My gym inhabits an old bank at the corner of 5th Ave. and Union St. in Park Slope. The building has a pair of mezzanines on either end, and the treadmills are lined up facing out the windows on the second floor overlooking the avenue. With a clear view of the B63 bus shelter on the Bay Ridge side of the street, while running, I watch people wait for the bus.

A few Fridays ago, an interesting story unfolded, and while most people wouldn’t think much of it, I thought the tale is a clear indication why New York City’s transit technology is out of date and in need of an upgrade. This sordid story starts at six in the evening. I walked to the gym and noted a larger-than-usual crowd of people at the bus stop. After stretching, I hopped onto the treadmill and noted that the throngs of people were still there.

As the minutes and miles ticked by, I was struck by the scene at the bus stop. Thirteen minutes into my run, no bus had shown up. I could see frustration on the faces of those waiting for the B63. Some stood with their grocery bags staring futilely up the avenue. Others were attempting to keep their children from dashing into the street.

Nine minutes later, as I cleared the 2.5-mile mark, people started to leave. An older woman with what I guessed to be a grandson hailed a cab to points south. The younger child was growing far too impatient to wait for the bus. Four minutes later, a mother and her son headed west on Union St., bound for the R stop on Fourth Ave.

By the thirty-minute mark, as I passed 3.5 miles, nearly everyone else had left. After a series of frantic phone calls accompanied with the exasperated arm motions of someone stymied on the way home, a twenty-something woman with red hair found a cab. Others started walking along Fifth Ave. They would try to get closer to home while waiting for the bus to catch up.

By the time I hit five miles at around 41 minutes, nearly all of the original commuters had found other means of transit. New bus riders had shown up to wait. Still, though, one woman sat there. She had been sitting there when I had arrived at the gym, and she was still there afterward. I had run the equivalent of the distance from the gym to 95th St. in Bay Ridge, and still one woman waited for the bus.

On my way home, I detoured by the bus station and asked her how long she had planned to wait. “A few more minutes,” she said with a laugh. For someone waiting over 50 minutes for the bus, she had a sense of humor about her. “I thought maybe 200 people are dead somewhere,” she said. She had a book, though, and didn’t mind waiting.

As I walked back home, I glanced up Fifth Ave. and saw not one but two southbound buses heading my way. The wait would be over, and no one would ever know why the B63 didn’t show up for nearly an hour at rush hour on a Friday. With no digitized arrival board and centralized system for announcements, bus riders in the city are left with that tried, true and not too useful technique of waiting and peering. One day, we’ll catch up.

Categories : Buses
Comments (20)

Weekend service advisories

By · Comments (2) ·

I don’t have too much to add to this one this week. I’ve been in Boston for the last few days for my sister’s college graduation, and while I’ve enjoyed using my Charlie card — a contactless smart card — to pay for my T rides, I’ve had less time to report on the latest underground happenings in New York.

Meanwhile, these are your weekend service advisories. In seven days, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 will be unleashed on the world. In the meantime, remember that these are as provided by the MTA. Check the signs at your local station.

From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 6 and Sunday, June 7, Manhattan-bound 6 trains run express from Pelham Bay Park to Parkchester due to station painting.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, June 6 to 10 p.m. Sunday, June 7, Manhattan-bound 7 trains skip 111th, 103rd, 90th, 82nd, 74th, 69th, 52nd, 46th, 40th and 33rd Street due to track panel installation over the 74th Street interlocking and station painting at Junction Boulevard.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 6 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 8, Manhattan-bound A trains run local from Euclid Avenue to 125th Street, then express to 168th Street, then trains resume normal service to 207th Street due to tunnel lighting north of 168th Street and the Chambers Street Signal Modernization project. (For missed stops between 125th Street and 168th Street, customers must ride south from 168th Street.)

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 6 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 8, Brooklyn-bound A trains run local from 168th Street to West 4th Streets, then on the F line to Jay Street, then trains resume local service to Euclid Avenue due to the Chambers Street signal Modernization project.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 6, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 8, there are no C trains running due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization project. Customers should take the A instead.

From12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 6 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 8, Manhattan-bound D trains run on the N line from Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue to 36th Street (Brooklyn) due to the installation of communications equipment.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, June 5, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 8, free shuttle buses replace D trains between Norwood-205th Street and Bedford Park Blvd. due to a track a chip out north of Bedford Park Boulevard.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, June 6 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 8, Jamaica-bound EF trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to a concrete pour north of Grand Avenue.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, June 5 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 8, Manhattan-bound EF trains run local from Forest Hills-71st Avenue to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to due to a concrete pour north of Grand Avenue.

