• 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)


Sometimes, the best story isn’t what happens at the MTA hearing. In fact, as one may surmise after reading my liveblog of last night’s Manhattan hearing, nothing too groundbreaking goes on during the comment period. It’s remarkable how MTA officials and board members can sit there maintaining self-control and composure as a half-informed public hurls insults their way, but beyond that, last night, the real story was right outside.

I arrived at the Hilton Hotel on Sixth Ave. between 53rd and 54th Sts. a little late last night. By the time I left the NYU area and trekked uptown, it was around 6:05 p.m. My first sign that something was about to go wrong arrived beforehand. In a bit of foreshadowing, the first train to show up on the Sixth Ave. tracks at W. 4th St. was a Queens-bound E running on the Sixth Ave. local line. This service change was an inauspicious beginning.

As I arrived upstairs at the Hilton, the line was a few hundred people long, and it moves slowly through the MTA’s airport-like security. At 6:25, the line stopped, and we didn’t know why. A few minutes later, word spread that the ballroom was full, and the Authority’s reps were scrambling to set up the back room with chairs and amplifiers. The amplifiers wouldn’t arrive for nearly two hours.

As the line stalled, I talked to a few of the people around me and overheard others. A retired teacher and self-proclaimed troublemaker was adamant about opposing the Doomsday measures. “We have to mobilize against these hikes,” she said. The Straphanging public is clearly not willing to take another round of fare hikes.

At 6:40, a conflict between those waiting on line and the Hilton security force nearly flared up. A group of people — led by the very vocal Save the M8 coalition — started chanting “Le us in,” and as the frustration grew, a security guard stepped in. “It’s a safety issue,” the guard said. “The bottom line is that you can’t protest in the building,” another guard said.

So far, people have been waiting online for a public meeting for over 40 minutes, and they’ve just been informed that they cannot protest. That’s a situation ripe for a conflict, but a few good people calmed the crowd. A few minutes later, Manhattan Borough President Steve Stringer emerged from the room. “It’s a disgrace. They’re idiots,” he said about those who would keep the public waiting outside a public meeting for nearly an hour. “I apologize on behalf of the city.”

As the clock ticked forward, more than a few people grow anxious. “It’s a public hearing,” said one. “A public hearing should be accessible to the public.”

At 7:04 p.m., the line starting moving again, and a few minutes later, we were in. Once in view of the hearing, I heard a lot of people talk about the problems of Access-A-Ride and a lot of people speak out against a fare hike and service cuts. But no one mentioned tolling the East River crossings, and even the politicians had few ideas about how they would specifically solve the MTA’s economic issues.

In that sense, I was disappointed. New York needs forward-thinking leaders, and while I heard a lot of criticism, much of it deserved, tossed at the MTA Board, no one offered real leadership. Programs — mass transit, bus lines, expansion — costs money, and paying for these services requires a cost.

As for the crowd inside, they were rowdy, raucous and, as The Times said, angry, but that was nothing compared to the feelings flowing through the line outside. With seven hearings left, things could grow very tense for the MTA and its not-so-adoring public.

Categories : MTA Economics
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The view from the back of the ballroom. This Board has a long night ahead of it. (Click the smaller images to enlarge.)

7:41 p.m.: After waiting outside a ballroom at the Hilton Hotel on Sixth Ave. for over an hour this evening, I’m live from the MTA hearings. It’s been a rowdy 100 minutes with a minor conflict between some antsy folks and hotel security, and the ballroom is packed. I’ll update as the hearings unfold.

Read More→

Categories : Fare Hikes
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  • Pols, not public, do not support bridge tolls · Streetsblog notes a recent Brooklyn Paper article in which the people on the street would rather see the East River bridges tolled than face a steep fare hike and service cuts. So far, we’ve seen studies that indicate how small of an impact the tolls would have on the vast majority of people and how no one wants a fare hike. Yet, the City Council still seems reluctant to the idea of guaranteeing this revenue stream for the MTA. I just hope this political stalemate ends well for the straphangers, but I’m not too optimistic. · (5)

With the ever-popular clock ticking its way toward March 25, MTA bigwigs boarded an Amtrak train yesterday morning to pay a lobbying call to Albany. While visiting our state’s illustrious capital, the MTA officials urged the state’s legislators to pick up the issue of the Ravitch Recommendations before the Board is forced to implement rampant service cuts and fare hikes.

