Over the last two and a half years, I haven’t said much on the Atlantic Yards deal. No Land Grab and Atlantic Yards Report have that beat more than covered. A development this week though warrants some discussion.

First, a recap. In 2004, when the MTA was considering selling the development rights to the land above the LIRR’s Atlantic Yards, the authority received a $214 million appraisal. At first, the MTA seemed ready to negotiate with Forest City Ratner for $50 million, but the agency faced some blowback under this below-market deal. With Extell offering up $150 million and some strings, Forest City Ranter up its price to $100 million, and the MTA accepted.

The public cried foul over this sweetheart deal. How could a cash-straped agency accept over 50 percent less than the market value of the land? Over the years, nothing has happened there, and Bruce Ratner has yet to make a payment on the land. He and his company have been mired in eminent domain lawsuits and, with the recent economic downtown, may or may not have the funds on hand to start construction.

Flash foward to now. As the final lawsuits wind their ways through the legal system, the Nets and Ratner claim they will soon start construction on the planned arena for the Atlantic Yards area. But first, Ratner is going to get even more favorable terms from the MTA in an effort to boost his floundering projects. Mike McLaughlin of The Brooklyn Paper reports:

Atlantic Yards developer Bruce Ratner is poised to receive new generous terms from the MTA that could jumpstart his stalled mega-project even as a new report revealed that the city and state would actually lose money on the $4-billion arena, housing and office complex.

Helena Williams, president of Long Island Rail Road and the interim executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, told a state Senate committee on Friday that she’s in “intense negotiations” with Forest City Ratner to alter the deal to sell the Vanderbilt rail yards to the developer.

Ratner agreed to pay $100 million to acquire air rights to build over the trench between Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street. But pleading hardship due to the global credit crunch, Ratner is looking to pay perhaps as little as $20 million up front and to spread the remainder out of over years.

And the MTA appears to be on board.

A report in The Post indicated that the MTA could get $50 million instead of the promised $100 million.

So let me get this straight. A few months after the MTA needed an Albany bailout to avoid Doomsday cuts, they’re going to accept $50 million less than they had originally agreed to and $164 million less than market rate for the Atlantic Yards land, and this is somehow acceptable? No wonder the public does not trust the MTA.

Categories : Brooklyn
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  • As Queensboro turns 100, a reminder of tolls gone by · Over the weekend, the Queensboro Bridge turned 100, and the city celebrated with a processional of old cars across the span and some East River fireworks. As part of the celebration, Gridlock Sam made light of the fact that cars had to pay three cents to cross the bridge in 1909. The audience reportedly chuckled. A toll — all of three cents — to cross an East River Bridge! Imagine that!

    To those of us in favor of East River tolls as a way to fund the MTA, a toll 100 years ago is no laughing matter. It is a sign that free trips across the East River are not a God-given right. It is a sign that people 100 years ago had a better sense of transportation policies than we do now. Three cents in 1909 money would be a hair under 75 cents today, and all of a sudden, the idea of tolls across the East River to help fund the MTA seems more inevitable. After all, if 1909 New York could do it, why can’t the 2009 version do the same? · (3)

sander Elliot Sander is the unfortunate victim of circumstance, and we the subway-riding public are worse off for it.

Up until around around 10 days ago, Elliot Sander was the CEO and Executive Director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. At a time when the agency was suffering through a crippling financial crisis, his was a thankless job, but Sander was the right man for it. A run through his faculty profile at NYU Wagner School of Public Service shows a highly qualified and extremely experienced transit expert.

When the MTA had to turn, cap in hand, to Albany this year, politicians trotted out the old tired tropes in an effort to portray the MTA as a less than scrupulous organization. Some claimed the MTA keeps two sets of books, a charge found to be untrue in a court of law. Others called the agency heads “untrustworthy and corrupt,” as Sander puts it an Op-Ed in The Times today. In the end, the MTA, a transit agency entrusted with making the trains on time, were no match for a bunch of politicians whose specialties all seem to be making themselves look good even when approving poorly-constructed funding fixes.

