Over the last few weeks, the rather amusing image, at right, from the Daily Kos has made the rounds online. While it’s mostly funny for its portrayal of Sarah Palin as a derailed Thomas The Tank Engine, the image has more than a bit of truth about it when it comes to the presidential candidates and their public transit policies.

To wit, we have a story out of the Washington Post about John McCain’s love — or lack thereof — of public transit. Earlier this week, in the midst of a funding crisis for DC’s WMATA, McCain made a point to vote against a bill that would have provided fiscal relief for the rather beleaguered system affectionately termed America’s Subway by those in the District. Michael Laris reported:

McCain was also one of two dozen senators who voted last week against a bill that included [Congressman Tom] Davis’s proposal to authorize $1.5 billion in dedicated funding to Metro over 10 years. The provision was part of broader rail safety and Amtrak funding legislation.

Davis said that he was disappointed with McCain’s vote but that he thinks McCain’s opposition was directed more at Amtrak.

A statement from the McCain campaign, however, targeted the Metro funding as well as Amtrak. “Senator McCain strongly objects to earmarks in the bill such as a $1.5 billion earmark for the Washington . . . Metro system and questions if this money is warranted above the needs that may exist among other mass transit systems in our country,” the statement says. “With the serious financial situation facing our nation, this [multibillion-dollar] commitment of taxpayers’ dollars can [be] dedicated to addressing far more important national priorities.”

From the campaign’s statement alone, it’s clear that John McCain simply doesn’t understand the role transit plays in our national economy. It’s not a stretch to say that New York City and Washington, DC, are such vital, important cities because of their transit networks. If bankers in New York had to drive into the Big Apple everyday and couldn’t enjoy Metro-North, the Long Island Rail Road or New York City Transit, New York just wouldn’t be a financial hub. The same holds for DC.

While the economy is hurting for various other reasons right now, avoiding investment in transit won’t help those “far more important national priorities.” In fact, as I noted yesterday, transit should be one of those important national priorities.

A few weeks ago, City Hall, a monthly focused on New York politics, called for a national transit bailout. John McCain would rather bailout everything else other than transit, and as we know, without investment in infrastructure, the rest of the economy will suffer.

I hate to bring partisan politics into this blog too often. By it’s very nature, it’s a partisan site in favor of pro-transit investment that should pressure drivers to avoid unnecessary car rides. But right now, it’s safe to say that if transit is a key issue for any voter in this campaign — and considering the state of the MTA, New Yorkers should focus on this — John McCain is not the right candidate for the job.

We need proactive solutions to our transit funding problems. The WMATA and the MTA play too vital a role in our country and are in too deep a hole to get out on their own.

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The MTA is not immune from the nation’s current economic woes. According to a story with alarming consequences in today’s Daily News, the transit agency could be facing a budget crisis when and if its debt payments increase due to rising interest rates.

Pete Donohue has the details:

Skyrocketing interest rates caused by the Wall Street meltdown could raise the MTA’s annual payments by tens of millions of dollars above what was anticipated in its budget plans, experts told the Daily News.

The latest financial headache for the debt-heavy Metropolitan Transportation Authority comes as the authority faces a huge 2009 budget gap and is trying to avoid service cuts. “The potential impact could be significant,” one expert said.

The best-case scenario would be for government bailout efforts to free up credit and lower interest rates soon. “If that happens soon – very soon – our budget target for interest cost has a prayer of being met,” said Doreen Frasca, chairwoman of the MTA’s transit committee and the founder of a financial services firm.

The MTA issued a statement to Donohue about potential debt payment problems, and while the agency has stabliized some long-term bonds, short-term, variable-rate certificates pose a problem. “The situation is in such flux that the full impact on our bottom line cannot yet be assessed,” the statement said.

In short, the MTA could be facing a massive budget crisis if their debt payment plans don’t steady. The agency will not have the money it needs to pay off its massive debt, and if creditors call in the money, bankruptcy would be the worst case scenario.

