• These are the people on your subway car: Ruth Madoff · What would we do without The New York Post? The once-high brow paper founded by Alexander Hamilton sure has a knack for entertainment. Yesterday, one of their reporters found Ruth Madoff on the F train, and today, they print the story. According to Bruce Golding, Mrs. Madoff has “been reduced to” riding the subway as her husband faces substantial charges. I can’t say that I like that phrase. After all, over 5 million New Yorkers a day are “reduced to” riding the subway. Ruth is just another member of the straphanging masses. · (0)

On Sunday, the MTA will raise the fares. A single ride will cost $2.25, and the various MetroCard offerings will increase by a few dollars. For those of us watching, it won’t come as a surprise, and we’ll know that the MTA almost had to raise the fares by a much greater percentage than they did. We’ll also know that the MTA’s finances — just one set of books — is not too far from the edge of a disaster, and we’ll know that the MTA would rather not have to raise the fares at all.

The sad part is, though, that the vast majority of New Yorkers don’t know and don’t care to find out. They don’t care to invest time to educate themselves about the mass transit system. They would rather complain about fictional charges — two sets of books, the MTA wants to cut service, yadda yadd yadda — than educate themselves about transit and find out how a true commitment to transit investment would radically improve life in New York City.

A series of articles by Heather Haddon that appears this week in amNew York drive home this point. For the most, these articles are anecdotal. Haddon staked out a bunch of subway stations, asked various straphangers their views on the upcoming fare hike and picked some of the most ludicrous answers to highlight.

On Monday, Haddon focused on the fact that some riders did not know the fares were going up. Never mind the front page news coverage or the lead stories on the local newscasts about it. “Get out of here. Nobody’s going to pay that,” Richard Tillman said. “It just went up.”

No one, Richard? Really? I think everyone will pay it, and it will remain a relatively cheap and easy way to get around the city.

The best quotes from Haddon’s articles though are from those who say they will turn to their cars. “Now I know what I’m going to do next week. I’m going to pull out the car,” Angela Pacheco of Brooklyn said because the 30-Day Unlimited Ride is going up the cost of a whopping three gallons of gas. Another rider in another Haddon piece echoed Pacheco. “Might as well get a car,” Marcia Roberts, a Queens resident, said.

This is the attitude that explains why our mass transit system doesn’t have political support. This is why people are going to be fighting with MTA employees over the new fares. This is why politicians refuse to toll the East River bridges, refuse to allow the city to implement camera-enforced bus lanes. This is why the agency that runs our subway system — a system that transports over 5.2 million people per day — is struggling to keep it in a state of good repair.

On the eve of yet another fare hike, transit advocates have themselves to blame. We haven’t united behind the proper message; we haven’t overcome a powerful auto lobby; and we haven’t made our voices heard by those who hold the purse strings. One day, that will change. For now, we’re left with higher fares and a transit authority on life support.

Categories : Fare Hikes
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floorshmutz08 Waiting for a subway to show up underground can be a very fleeting experience. The lucky among us arrive on the platform just as the train arrives. The unlucky may have to wait ten or fifteen minutes at the worst of times. Still, subway platforms are among the dirtiest parts of the city, and with Transit planning a reduction in the number of cleaners, they won’t look much better any time soon.

But what of the train cars themselves? We spend far more time riding the cars. We sit on them; we stand on them; we doze off on them; and some among us even cut their nails or eat on them. Clean subway cars then should be a goal shared by all, and yet, I see people leave trash on a train that they probably wouldn’t just drop on their living room floors.

Today, the Straphangers Campaign has unveiled its annual Shmutz Survey. Every year, the rider advocacy organization surveys our subway lines to find out just how clean — or how dirty — the cars really are. Their release has the details:

Campaign surveyors rated 57% of subway cars as “clean” in a survey conducted in the fall and winter of 2008, which was a statistical improvement from 50% of cars rated clean in a survey conducted in the winter of 2007.

The best performing line in our survey was the 7 in the second half of 2008, with 84% of its cars rated clean, up from 78% in 2007. The worst performing line in our survey was the R, with the smallest number of clean cars at 25%.

Beginning on December 10, 2007, a new “line general manager” – Lou Brusati – was appointed with greater authority to run the 7. However, another line with a line general manager – the L – had fewer clean cars, declining from 88% in our 2007 survey to 62% in the current survey. Both lines originally had additional cleaning resources.

