We love New York, but New Yorkers don’t love fare hikes. Photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit

The MetroCard, still at least five years away from retirement, will live through at least three more fare hikes, if the MTA sticks with its current schedule, and the first of the three is officially set for March 22nd. At its meeting on Thursday, the MTA Board voted to approve a modest fare hike that will bump fare revenue — and most fares — by approximately four percent, and although some New Yorkers grumbled about the higher transit costs, most advocates focused their post-hike comments on the MTA’s gaping capital budget hole.

The details didn’t come as much of a surprise as the MTA opted to raise the base fare for the second hike a row while maintaining a pay-per-ride discount. The unlimited ride cards went up only a small amount while tolls and commuter rail fares saw similar increases. Beginning March 22, a swipe will deduct $2.75 from a MetroCard while the pay-per-ride bonus will jump from 5% to 11% on purchases above $5.50. Effectively, then, the per-swipe cost will be $2.48, up just ten cents from $2.38. The optics are bad, but the fare hike is modest.

For those of us who use the bulk/unlimited-ride options, this year’s hikes are smaller than recent jumps. The 30-day card jumps from $112 to $116.50 while the 7-day option hops up a dollar from $30 to $31. The four percent hike for the 30-day card is significantly smaller than recent fare increases, but it’s hard to ignore how the cost for a 30-day ride has gone from $70 at the star to of 2005 to $116.50 ten years later. Even in a shorter time frame, the jump is significant as a 30-day card cost $89 as recently as December of 2010. The $1 surcharge on all new MetroCard purchases remains.

“The MTA has been able to limit these fare and toll increases to the equivalent of 2% a year thanks to our continued aggressive cost-cutting, while still adding service and improving service quality for our growing number of customers,” MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast said after the vote. “Our Financial Plan assumes modest biennial fare and toll increases, and the Board has chosen options with lower increases for our most frequent customers.”

In a way, New Yorkers have come to accept these fare hikes. Some people were grumbling about higher fares without a corresponding increase in service, and the MTA has seemingly settled into a pattern of offering service that’s good enough. Generally, the subway works well, and although it’s very crowded, with nine individuals days in December witnessing over 6 million riders, we’ll deal with crowds and delays. Improvements are just out of reach, and that remains a big concern.

As many MTA Board members pointed out during the meeting and as many transit advocates noted following the vote, if the $15.2 billion capital budget gap isn’t filled, we could be in for much steeper fare hikes in 2017 and 2019. “Today the MTA Board voted to raise fares on more than eight million subway, bus and commuter rail riders. But the real scandal may be yet to come. If Governor Cuomo and members of the legislature don’t decide on new revenue sources to fund the MTA’s five-year capital plan, larger fare increases are lurking around the corner,” John Raskin of the Riders Alliance said. “Paying for public transit with fare hikes is a regressive way to fund a public service that the entire region relies on. We urge Governor Cuomo and the legislature to act quickly to fund the next MTA Capital Plan, instead of passing on the cost to overburdened riders.”

Cuomo, of course, is too busy plotting an airtrain to address real funding concerns, and few people are paying attention to the way in which the fare structure seems to favor those with money who afford the $116.50 outlay. WNYC’s Matthew Schuerman analyzed the socioeconomic breakdown of the MTA’s fare structure, and it’s something I’ll revisit in a future post. Needless to say, although the MTA is on sounder economic footing today than they were five years ago, the agency is on the precipice of steep fare hikes that will make this year’s seem negligible if the capital gap is not closed. That would be bad news for New Yorkers.

Categories : Fare Hikes
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  • Event: Problem Solvers tackles post-Sandy Fix & Fortify on Jan. 27 · While we’re busy here discussing rail access to LaGuardia and the future of the MetroCard, on Tuesday, January 27, join me in person for the return of my “Problem Solvers” Q-and-A series at the Transit Museum for a discussion on the MTA’s Fix & Fortify program. I’ll be interviewing John O’Grady, an engineer with over 25 years’ experience at the MTA and in capital construction who currently serves as a vice president for infrastructure and facilities. The talk will focus on Sandy recovery efforts.

