One of the less endearing aspects of the fancy new subway cars that continue to take over the system is the automated public address announcements. At some point, we just don’t need to be told, at a volume far louder than necessary, that the MTA is ready to “apologize for the unavoidable delay.” In an ideal world, we wouldn’t be bombarded with “an important message from the NYPD” every five minutes either. But if one group has its way, we may soon be hearing advertisements over the subway loud speaker.

Over the last few months, as the MTA has tried to raise revenue from every available source, the agency has started to sell open space. They have sold the windows, the turnstiles and the outside walls of entire subway cars. Now, PETA, of all groups, is calling upon the MTA to sell airtime over the subway’s public address system as well.

PETA, in fact, has this all planned out, as their press release notes. They want to inaugurate something that would infuriate subway riders with a group of pro-vegetarian ads. Says the release:

Given the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (MTA) announcement that it will be increasing fares and cutting services to help meet its 2009 budget, PETA has contacted the MTA with a suggestion. PETA has offered to kick off the first-ever paid advertisements to be heard over bus and train public-address systems. PETA’s ads would feature the voices of pro-vegetarian advocates Casey Affleck, Kevin Nealon, and Forest Whitaker…

PETA points out that encouraging commuters to adopt a vegetarian diet would help them address their own financial woes, too, since vegetarians slash not only their grocery bills but also their risk of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain types of cancer–not to mention the high medical bills that come with treating these conditions.

“Broadcasting PETA’s ad on public transport could help the MTA’s bottom line and save passengers’ and animals’ lives,” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. “Commuters have a lot on their minds, and our ads will liven things up and give them something positive to think about.”

To hear the ads that hopefully won’t be appearing in the subways, head on over to PETA’s blog.

I have to applaud the pro-animal group for its ingenuity and effort here. They recognized a situation they could exploit and became, as far as I could tell, the first group to propose in-system audio ads. But New Yorkers would absolutely positively hate these intrusive advertisements.

To most of us, the subway ride is a means to end. We’re trying to get somewhere else in the city, and we do so under less-than-ideal conditions. Can you imagine how a packed car would respond to a 30-second anti-carnivore ad blaring over the loud speaker at 9:15 a.m.? I can, and it’s not a pleasant image.

Hopefully this will be one advertising idea the MTA doesn’t adopt in its efforts to raise funds. I’d take the East River bridge tolls any day over in-system audio ads.

“All infographics should have googly eyes” by flickr user arimoore.

Categories : Subway Advertising
Comments (16)

With the recent murder of an MTA bus driver — the first since 1981 — the MTA is going to begin a bus partition pilot program. Ideally, the partition would separate vulnerable bus drivers from threatening passengers.

William Neuman reported on this plan late last week. He wrote:

The partitions will be tested on buses operating out of the Flatbush Depot in Brooklyn, where Mr. Thomas worked. There are 252 buses assigned to thedepot, according to Paul Fleuranges, a spokesman for the transit agency. He said it was not yet known how many buses would get the partitions as part of the test. They need to be designed, and it was not clear when the program would begin…

The pilot program was proposed by a committee studying bus driver safety and composed of representatives of Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the transit agency’s management.

The committee also proposed other changes that were still being considered. One would eliminate the paper transfers issued on buses to people who pay their fare in cash, according to a person briefed on the committee’s work.

It’s worth noting that eliminating paper transfers would also help the MTA capture more revenue from bus passengers.

I can’t argue against supporting safety for bus drivers. While it may seem as though the MTA is overreacting to its first murder of a bus driver in nearly 30 years, the agency reported 236 assaults on bus drivers between January 1 and December 9 of this year. That’s not a good number by any means, and if the authority can install something as simple as a partition to keep drivers safer, then they should do so.

Categories : Buses
Comments (6)

Back in November, when The Daily News first reported on the looming three-dollar fare, I figured someone in a position of power would act before things got that desperate. But as the New York state legislature and City Council continue to deliberate or ignore the implications of inaction on the Ravitch Report, the MTA took another step closer toward a $3 base fare for the New York City subways and buses.

In a pdf file announcing upcoming public hearings scheduled for January and February, the MTA detailed how it will attempt to generate a 23 percent increase in fare revenue across all MTA fares and tolls. While the language is convoluted, the news is decidedly grim.

First and most prominently is the news that base and cash fares could go up to as much as $3, and Pay-Per-Ride MetroCards may feature a $3-per-swipe deduction as well. Alternatively, the MTA could go with a $2.50 charge on MetroCards while the base cash fare and single ticket rides stand at $3. The discount bonus for pay-per-ride cards, if it survives this fare hike, would not kick in until a user reaches a $12.50, and the MTA proposes that the bonus range from as high as 35 percent (unlikely) to as low as 0 percent (not ideal but likely).

