Oh, how time flies. Remember the glory days of August 2007 when the MTA released the the first results from their rider report cards? Well, the agency is back at it again.

According to a sign I spotted in the 42nd St./Bryant Park subway station on Saturday morning, the MTA will be distributing Rider Report Cards some time this week. A few readers have told me that these signs are a few days old, but I’m pretty sure we’ll see a new batch of the cards hit the streets within the next few days. But is it too soon?

When NYC Transit President Howard Roberts unveiled the Rider Report Cards as a way of hearing from the people who use and rely on the New York City subways, he was taking a step few, if any, transit heads had taken before. He was putting the agency out there and asking people to be honest in their assessments of it. The results were less than stellar. The MTA pulled in a series of grades in the D and C range with only the 42nd St. shuttle managing a B-minus.

As a part of Roberts’ initiative, the MTA added service on the 7 and L lines and eventually launched a pilot line manager program along those two lines. Over time, transit watchers and experts expressed their doubts about both the line manager program and the rider report cards. Most of us believed the cards to be nothing more than a six-month publicity stunt that would, in the end, have little impact on an organization short on the funds needed to address the problems the riders identified.

And now here we are, a little past the one-year anniversary of the first results from the rider report cards with a new set in sight. Considering how little time has past and how it’s fairly clear that service has not improved, I have to wonder if the MTA should better direct its resources elsewhere. Over the last six months, we’ve heard a constant barrage of complaints about funding. The MTA doesn’t have enough money to meet its operational budget; it doesn’t have the funds it needs for its capital investment. Trains are more delayed than they have been in years; stations are in desperate need of an overhaul.

Yet, the MTA has the money to send out a bunch of rider report cards in the slim hope that some riders will rate the subways higher this year than they did ten months ago. Color me skeptical.

Instead, I would propose that Roberts hold on to last year’s results and use those findings to persuade the government to invest more heavily in New York City’s mass transit infrastructure. The subways aren’t in great shape right now from a physical and a monetary point of view. Yet, record-breaking numbers of people are flocking to the trains.

If the MTA can leverage these first results into more money and then run the report card program every five years to assess the next level of investment, they will have created a solid program of evaluation. Instead, as the new report cards are distributed this week, I’ll just sit back and wait for the news to sound awfully similar to what we heard last year. The subways are slow, crowded and, at times, unreliable. Riders want modern technology, cleaner stations, wait-time boards (a la the L train) and a seat. That’s all there is to it.

Categories : Rider Report Cards
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I spotted this sign hanging up in the 42nd St./Bryant Park station this morning. With September upon us, New York City Transit is going to re-grade the subway after riders last year gave the system a whole series of C grades. I’ll have more about these rider report cards, but to whet your appetite, I have to wonder if the timing for the next round is not ideal. NYC Transit hasn’t had the time to implement changes, and riders won’t be as keen to grade the subways a year after doing so for the first time.

Categories : Rider Report Cards
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As the U.S. economy weakens and gas prices rise, urban areas — and some suburban regions — have noticed a steady and substantial increase in mass transit ridership figures. Now, as Think Progress’ Matthew Yglesias noted earlier this week, a crowd swell of fiscal support for transit is building in Congress.

In another left-leaning forum, The American Prospect takes a look at how conservatives and conservative ideology should support urban infrastructure investment. Wrote Dana Goldstein:

Policies in favor of dense development shouldn’t be viewed on a left-right spectrum and certainly needn’t be filtered through culture-war rhetoric… In fact, one doesn’t have to be concerned about climate change at all in order to support such policies; values of fiscal conservatism and localism, both key to Republican ideology, can be better realized through population-dense development than through sprawl.

Tom Darden, a developer of urban and close-in suburban properties, said Wednesday, “I’m a Republican and have been my whole life. I consider myself a very conservative person. But it never made sense to me why we would tax ordinary people in order to subsidize this form of development, sprawl.” Darden told the story of a road-paving project approved by North Carolina when he served on the state’s transportation board. A dirt road that handled just five trips per day was paved at taxpayer expense, with money that could have gone toward mass transit benefiting millions of people.

“Those were driveways, in my view, not roads,” Darden said.

More common sense came from Congressman John Mica of Florida, the ranking Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “I can’t just continue to pave over every metro area,” he said. “Our goal is to reduce the negative impact on the environment and also reduce our dependence on energy.”

Perhaps the tide is starting to turn in transit’s favor. Perhaps New York’s transit infrastructure, short on cash, can look to the future for more government funding and fewer fare hikes. At least, we have reason to hope.

For now, though, work continues ad infinitum during the weekends in New York. Click through for the weekend service changes.

