As the MTA gears up to raise fares, two stories about straphangers’ attempts at outsmarting the swipe have made the news this week.

First up is a tale of forgery. Three and a half years ago, police arrested Jonathan Mattocks after watching him pick up discarded MetroCards, bend them and swipe on through. A past transit-offender, Mattocks was convicted of a felony and sentenced to jail time. That’s where his appeal comes in. Per Sewell Chan:

On appeal, his defense lawyers made a novel argument. They conceded that Mr. Mattocks broke the law, but said that he should have been charged with a misdemeanor, unauthorized sale of transportation services, rather than forgery.

Bending a MetroCard does not make it “falsely altered” — as the law defines forgery — “because the damage does not create value on a worthless card, it merely prevents the turnstile computer from determining that the card has no value,” the defense lawyers maintained, according to a summary of their arguments in a court ruling issued on Thursday.

In that ruling, the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, rejected that logic and upheld Mr. Mattocks’s conviction for forgery.

Amusingly enough, Chan also notes that the decision contains detailed instructions in how to perpetuate a MetroCard forgery. “The judge,” he writes, “devoted her first section to explaining the coding of the cards, how they are read, and how, in essence, to foil the system.” That little tidbit of information certainly won’t help the MTA combat what they say are over 250,000 annual instances of MetroCard fraud.

Mattock, by the way, had already served his two-year prison sentence while awaiting the outcome of his appeal.

In other fare-jumping news, two Daily News reporters stationed themselves near an emergency exit and counted the number of fare-jumpers entering through what should be a locked exit. At two stations, the reporters watched numerous straphangers enter through the open doors .When the reporters confronted the station clerks about the issue, the clerk quickly alarmed the door and alleged it had been armed the entire time.

One fare-beater even had the audacity to defend his actions: “Since when is walking through an open door breaking the law? If that clerk doesn’t care enough to close the door, why shouldn’t I go through?”

Categories : MetroCard
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David Paterson has a secret plan for the MTA. After debuting this fact on Wednesday, Paterson spent all day on Thursday talking about it.

“They are reviewing it with their members. If it passes muster, we’ll make sure you know about it soon enough and hopefully vote on it as soon as when we get back. And I would like the day to be Monday,” Paterson said to NY1’s Bobby Cuza on Thursday.

So with all of this secrecy surrounding Paterson’s plan, it better be a good one, right? Well, William Neuman and Nicholas Confessore of The Times spoke to a few sources in the know, and the plan sounds like nothing too secretive. Unless the two reporters failed to uncover something, this super-secret, Save-the-MTA plan focuses around — get this — refunding the schools impacted by the payroll tax.

And you were expecting something groundbreaking and forward-thinking. Neuman and Confessore have more details:

Seeking to break a stalemate on a rescue plan for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Gov. David A. Paterson made a secret proposal this week to have the state give money to school districts to cover the cost of a new payroll tax, according to people briefed on the proposal.

They said that the school proposal was what Mr. Paterson was referring to on Wednesday when he said that he had a “new idea” to move the stalled authority bailout forward.

The governor has not said publicly what the new idea is. Officials said that he discussed it with the Senate majority leader, Malcolm A. Smith, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Wednesday. The payroll tax would provide about $1.5 billion to the authority each year, but four suburban Senate Democrats have opposed it, in part because they said it would burden school districts, which would have to pay the tax.

Meanwhile, the four Democrats whose votes are required for any MTA funding plan and how have vowed to block any payroll tax may not even support this plan. It could be another D.O.A. funding plan for the MTA.

Now, David Paterson is in a precarious position. He wants to reelection, but his popularity rankings are so low that he probably wouldn’t even defeat a Democratic primary challenger. By publicly hitching his wagon to this plan — and promoting it as his compromise to save the MTA — he’s playing a dangerous political game. If this is all he’s got, he’s going to lose.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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The following is a post by one of my advertisers about his iPhone Application. For more information on advertising on Second Ave. Sagas, contact me.

Hi, Chris here, blogger at and author of StationStops for iPhone (iTunes Link), an iPhone/iPod Touch application which allows Metro-North riders to look up train schedules directly on their iPhone — with or without an internet connection.

