Long has the MTA — and, in particularly, New York City Transit — borne the label of technophobe. While subway systems across the nation and globe have long enjoyed video information boards and digital communications systems, NYC Transit has yet to bring this technology to New York City’s straphanging masses.

Well, the wait is sorta, kinda, almost over. According to NY1, the MTA has unveiled digital notice boards along the L and 7 lines, those line-managed icons of experimentation. The story:

Transit officials are testing a new program to alert subway riders with digital announcement boards in the event of delays.

Straphangers at six stations on the 7 and L lines will see video screens inside token booths as part of a pilot program. For now, they are only broadcasting public service announcements, but officials say they will provide up-to-the-minute information on service disruptions.

The Station Agent Information Display program, or SAID, cost the MTA $30,000 so far.

Officials at the rail control center will be able to send messages to individual stations, or groups of stations using wireless technology.

As with everything new in the subways, this is part of a pilot program, and the line managers say that station agents will continue to use those useless and uninformative white boards that I always thought were hanging up in the station booths for decoration. Why else would they still feature messages from July 22, 2005 when the NYPD started randomly searching bags in the subway?

Of course, the typical caveats apply: These boards are only as useful as the information on them. Right now, as the video story on NY1’s recently redesigned Website shows, the boards are being utilized only for the same old MTA PSA’s we’ve all had drilled into our subconscious: If you see something, say something. Throw away your trash. Sign up for the e-mail alerts.

The first real test of these boards will come during an unexpected service delay. If these boards help passengers find out before entering the system that trains are delayed, if they help re-route lost, confused or stranded passengers, then we can label them a success and call for systemwide implementation. But until that day, they’re just fancy TV monitors that happen to hang in the booth in your nearest subway stop.

Categories : MTA Technology
Comments (9)
  • Replicating a subway stop as a bathroom · Way too many people tend to view subway stations as their personal bathrooms. Now, one Glaswegian artist has decided to make his own bathroom a subway stop. Inspired by a visit to New York City ten years, Travis the Trannyboi has converted his bathroom to resemble the DeKalb Ave. stop in Brooklyn. The artist says he likes the tiles as a bathroom aesthetic, and in a rationale to which New Yorkers can relate, he says that the unique look distracts from the tiny loo. You can read more about this odd bathroom and see pictures on the Wired Autopia blog. What this says about the subways I leave up to your imagination. · (2)

7th Ave. Tiles 2

The F’s Seventh Ave. stop in Brooklyn is just one of many stations in need of rehabilitation. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Back in June, when the MTA announced $2.7 billion in capital construction costs, subway advocates around the city groaned. Among those cuts were plans to rehabilitate 19 stations in dire need of renovations, and it seemed like business as usual for the cash-starved MTA.

Well, look what happens in an election year. Patrick Arden of Metro New York reports today that the MTA has withdrawn the plans to cut $2.7 billion for its construction budget and may be amending and resubmitting the planned cuts. He reports:

The MTA withdrew a controversial plan to slash 15 percent from its current five-year capital program last week, just days before the proposal faced a state panel’s deadline.

“We were prepared to support the amendment,” said Long Island Republican John Flanagan, the state Senate’s rep on the MTA Capital Program Review Board. “But the Assembly had some major concerns.”

These concerns centered on $2.4 billion in cuts to city subway and bus programs, including the loss of rehabs to 19 stations. Overall, the $2.7 billion in MTA cuts were technically “deferred” into the next five-year capital program, yet funding for that plan remains uncertain. In shifting resources, the MTA had proposed several new projects to address subway flooding and overcrowding, altering subway vents and buying new cars. For now, those items are in limbo.

While Arden couldn’t get a hold of any Assembly members willing to dish, MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin told the reporter, “We expect to resubmit the amendment.”

To me, this seems like a classic case of legislative cold feet. Faced with an upcoming election and recent attention to the state legislature’s unwillingness to fund the MTA as it should, Assembly representatives are asking the beleaguered transit agency to cut back on the cuts. If I were a betting man, I’d say that some of the 19 stations scheduled for rehabilitation will get that overhaul, but the Smith/9th Sts. stop probably won’t get the extensive face lift it needs.