    It’s hard to believe the storm swept through well over two years ago, and as we know, the MTA’s challenges are immense. The new South Ferry station, totaled by the storm surge, isn’t expected to reopen until mid-2017 or even early 2018, according to the latest MTA materials, and although the Montague St. Tunnel has reopened following 14 months’ of repairs, the MTA has to address saltwater damage in many of the other East River Tunnels. During the talk next week, we’ll discuss the work that went into the Montague Tube repairs and the way the MTA is managing the project. We’ll touch on some flood-remediation efforts and the MTA’s attempts at ensuring the next big storm isn’t nearly as disruptive or destructive to the subway system.

    The festivities start at 6:30 p.m. at the Transit Museum in Downtown Brooklyn. As the Museum would like to better support its programming, the event is no longer free and carries with it a modest $10 charge (though museum members still get in for free). As a bonus, though, at 7:30 p.m., the Museum will put Sandy artifacts on display and discuss the process of retrieving and cataloging these items. Most of the public saw only the photos, but the destruction wrought by the storm was substantial. Pick up your tickets right here, and hopefully, I’ll see you next week. · (6)
Gov. Cuomo announced a Laguardia Airtrain via Willets Point and the Grand Central Parkway.

Gov. Cuomo announced a Laguardia Airtrain via Willets Point and the Grand Central Parkway.

After months of saying very little of anything while campaigning for a second term and hardly anything about transit for four years while governing, Andrew Cuomo stunned New Yorkers by announcing plans to build an AirTrain from the 7 train and LIRR station at Willets Point to Laguardia Airport. Cuomo, who has made modernizing New York’s struggling airports, said that the rail connection will cost $450 million and could be up and running within five years of the start of construction.

For transit advocates and, in fact, for travelers who frequent New York City airports, the announcement came as something of a bombshell. The is the first time in over four years that Cuomo has discussed a direct rail connection to Laguardia, and he seemingly announced it as a fait accompli without any detail as to how his administrative picked this alignment or, more importantly, how this project will be funded. In fact, while introducing the infrastructure elements of the 2015 Opportunity Agenda, Cuomo also discussed high-speed ferry service throughout the city, the Penn Station Access plan

The Laguardia AirTrain, Cuomo said, will be constructed by the MTA and Port Authority, similar to the JFK Airtrain, and the proposed routing is designed to avoid any NIMBY complaints. The proposal calls for a terminal at Willets Point above the Corona Yards in between the 7 line stop and LIRR station with a routing above the Grand Central Parkway to Laguardia Airport, under two miles away. “You can’t get to Laguardia by train, and that really is inexcusable,” the governor said.

The announcement seemed to catch MTA and Port Authority officials off-guard, and as with Mayor Bloomberg’s back-of-the-napkin plan to send the 7 train to Secaucus, the agencies had to scramble for a statement. This time, though, their boss had issued the challenge instead of just the mayor of New York City. Later in the day, Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye and MTA CEO Tom Prendergast issued a joint statement:

“Governor Cuomo has offered a clear vision and strong call for the transportation infrastructure that is absolutely essential for the New York region to compete successfully in the global economy. The Port Authority and the MTA are working closely to establish the scope, schedule and management of the LaGuardia AirTrain, just as they worked closely to create the successful JFK AirTrain. We will build this project in a cost-effective way that minimizes disruptions to nearby communities as well as airport operations, and we can get it done within five years of obtaining all necessary approvals. Both our organizations recognize the importance of these infrastructure projects and congratulate the Governor on his foresight.”

So does it work? Let’s drill down.

The Good: A Rail Connection to Laguardia

In a vacuum, a rail connection to Laguardia with political support, political capital and a political champion behind it is a good idea. The governor, who is, despite his flaws, a strong executive in New York, is talking about improving the way we travel to the airport, and he has a vision that is, compared with other New York City transit projects, affordable and practical. It doesn’t involve construction through any neighborhoods replete with NIMBY opposition and solves an immediate problem by improving access to Laguardia in a way that isn’t as stigmatized as bus service is. In broad strokes, a Laguardia AirTrain is a badly-needed service that should have been built years ago.

