Google Transit and the MTA’s Trip Planner are, potentially, two of the more useful New York City-based directional tools available online. Google Transit combines walking directions with transit information to provide users with accurate routes around the city, and both services incorporate the MTA’s schedules to offer up to-the-minute directions.

For these services, the options are really quite simple. Enter your address; enter a destination; enter a departure time; and voilà, directions. Over the last few weeks, I’ve come to rely on Google Maps on Blackberry — now with Transit directions — for the scheduling. I supposedly know which trains are leaving which station at what time.

But there’s a catch. I’ve noticed that these schedules aren’t exactly right. So I decided to do an unscientific test today. This evening, after watching the final Presidential Debate in Alphabet City, I ran the directions back to my place in Brooklyn. Common sense — and Google Maps — told me to hoof it to Union Square and take the 11:04 Q train. Works for me.

After a nice stroll from 11th and Ave. B to Union Square, I arrived at the Q platform at 11:02. “Phew. Two minutes to spare,” I thought to myself as I peered into the dark tunnels, expectantly waiting for a train to pass.

11:03 came and went. 11:04 came and went. And so did 11:05, 11:06, 11:07. After a few more minutes of empty tracks and desolate tunnels, at 11:12, an N train rolled into the station. This was, by the way, the first downtown train to pass through Union Square in the ten minutes I had been standing there. Two minutes later, an out-of-service R160 zoomed down the express tracks.

Finally, at 11:15 p.m., one minute before the scheduled 11:16 and 11 minutes after the 11:04 train that never showed should have arrived, a Brooklyn-bound Q arrived in Union Square. There was no rhyme or reason to it, and since the train originated just four stops away, getting the schedule right shouldn’t have been that hard. But it was.

Now, to be fair, it’s not always this bad. In the morning, the trains that pass through 7th Ave. on the Brighton line seem to be about two minutes earlier than scheduled, and these trains show up regularly. But my experiences tonight show the limitations of these new scheduling platforms.

Google Transit’s directions are great; Trip Planner provides an invaluable service. But if the schedules are inaccurate or if they divulge from reality such that I don’t know which scheduled train I bordered at 11:15 p.m. last night, they’ll only be useful to a point. But then again, who really relies on the published schedules for the subways in New York anyway?

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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  • Perhaps this isn’t the best time for a bond issue · The MTA’s timing on this one is impeccable. The transit agency has recently issued a $500,000,000 fare-backed bond aimed at providing much-needed money. But, as The Times notes, a bad economy is a tough time to be issuing bonds. With banks on the decline, few large institutions are soaking up the bonds, and the Authority has turning to Ed Koch as a pitchman. The former mayor is lending his voice to a radio campaign aimed at enticing individuals into purchasing these tax-exempt bonds that The Times says will “finance large-scale projects.” Good luck with that. · (1)

It’s an obvious idea, really. When an agency has hundreds of miles of tracks, subway cars and bus along with millions of passengers each day, why not test out innovations on the fly? Who needs a laboratory when New York City is filled with guinea pigs?

This approach to innovation is one that, over the last few years, New York City Transit has readily embraced, and with Howard Roberts at the helm, the agency is going to continue this policy full speed ahead. “Piloting stuff makes great sense,” Roberts said to me two weeks ago.

Over the last eighteen months, since Roberts took the helm at NYCT, more and more pilot programs have rolled out on the rails. The MTA embraced the Rider Report Cards and is in the midst of year two of the grading project. As a result of those report cards, NYC Transit has instituted the line manage program. Elsewhere, the city has seen the return of double-decker buses.

But the best, perhaps, is yet to come. As I wrote in August, New York City Transit will soon be tested train cars with flip seats that will enable the agency to accommodate more passengers during peak hours. The catch, of course, is that some of these cars won’t have seats, and everyone will be left standing.

Roberts wants to institute a test run of this program sooner rather than later to see if New York City Transit can begin to alleviate the problems of overcrowded. By deploying these retrofitted cars on some of the more crowded lines, the agency can add capacity to lines that can’t take more trains per hour.

When this pilot program commences — and it will still be a few months before that launch date — NYC Transit plans to stagger the seatless cars. Group them in the middle, and those rider angling for seats will avoid these cars like the plague. Mix it up, and straphangers will test these cars.

The MTA these doesn’t have much leeway in its budget for off-line experimentation. That the agency is willing to experiment on the fly, that they’re willing to take the risk that some pilot programs will work while others may not, is a sure sign that leadership is willing to do what it takes to respond to the demands of the passengers. If only our elected representatives were so obliging.

