When the Blue Ribbon Commission on Sustainability and the MTA unveiled its 148-page draft recommendations last week, the news coverage was decidedly mixed. It’s no small feat to digest and present a report that William Neuman in The Times aptly described as being “filled with colorful, head-scratching, tongue-twisting gobbledygook.”

When both The Times and The Post opted to lead with the story about the Green MetroCard proposal, then, I wasn’t too surprised. William Neuman aptly summarizes this idea:

The authority said on Thursday that it was considering a “green MetroCard” program that would let riders make donations to help pay for making its operations more environmentally sustainable. The program would also apply to commuter rail tickets and E-ZPasses.

The idea was among dozens of proposals in a $1 million report by a commission appointed by the authority to recommend ways to lessen the adverse environmental impact of its operations.

Under the program, whose details are still being developed, riders buying MetroCards or commuter rail tickets at station vending machines could tack on an extra charge in the form of a tax-deductible contribution for green projects, said Ernest Tollerson, the authority’s policy director.

Now, as someone writing a news blog with a background in journalism, I can understand why a newspaper would latch onto this idea. At a time when the MTA is gearing up to raise fares by as much as 23 percent and cut service, even the simple idea of a voluntary contribution comes across as out of touch and just plain bad PR. But on the flip side, the suggestion is one sentence in a report of 149 pages, and it has garnered far more attention than it should have.

While the newspaper’s attention to this program is defensible, the latest news out of Staten Island is not. Lou Tabacco, a Republican from South Shore, has decided to attack the MTA for this innocuous if misguided one-sentence proposal in a document chock full of new ideas. Here’s the story from the Staten Island Advance:

Tobacco called the idea, which was among about 100 suggestions that came out of a $1 million sustainability report, “an insult to commuters and lawmakers who are being asked to bail out the MTA.”

“First, the MTA calls for higher fares and tolls on commuters during these difficult economic times. Now they’re contemplating asking for donations from the same people whose pockets they are already trying to pick,” said Tobacco. “Enough is enough.”

“Surely, environmental considerations are an important aspect of any transportation plan, but wasting taxpayer money on bogus commissions is the last thing commuters need.”

Come on, Assemblyman Tobacco. You’re making a mountain out of a mole hill, and while this may be a bad idea, it was put forth by a Blue Ribbon Commission tasked with identifying all potential sustainability programs. Furthermore, this is the first draft of their recommendations; it’s not even a finalized product. The odds of this Green MetroCard contribution program coming to fruition are slim to none.

In the end, this latest development out of Staten Island shows why the public is skeptical of the MTA, but it also shows why elected officials don’t fund the MTA. They just don’t get it, and it almost seems like an uphill battle just getting any of these officials to pay attention to transit in any way that makes sense.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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Token Booth

While this station booth at the new South Ferry terminal will open soon, the MTA may shutter others throughout the system. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

As the riding public gears up to protest the impending service cuts and fare hikes, the station agent elimination plan is starting to become a major community issue. The fight, however, may be relying a bit more on psychology and less on reality.

Last week in The Brooklyn Paper, Sarah Portlock and Zeke Faux examine the reaction to the plan in Brooklyn. They write:

Buried deep in the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s proposed budget cuts are suggestions to close part-time and several full-time service booths — a move that could save the $10.8-billion agency thousands of dollars, but could also compromise safety of its passengers by depriving riders of another set of eyes and ears late at night.

“I don’t like [the idea] at all — I get very uncomfortable if no one’s at the post late at night,” said Park Slope resident Jerry Robinson, who was waiting at the Union Street M- and R-train station, whose full-time southbound booth would be closed entirely. “There’s not enough cops on the subway already, so for the MTA to take away the people in the booths in unacceptable.”

The cash-strapped transit agency has said it has a $1.4-billion budget gap and has proposed eliminating 205 booths — 33 of which are in Brooklyn — from 144 stations citywide. “[These proposed cuts are] part of the service reductions in the [MTA] budget,” said agency spokesman Kevin Ortiz, noting that the measures will be enacted in the spring barring a fiscal or political miracle.“These are measures that we hope not to implement,” he added.

In The Brooklyn Paper story, the angle is clear. Cutting these positions will seriously impact passenger safety. “It would make me feel unsafe,” Alex Pappas said to Portlock and Faux. “I can’t afford to not ride the trains — but I might invest in a can of Mace.”

While the reporters grant that every station will have at least one station agent, they may, for example, be in the northbound side of Union St. on the 4th Ave. line with no connection across the tracks. The real question, though, is whether or not this elimination would actually impact passenger safety.

In a way, the answer is yes. By placing employees in the stations, the MTA can create the illusion of authority. Perhaps a would-be mugger would be deterred by the presence of a station agent. Perhaps a sexual assault could be averted before it starts.