I am an advertiser with SecondAvenueSagas and longtime reader. Ben has graciously allowed me this post to shamelessly plug my app, as it is relevant to many of his readers who ride Metro-North (I think I had to buy him a beer at Pershing Square and beg a little also).

I started my blog,, shortly after I moved to Connecticut from California. Metro-North was my first introduction to commuter rail, and I was frustrated with much of the experience. I used my blog to vent to other riders.

One of my primary frustrations was the difficulty with which I could look up the Metro-North schedule. My station had nothing more than the gigantic, tiny-print PDF posted under glass (in an unlit location where I didn’t even know it existed until 3 months after riding the train).

I figured there must be some easy way to look up the schedule on my Blackberry, but there was not. Even looking it up on the web was a pain in the butt, as the form must be filled out each time, and you cannot simply bookmark the results for your station ( does have these schedules in a bookmarkable format).

When the iPhone came out, I knew this would be a great platform for developing a mobile application for looking up Metro-North schedules.

With StationStops for iPhone, you can look up your next train while underground, on the subway, without an internet connection, in just a couple of clicks. As I commuted into and out of the city at odd hours, I found the app indispensable, and used it daily, even adding Grand Central Terminal track numbers (if you have an internet connection), and station information / Google Maps location for every station on Metro-North.

StationStops for iPhone remembers your home station, and knows what time it is, so it can show you your next trains with a single keypress.

StationStops for iPhone does have some limitations right now: It only works for trains traveling to or from Grand Central Terminal, it doesn’t handle holiday schedules and a handful of “special” trains, and you should always double-check your track when using the track number feature.

Currently I am in discussions with Metro-North towards expanding the usability, features, and accuracy of StationStops for iPhone and eliminate these limitations. But, its MTA, so, you know, it’s going slow 😉

I encourage Metro-North riders to check out my application — I have recently dropped the price in half from to $2.99, and its available now in the iTunes App Store for instant download on your iPhone.

If you have any questions about the app, please feel free to email me at stationstops at gmail dot com or follow me on Twitter as @stationstops.

iTunes reviews and comments are always welcome – but if you find a bug, have a complaint or suggestion about the app – please contact me first for more info – I usually respond within a few hours.

Also, for those of you like Ben who are struggling with finals right now, you may wish to check out my new application — ReadFaster for iPhone (iTunes link). It is a speedreading app using techniques I found indispensable for tearing through my reading list in college. It’s currently on sale for $.99.

Categories : Sponsored Post
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  • Paterson has a secret plan to fund the MTA · Embattled New York State Governor David Paterson has a plan for the MTA. What it is though is anyone’s guess. Paterson, speaking yesterday in Albany, shared some cryptic words with reporters. Right now, the governor has let slip nary a word about his plans, but he has been telling people some “enhancements” for the Senate.

    “It hasn’t been a problem with the leaders in terms of providing plans, but I think the problem right now has been acquiring the votes for those plans and that has moved us more into a political process, which really offends me. Because this is a very serious situation,” Paterson said. “I will be talking with leaders about some new ideas that I have later today and tomorrow so hopefully I can end this topic, by the beginning of next week, I hope. But it all depends on the ability of legislators to come together.” · (5)

New York City is covered in subway stations. There are, in fact, 468 of them, and not one of them was designed to be closed overnight. Some are designed for reduced capacity late at night; some are designed to have fewer entrances open; but no matter the hour, a subway will eventually stop at every single station in the system.

Now, though, Elliot Sander, executive director and CEO of the MTA, is threatening to take it all away. Faced with a crushing deficit nearly 50 percent beyond what officials first projected, the MTA is facing a second Doomsday this year. Without a major funding plan from Albany, the MTA is going to have to raise fares and cut services for an unprecedented second time in one calendar year, and no one is looking forward to it.

During a Wednesday board meeting in which the MTA brass gave the go-ahead to its finance committee to draw up an 18-month plan that could be approved as early as June, Sander sounded a dire tone. “I’m not sure the English language captures what goes beyond doomsday but to me, as a transit professional, as a citizen and a user of the system, they are just unbelievably difficult and I think some would view them as horrific,” he said said.

Horrific as in no more 24-hour service.

