As 2008 draws to a close, I’d like to look back on the year that was on Second Ave. Sagas. We talked a lot of transit policy as the MTA dealt with a financial crisis, the death of congestion pricing and fare hikes. While advertising often took center stage, we had our fun too as the MTA neared completion on a new station and an old Vignelli original returned.

To wrap up the year, let’s run down the Top Ten most popular posts of 2008 on the site. Thanks to everyone who stopped by to read my musings, to everyone who contributes and to everyone rides the subway. Have a safe and happy New Year, and remember that subway service on Jan. 1 operates on a Sunday schedule. I’ll see on you on Friday.

1. A subway system easier to navigate
While poking around Massimo Vignelli’s Website, I came across the ultimate New York City subway triptych. An old subway sign told riders which trains they needed to take and what transfers to make to get from one station to the next.

2. Inside the new South Ferry Terminal
A few weeks ago, the MTA held a press tour of 1 train’s new South Ferry Terminal. My camera I went inside the art-filled and state-of-the-art depot, the system’s first new station in nearly twenty years.

3. Finding love on the subway
After the Patrick Moberg story stole headlines in 2007, I mused on the nature of privacy in the subways and urged straphangers to talk to one another. My family felt I was secretly channeling my own subway crush.

4. Planning for a Second Ave. subway, 75 years ago
Modern Mechanix unearthed an article from 1931 in which the New York City of the future came equipped with a four-track Second Ave. subway. Over 75 years later, we’re still waiting for even a two-track version of that reality.

5. New Grand Theft Auto cuts down our subways
Everyone’s favorite anarchist video game took on New York City in its Liberty City release this year. While the subways played an integral role in the game, the map looked nothing like the complex city-wide snake we’re used to seeing.

6. Inside — and outside — the Second Ave. Subway
At a Community Board 8 meeting at the end of October, the MTA unveiled its architectural renderings for the three Second Ave. subway stops. We took a look at the so-called subway stations of the future. Some of the entrances — the canopied escalators in particular — look suspiciously like the WMATA’s stations in Washington, D.C.

7. For Men’s Vogue, Vignelli issues an update
The Massimo Vignelli subway map will be remembered in New York City for decades to come. It was either the most masterful work of art and the most useless subway map ever depending upon whom you ask. Earlier this year, Men’s Vogue commissioned an update from Vignelli, and the limited edition print series sold out in less than a day.

8. Thinking Out Loud: The MTA should double the fares
In a post that generated a SAS-record 53 comments, I suggested that, in order to apply pressure to Albany for proper MTA funding, the transit agency should double the fares across the board. While the MTA is set to raise fares by around 23 percent, my think piece proposal still stands.

9. Inside the Crown Jewel of the old subway system
In March, I took the Transit Museum’s tour of the now-shuttered City Hall stop. The station, a decadent display of another era, served as the launching point of the city’s subways in 1904. Today, it’s a ghost station, visible only from the windows of the 6 train as it curves through the stop on its way uptown.

10. Inside the circumferential subway route plans
During his State of the MTA speech in March, MTA CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander unveiled the agency’s 40-year vision. This proposal included the long-debated circumferential subway route, a line traveling from Brooklyn through Queens and into the Bronx. The city needs it, but it will be a long, long time before this train becomes a reality.

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The MTA this week released more details about the planned service cutbacks that will arrive starting in July if no action is take on the Ravitch Report. The reports are all available here as PDF files, but I’m going to highlight the changes and cost savings here. As you’ll see, the subway cutbacks will impact a lot of people, and the aggregate annual savings just don’t seem that high to me.

  • Terminate the G at Court Square
    Net Annual Savings: $1.9 million
  • Operate the N via the Manhattan Bridge Late Nights
    Net Annual Savings: $390,000
  • Eliminate the W; extend the Q to Astoria Weekdays; operate the N local in Manhattan
    Net Annual Savings: $3 million
  • Eliminate M between Broad Street and Bay Parkway; eliminate Z and J/Z skip-stop service; and operate J local between Jamaica Center and Myrtle Avenue
    Net Annual Savings: $2.4 million
  • Operate 10-Minute headway on B division Weekends
    Net Annual Savings: $5 million
  • 125 percent of seated-load weekday middays and evenings
    Net Annual Savings: $8.4 million
  • 30-Minute Headways 2 a.m.-5 a.m.
    Net Annual Savings: $4.1 million
  • Total Net Annual Savings: $25.19 million

Now, over the course of the week, the MTA estimates this will impact upwards of a million passengers per day trying to get anywhere in the city. The cost savings also represent about two percent of the total $1.2 billion operating budget gap.

I understand that the MTA needs to close the budget gap as best it can, but I have to wonder if inconveniencing so many passengers is really the way to do it. I think these numbers show the extent and magnitude of the cuts. At some point, nearly every New Yorker will deal with longer wait times and reduced service options. They’ll face more crowded trains, fewer seats and more surly passengers. Is that really the best approach for the MTA? At a time when the agency needs sympathy, it will be antagonizing its riders.

