Hope for the Ravitch Commission recommendations looked dim last Friday as numerous politicians voiced their collective disapproval for the tax-and-toll plan to save the MTA. Today, after a week of hearings conducted by various governing bodies and featuring numerous transit and business officials, the future is looking decidedly worse for the MTA.

“Some of my colleagues said the Ravitch plan is dead on arrival,” State Senator Martin Malavé Dilan (Dem., Brooklyn) said this week. “They said to me there’s no way they can vote for it. It’s the M.T.A.’s responsibility to convince my colleagues.”

That effort, according to Ken Belson of The New York Times, is not going so well. Belson sums up the grim news:

An array of city, state and federal elected officials sharply criticized the proposals to bail out the Metropolitan Transportation Authority at a legislative hearing on Thursday, raising fresh concerns about whether the proposals can survive in Albany.

City Council members opposed a plan to introduce tolls on the East and Harlem Rivers. Representative Anthony D. Weiner and business groups said they were against introducing a new payroll tax. And state senators, as well as many advocacy groups, disagreed with the proposal for an 8 percent fare increase.

Mostly, according to Belson, New York politicians were hoping to find ways to save the system without raising fares, cutting service, implementing tolls or instituting new taxes. I guess praying might work one day.

State Senator Bill Perkins of Manhattan, who led the hearing, at the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building in Harlem, asked Mr. Ravitch several times if his commission had considered ways to avoid raising public transit fares.

Mr. Ravitch said that some fare increases were necessary. He said his plan was needed not just to help close the M.T.A.’s $1.2 billion budget gap, but to ensure that all constituents — including drivers and subway, railroad and bus riders — share the burden. “Nobody likes to pay anything,” Mr. Ravitch said in answer to questions by Senators Perkins and Dilan. “We concluded that the only ultimately feasible way to get the financing done is come up with recommendations that everyone contribute.”

Meanwhile, New York politicians are looking in all the wrong places. Anthony Weiner, a House representative from New York, criticized the tax-and-toll plan as consisting of “old ideas” and said that the feds would ride to the rescue of the MTA. “We should step back from the apocalypse. There’s going to be help coming from Washington,” he said.

But I have to ask Mr. Weiner when he expects this magic money from D.C. to arrive. The MTA can wait only another 36 days until they must pass a budget, and there is no way that Congress can find $1.2 billion for the transit agency in that time. Meanwhile, the city and state have to be looking at permanent, long-term fixes for the MTA. Unless the federal government is willing to guarantee operating revenues for the MTA in perpetuity, New York will have to confront this issue of taxes and tolls and fare hikes sooner rather than later.

Optimistically, Assembly representative Richard Brodsky thinks that a compromise is on the horizon. What that will be is anyone’s guess, but right now, I don’t share Brodsky’s sunny outlook.

Categories : MTA Economics
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MTA workers oversee the 100-ton Tunnel Boring Machine on Thursday morning as Mayor Bloomberg and transit officials look on. (Photo courtesy of the MTA)

In a little while, I’ll get to this piece of bad news. But while the state legislature was busy ignoring the MTA’s needs, the transit agency and the city were looking forward to a new era of construction and subway expansion. Thursday was, then, a day of both progress and regression on the NYC transit front.

Early on Thursday morning, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and MTA officials gathered at 11th Ave. and 25th St. to celebrate the lowering of one of the two tunnel-boring machines for the 7 line extension. These machines will work their ways north from this spot on the far west side of Chelsea past the eventual Hudson Yards area and then eastward along 41st St. until meeting up with the existing 7 tubes near Times Square. The extension, according to the MTA, will open in 2013.

Along the way, a piece of subway history will vanish though. A vacant platform on the long-shuttered lower level at the 8th Ave. A/C/E stop at 42nd St. will soon meets it doom as the 7 stretches westward. NYCSubway.org has some dramatic images of the destruction of the platform that has been closed since 1981.

