Elliot Sander poses with some of the subway system’s aging infrastructure. He hopes for the funds to start some much-needed system modernization. (Photo courtesy of Crain’s.)

The venerable business journal Crain’s hosts regular breakfasts featuring major city players. Yesterday, MTA CEO and Executive Director Elliot “Lee” Sander took the stage to give his “Save the MTA” speech. Sander explained what the MTA plans to do with federal stimulus funding but reiterated the need for Albany to fund the authority’s operating budget.

Daniel Massey from Crain’s New York Business Journal was on hand to report on the talk:

The agency plans to reduce overhead and save $30 million to $40 million by consolidating its back-office administrative offices from seven locations to one, at 370 Jay St., in Brooklyn. And it expects to rake in $1.5 billion to $3 billion from the federal government’s stimulus package. The MTA would use that money to begin the next phase in rehabilitation of the Atlantic Avenue viaduct, which carries Long Island Railroad passengers between Jamaica and downtown Brooklyn; rehabilitate subway stations; overhaul shops and yards; and bolster mega-projects like the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access, which would connect LIRR trains to Grand Central Terminal.

But those savings and additional funds won’t mean much if the state does not adopt the Ravitch Commission’s plan, which would boost MTA coffers by putting tolls on East River bridges and adding a regional business tax that would amount to 33 cents on every $100 of payroll, Mr. Sander said. Administration represents only 7% of the MTA budget, and the federal dollars would be only about 5% to 10% of the agency’s capital needs. “While the key elements of the plan…are painful without question, the alternative of failing to adequately invest in the MTA is far worse: much higher fares and less service, both of which are unacceptable,” he said…

Mr. Sander said Gov. David Paterson will soon introduce a bill containing the commission’s recommendations, and that it needs to pass before March. He said he thought the plan was fair in its current form and rejected a proposal from some New York City elected officials that the payroll tax be increased further instead of tolling the bridges.

Sander ended the speech with a warning directed at the state legislature. He has long noted that New York has been challenged as one of the world’s leading cities by transit expansion in China and Europe. He reiterated that claim yesterday. “Other than an increase in crime, I can’t think of anything that will start the death knell for New York,” he said.

For the most part, Sander’s speech isn’t a new one. While he did offer a dire update on the Hudson Yards project — and we’ll touch on that later — he has continued to press for the Ravitch Committee recommendations even as the public piles on during the fare hike/service cuts hearings. As the head of the MTA, he’s doing all he can to stave off the cuts, and for that, he deserves support. Hopefully, Albany will heed his calls.

Categories : Ravitch Commission
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  • The grades remain the same · Late yesterday, New York City Transit announced that the A train had received a C-, again, on its rider report card. Today, CityRoom explores how the grades have stayed constant in the second round of report cards. Interestingly, the MTA received nearly the same number of replies in 2008 as they did in 2007 for the A, but those results are the exception and not the norm. Now, I’ll have more on the rider report cards as some point, but I still have to question the utility of doing this exercise again. I understand Howard Roberts’ rationale; he wants to keep on top of improvement. But the subways are slow to change, and this second round just strikes me as overkill. · (9)

Attend an MTA hearing on the fare hikes and service cuts and one the many documents available to the public is bound to be 150-page tome entitled “Proposed Station Changes.” That work of art, available here as a PDF, details every single station booth that would shutter under the MTA’s Doomsday budget, and I have to wonder if there is more to it than meets the eye.

For the most part, the plans look as the one above — which you can click to enlarge — does. Stations that currently enjoy station agents at more than one point of entrance will see one of those permanent positions vanish in a puff of smoke. From Union St. to Union Turnpike, stations will see far fewer permanent employees and, in fact, far fewer employees in general.

According to the MTA’s figures, New York City Transit can reduce 808 positions by shuttering what they view are unnecessary booths. The plan would eliminate 570 red-vested Station Customer Assistance workers and 26 station supervisors. Meanwhile, NYC Transit also plans to shutter 29 redundant booths at 36 stations which multiple booths and converting 13 others at high-volume stations — Times Square, Penn Station, etc. — to part-time position. In total, those cuts will eliminate another 212 jobs.

Here’s where it gets interesting. According to the MTA’s report, these cuts will save $25.1 million in 2009 and $52 million in 2010. The savings sound substantial until you realize that $52 million is just 4.33 percent of the MTA’s overall $1.2 billion deficit. Much like the not-so-cost efficient service cuts, the MTA is reducing a lot of staff for little overall savings. I guess every little bit helps.

