Few and far between are the days with news of the Second Ave. subway. Along Second Ave. on the Upper East Side, work continues apace on Phase I of the long-awaited subway, but south of 72nd St., the future isn’t as rosy for the New York subway’s very own Moby Dick.

Speaking a few days at the MTA board meeting, the agency’s CEO and Executive Director Lee Sander spoke guardedly about the project. The Downtown Express was on hand to bring the news:

Sander was asked several questions about the Second Ave. subway under construction on the Upper East Side, and every time he mentioned the full build plan to extend the line to Chinatown, the Seaport and the Financial District, he used some form of the word “hope.”

He said it would be more than 10 years before it is built and he offered no guarantees that it will ever happen. It’s the fourth and last phase of the project. “That’s phase 1, 2, and 3 away,” said Lois Tendler, vice president of community relations for N.Y.C. Transit, who joined Sander at the meeting.

Sander remains passionate about the new line but said if he has to make drastic cuts to the capital program, he would sooner cut mega-projects like Second Ave. and East Side Access, which will connect Long Island commuters to Grand Central Station, than cuts to the existing system. “If you had to make a choice between those two, there is no choice — it is the core program,” he said.

Those core projects seem to be the signal-modernization efforts and the computer-based train control program.

Of course, who hasn’t been expecting tempered expectations from the MTA over the Second Ave. subway? Anyone who knows their subway history wouldn’t actually expect a full Second Ave. subway any time before the Armageddon.

But in reality, Sander is simply speaking the truth. Right now, as the MTA deals with a massive deficit in its operating budget, it is facing a blackhole of funding for its capital budget. The agency needs around $30 billion for its next five-year plan set to begin in 2010, and that money is no sure thing. If the funds don’t arrive, there will be no Second Ave. subway outside of the three stations at 96th St., 86th St., and 72nd St. under construction.

New York needs the Second Ave. subway, but New York also needs a modernized system. If push comes to shove, the MTA will make that right choice, but hopefully, push won’t come to shove. If history is any indication, I’m not too optimistic.

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A final Nostalgic weekend

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The 2007 version of the Nostalgia Train sits at Second Ave. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

As 2008 is coming to an end, so too are the MTA’s holiday Nostalgia Train trips. This Sunday is your last opportunity to catch the vintage subway cars as they travel up the V line from Second Ave. to Queens Plaza.

Luckily, the MTA has taken the guess work out of the journey this year. They’ve posted the departure times on their website. For your info, here it is:

From Lower East Side 2 Ave
10 a.m.
11:30 a.m.
1 p.m.
2:30 p.m.
4 p.m.

From Queens Plaza
10:45 a.m.
12:15 p.m.
1:45 p.m.
3:15 p.m.

If you can’t make it, flickr has loads of Nostalgia Train photos.

Anyway, on with the service alerts for the weekend. The NYC Transit press office didn’t send out the release this week with the changes. So some of these may not be accurate. Check the signs in your station before you travel.

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Categories : Service Advisories
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In one of the strongest pro-MTA editorials yet, The Times on Thursday urged New Yorkers to call upon Albany to save the MTA. It is a message I’ve harped upon for weeks and one well worth repeating.

As its new “doomsday” budget makes clear, the authority will require all sorts of drastic measures just to stay even. Without help from Albany, there will be fewer trains and buses, and a few subway lines and bus routes will be canceled altogether…

Governor Paterson and the Legislature must do whatever they can to keep the system from regressing to the slow and shabby days of the 1970s. A sensible course has been suggested by a commission led by Richard Ravitch, a former chairman of the transportation authority. The commission proposes raising revenues for public transit by installing tolls on Harlem River and East River bridges that do not already have tolls and levying a modest payroll tax for businesses, unions and governments in the New York City area.

Not surprisingly, the idea of new tolls has provoked a huge outcry from Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, and most city politicians have retreated from the idea. What this means, of course, is that the people who take their cars to work are winning out against the millions who take public transit. This is as unfair as it is environmentally unsound. Moreover, unless drivers pay their fair share, employers are likely to resist a new payroll tax proposed to help shore up the system.

New tolls and taxes are unpleasant. But longer waits and longer commutes and dirtier trains and much higher fares for millions of people who depend on public transit are more so. The remedy now depends on Albany.

In a sense, The Times is echoing what I wrote on Monday when I explored the vast difference between the numbers of drivers and transit commuters in Brooklyn. Why they published such an important editorial on Christmas Day, a notoriously slow news day, I do not know.

What I do know though and what The Times notes, many more people will be negatively impacted by a poorly funded MTA than by a bunch of bridge tolls on the East River. We’ll find out in a few weeks who will pay the most for the MTA’s woes. If the drivers don’t pay, the city as a whole will suffer, and Albany should make sure the MTA gets what it needs.

