• Reviving an old idea to fix new problems · With train delays reaching record highs — more on that in a bit — the MTA is turning to an old idea to combat sluggish service. According to Marlene Naanes, the transit authority may resurrect skip-stop service to improve train speeds and ease overcrowding. The MTA started skip-stop service in 1989 when residents in areas served only by local trains wanted what The Times called “more frequent and faster service.”

    But skip-stop service met its demise in 2005 due to increased ridership and greater service demands to the otherwise-skipped stations. To revive this one-time solution to a problem of under-crowding may just exacerbate the problems that brought about its demise three years ago without offering a satisfactory solution to the issues of slow service and overly-crowded trains. · (5)

The MTA, in an effort to close a projected budget gap of nearly $900 million, plans to raise mass transit fare revenues in and around New York City by as much as eight percent in 2009. This increase — the second in two years — would mark just the second time in subway history that the fares have risen in consecutive years.

William Neuman of The Times has the nuts and bolts behind this dismaying but predictable turn of events:

Though the precise amount of the fare and toll increase has yet to be determined, the authority will seek to increase the revenue it gets from those sources by 8 percent. If approved by the authority’s board, the increase would take effect next July and would follow a toll and fare increase in March of this year…

On Wednesday, the authority will unveil a preliminary budget plan for 2009 that calls for the fare and toll increases and outlines other measures to balance its budget, including more than $300 million in additional financing that the authority hopes to get from the city and state. Coming at a time when the state and city budgets face extreme financial pressure as well, those requests are likely to be resisted by elected officials.

The authority faces steadily rising costs, particularly for fuel, as well as sharply declining tax revenues due to a slowdown in the real estate market. Just six months ago, the authority predicted that its shortfall for 2009 would be slightly more than $200 million, less than a quarter of its latest projection.

News reports and commentary surrounding this fare hike announcement will trumpet the populist story. The MTA is putting a financial onus on their riders with this planned increase at a time when the U.S. economy is hitting a low point. But the real focus should be on our elected officials and their reactions to the calls for more money.

First up, we have the MTA’s requesting that the city kick in more money, and the city ain’t too happy about that. “City taxpayers aren’t in a position to increase our subsidy over the billion-dollars-plus we already provide each year,” Stu Loeser, a spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg, said to The Times.

Loeser noted that he eagerly anticipates the findings and recommendations of Richard Ravitch and his blue-ribbon panel tasked with magically finding hundreds of millions of dollars for the MTA. Those findings, however, are not due until early December. The MTA Board will have to act before then to combat the impending budget-deficit tsunami.

Next up is the anticipated reaction from the state legislatures. During the build-up to the most recent fare hike, numerous state legislatures told the MTA that if the transit agency were to ask for more money, the legislature and our elected representatives would do the best they could to oblige.

But Neuman’s article makes it clear that the New York State legislature is not too keen to find $300 million for the MTA. So the legislature has shot down congestion pricing — one source of well over $300 million a year — and now will be reluctant to grant the MTA enough money to meet its balanced budget requirements. Blame the MTA all you want, but this sytem in Albany and City Hall, folks, is broken.

The MTA will do what it can to make ends meet, but all it can do is raise the fare and cut services. The agency anticipates drawing in an addition $200 million via the new fare structure, which will be formally announced at a board meeting on Wednesday. But that still leaves it facing a $700-million gap in its operating budget. This money has to come from somewhere else because to cover this gap through farebox revenue would require increases of nearly 33 to 50 percent. Those figures would start riots in New York.

This fare hike news boils down to one: Our elected officials should be funding public transit and making good on promises they made just six or eight months ago. But on Tuesday, they will once again get a free pass. New Yorkers are sure to pile on the MTA for its supposedly poor bookkeeping and its fare-hike deception, but the MTA is just a victim of a bad economy. Those running the agency aren’t happy to see fuel costs skyrocket, and they aren’t happy to see their budget deficit projections increase fourfold.

