NextStopis With the tragic explosion at 116th St. and its impact on Metro-North dominating the news on Wednesday, I didn’t have the chance to unveil the latest episode of “The Next Stop Is…”, the one and only podcast for Second Ave. Sagas. So now that everything’s back to normal along the Park Avenue Viaduct, let’s dive in.

We start out with a reminder of my upcoming Problem Solvers session on the future of fare payment. Get your tickets now as the Transit Museum tells me they’re going fast. Then, Eric and I tackle a few hot-button issues from the past few weeks. We discuss the Brooklyn and Queens launch of BusTime and the way it can improve bus travel in the area. Then we delve into the problems and political popularity of ferries, and we explore how air rights could affect future development of Moynihan Station.

This week’s recording checks in at just over 19 minutes — a perfect running time for your morning ride when you don’t really want to think about it anyway. You can grab the podcast right here on iTunes or pull the raw MP3 file. If you enjoy what you hear, subscribe to updates on iTunes as well and consider leaving us a review. If you have any questions you’d like us to tackle, leave ‘em in the comments below. I’ll be back with more in the morning.

Categories : The Next Stop Is
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Update 4:45 p.m.: All Metro-North service to and from Grand Central has been restored, the MTA has announced. The Park Avenue viaduct is safe and sound, and service on all four tracks and all three Metro-North lines is running. The agency notes, however, that “trains will run at reduced speeds through the collapse zone to protect nearby employees and reduce vibrations as rescue and recovery work continues.” Expect crowding and delays during the evening rush hour.

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Posted (3:55 p.m.): The latest and greatest from the MTA, as of shortly before 4 p.m. on Wednesday:

MTA Metro-North Railroad is restoring some New Haven and Harlem line service from Grand Central Terminal after an explosion and building collapse next to Metro-North’s tracks running above Park Avenue. Customers who use the Hudson Line should take the B, D or 4 subway lines to 161 St and walk to Metro-North’s Yankees – East 153rd Street station.

Metro-North structural engineers have verified the integrity of the Park Avenue elevated structure. Two of the four tracks on the structure – the two farthest from the explosion site – have been restored to service after being cleared of debris, inspected for track and third rail integrity and approved for operations by Metro-North and the New York City Fire Department.

As more tracks are restored, the level of train service will increase. Train speeds may also be reduced to protect nearby railroad workers and to limit vibrations at the explosion site.

New Haven Line and Harlem Line customers should expect crowding and delays due to track limitations, with some local and express trains combined. The track configuration does not allow Hudson Line service to operate to and from Grand Central until more tracks are restored to service. Customers are urged to delay travel until later if possible.

The subway system is cross-honoring Metro-North tickets, and the Port Jervis and Pascack Valley Lines are cross-honoring Hudson Line tickets. More as service is restored.

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Information boards at Grand Central display current Metro-North updates. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin

As first responders and rescue crews continue to work at the site of an explosion and subsequent building collapse next to the Metro-North tracks at 116th St. in Manhattan, the MTA has announced service plans in effect until further notice. Essentially, the agency is urging riders attempting to reach points north to take the subway to the Bronx and transfer at nearby stations where Metro-North tickets will be cross-honored. Here’s the overview:

Harlem Line & New Haven Line
Southbound customers from the New Haven Line and Harlem Line will get off at the Harlem Line stations or Wakefield or Woodlawn for a short walk to the No. 2 for service to Manhattan. Customers can transfer to the No. 5 at E. 180th Street for East Side destinations.

Northbound customers for all Harlem and New Haven Line stations should take the No. 5 subway to East 180th Street and transfer to the No. 2 subway north to the 233rd Street Station, where they can walk a short distance to the Metro-North’s Woodlawn Station.

Hudson Line
Hudson Line customers should take the No. 4 to 161st Street Station (Yankee Stadium) and walk west to Metro-North’s Yankees – East 153rd Street station for service to points north. The D subway also goes to 161st Street.

Southbound Hudson Line customers will go to Yankees-East 153rd Street and transfer to the No. 4 or D subways, or to Marble Hill and transfer to the No. 1 subway at 225th Street, an elevated station.

According to the MTA, there are currently no stranded trains, but power has been cut to the third rails of all four tracks near the explosion. The MTA urges customers to “consider limiting travel today if they can,” but as the explosion occurred at the tail end of rush hour, most commuters were already in the city this evening. It’s not clear that this situation will be resolved by the evening rush, and I’ll update this post as more information becomes available.