While the federal government is busy bailing out investment banks and financial institutes that made a number of unnecessarily risky investments, will they extend the courtesy to institutions like the MTA whose long-term financial health is just as vital to our economy as the failing banks? I doubt it.

Categories : MTA Economics
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With the news late yesterday that Ronald Lauder, the champion of New York City term limits, now supports Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts at overturning the term limits, four more years of a Mayor Bloomberg seems almost inevitable. While my mom, among others, is rather outraged as this news from a populist perspective, the transit buff in me is thrilled with the idea that Janette Sadik-Khan could be around for a few more years.

Sadik-Khan is the current head of the city’s Department of Transportation. The department has long been car-friendly and seemingly anti-transit in its policies. With Sadik-Khan behind the helm, NYCDOT has vastly increased the bike lane mileage in the city and has ushered in an unprecedented era of cooperation between DOT and the MTA.

Last week, when I spoke with New York City Transit President Howard Roberts, he praised Sadik-Khan for her approach to transit. While in the post, the two agencies worked together in an atmosphere of what Roberts called “grudging cooperation,” under Sadik-Khan, the partnership between DOT and the MTA has been “extraordinary,” he said.

Tops on that list of course is the debut of bus rapid transit — or as the MTA calls it, Select Bus Service — in New York City. With preboarding measures and dedicated lanes, DOT and New York City Transit are trying their hardest to speed up notoriously slow bus service in New York City. It is, as Roberts said, “the real future on the bus side.”

It hasn’t all been wine and roses though for Select Bus Service. When David Gantt killed a potential home-rule BRT enforcement measure, the MTA and DOT had start from scratch and figure out how to initiate effective lane enforcement. “That hurt a lot,” Roberts said.

But over the next few years — and even longer if Bloomberg pulls off another reelection — DOT and the MTA are aiming to expand this bus service. The two agencies have their eyes on the East Side. As Roberts related, they would like to give two lanes to buses along 5th Ave., and in fact, studies have found that car traffic flows better if buses have their own lanes along the avenue as well. With less interference from buses that are unwieldy and slow to accelerate, cars can move uninterrupted.

In the end, I’m on the fence with regards to this term limit issue. The term-limit foes should put this vote to a referendum, but at the same time, the last vote on term limit was skewed by the fact that term-limit proponents outspent and had the resources to outcampaign the term-limit foes by a significant amount. On another level, I would welcome four more years of pro-mass transit policies from the Bloomberg Administration, and we’ll probably get just that.

Categories : Buses
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  • A $50-million paint job · The MTA’s painting efforts haven’t gotten much positive press over the last few years. First, the agency couldn’t figure out how to spend $50 million on painting their decaying stations. Then, they announced that the paintings would proceed at a pace that would take 39 years to cover every station. Now that the high-priced paint job is under way, just how is the MTA faring? Friend-of-SAS Beehive Hairdresser explored the newly-painted 77th St. station in Bay Ridge and came away less than impressed. His pictures reveal a station still in need of a few more coats. Perhaps it’s all just a work in progress. · (3)

Elliot Sander, the MTA’s current CEO and executive director, hasn’t had an easy go of things over the last two years. As the economy has crashed, Sander, one of the foremost experts on transit policy, has battled a state too stingy to issue adequate funding for mass transit while overseeing a system taxed to capacity and in need of expansion.

In March, while battling debt problems that could shake the MTA to its financial core, Sander showed that he had not lost sight of the future. During his first annual State of the MTA, Sander unveiled a set of very ambitious expansion plans. While the MTA is unlikely to realize the totality of this plan, Sander’s vision showed that the current MTA leadership is looking ahead while dealing with unmanageable problems in the present. Gone are the days of Peter Kalikow.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I happened upon this piece on Newsday’s Viewsday blog. State Senator John Flanagan, a Republican from East Northport, has issued a vote of no confidence in Sander. Anne Michaud, a member of the Long Island paper’s opinions staff, writes:

In a recent meeting with Newsday’s editorial board, state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), said that Metropolitan Transportation Authority chief executive Elliot Sander should not keep his job. The senator was responding to a question about whether Sander is working out, after nearly two years at the helm. Flanagan said, “No. [But] that’s a management decision for the MTA board.”

