For the last few days, The Daily News has teased New Yorkers with references to the MTA’s “Doomsday plans.” The paper has run stories on the MTA’s potentially axing station agents and raising the base fare to $3.00.

Today, the tabloid dropped a bombshell: Reportedly, the MTA’s Doomsday scenario includes substantial service reductions and whole scale line eliminations. The paper’s sidebar tells the story:


  • W and Z lines shut down completely.
  • No more express J-train service, makes all local stops.
  • G line nearly halved with the northern terminal being Court Square, Long Island City, Queens, at all times. No more service from Court Square to Forest Hills.
  • M line halved, making stops only between Metropolitan Ave., Queens, and Broad St., Manhattan.
  • B line trains arrive every 10 minutes weekends, up from 8 minutes.
  • Overnight: Scheduled gaps between all trains running between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. increased to 30 minutes from 20 minutes.
  • Midday: Schedules changed – less frequent trains from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. – system wide so that trains carry more passengers: 125% of the seating capacity, up from current guideline of 100%.

Buses: A few dozen bus routes eliminated overnight and weekends, including X27 and X28 weekends. Bus routes targeted for less frequent service generally are those with lower ridership numbers or where subway trains are an option. A few routes running weekdays axed.

This, of course, is terrible news, but I am wondering how accurate it is. Fewer trains would leave many New Yorkers disgruntled. And while the Daily News reports that B service on the weekends should slow down, savvy straphangers know that the B doesn’t run on the weekends.

Jeremy Soffin, deputy director for media relations and the MTA’s press secretary, issued a statement on behalf of the MTA a short while ago. He said:

“We will not comment on the specifics of gap closing measures until the budget is presented to the MTA Board on Thursday morning. As we have said previously, plummeting tax revenues have increased the MTA’s deficit to $1.2 billion. The MTA began belt tightening long before the current financial crisis, and budget cuts start with further significant administrative and managerial cuts. The size of the deficit will also require a combination of fare/toll increases and service cuts, which will be presented on Thursday. We await the release of the Ravitch Commission recommendations in December and hope they will be implemented to restore financial stability to the MTA.”

We’ll know for sure on Thursday after the MTA board meeting if these plans line up with the MTA’s reality. If they do, these plans could mean one of two things. Either the MTA is presenting this Doomsday scenario to get the attention of the people with the purse strings. In that regard, this move would be fairly politically motivated to get more money for the subways. Or else, the MTA is really in dire straits, and New Yorkers who rely on the subways for transportation are in for a world of inconvenience and declining service.

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When NYC Transit President Howard Roberts and I sat down to talk last month, I started off by asking him about the Rider Report Cards. As a pilot program, I thought they had a relatively successful debut. While the results weren’t surprising, they did help New York City Transit focus its priorities in its efforts at improving subway service.

As we discussed those initial results, I eventually asked him why he was engaging in a second round of report cards so soon after the first ones. While the 7 and L, with the pilot line manager program in place may show some improvement, I opined, would any of the other lines really see their grades go up? If anything, people are more disgruntled with the subways this year as they had to suffer through a fare hike with relatively few service increases.

In response, Roberts defended his Rider Report Card program. It’s a part of the new management system, he explained, that is responsive to the needs and wishes of the customers. Instead of operating in a top-down environment in which MTA officials dictate the needs of the subway, the customers get to express their views on the trains. While I wondered if New Yorkers would be willing to go through the process again, I believe that Roberts has a voice. By routinely asking people what they want and then responding to those desires, the NYC Transit is empowering its riders more than it ever has in the past.

Yesterday, the agency released its first set of results for the second round, and as expected, changes in the grades were minimal. The L, which last year pulled down a C, managed a C-plus this time while the 7 saw its grade stay steady from a C-minus to a C-minus. Small improvements to be sure, but improvements nonetheless.

For the most part, the individual trends were encouraging. The L train saw minimal delays (C in 2008, C- in 2007) and reasonable wait times (C+ in 2008, C in 2007) improve by a grade over 2007’s report cards. In fact, in no category did the L decline in performance. Still riders rate adequate room on board at rush, minimal delays during trips and reasonable wait times between trains as their top three priorities. Those rankings are unchanged.

On the 7 line, where the focus has been on cleanliness, the grades have risen. Trains are cleaner; announcements are easier to hear. But riders complained about more delays during trips (D+ in 2008, C- in 2007) and reasonable wait times between trains (C-minus in 2008, C in 2007). Delays, adequate room and reasonable wait times were the top three complaints.

These results are hardly a surprise, and it shows that NYC Transit still has a lot of work cut out for itself. But for now, it seems as though the Line Manager program is an early success. How far the grades can raise may depend on external forces — more money, updated technology that can allow for more trains, more subway lines — but what’s in place right now is working, albeit slowly and very, very incrementally.

As an interesting sidebar, numbers were way down, and the scientific validity of these samples still raise some eyebrows. For the 7 train, the MTA received only 4113 report cards, just 26 percent of 2007’s total, and on the L line, the agency 2216 cards, down about 45 percent from last year. The MTA Board was somewhat critical of the polling methods, as The Times’ William Neuman reported last night.

Categories : Rider Report Cards
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  • 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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