“We represent the riders, and we’re here to make their case, not our case. Hopefully the legislators are listening very carefully because they are elected by those very same people,” MTA Chair Dale Hemmerdinger said.

While Sheldon Silver, the scourge of congestion pricing, feels his Assembly will take action before the end of March — can we please remember this on Election Day next time around? — he did manage to punt on the biggest issue. When the topic of the East River Bridge Tolls came up, Silver urged the city to act. NY1’s Bobby Cuza was on hand in Albany to report on the hearings:

One of the solutions recently proposed by the Ravitch Commission to help fund the system is proving to be a tough sell — the plan to put tolls on the East River and Harlem River bridges, which are owned by the city.

The state Assembly appears unlikely to address the issue, just as it didn’t vote on the mayor’s congestion pricing plan last year. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said if the city wants East River bridge tolls, it can simply transfer those bridges to the MTA.

“We can’t just go in and impose tolls as a state, but the city can transfer to the MTA, lease to the MTA. There’s no legislation required for it to be done and it should just get done by the city,” said Silver.

Silver said the Assembly is ready to implement a new payroll tax, as recommended by the Ravitch Commission. The Senate leadership has so far not taken a position.

So it seems to me that the Assembly is willing to shoulder its share of the deal. I’m not going to don my party hat, though, until the payroll tax bill clears the two legislative bodies in Albany and David Paterson affixes his name to it. They really better hurry up on that.

Meanwhile, if this trip can be considered a guarded success, the MTA ought to act quickly to lobby the City Council. New York’s governing body will, much to the chagrin of MTA supporters, have to approve a sale of the bridges from the City to the MTA so that the transit authority could implement a tolling plan. Considering the overwhelming opposition to a plan that would impact far fewer people than a fare hike, that sale is far from guaranteed.

Later tonight at 6 p.m., the MTA will host the first of its public hearings on the fare hike. It’s time for our voices to be heard. As Silver said, the city must act to save the MTA.

Categories : Ravitch Commission
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  • Bad grades · With the Second Rider Report Card grades trickling in, The New York Post examines the slew of mediocre marks the MTA has received this time around. I’ll have more on this in a few weeks once every line report is out, but for now, I can’t say I’m too surprised by the grades. It will take longer than a year for the subway to show any improvement, and with service cuts looming, those marks may very well go down before they head back up. · (3)

When the Blue Ribbon Commission on Sustainability and the MTA unveiled its 148-page draft recommendations last week, the news coverage was decidedly mixed. It’s no small feat to digest and present a report that William Neuman in The Times aptly described as being “filled with colorful, head-scratching, tongue-twisting gobbledygook.”

When both The Times and The Post opted to lead with the story about the Green MetroCard proposal, then, I wasn’t too surprised. William Neuman aptly summarizes this idea:

The authority said on Thursday that it was considering a “green MetroCard” program that would let riders make donations to help pay for making its operations more environmentally sustainable. The program would also apply to commuter rail tickets and E-ZPasses.

The idea was among dozens of proposals in a $1 million report by a commission appointed by the authority to recommend ways to lessen the adverse environmental impact of its operations.

Under the program, whose details are still being developed, riders buying MetroCards or commuter rail tickets at station vending machines could tack on an extra charge in the form of a tax-deductible contribution for green projects, said Ernest Tollerson, the authority’s policy director.

Now, as someone writing a news blog with a background in journalism, I can understand why a newspaper would latch onto this idea. At a time when the MTA is gearing up to raise fares by as much as 23 percent and cut service, even the simple idea of a voluntary contribution comes across as out of touch and just plain bad PR. But on the flip side, the suggestion is one sentence in a report of 149 pages, and it has garnered far more attention than it should have.