…Flanagan said he does not think the MTA has made the case for more public money to fund its capital plan, which at last estimate came in at around $30 billion. The senator contrasted the MTA with the Port Authority, whose new director, Christopher Ward, is a “breath of fresh air.” In the interview, Flanagan, a member of the MTA Capital Program Review Board, also knocked Ward’s predecessor, Anthony Shorris, as “a disgrace.”

It’s really tough for me to imagine which political reality Flanagan currently occupies. Time and again, Sander has made the case in public for more state contributions to the MTA’s budget. Time and again, he has been rebuffed by the same state legislative body of which Flanagan is a member. Elliot Sander and the MTA don’t want to have to raise fares every two years, but the state has left them with no choice.

I can imagine a not-too-distant future in which more state representatives start dumping on Sander. After all, it’s much easier to blame the guy in charge of the MTA for the authority’s problems than it is to admit to your constituents that you, their elected State Senator, is responsible for yet another fare hike because you opted against congestion pricing, real enforcement of bus rapid transit lanes or any number of measures that would beef up transportation in the New York Metropolitan Area.

I’m sure there are ways in which Sander could be doing better, but considering all he has to deal with and what little he has to work with, Sander remains the right man for the job. Flanagan, a member of the State Senate committee that sunk congestion pricing, has long wanted to overhaul MTA oversight, and his position on the CPRB allows him to do just that. But by undermining Sander’s authority in an appropriate way, he is clearly missing the mark.

Categories : MTA Politics
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Last week, I journeyed down to Lower Manhattan for a session with Howard Roberts. The New York City Transit President graciously agreed to an interview, and we touched on all sorts of topics. Over the next few days, I’ll delve into the conversations he and I had. Today, we start with the trash.

The day before my meeting, clean subway stations were all the rage. The Daily News had just released its findings about the cleanliness of the subway system, and the paper reported that it would take a $100 million investment to ensure a clean subway system. On the surface, it seems like a daunting figure, but New York City Transit is committed to a cleaning program.

The agency is trying to determine what it really takes to clean stations, cars and the track bed. Those in charge want to present what Roberts called “a station that is clean and in a state of reasonable preparedness.” No will deny that the system has a long way to go to reach that point, but it remains a manageable priority.

“Wherever I can find a few extra cleaners, we’ll put them” into dirty stations, Roberts said. “We’ll get one station up at a time and go from there.”

Roberts hopes that the line manager system will allow him more flexibility and opportunity to insert cleaners into the system. The MTA knows that they don’t have enough money in the capital program to rehabilitate the stations that need it; they know they don’t have enough people to fix and clean everything. But New York City Transit, as an agency, has a budget over $5 billion. In that regard, a $100 million investment in cleanliness is a two percent drop in the bucket.

Through the new general manager program — one that Roberts hopes will better bring rider demands to the attention of the people at the MTA who can fulfill those desires — line general managers will be evaluated on a set of standards. Included in those standards will be station cleanliness. As the general managers grow to understand their lines, it will ideally become easier to assign the resources to the stations that need it. Perhaps we’ll see cleaner stations sooner rather than later.

Before leaving the issue of cleanliness behind, I brought up a familiar refrain. What can the MTA or the police do to encourage people to take responsibility for themselves and throw out their trash in the appropriate bins? The vast majority of riders tune out the PSAs, and I mentioned an approach similar to the one in use in DC in which cops ticket people for eating on the system. Roberts knows that this is a hot-button issue that could easily erupt.

“At this point in time, we are looking at the all possibilities,” he said. “But there would be a large public response” to any attempts to change the rules.

