The MTA and Siemens have had a rocky relationship. The technology company won the contract to install train arrival boards along the L line and to equip the line with computer-based train control. As those projects are both behind schedule, the two sides have engaged in some finger-pointing in the past.

Now, as New York City Transit tests CBTC-equipped trains on the L line, the two companies are again dealing with some issues concerning the technology. According to an engineering report, the CBTC works as it should with one major exception: The trains suffer through an “uncomfortable jerk” as they pull into stations. Heather Haddon of amNew York has more:

In February, NYC Transit started running some overnight L trains on “automatic train operation,” where a driver simply taps a button as a computer handles most of the driving.

So far, the software may need tweaking to stop the jerking motion, along with braking errors at fast speeds, according to a report prepared by McKissack + Delcan, engineers hired to oversee the MTA’s major projects.

The snafu has not endangered passengers, NYC Transit spokesman Paul Fleuranges said. Siemens Transportation Systems, the contractor, will be held responsible in refining the software, he said.

Union leaders, worried about the potential loss of jobs that completely mechanized trains represent, used these problems to rail against CBTC. Curtis Tate, current head of TWU Local 100, called for an investigation into these problems. “We continue to have serious safety concerns,” he said.

Meanwhile, transit advocates continued to express dismay with the way Siemens has handled its projects. “This has been an ongoing saga,” Karyl Cafiero of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, said to Haddon. “Is this fine tuning going to take a month or six months?”

At some point, CBTC is scheduled to be deployed on the 7 line as well as the L. For now though, with a $28 million contract for 64 cars looming large, the city’s subways are kicking and screaming their way into the 21st Century.

Categories : MTA Technology
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As New Yorkers and the MTA adjust to life in the post-rescue plan era of transit planning, it is worth revisiting and old — and contentious — proposal to fund transit. Lost in the debate over Richard Ravitch’s proposal to toll the East River bridges was another suggestion that Ravitch intentionally did not include in his report: a congestion fee.

Now, we know how this works. The city would charge drivers of all vehicles a certain amount each day to enter Manhattan’s central business district. Generally, this would include all of the island from 60th St. south. The system would be set up by a $350 million grant from the feds — a grant which is still available — and the projected $400-$500 million in revenue would head into the MTA’s coffers for the capital plan.

While many New Yorkers were willing to support this plan, politicians balked at the idea and turned it into a pseudo-populist cause. How would the lower class drivers afford to pay the fee? How would the businessman in for himself afford to pay it?

Never mind that lower class — and middle class and many upper class — residents of New York City don’t even own cars. Never mind that few business owners spend their days driving back and forth from the outer boroughs to Manhattan’s CBD. Never mind that a congestion fee would improve traffic, speed up trips into Manhattan and virtually pay for itself for those few that do. This was not an issue proponents would win with common sense.

But as that TransAlt graphic up there shows, a congestion fee makes far too much sense. It has an environmental and social component; it has an economic component; and it contributes to mass transit expansion. The benefits would far outweigh the costs.

With news that the money from the feds is still out there, a few political commentators and urban planning enthusiasts have been looking at ways to reframe the argument. At FiveThirtyEight, Robert Frank suggested reframing the debate and offer up a cookie in the form of a voucher:

Most people who commute regularly by car into Manhattan are not poor, and most low-income workers in Manhattan already use public transportation for their daily commute. The problem cases are low-income workers who must occasionally drive into the city on weekdays. For such people, congestion fees would indeed constitute a new burden.

But this burden could easily be eliminated by giving every low-income worker in Manhattan an annual allotment of transferable congestion vouchers. On the rare occasions when these workers needed to drive into the city, they could do so free of charge. And they could earn some extra money by selling any vouchers they didn’t need on Craigslist.

Ryan Avent thinks this approach is worth a shot. As Avent notes, “the crucial opposing push came from self-interested drivers, mostly middle and upper income individuals who wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the vouchers.” But there’s something else at play: Albany blocked congestion pricing. As Avent’s readers noted, the City Council, Mayor, MTA and NYC DOT all approved the plan before Sheldon Silver killed it in committee.