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Whenever I read another report about the state of New York City’s infrastructure, I think both of the boy who cried wolf and of Nero fiddling while Rome burns. As the trains continue to run everyday, the average New Yorker who pays no attention to these sorts of things must think we’re all crying wolf while the politicians who are aware of the problem but do nothing seem to be the ones fiddling while New York City slowly crumbles around them. The ultimate outcomes — spend lots of money or watch the city lose its global status — aren’t alluring, but something has to give.

The latest warning comes to us from the Center for Urban Future and focuses on the $50 billion in outstanding investments needed to bring our infrastructure up to par. It includes sentences such as this: “LaGuardia’s main terminal is 50 years old and in terrible condition, while two of JFK’s six terminals have stood for over four decades.” In essence, the CUF report doesn’t sugar-coat anything, and the city’s key pieces are, by and large, in terrible shape.

While the state controls most of the transit spending, the report (available here as a PDF) spends some time focusing on the subway. The picture it paints of key systems we don’t usually see or appreciate on a daily basis is grim. According to the report, 37 percent of the system’s signals have exceeded their 50-year useful lifespan, and yet, they keep on ticking.

The MTA’s signaling system is old and obsolete. Of the 728 miles of mainline signals, 269 have exceeded their 50-year useful life. Twenty- six percent are more than 70 years old and 11 percent are between 50 and 69 years old. The equipment is no longer manufactured, forcing the Transit Authority to build and replace parts at its own signal shop…Expediting signal modernization would require a tremendous infusion of money or a significant redistribution of capital dollars among MTA subsidiaries. Even with unlimited funds, replacing signals would be exceedingly difficult and disruptive…

In addition to funding and track access is- sues, the MTA is hobbled by a dearth of qualified contractors. At the moment, only three to four contractors are available to perform signal installation and modernization work. This limits com- petition, increases expenses and caps the amount of signal work that can be performed at any one time. To address this constraint, the MTA recently began a mentoring program for training contractors.

The problem isn’t limited to signal systems. The report takes on station conditions as well.

New York’s subway stations are chaotic and beleaguered. Trash is sometimes strewn across the platform and between the tracks. Leaking ceilings and water-damaged walls are pervasive. Paint peels from the ceiling. Columns rust. Bottlenecks form at narrow stairwells, choking the circulation of foot traffic. “New York’s subway stations are terrible,” says Paaswell of the University Transportation Research Center. “They’re dirty. They’re dingy. They need painting. They need new architecture. They need better lighting.”

While MTA officials recognize these deficien-cies, in recent years they have scaled down their approach to rehabilitation. “In stations, the MTA has basically conceded that you will never get to a state of good repair,” says Jeremy Soffin, the for- mer MTA spokesperson. “It’s simply not possible. There are so many tens of billions of dollars of repair needs.” Since 2010, the MTA has opted to replace individual components in stations rather than perform comprehensive renovations. According to officials, the old strategy proved too slow and too costly.

And what about maintenance shops?

Like the system they service, subway shops and yards are old. The 13 facilities opened nearly 90 years ago on average. Two buildings at the Concourse Yard were recently placed on the Na- tional Register of Historic Places. The East New York facility, originally built in 1880 as a horse and carriage depot, still relies completely on hand- thrown switches. The narrow aisles at the Livonia and 240th Street facilities are ill configured for modern maintenance and repair practices.

In a recent survey of each of its capital asset categories, the MTA found its yards and shops were in the worst state of repair. Fifty-four per- cent of the components at these facilities exceed their useful life. Thirty-eight percent of lighting is in poor condition and does not meet current standards. The MTA has not increased investment to address the decay at its critical maintenance facilities. Instead, capital outlays have fallen from $455 million in the 2000-2004 capital budget to $263 million43 in the current five-year budget. If greater attention is not paid to rehabbing these facilities, subway car maintenance will suffer and train delays will become more common.

Beyond the subway system, you can read about the sorry state of the city’s airports, the rough condition of the roads, and the structural deficiencies that will impact bridges, utilities and schools in the coming years. With at least $50 billion investment pending, this report hardly paints the picture of a city on the rise.

What’s the answer? How do we find a solution? We’ll need leadership and money. Infrastructure upgrades can spur on job creation and economic growth, but neither Andrew Cuomo nor Bill de Blasio has embraced spending on capital projects. The MTA, on the other hand, has proposed a five-year capital plan worth over $20 billion that would address exactly the issues named in this report — at least on the signaling front. They can’t do much beyond that without an infusion of dollars.