The Unlimited Ride MetroCards, preferred by around 46 percent of subway riders, would see marked increases. The one-day pass could cost as much as $9.50; the seven-day pass could be $32; the new 14-day card could cost $60; and the 30-day unlimited would be as much as $105. While that 30 percent increase for the 30-day card pales in comparison to the 50 percent base fare hike, crossing that $100 barrier is a significant psychological blow to New Yorkers.

Elsewhere the hikes would be significant with drivers paying a lot to cross over and through the MTA’s bridges and tunnels. Seniors would enjoy fewer discount hours and paratransit fares could hit $6 per ride. But this is all avoidable if the state can pass a sensible MTA bailout plan.

Instead of bailouts though, let’s talk about another idea not mentioned. What if the MTA adopted a Washington, DC, or a London style fare structure? Right now, it costs $2 (or less) to ride from Coney Island in Brooklyn to Riverdale in the Bronx, a distance of nearly 27 miles driving. It also costs $2 to ride from 14th St. and 8th Ave. to Grand Central, a distance of about 2.2 miles driving.

Various other subway systems aren’t so generous. In DC, an off-peak 14.1-mile trip costs $2.35 via the Metro while a three-mile ride costs $1.35. At rush hour, the fares increase so that the 14.1-mile trip is $4.30 and the three-mile ride is $1.60. A variable pricing structure would certainly do a lot to increase the MTA’s revenues.

There are, as I see it, two major problems to this proposal. First, the MTA’s antiquated MetroCard system isn’t set up to allow for entry and exit fare swipes. The MTA would have to refit the entire system with newer and better SmartCard technology. While the day should come when the MTA does just that, a time when money is tight and fares may need to be jacked up just so the agency can meet its operating budget is no time for an enormous technological investment.

Second, this proposal basically fleeces people who can’t afford — or, in some cases, choose not to — live close to Manhattan. Unlike Washington, D.C., and London, two cities with variable fare structures, New York City isn’t really a suburban city. People in D.C. commuting in from Franconia-Springfield generally choose to live in the suburbs and take Metro into the city. Folks in New York commuting from Coney Island to Manhattan aren’t enjoying the same luxury. At that point, we’re taxing the people who can least afford to pay.

Anyway, as the MTA gears up for public hearings, we’re going to need some out-of-the-box solutions to combat this potential fare hike. We can imagine a world of variable pricing; we can imagine a world of East River tolls. But unless imagination becomes reality, we’re going to soon be facing a New York City with significantly higher mass transit fares.

Categories : Fare Hikes
Comments (11)

Based on news coverage of the Ravitch Commission’s report, you could be forgiven for believing that most of Brooklyn commutes into Manhattan via automobile over the East River bridges. After all, reporters and sources act as though tolling the East River bridges represents a direct challenge to our American way of life.

But it’s simply not true. In a survey a long time coming, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign noted the grave inequities among the numbers of commuters who drive and those who ride the subway. The report — released on Friday — is telling. “For example, according to the 2000 Census, only 3.1% of Brooklyn workers, 3.5% of Nassau County workers, and 4.4% of Westchester County workers drive alone to Manhattan to work,” Steven Higashide wrote on the TSC’s Mobilizing the Region.

The fact sheets are just as telling. In Brooklyn, the borough potentially hardest hit by the tolls, 37.9 percent of all commuters head into Manhattan each day. In total, 4.6 percent of Brooklyn residents drive into Manhattan each day either alone (3.1 percent) or via carpool (1.5 percent). On the flip side, 32.6 percent of borough residents rely on the subway. That’s 86 percent of all Manhattan-bound commuters on the train as opposed to 14 percent on the road. The numbers are rather similar across the entirety of the MTA’s Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District.

Furthermore, those who drive make, on average, over $30,000 a year more than those who take the train. So not only do few people commute via car each day, but they do as a luxury. They should be, in other words, the people paying the tolls. It would be regressive, as always, to tax the straphanging public and not the driving few.

This whole debate, then, is fairly ridiculous. It would be far, far better to raise the bridge tolls and avoid service cuts and huge fare hikes than it would be to keep the sacred East River bridges free while the vast majority of commuters would be stuck with longer wait times and more crowded trains. Streetsblog called the gap between those who drive and those who straphang “cavernous” and noted that “the populist ‘defense’ of the driving public is a bunch of hokum that no reporter should let go unchallenged.”

Now, if only the politicians who control the fate of transportation in New York would awake to these realities, we could have hope yet. For some reason, though, I get the feeling that the fare hikes and service cuts will stay while the East River bridge tolls will remain free for the small percentage of people who use the bridges each day. That is backwards indeed.