In the end, despite his qualifications and despite his clear success — major projects moving forward, modernization efforts, on-time performance — Sander became the sacrificial lamb. He was ousted from a position most suited to his talents after less than 29 months on the job, and transit advocates all over the city lost a very important ally in the fight for better service in the city. Today, in a piece in The Times, Sander fights back. He writes:

The M.T.A.’s shortcomings are well known: crowded subway cars (ridership has increased by 50 percent in the past decade), outdated signal technology that limits the number of trains that can run per hour, decaying subway stations, buses stuck in traffic, the still incomplete Second Avenue line…

The M.T.A. has long been burdened by convoluted and overlapping operating charters, work rules and politically dictated mandates. But during my two years as chief executive we made significant progress in consolidating the back office functions of seven regional agencies — those in charge of trains and buses as well as bridges and tunnels. We arranged for the two commuter railroads, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North, to save money by jointly purchasing equipment and supplies. And we merged what had been three bus companies into one.

Only with genuine support from our elected officials can the next chief executive keep improving the transit system. With enough financing, for example, the M.T.A. could form a single regional bus authority to provide seamless service from Suffolk County to Westchester County. And with the Legislature’s political support for labor negotiations, the agency would be better positioned to conduct serious and respectful conversations with its nearly 60 unions about modernizing work rules to increase productivity and embrace new operating technologies…

With an adequate budget, the M.T.A. could not only maintain but also expand the transportation system. Rather than just finish projects under way — the first phase of the Second Avenue line, the extension of the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal and of the 7 train to Manhattan’s far West Side — we could extend the Second Avenue line into Brooklyn and the Bronx, have Metro-North service at Penn Station, modernize the subway signal system and provide high-speed buses to underserved city neighborhoods as well as Long Island and the Hudson Valley.

Sander saves his attacks against the state legislature for the end of his piece, and even then, they are tame by Op-Ed standards. “All of us should wish that whoever takes the helm gets the backing of all of New York’s elected leaders. As the people who call the shots on M.T.A. financing, they really are the agency’s shadow board of directors,” he writes. “If, on the other hand, politicians continue to run against the M.T.A., their rhetoric may become self-fulfilling prophecy, and the system may devolve into the state of dysfunction they denounce.”

While Sander’s departure leaves the MTA worse off than it was a few weeks ago, maybe Sander can become a rallying point for transit experts in New York City. We have long been out-maneuvered by politicians in Albany who protect their own interests but not those of the transit-riding public. We live in a city in which people don’t really believe the subways can be better than they are, and we are held hostage by automobile interests in the most densely populated city in the country. Transit should thrive here, and it does not.

Sander’s Op-Ed is just a start. We all should push Albany for a fully-funded five-year capital plan and a true commitment to public transit. We have to convince the public and the people that matter to dream big. In the end, the subways and New York City will be better off far it. The fight goes ever on.

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Well, it’s Friday evening, and as the week draws to a close, I have two stories in the hopper that I just didn’t have time to post during this four-day week. So let’s round ’em up right now.

Amy Zimmer of Metro took a look at the trail of subway trash. New Yorkers produce nearly 18,000 tons of subway trash a year, and while there are no recycling bins in the system, 50 percent of that trash is recycled after being sorted at sanitation dumps. According to Mike Zacchea, the assistant COO at Transit, separate bins are not made available in the stations because they would quickly become contaminated with non-recyclable trash.

A Bloomberg News story delved into the latest MTA bond issue. While I honestly don’t understand all of the economics behind it, it seems as though the MTA’s bonds were so favorably priced that investors were able to flip them for a short-term high yield, and the agency lost around $9 million — or enough for eight new subway cars — in the process. MTA board members and New York City officials called the after-market bonds trading “pretty distressing.” I’ll see if I can put together a more comprehensive post on this issue, but as I have limited knowledge of bond trading, it may take some time.

Anyway, service changes abound this weekend. As always, these are the service changes as provided to me by the MTA, and they are the planned changes only. Sometimes, some of these changes aren’t in effect, and sometimes other work that affects service isn’t reflected here. Pay attention to signs in your local station and leave extra travel time as well.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, downtown 1 and 2 trains skip 66th, 59th and 50th Streets due to station rehabilitation at 59th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, Bronx-bound 2 and 5 trains run express from 3rd Avenue-149th Street to East 180th Street due to cable installation near East 180th Street.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 10 p.m. Sunday, May 31, 3 trains run in two sections due to track panel installation:

  • Between 148th Street and Crown Heights-Utica Avenue and
  • Between Crown Heights-Utica Avenue and News Lots Avenue (runs every 20 minutes)

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 30, Manhattan-bound 4 trains run express from Burnside Avenue to 149th Street due to rail repairs.