Meanwhile, the report contains an interesting line. “All stations/complexes will retain one full-time booth,” it says. That includes the above, stations similar to 25th St. along the Fourth Ave. line in Brooklyn. These stations are generally one way on one side, one way on the other with no free transfer between the two. If you have a problem on the southbound side of 25th St., under the MTA’s new plan, you’ll have to leave the station, cross Fourth Ave. and find the station agent in the booth on the northbound side. That’s hardly a model of efficiency.

Now, it’s easy to argue that many of these positions should be cut to part-time anyway. The station agents, after all, are more psychologically preventative than physically useful, but they do play rolls in the event of an emergency. But what if this is just a ploy by the MTA to draw attention to their economic plight? By making the station agent system ruthlessly inefficient as they would at many non-crossover stations, the MTA is begging Albany to intervene before getting around and getting information in the subways becomes a very expensive hassle.

This Doomsday budget really is bleak, and the more we look at it, the more we find not to look. We need a Ravitch-inspired bailout (or better) and soon. March 25 draws ever nearer day by day.

Categories : Service Cuts
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During last week’s public hearing on the fare hikes and service cuts, a common theme emerged concerning the MTA’s Access-A-Ride paratransit service. With plans to double the paratransit fares on the table, advocates for the disabled and disabled riders all said the same thing: Don’t balance the budget on the backs of those least able to get around town.

Over the weekend, The Times examined this oft-neglected aspect of the MTA’s Doomsday budget. Gregory Beyer wrote about this plight of the disabled:

[W]hile all transit riders can expect a fare hike this year — the Metropolitan Transportation Authority conducted public hearings last week on the proposal — the 123,000 users of Access-a-Ride may well face a much steeper increase, according to Kevin Ortiz, an M.T.A. spokesman. Under two of the four plans that the authority is considering to close its budget gap, the Access-a-Ride fare would more than double, to $4.50 or even $5.

“If I have to pay, I have to pay,” Mr. Suss said about the possibility of a much higher fare. “But I resent that when my income is going down, everything else is going up.”

Asked why Access-a-Ride customers would shoulder such a comparatively steep increase, Mr. Ortiz said the guidelines of the Americans With Disabilities Act allow paratransit fares to run up to twice the base fare. He added that the authority is one of the few mass transit agencies in the country that doesn’t already charge double the base fare; the paratransit systems in Atlanta, Miami, Denver and Philadelphia do. All other aspects of the paratransit service, he added, will remain the same.

Meanwhile, in today’s Daily News, New York City Comptroller and 2009 mayoral hopeful William C. Thompson sounds off on the paratransit fare increase. The Mayor, he says, alone has the power to stop this unfair fare increase. He writes:

But unlike the 23% increase proposed for subways and buses – which is likewise inequitable – the Access-A-Ride hike can be stopped right now by Mayor Bloomberg, who has the power because of a contract the city signed 15 years ago with the MTA…

[In 1992], then-Mayor Dinkins negotiated a contract with the MTA that set the cost of a trip on Access-A-Ride equal to the one-way base fare on mass transit – currently $2. The contract says that the MTA cannot change the terms of the deal without the written permission of the mayor…

Placing a greater burden on the disabled is unfair and unacceptable. It’s time for the mayor to tell the MTA that he won’t allow a doubling of the mass transit fare for Access-A-Ride users.

Additionally, advocates for the disabled threatened to sue the MTA under the Americans with Disabilities Act if they approve a 100 percent paratransit fare increase. It seems, however, based on Ortiz’s statements to The Times that the increase would be legal if unfair.

In the end, this all goes back to the same thing. It’s on Albany to rescue the MTA or else the transit authority will have to resort to the measure it has at its disposal to balance its books. It’s unpopular, it’s unfair, but it’s the only legal way without a transit bailout for New York City.

Categories : Paratransit
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The WMATA’s website presents a clear, clean and informative home page. (Click the image — and the thumbnail below of the MTA’s website — to enlarge.)

With The New York Times proclaiming New York to be over and with a new day dawning in the White House today, all eyes will be on Washington, DC.The Nation’s Capitol will have to cope with a crush of people, and the WMATA — a financially beleaguered transit system — will bear the brunt of the crowd.