While the newspaper’s attention to this program is defensible, the latest news out of Staten Island is not. Lou Tabacco, a Republican from South Shore, has decided to attack the MTA for this innocuous if misguided one-sentence proposal in a document chock full of new ideas. Here’s the story from the Staten Island Advance:

Tobacco called the idea, which was among about 100 suggestions that came out of a $1 million sustainability report, “an insult to commuters and lawmakers who are being asked to bail out the MTA.”

“First, the MTA calls for higher fares and tolls on commuters during these difficult economic times. Now they’re contemplating asking for donations from the same people whose pockets they are already trying to pick,” said Tobacco. “Enough is enough.”

“Surely, environmental considerations are an important aspect of any transportation plan, but wasting taxpayer money on bogus commissions is the last thing commuters need.”

Come on, Assemblyman Tobacco. You’re making a mountain out of a mole hill, and while this may be a bad idea, it was put forth by a Blue Ribbon Commission tasked with identifying all potential sustainability programs. Furthermore, this is the first draft of their recommendations; it’s not even a finalized product. The odds of this Green MetroCard contribution program coming to fruition are slim to none.

In the end, this latest development out of Staten Island shows why the public is skeptical of the MTA, but it also shows why elected officials don’t fund the MTA. They just don’t get it, and it almost seems like an uphill battle just getting any of these officials to pay attention to transit in any way that makes sense.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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Token Booth

While this station booth at the new South Ferry terminal will open soon, the MTA may shutter others throughout the system. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

As the riding public gears up to protest the impending service cuts and fare hikes, the station agent elimination plan is starting to become a major community issue. The fight, however, may be relying a bit more on psychology and less on reality.

Last week in The Brooklyn Paper, Sarah Portlock and Zeke Faux examine the reaction to the plan in Brooklyn. They write:

Buried deep in the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s proposed budget cuts are suggestions to close part-time and several full-time service booths — a move that could save the $10.8-billion agency thousands of dollars, but could also compromise safety of its passengers by depriving riders of another set of eyes and ears late at night.

“I don’t like [the idea] at all — I get very uncomfortable if no one’s at the post late at night,” said Park Slope resident Jerry Robinson, who was waiting at the Union Street M- and R-train station, whose full-time southbound booth would be closed entirely. “There’s not enough cops on the subway already, so for the MTA to take away the people in the booths in unacceptable.”

The cash-strapped transit agency has said it has a $1.4-billion budget gap and has proposed eliminating 205 booths — 33 of which are in Brooklyn — from 144 stations citywide. “[These proposed cuts are] part of the service reductions in the [MTA] budget,” said agency spokesman Kevin Ortiz, noting that the measures will be enacted in the spring barring a fiscal or political miracle.“These are measures that we hope not to implement,” he added.

In The Brooklyn Paper story, the angle is clear. Cutting these positions will seriously impact passenger safety. “It would make me feel unsafe,” Alex Pappas said to Portlock and Faux. “I can’t afford to not ride the trains — but I might invest in a can of Mace.”

While the reporters grant that every station will have at least one station agent, they may, for example, be in the northbound side of Union St. on the 4th Ave. line with no connection across the tracks. The real question, though, is whether or not this elimination would actually impact passenger safety.

In a way, the answer is yes. By placing employees in the stations, the MTA can create the illusion of authority. Perhaps a would-be mugger would be deterred by the presence of a station agent. Perhaps a sexual assault could be averted before it starts.

But in another way, the answer is no. MTA employees generally do not step out of the booth to assist passengers in need because they can’t. They’re unarmed and unprepared to face would-be criminals. It’s not, in other words, part of the job. The riders in Portluck and Faux’s article may not know that or they may choose to feel safer by the presence of someone in a uniform.

This plan will mostly impact MTA employees, and those folks are already protesting. Psychology aside though, beyond the deterrence argument, riders won’t actually be safer with or without station agents.

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  • Metro-North unveils new Yankee Stadium stop pricing · While the MTA is preparing to cut service and raise fares throughout the system, Metro-North will soon open a badly-needed station stop a few blocks away from the new Yankee Stadium in the South Bronx. The new stop will be a part of the Hudson Line but will provide gameday service along the Harlem and New Haven lines as well. Over the weekend, the Connecticut Post reported on the recently announced fare schedule for the new stop.