But in another way, the answer is no. MTA employees generally do not step out of the booth to assist passengers in need because they can’t. They’re unarmed and unprepared to face would-be criminals. It’s not, in other words, part of the job. The riders in Portluck and Faux’s article may not know that or they may choose to feel safer by the presence of someone in a uniform.

This plan will mostly impact MTA employees, and those folks are already protesting. Psychology aside though, beyond the deterrence argument, riders won’t actually be safer with or without station agents.

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  • Metro-North unveils new Yankee Stadium stop pricing · While the MTA is preparing to cut service and raise fares throughout the system, Metro-North will soon open a badly-needed station stop a few blocks away from the new Yankee Stadium in the South Bronx. The new stop will be a part of the Hudson Line but will provide gameday service along the Harlem and New Haven lines as well. Over the weekend, the Connecticut Post reported on the recently announced fare schedule for the new stop.

    In a nutshell, gameday travelers heading to Yankee Stadium will pay their normal Metro-North fares to Grand Central plus one dollar more. That seems like a fair fare to me, and Metro-North officials anticipate 10,000 passengers passing through the station on game days. State and railroad officials are still attempting to hash out a post-game schedule that could include non-stop service from Yankee Stadium to parts of Westchester or Connecticut. · (17)

As the looming March 25 deadline for the MTA’s Doomsday service cuts draws ever closer, community activists, New York residents and MTA employees are growing concerned that their bus lines, subway stations and jobs will be lost on the budget chopping block. Over the last few weeks, numerous groups have emerged fighting for the lines. Let’s take a peak at their efforts.

In Manhattan, Save the M8 is a petition-based group run by activist Quinn Raymond. As its name entails, the group is dedicated to saving the M8, a lightly used bus line scheduled for total elimination in the Doomsday plan.

“Eliminating the M8 would have a severely detrimental effect on the most vulnerable members of our community (children, seniors, the poor),” the group’s petition reads. “More broadly, we strongly believe that the State and City must find alternatives to MTA service cuts and fare increases at any cost. These alternatives could include tolls at East River crossings, taxing millionaires, and a corporate payroll tax.”

In Brooklynm, GerritsenBeach.net is running a petition to save the B31 and B2 bus lines. The petition reads:

We, the undersigned commuters, are calling on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to continue to operate regular bus service on the B31 and B2 lines. We are calling upon the MTA to main the B31 service after midnight, as this bus is the only way into Gerritsen Beach. We also demand that the MTA maintain weekend service on the B2 Line. Both of these bus lines service as a lifeline to the rest of the City for the people of Gerritsen Beach and Marine Park. The service is necessary to commuters, whether they be coming home late from work or shopping on the weekends, and is extremely important to a community like ours that is not served by the City’s subways.

In Queens, another bus rider closer to the situation than most is issuing her protest too. Bria Sander, the 15-year-old daughter of MTA CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander, has voiced her belief that weekend service on the Q76 and Q79 bus routes should not be cut. “The Legislature and governor should think about students who have to go to things on weekends,” she said. “They should think about people who take the bus and consider how many people are going to be upset because some things are going to be shut down.”

Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Eagle writes about a whole slew of other protests targeted at bus and subway service cuts in various sections of Brooklyn. Harold Egeln highlights one of these groups:

In Bay Ridge, “Save the B37 Third Avenue Bus” is among the demands on a petition circulated by Councilman Vincent Gentile and other lawmakers asking the MTA to drop plans to cut bus service in Bay Ridge along a bustling commercial strip. More than 1,000 signatures were collected on Gentile’s petition against the proposed complete elimination of the route between Shore Road in Bay Ridge and Court Street in Brooklyn Heights, as well as other service cuts.

“When I talk to residents about the cuts, they are clearly desperate to save the transportation services they depend on for work, school and errands,” said Gentile. “The MTA’s plans would cut off thousands of people in south Brooklyn alone from crucial parts of their lives, like family, work and doctors.”

Also out of Brooklyn comes word that residents are wary of staffing cuts. The Brooklyn Paper notes that some late-night straphangers are worried about the security and safety risks that could arise if MTA employees are not around to staff stations late at night. (Check back this afternoon for more on this angle.)

Finally, MTA workers are protesting the job cuts as well. With plans to close nearly 100 station booths and turn some full-time booths into part-time operations, the workers are not happy.

“You want to take those booths out of the system,” Maurice Jenkins, a transit worker, said to NY1. “You are going to take the eyes and ears away from the system. Everywhere you go they have signs that say ‘If you see something say something’. Well if there’s nobody there, who’s going to see something or say something?”