Absurd Style Section articles aside, Washington’s transit website certainly earns the crown in the Internet wars. Last month, the WMATA unveiled a spiffy new website design, seen above, and the reaction was uniformly positive. Greater Greater Washington gave the site a good review, and I sat here in Brooklyn jealous of the WMATA’s AJAX-based, informative and easy-to-navigate new design.

Just look at that thing. On one screen, without having scroll down, a user gets a clear sense of what the WMATA is all about. There’s a trip planner in the top-right corner and a real-time display of train, bus and elevator status updates beneath is. Along the top are links to the system map and next train information, something sorely lacking in our subways. The centerpiece of the page is a rotating news story with links to the latest WMATA releases. Below that are key information boxes with links to pages about the SmarTrip Card and inauguration advisories.

mtasite600 Putting the MTA’s site — at left; click to enlarge — under a similar microscope reveals some stark differences. The main role of a transit agency’s website is to aid the rider in his or her efforts at getting from point A to point B in a timely fashion. The WMATA’s site fully realizes that goal; the MTA’s site does not. It shouldn’t take three clicks to get to the service advisories or latest news releases.

On the homepage, not all of the content on the MTA’s site fits above the fold and what is on top is arguably unimportant. The MTA in Pictures box is a nice touch, but it adds nothing of informative value to the site. Having the MTA’s powerful Trip Planner there would be a far better use of space. In fact, the Trip Planner gets very little play on the home page. It is the 18th of 21 links on the right side of the page, most of which don’t aid the casual rider in getting information he or she needs. A link to the Sustainability Webinar is useful for research, but the event was seven months ago. No one really needs that anymore.

For the most part, the boxes in the center column contain useful information but are generally not too timely. To get to the main list of MTA news releases, a user must click through two links. On the WMATA’s site, everything is right there. The MTA’s site can be as fun as a frustrating game of hide and seek.

Now, I realize that the MTA is a conglomerate of many different agencies, and I know that New York City Transit’s homepage features the Trip Planner link front and center. The main site, however, should be more user-friendly. Get me where I want to go first; tell me about Elliot Sander’s March presentations later.

As the MTA gears up for another week of abuse during the public hearings on the fare hikes and service cuts, the Board members and officials who opt to sit through the torture will hear a common theme. The MTA leadership is out of touch with the riders, people say.

We could debate the truth of that allegation for words on end, but in 2009, all it takes is the website, the true public face of the authority. If the MTA could present an easy-to-use and informative site as the WMATA has done, people would begin to think better of it.

Categories : MTA Technology, WMATA
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Amidst all of the talk of MTA financial difficulties, service cuts and fare hikes, on the other side of the Hudson, a major transit just got the federal go-ahead. The ARC tunnel earned environmental approval from the FTA last week, and this key project is one step closer to becoming a much-needed reality.

Right now, the plan for this project is an ambitious one, and a new tunnel underneath the Hudson River would double commuter rail capacity in the region. If everything continues to go according to plan, the project will cost around $9 billion and should be completed in 2017. The Port Authority, New Jersey Transit and the federal government will split that lofty price tag, and per NY1, the project would include a block-long underground connection between Penn Station and the PATH and subway station at 34th St. and Sixth Ave.

Michael Pagan of Politicker’s New Jersey-based site had the reaction from the politicos:

Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Gov. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) today announced that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has completed its environmental review process for the Hudson River Mass Transit Tunnel project, which is expected to create 44,000 permanent jobs throughout the New Jersey–New York region.

“We fought hard to secure this approval because the new tunnel will be critical to our region’s future. This new tunnel will help ensure that New Jersey commuters have reliable, convenient and energy-efficient transit options for years to come,” Sen. Lautenberg said. “We will keep fighting to reduce congestion and modernize public transit. Our work to secure this approval is a significant step in the right direction.”

“I support the Mass Transit Tunnel project because it provides a path to short- and long-term economic benefits and helps us advance toward our national objective of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels as we build capacity in renewable, environmentally friendly energy resources,” said Sen. Robert Menendez.

With this key approval in hand, funding remains the project’s final hurdle before the shovels hit the ground. Already, New Jersey and the Port Authority have committed $5.7 billion to the project, and the state’s two Democratic senators are looking to the Obama administration for federal contributions.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jon Corzine believes that construction on the tunnel could start this year once the funding is in place. If this tunnel truly can bring in more than 44 million new passengers a year and remove thousands of cars from the road, as the New Jersey governor’s office said it would, it should — and, in all likelihood, will — earn a top position on the list of federally funded projects. The region will really enjoy this tunnel when it opens in eight years. Now if only the rest of the area’s transit wishlist could earn some funding too.