    In a nutshell, gameday travelers heading to Yankee Stadium will pay their normal Metro-North fares to Grand Central plus one dollar more. That seems like a fair fare to me, and Metro-North officials anticipate 10,000 passengers passing through the station on game days. State and railroad officials are still attempting to hash out a post-game schedule that could include non-stop service from Yankee Stadium to parts of Westchester or Connecticut. · (17)

As the looming March 25 deadline for the MTA’s Doomsday service cuts draws ever closer, community activists, New York residents and MTA employees are growing concerned that their bus lines, subway stations and jobs will be lost on the budget chopping block. Over the last few weeks, numerous groups have emerged fighting for the lines. Let’s take a peak at their efforts.

In Manhattan, Save the M8 is a petition-based group run by activist Quinn Raymond. As its name entails, the group is dedicated to saving the M8, a lightly used bus line scheduled for total elimination in the Doomsday plan.

“Eliminating the M8 would have a severely detrimental effect on the most vulnerable members of our community (children, seniors, the poor),” the group’s petition reads. “More broadly, we strongly believe that the State and City must find alternatives to MTA service cuts and fare increases at any cost. These alternatives could include tolls at East River crossings, taxing millionaires, and a corporate payroll tax.”

In Brooklynm, GerritsenBeach.net is running a petition to save the B31 and B2 bus lines. The petition reads:

We, the undersigned commuters, are calling on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to continue to operate regular bus service on the B31 and B2 lines. We are calling upon the MTA to main the B31 service after midnight, as this bus is the only way into Gerritsen Beach. We also demand that the MTA maintain weekend service on the B2 Line. Both of these bus lines service as a lifeline to the rest of the City for the people of Gerritsen Beach and Marine Park. The service is necessary to commuters, whether they be coming home late from work or shopping on the weekends, and is extremely important to a community like ours that is not served by the City’s subways.

In Queens, another bus rider closer to the situation than most is issuing her protest too. Bria Sander, the 15-year-old daughter of MTA CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander, has voiced her belief that weekend service on the Q76 and Q79 bus routes should not be cut. “The Legislature and governor should think about students who have to go to things on weekends,” she said. “They should think about people who take the bus and consider how many people are going to be upset because some things are going to be shut down.”

Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Eagle writes about a whole slew of other protests targeted at bus and subway service cuts in various sections of Brooklyn. Harold Egeln highlights one of these groups:

In Bay Ridge, “Save the B37 Third Avenue Bus” is among the demands on a petition circulated by Councilman Vincent Gentile and other lawmakers asking the MTA to drop plans to cut bus service in Bay Ridge along a bustling commercial strip. More than 1,000 signatures were collected on Gentile’s petition against the proposed complete elimination of the route between Shore Road in Bay Ridge and Court Street in Brooklyn Heights, as well as other service cuts.

“When I talk to residents about the cuts, they are clearly desperate to save the transportation services they depend on for work, school and errands,” said Gentile. “The MTA’s plans would cut off thousands of people in south Brooklyn alone from crucial parts of their lives, like family, work and doctors.”

Also out of Brooklyn comes word that residents are wary of staffing cuts. The Brooklyn Paper notes that some late-night straphangers are worried about the security and safety risks that could arise if MTA employees are not around to staff stations late at night. (Check back this afternoon for more on this angle.)

Finally, MTA workers are protesting the job cuts as well. With plans to close nearly 100 station booths and turn some full-time booths into part-time operations, the workers are not happy.

“You want to take those booths out of the system,” Maurice Jenkins, a transit worker, said to NY1. “You are going to take the eyes and ears away from the system. Everywhere you go they have signs that say ‘If you see something say something’. Well if there’s nobody there, who’s going to see something or say something?”

I’m sure there are more out there, but these are the major efforts gaining ink over the last few weeks. For the most part, these protests are directed at our state officials who just so happen to be the people holding the keys to an MTA bailout. On Wednesday, when the MTA hosts its first public hearing, the protesters will be out in full force. As long as they yell loud enough and direct their collective ire at Albany, they just might rise up and be the public voices we need to save the MTA.

Categories : Service Cuts
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