The Bad: The Routing

That said, Cuomo’s proposal is something of a mess from a transit planning perspective. By avoiding any battle with NIMBYs — except perhaps with those who live above the Grand Central Parkway with views of the Long Island Sound — Cuomo has essentially picked the worst of the possible Laguardia rail connection routings, and we don’t know why. As I mentioned, Cuomo didn’t discuss how other alternatives were eliminated or how he settled upon his proposed alignment.

The real issue is travel time. The 7 train from Times Square to Willets Point is a 25-minute express ride and a 30-minute local ride. AirTrain passengers would then have to switch to an AirTrain and backtrack to reach the airport. To make this work, the MTA would have to consider permanent super-express service to Willets Point during off-peak hours, and I’m afraid consider the peak-hour effect on already-crowded 7 trains. At least the nearby LIRR station can alleviate some of the pressure, but a trip that takes a good 45 minutes from Midtown can’t compete with the Q70 from Jackson Heights, a shuttle bus or even a taxi.

Now, in the past, as we know, NIMBYs torpedoed a Giuliani plan to send the N to Laguardia. You can read the original engineering report and my recent analysis of the old plan. That’s probably the ideal alignment in terms of speed as it is the most direct connection to Manhattan and major destination points from Laguardia. The second best choice would have involved staging an AirTrain station near Jackson Heights and providing service from the 7/E/F/M/R station via the BQE and Grand Central to the airport. Instead, we have a Willets Point-based plan, and we don’t eve know why. This isn’t something we should accept simply because a politician has proposed spending money on an AirTrain.

The Ugly: The Money

The money, of course, is another major issue. The MTA is in dire need of someone to address a $15 billion capital funding gap in its current five-year plan. They need to spend $32 billion but can only generate around $17 billion. Meanwhile, this $32 billion doesn’t include the capital costs for a new airport rail connection. Now, the agency is scrambling to update its documents, but the money for the badly needed parts of the plan — signal upgrades, Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway — still isn’t there.

The other issue is the cost. It’s optimistic to think that the MTA and Port Authority can build a rail extension on time for around $300 million a mile, and although the JFK AirTrain was on time and on budget, nothing else of this magnitude has been. I can run through the litany of problems that have plagued the 7 line, the Fulton St. Transit Center, the PATH Hub, East Side Access, and the Second Ave. Subway, but we know this story well: Nothing comes in on time or on budget, and cost projections often do not align with reality. Without a better understanding of the sources of Cuomo’s $450 million price tag, we can’t adequate assess this project’s chances either. Still, as I mentioned, the MTA’s current capital proposal should take priority.

The Unknown: What Happens Next

Right now, I have no idea where this goes. When Bloomberg announced the Secaucus plan for the 7 train late in his third term without the support of the MTA, Albany or New Jersey, it was obvious this plan would go nowhere. But Cuomo is at the start of this second term and has banked a lot of political capital on dealing with New York’s airports. He has the weight, the pull and the financial resources at his disposal to get this project off the table. It might just happen, and it just arrived out of left field.

Still, I have serious reservations about the way this came about. It’s not a great alignment, and it leaves commuters on a slow and crowded train. It’s a connection, but it’s not a direct one. It doesn’t help improve access to Laguardia for airport workers, and it shifts economic resources from other projects and proposals that should be a priority. Still, it’s heartening to see Cuomo paying attention to rail. Is there time to improve this idea or are we doomed to another airport connection that’s only just good enough?

Categories : Queens
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The MTA's latest projections for the rollout of the fare-payment system that will replace the MetroCard.

The MTA’s latest projections for the rollout of the fare-payment system that will replace the MetroCard.

Now that the MTA Board committee materials officially recognize that the 7 line extension won’t open until at least the 2nd quarter of 2015 (something we knew last month), we can move onto another project that is oft- and again-delayed: the MetroCard replacement. According to the latest Capital Program Oversight Committee materials, the MTA’s next-gen fare payment system won’t be ready until 2020 if all goes according to plan. Systemwide rollout won’t wrap until 2022 under the current schedule.

I’ve often said that the MTA’s latest technological advances are always five years away. Through the right circumstances, we finally get to enjoy countdown clocks on the A Division trains and BusTime through the city, but it seems that the MTA keeps promising B Division countdown clocks in “3-5 years” and has been for longer than 3-5 years. The MetroCard replacement meanwhile has been five years away from nigh on five years now. And the clock is ticking.