So maybe now, it’s time to try again. In the aftermath of the Senate package, it’s clear that the MTA’s capital plan rests on shaky ground. The money that is there will last just two years, and the MTA needs a true source of long-term revenue. Congestion pricing would do just that, and people in the city are far more willing to support it than they are East River bridges.

Soon, in the not-too-distant future, someone in Albany or New York City will have to step up to the plate for the MTA. He or she will have to assemble a group of politicians and planners willing to go out on a limb for transit in one of the most transit-dependent urban centers around the world. Why not now? Why not congestion pricing?

Categories : Congestion Fee
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A construction fence marks the start of the lengthy Culver Viaduct rehab. (Photo for Second Ave. Sagas by Twitter user JeffreyNYC.)

The Culver Viaduct work and the extension of the G train deeper into Brooklyn are two stories near and dear to my heart. I first reported on the potential for increased G service in one of the very first posts on Second Ave. Sagas, and when it looked as though the Culver Viaduct rehab would start in 2007, I examined how the G train extension could just be a temporary service upgrade.

In November 2007, after months of agitating for F express service partly on the basis of the extended G service, I delved into the viaduct plans. At that point, the project had been delayed considerably and was scheduled to start in the fall of 2008.

As budget woes have plagued the MTA and the project has since been pared down, its fate seemed up in the air. Up in the air until this week, that is. As one of my readers noted late last week, a construction fence has gone up on the Viaduct, and starting in July, the G train will finally be extended along the Culver line to a new terminus at Church Ave.

Both The Post and Urbanite reported on this change earlier this week. According to the amNew York blog, the MTA Board has to approve this $2.5 million service extension in advance of the viaduct rehab project.

For now, this move is still billed as a temporary one. The G will gain stops at 4th Ave.-9th St., 7th Ave., 15th St.-Prospect Park, Fort Hamilton Parkway and Church Ave. as well as a transfer to the M and R at 4th Ave.-9th St. The extension will allow for a one-seat ride from Williamsburg and Greenpoint to Park Slope and Windsor Terrace, and if successful, the MTA will consider making it a permanent service extension. Sign me up for that one.

Categories : Brooklyn
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  • Bringing the bell cord back · As a little kid riding the New York City buses in the late 1980s, nothing would bring me more joy that the “Stop Requested” bell cord. With the cord hanging just above my head, I would have to restrain myself from yanking on the cord until my mom gave me permission to produce the familiar “ding” of the Stop Requested sign. As buses have grown more modern, that cord gave way to pushable yellow strips and now buttons in the newest hybrid vehicles. The bell cord was phased out of city buses unceremoniously in 1992.

    Now, though, New York City Transit is reversing course to save money. The push buttons are being phased out and bell cords are back in. Charles Seaton, a Transit spokesman, told The Times that all new buses will feature the pull cord. Currently, 270 buses are equipped with a cord, and the whole fleet is set for this nostalgic retrofitting. According to Seaton, the reintroduction of the bell cord is a cost-saving measure. The yellow strip and button system costs $1056 per bus while a bell cord costs $293 and is easier to repair. In other words, if it ain’t broke and costs too much, don’t fix it.

    Bus history buffs like the retro move too. For these bus aficionados, pushing a button never felt as real as a cord. “When you pulled the cord, you had a general feel — the cord in your hand, you heard the buzzer — of contacting the driver,” Stanley I. Fischler said to The Times’ A.G. Sulzberger. “You feel like you were doing something.” · (10)

David Yassky, center, and Mayor Bloomberg, left, announcing a residential parking plan in 2008. (Photo via flickr user cmyassky)

During the debate over the Ravitch Plan, New York City drivers and their advocates often acting as though free East River Bridges were a constitutional — or at least a God-given — right. How could transit advocates even think of tolling the East River bridges, that bastion of “free” roads? Never mind the tolls on bridges into and out of Staten Island or various points between Manhattan and Queens and the Bronx.

In a similar way, the debate over free on-street parking features much of the same themes. While other cities — Philadelphia, D.C. — have implemented residential parking permit programs, New Yorkers have been loathe to adopt one for dubious grounds. Generally, these programs allow municipalities to charge a rate closer to the market price for convenient parking while filling their coffers for much-needed transit, sidewalk or road improvement projects.