On the flip side, the numbers for personnel reduction are much higher. New York City Transit alone is looking at over $100 million in cost savings alone through managerial cutbacks and station staffing positions. I’d rather see more of those than what seem like minimal savings through service cuts whose reverberations will be felt throughout the whole system.

Categories : Service Cuts
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Fare Type Current Proposal 1 Proposal 2 Ravitch 1 Ravitch 2
Base Fare $2 $2.50 $2.25 $2.25 $2.00
Cash/Single Ride $2 $2.50 $3 $2.25 $2.25
Bonus + Threshold 15% at $7 15% at $7 None 20% at $7 None
Bonus Per Ride $1.74 $2.17 N/A $1.88 N/A
1-Day Unlimited $7.50 $9.50 $9.50 $8 $8
7-Day Unlimited $25 $31 $31 $27 $26
14-Day Unlimited $47 $59 $57 $49 $49
30-Day Unlimited $81 $103 $99 $88 $87

Various fare hike proposals from the MTA

What you are looking at above is the bad news. The MTA released on Monday a fare policy memo (PDF) from CFO Gary Dellaverson to the agency’s board detailing the various possible fare hikes.

To summarize, the first column on the left is the current fare structure. Following it are two proposals the MTA would consider under its so-called “Doomsday budget.” In those instances, the MTA is not relying on any sort of transit relief via the Ravitch proposal or any other idea that may come down the pike. Rather, on its own, the agency is searching for a way to generate what Dellaverson called “a 23% increase in yield from fares.”

The two columns on the right represent the fare hike if the Ravitch plan or some other form of relief is passed. Under those fare structures, the MTA would expect its rider to shoulder a fare hike of just eight percent. Both of these plans also involve raising rates on the MTA commuter rails and bridges and tunnels.

It’s hard to feel too good about either of these proposals because, no matter what, New Yorkers will suffer through two years in a row with fare hikes in 2009. No matter the outcome of the Ravitch proposal or the economy, no matter what happens with any potential stimulus plan, the MTA will raise the fares in 2009, and there is nothing anyone can do about it except grin and bear it.

With that in mind, I much prefer both Proposal 2 and Ravitch 2 over the other options for this inevitable fare hike. Simply put, these options reward frequent travelers as best as they can. In my opinion, the biggest mistake the MTA made when they raised fares in 2008 was in choosing to not raise the base fare. By keeping the standard fare at $2, infrequent riders got to enjoy a low fare while those who used the system most had to pay the most.

Now, I understand that we’ll all have to pay, but the fares should be raised in a way that generates enough revenue without negatively impacting the people most dependent on transit. Those people, in my book, are the ones who buy the Unlimited ride cards. Proposal 2 keeps the 30-day card under that psychological $100 barrier, and Ravitch 2 minimizes the increases across the board. That’s the way it should be.

As 2008 draws to a close tomorrow night, it hasn’t been a good year for the MTA. While Elliot Sander marked the agency’s 40th birthday with an ambitious eye toward the future, the year has ended with bad economic news, a hazy outlook for expansion and now a fare hike. Here’s to hoping 2009 will bring better subway news for New York City.

Categories : Fare Hikes
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Few and far between are the days with news of the Second Ave. subway. Along Second Ave. on the Upper East Side, work continues apace on Phase I of the long-awaited subway, but south of 72nd St., the future isn’t as rosy for the New York subway’s very own Moby Dick.

Speaking a few days at the MTA board meeting, the agency’s CEO and Executive Director Lee Sander spoke guardedly about the project. The Downtown Express was on hand to bring the news:

Sander was asked several questions about the Second Ave. subway under construction on the Upper East Side, and every time he mentioned the full build plan to extend the line to Chinatown, the Seaport and the Financial District, he used some form of the word “hope.”

He said it would be more than 10 years before it is built and he offered no guarantees that it will ever happen. It’s the fourth and last phase of the project. “That’s phase 1, 2, and 3 away,” said Lois Tendler, vice president of community relations for N.Y.C. Transit, who joined Sander at the meeting.

Sander remains passionate about the new line but said if he has to make drastic cuts to the capital program, he would sooner cut mega-projects like Second Ave. and East Side Access, which will connect Long Island commuters to Grand Central Station, than cuts to the existing system. “If you had to make a choice between those two, there is no choice — it is the core program,” he said.

Those core projects seem to be the signal-modernization efforts and the computer-based train control program.

Of course, who hasn’t been expecting tempered expectations from the MTA over the Second Ave. subway? Anyone who knows their subway history wouldn’t actually expect a full Second Ave. subway any time before the Armageddon.

But in reality, Sander is simply speaking the truth. Right now, as the MTA deals with a massive deficit in its operating budget, it is facing a blackhole of funding for its capital budget. The agency needs around $30 billion for its next five-year plan set to begin in 2010, and that money is no sure thing. If the funds don’t arrive, there will be no Second Ave. subway outside of the three stations at 96th St., 86th St., and 72nd St. under construction.