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, May 31, Bronx-bound 4 trains run express from 149th Street to Burnside Avenue due to rail repairs.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 10 p.m. Sunday, May 31, there are no 4 trains between Crown Heights-Utica Avenue and New Lots Avenue due to track panel installation. Customers may take the 3 instead.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 10 p.m. Sunday, May 31, Bronx-bound 6 trains run express from Hunts Point Avenue to Parkchester due to track panel installation between Morrison-Sound View Avenues and St. Lawrence Avenue.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 10 p.m. Sunday, May 31, the last stop for some Bronx-bound 6 trains is 3rd Avenue-138th Street due to track panel installation between Morrison-Sound View Avenues and St. Lawrence Avenue.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 30, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, Bronx-bound 6 trains run express from 3rd Avenue to Hunts Point Avenue due to platform edge rehabilitation at Cypress Avenue, East 143rd Street, East 149th Street and Longwood Avenue stations.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, A trains run local between 168th Street and Euclid Avenue due to switch renewal south of West 4th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 30, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, there are no C trains running due to switch renewal south of West 4th Street. Customers should take the A instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 30, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, Brooklyn-bound D trains run local from 34th Street-Herald Square to West 4th Street due to switch renewal south of West 4th Street.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, May 29, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, 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 4 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 10 p.m. Sunday, May 31, Manhattan-bound D trains run on the N line from Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue to 36th Street (Brooklyn) due to track panel installation north of 62nd Street.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, Jamaica-bound E and F 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. Saturday, May 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, 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 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, Brooklyn-bound F trains run on the E line from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to 42nd Street-8th Avenue, then on the A line to Jay Street. This is due to switch renewal south of West 4th Street and the Broadway-Lafayette to Bleecker Street transfer connection.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, May 29 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, there is no G train service between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers should take the E or R instead.

From 1:15 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, May 30, J trains run in two sections due to track cleaning:

  • Between Jamaica Center-Parsons/Archer and Essex Street and
  • Between Essex Street and Chambers Street

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, Manhattan-bound Q trains skip Newkirk Avenue due to Brighton Line Station rehabilitation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 30, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, Manhattan-bound Q trains run express from Kings Highway to Prospect Park due to Brighton Line Station rehabilitation.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, May 30 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 1, there are no R trains between Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue and Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to a concrete pour north of Grand Avenue. Customers should take the E or F instead.

Categories : Service Advisories
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On June 28th, transit fares across the city will rise by around eight percent. As has long been the case with fare increases, savvy straphangers will rush to stock up on cards carrying the pre-increase price tag. While once upon a time, we could horde tokens away for months on end, with the advent of the MetroCard, the MTA has been able to staunch the revenue loss to do stockpiled tokens.

Today, the transit authority announce the grace periods for the current MetroCards. Riders, according to the press release, have but a week to begin using their cards. Riders who purchase any of the unlimited-ride options — the one-, seven-, 14-, or 30-Day cards — prior to June 28th will be able to use their cards for the full duration if they are first swiped no later than July 6th. Pay-per-ride cards are not impacted by the fare charge.

As far as sunset dates go, those are staggered. In other words, if you purchase one of the unlimited ride options and use it for the first time after July 6th, you will not get full credit for all of your travel. Instead, riders will have to mail the cards back for pro-rated refunds based upon the day you first use them. Unused cards will be refunded in full. The sunset dates — meaning the last day on which previously purchased cards will be valid for travel — are presented in the table below.

Days on Card Sunset Date
1 July 6
7 July 12
14 July 19
30 August 4

Any questions?

Categories : Fare Hikes
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Every now and then, the roll signs indicating a subway route are wrong. I often see an Orange Q, a remnant of the Manhattan Bridge work, instead of a Yellow Q bullet as the trains head past me. That is, generally, the most egregious of minor errors.

Earlier this week, Second Ave. Sagas reader Jeffrey P drew my attention to the above sign on a Manhattan-bound 1 train. The 1, which shares rolling stock with the 3 and 4, was mislabeled but not as a train in service. It was bulleted as a 13 train. It certainly piqued my curiosity.

In the annals of New York City subway history, the only train designated by the number 13 was the pre-1967 BMT 14th St./Canarsie Line, now better known as the L train. At no point did the IRT lines — today’s current numbered lines — make use of a 13. Maybe one day, the future holds a red 13 for New York City straphangers.