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Before getting to the service advisories, I have a reader-submitted link to share. One of SAS’s loyal followers and a Transit Museum member went on the City Hall tour earlier this month and snapped some photos. Check ’em out. That’s a fun tour.

Now on with the service changes. Nearly every line is suffering through some weekend-related work. With these changes and the weather, it’s a good weekend to stay indoors. Next week, I’ll cover the disaster in Queens with the 7 train service changes.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19, 1 trains skip 28th, 23rd and 18th Streets in both directions due to signal testing near South Ferry.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday January 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19, there are no 1 trains between 14th Street and South Ferry due to signal testing near South Ferry. Free shuttle buses and 2 trains provide alternate service.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday January 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19, free shuttle buses replace the 2 between 96th Street and 149th Street-Grand Concourse due to conduit and cable installation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19, downtown 2 trains run local from 96th Street to Chambers Street and uptown 2 trains run local from Chambers Street to 72nd Street due to signal testing near South Ferry and conduit and cable installation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19, the 5 train replaces the 2 train between 149th Street-Grand Concourse and Wakefield-241st Street due to conduit and cable installation.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday January 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19, there is no 3 train service due to conduit and cable installation. The 2, 4 and free shuttle buses provide alternate service.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday January 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19, 4 trains are extended to New Lots Avenue due to conduit and cable installation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19, uptown 4 trains run local from 14th Street to 125th Street due to a track chip-out north of Spring Street.

From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, January 18, Manhattan-bound 4 trains skip Mosholu Parkway due to maintenance, testing and inspection of equipment.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19, uptown 4 and 6 trains run express from Brooklyn Bridge to 14th Street due to a track chip-out of Spring Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19, downtown 4 and 6 trains run local from 125th Street to Brooklyn Bridge due to a track chip-out north of Spring Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19, there are no 4 trains available at Nostrand and Kingston Avenues due to switch renewal at Nostrand Avenue. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19, there are no 5 trains between Grand Central and Bowling Green due to a track chip-out north of Spring Street. Customers should take the 4 instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19, 5 trains run in two sections (due to conduit and cable installation.):

  • Between Dyre Avenue and East 180th Street and
  • Between East 180th Street and Grand Central-42nd Street

From 4 a.m. Saturday, January 17 to 10 p.m. Sunday, January 18 (and the following weekend Jan 24-25), Manhattan-bound 6 trains run express from Pelham Bay Park to Parkchester due to track panel installation from Castle Hill Avenue to Parkchester. The last stop for some Bronx-bound 6 trains is 3rd Avenue-138th Street.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, January 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19, (and weekends through Feb 28-Mar 2) there are no 7 trains between Times Square-42nd Street and Queensboro Plaza due to track panel installation on the Davis Street curve and security conduit and cable installation in the under river tube. The N and free shuttle buses provide alternate service.

From 12:01 a.m. to midnight Saturday, January 17, Manhattan-bound A trains run local from Euclid Avenue to Canal Street, then express to 59th Street, then local to 168th Street due to cable work north of Canal Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19, Queens-bound A trains run local between 168th Street and West 4th Street, then via the F line to Jay Street, then local to Euclid Avenue due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization.

From 12:01 a.m. Sunday, January 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19, Manhattan-bound A trains run local from Euclid Avenue to 168th Street due to Chambers Street Signal Modernization.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19, there are no C trains running due to the Chambers Street Signal Modernization. Customers should take the A train instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19, Coney Island-bound D trains run on the N line from 36th Street to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue due to canopy replacement work.

From 12:01 a.m. to midnight Saturday, January 17, uptown E trains skip Spring and 23rd Streets due to cable work north of Canal Street.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, January 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers take the E or R instead.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, January 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19 (and weekends through February 2), there are no L trains between 8th Avenue and Union Square due to switch renewal near 8th Avenue. Customers may use the M14 bus instead.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, January 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19 (and weekends through February 2), L trains run in two sections (due to switch renewal near 8th Avenue):

  • Between Union Square and Bedford Avenue every 16 minutes, skipping 3rd Avenue and
  • Between Bedford Avenue and Rockaway Parkway every 8 minutes

Customers must transfer at Bedford Avenue to continue their trip. From 10 p.m. Sunday, January 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, trains run every 20 minutes.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, January 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19, N trains run local between Canal Street and 57th Street due to track panel installation on the Davis Street curve and security conduit and cable installation in the under river tube.