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  • The city across the river · For New Yorkers living outside of Manhattan, “the City” has long been shorthand for the island around which the rest of the world revolves. For others, well, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island are all a part of New York City, and in some cases, with more residents than Manhattan, these other boroughs deserve their urban recognition as well. It seems that the MTA is getting on the debate. As Bed-Stuy Banana pointed out, the Nostrand Ave. subway stop along the IND Fulton St. line now tells riders which way to go if they want to head into “The City.” Casual nomenclature knows no bounds. [Bed-Stuy Banana] · (3)

For a crowded subway line with infrequent off-peak, the BMT Brighton Line — more commonly known as line serving the Q and the B trains — sure has been feeling the love this week.

Nicole Brydson, a freelance writer and self-proclaimed gentrifier, penned a paean to this subway line for The Observer. She is sincere, if a little naive, in her treatment of central and southern Brooklyn, and the piece reads as a warning for people fearing gentrification.

Brydson, as I am, is a 20-something Manhattan native who’s settling down in Brooklyn. Her Observer column details her life out here in the wilds of Prospect Heights. She is a gentrifier, always searching for the Next Big Neighborhood, and proud of it too.

In her piece on the Brighton Line, Brydson bases her analysis around the 7th Ave. stop. She writes about how “biggest factor in finding an apartment was its proximity to this train line and especially to the 7th Avenue station.” Southern Brooklyn, she says, “seems to be getting a makeover.”

As she praises the Q and B, she calls these trains more reliable versions of the L, that great symbol of gentrification. We don’t suffer through endless years of construction, inexplicable delays and sluggish rides into and out of Manhattan. Plus, the Q and B, as the L did years ago, are taking people into uncharted territories.

But for all this pomp and circumstance, the Q and the B just aren’t another L train. The Brighton Line travels through some of Brooklyn’s oldest neighborhoods. The train once served Ebbets Field and the countless families who grew up in central Brooklyn, children of immigrants. It stretches into some of the more Orthodox religious communities in the city and extends its tentacles into strong ethnic enclaves in Brighton Beach. It even features some of the city’s best pizza just steps away from the Ave. J stop. While Williamsburg and Bushwick were ripe for development, the neighborhoods along the Q and the B have far deeper roots and much stronger communities than did the stops along the L train.

Now, I love the Q and the B as much as the next person. I ride the B everyday, and the Brighton Line trains, when they show up, offers the fastest ride to and from Manhattan. The trip across the Manhattan Bridge certainly makes for a serene five minutes as well. But perhaps we’re taking this love of the Q and the B a little bit too far.

Outside of the quaint neighborhoods and slice-of-life glimpses the Brighton Line offers, the trains — especially around rush hour — don’t make for a very pleasant commute. Try cramming yourself onto a stuffed Q train at 8:45 a.m. or a Brooklyn-bound B at 6:15 p.m. You can’t without pushing, shoving, cursing under your breath, sucking in your gut and stepping on someone’s toes. The trains don’t score high on the Straphanger Campaign’s cleanliness metrics; and as Flatbush Vegan pointed out, the new trains make for less seating capacity than ever. (The new R160s have more standing room but 120 fewer seats per train than the old R68s.)

When it’s not rush hour and one can actually find a seat, the wait times, particularly when the B isn’t running, often seem interminable. Trains run every 8-20 minutes at nights and on the weekends. When the B is running, the 7th Ave. wait lines shouldn’t be longer than five minutes. But further down the line at the local stops and during off-peak hours, those 20 minutes just drag by.

Like every subway line in the city, the BMT Brighton Line has its special charms. It has a zoetrope in an abandoned station, an earthen embankment section that runs near the site of the worst accident in New York subway history and a great view of the Brooklyn Bridge and New York skyline as it crosses the Manhattan Bridge.

But the line is not some train mecca, and its neighborhoods are more worthy than to be considered the next great frontier in the endless gentrification of New York City’s outer boroughs. Let’s love it — along with its the southern Brooklyn neighborhoods — for what it is and not what Manhattanites priced out of their home borough would like it to be.

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  • Double the pleasure for new buses · The MTA’s double-decker bus prototype made its maiden voyage this morning, and The Daily News’ Matthew Lysiak and Pete Donohue were on board soliciting rider feedback. They found that everone liked it. The only complaints focused around the fact that headroom on the lower level is just 5’11″ and on the upper level a meager 5’7″. This bodes well, at least initially, for the MTA’s plans to bring more of these buses to New York. · (1)

While digging up some background information on my post this morning about the MTA’s anti-terror ad campaigns, I came across a gem of a subway public service announcement on Korey Kay & Partners’ website. KKP has long been the MTA’s go-to advertising agency, and one of its favorite ads to promote comes to us from the dark ages of 1993.

I remember seeing this one in the subways, and at the time it was very appropriate. As you can see above (click here for a larger version), the ad plays on the MTA’s notoriously unreliable public address system. Fifteen years, the MTA swore they were working to improve the PA system. Based on what I hear on the trains and in stations every day, I’m guessing that the PA overhaul is one project not quite there yet.