In New York, though, anti-RPPers find interesting and creative ways around the idea. When a program was proposed around three years ago as a way to combat a lack of space, a Brooklyn business association determined that, in Brooklyn Heights, an area saturated with subway lines, there was less than one space for every four registered vehicles. On to the shelf the program went.

Now, though, three New York politicians — Councilman David Yassky, Assembly member Joan Millman and State Senator Daniel Squadron — are at it again. The three Brooklyn Democrats are pushing for another residential parking permit program. This one help fund the MTA while also ensuring drivers a spot close to home. Veronika Belenkaya has more:

If the bill passes, the city and individual neighborhoods would decide whether they want the residential permits, which wouldn’t be allowed on commercial strips and would cover 80% of residential neighborhood streets…

“It’s a real hardship. Anyone who lives here and has a car can’t find parking,” said Brooklyn Heights Association President Judy Stanton.

The current plan, in which the permits would have to be purchased and the revenue would go to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to fund city buses and subways, got a more positive review from the partnership. “If the idea here is to connect drivers and supporting mass transit, that is an interesting approach . . . but the devil is in the details,” said the [Downtown Brooklyn] Partnership’s director, Michael Burke.

While the politicians seem to like this plan for the money it brings in and for the congestion-curing possibilities, the policy wonks don’t agree. Department of Transportation officials feel that an RPP plan can cure congestion only with the help of a congestion fee as well. Without such a plan, we don’t believe this bill will actually solve neighborhood parking problem,” Seth Solomonow, a department spokesman, said.

My only issue with the plan is the projected price point. According to NY1 News, the permits would cost around $50. Considering the true market value of a parking space, the city could charge far more for it. If this plan though can generate more money for the MTA and more money for the city’s transportation coffers, only fear of challenging the free driving mindset will prevent it from becoming a reality.

Update 9:45 a.m.: For a more robust look at Squandron, Millman and Yassky’s efforts than the one presented by the Daily News, browse on over to this Brooklyn Paper article. Mike McLaughlin crunched some numbers from prior reports and notes how, currently, some Brooklyn areas have nearly 700 more cars than spaces.

Any RPP plan also has an added benefit I originally neglected to mention: By requiring permits, the city can make sure that its residents have registered their vehicles in New York City. Right now, due to price discrepancies many short-term New Yorkers keep their registrations active in their native states. It is, as always, all about paying for the resources one uses.

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Oh, those pesky station agents. Last week, in voting down the Doomsday fare hike, the MTA Board noted that station agent cuts remain on the table. As it always does, the topic engendered much discussion about the impact — real vs. perceived — that these agents have on subway safety.

It has long been my take that these agents offer up a deterrent force but don’t actually do much to stop crimes or quality-of-life violations in progress. A potential perp may be less likely to hop a turnstile in plain sight of a station agent, but no one will stop him or her from defacing a poster or littering.

As the MTA gears up to assess the fate of their maroon-vested employees, advocates and politicians are decrying the planned cuts. amNew York’s Heather Haddon has more:

Transit groups and some city officials are blasting the MTA’s plan to shrink the number of station agents roving the system, saying the cut saves little money while putting riders at risk.

In an average year, the red-vested station agents signal for emergency responders 85 times per station, according to the most recent data available from the Straphangers Campaign.

“All the statistics in the world about crime being down is not going to take that fear and concern (about security) away,” said Bobbie Sackman, an advocate with the Council of Senior Center and Services.

According to Haddon, those who oppose the planned cuts — including mayoral hopeful and current comptroller William Thompson — plan to protest on Monday in front of the 77th St. station on Lexington Ave. The MTA has long defending the cuts by noting that every station will have at least one employee on duty at all times. Of course, that’s little consolation for lost passengers if that employee is on the wrong side of, say, Brooklyn’s 4th Ave. in a station with no connection between the downtown and uptown platforms.

The telling part of Haddon’s story though is Sackman’s quote. Crime is down, and station agents seem to ring for emergency responders every four days. We probably won’t find out just how much subway crime will increase until and unless those agents are eliminated. Is that a chance we should be willing to take?

