• 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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  • Bus cuts on the table as Transit addresses driver shortage · Since late January when the MTA started hosting public hearings on the Doomsday budget proposals, the future of the transit authority seemed uncertain. Albany had not yet committed to a rescue package, and the MTA Board had to go ahead with what they viewed as necessary cuts. As such, the agency couldn’t hire for numerous positions as they became available, and today in amNew York, Heather Haddon explores how this hiring freeze led to a bus driver shortage.

    Basically, says Haddon, Transit has around 230 open bus positions, and it’s going to take them until the summer to address the vacancies. In the meantime, bus service on a few lines around the city will be less frequent than usual. “It would have been fiscally irresponsible for us to have filled positions we would have cut,” Paul Fleuranges, NYC Transit spokesman, said to Haddon.

    The free daily also brings news of some permanent bus cuts on the table. Haddon says Transit may “save $4.8 million by scalling back bus trips on 35 routes across the city.” The documents presented to the board call for the agency to “more closely align service with customer demand.” Seventeen routes would enjoy more service as the MTA looks to spend along routes that need the service. · (0)

When the MTA Board passed a new fare structure earlier this week, the leaders of the transit agency stressed the fact that the so-called cuts to the public — fewer trains, less frequent service — would be voted down soon as well. The officials though also made clear that numerous positions within the MTA would not be filled. The station agent program, in particular, is slated for termination, and with it comes the elimination of over 800 jobs.

While many of these spots will be flat-out eliminated, a good number of MTA positions will be eliminated through attrition. As workers retire, the positions will remain vacant, not to be filled until and unless the MTA finds a sound financial footing.

This is an interesting way to eliminate jobs, but there is seemingly more at work than simply a reduction in workforce. Some MTA watchers believe this reduction-by-attrition method says more about the MTA’s future pensive obligations than anything else.

Nicole Gelinas is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and an editor at City Journal. For the last few months, she — and few other transit watchers — has tackled the uncomfortable issue of the labor unions’ relationships with the MTA. Gelinas feels that much of the MTA’s supposed Doomsday could have been avoided had the transportation authority been willing to take a harder line in negotiations with its workers.

Most recently, Gelinas tackled just that topic in a Wall Street Journal column. She wrote:

The blunt truth is that New York City and state spent the good years giving its public employees generous raises, without asking for benefits concessions in return. City benefits costs, too, have piled up to an unsustainable $13 billion annually. That’s a third of the city’s tax revenue. Political leaders did nothing about it. When the transit union went on strike nearly four years ago to protect its pension benefits, Gov. George Pataki caved in and kept the status quo.

Gov. David Paterson and Gov. Pataki before him (let’s just leave out the farce of Eliot Spitzer) didn’t even need the unions’ cooperation to reduce pensions costs for new workers. Lawmakers could have passed legislation that would have cut benefits and increased contributions without union input. They didn’t.

Instead the state expanded its Medicaid program, which now costs the city $5.6 billion a year, up 44% over the past seven years. The city, under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, similarly ramped up education spending by 70% to nearly $21 billion. Education spending has shot up 42% faster than spending on the MTA, even though public-school enrollment shrank while MTA ridership soared.

This April column is but the tip of the iceberg. In December, Gelinas called upon transit unions to sacrifice some of the financial upper hand. She wants the union workers to contribute more to their pension and health care plans and believes that a wage freeze would not be inappropriate. In March, she wrote about runaway pension costs.

The real issue here is one of a political cognitive dissonance. New Yorkers are, by and large, pro-labor, pro-union Democrats. Gelinas raises issues that don’t fit that bill, but they are ones transit advocates should consider. At a time when everyone else is being asked to shoulder the costs of our transit system, shouldn’t the unions contribute as well?

Categories : MTA
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  • Congestion pricing money New York’s for the taking · For the last few months, we’ve been covering the MTA’s budgetary woes nearly non-stop. The city’s transportation authority is facing a massive budget crunch, and advocates would prefer to see the hole plugged through contributions from drivers. That way, public transit will thrive while congestion, an environmental and social evil, will be curtailed. The solution out of Albany does not such thing.

    Last year, the city had a chance to take a first step in that direction, but the state legislature declined to pass a congestion pricing plan. That plan would have guaranteed around $400-$500 million a year for the MTA’s capital program and would have netted the city around $350 million in federal funds as well. Officials voted down the plan over concerns from drivers and worries that the MTA wouldn’t do an adequate job administering and spending the money. That’s quite the excuse from Albany.

    Streetsblog today points to a NY1 article in which Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood promises that the money for the city is still there if we want it. Earlier reports had indicated that the city had lost the opportunity, but LaHood does not want to close the door on anti-congestion innovation in the nation’s largest city. “The money that was going to be provided for that particular project is still at the Department of Transportation,” LaHood said. “If New York got its act together around that kind of opportunity, I think we would look at it.”