It’s all about practicality and knowledge at New York City Transit right now. The agency knows the stations could be cleaner, and the people in charge want to do something about it within the constraints of the budget. There’s hope yet for a cleaner system.

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Oct
06

Subway delays picking up

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Today hasn’t been the best day of the year for me. I just wrapped up two hours spent dealing with a TimeBridge e-mail sent to every single one of my Gmail contacts. Prior to that, however, I had a lovely Monday morning commute.

Arriving at the 7th Ave. stop in Brooklyn at around 8:30 a.m., hordes of people standing on the platform greeted me. This should have been a warning sign, but when a B pulled up a few minutes later, I eagerly smushed myself into the packed car. I needed to get to class post haste, and the train had just enough room for me. After pulling in to De Kalb Ave., we sat for longer than normal, and once in the tunnel approaching the Manhattan Bridge, the dreaded announcement came.

“Due to a sick passenger at 7th Ave. in Manhattan, this train will be going up the Broadway line,” intoned the conductor. Why couldn’t she tell us this before leaving De Kalb? As we crossed the bridge, I spied a B train just sitting on the Sixth Ave. side, facing an interminable red signal. At Canal St., I switched to an uptown R and made it to class just a few minutes late.

Little was I surprised then upon scanning the daily headlines to come across a story on the increasing number of subway delays in The Post. While a sick passenger is hardly the same as an avoidable delay, the news is alarming nonetheless. Reports Bill Sanderson:

New Yorkers’ subway commutes have slowed significantly over the last three years, according to the latest NYC Transit data. The city is still far from the 1970s bad old days of broken-down, graffiti-scarred trains – but the downward trend in the quality of subway service is unmistakable.

Through June, the number of delayed trains is up an average 24 percent from two years earlier, and 71 percent from three years earlier. And the distance trains travel without breaking down was down 7 percent in July from two years earlier, and 17 percent from three years earlier.

Subway bosses blame the problems on more track work, heavy ridership, and less money for maintaining cars.

In other words, if your ride seems slower than it used to, that’s because it is, and this problem figures to get worse before it gets any better.

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During the hullabaloo over the fully-wrapped Shuttle last week, MTA CEO and Executive Director sneaked in an interesting tidbit about the agency’s future advertising plans. According to the MTA head honcho, the agency is seriously considering offering up station sponsorship packages to willing advertisers.

Pete Donohue of The Daily News reported this development late last week:

MTA CEO Elliot Sander said the MTA is mulling the “complicated issue” of having corporations “adopt” or sponsor subway stations for a price.

“It’s something we are looking at potentially for the future,” Sander said. “It’s incumbent on the MTA to look at all possible avenues to increase revenues given the financial challenges we have.”

In the past, transit officials have described station adoption as an arrangement that could involve granting a corporation certain exclusive rights, like controlling ads there.

This is not a new idea. In fact, I first suggested this rather unoriginal idea back in July of 2007, and I will stand by my words. The subways have never been a pristine, ad-free environment. In fact, from the day the IRT first opened in 1904, the walls were adorned with ads. Even then, the system’s operators knew that fare revenue alone would not sustain the system.

Today, this idea makes even more sense. The MTA could sell high-traffic stations to top corporate clients who would then be free to brand the stations, respectfully, as they see fit. Not every space of wall needs to have a Disney ad at Times Square, but if every ad in the station were a Disney ad, the MTA could stand to draw in a pretty penny. The issue of naming rights, of course, opens up a whole different can of worms.

Advertising, of course, is but one way the MTA could start licensing aspects of their stations. A few months ago, the NYC Transit Riders Council suggested a modified adopt-a-station program. While the MTA shouldn’t necessarily outsourcing station maintenance programs, the agency needs the money. It might not be pretty; some people might complain; but, as they say, money is money. If it takes some more advertising, I won’t complain.

