• Sander’s parting gift: Promises of a MetroCard-free payment system · Today marks Elliot Sander’s final day as CEO and Executive Director of the MTA. He had a short and tumultuous run, but it was among the best in MTA history. In a series of exit interviews with the press, Sander, ever a forward-looking transit optimist, dropped word of a payment system that could arrive as early as 2011 if the MTA puts it all together. Sander said that the MTA is looking to replace the magnetic strips of the current MetroCards with a smart-card/E-ZPass payment system that could tie in subway, bus and commuter fares as well as bridge and tunnel tolls. The system would automatically bill users as an E-ZPass does and could link the MTA, PATH and New Jersey Transit as well.

    For more on this long-awaited technological development, check out coverage in The Post and The Daily News. I’m glad Sander is still focusing on the future of transit in New York City even as he heads out the door at the MTA. · (6)

When the Senate finally voted to approve an MTA rescue package, it was clear that the beleaguered transit agency had lost at least one battle. While millions of New Yorkers rely on the MTA every day, people just did not have faith in the agency, and at a time when transit advocates needed the authority to win the public relations war, it did not.

Apparently, though, deep-rooted mistrust of the MTA runs deeper than a PR battle over the agency’s short-term financial fate. According to a recent telephone poll conducted by Barcuh College Survey Research on behalf of NY1 News, most New Yorkers simply do not trust the MTA and many more do not understand the sources of the MTA’s financial woes. Bobby Cuza had more:

A combined 61 percent of those polled said they trust little or nothing the MTA says. Twenty four percent said they trust some, and just eight percent trust most of what the MTA says…”They kind of echo the governor’s sentiment in thinking that you can’t believe a whole lot of what the MTA says,” said NY1 pollster Mickey Blum.

In fact, much of the MTA’s problems stem from billions of dollars of debt it was forced to take on because the state cut funding to the agency. But New Yorkers don’t see Albany as the problem; 47 percent say the MTA is at fault for the current economic crisis. Just 22 percent blame state lawmakers, and 17 percent blame the governor, with 14 percent unsure.

Meanwhile, subway and bus fares will go up about 10 percent next month. Then, unless the economy gets significantly worse, the MTA says it won’t have to raise fares again until 2011. But skeptical New Yorkers don’t buy it. Almost two-thirds — 65 percent — think there will be another fare hike within a year. Only 23 percent think this will be the only fare hike this year.

Over the last few years, the MTA has become one of the more publicly accountable governing agencies in New York City. They broadcast all of their Board meetings and make just about every financial document readily accessible. Yet people do not trust them because the politicians in Albany and not the transit policy wonks at the MTA are running the publicity campaigns.

For now, this is a concern that can turn into a problem. The MTA should take heed of these findings and work on a public image campaign. I’ve met with and spoken to numerous MTA officials, and they truly want to help the public. They don’t like being viewed as an agency that can’t finish anything on time or on budget and can’t control its deficit. While perception and reality often align, the MTA must work on its perception if it wants to gain the trust of the public in needs to push for money for a true modernization and expansion program.

Categories : MTA
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An Unveiled Sign

A new Metro-North stop and the Bronx’s first transit addition in decades will open tomorrow morning. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Tomorrow morning shortly before 6 a.m., a Grand Central-bound Metro-North train on the Hudson line will make a stop at Yankees-E. 153rd St. stop. It will be the first train with passenger to stop at this new station, and it will usher in an era of increased transit accessibility for Yankee fans from Westchester and Connecticut.

Yesterday, I went up to the new station for its official dedication. Joining me at Grand Central for the ride up north were Jorge Posada, David Cone and Brian Cashman as well as one Michael Bloomberg.

The day was a congratulatory one for the MTA. They opened up the new station at Yankee Stadium on time and on budget. The agency known for its massive delays and cost overruns held down an aggressive timetable and a $91-million budget for a project that had to be managed around active train lines.

It took just 24 months to build and should help reduce traffic volume in and around the South Bronx during Yankee games. “It’s another alternative to taking the subway here,” the Mayor said during the ceremony “And the more alternatives you give, the fewer people will drive.”

Jorgie, Coney and Cashmoney

The trip up north started at Grand Central Terminal with a deadhead ride — a free train — to the new station. The new schedules claim it is a 16-minute ride from Grand Central to the Yankee Stadium stop, and they’re not kidding. It’s a fast, smooth ride that will make just one stop — at 125th St. — when it debuts on Saturday morning.

When we arrived at the station, the Yankees just stood there as city and MTA officials took over. The Mayor started off with a joke. While chatting with Brian Cashman in the VIP train car on the way up — I, by the way, was with the press in a different car — he offered to pitch for the Yanks. “I throw righty and not lefty,” he said. “They just don’t need another right-handed pitcher. So I guess I’m out of that job and will keep my old one.”