But the real blame lies in Albany as our elected officials — chosen by us but seemingly responsible to no one — yet again starve a public transit system vital to the economic health of both the New York Metropolitan Area and the entire state. Don’t forget those representatives when the fare hike comes along next summer. Don’t forget them each time you swipe your MetroCard, and don’t forget them ever time more money is deducted from your wallet. The blame for this fare hike news lies squarely on their shoulders.

Blue MetroCard image courtesy of flickr user Runs With Scissors.

Categories : Fare Hikes
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  • Fare increases on tap for 2009 · Here’s the breaking news: The MTA will seek what The Times is calling substantial fare hikes in 2009. This will be just the second time in history that the MTA will seek to raise the fares in consecutive years. More on this breaking — and dismaying — news later. · (1)
  • Patterson won’t dump Sander · While Gov. David Patterson has replaced many of Eliot Spitzer’s political appointees — including the head of the Port Authority — New York’s newest gov has no plans to replace MTA chief Elliot Sander. For MTA watchers, this should come as good news. Despite presiding over a period of extreme economic uncertainty, Sander has done an admirable job bringing innovation and transparency to the MTA. How he handles the budget crisis will go a long way toward determining both Sander’s future and the long-term health of transit in New York City, and he remains the best man for the job. · (0)

So how’s this for efficiency? Eight months after announcing this initiative and over 11 months since the flooding that knocked out nearly the entire subway system, the MTA is finally almost ready to start implementing a text-message service alert system in a few months.

Sigh.

According to the Daily News, the MTA should, if all goes according to plan, unveil its alert system sometime this fall. Pete Donohue has more:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority expects to start sending alerts to commuters’ cellphones and computers with details about unplanned service problems in September, the Daily News has learned.

The notices will help riders alter their routines to avoid floods and other incidents that cause delays, or warn them away from a crippled system altogether, officials said…”Communications with the public when you have this type of catastrophe is essential,” MTA CEO Elliot Sander said.

Efforts to improve communications began before last summer but intensified after the Aug. 8 storm, Sander said.

According to the article, the MTA has contracted with an unnamed outside firm with the capacity to send one million texts in the span of five minutes. Riders will be able to sign up for free for these alerts on the MTA’s Website, and as they can do with the weekend service advisory e-mails, riders will be able to choose for which lines they would like to receive texts.

Now, the MTA should definitely be applauded for this measure. If anything, Lee Sander as the CEO and Executive Director of the beleaguered transit agency has done an excellent job improving communication lines between the MTA and its riders.

But — and this is a rather big “but” — by the time this service will be rolled out, 13 months will have past since the August 2007 flooding. That is a painfully slow response time for a technology that other companies have been using for years. Better late than never, right?

Categories : MTA Technology
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Over the last few weeks, we here at Second Ave. Sagas have noted the inaccuracies of the MTA’s official service advisories. A few readers have left updates in the comments of unposted service changes, and a few media outlets — The Times’ City Room blog, for one — have linked to me post on the topic.

As the information from the MTA grows more unreliable (or less reliable?), some straphangers are putting out their best efforts to combat this problem. To that end, allow me to point the way to Shawn Lynch’s new site Subway Weekender. Shawn is using this site as a way to bring easy-to-understand service changes to the public by releasing a map on Thursday of what the subway service will look like for the weekend.

The base line for weekend service changes is his Normal Service map. With no B, V or W trains and other various normal weekend cutbacks, this map shows what service would look like if the MTA were not doing construction. On a week to week basis, Lynch will update that map with the changes, and each week, I’ll provide a direct link to the map.

For this weekend’s changes, point your browser over to this PDF file, and keep reading for the updates. Lynch’s site should prove to be a great resource for straphangers stymied by the MTA’s myriad service changes each weekend.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 21, two branches of free shuttle buses replace 1 trains between 137th Street and 215th Street, one traveling via Broadway and the other via St. Nicholas Avenue, due to installation of communication cables, pre-rehabilitation survey of Dyckman Street station and structural maintenance work on the elevated structure between Dyckman and 215th Streets. – Um, confused much?