From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, June 6, Coney Island-bound F trains skip 4th Avenue, 15th Street-Prospect Park and Ft. Hamilton Parkway due to rail repair.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 6 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 8, Queens-bound F trains run on the V line from 47th-50th Sts.-Rockefeller Center to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue due to track equipment delivery.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, June 5 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 8, there is no G train service between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers should take the E or R instead.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, June5 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 8, free shuttle buses replace L trains between Lorimer Street and Myrtle Avenue due to a track chip-out at Jefferson Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 6 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 8, N trains run local between 59th Street-4th Avenue and Pacific Street due to station rehabilitation and construction of the underground connector at Lawrence Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 6 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 8, Brooklyn-bound N and R trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge from Canals Street to DeKalb Avenue due to station rehabilitation and construction of the underground connector at Lawrence Street. Customers should take the 4 train at nearby stations.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 6 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 8, N trains skip Lawrence Street in both directions due to station rehabilitation and construction of the underground connector at Lawrence Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 6 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 8, R trains are extended to the 179th Street F station due to a concrete pour north of Grand Avenue.

From 6:30 a.m. Saturday, June 6 to 7 p.m. Sunday, June 7, there are no Franklin Avenue shuttle trains between Franklin Avenue and Prospect Park due to rail repair. Free shuttles provide alternate service.

Categories : Service Advisories
Comments (2)

In writing yesterday on the MTA contractor charged with fraud, I noted that the transit agency’s pilot program to outfit stations with cell service seemed to be on terminal hold. After all, the public unveiling of the plan arrived in September of 2007, and over 20 months later, nothing very much has happened.

Today, we learn that, despite the approaching internal deadline the plan remains on hold for a reason. As Bobby Cuza reports, Transit Wireless, the company awarded the contract to outfit six stations with cell service, has not yet received a Notice to Proceed because it does not have sufficient financial backing. “This doesn’t even seem like they have to go back to square one. It sounds like they never left the drawing board to begin with,” John Liu, city council member and Transportation Committee head, said to Cuza.

The NY1 reporter has more:

When Liu held a hearing in October 2007, MTA officials said they expected the Notice To Proceed would be issued within two months. But the MTA now says the contractor, a consortium of companies called Transit Wireless, never met the required conditions, which included demonstrating sufficient financing. Transit Wireless had no comment but the MTA acknowledged the group was hindered by the economic downturn.

“Unfortunately, the private sector response now to it, given the economy, has caused that to be stalled, not surprising. Again, just because of the overall economy,” said Former MTA Executive Director & CEO Lee Sander. “So the capacity is there, and hopefully the market will come back, and we will have that pilot move forward.”

In a statement released Thursday, the MTA said, “We continue to work with the contractor and hope that a resolution can be reached in the near future. The MTA remains committed to providing cellular service in underground subway stations.”

The agency, however, did not provide a new timetable.

At this stage, it’s worth noting two aspects to this story: First, Transit Wireless was created for the express purpose of winning this contract. As their website — not updated since 2007 — says, “Transit Wireless was formed specifically to respond to the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s Request for Proposals to design, market, install, own, operate and maintain a neutral, shared wireless infrastructure to provide seamless, uninterrupted commercial wireless services to the MTA’s New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) riders within the 277 underground subway stations in New York City.”

Second, while Cuza’s reporting yet again brings this story into the spotlight, this financial trouble should not be blamed upon the current economy. Back in October 2007, I noted that Transit Wireless seemed like a shaky company with no secure financing. Back then, I wrote, “It sounds like the MTA signed a 10-year deal worth around $200 million with a company that doesn’t really exist and may not have the funds to pay up or implement its plan.”

While the MTA didn’t pay anything for this deal and stands to lose only the revenue it would have drawn in from a successful implementation, the costs are steep. The agency is now two years behind in its modernization efforts with no relief in sight. Another technology upgrade — a program in place in transit systems around the world — is falling by the wayside.

Categories : MTA Technology
Comments (13)

Update (1:30 p.m.): In a move reminiscent of the diamond 6 service, NYC Transit is planning a pilot program that would see the 4 train run express in the Bronx. According to amNew York’s Heather Haddon, Transit hopes that by running some Manhattan-bound 4 trains as express from the 7-8 a.m. rush, the agency can reduce overcrowding along the popular line.

Per Haddon, some 4 trains will run express between Woodlawn and 149th St.-Grand Concourse. The trains would take advantage of the new signals on the line that would allow them run along the middle track and will stop at Mosholu Parkway and Burnside Ave. The pilot program is set to begin on June 8 and run through June 26. If it is succesful, the MTA will consider making it a permanent service.