With the current MetroCard technology, now well over 20 years, the MTA faces a sunset date. After or around 2019, the cost of maintain the current MetroCard infrastructure will spike as maintenance contracts expire and parts grow harder to find. Thus, there has been some urgency surrounding the 2019 deadline for the introduction of a new fare payment technology. Various stops and starts, driven, in part, by rapid turnover atop the MTA, have delayed the project, but as Michael DeVitto discussed at my Problem Solvers session last March, the MTA is on track to do, well, something within a few years. Now, however, the timeline is slipping.

According to the latest Board documents, the MTA is gearing up to pass a major milestone in its efforts to find a replacement for the MetroCard that can serve for the next few decades. The new solution has to be integrated and adaptable with a contact-less payment system and a new backend for payment processing. By the end of next month, the MTA expects to wrap the business requirements development contract and will issue an RFP in late winter. The MTA expects to award a contract in mid-2016, and a deployment timeline takes shape from there.

According to the MTA docs, system design will run for 13 months and back-end development for two years. Contactless readers will then be installed in buses and subways over the following 21 months before vending machines are outfitted throughout the system. Much like the MetroCard’s initial rollout, the MTA expects to bring the entire system online within three calendar years at a cost of $450 million. But we know how reliable those cost estimates have been in the past.

These are positive concrete steps, but the problem is that Transit has to keep the current MetroCard system up and running until system-wide rollout is complete. In essence, the agency has to run and maintain two systems — one three decades old and one brand new — at the same time, and since the new system is now scheduled to be online after 2019, the MTA’s costs are going to jump. In fact, an Indepdent Engineering Consultant notes that the budget “may not be adequate” when considering the costs of maintain the MetroCard system in a state of good repair beyond 2019 and through 2023.

So where exactly does this leave us? The MTA is still five years away from a replacement for the MetroCard, and it seems nearly definite that they’ll miss their own 2019 deadline by a considerable margin even if all goes according to plan. This is unfortunately a common theme with technological upgrades and a challenge the MTA faces in convincing politicians it deserves $32 billion to improve the system. They need to deliver something at some point, but five years away is a frustratingly shifting target that seems to remain perennially five years away.

Categories : MetroCard
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For many, we’re at the beginning of a three-day weekend, but for the subway system, it’s nearly business as usual. On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the subways will operate on a weekday schedule with what Transit has termed “minor timing changes.” That means weekday-only trains, such as the B and the M to Forest Hills, will operate, but headways may be slightly longer. The Staten Island Railway will run on a normal schedule, and nearly all bus routes too will operate on a weekday schedule with slightly longer waits.

Meanwhile, we have weekend service changes. Here you go:

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 17 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, January 19 4 service operates in two sections. To continue your trip, transfer at 125 St.

  • Between Woodlawn and 125 St.
  • Between 125 St and Utica Av/New Lots Av.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, January 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, January 19, Woodlawn-bound 4 trains skip 138 St-Grand Concourse.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, January 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, January 19, 5 service is suspended in both directions between E 180 St and Bowling Green. Take the 2 or 4 instead. 5 shuttle trains run all weekend between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St.

From 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, January 17, and from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Sunday, January 18, 6 trains run every 16 minutes between Parkchester and Pelham Bay Park. The last stop for some trains headed toward Pelham Bay Park is Parkchester. To continue your trip, transfer at Parkchester.

From 2:00 a.m. Saturday, January 17 to 4:30 a.m. Monday, January 19, 7 trains are suspended between Times Sq-42 St and Queensboro Plaza. Use EFNQ trains between Manhattan and Queens. Free shuttle buses make all stops between Vernon Blvd-Jackson Av and Queensboro Plaza. The 42 Street S shuttle operates overnight. Q service is extended to Ditmars Blvd from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 17, and from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, January 18.

From 2:00 a.m. Saturday, January 17 to 4:30 a.m. Monday, January 19, Flushing-Main St bound 7 trains run express from Queensboro Plaza to 74 St-Broadway.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, January 16 to 6:00 a.m. Sunday, January 18, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, January 18 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, January 19, Queens-bound A trains run express from 59 St-Columbus Circle to Canal St.

