Last months, after the Doomsday winds died down the MTA could look toward a steadier short-term future, Capital Construction President Micheal Horodniceanu issued an aggressively bold schedule for the oft-delayed Fulton St. Hub. He guaranteed a 2014 completion date for the project now nearly 100 percent over budget. “What I present today, I stand by. I expect you to hold me accountable to it,” he said nearly three weeks ago.

Earlier this week, at the Community Board 1 meeting, Horodniceanu repeated his claims. While the project should have been wrapped up two years ago, it will open on schedule in 2014. “We’re back on track,” he said. “By the time we’re done, you’re going to have one of the most elegant stations in the system.”

Matt Dunning of The Tribeca Trib, a Lower Manhattan community paper, had more from the meeting:

Speaking before Community Board 1’s World Trade Center Redevelopment Committee on June 8, Horodniceanu said most of the planned improvements to the station would be finished by the end of 2012. “This is by no means one project,” he said. “What you’re going to see is a progressive roll-out of customer benefits as we go along. The important part is that we’ve reached a consensus on cost and schedule.”

Two pieces of the massive station reconstruction are already finished. The agency unveiled an improved 2/3 platform in 2006, and a new entrance to the 4/5 Train on the east side of Broadway at Maiden Lane in 2007. Horodniceanu said he expected the northbound platform of the Cortlandt Street R/W station—closed in 2005 due to construction on the World Trade Center site—to reopen in December 2009.

More improvements to the station, including a new William Street entrance and easier connection between the A/C and 4/5 Trains, would be complete in 2011, Horodniceanu said. The new Dey Street entrance and concourse that will eventually connect the station to the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, as well as a rehabilitated 4/5 platform would be done 2012…

The new transit center is designed to, piece by piece, replace the labyrinth of ramps and stairways that make up the current Fulton Street station. A balcony of retail stores will encircle the main concourse of the new station, one level below the street at Broadway and Fulton, with direct access to the 4/5 Train platforms. The A/C platforms and the Dey Street concourse will be on the level below. The main concourse will be housed in a four-story, glass-and-steel “head house” topped with an angled, cone-shaped dome to allow natural light to reach even the lowest levels of the complex.

For now, we are left with construction updates. MTA officials warn that the agency won’t begin award retail licenses for another three years despite interested tenants, and considering the pace of the project so far, this schedule remains ambitious.

With much of the money, however, coming from the federal government, I believe this project has reached a tipping point. The funds are there, and the political pressure will be on the MTA to get it built. For now, I have to remain cautiously optimistic, but when word of a delay or budget problems come down, I won’t be surprised.

Categories : Fulton Street
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The latest from William Neuman is an odd tale indeed. According to The Times, New York City Transit officials are backtracking in a way on their decision earlier this year to eliminate an emergency response team.

A dedicated emergency response team for the subway — trained to help police officers and firefighters confront transit emergencies — was eliminated by New York City Transit this spring as officials overrode concerns of the agency’s safety experts.

The seven-member unit was created to address shortcomings that had become apparent after a series of bungled responses to fires and other incidents in the subway system, and it had won praise during its 13 months of existence for improving communication among police, fire and transit officials at emergencies.

Yet the agency’s leaders, including its president, Howard H. Roberts Jr., deemed the response team unnecessary. They compared the unit to Maytag repairmen, saying it was rarely used… When the unit was eliminated in March, it was replaced by the same much-criticized system that had been in use before the team was created.

But after first defending the change, Mr. Roberts now acknowledges that it was mishandled, saying that the response team should not have been eliminated before a better system was fully in place.

He said that no analysis was done of the unit’s effectiveness before it was disbanded. He said that neither he nor the agency’s vice president for subways, Steven A. Feil, had looked at basic data on the unit’s performance, like the number of incidents it responded to, until last week when the information was requested by The New York Times. That data showed that the unit had responded to hundreds of incidents, large and small.

Neuman’s piece goes in depth on the elimination of this team, and Transit is taking the heat for downplaying the response team’s effectiveness. “I think that the basic thing that went wrong here was that people wanted you to go away,” Roberts said to Neuman, who earlier this year had poked around the situation.

In the article, Neuman tracks the creation and subsequent elimination of a team designed to streamline how Transit handles underground emergency situations. While MTA officials said that the team was underutilized, current numbers show an average of two emergency response efforts per day. Roberts plans to reestablish the team once the new Line Manager program is full implemented this fall.

I wonder how the agency, with its public image largely battered after the Doomsday budget debacle, will handle this latest revelation from The Times.

