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
Comments (3)
  • 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.

Comments (13)
  • 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
Comments (20)

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.

Comments (22)
  • Destroyed, but not forgotten, national rail stations · The history of the United States is pockmarked with terrible architectural and urban design decisions. We tear out trolley tracks in favor of cars. We build massive roadways without leaving rights-of-way in place for rapid mass transit. We tear down architectural gems such as Penn Station and replace them with, well, Madison Square Garden. Today, Infrastructurist examined 10 train stations along with an endangered one that faced the wrecking ball during the Twentieth Century. How and why city planners decided to destroy these beautiful and useful buildings make up some of the saddest tales of transit neglect from the last 100 years. · (10)

Riders will create a garbage can wherever they can. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

When I interviewed New York City Transit President Howard Roberts in the fall, he spoke at length about his desire for cleaner stations. Roberts talked about the various plans in the works to beef up the maintenance crews around the system. Ah, to be in October. Those were simpler times.

Today, facing financial constraints and extreme internal budget-tightening, New York City Transit has been faced with a maintenance reality. The agency no longer has the money to support expanding the cleaning programs and in fact has had to cut back. Stations are, as Heather Haddon reported this morning, dirtier, and Transit’s cleaning staff is down by 100 workers. She reports:

Because of budget constraints, the MTA has curtailed station cleaning, with Transit officials acknowledging they are down by about 100 workers. The agency has also slashed overtime for cleaners, and workers say they simply can’t keep up with the mounting trash…

In recent years, the cleaning department has struggled to keep up with the surge in ridership. In 1993, the MTA employed 1.5 station cleaners per million riders. By 2007, the ratio had slipped to 1 cleaner for every million, according to Transit figures…

In a survey last year, the Straphangers Campaign found that the L and No. 7 made big improvements and were the system’s cleanest. A 2008 Transit report found that track fires also declined on the lines.

But running the pilot sapped precious manpower, which has fallen in the last several years as cleaner jobs went unfilled to save money, [union leader Marvin] Holland said. A hiring freeze implemented earlier this year has compounded the problem. Cleaners are now often scurrying to hit as many as five locations in one shift, whereas in the past they would usually just do two. And now stations only have cleaners on-site for an average of four hours a day, according to the Transit report.

The subways have never been known for their cleanliness. Oblivious or discourtesy straphangers treat every available surface as a garbage can. Food is left to rot on station platforms, and the worst offenders clip their nails onto the floors of train stations and cars.

Roberts though wants to add more cleaners. He says he can’t though because of the budgetary constraints and a worse-than-expected outlook. He hoped that internal belt-tightening would allow him reallocate resources for cleaning, but that is an optimistic prediction today.

In the end, the people who suffer most are, well, those same riders. More trash leads to more rodents. More trash leads to more track fires. More trash leads to a more unpleasant commute. Sadly, it sounds as though we may need to get used to that idea.

Comments (14)
  • Live coverage of the MTA committee meetings · The various committees that make up the MTA Board are set for a day of meetings today, and I’ll be covering the events as my day job allows. While I missed the Capital Construction update, the New York City Transit committee is meeting now, and the Finance committee will tackle the Atlantic Yards plans. I won’t be liveblogging the events here, but if you follow me on Twitter, you can see my live hits on the events. Any major news, I will of course write up here. · (0)
Page 399 of 540« First...397398399400401...Last »