New York needs the Second Ave. subway, but New York also needs a modernized system. If push comes to shove, the MTA will make that right choice, but hopefully, push won’t come to shove. If history is any indication, I’m not too optimistic.

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A final Nostalgic weekend

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The 2007 version of the Nostalgia Train sits at Second Ave. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

As 2008 is coming to an end, so too are the MTA’s holiday Nostalgia Train trips. This Sunday is your last opportunity to catch the vintage subway cars as they travel up the V line from Second Ave. to Queens Plaza.

Luckily, the MTA has taken the guess work out of the journey this year. They’ve posted the departure times on their website. For your info, here it is:

From Lower East Side 2 Ave
10 a.m.
11:30 a.m.
1 p.m.
2:30 p.m.
4 p.m.

From Queens Plaza
10:45 a.m.
12:15 p.m.
1:45 p.m.
3:15 p.m.

If you can’t make it, flickr has loads of Nostalgia Train photos.

Anyway, on with the service alerts for the weekend. The NYC Transit press office didn’t send out the release this week with the changes. So some of these may not be accurate. Check the signs in your station before you travel.

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Categories : Service Advisories
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In one of the strongest pro-MTA editorials yet, The Times on Thursday urged New Yorkers to call upon Albany to save the MTA. It is a message I’ve harped upon for weeks and one well worth repeating.

As its new “doomsday” budget makes clear, the authority will require all sorts of drastic measures just to stay even. Without help from Albany, there will be fewer trains and buses, and a few subway lines and bus routes will be canceled altogether…

Governor Paterson and the Legislature must do whatever they can to keep the system from regressing to the slow and shabby days of the 1970s. A sensible course has been suggested by a commission led by Richard Ravitch, a former chairman of the transportation authority. The commission proposes raising revenues for public transit by installing tolls on Harlem River and East River bridges that do not already have tolls and levying a modest payroll tax for businesses, unions and governments in the New York City area.

Not surprisingly, the idea of new tolls has provoked a huge outcry from Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, and most city politicians have retreated from the idea. What this means, of course, is that the people who take their cars to work are winning out against the millions who take public transit. This is as unfair as it is environmentally unsound. Moreover, unless drivers pay their fair share, employers are likely to resist a new payroll tax proposed to help shore up the system.

New tolls and taxes are unpleasant. But longer waits and longer commutes and dirtier trains and much higher fares for millions of people who depend on public transit are more so. The remedy now depends on Albany.

In a sense, The Times is echoing what I wrote on Monday when I explored the vast difference between the numbers of drivers and transit commuters in Brooklyn. Why they published such an important editorial on Christmas Day, a notoriously slow news day, I do not know.

What I do know though and what The Times notes, many more people will be negatively impacted by a poorly funded MTA than by a bunch of bridge tolls on the East River. We’ll find out in a few weeks who will pay the most for the MTA’s woes. If the drivers don’t pay, the city as a whole will suffer, and Albany should make sure the MTA gets what it needs.

Categories : MTA Economics
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To celebrate the city and offer up a way to carry a map in your pocket, a design firm in Korea has published a heart-shaped version of the New York City subway map.

The PSFK design blog has more about this one-of-a-kind map:

A group of Korean graphic designers called Zero Per Zero have a unique take on the typical subway map of New York City. Playing on the I Love New York logo, the entire system is visualized as a big heart. The final design was the 2008 Design For Asia Grand Award Winner for a City Railway System which seems a bit odd considering it’s a remake of an American system, but we certainly applaud the simplicity and beauty of their artistic vision.

This playful design actually functions as the map it remixes and on closer inspection, it includes pictorial representations of remarkable locations throughout the city. It’s great to see designers offer a new interpretation of such a recognizable map in a way that may even improve the mood of some of NYC’s grumpy commuters.

The map itself costs under $7 but shipping from South Korea pushes that total up to around $20. I think it’s well worth it for map collectors.

After the jump, a detail of the map, and remember that the subways are running on a Sunday schedule today. Allow extra time for travel, and have a Merry Christmas!

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Categories : Subway Maps
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  • R160s arrive on the E · As part of a $1.1-billion capital investment in new rolling stock, New York City Transit unveiled its first set of R160s along the E line at 7:03 a.m. on Tuesday morning. According to the agency’s press release, this 10-car set was the first of a 1662-car order that will replace the oldest trains along the lettered lines. Based on recent test runs I’ve seen, I have to believe that the E and F lines will be receiving the bulk of these cars, but all of the lettered lines should enjoy some new cars. · (17)
  • Market sends MTA pension fund down by $500M · According to a Pete Donohue report in The Daily News, the recent economic slump has impacted the MTA’s pension funds to the tune of $500 million. Between January and the end of the November, the authority’s pension fund shed nearly a quarter of its overall value, and this news is clearly not good for a cash-strapped agency. · (1)
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