From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, January 17, and Sunday, January 18, Euclid Av-bound C trains run express from 59 St-Columbus Circle to Canal St. C trains run every 15 minutes. Allow additional travel time.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, January 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, January 19, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound D trains are rerouted via the N line from 36 St to Coney Island-Stillwell Av.

  • For Service To 9 Av, Fort Hamilton Pkwy, 50 St, 55 St, 71 St, 79 St, 18 Av, 20 Av, Bay Pkwy, 25 Av, and Bay 50 St, take the Coney Island-bound D to 62 St-New Utrecht Av or Coney Island-Stillwell Av and transfer to a Manhattan-bound D train.
  • For Service From these stations, take a Manhattan-bound D train to 62 St-New Utrecht Av or 36 St and transfer to a Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound D train.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, January 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, January 19, E trains are suspended in both directions between Jamaica Center Parsons-Archer and Briarwood-Van Wyck Blvd. Free shuttle buses operate between Jamaica Center and Union Tpke, stopping at Sutphin Blvd-Archer Av, Jamaica-Van Wyck, and Briarwood-Van Wyck Blvd. Transfer between E trains and free shuttle buses at Union Tpke or Briarwood-Van Wyck Blvd. For additional connections between Manhattan and Jamaica Center, consider the A and J via a transfer at Broadway Junction.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, January 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, January 19, World Trade Center-bound E trains run express in both directions between 34 St-Penn Station and Canal St.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, January 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, January 19, Jamaica-179 St bound F trains run express from Avenue X to Smith-9 Sts.

From 11:15 p.m. Friday, January 16, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, January 19, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound F trains are rerouted via the M line from Roosevelt Av to 47-50 Sts/Rock Ctr.

From 9:45 p.m. Saturday January 17 to 6:00 a.m. Sunday, January 18, F trains will not stop at Lexington Av/63 St. For service to/from this station, use the nearby Lexington Av/59 St N/Q/R/4/6 station instead. Please note that Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound F trains are rerouted via the M line from Roosevelt Av to 47-50 Sts.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, January 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, January 19, L trains are suspended in both directions between 8 Av and 14 St-Union Sq. L service operates normal between 14 St-Union Sq and Canarsie-Rockaway Pkwy. M14 buses provide alternate service.

From 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Saturday, January 17, and from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Sunday, January 18, Q service is extended to Astoria-Ditmars Blvd.

From 5:45 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday, January 17, and Sunday, January 18, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound Q trains run express from Prospect Park to Sheepshead Bay.

42 St Shuttle
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 17, to 6:00 a.m. Monday, January 19, the 42 St S Shuttle operates overnight.

Categories : Service Advisories
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Years of trouble plaguing Washington, DC’s WMATA reached another crescendo earlier this week when one person died following a smoke incident aboard a yellow line train. Carol Glover succumbed to smoke inhalation after rescuers took over 40 minutes to reach a train stranded in the tunnel only a few hundred feet from L’Enfant Plaza, and over 80 other passengers were hospitalized. For an agency plagued with operations issues, safety concerns and very tight finances, it was yet another reminder of the WMATA’s precarious position.

According to preliminary reports out of DC and the NTSB, the incident involved an electrical malfunction inside the tunnel, and while firefighters responded, according to DC’s mayor, “within the time frames that are customary,” they waited to enter the tunnel. The delay proved deadly for Glover, and footage from the incident shows a dark and disabled train filled with smoke. It was a tragedy that creates its own bad press.

In the aftermath, coverage has focused on both short-term perceptions surrounding the WMATA and the long-term need to emphasize culture. Here’s Aaron Wiener on the former:

In an informal Washington Post poll yesterday, nearly half of respondents said they would reconsider how often they ride Metro. Variants of “I’m done with Metro” proliferated on Twitter. It’s a sensible enough position. Metro has a reputation for shoddy service and a history of not learning from its mistakes, including with this incident, apparently caused by an “electrical arcing event” of the sort that has routinely plagued the system of late. Why should we reward such a poorly run enterprise with our business, or place our lives in the hands of a system we can’t trust?