I’m sure in a few days or weeks — once we have a better sense of the Ravitch proposals — the MTA will resubmit their plans for budget cuts, and I’m sure the Assembly won’t like it one bit. But until state leaders are willing to fund the MTA, this cat-and-mouse budget game will continue ad nauseum. And some people say history doesn’t repeat itself.

Categories : MTA Economics
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  • MetroCards as art · My current 30-Day Unlimited MetroCard is hardly a work of act. On the back, it says “Si ves algo, di algo” and gives me the MTA’s standard anti-terrorism message in Spanish. But over the years, the MTA has released many special- and limited-edition MetroCards. As Vincent M. Mallozzi of The Times told us over the weekend, memorabilia buffs have been collecting and trading MetroCards for years. I love stories such as this one. It’s a reminder of the joys — and quirks — that can arise from something as simple as a MetroCard. · (1)

With Labor Day behind us and vacation season coming to an end, the MTA should get right back to business. Tops on the list this fall will be two related items: the Richard Ravitch commission report and the potential 2009 fare hike.

Within the next few weeks, we’ll probably hear from some preliminary results from the Ravitch comission. While we know that Ravitch is bound to recommend congestion pricing with all revenue funneled to the MTA, the transit agency will still push its fare hike. Straphangers will fight back, but the reality is that, in our current economy and with the present state of the MTA and fiscal contributions from the government, the fare hike is more inevitable than anything else.

To that end, The Providence Journal, of all papers, wrote one of the more compelling arguments in support of a fare hike that I’ve read in a long time. The Rhode Island-based editorial board opined:

New York’s subways and buses are experiencing ridership levels not seen for 40 or 50 years. That’s a success story. And while we don’t expect New Yorkers to happily accept a higher fare, we do think they should know that their public-transportation system remains a very good deal. For that matter, the economy and society of any area benefit hugely from a good mass-transit system, as a look at Boston, Chicago and some other cities quickly demonstrates.

A good mass-transit system can mean the difference between a thriving metropolitan economy and a mediocre one. With energy and environmental concerns around the world likely to get even more pressing in the years ahead, good mass transit will become even more of a city’s comparative advantage.

This is a point I’ve tried to make before. New York City needs a healthy transit system to survive and thrive in a demanding global economy. Therefore, the residents of New York City may be asked to foot the bill for a fare hike as the MTA attempts to find the money to run that transit network.

We might not like it; we might argue that the government should be offering up more financial support for our transit system; and we’d probably be right. But we have to remember that our fares are very low — less than $1.40 per ride when all the discounts are accounted for. As much as we don’t want to admit it, the economics of urban life demand sacrifices. A fare hike might be one of those.

Comments (8)

Get out while you still can! Run for the hills! Jet to the beach! It’s the Unofficial End of Summer. We all have to go back inside and wear jackets and long-sleeve shirts on Tuesday. Panic!

Ok, ok. Maybe Labor day isn’t that bad, but with the way New Yorkers behave, you’d think the world were about to change for the worse when we all return to our jobs and schools on Tuesday after this final three-day weekend of the summer. While that’s not really true, that the subways are a bit of a mess this weekend is an indisputable fact.

Here’s the rundown: Travel on the IRT is a nightmare this weekend, and getting to and from Brooklyn may be a bit of a headache. Also, trains on Monday are operating on a Sunday schedule but without the below delays. So you’ll see full weekend service on all lines, and none of the changes listed here (and on display at SubwayWeekender) are in effect then.

Much like regular subway service, I’ll be back on Monday night/Tuesday morning with new posts. Enjoy the long weekend.