Of course, that’s a political red herring, and one unmasked by reporters a few hours later. William Neuman of The Times, for example, wrote:

Asked if he would consider shutting down the subway late at night to save money, he said, “One can’t say that anything is off the table.”

He said that he had not discussed an overnight shutdown with the president of New York City Transit, Howard H. Roberts Jr., and that there were strong arguments for maintaining all-night service.

A transportation authority spokesman, Jeremy Soffin, later clarified those remarks, saying, “We are not actively studying a nighttime shutdown of the system.” He said running fewer trains at night was a more likely option.

It all comes back to those 468 stations. The system simply wasn’t designed to stop. There’s nowhere to store all of the rolling stock; the cost of securing the system would be immense; and the cost in labor or time in shutting down and starting up the system basically negates — and is generally believed to outweigh — the cost savings of a shut down.

Of course, that’s hardly good news. The MTA can roll back subway service to two trains an hour on nearly every line from 2 a.m. to, say, 5 a.m. It doesn’t even need to add complementary Night Owl bus service. It will make taxis a more alluring alternative and will add significant time to off-hours workers’ commutes. In other words, it’s a second Doomsday.

“I want to wake up in the city that never sleeps,” Frank Sinatra croons in his classic rendition of “New York, New York.” The subways are in fact the main reason why this city never sleeps, and to take away the late-night subway rides would be to rob the city of its vitality, its allure and its 24-hour-ness. It makes for a dire Doomsday threat, but it won’t happen. At least we have that silver lining in this dark grey cloud.

Photo of a closed subway station by flickr user A30_Tsitika.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
Comments (27)
  • Rising costs force changes at 96th St. · Just last week, we took a look at the growing new stationhouse at 96th St. along the West Side IRT. Everything seemed to be moving smoothly, but alas, it was not to be. According to Heather Haddon of amNew York, rising costs have forced the MTA to “shave features” from the project. The end result will be a less accessible, but cheaper, station finished earlier than anticipated.

    Haddon notes that the cost savings encompass $26 million of shelved plans. Most notable are reductions to the plans to widen the underground platform. According to an MTA presentation on Monday not yet available on the agency’s website, workers will not have to relocate utilities or dig into the Manhattan bedrock. Furthermore, one of three planned elevators have been shelved

    On the flip side, this project will now be completed in 2010, a full 20 months before originally planned. While I reported that Sept. 2010 completion date last night, I didn’t realize it was a revised date. The Second Ave. Subway death knell grows louder with every bit of MTA construction news. · (1)

Due to a procedural rule in the New York State Senate, any Senate-endorsed MTA funding plan will not come to a vote until next week at the earliest. Meanwhile, Albany-watchers still do not believe that Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith has the requisite 32 votes to pass any sort of bill, and the MTA is counting down the days until it must unveil 2009’s second fare hike plan.

Tuesday in Albany started with some minor amendments the MTA funding plan approved Monday by the Senate’s transportation committee. The bill, approved along a 10-8 party-line vote, contained a few mistakes that had to be rectified, but because the Senate demands a three-day ripening period for legislation, the bill won’t come up for a vote again until Monday.

According to Elizabeth Benjamin (linked above), the changes were mostly cosmetic. The taxi cab drop-off charge now applies to yellow cars only, and the language requiring a mandatory MTA audit was strengthened to “shall be” from “may be.” No matter the langauge, Newsday’s James T. Madore can’t find 32 Senators in favor of the bill.

Downstate, Mayor Bloomberg finally ramped up his campaigning for the MTA. Bloomberg, along with teacher’s union head Randi Weingarten and President and CEO of Parntership for New York Kathryn Wylde, sent a letter to the state’s leaders in Albany urging support for the beleaguered transit agency.

Meanwhile, Newsday’s editorial board just wants Albany to allocate its discretionary funds to the agency. “Is nobody willing to argue that maintaining subways, buses and trains is a basic governmental responsibility?” the paper asks.

All of this Doomsday politicking leads to one overarching bit of bad news: While I yesterday said that the MTA would have to enact a second fare hike by the fall, amNew York’s Heather Haddon says that the MTA could unveil a second fare hike as early as May if the Senate does not act. Further we go along the downward spiral.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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Over the last few years, I’ve written extensively about MTA security issues. It’s been nearly eight years since the 9/11 attacks, and the agency’s security efforts have been stymied, as State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli noted in November, by nearly every problem on the books. From a lack of technological compatibility to bureaucratic inefficiencies, the MTA has tried to institute some sort of closed circuit surveillance system in the subways with little success.