Categories : Ravitch Commission
Comments (11)

During the press gaggle prior to the tour of the new South Ferry station, the transit reporters gathered around Michael Horodniceanu, the president of MTA Capital Construction, to pepper him with questions. Talk, of course, turned to the ever-delayed Fulton St. transit hub.

When we lasted checked in with the Fulton St. hub, it was October, and the MTA had no plans for the hub. It was stuck in MTA Purgatory. Two weeks ago, Horodniceanu sort of ducked the questions surrounding the above-ground parts of this structure. “We have not yet made a decision on it,” he said. He did claim that the final structure would be “similar to what we’ve seen.” What we’ve seen is an oculus erased from the plans nearly a year ago.

At the MTA Board meeting this past week, the agency’s CEO and Executive Director Lee Sander had an update on the Fulton St. Hub, and Julie Shapiro and Josh Rogers of the Downtown Express reported on the update. While work continues apace below ground, things are moving slowly above ground. Perhaps passengers will just exit via a ladder leading down into the transit complex.

Anyway, the two downtown reporters write:

Nearly one year after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced it had run out of money to build the aboveground portion of the Fulton Transit Center, the agency still has made no decisions about the future.

“We have a couple of different options for what’s above ground,” Lee Sander, M.T.A. executive director, said this week. “The issue is really figuring out how we pay for it.”

He did not disclose any information on the alternatives under consideration. He said he was “highly confident” something will be built above street level, but he has made similar comments throughout the year and the M.T.A. had said they would have a new plan for the site by last February…

Sander would only say Thursday that the M.T.A. is not interested in topping the station with a commercial structure to raise revenue. “At this point that’s not in our plans, and given the fact that we’re in the environmental planning process, I think I will leave my comments there,” he said.

So the MTA, as Shapiro and Rogers noted, “displaced 140 businesses in 2006 to make way for a domed Fulton station that was to become a new Downtown landmark,” and since then, nothing has happened. The intersection of Fulton St. and Broadway remains an empty lot surrounding by a blue construction fence, and the MTA heads can tell us only what is not going to fill that spot.

At some point, something will rise above the Fulton St. transit hub, and in the end, as long as the below-ground connections work out, it doesn’t really matter what happens above ground. But for now, we know we’ll be waiting a long time for the MTA to build something. They have to figure out what will go in the empty spot, conduct the appropriate environmental reviews, find the money for construction and then build it. Yikes. We might be in a for a few years of nothing at Fulton St.

Categories : Fulton Street
Comments (8)

With the holidays upon us, track work slows down. As you can see from the short list below, the MTA has scaled back the work. Furthermore, with the snow a lot of these advisories have been canceled. Pay attention to the strike-throughs. Mostly, the trains are running as they normally would for a weekend. However work on the L and F trains continues as planned, for now.

From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, December 20 and Sunday, December 21, Manhattan-bound 2 trains skip Burke Avenue, Allerton Avenue, Pelham Parkway and Bronx Park East due to track work.

From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, December 20 and Sunday, December 21, Bronx-bound 4 trains skip 161st, 167th, 170th Streets, Mt. Eden Avenue and 176th Street due to track work.

From 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, December 20, Manhattan-bound D trains run on the N line from Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue to 36th Street due to track panel installation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, December 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 22, Manhattan-bound F trains skip Ft. Hamilton Parkway, 15th St-Prospect Park and 4th Avenue due to construction work on an employee facility at Church Avenue.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, December 19 to 5 a.m. Saturday, December 20, there are no L trains between 8th Avenue and Union Square due to switch renewal near 8th Avenue. Customers should use the M14 instead.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, December 19 to 5 a.m. Saturday, December 20, L trains run every 24 minutes in two sections due to switch renewal near 8th Avenue:

  • Between Rockaway Parkway and Bedford Avenue and
  • Between Bedford Avenue and Union Square

From 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, December 20, the last stop on some Coney Island-bound N trains is Kings Highway due to track panel installation.

Categories : Service Advisories
Comments (0)

While yesterday’s FAQ hit on a few of the big misconceptions surrounding the MTA’s current budget crisis, there is one more major topic I’d like to hit on today. That topic focuses on the MTA’s current real estate holdings and the money they could draw in.

Over the last few weeks, these holdings have been in and out of the news. Most recently, we’ve heard that the MTA still expects $1 billion for the Atlantic Yards land even as the real estate development deal falls apart. Before that, Julia Vitullo-Martin published an error-filled piece in The Daily News about the MTA’s real estate. Her premise is one that deserves some attention, if only to dispute it.