Still, this need for investment will require leadership to make uncomfortable and unpopular decisions. It’s not likely to happen soon, but I wonder how long New York can thrive without it. The situation sounds needlessly dire, but that’s because soon it will be. Invest. Fund. Grow.

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Looking for the B41? BusTime has you covered.

Looking for the B41? BusTime has you covered.

I’m a few days late posting this to the site (thought if you follow me on Twitter, you would have seen the news on Saturday, but BusTime is officially live in Brooklyn and Queens. With the weekend debut in the city’s two most populous boroughs, the MTA’s in-house real-time bus tracking system is now available on all MTA buses throughout the five boroughs.

While the service isn’t perfect as designed, knowing where every bus is certainly has its benefits and makes travel on an unreliable mode of transit far easier. “As we have seen with train arrival information in the subway,” Carmen Bianco, President of MTA New York City Transit, said, “customers appreciate when they know when that train or bus will show up at the station or stop.”

BusTime is available on the MTA’s website right here, and the information is accessible via mobile apps and a code-based text message service as well. Unfortunately, the limits of the in-house system mean that waiting times are displayed in distance rather than time. Allan Rosen at Sheepshead Bites seems to view this flaw as something close to a fatal one, but I’m a bit more forgiving.

It’s not ideal, and the concept of distance as time takes some trial and error. But two weeks ago, we had no idea where any buses in Brooklyn were, and today, I can pull up every route in the city from the comfort of my computer. Advocates, meanwhile, are continuing to press for countdown timers at major bus stops. It is, as with everything, a matter of funding.

Categories : Buses, MTA Technology
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Remembering the token

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It’s hard to believe, on one side of the coin or the other, that the MetroCard as we know it is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. While the pilot launched in 1993, the first stations equipped with fare card readers opened in early 1994. Three years later, every subway station and bus were equipped with MetroCard readers, and four years later, Straphangers could take advantage of the promise of an unlimited fare card, thus ushering in a new era in booming transit ridership.

These days, we’re waiting impatiently for the end of the MetroCard era. It was not exactly a new technology when it was introduced, and the MTA has since been lapped by nearly all of its competitors when it comes to some form of contact-less fare payment. Since 2006, the agency has spun its wheels with a variety of pilot programs but has now committed to finding a replacement by 2019. We still don’t quite know what form that next-gen fare payment technology will take, and hopefully, we’ll know more after my Problem Solvers session on that topic next Wednesday. (RSPV now. Seats are going fast.)

I’ll spend some time looking forward next week. Tonight, I wanted to look back. For fifty years, the token reigned supreme, but these days it is only a memory. Many New Yorkers — those who moved to the city over the past 10 years — now the token only in the abstract. It was a thing some may remember as tourists as the keys to the subway while others hear of it only in city lore.

For me, tokens were a part of my youth. I could flash my transit pass to the token booth clerk to gain entrance to the subway, but my parents weren’t so lucky. They kept piles of ten-packs of tokens in a shoe box in our linen closet, stockpiling them right before fare hikes. Tokens required planning and attention to the number of rides one might make during a day, and their brothers in arms — the flimsy paper transit for the bus system — always come with a pesky time limit.

For all their symbolism, by the time of its death, the token was around for only half of the subway system’s life. For fifty years, so long as the fare remained the same as a Treasury Department coin, the city’s transit agencies could collect nickels and then dimes, but as soon as the fare went up to 15 cents, collecting coins become impractical. The first hints of a New York City subway token came in the early 1940s when the IRT purchased a bunch of tokens in the late 1920s in anticipation of a fare hike that never came. The company eventually ditched those plans, and the token would not emerge as a potential discussion piece until 1947.

By then, the city knew it had a financial problem on its hands. The subways were bleeding money, and the various agencies discussed a token in conjunction with a fare hike. The transit deficit at the time was $84 million — or over $850 million in today’s money — and the proposals on the table ranged from 7-10 cents. Anything requiring multiple coins would have led the debut of a token.

The Board of Transportation was not easily swayed. In an extensive July 1947 article discussing the looming transit referendum, The Times mentioned that BOT objected to tokens on that grounds that they can be “easy to counterfeit and bulky to handle.” In fact, the BOT was so concerned with slugs that many related to transit services planned to lobby the feds for an eight-cent coin in advance of the potential fare hike.