    Is it time to renew the push for congestion pricing? I saw we get on that. The MTA needs the money; the city needs a commitment to mass transit growth; and we all benefit from congestion reduction. · (21)

Over the last few days, we’ve heard rumors about various people who may or may not be nominated to head the MTA. Yesterday, Gov. David Paterson broke his silence on the issue and put forth a stunning defense of Marc Shaw, the one man the Senate seems intent on denying the position.

Elizabeth Benjamin reported on the diatribe yesterday while I was finishing up my last final of my first year of law school. A NY1 reporter asked Paterson to respond to the anti-Shaw sniping that has consumed the media over the last few days, and Paterson responded with a rant:

“I very much resent that people who I don’t even remember being in the meetings have so much comment on the governor’s staff and the governor’s perspective appointees and even the entire process.

“I think that when people want equity, they should come to court with clean hands, and the Senate, on a number of occasions, handed in suggestions that didn’t even add up – and I’m talking about the numerical add-up, not the logic aspect of it.

“And I really would call on the leader of the Senate to implore – at least publicly – his members that the governor has the right to make an appointment without deriving antagonism from a process where the appointments hasn’t even been made yet, and all you’re doing is damaging the character and service of a man who has been exemplary serving both parties, serving multiple administrations, serving as a deputy mayor to Mayor Bloomberg and a chief advisor to myself.”

Paterson ended his rant by eschewing the high road and taking some shots at the supposedly obstructionist Senators. “If it keeps up, maybe I’ll illuminate my feelings about some of the people who are commenting from time to time. Did that answer your question, Josh?” he said to Josh Robin. “We’ll work all of that out without the intervention from any more sourced or unsourced outsiders who really know very little about the process.”

It’s all well and good for Paterson to take such a strident approach, but the truth remains that he has little power in this state. He ushered through a sub-par MTA rescue package after months of deliberations. He has the lowest approval rating of any governor in recent history, and now he’s trying to pick a fight with the people who control the fate of his MTA appointee.

Paterson should just leave well enough alone. He should drop the idea of a Marc Shaw nominee. After all, Shaw was one of the former MTA leaders who spent the MTA into a debt-fueled oblivion. He should look for someone as policy-savvy as Elliot Sander is, and he should find someone whom the Senate will accept as well. That man is probably Richard Ravitch, but considering how the state just dumped the Ravitch recommendations, it’s hard to believe he would accept the post.

In the end, despite promises of reform and a new era in New York City transit policy and politics, we’re left with more of the same. Paterson is showing more of the same ineptitude and more of the same out of touch attitude that has nearly destroyed the MTA in the first place. Oh well.

Categories : MTA Politics
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A Brooklyn streetcar roams the streets of San Francisco. (Photo by flickr user phrenologist)

Once upon a time, Brooklyn was the borough of streetcars. Powered by catenary wires, this ubiquitous green cars would take Brooklynites from one end of the borough to another. With the advent of the automobile and the rise of buses, streetcars become obsolete. The tracks were ripped up and the wires torn down.

Now, though, New York officials are making sounds about a streetcar revival in Brooklyn. A few weeks ago while speaking in Toronto, NYC Department of Transportation head Janette Sadik-Khan praised the streetcar revival currently sweeping the nation. Streetcars, says, Sadik-Khan could streamline intra-borough transit while encouraging people to take advantage of their neighborhoods. “In Portland they just started a new streetcar and were able to leverage $3-billion in investment,” she notes. “We need to rebalance the transportation network and make it as efficient and effective as possible.”

Last week, Yonah Freemark of The Transport Politic unveiled a very comprehensive study of potential streetcar routes in Brooklyn. Freemark analyzed current transportation patterns in the borough and proposed the following as a potential streetcar route. (Click the map to enlarge.)

It is a very appealing vision, and it’s easy to see how Freemark’s network fits in with my proposed Select Bus Service qualifications. These streetcar lines connect various subway routes at points deep in the borough, and they bring transit to underserved areas. This scheme offers up the option to connect into Queens, and the line terminating at Starrett City could easily extended out to JFK Airport.

There are of course very real objections to streetscars and very persuasive arguments in their favor. This came last summer when we discussed America’s streetcar renaissance. I’ll rehash them from this comment thread.

First, streetcars are clean technology. They rely on electrical power and do not emit exhaust. Buses on the other hand are only at their environmental best when full. Otherwise, they are historically inefficient automobiles. Streetcars encourage development along their routes; they run faster; and they eliminate some congestion by discouraging short-distance driving.

On the other hand, unless a city builds a dedicated right-of-way, these streetcars are beholden to surface traffic patterns. They can’t maneuver around accidents or traffic the way a bus can, and the catenary wires are rather unsightly in an urban environment. With the right-of-way, they aren’t appreciably more cost-efficient than bus rapid transit systems.