Categories : MTA Economics
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Oct
03

Weekend service changes

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Sorry for the delay in getting these up. I passed out for few hours this afternoon after a rather long week. We’re still well before midnight. So these changes aren’t in place yet. It’s a busy weekend, but basically, the changes are as they always are.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, 2 and 3 trains run local between 96th and Chambers Streets due to 96th Street station rehabilitation.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, free shuttle buses replace 2 trains between 241st and East 180th Streets due to track, structural, and steel work north of East 180th Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, there are no 4 trains between Utica Avenue and Brooklyn Bridge due to conduit and cable work. The 3 and a special J train provide alternate service.


From 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, October 4, Manhattan-bound 4 trains skip Mosholu Parkway and Bedford Park Blvd. due to installation of the 3rd rail connection between Woodlawn and Bedford Park Blvd.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, there are no 5 trains between 149th and East 180th Streets due to track, structural and steel work above East 180th Street. Customers should take the 2 instead.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, there are no 5 trains between 42nd Street-Grand Central and Bowling Green due to conduit and cable work. The 4 and a special J train provide alternate service.


From 4 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday, October 5, Flushing-bound 7 trains skip 33rd, 40th, 46th, 52nd, 69th, 74th, 82nd, 90th, 103rd, and 111th Streets due to track panel installation between 74th Street and 82nd Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5 a.m. Sunday, October 5, there is no C train service. Customers should take the A instead. Manhattan-bound A trains run local from Euclid Avenue to Broadway Junction, then express to Utica Avenue. Trains resume local service to 168th Street. Brooklyn-bound A trains run local from 168th to West 4th Streets, then on the F line to Jay Street where trains resume local service to Euclid Avenue. These service changes are due to Chambers Street Signal Modernization.


From10 p.m. Friday, October 3 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, Bronx-bound D trains skip 170th, 174th-175th, and 182nd-183rd Streets due to electric cable installation.


From 12:01 a.m. to 6 a.m. Saturday, October 4 and Sunday, October 5 (and the following weekend Oct. 11-13), Brooklyn-bound DN trains run express from Pacific to 36th Streets due to rail installation south of 36th Street.


From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, Queens-bound E trains run local from Queens Plaza to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue due to a track-chip out north of Queens Plaza.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 3 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, Manhattan-bound E trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to Queens Plaza due to a track-chip out north of Queens Plaza.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 3 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, Manhattan-bound F trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to 21st Street-Queensbridge due to a track chip-out north of Queens Plaza.


From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, Queens-bound F trains run local from 21st Street-Queensbridge to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue due to a track chip-out north of Queens Plaza.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, downtown F trains skip 23rd and 14th Streets due to conduit and cable work.


From 8:30 p.m. Friday, October 3 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square due to a track chip-out north of Queens Plaza. Customers should take the E or R instead.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, 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, October 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, Manhattan-bound Q trains skip Neck Road and Avenue U due to station rehabs.

Categories : Service Advisories
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The new sexual harassment PSA comes in both Spanish and English. (Click for the enlarged bilingual version.)

Just a few weeks after debuting its first anti-groping PSA campaign, the MTA is set to expand their efforts at combating sexual harassment underground.

“After much thought and discussion on the subject, we have come up with a message that we feel sets the right tone and provides customers with the information they need to respond to this type of criminal behavior,” New York City Transit President Howard Roberts said.

The new campaign features the bilingual ad shown above and a brochure that MTA employees and NYPD officers will distribute in the system beginning on Monday. The brochure contains a clear and concise set of instructions reminding people to be aware of their surroundings and to assume that, if they feel they are being touched, then they probably are being touched. The MTA also urges potential victims to seek out the nearest police officer or MTA employee to report the problem.

“NYPD officers assigned to the subways have helped drive crime down to record lows in recent years with the help of the riding public,” NYPD Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said. “The Police Department is determined to continue crime suppression, including sexual-related crime and misconduct, with the public’s continued cooperation and with the aid of NYC Transit’s important informational campaign.”

Categories : MTA
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