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  • Study: Saving through transit · In 17 days, New Yorkers will have to suffer through another fare hike, and straphangers are bound to complain about the 8 percent increases. Little do we realize how, according to one study, we have it good in our car-less lives of subway commutes. Last month, the American Public Transportation Association issued a report claiming that those who eschew automobiles for the pleasures of public transit can save an average of $8000 a year. According to the results of the survey, New Yorkers who use transit have the second highest rate of savings in the country. Our savings come in at $1049 montly and $12,589 annually.

    In terms of methodology, the APTA looked at local transit rates for a monthly ride pass and compared the total to gas, parking, insurance and car maintenance costs. When I owned a car, I don’t believe I spent $12,000 on it a year. However, I do not doubt the conclusion that, in urban areas, mass transit commuters maximizing their savings by riding rather than driving. · (3)

These pay phones might not work for phone calls, but they make great bagel holders. (Photo by pizza guru and flickr user Adam Kuban)

Every year, the Straphangers Campaign conducts a random test of pay phones through the subway system, and every year, the results come back about the same. Approximately a quarter of all subway pay phones are out of order at a given time. Some stations have more functioning pay phones than others, and overall, the rider advocacy group urges the MTA to repair its broken phones.

This year’s survey features some improvement, at least on the surface. As the group announced yesterday, in one survey of 921 phones at 100 randomly selected stations, 26 percent of the phones were found to be out of service. While the group touts this as “a modest improvement” over the 2007 rate of 29 percent, the margin of error is 4 percent and basically negates the improvement. Another survey of 638 pay phones as the 25 most heavily-trafficked subway stations found 23 percent of the phones to be out of order.

The Straphangers further broken down their survey to determine just how subway pay phones are out of order. Topping the charts with 24 percent of the share of broken phones were those with no dial tone. A problematic coin return encompassed 23 percent of non-function pay phones while 18 percent saw the coin fall through the phone. A bad handset — I’m not sure how detailed the Straphangers should get there — accounted for 16 percent. Another 11 percent could not connect to a 1-800 number, and eight percent suffered from a blocked coin slot.

Two items of note though popped up during the Straphangers’ own survey. First, the advocacy organization notes that their findings conflict with Transit’s own Passenger Environment Survey. NYCT’s internal metrics claim that 93 percent of all subway pay phones are functioning at any given time. However, an independent pay phone audit conducted by a third party at the request of Transit found 25 percent to be out of service.

The Straphangers point to methodology as the root of these numerical discrepancies. The PES surveys, says the Straphangers’ press release, are “less thorough. Surveyors do not perform a coin drop to test the phones, rating telephones as functioning if the surveyor notes an undamaged handset and is able to contact a specific 1-800 test number.”

Finally, the Straphangers pinpoint contractual issue that may be hindering pay phone performance. Verizon is the MTA’s phone service provide, and according to the press release, prior Verizon contracts required that 95 percent of all pay phones be “fully operative and in service at all times.” The current contract though calls up on Verizon to “exercise good-faith effort to clear 95% of all known troubles within 24 hours.”

It would certainly be an interesting study to chart the MTA’s and Verizon’s efforts to repair a pay phone after one reports it to them. Perhaps the next time I notice a broken pay phone, I’ll see if the agency and its contractor really can repair it within 24 hours.

In the end, this survey is nothing new. Pay phones have long been unreliable under the best of circumstances, and the subways are hardly the best of circumstances. With the MTA years away from realizing underground cell phone service, though, we are stuck with using those grimy, gritty, gross pay phones. That is, as long as they work.

Categories : MTA Technology
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Up in Albany, the Senate doors remain locked, and Malcolm Smith may be gearing up to file suit against the state Republicans. It is, in other words, a good old fashioned political deadlock with no clear end in sight.

As New York is coming to grips with its paralyzed State Senate, we’re still trying to discern how this shift in leadership will impact the MTA. The long-term outlook remains cloudy, but Pete Donohue in today’s Daily News speculates on the leadership void at the agency.

At the end of May, as part of the conditions of the Albany rescue plan, Elliot Sander stepped down as CEO and executive director of the authority. Since then, Helena Williams has been filling in on an interim basis, and with Albany in turmoil, she may be there for a while. As Donohue notes, the Senate will have to confirm any Paterson nominee before its scheduled summer adjournment on June 22.

Since the Senate will first have to reconvene, receive a nomination and then schedule confirmatin hearings, it is highly doubtful the MTA will have a permanent leader within the next 12 days. “Until there’s a Senate prepared to start confirmation hearings, I would think the process has to stop, temporarily at least,” Richard Ravitch said to the News. “Would you want it announced you were taking a job subject to confirmation that might not happen for six months? Your current employer would be pretty upset.”

The MTA will need a leader soon. The agency faces tough decisions over the future of its capital plan and the reality of a shaky economic foundation. Williams is a solid choice for interim head, but the longer this drama in Albany drags on, the more the MTA, with its uncertain leadership structure, will suffer. One thing is for sure: It’s never a boring day when New York politics are involved.