The MTA offered up more more info in a press release, explaining the origins of the idea and the signal upgrades:

“The idea for this pilot is directly attributable to the Line General Managers program and it illustrates the types of innovations made possible when you have people running the railroad directly. David Knights, Group General Manager of IRT East and 4 Line General Manager Herb Lambert were looking to speed travel along a route that has been traditionally local in the Bronx,” said New York City Transit President Howard H. Roberts, Jr. “Signal improvements and the continued mechanical reliability of the car fleet have allowed them to try new ways of improving service.”

“By skipping nine stations, the Bronx Express 4 is expected to shave about 3.5 minutes off the 20 to 21 minutes scheduled running time between Woodlawn and 149th Street-Grand Concourse during the height of the a.m. peak. This is a significant time saving when you are headed out to work in the morning,” said IRT East Group General Manager Knights. “This pilot will determine the feasibility of bringing Jerome Avenue service in line with the Concourse, White Plains Road and Pelham Bay corridors by offering an express service to morning commuters.”

This pilot is possible because of the recent upgrades made to the center track signaling system within the 2005-2009 Capital Program. The signal job called for the installation of intermediate signals along the stretch of elevated track between Woodlawn and 161st Street. As a result of the project, we now have a greater flexibility of use with the middle track and can send trains in passenger service as well as work trains up or down the middle track. In the event of a disruption in service or track maintenance, we can also reroute trains onto the middle track. Similar signaling systems, allowing express service, are in place on the Flushing and White Plains Road Lines among others that have three tracks.

While the digital signs on the R142s render the 13 bullet rollsign moot, it’s worth noting that the MTA has four unused green bullets in its arsenal — 8, 10, 11 and 12. Maybe the express will earn a new numerical designation instead of the old diamond/express designation.

Comments (13)

angeliades When I first read the news about the M.A. Angeliades indictment, I wasn’t too shocked. Fraud and dishonesty among New York City contractors! Why I never!

Then, I got to thinking: This is an MTA contractor being accused of fraud in dealing with workers hired for MTA projects. Surely, there’s more going on then just a simple indictment. In light of the recent spate of stories surrounding the MTA’s construction projects and its low-bid philosophy, I think there is a tale to be told here, but first let’s recap the news courtesy of Elizabeth Dwoskin:

A Long Island-City-based contractor with ties to the MTA was indicted today for cheating its employees out of $600,000.

The firm, M.A. Angeliades, which had been contracted to repair 11 subway stations, had 150 employees (though the District Attorney’s office wouldn’t say how many were defrauded). The firm is charged with falsifying business records and defrauding its employees by not paying them the local prevailing wage, which for laborers is $35 per hour plus $24.57 per hour for nights and overtime.

Instead, they paid laborers a flat fee of $20 — while still billing the MTA for the legally required wage.

Apparently, D.A. Robert Morgenthau’s office got wind of the graft from the MTA Inspector General’s office. “If a contractor is stealing in one area, there are other areas,” MTA Inspector General Barry L. Kluger said to NY1 News. “So it’s obviously our responsibility in MTA to look back at these contracts to look at the execution of the contracts to see if there were any direct losses that may have been affected against the MTA, in terms of change orders, overcharging, over-billing.”

The MTA has no plans to end the contract, but according to a statement released by the agency yesterday, agency officials plan to “review the situation with the District Attorney and the Inspector General before determining how to proceed.”

So that’s all well and good, but isn’t this part of a longer story we’ve been seeing pieces of lately? Numerous MTA projects are behind schedule and over budgets. Others — such as the plan to wire some subway stations for cellular service, the plan to outfit the city’s bus stops with arrival boards and the plan to install similar boards and CBTC systems in the subway — are years past due with little forward motion.

Is this what happens when an agency is forced to accept the lowest bid? Is this what happens when an agency has to build everything on the cheap because the state won’t pay its fair share — or any share really? I don’t know the answers to these questions, and perhaps I’m making a mountain out of a construction fraud molehill. I can’t help but wonder though if the old adage, saying you get what you pay for, is in full effect here.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
Comments (24)
  • Ravitch: Outlook bleak for MTA in 2010 · While this mini article in today’s Post doesn’t say much, the few sentences it contains do not portend a good year for the MTA in 2010. Richard Ravitch, architect of a lost plan to fund the MTA, spoke at a meeting for the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee yesterday and warned about the economic outlook for the agency.

