Whenever the MTA raises subway fares, the city’s newspapers — or at least those that decide to write about — cover it with a faux-populism outrages as expressed through the riders the reporters choose to interview. Instead of focusing on the whys and wherefores of the fare hike, instead of explaining how Albany has left the MTA out in the financial cold, it’s far easier to find people outraged than it is to educate.

Take, for example, Irving DeJohn and Stephanie Gaskell’s piece in the Daily News about rider reaction to the fare hike. It is chock full of quotes bemoaning the price increases, and the statements of the riders are, frankly, ignorant.

Take the first one in the article from Emmanuel Louis of Brooklyn: “You shouldn’t raise the fare if you’re not going to increase service. It’s just not fair.” This is where a reporter should challenge Louis and ask him how he feels about raising the fares if the alternative means worse service and significantly less of it. After all, to the cut the budget gap without raising fares, the MTA would have had to scale back service to unusable levels on those lines they could justify keeping open.

Louis isn’t alone. “The increases don’t make sense,” Najla Netus, of Brooklyn, said. “The service isn’t that great. The trains are always running slow.” That’s right, Najla, blame it on the slow trains. Where are these slow trains, by the way? When I ride, the trains run fast. The wait times are often far too long though, but hey, more service costs a lot more.

How about this one? “It’s ridiculous,” Trimette Roberts, also of Brooklyn, said. “It’s bad budgeting and bad management. To have a fare increase every year, year and a half – that’s the part that’s frustrating.”

We Brooklynites sure are opinionated. Anyway, actually, Roberts is dead wrong. To have a fare increase every year that’s tracked with inflation would make far too much sense. The history of low fares along with government subsidies that diminish each year and don’t make up for the gaps due to artificially low fares is what got the MTA into this mess in the first place.

On Friday, in a companion piece to this one, I took transit activists to task for their inability to fight in Albany. All of us work hard online to get our opinions heard, but in the end, those listening are those who are already educated. The Trimette Roberts’ and Emmanuel Louis’ of the city aren’t actively reading StreetsBlog or Second Ave. Sagas on any sort of basis.

What they are reading, though, are the papers. The Daily News covers the fare hike by taking an uninformed but outraged populist approach to the MTA because it sells papers. At OTBKB, Leon Freilich notes that The Times Sunday Metropolitan section had nary a word about the fare hike.

It isn’t, of course, the city’s reporters’ jobs to educate the masses. They’re in the business of selling papers. A responsible press though should be part of the job. As I criticized transit activists on Friday for not getting the message out, so must I look at the transit coverage with a raised eyebrow. Maybe the activists need to be getting the message and the talking points out to the reporters, but faux-populism is irresponsible no matter the issue.

Categories : Fare Hikes
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New fares now in effect

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Just a quick Sunday reminder that the new fares have gone into effect. A subway ride now costs $2.25, and the Unlimited Ride options all saw increases of a few dollars this morning. You can click on the image above for a bigger version of the MTA’s fare hike poster.

Meanwhile, Transit provided me with some interesting information about the current state of the fares. When the pay-per-ride discounts, Unlimited Ride usage and free transfers are aggregated, the average fare had been around $1.41. It will go up to approximately $1.56. That’s $1.13 in 1996 dollars, and in 1996, the actual fares were $1.50. Somehow, straphangers are paying less now than they did 13 years ago. That’s small comfort though as this is the second fare hike in two years.

Categories : Fare Hikes
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On Sunday the fares go up. I’ll toss up a post with some fare hike info on Saturday. For now, I’ve got some links to run down. I never had time this week to post this stuff.

First up is the picture atop this post. It comes to us via Twitter user grtela, and it is visual evidence a highly-anticipated service change. Beginning July 5, the G train will run to Church Ave. making stops along the Culver Line into Kensington, Brooklyn. I first wrote about this change in 2006 when it was originally scheduled for 2007. Transit is only two years late on this one.

The CEO of a Brooklyn-based industrial supply company plead guilty to charges of selling counterfeit material to the MTA. Joseph Ungar will face five years’ probation and a lifetime ban from doing business with the authority after selling them fake ball bearings for subway cars and bearing assemblies for bus transmissions. Apparently, Ungar was impersonating a dead salesman. It’s good to see the agency cracking down on this type of behavior.

Apparently, it’s very loud on the subways. According to a recent study, decibel levels underground reach 102. Both the EPA and the WHO recommend daily average decibels of 70, and my dad blames his tinnitus partially of decades spent riding the subway.

And finally, from last week, the MTA has to spend $3.3 million to upgrade its MetroCard Vending Machines to combat counterfeit bills. With the relatively new money the Treasury Department has unveiled on the country, the transit agency has to ensure their machines are up to date. How about a contact-less fare payment system?

On to the service advisories..

From 12:01 a.m. to 7 a.m. Saturday, June 27, Brooklyn-bound 2 and 4 trains skip Bergen Street, Grand Army Plaza and Eastern Parkway due to switch renewal.

From 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, June 27, free shuttle buses replace 4 trains between Woodlawn and Bedford Park Boulevard due to track maintenance.

From 12:01 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 27, Manhattan-bound 6 trains run express from Hunts Point to 3rd Avenue due to platform edge rehabilitation at Cypress Avenue, East 143rd Street, East 149th Street and Longwood Avenue stations.

From 12:01 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 27, Manhattan-bound 6 trains run in two sections due to platform edge rehabilitation at Cypress Avenue, East 143rd Street, East 149th Street and Longwood Avenue stations:

  • Between Pelham Bay Park and 125th Street and
  • Between 125th Street and Brooklyn Bridge

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 29, Bronx-bound D trains skip 170th, 174th-175th, and 182nd-183rd Streets due to track cable work.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, June 26 to 5 a.m. Saturday, June 28, and from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday, June 28 and Monday, June 29, Manhattan-bound F trains run local from Forest Hills-71st Avenue to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to due to track and roadbed replacement at Grand Avenue.

From 12:30 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, June 27 and 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday, June 28 and Monday, June 29, Jamaica-bound F trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to track and roadbed replacement at Grand Avenue.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, June 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 29, there is no G train service between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers should take the E or R instead. Trains run every 20 minutes between Court Square and Smith-9th Streets.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, June 26 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 29, free shuttle buses replace L trains between Lorimer Street and Myrtle-Wyckoff Avenues due to track and roadbed replacement at Jefferson Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 29, Manhattan-bound Q trains run express from Kings Highway to Prospect Park due to Brighton Line station rehabilitation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 29, Manhattan-bound Q trains skip Newkirk Avenue due to station rehab work.

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That’s right! It’s the MTA.

Per Pete Donohue, the cash-strapped agency needs to borrow $600 million to cover its operating expenses for the rest of the year. While Albany passed a rescue package last month before devolving into chaos, the MTA won’t see any of that money until the end of the year, and the transit authority must continue to pay out its expenses. Donohue has more:

The MTA has to borrow a mountain of cash because the state won’t fork over the agency’s transit funds until the end of the year, officials said. Adding insult to injury, the MTA will have to pay the state a fee as high as $5 million when the agency borrows the $600 million needed to pay expenses, officials said…

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority expects to pay $2 million more in interest and other expenses. The Catch-22 stems mostly from the Legislature taking so long to adopt the MTA bailout, which contained a new payroll tax, and subsidies for buses, subways and commuter trains.

That’s brilliant. Stall well beyond a deadline for the rescue plan; pass something that doesn’t really solve any long-term problems; and without the money while charging high interest until the end of the year. Mass transit funding in New York is broken, and this is just another indication of that sad reality.

Categories : MTA Economics
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  • 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.

Read More→

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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)
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