Unfortunately for the city’s subway riders, this year’s increased cleanliness may be a high-water mark. The MTA plans to reduce its car-cleaning staff by around four percent, according to the Straphangers. In 2009, the agency employed 1181 cleaners with 155 supervisors but next year will have just 1138 cleaners and 146 supervisors. “It is encouraging to find an increase in clean cars,” Gene Russianoff, Straphangers attorney, said. “But we are very concerned that cuts in cleaners will result in dirtier cars.”

The biggest piece of news to come out of this report is its disparity with regards to the MTA’s cleanliness ratings. As Michael Grynbaum notes in the City Room piece on the survey, the MTA’s internal survey pronounced 91 percent of the cars clean. The Straphangers release their methodology (here as a PDF) while the MTA does not.

In the end, it is what it is. While we want to see the MTA maintain its cleaning staff, cleanliness underground begins and ends with the riders. If people abuse the system, if they drop trash on the ground and spill drinks on the cars, everyone suffers.

After the jump, some bullet-point findings from the Straphangers. You can find the table of clean cars per line here as a PDF and one chart showing the year-to-year comparison here as a PDF.

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A few months ago, the spat between Lockheed Martin and the MTA over the state of various MTA security project bubbled over. During the last week of April, Lockheed sued the MTA to get out of its contract. The defense contractor alleged that the MTA had basically interfered with Lockheed’s ability to fulfill the terms of its contracts.

Yesterday, the MTA fought back. During an appearance before the City Council’s transportation committee, MTA lawyers talked about the countersuit they have filed against Lockheed. As Council member and Transportation committee head John Liu warned of an impending legal fight, Ronnie Hakim, an attorney at the MTA, explained the authority’s thinking. Tom Namako of The Post had more:

In April, Lockheed said that the MTA refused to give them access to critical subway tunnels that would allow them to install surveillance equipment. The MTA claims that Lockheed failed to make a system that actually worked. A trial date could be set for early 2010.

The counterclaim blasts Lockheed on several fronts, saying that the firm’s system failed repeatedly during tests at a center located at Mitchell Field on Long Island, that Lockheed falsely claimed that the work was progressing, that an MTA inspector was injured by poorly-maintined scaffolding , and that Lockheed’s subcontractors botched installation of arial wires across a bridge.

The agency also defaulted the firm and trash-talked Lockheed’s track record as a defense contractor for the federal government. “Lockheed has had problems in different kinds of programs. You may have read about problems they had with some of their defense contracts,” Hakim said.

In addition to the suit against Lockheed, the MTA is prepared to sue its insurance agency as well. The agency would prefer to convince the insurance agency that Lockheed is responsible for the failure to fulfill the terms of the contract. If the MTA cannot do so, to court they will all go.

As the legal dust settles, this story has been one giant mess. By now, nearly eight years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the MTA was supposed to enjoy a state-of-the-art security system with cameras galore. Instead, just 80 percent of the planned cameras are installed, and most aren’t doing much. Another 37.5 percent of all projects are behind schedule, many by a year.

As John Liu said, “the MTA has flushed $250 million down the drain and has little to show for it.” With these legal challenges, the MTA will try to get some of that money back. However, the reality of an insecure subway system remains. We can debate the need for more closed-circuit cameras and their effectiveness until the cows come home. For now, though, the only security measure fully realized is one that detects when unauthorized personnel are in restricted access areas. For $250 million and countless years and headaches, I would expect a bit more.

Categories : Subway Security
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  • MTA Board approves renegotiated Ratner deal · No surprise here, but the MTA Board has approved the sweeter sweetheart deal for Bruce Ratner. Instead of paying anything close to market price for land valued at $214 million four years ago, Ratner will pay the MTA the lump sum of $20 million with deferred payments over the next 22 years totaling $80 million. In return, he will provide a smaller-than-promised rail facility for the Atlantic Yards. Only two MTA Board members — Allen P. Cappelli and Mitchell H. Pally — voted against the new deal. · (4)
  • B division weekend headways officially set to 10 minutes · I often find myself taking the city’s B division trains — the lettered lines — from Brooklyn to Manhattan on the weekends, and I always assumed that trains ran on with a ten-minute headway. Today, we learn that the trains were supposed to arrive every eight minutes during the weekend, but because of construction and maintenance generally ran every ten minutes anyway. Now, New York City Transit is making the 10-minute B-division weekend headways official. Beginning in August, the MTA schedules will reflect this change. Officials say it will allow for “better management of train traffic.” One day, I hope to report on an increase of service instead of a decrease. A straphanger can dream. · (11)

In cities around the country, mass transit ridership is on the climb. In New York, around 5.2 million per day ride the subways around the city. In Washington, D.C., site of this week’s fatal train collision, daily ridership for the Metro is around 730,000, an all-time high for the WMATA.

