• M96 takes home prestigious Pokey Award · The Straphangers handed out their annual Pokey Awards last week, and the crosstown M96 took home top honors. The city’s slowest bus reaches averages speeds of 3.7 miles per hour as it crawls across town. As William Neuman noted, chickens can run nearly three times that speed.

    The rest of the Straphanger report features much of the same arguments we frequently hear about New York City buses. We need: “tougher enforcement of exclusive bus lanes with barriers to discourage cars from entering; pre-boarding fare payment; reconfigured bus stops to speed boarding and reduce conflicts with other vehicles; and bus priority signals to help buses stick to schedule.” In the meantime, buses will continue to be among the least time-efficient means of getting around New York City. · (5)

It was just a week and a half ago that the Transit Workers Union promised not to strike again. A new day had dawned for the MTA and its labor relations.

But as with all good things, it wasn’t meant to be. Over the weekend, Pete Donohue dropped a twin bombshell: The MTA may eliminate 600 token booth workers, and the agency would like to offer up raises of just 1.5 percent next year. The TWU, as anyone may imagine, was not too happy with this development.

First, the news about the station workers:

The MTA’s doomsday budget includes closing many subway token booths and eliminating the program that shifted some agents into stations to help riders, the Daily News has learned. Dozens of booths would be shuttered if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board approves the plan next month and implements it next year, a source familiar with the document said.

Also on the chopping block is the three-year-old Station Customer Assistant program that moved approximately 600 clerks out of their booths to help riders with MetroCard vending machines and directions, the source said…

Transit officials have said layoffs are on the table, but it’s unclear if those 600 or so agents would get pink slips or be redeployed.

The MTA has yet to comment on this issue, and it’s quite possible that this so-called “doomsday budget” never comes to pass. But hand in hand with this news was a retort from the TWU about a potentially lower-than-normal salary increase:

The cash-strapped MTA plans to help balance its books by skimping on raises for its workers next year, financial plans show. Agency bean counters predict the MTA can save $40 million by limiting 2009 raises for the Transit Workers Union to less than 1.5%.

“Their position is ridiculous, and it won’t happen,” TWU Local 100 President Roger Toussaint told the Daily News.

Toussaint, ever the politician, fired a salvo at the MTA over the Daily News’ unsourced report. “This is the first time they are putting into the public space, and into the airwaves, this type of garbage,” he said.

Personally, I’m not quite sure what the MTA stands to gain with the current red-vest station assistance program. While these workers lend subway stations a modicum of safety, the vast majority of reports have these employees refusing to offer assistance when asked, and of course, a good many of them seem to sleep on on the job.

Of course, the other side of the coin is a dangerous one. If the MTA upsets the TWU, things could get ugly in a hurry. We remember, not so fondly, the subway strike in 2005. A repeat of that dark time would be a bit disastrous for a city teetering on the brink of economic collapse.

Right now, though, the jury is still out. Later this week, we’ll know more about the MTA’s concrete proposals, and only then can we — and Roger Toussaint — really analyze the situation. Until then, we wait.

Categories : MTA Economics, TWU
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Weekend Service Advisories

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No deep musings from me tonight. Let’s just jump in. You can tell the holiday season is fast approaching because the service alerts are slowing down a bit.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 15 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 17, downtown 1 and 2 trains skip 66th, 59th, and 50th Streets due to station rehab work at 59th Street-Columbus Circle.

From 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, November 15 and Sunday, November 16, Bronx-bound 4 trains skip 170th Street, Mt. Eden Avenue, and 176th Street due to track repairs.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 15 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 17, uptown A, C and E trains skip Spring, 23rd and 50th Sts. due to pump room work at West 4th Street.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, November 14 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 17, free shuttle buses replace A trains between 168th Street and 207th Street. Customers may transfer between the Broadway or Ft. Washington Avenue shuttle buses and the A train at 168th Street. There are no C trains between 145th Street and 168th Street. Customers should take the A instead, which runs local between 145th Street and 168th Street. These changes are due to tunnel lighting, structural and track work.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, November 14 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 17, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Long Island City-Court Square due to N and R work (see below). Customers should take the E or R instead. – It’s the random no G train excuse generator.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 15 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 17, there are no N trains between Queensboro Plaza and Times Square due to track replacement in the area of 5th Avenue/59th Street, switch work at Queensboro Plaza and tunnel security work.

  • For Lexington Avenue and 5th Avenue, take the 7 to Grand Central and transfer to the uptown 456 to 59th Street
  • For 49th Street and 57th Street, take the 7 to Times Square and transfer to the uptown Q

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 15 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 17, N trains skip Prince, 8th, 23rd, and 28th Streets. (Same work as above.) Customers should take the Q instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 15 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 17, N trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge between DeKalb Avenue and Canal Street. (Same work as above.)