When the fare hike became a reality in 1953, the New York City Transit Authority had to turn to tokens because some turnstiles were not equipped to handle multiple coins. Nearly immediately, the TA had to deal with the issue of slugs, fake tokens that would be a thorn in the agency’s side for fifty years. Furthermore, token clerks had to deal with surly, incommunicative customers and were instructed to avoid becoming “impatient, discourteous or abusive to the passenger.” By late 1953, one Times even urged the TA to sell tokens in bulk as little packages could make great birthday presents or stocking stuffers at Christmas.

Ultimately, the token settled in for 50 years of use, abuse and redesigns. Its departure earned an obit, and New Yorkers’ pockets were lighter for it. Now we carry around a flimsy piece of plastic that one day too will become part of New York City subway history. The MetroCard may live a lifespan half that of the token, but it won’t make it to the venerable old age of 50. Few symbols in New York City do.

Categories : Subway History
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More ferry terminals may pop up around the water, but to what end? (Photo by East River Ferry on flickr)

Whether we recognize it or not, New York City is facing something of a transportation crisis. The problem itself won’t come to a true head for a while, but outside of a few avenues, our current transit options are nearly maxed out. Our roads are continually congested, and without significant expansion, the subway system can’t withstand too many more trains — or passengers — per hour during peak times. Buses and a real bus rapid transit network could pick up some slack, but lately the focus has turned to the city’s myriad waterways.

For much of the 2013 mayoral campaign, we heard candidates from various parties talk endlessly about the opportunities for expanded ferry service. It sounds good, right? These are politicians actually promoting increased transit, and at a time when subway construction is exceedingly expensive and no one at the MTA is willing to try to rein in those costs, sticking some boats on the water seems downright economically responsible. It is but a political smoke screen as well, and I’ll get to that shortly.

Lately, the jockeying for ferries has come from the local level. Ydanis Rodriguez, the new chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, has been agitating for more ferry service for his constituents even though most of them live on a bluff high above the nearest coast. Now, Queens reps are calling for more ferry service too. The Queens Chronicle reports:

The words “commute” and “New York City” usually make one think of squeaky, dirty, crowded subway cars snaking through tunnels and along elevated rails. Or perhaps one conjures up thoughts of passengers packed into buses like sardines or jockeying for room under bus shelters. Some, especially out here in Queens, may think of a commute as idling on a packed highway in a car. One thing that most New Yorkers may not think of — unless maybe you’re from Staten Island — is boats…

The expansion of ferry service to the East River in 2011, connecting Wall Street and East 34th Street with Brooklyn and Long Island City, has also proved successful, as has a route to the Rockaways that was originally meant to be temporary. Now ferry advocates — and elected officials — are looking to expand service to other parts of Queens with waterfront connections.

…Already expansion beyond Long Island City and Rockaway may be imminent. According to one source, expansion of the East River ferry to Astoria is “more than likely,” and former Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. allocated money toward a feasibility study. Vallone’s successor, Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), said bringing ferry service farther north to Astoria would be a boon for the Western Queens waterfront, especially if they add a stop on Roosevelt Island, where a tech school is slated to be located. “We can find the money for this worthwhile cause,” said Constantinides, a member of the Council’s Transportation Committee. He pointed to Hallets Cove as a location for a ferry, noting the amount of development taking place there and the need for more public transportation.

Throughout the article, Queens politicians and ferry advocates discuss the success of the Rockaway boats and potential landing spots in College Point, Willets Point, Fort Totten or downtown Flushing. One quote in particular sums up the thinking. “We’re on the right path with expanding bus rapid transit and bike lines and now with ferries,” Constantinides said. “We’re not building any more subways. Better utilizing the city’s waterways is the new frontier.”

I have such major issues with this defeatist attitude toward subway construction. We’re giving up because politicians aren’t strong enough to fight back against rampant cost issues or, in the case of Constantinides’ own district, intense NIMBY opposition to a plan that would have brought the subway to Laguardia Airport. We can’t throw in the towel on future subway construction and expect New York to be able to grow. Ferries won’t cut it.

Meanwhile, the comments and coverage concerning ferries fail to make note of the issues of scale. The Rockaway ferry may be a success, but that’s with ridership of 700 per day. One peak-hour subway carries at least twice, and sometimes three times, that amount from Queens or Brooklyn into Manhattan. Ferries can help out around the edges; they can’t affect transformative change or do much to alleviate the transit capacity problems plaguing New York.

The single biggest issue with any New York City ferry network concerns population patterns. New York of the 20th century built inland and, thanks to Robert Moses, rung its waterways with roads. Not too many people live near potential ferry terminals, and not too many work near them either. So a ferry network also involves getting people to and from the terminals, and with fares not unified, such a setup currently involves a steep added cost per day. Most New Yorkers would rather take a crowded train than add $3-$5 per day to their commuting costs.