Above ground, the politicians and MTA officials were, of course, in a celebratory mood. “Today, we’re beginning the next and most dramatic phase of the extension of the 7 subway line,” Bloomberg said. “By digging these tunnels, we are expanding our subway network into an entirely new area of the City: Manhattan’s Far West Side. It’s these major, long-term investments in infrastructure that will transform areas full of promise into neighborhoods full of residents, park-goers, office workers and shoppers.”

MTA Executive Director and CEO Elliot Sander used the opportunity to stress what the MTA, with money, can accomplish. “As we prepare our next Capital Plan, this project shows that with stable funding in place, we can build monumental works that will serve generations of New Yorkers,” Sander said. “We are deeply grateful for Mayor Bloomberg’s steadfast commitment to this project, and we appreciate and share his understanding of the important role that transportation will play in catalyzing the development of the Far West Side.”

While this optimism is not misplaced, the event and the release about it had the air of perhaps too much enthusiasm. In discussing the city-funded $2.1-billion extension of the 7 line, the MTA press release noted how this project will “help transform the Hudson Yards vicinity into a vibrant 24-hour neighborhood, containing a mix of commercial, residential, retail, open space and recreational uses.” Right now, though, the MTA has yet to sign a deal with Related, and odds are good that when this subway extension opens, development on the Hudson Yards land will be in the nascent stages. The city should build this line to encourage growth in underdeveloped areas of the city, but a completed Hudson Yards project is a long way off.

Furthermore, while these TBMs will dig past 41st St. and 10th Ave., plans for that station have been shelved. Until and unless the MTA and the city can come to an agreement, the two stubborn governing bodies will forego the best chance they have to build a station at a spot that needs one.

Meanwhile, the MTA has released the various technical details for all the TBM fans among us. It will take two months to assembly these machines. The first will be ready to dig in April and the second in May. These machines will dig under a large number of preexisting tunnels including the 8th Ave. line, the Amtrak tunnels near Penn Station and the Lincoln Tunnel tubes. The TBM excavation will wrap up next spring.

While the MTA remains in economic limbo, this is an important milestone for the transit agency. While a new station at South Ferry along with Phase I of the SAS and this 7 line extension may seem modest, this is the largest expansion of the subway system most New Yorkers have witnessed in their lives. Hopefully, this potential for progress won’t be dashed by the shortsightedness of our elected representatives.

For more gory details on the TBM, click through.

Categories : 7 Line Extension
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  • How the service cuts will impact you · William C. Thompson, NYC comptroller and 2009 mayoral hopeful, has unveiled a tool for the public that highlights the MTA service cuts. While advising his constituents to tell Albany to do something about the hike, Thompson’s office is now presenting an MTA service cuts finder. Just drop your ZIP code into the form, and the site returns all of the cuts targeted to your area. It’s a sobering reminder of what may happen if no one acts before March 25. · (5)

Nearly three years ago, Dustin Dibble, then 22, fell onto the tracks at Union Square and was run over by an N train. He was so severely injured that one of his legs had to be amputated below the calf, and of course, he sued New York City Transit.

Last week, he won his case, and the financially beleaguered transit agency is now on the hook for $2.3 million. There is, of course, a catch: Dibble was so drunk at the time of his accident that he wound But iup in the tracks because he passed out and fell there. He doesn’t remember ending up on the tracks, and his blood alcohol content was 1.8 or twice the legal limit for drivers in New York. Somehow, though, the jury found him just 35 percent responsible for his accident, and he’ll walk away, for now, with a $2.3 million judgment.

On the surface, it’s rather easy to be outraged about this. Chris Rovzar, writing at NYMag.com’s Daily Intel blog, is fairly outraged by this development. Others have called this a prime example of the need for tort reform, and most are just dismayed that the MTA — and thus taxpayers — are going to have to pay $2.3 million to some guy who was too drunk to stand and fell onto the train tracks at 1:50 a.m. one night.

The lawyer for the case, meanwhile, picked on the testimony of the man driving the train. From The Post story about the case:

Train operator Michael Moore, a longtime MTA vet with a sparkling record, said in a deposition, “I saw what I thought was garbage on the track” and continued into the station.

Moore, who suffered a fatal stroke before the case went to trial, also said in his deposition, “I saw movement and I put the train into emergency” – meaning he hit the emergency brake.