Categories : MTA Economics
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To celebrate the city and offer up a way to carry a map in your pocket, a design firm in Korea has published a heart-shaped version of the New York City subway map.

The PSFK design blog has more about this one-of-a-kind map:

A group of Korean graphic designers called Zero Per Zero have a unique take on the typical subway map of New York City. Playing on the I Love New York logo, the entire system is visualized as a big heart. The final design was the 2008 Design For Asia Grand Award Winner for a City Railway System which seems a bit odd considering it’s a remake of an American system, but we certainly applaud the simplicity and beauty of their artistic vision.

This playful design actually functions as the map it remixes and on closer inspection, it includes pictorial representations of remarkable locations throughout the city. It’s great to see designers offer a new interpretation of such a recognizable map in a way that may even improve the mood of some of NYC’s grumpy commuters.

The map itself costs under $7 but shipping from South Korea pushes that total up to around $20. I think it’s well worth it for map collectors.

After the jump, a detail of the map, and remember that the subways are running on a Sunday schedule today. Allow extra time for travel, and have a Merry Christmas!

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Categories : Subway Maps
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  • R160s arrive on the E · As part of a $1.1-billion capital investment in new rolling stock, New York City Transit unveiled its first set of R160s along the E line at 7:03 a.m. on Tuesday morning. According to the agency’s press release, this 10-car set was the first of a 1662-car order that will replace the oldest trains along the lettered lines. Based on recent test runs I’ve seen, I have to believe that the E and F lines will be receiving the bulk of these cars, but all of the lettered lines should enjoy some new cars. · (17)
  • Market sends MTA pension fund down by $500M · According to a Pete Donohue report in The Daily News, the recent economic slump has impacted the MTA’s pension funds to the tune of $500 million. Between January and the end of the November, the authority’s pension fund shed nearly a quarter of its overall value, and this news is clearly not good for a cash-strapped agency. · (1)

One of the less endearing aspects of the fancy new subway cars that continue to take over the system is the automated public address announcements. At some point, we just don’t need to be told, at a volume far louder than necessary, that the MTA is ready to “apologize for the unavoidable delay.” In an ideal world, we wouldn’t be bombarded with “an important message from the NYPD” every five minutes either. But if one group has its way, we may soon be hearing advertisements over the subway loud speaker.

Over the last few months, as the MTA has tried to raise revenue from every available source, the agency has started to sell open space. They have sold the windows, the turnstiles and the outside walls of entire subway cars. Now, PETA, of all groups, is calling upon the MTA to sell airtime over the subway’s public address system as well.

PETA, in fact, has this all planned out, as their press release notes. They want to inaugurate something that would infuriate subway riders with a group of pro-vegetarian ads. Says the release:

Given the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (MTA) announcement that it will be increasing fares and cutting services to help meet its 2009 budget, PETA has contacted the MTA with a suggestion. PETA has offered to kick off the first-ever paid advertisements to be heard over bus and train public-address systems. PETA’s ads would feature the voices of pro-vegetarian advocates Casey Affleck, Kevin Nealon, and Forest Whitaker…

PETA points out that encouraging commuters to adopt a vegetarian diet would help them address their own financial woes, too, since vegetarians slash not only their grocery bills but also their risk of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain types of cancer–not to mention the high medical bills that come with treating these conditions.

“Broadcasting PETA’s ad on public transport could help the MTA’s bottom line and save passengers’ and animals’ lives,” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. “Commuters have a lot on their minds, and our ads will liven things up and give them something positive to think about.”

To hear the ads that hopefully won’t be appearing in the subways, head on over to PETA’s blog.

I have to applaud the pro-animal group for its ingenuity and effort here. They recognized a situation they could exploit and became, as far as I could tell, the first group to propose in-system audio ads. But New Yorkers would absolutely positively hate these intrusive advertisements.

To most of us, the subway ride is a means to end. We’re trying to get somewhere else in the city, and we do so under less-than-ideal conditions. Can you imagine how a packed car would respond to a 30-second anti-carnivore ad blaring over the loud speaker at 9:15 a.m.? I can, and it’s not a pleasant image.

Hopefully this will be one advertising idea the MTA doesn’t adopt in its efforts to raise funds. I’d take the East River bridge tolls any day over in-system audio ads.

“All infographics should have googly eyes” by flickr user arimoore.

Categories : Subway Advertising
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With the recent murder of an MTA bus driver — the first since 1981 — the MTA is going to begin a bus partition pilot program. Ideally, the partition would separate vulnerable bus drivers from threatening passengers.