    While the MTA is due to draw in around $1.8 billion next year through various taxes and fees and while some of that money is ideally to be used for a capital construction bond issue, Ravitch thinks the MTA will be forced to use that cure its operating deficit. “I think 2010 is going to be a rough year,” he said. “The political pressures in 2010 will be such that most of the payroll tax will be used to fund the operating budget.”

    More ominous is warning that “uncertainty” surrounds the MTA’s big-ticket items. With the comptroller looking into the cost and efficiency of the Second Ave. Subway, among other projects, storm clouds are gathering over this new subway line, nearly 80 years in the making. I fear for its future. · (8)

Over the last few years, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has emerged as one of the state’s leading authorities on the MTA’s financial crisis. He has repeatedly asked the agency to perform some internal belt-tightening and seems to display an understanding of the agency’s expenses and revenues that few New York State politicians possess.

With that qualification in mind, I would hope that, when he releases a report, people would listen. Outside of a few inches of space in the local papers, though, DiNapoli’s analysis is often discarded. Yesterday afternoon, while announcing three new audits of the MTA — one of its cash management controls and banking services and fees; one of the agency’s maintenance program; and one examining the costs and timeliness of the MTA’s capital program — DiNapoli issued a preliminary report on the current fiscal health of the MTA.

While the Albany bailout will help the beleaguered transit agency, the MTA is, in the words of the comptroller, not out of the words yet. “The MTA has to deliver on its promise to reduce costs. I’m also concerned that the next five-year capital plan may rely too heavily on debt, which would divert resources from operating needs, just as heavy borrowing in the past has contributed to the MTA’s current fiscal crisis,” he said. “The audits we’re announcing today will help make sure the MTA stays on the right financial track.”

Most notable in DiNapoli’s reports are the debt warnings. While fairly technical and seemingly far off into the future, the MTA’s current projected borrowing levels will come back to plague the agency. The MTA is going to use the mobility tax to generate $6.8 billion in Bonds. By 2020, according to DiNapoli, debt service will cost the MTA $440 million in revenue from the mobility payroll tax. Furthermore, the agency is going to take on new debt to fund the 2010-2014 capital plan, and the MTA could be mired in $3.2 billion of debt service spending by 2020.

DiNapoli bullet-points some other key findings:

  • The MTA still faces budget gaps of $100 million in 2009 and $60 million in 2010, which should be manageable given the MTA’s $10 billion budget and $75 million in annual reserves;
  • Nearly three-quarters of revenues from the mobility tax would come from employers in New York City, with Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties making the next largest contributions. The report includes a break-out of expected revenue from the mobility tax by county;
  • School districts will initially pay $67 million in new mobility taxes for 2010, with half of that amount coming from New York City. The state intends to reimburse school districts within the MTA’s 12-county service region for the cost of the tax;
  • Real estate transaction tax collections peaked at nearly $1.6 billion in 2007, but are projected by the MTA to decline by more than $1 billion by 2009. The report also found that collections have been weaker than expected through May and could be $125 million less than projected by the MTA for the year;
  • The MTA is expected to save $227 million in 2009 and $359 million in 2010, but the MTA has a history of falling short of target and the operating agencies often identify new funding needs. The MTA is also counting on savings of $65 million in 2009 and $112 million in 2010 from certain state and federal actions. In the event the anticipated savings are not realized, the MTA ought to identify alternative actions;
  • The MTA could generate surpluses in 2011 and 2012, but the amounts will depend on the economic recovery, the realization of planned savings, and whether fares and tolls rise by 7.5 percent in 2011 as planned. The report recommends that surpluses, if they materialize, be used to fund reserves or the capital program on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Missing from the bullets is a short note on pensions found in the report (PDF). The MTA may have to increase its already sizable pension contributions due to a shortfall in the New York City Employees’ Retirement System.

In the end, DiNapoli’s report is and is not surprising. We know that the MTA is suffering through some financially bad times, but while Albany has proclaimed itself a savior, it hasn’t improved the agency’s long-term financial outlook. The MTA still has to turn to crushing debt; it still has unresolved revenue issues; and it will be back at Albany’s door, cap in hand, waiting congestion pricing and East River Bridge tolls, before we know it.

Categories : MTA Economics
Comments (5)

Around once a year, the ill-conceived plans to build, well, something out to the Stewart Airport in Orange County make headlines, and every year, I ask for that money to spent on more worthy projects. (See 2007 and 2008.)