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When I sat down with New York City Transit President Howard Roberts nearly two weeks ago, our talk eventually turned to the state of the system. We all know about the MTA’s attempts to restore the system to a state of good repair, and we all know that the trains are very crowded with many lines running at or near capacity. Roberts and I spoke at length about these two challenges New York City Transit faces in meeting customer demand.

“My personal estimate is that only about 100 of our stations truly qualify for the state of good repair,” Roberts said to me, and I couldn’t disagree with his estimate. Outside of the so-called Central Business District in Manhattan and a few flagship stations — Atlantic Ave. and Coney Island come to mind — in the Outer Boroughs, the number of stations with cracked walls , exposed pipes and decaying platforms far outnumber those in top shape.

As always, it’s a matter of money. Restoring the system to a state of good repair remains at the top of the MTA’s list of priorities, but the agency must first spend the available funds on maintenance and operations. As long as the tracks are in good repair, as long as the cars are running, the stations will come third even as they considered a major priority.

The other part of his equation is line capacity. “A significant number of lines are already operating at capcacity,” Roberts said. Almost wistfully, the NYCT head spoke about the progress in other parts of the world. Shanghai, for instances, has 89 tunnel-boring machines at work and by 2012, will have a subway system three-quarters the size of New York’s. Meanwhile, in a few years, the city will have tunnel-boring machines digging out the LIRR’s East Side Access route, the Second Ave. Subway and the 7 Line extension, but those projects pale in comparison to those underway in Asia.

While the MTA awaits this great awakening, to meet ridership demands, the agency will attempt to bring computer-based train control online over the next few years. In early tests, the returns are very promising. On a closed L line, NYCT was able to feed 31 trains per hour through the tunnels as opposed to the 23 trains per hour peak-use riders currently enjoy. These are, as Roberts put it, “huge capacity improvements that we can get without boring more tunnels.”

These CBTC plans though are still at least five to ten years away from reality. While the MTA is eying an outfitting of the newer signal system on the IRT lines and potentially the F line as well, again, the money just isn’t there. It will continue not to be there as long as the economy slumps.

But as some point, this lack of state and federal investment will come back to haunt our country, Roberts believed. “Either Americans wake up with respect to infrastructure needs or we will no longer be the preeminent power in the world,” he warned. I couldn’t agree more.

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  • MTA, TWU look to avoid strike this year · Based on reports from the Transport Workers Union Local 100, the MTA and the TWU should avoid a repeat of the 2005 transit strike. Pete Donohue relied the information late last week that the two sides are already talking, and the TWU board has authorized an early settlement. This is good news. The last thing we need is another crippling transit strike. · (0)

In some alternate universe New York City, this transit hub already exists.

Thirty days ago Back in May, the MTA had just told Community Board 1 that answers on the fate of the Fulton St. Transit Hub would be forthcoming in 30 days. Over 150 days later, we still haven’t heard a peep out of the transit agency concerning this oft-delayed transit hub.

At the end of last week, the news got worse. The MTA still has no idea what’s happening downtown. With the economy in free fall and money tight all around, Lower Manhattan may just be stuck with a giant blue fence at the corner of Fulton St. and Broadway for a long time.

Downtown Express’ Julie Shapiro has more for us:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority still does not know when the Fulton St. Transit Center will be complete or what the completed structure will look like, but Bill Wheeler, the agency’s planning director, promised City Councilmember Alan Gerson answers soon…

One redesign possibility for the station is a smaller above-ground structure with a flat skylight as opposed to the domed oculus featured in the original design.

The M.T.A. could see some automatic cost savings if the economy continues its downward spiral, since the overheated construction market may cool and the price of materials could drop, Wheeler said.

Work on the belowground portion of the station is moving forward, and Wheeler expects the construction on Dey St. to be complete in the next month. Reopening the Cortlandt St. R/W station, though, will take at least several more months, he said.

Well, at least they’re putting a silver lining on the dark rainclouds of our terrible economy. Too bad the MTA won’t have the money to pay the decreased construction costs.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot going on in this short article. We know that the MTA still has no idea what to do with the transit hub’s above-ground structure, and while they plan to award contracts for the rest of the work, that hub will remain unfinished for at least the next three or four years.

We also see that the Cortlandt St. station, once due to reopen over a year ago, will be closed well into 2009. Much like the plans for the World Trade Center site itself, this transit hub, once a vital part to the redevelopment of Lower Manhattah, has just been one giant piece of bad news, and this latest development is no exception. It will be a great day when that Hub is finally built, and the city can put this ugly episode in its past.

