would be better positioned to conduct serious and respectful conversations with its nearly 60 unions about modernizing work rules to increase productivity and embrace new operating technologies…

With an adequate budget, the M.T.A. could not only maintain but also expand the transportation system. Rather than just finish projects under way — the first phase of the Second Avenue line, the extension of the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal and of the 7 train to Manhattan’s far West Side — we could extend the Second Avenue line into Brooklyn and the Bronx, have Metro-North service at Penn Station, modernize the subway signal system and provide high-speed buses to underserved city neighborhoods as well as Long Island and the Hudson Valley.

Sander saves his attacks against the state legislature for the end of his piece, and even then, they are tame by Op-Ed standards. “All of us should wish that whoever takes the helm gets the backing of all of New York’s elected leaders. As the people who call the shots on M.T.A. financing, they really are the agency’s shadow board of directors,” he writes. “If, on the other hand, politicians continue to run against the M.T.A., their rhetoric may become self-fulfilling prophecy, and the system may devolve into the state of dysfunction they denounce.”

While Sander’s departure leaves the MTA worse off than it was a few weeks ago, maybe Sander can become a rallying point for transit experts in New York City. We have long been out-maneuvered by politicians in Albany who protect their own interests but not those of the transit-riding public. We live in a city in which people don’t really believe the subways can be better than they are, and we are held hostage by automobile interests in the most densely populated city in the country. Transit should thrive here, and it does not.

Sander’s Op-Ed is just a start. We all should push Albany for a fully-funded five-year capital plan and a true commitment to public transit. We have to convince the public and the people that matter to dream big. In the end, the subways and New York City will be better off far it. The fight goes ever on.

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Well, it’s Friday evening, and as the week draws to a close, I have two stories in the hopper that I just didn’t have time to post during this four-day week. So let’s round ’em up right now.

Amy Zimmer of Metro took a look at the trail of subway trash. New Yorkers produce nearly 18,000 tons of subway trash a year, and while there are no recycling bins in the system, 50 percent of that trash is recycled after being sorted at sanitation dumps. According to Mike Zacchea, the assistant COO at Transit, separate bins are not made available in the stations because they would quickly become contaminated with non-recyclable trash.

A Bloomberg News story delved into the latest MTA bond issue. While I honestly don’t understand all of the economics behind it, it seems as though the MTA’s bonds were so favorably priced that investors were able to flip them for a short-term high yield, and the agency lost around $9 million — or enough for eight new subway cars — in the process. MTA board members and New York City officials called the after-market bonds trading “pretty distressing.” I’ll see if I can put together a more comprehensive post on this issue, but as I have limited knowledge of bond trading, it may take some time.

Anyway, service changes abound this weekend. As always, these are the service changes as provided to me by the MTA, and they are the planned changes only. Sometimes, some of these changes aren’t in effect, and sometimes other work that affects service isn’t reflected here. Pay attention to signs in your local station and leave extra travel time as well.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, downtown 1 and 2 trains skip 66th, 59th and 50th Streets due to station rehabilitation at 59th Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, Bronx-bound 2 and 5 trains run express from 3rd Avenue-149th Street to East 180th Street due to cable installation near East 180th Street.


From 4 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 10 p.m. Sunday, May 31, 3 trains run in two sections due to track panel installation:

  • Between 148th Street and Crown Heights-Utica Avenue and
  • Between Crown Heights-Utica Avenue and News Lots Avenue (runs every 20 minutes)


From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 30, Manhattan-bound 4 trains run express from Burnside Avenue to 149th Street due to rail repairs.


From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, May 31, Bronx-bound 4 trains run express from 149th Street to Burnside Avenue due to rail repairs.


From 4 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 10 p.m. Sunday, May 31, there are no 4 trains between Crown Heights-Utica Avenue and New Lots Avenue due to track panel installation. Customers may take the 3 instead.


From 4 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 10 p.m. Sunday, May 31, Bronx-bound 6 trains run express from Hunts Point Avenue to Parkchester due to track panel installation between Morrison-Sound View Avenues and St. Lawrence Avenue.


From 4 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 10 p.m. Sunday, May 31, the last stop for some Bronx-bound 6 trains is 3rd Avenue-138th Street due to track panel installation between Morrison-Sound View Avenues and St. Lawrence Avenue.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 30, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, Bronx-bound 6 trains run express from 3rd Avenue to Hunts Point Avenue due to platform edge rehabilitation at Cypress Avenue, East 143rd Street, East 149th Street and Longwood Avenue stations.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, A trains run local between 168th Street and Euclid Avenue due to switch renewal south of West 4th Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 30, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, there are no C trains running due to switch renewal south of West 4th Street. Customers should take the A instead.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 30, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, Brooklyn-bound D trains run local from 34th Street-Herald Square to West 4th Street due to switch renewal south of West 4th Street.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, May 29, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, free shuttle buses replace D trains between Norwood-205th Street and Bedford Park Blvd. due to a track a chip out north of Bedford Park Boulevard.


From 4 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 10 p.m. Sunday, May 31, Manhattan-bound D trains run on the N line from Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue to 36th Street (Brooklyn) due to track panel installation north of 62nd Street.


From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, Jamaica-bound E and F trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to a concrete pour north of Grand Avenue.


From 11:30 p.m. Saturday, May 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, Manhattan-bound EF trains run local from Forest Hills-71st Avenue to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to due to a concrete pour north of Grand Avenue.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, Brooklyn-bound F trains run on the E line from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to 42nd Street-8th Avenue, then on the A line to Jay Street. This is due to switch renewal south of West 4th Street and the Broadway-Lafayette to Bleecker Street transfer connection.