No 1 trains between 14 St and South Ferry

  1. Take the 2 or 3 between 34 and Chambers Sts
  2. Free shuttle buses run between Chambers St and South Ferry

Aug 30 – Sep 1, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

1 trains skip 28, 23, and 18 Sts in both directions
Aug 30 – Sep 1, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

2 and 3 trains run local between 96 and Chambers Sts
Aug 30 – Sep 1, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

No 4 trains between Atlantic Av and Brooklyn Bridge
A special J train provides alternate service to nearby stations
Aug 30 – Sep 1, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

No 4 trains between Utica and Atlantic Avs
Take the 3 instead
Aug 30 – Sep 1, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

No 5 trains between Grand Central-42 St and Bowling Green
The 4 and special J trains provide alternate service
Aug 30 – Sep 1, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

Manhattan-bound A trains run local from Euclid Av to Broadway Junction, then express to Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts, then local to 168 St
Aug 30 – Sep 1, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

Brooklyn-bound A trains run local from 168 to West 4 Sts, then on the F to Jay St, then local to Euclid Av
Aug 30 – Sep 1, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

No C trains running
Take the A instead
Aug 30 – Sep 1, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

E trains run local between 71-Continental and Roosevelt Avs
Aug 30 – 31, 12:30 AM Sat to midnight Sun

Manhattan-bound F trains run on the V from Roosevelt Av to 47-50 Sts
Aug 30 – Sep 1, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

F trains run local between 71-Continental and Roosevelt Avs
Aug 30 – 31, 12:30 AM Sat to midnight Sun

No G trains between 71-Continental Avs and Court Sq
Take the E or R instead
Aug 29 – Sep 2, 8:30 PM Fri to 5 AM Tue

No J trains between Jamaica Center and 111 St
Free shuttle buses replace trains between 111 St and the Jamaica-Van Wyck E station
Aug 30 – 31, 6 AM Sat to 8 PM Sun

Manhattan-bound N trains run on the D from Stillwell Av to 36 St
Aug 30 – Sep 1, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon

Manhattan-bound N trains skip 30 Av, Broadway, 36, and 39 Avs
Aug 30 – 31, 8 AM to 4 PM Sat and Sun

R trains are extended to the 179 St F station
Aug 30 – 31, 12:30 AM Sat to midnight Sun

Categories : Service Advisories
Comments (2)
  • WTC Transit Hub — eight years away — to feature altered design · According to recent reports, by the time Port Authority gets around to wrapping work on its World Trade Center Transit Hub, we’ll have lived through two more Presidential elections not counting the current race. Downtown Express reported last week that the Hub won’t be open until 2016 at the earliest. Meanwhile, The Times reports that, due to rising costs, Santiago Calatrava’s design is going to be drastically modified. The no-column approach may be scrapped all together.

    So by the time this project is completed — if the Port Authority can meet its ambitious timeline — at least 15 years will have elapsed since the 9/11 attacks. No wonder people are clamoring for someone who can Get Things Done. · (2)

Yesterday evening, at around 6:40, I had to get myself from 44th St. between 5th and 6th Aves. to 55th St. between 8th and 9th Aves. I could have walked, but I had been carrying around a really heavy backpack all day. So as I walked by 47th St., my Unlimited MetroCard and I decided the subway it would be.

I knew that the B or D at Rockefeller Center would get me over to 59th St. in short order, and that two-block walk, after exciting through the Hearst Building, is much less painful than negotiating midtown at the end of rush hour with a backpack and an eight-pound book on contracts. Little did I realize how wrong I would be, and in taking this short, two-stop trip, I remembered and observed why so many New Yorkers have such a love/hate relationship with the subway.

The first warning sign came when I arrived down on the IND platform. While not particularly crowded, the few people standing there seemed to be peering expectantly into the tunnel. It was 6:41 p.m. As the minutes ticked by, the crowd grew denser and less patient. The looks down the tunnel grew more frequent, and a few passengers were agitatedly looking at their watches. Fifteen minutes later, at 6:56 p.m., a crowded D train arrived at Rockefeller Center, and the lights of a B train, directly behind that one, were visible in the tunnel.

In this little exchange — a fifteen-minute wait — the love and hate for the MTA came out all at once. We love the trains because, for a swipe of an unlimited card or for the $2 that no one really pays, we can go anywhere in the city at any time of day.