Categories : MTA Politics
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  • SAS construction blamed for UES building evacuation · Late last week, The Launch Box posted some photos of a Vacate order posted by the Department of Buildings at 1772 Second Ave. Today, The Post reports that vibrations from the Second Ave. subway construction are to blame. According to reports, the ongoing construction around Second Ave. and the low 90s has cracked the façade at 1772, and officials fear the building’s structural integrity could be at stake.

    On Saturday, the building was evacuated, and residents and local business owners are blaming the SAS construction. The MTA, according to spokesman Jeremy Soffin, is “closely monitor vibrations, which remain at acceptable levels.” Meanwhile, the building has a DOB record of structural complaints dating back to 1989. Make of that what you will. · (2)

For a long time, New Yorkers have been waiting for the debut of communications-based train control. Long promised for the L line, the automated control of trains should speed up travel and subway efficiency while increasing the number of trains the MTA can run per hour on one of the system’s most popular lines.

While the project has faced numerous obstacles — including the objections of union leaders who don’t want to see an automated system replace their union members — the MTA had been running live overnight tests of the system along the L line since February. Recently, the agency had increased the test runs to a 12-hour period starting at 7 p.m., but all has not been wine and roses though for Transit’s test case.

As Heather Haddon reports today, a few technical glitches have led trains to miss station platforms by a few feet. When a train does that, Transit regulations require that it move on to the next station, and some straphangers have missed their stops. She reports:

Running the L line on autopilot at night is causing trains to shoot past platforms, forcing straphangers to miss their stops, motormen and union officials said.

Because of the software fluke, drivers have to travel to the next station to let passengers off, according to the officials.

One Brooklyn mailroom worker, who didn’t want to be identified, said he was late for work repeatedly for several weeks after the L train missed his stop in Bushwick.

“It’s not perfected yet. It’s not working. And it’s definitely not cost-effective,” Keith Harrington, union vice chairman for train operators, said of the $326 million system.

This isn’t the first time technical problems have popped up in regards to the CBTC program. Last month, I wrote about jerking motions and breaking problems aboard the CBTC trains. What is interesting this month, however, is Haddon’s sourcing.

In this article, the complaints about the CBTC program come from “motormen and union officials.” These are the same people who stand to lose their jobs if and when CBTC is deemed a success. As the MTA plans to start running it in Queens soon as well, train drivers may have a reason to fear for their employment future.

For Transit’s part, spokesman Charles Seaton said the problem, according to Haddon, “does not impair passenger safety” and will be solved soon. It should be. CBTC, after all, is a technology whose time has come.

Categories : MTA Technology
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Playing off a piece on Beliefnet, last week, we discussed the ethics of using the emergency exit to speed up travel times out of a crowded station. While it is illegal to use the emergency exit not in an emergency without permission from the station agent, that doesn’t stop too many straphangers.

On Friday, in the second part of her series look at the ethics of subway riding, Hillary Fields examined more bad behavior on the subway. She and Beliefnet Entertainment Editor Dena Ross put together a list of the worst subway offenders. My favorites:

The Big-Backpack-Wearer: This offender, often a tourist, a young student, or an oblivious yuppie, sports a gigantic knapsack, usually positioning himself or herself in the middle of a subway car (or worse, the door–see The Door-Blocker), getting in the way of all who traverse the crowded train.

Proper Subway Etiquette: Remove the knapsack from your back and hold it at your side. I don’t care if your arm hurts. Put it on the floor next to you if you must (gag!) but don’t be inconsiderate by blocking people from moving around. I’m not an expert on fire hazards, but I’m thinking big back packs are one of them…

The Door-Blocker: Despite signs all over the subway cars advising against it for safety reasons, these riders prefer standing against the door and refuse to move out of the way for people entering and leaving the subway. These inconsiderate losers are the bane of my existence.

Proper Subway Etiquette: Move out of the way! If for whatever reason you find myself stuck at the door with a number of people looking to get off (and onto) the train at a given stop, get off the train along with those exiting, making sure to stay close to the door. This ensures that everyone exits the train in a semi-orderly fashion, without having to step around you. Plus, you’ll be one of the first ones to enter the train. You deserve it for being so courteous!

The Music-Sharer: I’ve really got to thank you Mr. DJ, for playing your crap music (is it your band?) so loud on your iPod that I, and the entire subway car, are forced to listen to your tunes (if we’re luckily, we get to hear it on repeat! Yay!) Here’s a little secret, even if I like the music you’re playing–maybe I’m even mouthing along the words–I’m still cursing you under my breath for being a jerk.

Proper Subway Etiquette: If you’re unsure whether your iPod is likely audible to your neighbors, take off your headphones (with the volume on your desired setting) and hold them in front of you. If you can still clearly hear the music, it’s surely disrupting your neighbors when it’s on your ears. If so, turn it down!