From 8:30 p.m. Friday, May 29 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, there is no G train service between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers should take the E or R instead.


From 1:15 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, May 30, J trains run in two sections due to track cleaning:

  • Between Jamaica Center-Parsons/Archer and Essex Street and
  • Between Essex Street and Chambers Street


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, Manhattan-bound Q trains skip Newkirk Avenue due to Brighton Line Station rehabilitation.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 30, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, Manhattan-bound Q trains run express from Kings Highway to Prospect Park due to Brighton Line Station rehabilitation.


From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, there are no R trains between Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue and Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to a concrete pour north of Grand Avenue. Customers should take the E or F instead.

Categories : Service Advisories
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On June 28th, transit fares across the city will rise by around eight percent. As has long been the case with fare increases, savvy straphangers will rush to stock up on cards carrying the pre-increase price tag. While once upon a time, we could horde tokens away for months on end, with the advent of the MetroCard, the MTA has been able to staunch the revenue loss to do stockpiled tokens.

Today, the transit authority announce the grace periods for the current MetroCards. Riders, according to the press release, have but a week to begin using their cards. Riders who purchase any of the unlimited-ride options — the one-, seven-, 14-, or 30-Day cards — prior to June 28th will be able to use their cards for the full duration if they are first swiped no later than July 6th. Pay-per-ride cards are not impacted by the fare charge.

As far as sunset dates go, those are staggered. In other words, if you purchase one of the unlimited ride options and use it for the first time after July 6th, you will not get full credit for all of your travel. Instead, riders will have to mail the cards back for pro-rated refunds based upon the day you first use them. Unused cards will be refunded in full. The sunset dates — meaning the last day on which previously purchased cards will be valid for travel — are presented in the table below.

Days on Card Sunset Date
1 July 6
7 July 12
14 July 19
30 August 4

Any questions?

Categories : Fare Hikes
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10072812

Every now and then, the roll signs indicating a subway route are wrong. I often see an Orange Q, a remnant of the Manhattan Bridge work, instead of a Yellow Q bullet as the trains head past me. That is, generally, the most egregious of minor errors.

Earlier this week, Second Ave. Sagas reader Jeffrey P drew my attention to the above sign on a Manhattan-bound 1 train. The 1, which shares rolling stock with the 3 and 4, was mislabeled but not as a train in service. It was bulleted as a 13 train. It certainly piqued my curiosity.

In the annals of New York City subway history, the only train designated by the number 13 was the pre-1967 BMT 14th St./Canarsie Line, now better known as the L train. At no point did the IRT lines — today’s current numbered lines — make use of a 13. Maybe one day, the future holds a red 13 for New York City straphangers.

Jeffrey sent me this picture via Twitter. For another view of this mysterious 13 train, click here. Be sure to check out and follow Second Ave. Sagas on Twitter if that’s your thing.

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Now and then, I like to see what’s happening in transit systems outside of New York City. Often, I’ll turn to Washington, D.C., for a glimpse at what an efficient — and much smaller — transit system looks like. The lessons from D.C. can be illuminating as we watch the MTA carom from one ill-fated project to another.

Earlier this week, the Washington Metro’s board announced that WMATA passengers would enjoy in-tunnel cell service by the fall of 2012. Lena H. Sun, a staff writer for the Washington Post, reports:

Metro officials said the agency and a consortium of wireless carriers are on track to install equipment so riders can receive and make cellphone calls on all carriers at the 20 busiest Metrorail stations by mid-October. Only Verizon and Sprint roaming customers can use their phones on the Metro now, and coverage is often spotty…

But don’t expect to stay connected between stations. That won’t happen until the consortium finishes installing cable and other equipment underground, a process that is likely to take until October 2012.

Under an agreement announced in February, Verizon, Sprint Nextel, AT&T and T-Mobile will be allowed to install equipment in the tunnels over the next four years. The agreement will provide the cash-strapped transit agency with nearly $25 million over the first 15 years. The estimated $2.4 million in expenses will also be paid by the wireless carriers.

Now, we can debate for hours whether or not cell phone service underground is a positive development. Every day, I see the impact of cell service on a subway ride. As my Manhattan-bound Q or B train snakes across the Manhattan Bridge and as my Brooklyn-bound trip heads off into the heart of Brooklyn every day, I see passengers scramble for their phones and being their furtive five-minute calls. Most are respectful as they try to keep their conversation to a minimum, but others are screamers, intent on informing the entire car what their significant other has at home for dinner that night.

As those trains head back underground, cell service is lost until the trenched, open-air tracks arrive at the Prospect Park stop. It may be silent, but it’s also a technological blackhole.

In Washington, Metro riders have enjoyed cell phone service for the better part of this decade. It’s not perfect, but it’s there. Furthermore, the WMATA has negotiated a contract that’s beneficial to all. The agency earns millions of dollars, and the cell companies get access to a new network of customers. Everyone — except those looking for a quiet ride — wins.

Meanwhile, in the Big Apple, the MTA keeps promising to find some company intent on writing the system at a price too low to believe, and time after time, the project stalls. Outside of the luxury of an underground cell network, the MTA’s system doesn’t have the capacity for proper emergency communications, and it just isn’t a modern system. At some point the technological modernization of the New York City subways will begin. We could do far worse than look to our neighbors to the south for inspiration.

Categories : WMATA
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