Furthermore, nearly every place in New York City that is well suited for ferry service already has it. The East River ferries offer relatively quick commutes to areas where people work. Many of the folks who live in uber-expensive waterfront condos in DUMBO, Williamsburg and Long Island City work near Wall Street. Travel patterns shift as one moves further east in Brooklyn and Queens.

But there are political forces at work here that account for the popularity of the boat movement. First, there are no NIMBYs to battle. Some people may object to a nearby ferry terminal and the noise from the boats, but it doesn’t engender the same level of protest that a new subway line or removing a lane of automobile traffic for bus rapid transit would. Second, the costs of starting a ferry line are relatively low and turnaround time is short. Thus, a politician can propose a ferry route, secure funding and attend a ribbon-cutting in a single term while proclaiming to be pro transit. Never mind the fact that, at most, a wildly successful ferry with 4000 daily riders services half of one-tenth of a percent of all New Yorkers. It’s an easy political win.

So we’re stuck in a boat rut. It may make limited sense to examine some ferry routes, but the most they can do is shuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic that is the subway system. Without high-capacity expansion, trains will be more crowded than ever before, and New York City will face growth constraints. It would take real leadership to tackle this problem; the ferries are simply a smokescreen.

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Sorry for the lack of updates. Busy day plus slow news week. The weekend, though, has plenty of changes with work affecting service on 16 subway lines. That’s most of the lines that operate on the weekend. Good luck.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, Bronx-bound 1 trains run express run express from 96 St to 145 St due to steel repair work south of 125 St to 133 St.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 8 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, 2 trains run local in both directions between 96 St and Times Sq-42 St due to track work at Times Sq-42 St.

From 11:45 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Friday, March 7 to Sunday, March 9, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, March 9 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, 3 service is suspended due to track work at Times Sq-42 St. Take 2 trains or free shuttle buses running between 135 St and 148 St.

From 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday, March 8, and Sunday, March 9, 3 trains are suspended in both directions between Franklin Av and New Lots Av due to subway car testing south of Crown Hts Utica Av. Take 4 trains for service between Franklin Av and Crown Hts Utica Av. Free shuttle buses operate between Crown Hts Utica Ave and New Lots Av making all 3 line subway station stops.

From 6:00 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Saturday, March 8, and Sunday, March 9, 3 trains run local in both directions between 96 St and Times Sq-42 St due to track work at Times Sq-42 St.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 8 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, Bronx-bound 4 trains run local from Brooklyn Bridge City Hall to Grand Central-42 St due to track maintenance north of 14 St-Union Sq.

From 5:45 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, March 8, and from 7:45 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday, March 9, 5 trains run every 20 minutes between Eastchester Dyre Av and Bowling Green due to track maintenance north of 14 St-Union Sq. Bronx-bound 5 trains run local from Brooklyn Bridge City Hall to Grand Central-42 St.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 7 to 4:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from Parkchester to Pelham Bay Park due to station renewal work at Middletown Rd and Castle Hill Av stations.

From 2:00 a.m. Saturday, March 8 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, 7 trains are suspended between Times Sq-42 St and Queensboro Plaza due to CBTC signal work and hurricane-related repair work in the Steinway tunnel, and track tie replacement work at Queensboro Plaza. Use E FNQ trains for service between Manhattan and Queens. Free shuttle buses make all subway station stops between Vernon Blvd-Jackson Av and Queensboro Plaza. The 42 Street Shuttle operates overnight.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, Brooklyn-bound A trains run express from 59 St Columbus Circle to Canal St due CPM structural survey for Hurricane Sandy work.

From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, March 8, and Sunday, March 9, Brooklyn-bound C trains run express from 59 St Columbus Circle to Canal St due to due CPM structural survey for Hurricane Sandy work.

From 6:45 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday, March 8, Bronx-bound D trains run express from Bay Pkway to 9 Av due to rail renewal work north of Bay Pkway.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 8 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, D trains run local in both directions between 34 St Herald Sq and W4 St Wash Sq due to MOW switch work north of W4 St Wash Sq.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, March 8, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, E trains run local in both directions between Jackson Hts Roosevelt Av and Forest Hills 71 Av due to signal modernization at Forest Hills-71 Av and Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, Queens-bound F trains run express from Church Av to Smith 9 Sts due to signal work at Church Av.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, Coney Island Stillwell Av-bound F trains are rerouted on the A line from W 4 St to Jay St-MetroTech due to due CPM structural survey for Hurricane Sandy work.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, March 8 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, F trains run local in both directions between Jackson Hts Roosevelt Av and Forest Hills-71 Av due to signal modernization at Forest Hills-71 Avenue and Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, Queens-bound G trains run express from Church Av to Smith 9 Sts due to signal work at Church Av.