[Dibble’s lawyer Andrew] Smiley said Moore had testified at the deposition that he couldn’t “stop every time he sees garbage,” because “there’s garbage all over the place,” but NYC Transit rules call for the motorman to stop the train if there’s a mass on the tracks.

That’s a mess of a case, and as a law student, I can certainly appreciate it. Per New York City Transit laws, it seems as though Moore was negligent in operating his train. However, industry custom dictates that it would be impossible for train operators to break every time they see a “mass on the tracks,” as The Post puts it. Meanwhile, once Moore saw movement, he tried to do all he could to stop the train.

So who wins and who loses? Well, the taxpayers don’t win. That’s for sure. While NYC Transit is sure to appeal, on the legality of it all, it seems as though Dibble may have a strong case, but I have to wonder if a man too drunk to sit down or stand up on a train platform is really just 35 percent responsible for his actions? At some point, we have to take responsibility for how we are, and being too drunk to function shouldn’t excuse falling onto the subway tracks and into the path of an oncoming train.

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A-B-C with the MTA

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Where: The passageway from the 4/5/6 at Grand Central Terminal to the 42nd St. Shuttle.
What: A misspelling of Madison Ave. captured via iPhone by SAS reader Nick M.

It’s been a rough week for the MTA’s signs and its general overall spelling ability. Last week, New York City Transit came under fire for a 70-year-old typo at Broadway along the IND Crosstown line. Since then, savvy straphangers have noticed misspellings everywhere. My favorite is the one about Queeens. Such are the ways of the Internet.

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With federal stimulus funding in place, the Fulton St. oculus may be saved.

Now that the United States Congress has approved the controversial stimulus plan, New Yorkers can start counting their delays. Over the next few weeks and months, the MTA, among other agencies, will receive an infusion of cash and will thus be able to complete or accelerate numerous capital projects. Sadly, though, $1.3 billion just doesn’t go as far as it once did.

According to a Daily News profile of the New York-based movers and shakers behind the stimulus package, the city’s beleaguered transit agency will receive approximately that amount. The total could go up or down by a few hundred million based upon the formulas, but in the end, it should fall short of the anticipated $1.5 billion upon which we were counting two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, here in New York, the MTA has yet to release a list of official stimulus projects. However, we can take a peak at an early version of the list — beginning on page 11 of that PDF file — to get a sense of what may earn funding.

As of now, I believe that the MTA will look to see if they can revive the lost 7 line stop at 41st and Tenth Ave. That’s a $400-$500 million project though. The agency may also siphon a good amount of money — up to another $500 million — into the Fulton St. hub. If the spend the bulk of their money on those two projects though, the remaining $300 million seems rather meager.

Meanwhile, the proposed projects are necessary but decidedly less sexy. Basically, the MTA has to use this money to fund a series of shovel-ready projects that could actually provide jobs and kickstart the economy as this recovery package is intended to do. New York City Transit may look to replace a series of flood-prone vents along Jackson Ave. in Queens while overhauling 10 stations along the West End line in Brooklyn. Forty-three stations could receive their long-awaited public address systems, and the IRT platforms at Union Sq. may receive some new gap-fillers.

Beyond that, some Metro-North and LIRR projects are on tap for federal funds, and the East Side Access plan could use the cash as well. If that sounds like a lot of projects competing for not very much money, well, that’s because it is.

In the end, the stimulus money is simply a small infusion of capital cash. It’s not designed to fund transit as much as it is designed to get projects moving with the hopes that more money will be invested into them later on. The MTA needs it, but the agency will soon be asking for $30 billion over five years. Where that money will come from is anyone’s guess.

Categories : MTA Economics
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Nearly seven and a half years later, the various Ground Zero projects are starting to come together. This weekend, the Daily News explored a transit-related aspect of the massive redevelopment program: the East-West Connector that will run from Fulton St. and the new Port Authority PATH terminal to the Winter Garden and Battery Park City. Douglas Feiden captured some film, above, of the project and reports that it is due to open in 2013 or 2014.