Categories : Fulton Street
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I pulled off a rare feat yesterday afternoon. I missed the same train at two different stations ten minutes apart.

I had to get from the W. 4th St. area up to 83rd and Central Park West yesterday afternoon. The obvious way to go would be to take a B or C from the village to 81st St. As I walked down the ramp at W. 4th to the uptown platform, I just missed a C train. So I ambled down the stairs to the B/D/F/V area and just missed a B. Bad luck.

Hanging out on the mezzanine between the two platforms, I waited for the next train, and the A won that race. I thought perhaps I’d be able to cut the B off at 59th St. After all, the B makes four stops before 59th St. and generally sits at 7th Ave. until the signals clear. The A makes three stops before 59th St.

Well, as the A pulled into 59th St., the B was just leaving Columbus Circle. My gambit failed, and I managed to miss the same train at two different stations. Rare are the days when that happens.

Anyway, on to the weekend service alerts. Watch that West Side IRT. It’s a doozy.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, downtown 1, 2, and 3 trains skip 96th Street due to station rehabilitation work.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, 2 and 3 trains run local between 96th and Chambers Streets due to 96th Street station rehabilitation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, free shuttle buses replace 2 trains between Wakefield-241st and East 180th Streets due to track, structural, and steel work north of East 180th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, there are no 4 trains between Utica Avenue and Brooklyn Bridge due to conduit and cable work. The 3 and a special J train provide alternate service.

From 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, October 11 and Sunday, October 12, Manhattan-bound 4 trains skip Mosholu Parkway and Bedford Park Blvd. due to installation of the 3rd rail connection between Woodlawn and Bedford Park Blvd.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, 4 trains run local between 125th Street and Brooklyn Bridge due to conduit and cable work.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, there are no 5 trains between 149th Street-Grand Concourse and East 180th Streets due to track, structural and steel work north of East 180th Street. Customers should take the 2 instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, there are no 5 trains between 42nd Street-Grand Central and Bowling Green due to conduit and cable work. The 4 and a special J train provide alternate service.

From 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, October 11, Flushing-bound 7 trains skip 33rd, 40th, 46th, 52nd, 69th, 74th, 82nd, 90th, 103rd, and 111th Streets due to track panel installation between 74th Street and 82nd Street.

From 6 a.m. to 12 noon Sunday, October 12, Manhattan-bound 7 trains skip 69th, 52nd, 46th, 40th, and 33rd Sts. due to work on a staircase at the 33rd Street-Rawson Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Sunday, October 12, uptown C trains run express from Canal to 145th Streets. There is no C train service between 145th and 168th Sts. Customers should take the A instead. Free shuttle buses replace the A train between 168th Street and 207th Street. These service changes are due to 168th Street tunnel lighting work and ADA work at 47th-50th Sts-Rockefeller Center station (D).

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, Coney Island-bound D trains run local from 34th to West 4th Streets due to steel repair.

From 12:01 a.m. to 6 a.m. Saturday, October 11 and Sunday, October 12 and from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, Brooklyn-bound D trains run express from Pacific to 36th Streets due to rail installation south of 36th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, uptown D trains run on the A line from West 4th Street to 59th Street due to ADA work at 47th-50th Sts-Rockefeller Center station.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, Manhattan-bound E trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to Queens Plaza due to a track-chip out north of Queens Plaza.

From 12:01 a.m. Sunday, October 12 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, Manhattan-bound F trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to 21st Street-Queensbridge due to a track chip-out north of Queens Plaza.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, October 10 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Long Island City-Court Square due to station painting at 77th Street station (R). Customers should take the E or R instead. (Because of increased headways on the R, it is necessary to shorten the G in Queens.)

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, free shuttle buses replace L trains between Canarsie-Rockaway Parkway and Myrtle-Wyckoff Avs. due to removal of the old concrete roadbed at Bushwick Avenue-Aberdeen Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Sunday, October 12 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, Q trains run in two sections due to rail and track plate renewal:

  • Between 57th Street and Brighton Beach and
  • Between Brighton Beach and Stillwell Avenue

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, free shuttle buses replace R trains between Bay Ridge-95th Street and 36th Street due to station painting at 77th Street station.

Categories : Service Advisories
Comments (0)
  • The MTA’s South Ferry Christmas present · According to the Downtown Express, the MTA will open the South Ferry station this December just prior to Christmas. While the neighborhood weekly reports this as, more or less, an on time opening, in reality, this project was originally set for an early 2008 completion date. No matter the final deadline, this new two-track, full-train solution to South Ferry should make for an easier ride up and down the 1. · (0)
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