Meanwhile, investments are down, and financial crises for transit authorities are on the rise. From Chicago to New York, Boston to Washington, transit agencies are looking for ways to cut costs and cut services while raising fares in order to bridge budget gaps. Local and state municipalities are scaling back investment levels, and federal contributions, while higher than they’ve been in the past, can’t begin to overcome the funding abyss these transit authorities face.

For New York, the funding decisions — what to cut, what not to cut, how to invest — have been seemingly easy and transparent. The MTA will cut the frequency of train service as a last resort. They will close stations as a last resort. They will instead turn to fare box revenue and somewhat superfluous services that make the system nicer. Station cleaning staff will be reduced; station agents will be eliminated through attrition.

What the MTA has not been willing to cut are its modernization and security measures. By developing two separate budgets with two separate revenue streams — one for capital, one for operations — the authority can continue to invest in new rails, new signals, new stations and new train cars while the day-to-day operations of the system may be scaled back. Safety, security and the comforts of getting from Point A to B are paramount, and if straphangers have to wait a few minutes more or suffer through more crowded trains until the economy improves, so be it.

Not every system has the same structure in place. ,As we head south to the site of this week’s horrific and deadly train crash on the D.C. Metro’s red line, we come to another overtaxed system. As D.C. and federal transit officials investigate the cause of a high-speed rear end collision that left nine people dead and nearly 80 more wounded, they are finding that a lack of investment may be one of the culprits. Ian Urbina reports:

[National Transportation Safety Board member Debbie] Hersman said the federal safety board had recommended that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which runs the transit system, “either retrofit those cars or phase them out of the fleet.”

“They have not been able to do that, and our recommendation was not addressed,” Ms. Hersman said. She called the transit authority’s response to the recommendations “unacceptable.”

The authority’s general manager, John B. Catoe Jr., said the transit system had been waiting to receive proposals “over the next month or so” to replace the old cars. The new trains were still years away from being added, he said.

Why didn’t the WMATA heed the government’s safety warnings? Because, as Doug Feaver writes in the Washington Post, they didn’t have the money. They have old cars that haven’t been retrofitted because politicians have shoved mass transit to the side. As Feavers, transit is far safer than driving and is becoming an increasingly popular mode of transit. We as a nation should be investing in it.

In New York, the MTA on Tuesday took great pains to ensure costumers of the safety of its fleet. The MTA does not use any of the types of cars damaged in Monday’s accident, and as officials explained, the subway’s fixed-block signal system has better crash-prevention measures in please than the new WMATA system does.

Nationwide, there have been few bad transit accidents over the last few years. When they happen, they earn top headlines because they are so rare, and we as a public consider trains infallible. When cars age, when systems aren’t upgraded, they break down and become dangerous. With so many people recognizing the value of transit, it’s time to invest in both our safety and our future.

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  • With ambitious timeline, 7 line extension progressing apace · While most of our attention was on the Atlantic Yards plans, WNYC spent some time checking in with the MTA’s current 7 line expansion project. Matthew Schuerman interviewed Joe Trainor, the MTA’s chief engineer on the project, and it sounds as though the crews are making good progress. According to Trainor, by working with the Port Authority, MTA crews were able to work around the clock under Port Authority to build some of the tunnel-boring machine exits. Originally expected to take two or three years, this part of the project wrapped up in six months due to the inter-agency cooperation. Still, Trainor thinks the 2013 deadline the MTA has set for itself represents a lofty, if perhaps unrealistic, goal. [WNYC] · (5)

While this morning, I wrote about the naming rights aspect for the MTA’s restructured deal with Bruce Ratner for the Vanderbilt Yards land. For posterity’s sake, let’s go over just how much sweeter the MTA has made this sweetheart deal.

The short of the backstory is that Bruce Ratner doesn’t have the money to build much of what he wanted to build at Atlantic Yards and can no longer afford the below-market rate of $100 million for the Vanderbilt Yard land rights. He also can’t afford the $225 million state-of-the-art train facility he originally promised.