When Vitullo-Martin wrote her piece, the MTA had yet to pass this Doomsday budget they unveiled upon the New York City world this week. But her point — that the MTA isn’t making the most of its real estate holdings — remain. Basically, she asked, “Shouldn’t we first insist that the MTA take advantage of any and all underused real estate that it already owns or controls under long-term leases?”

Her problem however is that she identifies parcels that either aren’t owned by the MTA or are like the Hudson Yards lands and are already included in plans for redevelopment. The MTA disputed the article and issued a statement:

The MTA is continually assessing its real estate to identify properties, like the Hudson Yards, that can provide revenue to the MTA without disrupting service. These opportunities are limited because so much of the MTA’s real estate is operated under master lease, wherein it can only be used by the MTA for transportation purposes. Nonetheless, we continue to find new revenue opportunities and use these funds to pay for critical capital needs, with $1 billion in the 2005-2009 capital program from asset sales (and another $500 million tentatively identified in the 2008-13 plan produced during the congestion pricing debate). It is bad public policy to sell assets to pay for operating expenses in any case, and to imply that the current fiscal crisis could be avoided in this way is simply not accurate.

Basically, that statement sums it up. Is the MTA making the most of its real estate holdings, as Vitullo-Martin alleges they aren’t? The answer to that is tough to pinpoint, but the fact remains that dealing with real estate holdings is a one-off solution. Let’s say the MTA really can get a few hundred million dollars for the Jay St. holdings in Brooklyn. In today’s market, that’s highly unlikely. But what happens when the budget comes due next year, and the transit agency can no longer sell real estate to cover a budget gap?

Like many critiques of the MTA, the real estate one is a red herring. We would all prefer the MTA to make ideal use of all of their lands, but forcing them to do so now would solve the problem for just one year, if that. We need long-term solutions and not some short-term measure. Hopefully, our politicians realize this as well.

Categories : MTA Economics
Comments (10)
  • Wrapping up the MetroCard Challenge · I had to buy a new 30-Day Unlimited Ride MetroCard today. It’s a sad day when I have to part with $81. But I take comfort in knowing it’s $81 well spent. From Nov. 17 through Dec. 16, I used my card 73 times for a cost-per-ride of $1.11.

    I’m a student commuting into Manhattan from Brooklyn each day, and since it’s finals, my social life is somewhat curtailed. Still, based on the spreadsheet that is open and available to the public, my usage seems to be on the high end. No matter, it’s well worth it for me to buy a 30-day card, and I save nearly 50 percent off of the pure base fare of $2.00. · (0)

By now, it’s no secret that the MTA Board had to approve the Doomsday budget yesterday. It’s little comfort to know they did so under duress. The law requires them to pass a balanced budget, and to achieve that untenable goal in 2009, the MTA will have to cut services and raise fares unless our state legislatures act.

Now, we have a buffer of a few months. As the various governing bodies in New York debate the merits of the Ravitch report, this budget won’t start to come due for a few months. In March, the Board will vote on the fare hikes. In June, the service cuts and fare increases will put implemented. That gives the city’s pro-transit forces a little under six months to get the ball rolling.

As Doreen Frasca, an MTA board member, said yesterday, “What I’m going to do, and I know a lot of other people on this board are going to do, is go up to Albany, look our lawmakers in the eye, and say to them, ‘Why can’t you put transit first on the agenda for a change?’” We should all join her.

For now, though, I want to tackle something else. As I read through the comments on the City Room post about the MTA Board meeting, I was struck by how ill-informed New Yorkers are. In an effort to avoid thinking about Civil Procedure in advance of my rapidly-approaching 1:30 p.m. final educate the masses, I thought I’d try to respond to some of the misconceptions people have surrounding the MTA. So after the jump, some questions and my answers.

As a caveat, these answers may sound to be apologetic on behalf of the MTA, but I’m a neutral third-party in favor of full funding for public transit in New York. I’m not affiliated with the MTA and am, at times, supportive and, at times, critical of the agency’s operations.

In the end, my answer is that the MTA isn’t to blame as much as New Yorkers would like to blame them. The people to target are our elected officials who refuse to vote for congestion pricing, who balk at tolling the East River bridge tolls, who won’t fund mass transit. These things aren’t free; someone will have to shoulder the costs. Will it be the riders or will it be everyone? That’s up to us.

Anyway, here we go.

Click here to read the Second Ave. Saga MTA budgetary FAQ.

Categories : MTA Economics
Comments (23)
  • The dangers of drinking and swiping · From 1990 through 2003, subway-related deaths in New York City numbered 668. Of those, 315 were accidentally, and of those, 46 percent were alcohol-related. So as Crain’s New York noted today, be careful if you’re going to drink and swipe. · (3)
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