Understandable though it may be, this is exactly the wrong way to respond to the latest tragedy. If we really want to fix what’s broken with Metro, we should start riding it more, not less…

The fact is, if we want Metro to work better, we have to ride it more. Nearly 60 percent of Metro’s daily operational costs are funded by fares and other revenue. And that revenue is threatened. Ridership dropped slightly during the recession, then suddenly plummeted in the past two years, down to 2005 levels. There are a number of factors—more people are telecommuting or getting to work by bike or bus—but the effect is clear. Fewer riders means bigger fare hikes to cover costs, which in turn will likely mean fewer riders. It’s a vicious cycle we don’t want to get caught up in.

As Wiener explores, for some reason, ridership on the Metro has cratered over the past few years, and it’s now at 2005 levels. The WMATA is facing a multi-billion-dollar budget gap that makes the MTA’s fiscal difficulties look like pennies, and it can’t drum up consistent support for the politically schizophrenic Maryland and Virginia suburbs. It’s the MTA’s worst case scenario writ small.

Meanwhile, other commentators were quick to point out how much safer transit is than driving. That’s of no consolation to Ms. Glover’s family, but even as passengers grow weary of transit after high-profile incidents, these incidents gain headlines precisely because they are rare. Now, it’s easy to make the case that fatalities on rail systems are generally 100% unavoidable. This week’s wasn’t even caused by the rolling stock that the NTSB hates; it was electrical. But transit remains very safe:

In 39 years of service, the total number of passengers killed while riding on Metro rail cars is 12. Now compare that to the fatalities in cars, trucks and motorcycles in a single year — 145 deaths in 2013, in the District and the suburban counties that Metro serves…

A new, peer-reviewed academic study published in the Journal of Public Transportation casts light on the first point. It reports that the rate of passenger fatalities in cars and light trucks is 30 times as high as for travel by subway or light rail. It was based on data in the United States from 2000 to 2009.

Even with these numbers, without the culture of safety, passengers are not comforted by statistics. Metro needs to realize a new culture without enough fiscal or political support. Here, in New York, the MTA is working to do something similar, but they don’t have nearly the same track record of mistakes to overcome. If we aren’t careful, though, DC serves as a lesson. It’s New York’s dystopian transit future if no one takes care of the system.

Categories : WMATA
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I don’t mean to come across as overly cynically about the whole PATH train saga that’s unfolded since 11 p.m. on Saturday, December 26th. I have numerous friends in Jersey City and Hoboken who were very upset that Gov. Chris Christie and Gov. Andrew Cuomo had even pondered cutting overnight service to Manhattan. But the announcement today by the New Jersey legislature that the Port Authority will not cut PATH service is being greeted as a grand victory when it is ultimately just the end of a political saga orchestrated by Christie and Cuomo to take attention away from the fact that they are against real and legislated reform at the Port Authority.

The big news came early on Wednesday morning when, after over two weeks of hand-wringing, the New Jersey Legislative Democrats announced victory. The Garden State’s Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto had secured assurances that PATH is “tabling indefinitely” any plans to scale back overnight PATH service. “Port Authority reform was never supposed to be about cutting vital rail services for hard-working residents,” Prieto, who represents Hudson and Bergen Counties, said in a statement. “This was a bad idea from the start and I’m glad to see it set aside. I thank Chairman Degnan for his cooperation and look forward to focusing on actual reform efforts.”

Since this morning, the coverage has been positively gloating, and for Jersey City residents, rightly so. But as numerous pieces claimed that the “plan to cut overnight PATH service” was now off the table, it seemed to be me to be a story that had overshadowed the news. As I’ve said before, the PATH cuts weren’t the story. The idea appeared as a three-paragraph entry in a massive report with various ideas to reform Port Authority. It wasn’t designed to be implemented, but it was designed to steal headlines. (That is, as I wrote, part of Christie’s M.O. in running a story.)

Some of the news pieces that stemmed from the New Jersey announcement noted how far-fetched the PATH cut proposal was. Larry Higgs spoke with numerous New Jersey transit advocates who all admitted the idea was dead in the water, and Port Authority officials essentially told Higgs as much. Matt Chaban in The Times noted how the PATH train idea distracts from the governors’ vetoes. That’s an important point too as it’s unclear if New Jersey or New York will try to override these vetoes to enact reforms at Port Authority with teeth. While Christie and Cuomo’s report may contain some good ideas, without legislation, the promises are empty ones.