I’m sure there are more out there, but these are the major efforts gaining ink over the last few weeks. For the most part, these protests are directed at our state officials who just so happen to be the people holding the keys to an MTA bailout. On Wednesday, when the MTA hosts its first public hearing, the protesters will be out in full force. As long as they yell loud enough and direct their collective ire at Albany, they just might rise up and be the public voices we need to save the MTA.

Categories : Service Cuts
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  • The weather outside is frightful… · …So the MTA has canceled all weekend work. Trains are running as they would on a blissful work-free weekend. Next week, we’ll delve into the 7 train service advisories and the community reaction to them. This week, enjoy the snow with or without your pants on.

    Meanwhile, allow me to take a slow weekend to promote Second Ave. Sagas on some popular social networking sites. SAS has a Twitter account. You can follow it here. If you’re on Facebook, you can become a fan of this site there as well. · (0)

Last year, I was curious to see what Improv Everywhere’s no-pants day was all about it. In a nutshell, the public pranksters wreck havoc on the subways by organizing a massive no-pants ride during which a bunch of 20-somethings ride around on our subways in their skivvies.

The 2008 version of this annual day of derrieres in the subways was fun. I rode around in my underwear with 899 of my closet friends, and if you look closely on flickr, you might even find a glimpse of me sans pants.

This year’s event is set for Saturday. The organizers are urging everyone to meet at 3 p.m. in Foley Square in Lower Manhattan. It’s going to be in the low 30s or upper 20s and might snow, but everyone’s pants stay on until you’re safely underground.

Beware the No-Pants Day 2K9 crowd though. It’s becoming quite the destination, and the joke seems to take on a different meaning. The No-Pants Ride was wild in 2002 because six people did it, and it was just so weird. It gained national attention in 2006 when Improv Everywhere opened it up to the public and the police arrested a few pants-less straphangers. Last year, 900 people showed up, and while some “victims” just minding their own business were surprised, most guessed that subway cars half-full of people missing their pants was perhaps a coordinated effort.

This year, the numbers are off the charts. There’s a full-page feature on it in this week’s TimeOut New York. Charlie Todd, the event’s founder, is predicted over 1000 participants. The Facebook invite has 1500 confirmed guests and another 1600 maybes. While clearly not everyone who RSVP’d is going to show up, this has the potential to go from an amusing stunt to an overwhelming takeover of the subways.

Of course, that might just be the point. It challenges the paradigm of wearing pants on the subway, and I guarantee that unsuspecting riders on the chosen train lines won’t really know what to think. Some will be grossed out or offended. Others may join in the joke. Popularity aside, that’s the real fun of it. Meanwhile, why not try subway-map boxers? At least, you’d be winking at the joke.

After the main event, there’s a pants-less party near Union Square, and it sure is something seeing so many bare…legs…on the subway.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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greenmta Back in Sept. 2007, MTA CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander unveiled plans for a Blue Ribbon commission on the MTA’s sustainability. Yesterday, the panel unveiled its first set of recommendations and a 148-page draft of its final report due in February. Combining national recommendations with state-based efforts and internal improvements the MTA could make in its green efforts, the document is a powerful, ambitious and, at times, over-reaching proposal for one potential future of the area’s transit network.

The report is, frankly, too large and too all-encompassing to digest in one sitting, and like Ben Fried at Streetsblog, I’m still attempting to sift my way through it. In terms of first impressions, however, it’s mostly what you would expect. On a local level, it urges the state to approve the Ravitch Commission recommendations and calls for adequate enforcement of bus-only and BRT lanes. It urges better transit-oriented development and higher on-street parking rates. On a national level, it urges the government to pass a $1 trillion green stimulus bill devoted to “21st century transit and renewable energy.” Nothing is too big or too small for this commission, and in a perfect world, nearly all of its recommendations would be followed.

As I make my way through the report, I can offer you the MTA’s organizational take on it via the agency’s press release. The report was unveiled in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday by Sander and Jonathan F.P. Rose, chairman of the Sustainability Commission. A whole slew of leading transit advocates and experts as well as New York politicos were on hand. Here’s the press release’s summary of the report:

Among its many transformational recommendations, the report calls for the MTA to draw 80 percent of its operating energy from clean, renewable energy sources by 2050, and suggests ways this should be done. At the same time, it urges a significant expansion of transit access in order for the MTA transit system to reach and absorb two thirds of the New York metropolitan area’s projected growth of 4 million people between now and 2030. By ensuring that an increased share of this growth develops as transit-oriented clusters rather than sprawl, the MTA’s expansion will have a significant impact not only on regional productivity, but on our national energy and climate-stabilization goals. The report points to strategies that will reduce regional CO2emissions while expanding the mobility needed to remain competitive in a global financial, educational, and cultural marketplace.