So what did the MTA do? Well, instead of opening up the process to a new round of bidders and requests for proposals, the agency has simply sweetened the deal for Ratner. Instead of a lump sum payment of $100 million, he will pay just $20 million upfront and cover his purchase in installments totaling $80 million over the next 22 years. He will pay $2 million a year from 2012-2016 and then $11 million a year for the following 15 years. Instead of a $225 million rail facility, he will supply one with three-quarters of the original plan capacity for $150 million instead.

As you can imagine, reaction from the MTA Board members and Atlantic Yards critics bordered on the incredulous. Whether the full board supports this project tomorrow remains to be seen.

“It is one month shy of four years since the board accepted Forest City Ratner, and this committee is being given less than 48 hours to understand a complex transaction,” MTA Board member Doreen M. Frasca, said. “I think that’s pretty outrageous.”

Various groups are planning to file suits to stop this new deal from going through. They probably face an uphill battle, but then again, so does the MTA. During an economic crisis, they’re relinquishing land and a rail facility for a below-market payment. The trains might run on time, but public opinion will not smile upon this sweeter sweetheart deal.

In the end, as some critics called it a “bait and switch” by Ratner, MTA CFO Gary Dellaverson had the final, understated word: “It’s not quite as good as we hoped.” And that was a choice made by the MTA with which it will have to live for a long time.

Categories : MTA Economics
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yankeestadiummousepad I’ll get to the nitty-gritty of the MTA’s sweetheart deal for the Atlantic Yards rights later today. If you want to read about this embarrassment of riches for Bruce Ratner and the MTA’s dereliction of duty ahead of time, check out Mike Grynbaum’s coverage on City Room.

Right now, I want to instead turn my attention to an intriguing bit of news that came out of the MTA Board’s Finance Committee meeting on Monday. For the first time, the MTA will be taking in money in exchange for the naming rights to a subway station. The Observer’s Elliot Brown summarizes this development:

Monday’s announcement, made at a meeting of the M.T.A.’s finance committee, did include one new, if small, income stream: The agency agreed to lease the naming rights for the Atlantic Avenue station, where the project is based. With payments of $200,000 a year for 20 years, the new name: “Barclays Center,” which an agency official said will appear alongside the existing name for the station.

So in a few years — whenever this hideous arena opens up — the Atlantic Ave./Pacific St. subway station will become the Atlantic Ave./Pacific St./Barclays Center station. Talk about a mouthful.

For the MTA, securing a naming rights deal has been a long-term project. A few years, some subway conductors starting referring to 47th-50th Sts./Rockefeller Center as “Top of the Rock” for the then-newly opened attraction at the top of 40 Rockefeller Center. The transit agency, however, drew in no money for the deal.

A few months ago, the authority tried again. When the city and the Mets dismantled Shea Stadium and opened the corporately-named Citi Field, the MTA tried to get some money to rename the Willets Point-Shea Stadium stop after Citi Field. The two sides could not reach an agreement, and the station is now awkwardly called Mets-Willets Point. It is one of the few stations in the subway system at which the attraction’s name — in this case, the Mets — precedes the geographical identifier — here, Willets Point.

This deal with Forest City Ratner for the naming rights should lead us to reconsider how subway stations are named, and it’s bound to engender a debate between the traditionalists and those who feel the MTA should milk funds out of the system. For the most part, stations are called by their closest streets. There are a few stops at 96th St., some at the city’s various 7th Avenues and others along Canal St. Other stops take on the nearest big landmark: 34th St.-Penn Station, Howard Beach/JFK Airport and Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue come to mind. Others — 42nd St./Times Square, Flushing-Main St., Forest Hills/71st Ave. — are geographical signals.

Until this Barclays agreement was finalized, MTA stations were named for convenience’s sake. Stations with similar names were modified to signify where along a street the station lay, and major neighborhoods were identified as well. Now, though, stations are open to the highest bidder. What is stopping Disney from buying the naming rights to Times Square? Who wants to get off at 42nd St./Times Square/Disney? What about 59th St./Bloomingdales?

Maybe the MTA shouldn’t be charging for these corporate names. Maybe it’s part of its public duty to identify the major attractions that around the station in question. Or maybe the MTA shouldn’t offer up anything more than those in-station gray signs if corporate naming-rights sponsors won’t pay. After all, the MTA doesn’t need to accept free advertising for a brand.

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