Ultimately, though, the Port Authority sort of hedged even as the PATH cuts remain dead for now. In his letter announcing the withdrawal [pdf], PA Chairman John Degnan said that the PA has “tabled” the issue and would consult with local officials and the public before enacting any such cuts. It at least keeps the story alive and the door open for cuts at some point. Meanwhile, as the news cycle has ended with regards to PATH, Christie and Cuomo had turn their backs on real reform without further legislative action. While New Jersey residents certainly won, so too did politicians who had even more to lose from Port Authority reform.

Categories : PANYNJ
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After years of constant fare hikes, the straphanging public in New York seems immune to the looming increase set to descend upon the city in a few weeks. Instead of anger and protests, mass resignations rule the day, and the fare hike hearings last month were pro forma gatherings for the same old nothing. Still, the MTA has a decision to make, and according to reports, the agency may be leaning toward raising the base fare again while maintaining a pay-per-ride bonus.

The latest word comes from Rebecca Harshbarger of The Post. She reports that MTA Board members would prefer to maintain the incentive discount — a good idea if only for the psychology of it — while upping the base fare again by a quarter. In either fare hike scenario, the seven- and 30-day unlimited cards will increase to $31 and $116 respectively.

Harshbarger writes:

MTA officials are backing the hiking of the MetroCard’s base fare and increasing the bonuses on pay-per-ride cards in March– rather than keeping the fare the same and ditching the bonuses, the Post has learned. The MTA board will vote on fare and toll increase proposals next Thursday, but its members are overwhelmingly leaning towards raising the MetroCard from $2.50 to $2.75, sources said. To ease the pain, the hike will be accompanied with a 11 percent bonus if riders put $5.50 or more on their cards — an increase from the current 5 percent they would get.

The other proposal that had been under consideration was keeping the base fare the same, but eliminating the bonuses. Cards with bonuses are more popular among subway riders than single-ride tickets, which are used for less than 1 percent of trips and typically in stops with a lot of tourists…

“Only way we’ll know how the board votes is to attend next week’s board meeting,” said MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz.

When I put the proposals to a vote in November, what is reportedly the MTA Board’s preferred option lost by around six percentage points. Still, I think this is the right way to go. It hurts to see the base fare increased for the second consecutive fare hike, but the pay-per-ride bonus is an important drive for transit ridership. It incentivizes bulk purchase which, in turn, incentivize more riders to use the system. Anyway, we’ll know for sure next week. Stay tuned.

Categories : Fare Hikes
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Think of it as the MTA’s version of Captain Planet. With their powers combined, can they convince Albany to act on the MTA’s 800-pound gorilla in the room — that unfunded $32 billion capital plan? That’s the question looming ahead of a Tuesday morning press conference that will see Jay Walder, Lee Sander and Peter Stangle share the stage. The three former MTA heads were originally set to appear with Richard Ravitch, but the guru of New York state politics has seemingly dropped out of the event.

The lobbying effort is the brainchild of the Empire State Transportation Alliance, and the three men will call upon Albany to fund the damn thing. “For nearly 40 years, the New York State Legislature has recognized that our transit system underpins our state and the $1.5 trillion economy of the New York metropolitan region. This year, a broad alliance of former MTA leaders and transit and environmental experts have come together to urge leaders in Albany to identify stable, dedicated revenue to support the plan,” ESTA staid in a statement. “Without sufficient funding to cover all five years of the plan, we will severely damage the MTA’s capacity to provide safe, reliable and modern transit service and put our region’s growth, vitality and quality of life at risk.”

For the MTA, a gathering of this magnitude — including the who’s who of contractor associations, environmental groups, rider advocacy organizations and union leaders — is a momentous occasion, but the agency would be hard pressed to talk much about it. The MTA leaders know that, as they run a state agency that operates at the whim of Gov. Cuomo, they can’t really lobby for something without the go-ahead from Cuomo’s office, and so far, Cuomo hasn’t waded into the fray over the capital plan. So why not have a bunch of former agency heads to do the dirty work?