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, November 15 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 17, Q trains replace the R between 57th Street-7th Avenue and DeKalb Avenue. (Same work as above.)

From 12:01 a.m. Sunday, November 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, November 17, R trains run on the V line from Queens Plaza to Broadway-Lafayette Street, then via the Manhattan Bridge to DeKalb Avenue. (Same work as above.)

Categories : Service Advisories
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Rockettes Lauren Gaul, left, and Naomi Hubert urge riders to take the subway this winter. (Photo courtesy of New York City Transit)

As part of the annual MetroCard discount at Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Spectacular, New York City Transit rolled out both the Rockettes and a Nostalgia Train yesterday. The train ran from the World Trade Center stop on the E to 47th-50th Sts./Rockefeller Center on the D with a few of the Rockettes in tow.

While the event was ostensibly put on to promote the $10 discount a MetroCard will get you at Radio City Music Hall this winter, the bigger news is the Nostalgia Train. Starting Nov. 30 and continuing through the holiday season, New York City Transit will again be running the Nostalgia Trains along the V line from 2nd Ave. to Queens Plaza and back.

I hopped a ride on the vintage subway last year. For pictures and more, check out the coverage from Dec. 2007.

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An MTA worker, shown here in 2006, rests on the job. (Photo by flickr user pixxiestails)

A quick joint through flickr reveals a whole series of photos of MTA employees asleep on the job, and it’s no secret that MTA station workers aren’t known for their bedside manners and even demeanor. Now, with budget cuts looming, the MTA is going to have to start cutting workers. While the Transit Workers Union will push hard to make sure their members don’t lose their jobs, the MTA is going to have to trim the bloat.

To that end, Jim Hoffer at ABC’s Eyewitness News did some digging this week and found a whole of bunch of underperforming MTA employees. While the authority had no comment for his story, Hoffer paints a picture of agency ready to face an internal gauntlet. While the MTA will need more money than that available from internal cuts, paring down a large bureaucracy is beneficial for streamlining operations as well.

The tale of the employees, though, is a classic. Reports Hoffer:

He’s supposed to be working, instead a transit track inspector is headed home after a little grocery shopping. Other transit employees caught on tape should be working too, instead they’re using the MTA dump truck to drive 30 miles to a beach on Long Island to hang out, chat and catch an ocean breeze. Other transit workers have so much free time during their 8-houir shift, they set up an outdoor gym where they can exercise at all hours of the work day.

“How many hours do you actually work on the track in an 8 hour shift?” I asked a track worker, who asked not to be identified.

“Typically it’s about 1 hour, an-hour-and-a-half of actual work,” he responded. Fed up with what he calls a culture of waste and abuse at a time when the MTA threatens record fare hikes, this worker said the problem starts high up.

“The supervisors are the problem. The supervisors allow this type of behavior. There is a system that allows the workers to slip out to go an do whatever they want,” he said.

Hoffer’s tales are endless and amusing. He has one about a worker who checks out his bar every hour or so and another about a team that works about 90 minutes a day. The workers, though, get $25-$30 an hour for their eight-hour shifts and benefits too. Sign me up!

The TWU, of course, denies the allegations. Roger Toussaint told Hoffer that the 90-minute work days are exceptions and that crews loiter, for hours on end, on platforms because they’re not allowed on the tracks during rush hour. But this seems to me to be a tale of bloat.

I can’t say where the responsibility for this issue lies. Hopefully, soon, the MTA will release a response to Hoffer’s story. But for now, I will raise a skeptical eyebrow. From circumstantial evidence, I’m inclined to believe the report, and I have to think that, with funds tight, the agency will soon crack down on this waste. Only after they do so can they ask the government for more sources of funding.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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  • DiNapoli: Security measures still behind schedule · New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has issued yet another report about the state of the MTA’s security efforts. According to this latest missive — available here as a PDF — the MTA’s capital security program won’t wrap up until 2011, three years after it was originally supposed to debut and ten years after the attacks of 9/11. Most alarming are the cost increases. The program is now set to cost $837 million, up 42 percent from the initial estimate of $591 million. The report does offer up some praise for the MTA’s popular “See Something, Say Something” campaign. [Office of the New York State Comptroller] · (1)

Lost in the discussion about East River tolls and congestion pricing is the great irony of the MTA. Since the tolled bridges into and out of Manhattan are such cash cows, New York City’s public transit network is kept afloat by the same forces many public transit advocates would like to limit.

The history of MTA Bridges and Tunnels is one of Robert Moses. He ushered through the construction of the Triborough Bridge in the 1933s, and over the years, Moses used his position as head of the Triborough Bridge Authority to consolidate toll revenues while increasing his reach.

By the 1960s, Moses was gone; the city’s bridges and tunnels continued to generate large amounts of surplus cash; and the city’s subways were teetering on the brink of collapse. Hence, the MTA was born, and now the city’s bridges and tunnels subsidize mass transit to the tune of $700-$900 million a year.