From 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday, January 17 and from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sunday, January 18, the last stop for some N trains is Whitehall Street due to track panel installation on the Davis Street curve and security conduit and cable installation in the under river tube.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, January 16 to 5 a.m. Monday, January 19, the 42nd Street Shuttle S operates overnight to replace 7 service between Times Square-42nd Street and Grand Central-42nd Street. due to track panel installation on the Davis Street curve and security conduit and cable installation in the under river tube.

Categories : Service Advisories
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  • Another set of subway cars set to sink · As more new subway cars come online, the MTA is busy getting rid of their old fleet. This time around, Ocean City, Maryland, is the lucky recipient of a new artificial reef. According to The Dispatch, the Maryland coast is set to receive 42 more cars for their ever-growing subway reef. I have to guess that this delivery contains either R42 or R32 formerly of the E line. · (1)

Requiem for a Z

By · Comments (17) ·

Brooklyn Borough President sings a (hopefully unnecessary) swan song for the Z train.

I like what city officials and transit advocates are doing right now. They’re keeping the attention on the MTA’s budget issue in ways that attract cameras and press coverage. Now if only they focus the rhetoric and get the politicians listening.

A day after a very contentious public hearing, two borough presidents and leading members of the Straphangers Campaign gathered in Lower Manhattan to eulogize the doomed Z train. Bobby Cuza had more about this funeral for a train set to vanish if state and city funds don’t find their ways to the MTA:

Transit advocates held a mock funeral today to mourn the loss of the Z line, which the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has put on the chopping block. “Yea, though the Z walks through the valley of the shadow of death, it will fear no MTA plan,” said Gene Russianoff of the transit advocacy group, The Straphangers Campaign.

While the Straphangers Campaign staged the mock funeral with tongue firmly in cheek, it says the loss of the Z train is no laughing matter. Along the same line, the MTA plans to shorter the M train and eliminate J/Z skip-stop service. Although the agency will add extra J trains, the changes will add time to riders’ commutes.

“Someone coming from Parsons Boulevard-Jamaica will have about seven minutes added to their trip one-way,” said Russianoff. “So when you calculate that twice a day, five days a week, that’s an hour of additional commuting time those riders are going to have.”

Joining Russianoff were Manhattan Beep Scott Stringer and his Brooklyn counterpart Marty Markowitz. Stringer had all the right words. “I’m here to tell you that we believe in resurrection,” he said. “And we believe that this battle, which now heads to Albany, we have not yet begun to fight.”

But Markowitz’s presence is far more problematic. According to one report, Marty sounded like, well, himself. “Though the Z train begins in Queens and ends in Manhattan, it is—like the J—Brooklyn to the core,” he said to the cameras. “When trains like the Z die, our City’s economy dies with them. This is why we grieve at this mock funeral today. Let’s hope these are not the Z’s last rites.”

As Cap’n Transit succinctly pointed out, Markowitz has been a vocal opponent of bridge tolls, and right now, those bridge tolls are the MTA’s last and best hope. As I mentioned yesterday, we are again seeing a dearth of leadership and rhetoric. It is, as a mentioned, comforting to see Russianoff on the front lines, but we need to see more pressure on Albany and more pressure on city officials — like Markowitz and Stringer — to embrace East River tolls. A healthy MTA for 100 percent of New Yorkers is far more important than placating the 4 percent of Brooklyn drivers who would be impacted by East River tolls.

But in the spirit of the day, I’ll toast the Z, a train I’ve had the pleasure of riding once in my nearly 26 years of life in New York City. No matter my own ridership figures, nearly 80,000 people will miss it, and that’s a big deal.

Categories : Service Cuts
Comments (17)
  • Transit advocates bemoan stimulus breakdown · The Democrats have released a breakdown of the proposed transportation stimulus bill, and transit advocates are not happy. The bill would send $30 billion to road expansion and maintenance problems while just $10 billion would be earmarked for public transit and rail plans. Streetsblog has a breakdown of the bill and round-up of the reaction. Historically, transit investment has been on the smaller end of an 80-20 split. While 75-25 is a step in the right direction, this is no victory for transit agencies or public transportation advocates. · (3)
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