Initial assessment of the report’s recommendations indicates a possible yield of 105,500 net new jobs per year, employment income of $5.1 billion a year, and regional economic output of fully $17 billion per year for the period from 2010 to 2019. This urgent stimulus priority at the federal level intersects with the equally urgent international commitment to contain global warming, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote renewable energy.

By removing some 3 million drivers from the roads each day, the MTA already avoids more carbon emissions than 648,000 acres of forest absorb. This “carbon avoidance” benefit is increasingly viewed as a measurable commodity with societal benefits and a market value. In effect, the MTA provides unreimbursed carbon reduction services for which many industries now claim financial and funding credits.

The draft of the report and an executive summary of sorts are available here on the MTA’s website.

I think the MTA deserves to be commended for this document. At the same time, we should also recognize that the MTA, by virtue of its mission, is already a green organization. For every bus, subway and commuter train packed at rush hour, thousands of cars are off the roads. As the state legislature nears that March 25 deadline for action on the Ravitch recommendations, that august body should keep in mind the environmental impact of inaction as well as the economic effect a weaker MTA would have on the New York City Metropolitan Area.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep pouring over the environmental report. Already, I can see a flaw: While the commission encourages better MetroCard recycling efforts, the first draft contains nary a mention of the more environmentally friendly SmartCard options that are alive and well in various other cities. That’s small beans compared to the commission’s overall message. We can act. We can save the MTA and our region’s and country’s environment. All we need is a strong leader and the political will to do so.

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  • Internet Explorer problem resolved · Just a quick administrative note about site access: Due to a problem I installed late Tuesday night, Second Ave. Sagas was inaccessible to visitors using Internet Explorer to access the site. The problem has since been resolved. My apologies for the inconvenience. · (0)
  • Sander declines a raise this time · With the MTA facing a $1.2-billion deficit, the agency’s CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander has declined a raise this year. His salary will remain at $275,000 with benefits that push his compensation package to around $350,000. While this is a hefty amount, Sander is probably underpaid considering the scope of his job and the MTA. However, he took a big PR hit when he accepted a $10,000 raise recently and couldn’t in good faith accept another raise right now.

    Meanwhile, Sander made sure to drive home the symbolism of declining a raise. I think it’s a symbolic move but an appropriate move given where the MTA is,” Sander said to the Daily News. “We need to make the point to the Legislature that we’re prepared to sacrifice, and that’s what we’re doing here.” · (2)


In what is being called a rather somber speech, Gov. David Paterson laid out the economic outlook for New York in his first State of the State address. While the state is tight on money and new projects are being pushed aside, Paterson stressed his commitment to a sound transit policy, pleasing MTA officials and firmly tossing the ball into the state legislature’s court.

While New York, like much of the U.S., is facing a budget, Paterson recognized yesterday that focusing on infrastructure investment and development is a sound way to build an economy stimulus plan. In his vision, the Ravitch Commission’s recommendations will become a reality, and the Second Ave. Subway will continue its journey down Manhattan.

“To build a brighter future, we need a smarter, better infrastructure,” he said. “We should complete signature projects all across our State including the Peace Bridge, the Tappan Zee Bridge, the Second Avenue Subway, and the East Side Access. And we should implement the Ravitch Commission recommendations to improve an essential piece of our infrastructure, the MTA.”

MTA officials, facing a March 25 drop-dead date for their Doomsday budget, expressed relief that the city’s top statesman is on their side. “I was delighted. The governor’s been great, in terms of supporting the MTA and called for the Ravitch Commission, MTA Executive Director and CEO Elliot Sander said to NY’s Bobby Cuza: [I] just was thrilled that he mentioned it in the State of the State.”

More optimistic though is the growing support the plan seems to have from a few key Assembly members. Cuza reports:

The challenge now is winning the support of the legislature. The Ravitch recommendations include both new tolls on the East River bridges, and a new payroll tax. Assembly leaders said improvements to the plan can be made.

“There are controversial elements of it, but in the end, I think you’re going to see this legislature and this governor work to provide more money to save the fares on the trains, subways and buses, to make sure we build out the capital program of the MTA, so we have a good system 10 years from now,” said Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester).

Clearly, there are controversial elements to it. Any plan designed to ensure the long-term health of a transit system through a dedicated and non-variable source is bound to have costs and controversies. At some point, some elected official besides Paterson will have to recognize that far more people are impacted by a bad MTA than East River Bridge tools and that the region depends on the MTA far more than it depends on free access to Manhattan via the East River crossings.

For now, the MTA has some big names lining up behind this recommendation, but time’s a-wastin’. We have 10 weeks until the MTA starts implementing service cuts and fare hikes. No one wants to see that happen, but will someone step up to lead the effort to save the beleaguered transit agency?

Categories : Ravitch Commission
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