All weekend, the 2 and 3 trains are running express through Mahattan. Praise the Lord! Hallelujah!


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 21, the last stop for some Bronx-bound 6 trains is 125th Street due to track chip-out north of East 143rd Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 21, Manhattan-bound A and C trains run on the F line from Jay Street to West 4th Street due to signal work at Chambers Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 21, downtown A and C trains run express from 125th Street to 59th Street-Columbus Circle due to communications cable installation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 21, Jamaica Center-bound E and R trains run express from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to electrical conduit installation.

From 10 a.m. to midnight, Sunday, July 20, Jamaica Center-bound E and R trains skip Northern Blvd. due to stairway repairs.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 21, downtown F trains skip 23rd and 14th Streets due to electrical cable installation.


From 8:30 p.m. Friday, July 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 21, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Take the E or R trains instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 19 to 11 p.m. Sunday, July 20, there are no G trains between Bedford-Nostrand Avs. and Smith-9th Sts. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service between Bedford-Nostrand Avs. and Jay Street-Borough Hall stations. This is due to hydraulics and plumbing work. – So basically the G is making a whopping nine stops this weekend. How useful.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 21, Manhattan-bound N trains run on the D line from Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue to 36th Street (Brooklyn) due to track panel installation.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 19 to 5 a.m. Monday, July 21, Brooklyn-bound NR trains rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge from Canal Street to DeKalb Avenue due to tunnel rehab between Whitehall Street and DeKalb Avenue and station rehab and construction of underground connector near Lawrence Street. – Be careful with this one. It seems to be true only some of the time.

Categories : Service Advisories
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  • MTA to ramp up fare enforcement on Select Bus Service lines · With fare evasion fines now sitting at $100 and an experiment in place in the Bronx that could revolutionize bus service in New York, the MTA is going to ramp up its fare-evasion countermeasures. According to Daily News reporters Tayanika Samuels and Pete Donohue, transit officials are going to stop warning people who don’t pay their fares and will instead hand out tickets to those attempting to sneak onto the BX12 buses.

    My favorite part of the story is this quote from Bronx resident Nadya Medina: “”Electricity’s high. Rent is high. Everything is increasing. Now, they want to fine you $100 to take the bus. It’s not fair.” No, Nadya. They just want you to pay your fare. It’s not that hard to figure out. · (2)

We know the MTA is facing a financial crisis; we know the threat of a second fare hike in two years looms large; and we know the MTA has planned to cut services — but not yet service — to address what is now being labeled a $700-million budget gap.

Today, we find out that New York City Transit has been ordered to cut $61 million off its budget. Those cuts will come mainly from maintenance and service jobs. Much of that figure will come in the form of bureaucratic maneuverings. Jobs currently unfilled will remain unfilled while few others will lose their positions.

Matthew Sweeney, amNew York’s transportation writer, has more:

The search for savings is part of an overall Metropolitan Transportation Authority goal of reducing costs by 6 percent over the next four years as the agency faces a financial crisis. For its part, NYC Transit has projected saving $251.3 million from 2009 through 2012. The bulk of the savings in 2009 — $39.4 million — will come from reductions to maintenance…

Transit officials worked to reassure straphangers yesterday, saying in a statement that none of the proposed savings “will have an impact on safety, security or customer service levels.”

While Sweeney’s article notes that “subway service has been on a gradual but steady decline,” to me, this seems like a baseless assertion. The MTA has gone out of its way to stress that they would rather cut maintenance and upkeep positions before taking an axe to frequency of trains. In fact, NY1 reports that the MTA is doing just that.

According to reports, the services cut will include 12-year upgrades for buses, numerous platform controllers in the subways and efforts to fight strachiti along some of the more vandalism-prone lines. For those of us relying on the subways to take us to and from spots in New York, this news is guardedly optimistic, but the system suffers from it. We’ll see the same old train service, but an aging and ugly system badly in need of physical upkeep and upgrades will continue to deteriorate.