After that, though, it was all business. Bloomberg praised the MTA for realizing the three-decade-old dream of building a station at Yankee Stadium and in the South Bronx. He stressed how the station will improve the quality of life for not just Yankee fans but for residents of the polluted and congested neighborhood. “It’s not just for Yankee Stadium; it’s for the entire South Bronx,” he said while trumpeting his long-term goals of getting cars off the road in New York City.

After Bloomberg finished up, a spate of speakers followed him. Elliot Sander, the outgoing MTA CEO and Executive Director, MTA Chair Dale Hemmerdinger and Metro-North President Howard Permut gave the agency spiel. New Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., trumped the stadium’s impact on the Bronx.

Jorge, Cashman and the Cops

The technicalities of the station are advanced, and the structure itself is a sight to behold. It is a state-of-the-art 10,000-square-foot, fully ADA-accessible facility. Officials estimated up to 10,000 passengers per day for Yankee games, and if they reach that goal, vehicular traffic around the stadium should decrease significantly. It features four tracks all ten cars in length and real-time train arrival boards.

From an engineering perspective, the MTA had to spread out four tracks of the Hudson Line to construct the extra-wide platforms. The agency had to snake them between the columns supporting the Major Deegan Expressway and Exterior Street. Additionally, Metro-North has activated a section of track one mile east of the stadium stop to ensure that Harlem and New Haven Line trains can make the stop during gamedays and still hook back up with their proper routes.

In terms of service, the station will see regularly hourly service along the Hudson Line, but on gamedays, service will be increased significantly. Trains from Grand Central will leave every 15-20 minutes, and either three or four additional trains from points north along the Hudson, New Haven and Harlem lines will pass through the station prior to games. Anyone who lives near a Metro-North line east of the Hudson now has little reason to drive to a game.

The fare scheme is too complicated to explain in detail because it depends upon point of origination. In general, tickets to the station from points north will cost either 75 cents (off-peak) or $1 (peak) more than it does to get to Manhattan. From Grand Central to Yankee Stadium, peak tickets will be $6.50 and off-peak $5 until the fares go up next month. It’s certainly an expensive, if fast and comfortable, alternative to the subway.

Metro-North will also accept the $3.50 City Tickets good for weekend and holiday travel with the New York City limits, and all monthly passes will be honored as well. To beat fare-beaters, customers must have a valid ticket to exit the station before a game and to access the platforms afterward.

In the end, it’s hard not to be excited about this station. It’s a big, modern station just a five- to eight-minute walk away from the new Yankee Stadium. It should be popular for years to come, and it will open for business on Saturday. So if you’re off to see the Phillies play the Yanks on Saturday afternoon, take the train and take comfort in the fact that, when push comes to shove, the MTA can build a new facility on time and on budget. It may not be as sexy as the Second Ave. Subway, but as Hemmerdinger noted, these smaller expansion projects are just as important to the future of transit in New York City as the big-ticket items are.

Click through for a slideshow of the unveiling.

Categories : Bronx, Metro-North
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Updated 5:36 p.m.: Tomorrow marks current MTA CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander’s last day on the job, and MTA Chair Dale Hemmerdinger has named Helena Williams, current president of the Long Island Rail Road, as the interim replacement.

Sander, who announced his resignation on May 7, is leaving at the firm request of David Paterson. The New York Governor used the recent MTA rescue package as leverage to exert more control over the financially beleaguered transit agency, and Sander, a Spitzer appointee but probably the most qualified authority head in its 41-year history, lost his job. Williams will assume the interim title on Monday, following MTA Board approval.

In taking on the job, Williams will also keep her duties as head of the LIRR. She is, however, looking forward to the challenge of leading the agency. “I am honored to be asked to step in temporarily – pending approval of the MTA Board – to serve in this position while continuing my duties as President of the LIRR,” Williams said via press release this afternoon. “As we all know, the subway, bus, bridge, tunnel and commuter rail systems are the lifeblood of our city and of the entire New York metropolitan region. I’ve spent much of my career at the MTA, so this will be an exciting challenge.

Williams, a labor lawyer with a degree from St. John’s, has been at the MTA for 15 years and has served as the head of both the Long Island Bus and LIRR. She also worked as the deputy county executive to Tom Suozzi in Nassau County. As the press release notes, the LIRR has flourished under her leadership with record on-time performance figures and better customer communications.

“This is a time of transition at the MTA, but it is critical that we continue to serve our customers without missing a beat,” H. Dale Hemmerdinger, current chairman of the MTA Board, said. “Helena Williams is doing a terrific job at the Long Island Rail Road and will be an excellent steward for the entire transit system until a new Chairman and CEO is appointed.”