Jeffrey sent me this picture via Twitter. For another view of this mysterious 13 train, click here. Be sure to check out and follow Second Ave. Sagas on Twitter if that’s your thing.

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Now and then, I like to see what’s happening in transit systems outside of New York City. Often, I’ll turn to Washington, D.C., for a glimpse at what an efficient — and much smaller — transit system looks like. The lessons from D.C. can be illuminating as we watch the MTA carom from one ill-fated project to another.

Earlier this week, the Washington Metro’s board announced that WMATA passengers would enjoy in-tunnel cell service by the fall of 2012. Lena H. Sun, a staff writer for the Washington Post, reports:

Metro officials said the agency and a consortium of wireless carriers are on track to install equipment so riders can receive and make cellphone calls on all carriers at the 20 busiest Metrorail stations by mid-October. Only Verizon and Sprint roaming customers can use their phones on the Metro now, and coverage is often spotty…

But don’t expect to stay connected between stations. That won’t happen until the consortium finishes installing cable and other equipment underground, a process that is likely to take until October 2012.

Under an agreement announced in February, Verizon, Sprint Nextel, AT&T and T-Mobile will be allowed to install equipment in the tunnels over the next four years. The agreement will provide the cash-strapped transit agency with nearly $25 million over the first 15 years. The estimated $2.4 million in expenses will also be paid by the wireless carriers.

Now, we can debate for hours whether or not cell phone service underground is a positive development. Every day, I see the impact of cell service on a subway ride. As my Manhattan-bound Q or B train snakes across the Manhattan Bridge and as my Brooklyn-bound trip heads off into the heart of Brooklyn every day, I see passengers scramble for their phones and being their furtive five-minute calls. Most are respectful as they try to keep their conversation to a minimum, but others are screamers, intent on informing the entire car what their significant other has at home for dinner that night.

As those trains head back underground, cell service is lost until the trenched, open-air tracks arrive at the Prospect Park stop. It may be silent, but it’s also a technological blackhole.

In Washington, Metro riders have enjoyed cell phone service for the better part of this decade. It’s not perfect, but it’s there. Furthermore, the WMATA has negotiated a contract that’s beneficial to all. The agency earns millions of dollars, and the cell companies get access to a new network of customers. Everyone — except those looking for a quiet ride — wins.

Meanwhile, in the Big Apple, the MTA keeps promising to find some company intent on writing the system at a price too low to believe, and time after time, the project stalls. Outside of the luxury of an underground cell network, the MTA’s system doesn’t have the capacity for proper emergency communications, and it just isn’t a modern system. At some point the technological modernization of the New York City subways will begin. We could do far worse than look to our neighbors to the south for inspiration.

Categories : WMATA
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  • Station agent cuts made official · Over the last few weeks, we’ve heard a lot about the MTA’s planned station agent cuts. Despite an Albany rescue plan, the authority has stayed true to its original decision to cut what transit officials view as the unnecessary station agent plan. Yesterday, the Board made it official as they voted to axe 270 station agents by the end of 2010. These cuts were part of a larger plan to cut around 1200 jobs as the MTA struggles to make ends meet.

    Despite these cuts, every single one of the system’s 468 stations will be staffed with at least one MTA worker at all times. However, this is but a technicality. Along 4th Ave. in Brooklyn, for example, the downtown and uptown platforms are not connected, and a passenger in need of assistance would have to mount two staircases and a six-lane avenue if the station agent were on the other side. Previously, I examined the psychology behind the station agents. As some claim to field up to four incidents a day, these maroon-vested workers will probably be missed. · (8)

At some point in the not-too-distant future — maybe next month, maybe in the fall — Gov. David Paterson will formally announce his selection for the newly combined top spot at the MTA. The new position will encompass the chair and CEO jobs, and it will eliminate the current bifurcated power structure atop the agency. Who it will be is anyone’s guess.

Meanwhile, yesterday marked Interim CEO and Executive Director Helena Williams’ first day and the job. She and current MTA Chair Dale Hemmerdinger, whose term expires in June, spoke about the MTA’s new few months and both, report the Daily News, want the top spot.

Both recognize, however, that Paterson will take his time and ultimately pick whomever he wants to pick. “The governor has a selection process in place, and it’s his prerogative,” Williams said. “Wherever it takes us, it takes us.”