Critics of the MTA’s cuts will think back to the 1970s when the system fell out of its state of good repair, but for now, the MTA is dedicated to maintaining subway cars and track beds in that state of good repair. The rest of the system, however, will continue to slide, but as long as the trains run and as long as the system is safe from crime, the aesthetics can take second place to the system operation. For now.

Categories : MTA Economics
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When last we checked in with the Fulton St. Transit Center debacle, the MTA had, once again, promised a new design for the long-gone dome in 30 days. That was 62 days ago.

While even the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s website on the Fulton Hub simply states a “Spring 2008″ date for arrival of a new design, I’m just going to assume that we should wait another 30 days. Meanwhile, though, the other troubled aspect of this plan — the shaky financial picture — is in the news, but the word is not good. The Feds, as the Daily News’ Pete Donohue notes, will not toss in anymore money for the project:

The Federal Transit Administration won’t bail out the MTA’s troubled Fulton St. subway hub with an infusion of more money, a top Bush administration official said.

“Absolutely not. That’s capped out,” federal transit Administrator James Simpson said Tuesday when asked if the FTA would increase its commitment for the Fulton Transit Center.

An MTA-FTA funding agreement commits the feds to $819 million. Another $40 million is set aside in reserve funds. Plans call for overhauling the existing Fulton/Broadway/Nassau St. subway complex and creating a grand, domed entrance building with retail space.

The MTA says they’re $1 billion over budget for this project, and they’ve yet to release finalized designs for the above-ground portion of the transit hub. The work continues underground; just try navigating through the East Side IRT Fulton St. stop these days. But this project has a long way to go.

Categories : Fulton Street
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Under Construction

In April, an imposing blue wall pointed the way into the Columbus Circle station. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

The Columbus Circle station is, in a word, a mess right now. Undergoing a massive renovation, the station is dirty, hot, dusty and impossible to navigate. While this should be the state of things at 59th St. for at least the better part of the next year, the MTA celebrated a milestone in the construction yesterday when a new entrance opened at 60th St. and Broadway.

For the celebration, the MTA broke out the ribbon-cutting scissors, and MTA CEO Executive Director Lee Sander did the honors. As this entrance opens, the one on the island in the middle of Broadway closes, and the MTA tells us more about this new entrance and the final plans — with their 42-month timeline and $108-million price tag — for the station:

The new 60th Street control area cost $14 million and was carved out of solid rock made up of the well-known Manhattan schist while a vast array of street utilities were suspended from the decking beams. Those utilities included 20-inch and 32-inch city water lines, a 20-inch Con Ed steam line as well as numerous smaller electric, gas and fiber optic lines. The entrance, which includes two new street-to-platform level staircases and a MetroCard Vending Machine, was newly constructed under concrete decking, which minimized the disruption to street traffic on southbound Broadway.

“Funding for transportation is a scarce commodity, but we are doing everything we can with the resources we have available to improve the experience our customers have with us,” said Elliot G. Sander, the Executive Director and CEO of the MTA. “Whether it is a much needed new subway entrance or the initiation of Select Bus Service, we are committed to improving customer service.”

“This station rehabilitation project and particularly this new entrance are examples of the difficulties NYC Transit faces when upgrading what is an aging system,” said NYC Transit President Howard H. Roberts, Jr. “Despite the complexities of the construction, we have delivered to the customers who use this station a new, modern entrance which will provide additional egress capacity for the more than 69-thousand people who use the station daily.”

In the end, the renovated station will feature an elevator at one of the Central Park West access points and three new staircases along Broadway. Both platforms levels will be overhauled, and the now-abandoned central platform on the A/B/C/D level will be restored to use.

For many, the current state of the station is a major inconvenience. It’s not a pleasure to navigate through Columbus Circle right now. But in the end, it should be worth it. With the Time Warner Center and CNN occupying what had been largely unused real estate at Columbus Circle, this popular station has become more overrun with people, and the MTA, beleaguered and beaten, is doing all it can to modernize this station. Now if only they could do something about the other 467 at the same time.

Categories : MTA Construction
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