The Stewart Airport issue is once again back in the news, and again, I’m inclined to speak out against it. This time around, the story is about the short list of potential options for this airport connection. Judy Rife writes:

A short list of options for improving bus and rail service to Stewart International Airport and New York City has emerged from the 106 suggestions that Metro-North and the Port Authority have been mulling for the past year.

Still in the running are a new rail link between the airport and Metro-North’s Salisbury Mills station, bus service between Stewart and Salisbury Mills as well as Metro-North’s Beacon station and New York City, and bus service between the airport and new or expanded park-and-rides in a roughly 45-mile radius.

Out are such ideas as ferry service between Newburgh and New York City — the trip would be too long, involve too many transfers and be unreliable in bad weather. A new rail link between the airport and Beacon didn’t make the cut because of environmental impact and cost. And light rail or automated guideways between the airport and train stations lost out to more flexible and much cheaper buses.

That study nearly $4.67 million, and right now there, it seems as though there is no more cash in hand for further movement. The rail link, by the way, would probably cost upwards of $1 billion. Meanwhile, with Airtran out at Stewart, passenger volumes are poised to hit an all-time low and could sink lower. Talk about no return for an investment.

Right now, I’m not the only one who is no fan of this project. Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic examined the issue today and walked away with the same conclusions:

The airport is quite far away from the city’s population centers and will therefore have difficulty attracting crowds from the city; the airport’s current offerings of flights to just five destinations — Philadelphia, Atlanta, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, and Detroit — indicate that a serious increase in demand there from locals is unlikely over the next few years. Few commuters are going to be willing ride the 90 minute plus train between Penn Station and the airport, so why is this link a priority? It certainly doesn’t seem likely to cut down on air congestion.

Let’s imagine that the $1 billion existed to build this project, unlikely enough considering the MTA’s dismal fiscal situation. Wouldn’t it make more sense, from the perspective of improving transit, to spend it on desperately needed projects such as the Second Avenue Subway? People in Orange County — population 350,000 — may want more transit, but so do the roughly 350,000 people who live in East Harlem and the Upper East Side, and the latter group, to say the least, is far more likely to use public transportation than the former. Certainly, cheap express buses should be considered, but a rail link seems completely unnecessary.

That about says it all. I’m all in favor of bringing more mass transit to the upstate counties that are underserved by the state’s public transit options, but we should do so in a cost-efficient way. This airport rail link may have been a good idea a few decades ago, but right now, it’s time to scrap those plans.

Categories : Metro-North
Comments (9)

Not the most practical of emergency exits. (Photo by flickr user rlboston)

As the great social mixing bowl of New York City, the subways provide ample opportunities for people from all walks of life to interact on a daily basis and make choices that impact each other. Should one offer to give up a seat? Should one cut one’s nails on a half-empty train? Should one block the doorways as other straphangers try to exit?

While the answers to those three questions are “probably,” “definitely not” and “get the hell out of the way,” other debates are not so clear cut in the minds of many riders. Enter the emergency exit. The emergency exit doors represent the pinnacle and subway egress. The gates are alarmed sometimes, and they’re far faster than the traditional ways to leave the system. A commuter in a rush will bypass long lines at the HEET exits or turnstiles, and if the alarm goes off, so what? While it is against New York City Transit regulations to use the emergency exists in non-emergency situations, that stops no one.

Yesterday, as part of a new series on Underground Ethics, Hillary Fields, a writer and editor at Beliefnet, inaugurated her column with some musings on the Emergency Exit debate. She writes:

Each morning, as I approach the IRT line, the dilemma looms larger and larger. The Subway Emergency Exit. Meant, as is so clearly blazoned on its push-bar, to be used only in cases of, you know… emergency. Should you dare to make it your egress, it will shrill loudly–nay, I daresay deafeningly–piercing the eardrums of all those around you. The sound echoes off the dingy station tiles, lingers unendingly in the air, pisses off the riders on the platform, wears out the alarms, and drives the beleaguered station agent just that tiny bit closer to a lethal meltdown.

So why the f*&k does everyone and his brother think it’s OK to use it instead of the turnstiles?

It is, of course, a personal decision and one many make to maximize time, other riders be damned. Fields takes a life lesson from her emergency exit experiences. “It amazes me,” she writes, “how expedience takes precedence over values at times like these, and perhaps can explain some of the other behaviors I see on the fly.”

Anyway, check out this new series. It will make for some interesting debates over how to approach personal actions underground. No one, after all, likes hearing the emergency exit siren, and everyone likes to exit the subway faster than that other person on the train who elbowed them on the way up the stairs. Choices, choices, choices.

Comments (42)
Page 401 of 537« First...399400401402403...Last »