Categories : Service Cuts
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  • March ridership, fare revenue less than expected · As the U.S. economy continued to struggle and shed jobs this spring, the MTA ridership numbers and the agency’s projected revenue suffered in turn. According to today’s Post, New York City lost 86,400 jobs in March, and MTA subway ridership levels were at 2.5 million fewer trips than expected. As such, the authority lost out on around $7.1 million in projected revenue.

    Overall for 2009, ridership levels were down by nearly 4.7 million rides for the first three months of the year as compared to 2008. This decline has led to a budget gap of slightly less than 1.5 percent, as the economy is not expected to rebound fully until 2010, the authority should probably not expect an uptick in these figures for 2009. · (2)

Hot on the heels of Friday’s rather controversial post about the funding and benefits issues facing the MTA, today we have a pair of stories about the dicey fate of MTA employees. We’ll start with the one about conductor-less trains right now and end in a few hours with another tale about the station agents.

Over the weekend, the Daily News reported that, in an effort to save on staffing costs, the MTA is considering cutting train conductors on numerous routes throughout the city. These so-called One Person Train Operations would reduce on-board staffing figures by 50 percent as only the driver would remain. This practice has been in place on lines, such as the G and shuttles, that run smaller cars, and if Transit is to implement this on a wider range, it would be the first reduction of on-board personnel in some time.

As with any publicized personnel cuts, transit advocates and union officials are none too pleased. “Axing the conductor may save the MTA money, but it comes at the expense of the safety and security of the rider,” Gene Russianoff, head of the Straphangers Campaign, said to News reporter Pete Donohue.

Donohue reminds us of another time during which the MTA tried to pull conductors out of trains:

The MTA took conductors off the L line in 2005, but had to put them back after an arbitrator ruled that its contract with Transport Workers Union Local 100 required approval by the union. The following year, the same arbitrator stopped the MTA from taking conductors off G trains on weekdays.

After the second ruling, the MTA stopped putting OPTO plans in its annual budgets and four-year fiscal plans. Sources told The News that the MTA is again seeking the staffing change as a way to save money.

Transit officials have argued in the past that trains can run safely with just a motorman, as police and firefighters quickly respond to track fires and other emergencies. Officials also have argued that train evacuations between stations are infrequent and have been conducted without passengers suffering injuries.

I let those official statements speak for themselves. The cuts are well and good if they save money and eliminate redundant personnel, but the one time Transit needs to run an evacuation, the lack of a conductor will become an issue. Of course, it’s easy to train one person to handle a subway full of panicking passengers, but advocates will always argue for safety in numbers.

The TWU has already begun its defense of the conductors. “Of course, this is one of management’s demands. This is something the MTA has been pursuing the last two or three bargaining rounds and we continue to completely disagree with them,” a Local 100 spokesman said to the News.

In addition to the G and L lines, in the past, the MTA has pegged the J, M and 7 as candidates for conductor-less trains. I say, “Why not?” The safety concerns, while reasonable, seem overblown, and the L line has the technology to run completely unmanned trains. The driverless trains along the Paris Metro’s Line 14 have been a success, and if the MTA can reduce costs by cutting, it is at least a plan to consider.

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Let’s end the week where we started it — with news of fare hikes. This time, we’ll focus on fare hike protests.

The first is close to home. On Monday afternoon at exactly 12 noon, a group of Staten Island drivers plan to protest the Verrazano Bridge toll hike with a little civil disobedience. A Staten Island-based driver is organizing an effort to pay the $10 toll with 1000 pennies.

Various state representatives, all of whom voted against the toll, support this effort. “This protest is a great way for Staten Islanders to show their frustration and send a strong message to Albany that Staten Islanders are tired of being treated like an ATM,” Assemblyman Lou Tobacco said. “I applaud the efforts of protest organizer Scott LoBaido and believe that we need more grassroots efforts like this one, locally and statewide, in order to truly reform New York state government.”

The MTA is ready for it and says that paying the tolls in pennies is not illegal. “We’re sure the bridge staff is going to handle any event professionally and with safety being the highest priority,” Judie Glave from MTA Bridges and Tunnels said.