But the hate. Oh, the hate. We wonder why New York City Transit can’t install message boards, as they have just about everywhere else, telling us when the next train is due to arrive. Barring that, we wonder why station agents can’t make announcements warning of delays or why the subway scheduling gods can’t find a way to leave a little more lead time between trains. It’s not really a matter of disliking the transit system itself as much as it is disliking the features and technology it doesn’t have.

Later in the evening, as I traipsed back through Columbus Circle en route to the B train that got me home very speedily, I glanced around this station. As we know, the Columbus Circle station is undergoing a never-ending renovation, but as the end results in certain areas are coming into focus, I’ve wondered about the timing and approach to the project.

In various parts of the station, the “new” floors and walls have long been in place, but since the rest of the station is under renovation, the new parts already look 20 years old and in need of a good polish. The walls are bucking in parts; holes in the new tiling have already been paved. It all just looks so used and not in a good way. Why they didn’t wait on the floors until the rest of the project was completed, as much renovations do, I don’t know.

Again, it’s an issue of operations and approach. We love the subways for where they take and how quickly, when they arrive, the rides are. I was back in Brooklyn 30 minutes after my train picked me up at 59th St. But everything else around just needs an overhaul. We love it; we hate it; and it — the trains, the MTA, New York City Transit — is always there for us when we need it most.

Comments (0)

I love it when the MTA’s efforts at painting make the news. Last July, we saw the MTA paralyzed by indecision because they couldn’t figure out which stations to paint. Seven months later, in February, the MTA finally announce plans for an absurdly slow plan to paint every station. Today’s news is just as entertaining but fairly alarming as well.

According to a report in The Brooklyn Paper, three stations in Bay Ridge may be getting skipped over for paint jobs because they are in such a bad state of repair that a paint job wouldn’t do anything for them. Some of this report seems to be conjecture by Gersh Kuntzman’s paper, but I think they may be on to something.

Ben Muessig reports:

While the peeling and flaking 77th Street R train station is about to get a new paint job, The Brooklyn Paper has learned that Bay Ridge’s other grimy stations may not get one because they suffer from such serious infrastructure problems that a paint job would offer only an inconsequential uplift.

The MTA says it’s including 77th Street in a $52-million project that will put a fresh coat of paint on stairways, platforms and mezzanines throughout the city — but the gritty Bay Ridge Avenue, 86th Street and 95th Street stations will not be included in the job.

In choosing which stations to repaint, the MTA did not consider stops that suffered from larger problems — like water leaks, transit spokeswoman Deidre Parker said. “It depends on when they were last painted, or if they were rehabbed recently,” she said. “If they need other extensive work, they’re not going to paint over existing problems.”

While Parker had, according to The Brooklyn Paper, no further information about the decision to omit the Bay Ridge stations from the painting plans, it seems as though deeper questions surrounding the infrastructure and state of the stations may be in play.

The story in The Brooklyn Paper comes out one day after Thomas Friedman urged the nation to invest in transportation infrastructure, and the timing couldn’t have been better. For the MTA and for this city, this news is one more alarming sign that we need some serious levels of investment in the subway system. It’s state is precarious, and as more stations fall into disrepair, the system will suffer.

The trains may be new; the tracks may be in good shape; but the stations are starting to fall apart. How far this will go is up to the politicians holding the purse strings. Sadly, they don’t seem to be in a rush to do much of anything about it.

Categories : Brooklyn
Comments (6)
  • In search of the next Robert Moses · Does New York need another master builder? asked The Times’ Jennifer 8. Lee yesterday. As nothing big grows in the city year after year, city planners and reporters often wonder if we need someone who can, like Moses did, Get Things Done. Of course, one would hope in the 21st century, Getting Things Done would include transit, but for now, we’ll just have to ponder the question: Will New York remain in stasis, with gaping holes and aging infrastructure, until someone else with a grand vision, a la Moses, reemerges? The possibilities are both frightening and fascinating. · (5)
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