The two writers also tackle seat-stealers and people who aren’t discrete in their cell phone use, among others. It’s hard to argue with any of these. The plague of music-sharers has reached epidemic proportions, and as numerous people around my age blast their iPods, I can imagine myself living in a New York City full of deaf 60-somethings in 40 years.

For better or worse, the subway is a microcosm of the way we behave toward others in New York City. Are we considerate on the subway? Do we get out of the way when others need to exit? Do we remember that 50 other people have no desire to hear our music or our cell phone conversations? By and large, New Yorkers manage the subway with perhaps not with grace and aplomb but grudging respect for other straphangers. Those who flaunt the societal rules deserve the wrath of Dena Ross and those who pass judgment on the behavior of others.

Photo of a subway seat hog by flickr user MikeyPics.

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  • Praising the 4 express service · Yesterday morning marked the debut of NYC Transit’s 4 express service in the Bronx. The trial run, set to last until June 26th when it will be reevaluated, features four trains from 7-8 a.m. that skip most Bronx stops. The express trains shave approximately three minutes off of commuters’ travel times and, during day one at least, helped ease congestion on the perennially overcrowded IRT line.

    During the inaugural day of this service, NY1 News spoke to those straphangers who took advantage of the new service, and it earned raves all around. With more room and a speedier ride, what’s not to like? “Express service is definitely much better. Get to work quicker and the local is always crowded. I’d prefer the express to stay,” one rider said.

    I have to praise the MTA for this move. At little cost to the agency, Transit is taking existing unused tracks and adding service over them. This service alleviates overcrowding and provides for a faster ride, and it doesn’t require a significant capital outlay of new tracks, new tunnels or new stations. In fact, it sounds materially similar to the F Express plan for which I had lobbied in 2007. · (5)

For Albany-watchers, Monday’s news of a Republican takeover of the State Senate made an unexpected splash. For now, the Senate is in flux. Malcolm Smith says the legislative body was adjourned when the Republicans+2 staged their coup, and he plans to challenge this takeover in court if necessary.

While the partisan fight is sure to grab headlines all summer, we here at Second Ave. Sagas are far more concerned with the Albany turmoil’s effect on downstate transit. As the Senate and Assembly have already passed the MTA rescue plan, the MTA’s short-term future is secure. The long-term picture remains hazy.

Monday’s surprising turn of events gives me cause to link to a recent piece in The Indypedent explaining why the MTA is broke and broken. The short of it is that due to poor funding choices made by Republicans during the Pataki Administration, the MTA has been saddled with crippling debt payments. As these payments have ballooned, the MTA’s once-lucrative real estate tax revenues have dried up in the market crash. With neither party willing to take the congestion pricing plunge, the MTA is left to beg at the feet of our state representatives.

(For the long version, check out Larry Littlefield’s very comprehensive post on the topic. He breaks it down by revenue and state and federal contributions. The blame lies squarely on George Pataki’s shoulders.)

So where does that leave the MTA today with Republicans primed to take control of the Senate and its future finances looking bleak? For one, split-party government — Sheldon Silver still rules the Assembly — could result in one of two paths: Either bodies will not agree on the future of the MTA or both bodies will take the path of least resistance. Neither option seems all that appealing.

With the Democrats in power in the Senate, the MTA could hold on to the hope that more tax plans could be on the table. Democrats today are far more open to the idea of new taxes than Republicans. With the GOP in control of the Senate though, a payroll tax plan similar to the one approved last month would never pass muster. Already state Republicans are trying to overturn the payroll tax in various counties surrounding New York, and it seems as though the MTA earned that victory just in the nick of time.

Further down the road are concerns that the transit agency will have again return to Albany for more money in another two years. The agency also needs to secure funding to at least issue bonds backing its capital plan. This move would force the authority to take on more debt, but unless Albany is willing to issue a blank check with a substantial ceiling, the alternative is no capital campaign. That would be disastrous.

In this regard, a lot will turn on the outcome of the 2010 gubernatorial campaign as well. If Republicans recapture the governor’s seat and lay claim to the Senate, the MTA will be forced to justify its budgetary problems well beyond what the Democrats demanded this year. In the end, that outcome may actually benefit transit in New York City, but for short-term needs, the MTA may find a G.O.P.-dominated Senate far from sympathetic.

In the end, this state of flux creates a lot of uncertainty surrounding the MTA. The counties outside of New York City feel as though they are being held hostage to the transit authority by this payroll tax, and the G.O.P. leadership is well aware that this rescue plan is not universally accepted. How this drama plays out is anyone’s guess, but I have a sinking suspicion congestion pricing may not be on the horizon anymore.

Categories : MTA Politics
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