But what happens when New Yorkers stop driving? That is the question posed by Pete Donohue in a Daily News article today:

The number of drivers using MTA bridges and tunnels has fallen for 12 straight months, another troubling threat to the agency’s bottom line, officials said Wednesday. “I can’t say I remember anything like that,” MTA Bridges and Tunnels Acting President David Moretti said.

The latest statistics show drivers took 25 million trips over bridges and through tunnels last month, down 1.3 million – or 4.8% – from October 2007.

Much of the 12-month slide can be attributed to high gas prices. But last month’s downturn may be the result of commuters no longer having jobs to go to in Manhattan, officials said. Traffic at the MTA’s four Manhattan crossings was down on average about 7% from September to October, even though gas prices had fallen, Moretti said.

Right now, since the fares were raised in March, revenues aren’t down, but if these trends continue into next year and beyond, the MTA will need to raise even more cash. In that regard, I wonder how a congestion pricing plan would come into play. While a congestion fee with guaranteed revenue heading to the MTA could generate upwards of $400 million a year, would enough cars be discouraged from driving to impact the bottom line for the MTA Bridges and Tunnels division?

As congestion pricing plans would allow for tolls to be deducted from the charge to enter the Central Business District, I doubt the MTA would see a decrease in revenue from the bridges and tunnels. But as the economy walks a dangerous tightrope, it will be interesting to see how one of the authority’s biggest sources of revenue fares. Little do we realize that, as the Bridges and Tunnels go, so go the subways.

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How do tabloids in New York sell papers? By splashing a MetroCard and a $3.00 price tag across the front page.

In something of a worst-case-scenario article, Pete Donohue explores the possibility of a $3.00 base fare if the MTA can’t cover the deficit. He writes:

Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Elliot Sander said Monday the authority’s budget crisis will force it to impose “Draconian” fare hikes and service cuts without an additional $800 million. Even after making cuts, the MTA will be short about $600 million, agency figures show.

Filling that gap would require a 24% fare hike for MetroCards, train tickets and tolls – if the MTA applied the increase evenly across every category. The agency hasn’t tended to do that in the past, however. Instead, the MTA is expected to take aim at the base fare for the biggest percentage increase – bumping it to $2.50 or even $3, a Daily News analysis shows.

What this article fails to mention is that now, even with a base fare of $2, a whopping 89 percent of riders pay less than that. The average fare per ride is under $1.40.

So in reality, this doom-and-gloom scenario is unlikely to happen and will not impact a lot of riders even if it were to come to fruition. Rather, the MTA will probably significantly raise the prices on Unlimited Ride cards and scale back the bonus system while raising the base fare to $2.50.

That increase of course isn’t one any of us want, and now is the time to start pressuring legislators to find the money for the MTA.

Categories : MTA Economics
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We’ve talked a lot about money this week, and with Richard Ravitch’s report due in less than three weeks, we’ll be hearing more about the MTA’s fiscal woes well into December.

We know that the MTA will soon be facing a $1.2 billion deficit. We know that the agency may cut service, services and excess bureaucracy. We also know that the Ravitch Commission is going to issue a series of recommendations focusing around tolling the East River bridges and a congestion pricing scheme. The fun is just beginning.

Both the East River toll plan and congestion pricing are fraught with political difficulties. City politicians — our so-called leaders — have already been railing against the calls to toll the river crossings while Albany has shot down congestion pricing once this year. Our state representatives aren’t going to be too shy about killing it again, Richard Ravitch’s imprimatur or not. Meanwhile, transit advocates have been couching this debate in either/or terms. Either the MTA enjoy the revenue benefits from congestion pricing or tolls or the MTA will jack up the fares well beyond their current levels.

The mathematical truth, it seems, is not quite that simple. To whit: East River tolls will probably draw in approximately $500 million annually. Ccongestion pricing could bring in another $400 million. A fare hike will bring in around $200 million next year and approximately $384 million annually.

What does that add up to? Well, if each plan were to go into effect on January 1, the MTA would be able to raise, optimistically, $1.284 billion next year. Funny; that’s the precise amount of money the MTA needs in 2009 to cover its deficit.

Do you see now where this is going? For the MTA to enjoy a balanced budget, the Ravitch Committee will have to recommend tolling the bridges and implementing a congestion charge and substantial fare hikes. If not this precise mix, then the report will contain some mix that adds up to a similar total. Otherwise, the MTA will not be able to cover the gap or look forward to its future capital plans and its $30 billion price tag.

Politicians won’t like it; some drivers won’t like; in fact, most New Yorkers probably won’t like it. But unless the government ponies up the dough, the rest of us are going to have to pay in more ways than we’d like to admit if we are to enjoy a healthy MTA.

Categories : MTA Economics
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