Categories : PANYNJ
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Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today out of sadness for again we are burying part of a New York City subway line. As more and more people speak out against a payroll tax to save the MTA, the service cuts and fare hikes draw ever closer.

Today, at 10:30 a.m. at the Court Square subway station on the IND Crosstown line, we bury the G train’s northern extension. No longer with the misbegotten stepchild of the subway system reach from Carroll Gardens to Forest Hills. Instead, the G will permanently terminate at Court Square, doomed to leave Brooklyn-to-Queens riders searching for a transfer, another train and a faster way to travel between the city’s largest and most populous boroughs.

This is, of course, not the first time we have eulogized a train line facing its final few weeks of existence. In mid-January, we remembered the Z while we blamed this financial crisis in part on the grandstanding politicians who showed up for the Nassau Street Express’ final rites.

Two weeks ago, those same politicians buried the M and R trains in Manhattan and Brooklyn at least. The M will no longer head south of Broad St. during rush hour, and a few stations along the BMT Broadway line in Lower Manhattan will no longer enjoy late-night service. Prior to that, The Observer noted that no one will really miss the W, the city’s least reliable and dirtiest subway line. But we can’t neglect the Black Sheep of the family.

Meanwhile, the G train funeral offers much of the same. Joining the Straphangers Campaign at Court Sq. later today will be Joseph Lentol and Hakeem Jeffries, two state assembly representatives. Both of these representatives have something in common: They opposed a plan last year that would have delivered more service to the G line. Public hypocrisy, it seems, knows no bounds.

For Jeffries, this is nothing new. With an assist from Streetsblog, we took him to task last May for bemoaning the state of the G train after helping shoot down the congestion pricing plan. Lentol, meanwhile, was more guarded in his views but never really warmed to Mayor Bloomberg’s plan.

Today, these two officials are going to do what politicians do best. They are going to pander to their constituents less than a year after voting down a plan that would have accomplished just what they want to see happen today. Nothing beats a politician at a photo op. I just hope voters remember in November who killed their subway lines.

Categories : Service Cuts
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  • Under Atlantic Avenue · The oldest subway in New York City isn’t a pneumatic subway once buried under Broadway and now probably lost to time. Rather, it is a tunnel from the 1800s under Atlantic Ave. in Brooklyn. This original LIRR tunnel dates from the 1840s and has been closed since the Civil War. In 1980, Bob Diamond rediscovered the tunnel and has conducted tours of it. He now believes that he is close to uncovering a 150-year-old locomotive behind a wall near Hicks St. This weekend, The Times City Section delved into the tale of the tunnel, and the story is a must-read for any New York train buff. Check out the slideshow too. · (0)

The last few weekends have been heavy on the service announcements. With the holidays behind us, the MTA has been stepping up the weekend work as it continues the seemingly endless Capital Rebuilding Program. Often, these weekend service changes lead to some very odd results.

Take, for example, the changes from two weeks ago. That weekend, service to Lower Manhattan resembled what it will be if the service cuts come to be: The stations along the Broadway line were shuttered as the N and R were running over the Manhattan Bridge.

At the Q stop at Seventh Ave. in Brooklyn, the station announcements were warning passengers of the changes. The instructions though were rather odd. To provide service to Lower Manhattan, went the announcement, passengers were encouraged to take the Q to DeKalb Ave., exit the system and board the 4 train a few blocks away at Nevins St. The walk is about 0.1 miles according to Google Maps and should take all of two minutes.

Now, that seems reasonable, right? The 4, after all, stops near enough to Whitehall St., Rector St. and City Hall to mirror the N and R. Well, of course, but take another look at the MTA’s directions. The authority was urging people to exit the system at DeKalb and reenter at Nevins St. when one stop earlier — at Atlantic Ave. — straphangers can take advantage of a free, in-system transfer between the Q and the 4.

I certainly understand that the MTA is facing a budget crisis of epic proportions, and I’d love to see them get out of this without cutting service or drastically raising fares. But it seems rather disingenuous to urge riders to transfer out of the system for a second fare when a free transfer between the train lines in question is in place just one stop down the line. That’s just not right.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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