From 10:30 p.m. Friday, March 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, Q trains are suspended between Coney Island Stillwell Av and Prospect Park in both directions due to track panel work from Church Av to Newkirk Av. Take free shuttle buses.

From 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Saturday, March 8, and from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Sunday, March 9, Q service is extended to Ditmars Blvd to replace partially-suspended 7 service due to CBTC signal work and hurricane-related repair work in the Steinway tunnel, and track tie replacement work at Queensboro Plaza.

From 11:45 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. Friday to Sunday, March 7 to March 9, R trains are suspended between 59 St and 36 St in both directions due to cable repair work.

(42nd St)
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 8 to 6:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, 42 Street Shuttle trains operate overnight.

Categories : Service Advisories
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In an effort to reach an agreement with the United Transportation Union Local 645 and avoid a strike for as long as possible, the Long Island Rail Road has issued a request for a second Presidential Emergency Board. The new PEB request and subsequent arbitration proceedings will delay any potential work action the UTU make consider until July 19 at the earliest.

The MTA has tacitly recognized of a favorable outcome in this fight. Currently, 59 of the agency’s 60 unions are working without a contract, and the UTU could set the stage for subsequent negotiations. If the MTA cannot achieve a net-zero labor increase, either through work rule reform, layoffs or a combination of both, the agency’s precarious financial picture will be thrown into doubt. That seems to be the X Factor New York politicians are so willing to ignore, but it was the MTA’s focus in their statement announcing the request for a second PEB.

Said the MTA:

The MTA wants to resolve these contract issues at the bargaining table, where they belong. But the recommendations of the first Presidential Emergency Board ignored the enormous burden that a 17% wage increase over six years – without a single change in work rules or other cost offset – would place on the MTA’s budget. If those terms were applied across the entire MTA workforce, they would be equivalent to raising fares 12% – or cutting $6 billion from the capital budget for keeping our system safe and reliable.

In response to this procedural move, the TWU — a very interested bystander — issued a stridently worded statement speaking out against the measure. One union official noted that “the MTA’s repeated insistence that it has no ability to pay the raises recommended by the panel is ‘a phony smokescreen rejected by four consecutive panels of arbitrators’ who have handled recent MTA labor disputes.” The TWU is the MTA’s largest union, and their top brass have vowed to support the UTU were it to engage in a strike.

Meanwhile, as this labor fight takes shape, Dana Rubinstein explored how Gov. Andrew Cuomo is using the MTA as a piggybank. Between the $40 million diversion for debt purposes and the $7 million Verrazano Bridge toll giveaway, Cuomo is not standing behind the MTA as a variety of interests jockey for money. Brooklyn now wants its own toll relief, and the union issues will loom throughout the spring and summer.

When the dust settles, the riders will wind up paying more and getting nothing in return. After all, it was Tom Roth, the UTU’s expert witness, who said at the last PEB that “he passenger has had a good run here at the MTA, and it is about time the fares went up.”

Categories : Transit Labor, UTU
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  • Great Moments in Calatrava’s PATH Hub · As the PATH’s World Trade Center hub opens piece by piece, the city’s architect critics are starting to poke around inside of Santiago Calatrava’s marble-lined subway palace. In a piece scheduled to appear in The Times tomorrow, David Dunlap gives the new Platform A a once over, and he’s not impressed. As Dunlap sums it up, “Clunky fixtures and some rough workmanship in the underground mezzanine of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub…detract from what is meant to be breathtaking grandeur.”

    As you read through the rest of Dunlap’s takedown, keep in mind that the structure is still unfinished, but in light of the fact that others have sued Santiago Calatrava over shoddy workmanship, this can hardly be a surprise. Great designs on paper that are tough and expensive to execute are, after all, a hallmark of the architect.

    My favorite part of Dunlap’s column, though, comes in the form of a quote from Frank Lorino, one of the architects working for Santiago Calatrava New York/Festina Lente. “We have fought to bring the highest degree of quality to the project,” he said to The Times, “but the concerns of time, budget and scheduling have often taken precedence over quality.” Someone associated with Santiago Calatrava’s $4 billion subway station is complaining about the concerns of budget. I have no further words, your honor. · (22)
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