It’s interesting to see Stengl, Sander and Walder take the reins here. Each are very well respected within the transportation community, but each had issues navigating the politics of the MTA. Stengl had troubles with the first Gov. Cuomo (but left after George Pataki won election) while Walder had issues with the second. Sander was bounced due, in part, to his lack of relationship with Gov. Paterson but had a vision for the agency. But leaving the MTA’s top job isn’t a sign of anything other than normalcy these days, and here they are.

I won’t be able to attend Tuesday’s press conference, but we will hear these leaders talk about “why funding the plan with new revenue is vital for the continued success of the greater metropolitan region.” New revenue, perhaps, is a code word for a push for the Move NY traffic pricing plan or another revenue-generating scheme that will require action from Albany. It’s getting harder to ignore the drum beat, and having former MTA heads free from the shackles of Albany and willing to talk will only boost the view that, sooner or later, the city will have to comes to terms with its transportation priorities and the way it plans to fund the next five, 10 or 15 years.

For what I can assume are reasons of history, the G train stop at the southern end of the Marcy Houses in Bed-Stuy is stilled called Myrtle-Willoughby Avenues. There’s no reason for the Willoughby part of the name to survive as the southern entrances to this station have been out of use for decades. Willoughby and Myrtle run parallel there, and it is, sadly, impossible to enter the station on Willoughby Ave. The name lives on though because it’s literally on the wall.

On Sunday, I went for a walk through parts of Brooklyn that have seen a lot of change in recent years. From the ramen restaurant on Vanderbilt Ave. on the edge of the Atlantic Yards Pacific Park development site to the upscale bread bakery at the corner of Bedford and Lexington Avenues, I strolled through neighborhoods that have seen ups and downs, have gone through social and political upheavals and are bound to evolve even more in the coming years. Twice, I walked past G train stations, and twice, I saw shuttered entrances. Had I kept walking a few more stops down the G train to Grand St. in Williamsburg, I would have one more entrance, closed since the 1990s.

I wish I had photographed the Willoughby entrances, but I didn’t think to snap a photo at street level and, mercifully, I had to wait only about 10 seconds for my G train to arrive. The photos on the Internet don’t do it much justice. You can see the now-deserted fare control areas on the Queens-bound platform. The photo of the street-level entrance on Wikipedia doesn’t do it much justice. The wood plans are looking much worse for the wear, and the staircase itself is jam-packed with trash. It’s a sorry sight indeed for a neighborhood that could use an additional subway access point.

I’ve discussed the closed entrances throughout the city and many of them are relics of another era, one where crime was rampant and declining ridership dictated that the MTA not use resources to keep auxiliary entrances open. In fact, at a certain point in time, the NYPD even asked the MTA to close high-crime areas — such as the passageway linking the Herald Square and Bryant Park stations underneath 6th Ave. — for the sake of public safety. Today, the fact that entrances along Queens Boulevard, in Park Slope and across the route of the G train remain closed seem more like stubbornness than policy.

We live after all in an age in which the MTA has engaged in a systematic elimination of station agents, when high entrance-exit turnstiles are the norm at various stations and where token booths live on in name and not function. Opening up closed entrances makes transit that much convenient as it reduces wait times and provides access points to areas that are a few blocks away.

A 2001 PCAC report once recommended reopening many secondary entrances not close to their stations’ primary entrances, but Transit has been slow to act. I’ve never had much success figuring out why. As the photo atop this post shows, some closed areas are used for storage, and although others would need repair and modernization work, this shouldn’t be cost-prohibitive. I’ve also been told that reopening old station entrances could trigger ADA requirements but haven’t received a definitive answer on whether that is indeed the case. It seems, in part, to be holding back the MTA at a few stations.

Spending money they don’t have on closed stations sadly won’t be a priority for the MTA right now. Yet, the presence of street-level structures reminds us that transit could be even more accessible than it is now, and the joy over the new L train entrance at Avenue A is indicative of the way New Yorkers crave access. Plus, Transit could right that nomenclature wrong. Call me silly, but shouldn’t he station that says Willoughby Ave. at least serve Willoughby Ave.?

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