Yesterday, this issue came to a head as defense contractor Lockheed Martin sued the MTA in an effort to get out of its contract. Lockheed says that the MTA is responsible for the delays in the project and has been less that cooperative in helping out with the job.

The Post’s Bruce Golding, Tom Namako and Larry Celona first reported on the lawsuit yesterday. They write:

Lockheed is claiming losses of $3 million a month while “key personnel” remain in place on the stalled project, and says it will file a separate suit to recover damages.

The company, which was supposed to be done with the job last August, blames the MTA for refusing to let it work inside a series of “under river tunnels,” including four beneath the East River linking Manhattan and Queens.

Lockheed’s Manhattan federal court filing says the contract guaranteed it access to one of the four East River tunnels for at least 55 hours each weekend. “Currently, there is no schedule in place,” the suit says.

Lockheed also accuses the MTA of failing to clear out existing communication rooms for necessary upgrades. The rooms are cluttered with other contractors’ equipment, while several “have water infiltration, the presence of which makes it unsafe to perform work due to the risk of electrocution,” and many “have inadequate electricity which is essential to perform the work.”

Perhaps worst of all, “none of the communication rooms have necessary network access, the absence of which makes it impossible for Lockheed Martin to install communication systems that will actually transmit information,” according to the suit.

Those are pretty damning allegations from one of the nation’s leading contractors, and the timing could not be worse for an MTA already combating public image problems. The agency has already paid out $250 million on a contract originally valued at $212 million in 2005, and there is no end in sight to the project.

From a security perspective, this is, needless to say, alarming. The open nature of the city’s transit infrastructure make it a very vulnerable target to an attack, and this project was supposed to help secure it. Meanwhile, from an institutional perspective, this filing simply gives more ammo to MTA detractors who view it as a barely functioning bureaucratic mess. That the MTA is just bleeding money everywhere these days makes it all the more worse.

Categories : Subway Security
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  • Transit advocates to host evening rally against the cuts · While time has long run out on the MTA, a group of transit advocates are going to give it the old college try today. This evening, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., three groups will be hosting a rally in Union Square to “urge our elected officials to stand up for transit.” The Straphangers Campaign, the Working Families Party and Transportation Alternatives will gather to “send a clear message that New Yorkers are united against the 25% fare increases and service cuts.” That’s all well and good, but as Streetsblog’s Ben Fried wrote yesterday, until these groups — and in particuarl, the WFP — come out for something, they’re just spinning their wheels. · (1)

As Albany bickered over an MTA funding plan, the agency yesterday announce a $621-million increase in its deficit for 2009 and a $1 billion increase for 2010. Based on the response out of Albany, you’d never know how bad that news really is.

In a nutshell, the story is simple. Because ridership and tax revenues are both lower than projected, the MTA’s substantial budge deficit will grow by nearly 50 percent this year. While neither Malcolm Smith nor Sheldon Silver has realized it, this increase basically negates any Albany-produced funding package. Even if the State Senate and Assembly can come to terms — even if they pass something that brings some money into the MTA’s coffers — it will be enough to cover a $1.2 billion gap and not a $1.8 billion gap.

So then, what does this mean for New Yorkers reliant on transit? Well, at this point, the MTA will have little choice but to start cutting service. The cutbacks may not be as drastic as once feared, but a $600 million gap is pretty substantial itself.

The worse news though comes in the fare box department. Since the MTA is so reliant right now on fare box revenue, the agency said on Monday that it may have to raise fares twice in 2009. With no Senate action, the fares will go up by nearly 25 percent at the end of May, and for the first time in MTA history, the fares could go up a second time this calendar year and a third time in 2010.

Pete Donohue reports a potential eight percent increase on tap as the second fare hike of the year. I would expect that to arrive by October or November when the MTA has a clearer picture of how much money it needs to balance its books before the end of the year. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the eventual second fare hike ended up at over eight percent.

Times are bleak indeed for transit in New York.

Categories : Fare Hikes
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