As Freemark notes, a streetcar system would require a serious transit investment. It would require infrastructure and rolling stock as well as a drastic overhaul of the Brooklyn streetscape. While we might want to toy with the idea, for now, it just might be a pipe dream

Categories : Brooklyn
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  • Handicapping the MTA leadership race · Elliot Sander is out as the MTA CEO and executive director on May 22. Dale Hemmerdinger’s term as MTA Chair ends in June. As David Paterson searches for a candidate, various transit-watchers are handicapping the race. Yesterday, I noted a three-way race between Marc Shaw, Tim O’Toole and Nathaniel Ford. Today, amNew York’s Heather Haddon adds a few more names to the mix. Haddon reports that Beverly Scott, CEO of Atlanta’s MARTA, is on the short list but isn’t interested in the New York position. She also notes that Richard Ravitch and former MTA CFO Jay Walder may be considered.

    While Shaw is seemingly Paterson’s top pick, he appears to represent the status quo at a time when Albany wants to move away from more of the same with the MTA. In fact, Senator Martin Dilan, head of the Senate Transportation Committee, has vowed to block Shaw from the job. I’d go with Ravitch right now. · (3)

As the political turmoil and debate over the future of the MTA recedes into the past of last week, I’m going to take some time today to talk about some future expansion plans for New York City’s transportation network. The later post will be published this afternoon, and both will focus on surface options rather than underground rail plans.

Our tale this morning starts in the Bronx with something called Select Bus Service. This program is a joint pilot effort between the MTA and New York City’s Department of Transportation. It features dedicated bus lanes and pre-boarding fare payment systems. It has resulted in a 24 percent decrease in travel times, and passengers along Fordham Road love the service.

Next year, as part of this so-called Phase I rollout, Select Bus Service will come to Manhattan. Sections of First and Second Avenues are slated for service. Now, as I’ve discussed now and then in the past, this bus rapid transit system along Second Ave. is a bit of a lightening rod. Opponents of the Second Ave. Subway see it is a viable and cheaper alternative to the expensive and oft-delayed subway line. In terms of capacity, though, a subway line trumps bus service, and for now, the two modes of transportation are both slated for the same avenue.

Eventually, Phase I will include service along Nostrand Ave. in Brooklyn, along Hylan Boulevard and into Bay Ridge from Staten Island and access to the Jamaica Center hub. Each borough will have its own Select Bus Service within a few years.

In an effort to expand the program to the five boroughs, NYC DOT recently announced plans for a series of workshops this summer in advance of Phase 2 of the Select Bus Service program. Streetsblog broke the news last week. The Department of Transportation will host seven workshops across the five boroughs in an effort to identify as many as 10 routes for future Select Bus Service.

As part of the pre-launch for Phase 2 planning, NYC DOT has released an unnecessarily large and poorly optimized PDF file explaining the needs of the city and the goals of the program. In a nutshell, DOT wants to target areas that are both underserved by preexisting transit options and areas that are suffering through overcrowding. They want to target high-traffic streets with the goal of reducing congestion as well.

There are though some obvious problems with the preliminary Phase 2 plans. The maps in the PDF are very borough-centric. While Staten Island SBS connects into Brooklyn and some Bronx service connects to Manhattan, rare are the buses that run legitimate interborough routes. Mostly, these Select Bus lines drop people off at preexisting subway stops and do not offer a real alternative for a ride through Queens and into Midtown.

I have a series of suggestions, then, for the planners of Select Bus Service:

  1. First, these routes clearly, as I just said, need to be more than just feeder routes. A Select Bus route up Flatbush Ave., for example, should cross the Manhattan Bridge and run more than just a few blocks into Manhattan. It shouldn’t just be an easier way to get to the Atlantic-Pacific hub. It should be an easier way to get into Midtown.
  2. At the same time, some Select Bus routes should be planned as subway connectors. Right now, the Fordham Road SBS service connects to nine different subway lines. Woodhaven Boulevard, for example, could support SBS that connects a series of subway lines and leads to JFK Airport.
  3. The easiest way to accomplish point two would be to implement SBS along the Circumferential route. Such a route would intersect nearly every subway line and would bring riders from Brooklyn through Queens and into the Bronx faster than any subway could
  4. Feed the airports. This is obvious.
  5. Install physically separated lanes, priority signaling and automated lane enforcement efforts. The latter would require action in Albany.

New York City is clearly at a transit crossroads. It needs innovative leaders willing to lobby for plans that challenge the status quo. DOT and the MTA have a blank slate in the form of Select Bus Serivce, and how they proceed this summer will dictate the future of surface transit in the city for the foreseeable future.

Categories : Buses
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