Meanwhile, State Senators from Duchess, Orange, Putnam and Rockland counties are convening a task force of area residents who want more service from the MTA. The task force will put together a list of specific service enhancements that those in the area wish to see.

“The MTA tax is unfair, unreasonable and unequally distributed” State Senator William Larkin said. “This task force will give the Hudson Valley the voice to be heard in New York City and bring our transit needs into the open for discussion and future action. If they expect businesses to pay for services that the vast majority don’t use, they had better make room at the table to hear our concerns.”

I would imagine the upstate Senators will be far more successful in their efforts than the Staten Island residents will be. Now on to the service advisories:

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, uptown 2 and 3 trains run local from Times Square-42nd Street to 96th Street due to a track dig-out north of 50th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, downtown 23 trains run local from 96th Street to Chambers Street due to a track dig-out north of 50th Street. Note: Overnight, downtown 3 trains run local from 96th Street to Times Square-42nd Street.

From 3:30 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 11 p.m. Sunday, May 17, free shuttle buses replace 3 trains between Utica Avenue and New Lots Avenue due to track panel installation south of Van Siclen Avenue and switch work south of Junius Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16, to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, 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 4 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 10 p.m. Sunday, May 17, 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 16 to 10 p.m. Sunday, May 17, the last stop for some Bronx-bound 6 trains is 3rd Avenue due to track panel installation between Morrison-Sound View Avenues and St. Lawrence Avenue.

From 4 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday, May 16, Manhattan-bound 7 trains run express from Willets Point to Queensboro Plaza due to track panel installation.

From 4:30 a.m. to 12 noon, Sunday, May 17, there are no 7 trains between Times Square-42nd Street and Queensboro Plaza due to rail work along the Davis Street curve. The N and free shuttle buses provide alternate service.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, Brooklyn-bound A trains run local from 168th Street to West 4th Street, then on the F line to Jay Street, then resume local service to Euclid Avenue due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization Project.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, Manhattan-bound A trains run local from Euclid Avenue to Broadway-Junction, then express to Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts., then resume local service to 168th Street due to track repairs.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16, to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, there are no C trains running due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization Project. Customers should take the A instead.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, May 15, to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, free shuttle buses replace trains between 205th Street and Bedford Park Blvd. due to a track chip out north of Bedford Park Boulevard.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, Coney Island-bound D trains run on the N line from 36th Street to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue due to work at the 38th Street Yard.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, Manhattan-bound E and R trains run express from Roosevelt Avenue to Queens Plaza due to rail vent maintenance.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, Jamaica-bound E and F trains run local from Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to a track chip out north of Grand Avenue.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, May 15 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, Manhattan-bound E and F trains run local from Forest Hills-71st Avenue to Roosevelt Avenue due to a track chip out north of Grand Avenue.

From 12:01 a.m. to 12 noon, Saturday, May 16 and Sunday, May 17, Manhattan-bound F trains skip Ft. Hamilton Parkway, 15th Street-Prospect Park and 4th Avenue due to pump equipment rehabilitation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, Queens-bound F trains run on the V from 47th-50th Streets to Roosevelt Avenue due to maintenance work on insulators and cables along the track.

From 12:01 a.m. to 12 noon, Saturday, May 16, Manhattan-bound F trains skip 169th Street, Sutphin and Van Wyck Blvds. due to track drain installation.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, May 15 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, there is no G train service between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers should take the E or R instead.

From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 16 and Sunday, May 17, Queens-bound J trains skip Hewes Street, Lorimer Street and Flushing Avenue due to installation new ties along the track.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, the last stop for some Coney Island-bound N trains is Kings Highway due to track repair near Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, N trains run local between 59th Street-4th Avenue and Pacific Street due to subway tunnel rehabilitation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, Brooklyn-bound NR trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge between Canal Street and DeKalb Avenue due to subway tunnel rehabilitation. Customers may take the 4 at nearby stations.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, May 15 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, free shuttle buses replace Q trains between Prospect Park and Kings Highway due to rehabilitations of stations along the Brighton Line.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, May 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 18, R trains are extended to the 179th Street F station due to a track chip out north of Grand Avenue.

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