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As September 11 dawns, the city takes a collective breath. It’s always a little quieter, a little more somber around New York as we all think back to 2001 when nothing made sense.

This year, the MTA has, perhaps coincidentally, released an update to that ubiquitous” anti-terrorism campaign. “Si ves algo, di algo,” our MetroCards exhort us in Spanish. “If you see something, say something.”

In their press release, the MTA is touting is “the next generation” of the See Something/Say Anything ad campaign. No longer content with bragging about the 1944 people who bothered to say anything, the MTA is again pushing the message that unattended packages should be viewed suspiciously. Korey Kay & Partners, the ad campaign contracted to product the creative, has released a few television commercials (here, here and here) and new placards and print ads.

The ads are very reminiscent of the first generation placards. Again, the MTA is focusing on something — a box, a backpack, a suitcase — that is alone on a platform unattended. No one is around to notice it; no one is around to claim it as his or her own. It’s minimalism at its finest.

“The security of our customers is our paramount concern,” MTA Executive Director and CEO Elliot Sanders said. “These new ads remind our customers not to be complacent about what they see around them. They also reinforce the important role our customers play in ensuring the safety of transit users throughout the entire MTA system.”

The MTA also informs the world in their press release that they’ve licensed this catchy awareness slogan to 37 other transit networks around the globe, and in fact, the authority earned a trademark in the phrase last December. But is it an effective slogan?

As I look at the ads and think about the responses the MTA has — or hasn’t — gotten as a result, I wonder if they’re driving the point home hard enough. It’s not easy to associate a forgotten bag with a potential terrorist weapon. We see forgotten bags on the subway all the time, and so far in New York, none of them have blown it. Collectively, we know it can happen; we’ve seen it, on TV and in the papers, in Madrid and London. But those images seem remote to us in New York City where, seven years after the World Trade Center attacks, our city has that false aura of impermeability around it again.

The MTA can’t use scare tactics to convince its customers to report any potential package. With a vast, open system filled with easy access points, due diligence on the part of the riders is a necessity for any anti-terror efforts. But perhaps it’s time to refresh the old “If you see something, say something” refrain. It’s old hat by now, and if it’s one thing New Yorkers manage to look past, old hats are it.

Categories : Subway Security
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As the MTA stares down the barrel of a financial crisis, the agency has, rightfully, adopted a new motto: no fare left behind. As tangible talk of a fare hike swirls, New York City Transit has already beefed up its fare-enforcement efforts, and now the authority is putting Staten Island on notice.

The Staten Island Railway is one of the quirkier aspects of the MTA’s transit network. It runs for 13 miles from the Staten Island Ferry terminal at St. George south to Tottenville. The railway features a daily ridership of around 17,000. And very few of them pay a fare.

The SIR, you see, only has fare-collection points at the ferry terminal and the Staten Island Yankees’ ballpark stop a few blocks away. Otherwise, the ride is free, and many riders enter and exit at Tompkinsville, a half-mile walk away from the ferry terminal.

But those halcyon days will soon be over. As CityRoom reported late last week, the MTA is set to introduce turnstiles at Tompkinsville too. Gone are the free rides. Jake Mooney has the details:

The Tompkinsville station is being renovated to install turnstiles, which means that come next summer, riders will have to pay to get off the train there, too. The closest free stop to the ferry would then be Stapleton, a little over a mile away, and whether people will get off and walk from there is an open question…

John G. Gaul, the chief officer of the railway, provided some background in an interview on Thursday about the decision to add fares at Tompkinsville — a decision that was not greeted too warmly this week.

First, Mr. Gaul said, the shift was motivated, “in large measure, but not totally,” by the desire to get $2 apiece from some of those people who are now getting off the train to avoid paying. That, he said, would yield about $661,000 more in annual revenue — about a 10 percent increase over the line’s current revenue.

Gaul goes on to explain how MetroCards rendered the SIR’s manual, on-board fare collection efforts moot. With the technological advances of the MTA, apparently, they could no longer collect tokens from the riders. Supervision dropped; crime rose; and now the MTA is, eleven years after introducing MetroCards, taking the time to address this problem.

The efforts at Tompkinsville — some HEETs and closed-circuit security cameras — are something of a test run for the rest of the Staten Island Railway. If it succeeds in capturing more revenue, the MTA may expand the pilot program down the line. The only catch is that these renovations are going to cost $6.8 million and result in just, as Mooney reported, an additional $661,000 a year. It’ll take a while for the revenue to pay for the renovations, let alone standard operating costs.

Of course, the riders are begrudgingly accepting of the MTA’s efforts to collect the proper fare, but some of them plan to walk the mile from Stapleton to the ferry. While I admire the exercise and effort at which people will go to avoid the fare, at some point, the $2 — or less with a pay-per-ride discount or Unlimited MetroCard — seems like less of an effort. People will do anything for a buck or two in New York City.

Categories : Staten Island
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