Williams was the first female named to head to LIRR, and by assuming this new position, I believe she is the first lead the MTA as well. When Paterson names a successor, she will keep her job as president of the Long Island Rail Road.

Meanwhile, gov. Paterson is expected to name a permanent successor in the near future. Time is, however, of the essence. As The Times’ William Neuman reports, the Senate adjourns for the summer on June 22. If Paterson has not named a replacement by then, he will either have to summon the legislatures back for a special session or live with Williams as the interim head for a few months. His office declined to comment on the search, saying simply that they are looking for a candidate with “a mandate, a philosophy and a record of complete transparency and accountability to taxpayers.”

Categories : MTA
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  • Mapping historical subway ridership levels · I love subway maps and maps about subways. I have an extensive collection of historical New York City subway maps at home and a few from other systems around the globe as well. Recently, though, something else piqued my attention. Mike Frumin, that man behind Frumination got his hands on historical subway ridership figures from every station in the system. Not only has he made the data readily available, but he has mapped it through a series of sparklines. He offers up his analysis of the map as well.

    Meanwhile, two other programmers have taken the data and turned it into colorful visuals as well. This flash map looks good but distorts the station-by-station data. The other, found here, doesn’t look as sleek but is presents a far more rigorous examination of the data. Check it out. · (2)
  • MTA to enter Lotto business · Buried at the bottom of Heather Haddon’s article on the fate of the Fulton St. Transit Center was an interesting note about the MTA’s search for revenue. According to the amNew York reporter, the transit agency has approved a six-month pilot program that restarts the sale of lottery tickets at eight underground stations. In return, the MTA receives three percent of the revenue of all sales. The MTA sold lotto cards underground in the 1960s but had to cease when littering became an issue. With proliferation of free newspapers these days, what’s a dropped lottery card anyway? As long as I can buy a ticket from Little Bit O’ Luck, I’ll be happy. · (3)


Will this be the final look for the Fulton St. Transit Center? Stay tuned.

The Fulton St. complex is a mess right now. The Cortlandt St. station on the BMT Broadway (N/R/W) line has been closed for nearly three years as work has progressed at a snail’s pace, and the Transit Center hub, originally scheduled for completion two years ago, has been delayed seemingly forever.

Yesterday, though, during the MTA Board’s Real Estate, Planning and Capital Construction Committee meeting, Capital Construction president Michael Horodniceanu proclaimed a firm deadline and a budget for Fulton St. According to Horodniceanu, construction on the complex will wrap up in 2014. The total cost will come in at $1.4 billion or twice its original projected cost. And the Transit Center’s dome — subject to much will it or won’t it debate — will be, well, something distinctive.

In a bold move, Horodniceanu guaranteed an on-time — at least for 2014 — delivery of the project. He first proclaimed the original 2007 deadline, set ten years ago when the MTA first broke ground at Fulton St., “totally unrealistic” and then said, “What I present today, I stand by. I expect you to hold me accountable to it.”

According to the plans presented yesterday, the Transit Center will still sit under a three-story building with 25,000-square feet for retail. The MTA has, however, scraped plans for a glass dome. For now, officials are simply promising something that will let in natural light to fill the glass-enclosed building. As expected, the dome was shelved because of costs.

Originally projected to run $750 million, the Hub will come in at $1.4 billion. The MTA has the money though for the project. Of the total, the original federal grant will cover $847 million, the MTA will kick in $129 million of its own money and stimulus dollars will cover the final $424 million.

Despite these above-ground concerns, though, work has continued underground, and the MTA set a series of deadlines for the complex. Looking ahead, riders on the A and C lines at Broadway/Nassau St. can expect 40 months of construction with service delays on nights and weekend.

Downtown Express, linked above, runs through a series of future deadlines: The Cortlandt St. station’s northbound platform will open in December with the southbound side closed until 2011. A new entrance on William St will open in 2011 as well. In 2012, the Dey St. entrance will open and the 4/5 station will get an overhaul. The work on the A/C mezzanine won’t wrap up until the spring of 2013.

I’m almost tempted to say, “So that’s that for the Fulton St. Hub,” but it’s not nearly that simple. The MTA has yet to choose a design for the top of its glass station house, and while that part of the project will be the proverbial icing on the cake in terms of projected completion dates, architectural decisions are never easy.

So the clock is ticking. Who knows how long Horodniceanu has as the head of Capital Construction? He’s been far more willing than prior heads to take public responsibility for missed deadlines and delayed projects and should, when the MTA rescue package dust settles, retain his position. He has five years to deliver a project that should be opening this year. He has $1.4 billion with which to work. The race is on.

To grasp the true scope of the bureaucratic mess surrounding the project, read back through the topic’s archives. For images of what the Hub and Transit Center will look like sans oculus, mosey on over to the Lee Harris Pomeroy page with some architectural renderings.

Categories : Fulton Street
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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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