Williams replaced the highly-respected and highly-respected Elliot Sander this week, and Sander’s departure was not without controversy. He is widely regarded as one of the city’s foremost transit policy experts, and Eliot Spitzer earned high marks for picking Sander. While Pete Donohue’s sources say that Hemmerdinger is angling for the top spot, Paterson should look for another transit expert who can guide the MTA through a tough time financially while continuing to grow the system to fill the top role. We do not need another real estate mogul in charge.

To that end, the Regional Plan Association feels that, given the chance, Williams could be the right person for the job. Neysa Pranger, the RPA’s public affairs director, wrote yesterday:

The agency needs a leader with both vision and bureaucratic skills to meet its various challenges…The good thing about Williams is that she has ample quantities of both. She is not a politician, or a political contributor. She is a transit executive. Previously she led Long Island Bus, and she has been president of LIRR since 2007.

How long she will stay as MTA chief executive is anyone’s guess. Even though her appointment is only interim, it is not a stretch to assume she could be in the seat for longer than expected. The governor has said a national and international search will be conducted for a permanent replacement, but it may be hard to find a professional appointee from another system for what could be only a year-long job since Governor Paterson is up for re-election in 2010.

Other factors that may discourage applicants are the circumstances under which Lee Sander exited and the fact that the governor will need to tightly manage the agency heading into an election year…This could leave the MTA in a terrible bind. If the economy and thus revenues continue to decline, the MTA may have it’s hands tied as it is legally bound to balance its budget. This could mean unpleasant decisions on the MTA’s capital (and in many ways less physically visible) side of its balance sheet. Exacerbating the problem is the MTA recently got only half a loaf in Albany with regards to the capital plan and still faces long challenges in funding maintenance and expansion plans.

Williams should handle these challenges as well as anyone. She has a keen sense of politics honed in the jungle of Long Island politics and has shown she has an excellent sense of the transit system’s needs.

A visionary, experienced leader who can navigate transportation policy and transit politics? Sounds good to me.

Categories : MTA Politics
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In the annals of New York City public transit, the egregious law suits make the headlines. In February, for instance, the MTA came out on the wrong end of a case when a jury awarded $2.3 million to a man who lost a leg after falling onto the tracks with a BAC twice the legal limit. In April, a victim of a bus accident won over $27 million.

It seems that those cases — the ones that make the headlines — represent the tip of a large iceberg. Last year, the MTA spent around $57.6 million on personal injury claims. That total, which comes out of the agency’s operating budget, has increased by over $20 million since 2004, and the MTA wants to put an end to these injury claims. The Post’s Tom Namako has more on the suits:

The chronically cash-strapped MTA has become a money train for riders filing personal-injury lawsuits, forcing taxpayers to dole out tens of millions of dollars a year. The payouts come from the MTA’s day-to-day operating budget, which recently got a $1.6 billion bailout for 2009.

About 2,750 claims are filed every year, from people taking a simple spill while on MTA property to bone-headed buffoons who try — and fail — to outrun subway trains, said Martin Schnabel, NYC Transit’s chief lawyer.

“There are a small, but not insignificant, number of cases every year of people intentionally on the tracks coming into contact with trains,” Schnabel said.

Per Namako, the MTA Audit Committee has isolated this area of liability as a source of lost MTA revenue. According to a recent committee report, the MTA is currently facing 7800 lawsuits and receives around 3000 claims a year.

While juries tend to look favorably upon the MTA — 96 out of 150 jury decisions last year were in favor of the transit authority — agency lawyers would like to see Albany ban suits from those who “get themselves into dangerous situations.” In other words, if another Dustin Dibble is too drunk to stay on the platform, the MTA would prefer not to be liable for his injuries.

As an aspiring law student, transit advocate and tax- and fare-paying subway rider, I can certainly appreciate where the MTA is coming from on this issue. At a time when the agency is facing an extreme cash shortage and fares will soon be going up, they don’t want to be liable for the stupidity and irresponsibility of their riders.

The question centers around limiting liability. How can the MTA block these lawsuits from the get-go? Right now, if the MTA is not at fault, a jury would decide it so. The authority would still incur costs of litigation, and those mount up substantially over time. If Albany is serious about reining in MTA spending, tort reform would certainly be an interesting starting place. I don’t think our state legislature is spoiling for that fight though.

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