William Neuman reported on this plan late last week. He wrote:

The partitions will be tested on buses operating out of the Flatbush Depot in Brooklyn, where Mr. Thomas worked. There are 252 buses assigned to thedepot, according to Paul Fleuranges, a spokesman for the transit agency. He said it was not yet known how many buses would get the partitions as part of the test. They need to be designed, and it was not clear when the program would begin…

The pilot program was proposed by a committee studying bus driver safety and composed of representatives of Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the transit agency’s management.

The committee also proposed other changes that were still being considered. One would eliminate the paper transfers issued on buses to people who pay their fare in cash, according to a person briefed on the committee’s work.

It’s worth noting that eliminating paper transfers would also help the MTA capture more revenue from bus passengers.

I can’t argue against supporting safety for bus drivers. While it may seem as though the MTA is overreacting to its first murder of a bus driver in nearly 30 years, the agency reported 236 assaults on bus drivers between January 1 and December 9 of this year. That’s not a good number by any means, and if the authority can install something as simple as a partition to keep drivers safer, then they should do so.

Categories : Buses
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Back in November, when The Daily News first reported on the looming three-dollar fare, I figured someone in a position of power would act before things got that desperate. But as the New York state legislature and City Council continue to deliberate or ignore the implications of inaction on the Ravitch Report, the MTA took another step closer toward a $3 base fare for the New York City subways and buses.

In a pdf file announcing upcoming public hearings scheduled for January and February, the MTA detailed how it will attempt to generate a 23 percent increase in fare revenue across all MTA fares and tolls. While the language is convoluted, the news is decidedly grim.

First and most prominently is the news that base and cash fares could go up to as much as $3, and Pay-Per-Ride MetroCards may feature a $3-per-swipe deduction as well. Alternatively, the MTA could go with a $2.50 charge on MetroCards while the base cash fare and single ticket rides stand at $3. The discount bonus for pay-per-ride cards, if it survives this fare hike, would not kick in until a user reaches a $12.50, and the MTA proposes that the bonus range from as high as 35 percent (unlikely) to as low as 0 percent (not ideal but likely).

The Unlimited Ride MetroCards, preferred by around 46 percent of subway riders, would see marked increases. The one-day pass could cost as much as $9.50; the seven-day pass could be $32; the new 14-day card could cost $60; and the 30-day unlimited would be as much as $105. While that 30 percent increase for the 30-day card pales in comparison to the 50 percent base fare hike, crossing that $100 barrier is a significant psychological blow to New Yorkers.

Elsewhere the hikes would be significant with drivers paying a lot to cross over and through the MTA’s bridges and tunnels. Seniors would enjoy fewer discount hours and paratransit fares could hit $6 per ride. But this is all avoidable if the state can pass a sensible MTA bailout plan.

Instead of bailouts though, let’s talk about another idea not mentioned. What if the MTA adopted a Washington, DC, or a London style fare structure? Right now, it costs $2 (or less) to ride from Coney Island in Brooklyn to Riverdale in the Bronx, a distance of nearly 27 miles driving. It also costs $2 to ride from 14th St. and 8th Ave. to Grand Central, a distance of about 2.2 miles driving.

Various other subway systems aren’t so generous. In DC, an off-peak 14.1-mile trip costs $2.35 via the Metro while a three-mile ride costs $1.35. At rush hour, the fares increase so that the 14.1-mile trip is $4.30 and the three-mile ride is $1.60. A variable pricing structure would certainly do a lot to increase the MTA’s revenues.

There are, as I see it, two major problems to this proposal. First, the MTA’s antiquated MetroCard system isn’t set up to allow for entry and exit fare swipes. The MTA would have to refit the entire system with newer and better SmartCard technology. While the day should come when the MTA does just that, a time when money is tight and fares may need to be jacked up just so the agency can meet its operating budget is no time for an enormous technological investment.

Second, this proposal basically fleeces people who can’t afford — or, in some cases, choose not to — live close to Manhattan. Unlike Washington, D.C., and London, two cities with variable fare structures, New York City isn’t really a suburban city. People in D.C. commuting in from Franconia-Springfield generally choose to live in the suburbs and take Metro into the city. Folks in New York commuting from Coney Island to Manhattan aren’t enjoying the same luxury. At that point, we’re taxing the people who can least afford to pay.

Anyway, as the MTA gears up for public hearings, we’re going to need some out-of-the-box solutions to combat this potential fare hike. We can imagine a world of variable pricing; we can imagine a world of East River tolls. But unless imagination becomes reality, we’re going to soon be facing a New York City with significantly higher mass transit fares.

Categories : Fare Hikes
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