We know the MTA is facing a financial crisis; we know the threat of a second fare hike in two years looms large; and we know the MTA has planned to cut services — but not yet service — to address what is now being labeled a $700-million budget gap.

Today, we find out that New York City Transit has been ordered to cut $61 million off its budget. Those cuts will come mainly from maintenance and service jobs. Much of that figure will come in the form of bureaucratic maneuverings. Jobs currently unfilled will remain unfilled while few others will lose their positions.

Matthew Sweeney, amNew York’s transportation writer, has more:

The search for savings is part of an overall Metropolitan Transportation Authority goal of reducing costs by 6 percent over the next four years as the agency faces a financial crisis. For its part, NYC Transit has projected saving $251.3 million from 2009 through 2012. The bulk of the savings in 2009 — $39.4 million — will come from reductions to maintenance…

Transit officials worked to reassure straphangers yesterday, saying in a statement that none of the proposed savings “will have an impact on safety, security or customer service levels.”

While Sweeney’s article notes that “subway service has been on a gradual but steady decline,” to me, this seems like a baseless assertion. The MTA has gone out of its way to stress that they would rather cut maintenance and upkeep positions before taking an axe to frequency of trains. In fact, NY1 reports that the MTA is doing just that.

According to reports, the services cut will include 12-year upgrades for buses, numerous platform controllers in the subways and efforts to fight strachiti along some of the more vandalism-prone lines. For those of us relying on the subways to take us to and from spots in New York, this news is guardedly optimistic, but the system suffers from it. We’ll see the same old train service, but an aging and ugly system badly in need of physical upkeep and upgrades will continue to deteriorate.

Critics of the MTA’s cuts will think back to the 1970s when the system fell out of its state of good repair, but for now, the MTA is dedicated to maintaining subway cars and track beds in that state of good repair. The rest of the system, however, will continue to slide, but as long as the trains run and as long as the system is safe from crime, the aesthetics can take second place to the system operation. For now.

Categories : MTA Economics
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When last we checked in with the Fulton St. Transit Center debacle, the MTA had, once again, promised a new design for the long-gone dome in 30 days. That was 62 days ago.

While even the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s website on the Fulton Hub simply states a “Spring 2008″ date for arrival of a new design, I’m just going to assume that we should wait another 30 days. Meanwhile, though, the other troubled aspect of this plan — the shaky financial picture — is in the news, but the word is not good. The Feds, as the Daily News’ Pete Donohue notes, will not toss in anymore money for the project:

The Federal Transit Administration won’t bail out the MTA’s troubled Fulton St. subway hub with an infusion of more money, a top Bush administration official said.

“Absolutely not. That’s capped out,” federal transit Administrator James Simpson said Tuesday when asked if the FTA would increase its commitment for the Fulton Transit Center.

An MTA-FTA funding agreement commits the feds to $819 million. Another $40 million is set aside in reserve funds. Plans call for overhauling the existing Fulton/Broadway/Nassau St. subway complex and creating a grand, domed entrance building with retail space.

The MTA says they’re $1 billion over budget for this project, and they’ve yet to release finalized designs for the above-ground portion of the transit hub. The work continues underground; just try navigating through the East Side IRT Fulton St. stop these days. But this project has a long way to go.

Categories : Fulton Street
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Under Construction

In April, an imposing blue wall pointed the way into the Columbus Circle station. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

The Columbus Circle station is, in a word, a mess right now. Undergoing a massive renovation, the station is dirty, hot, dusty and impossible to navigate. While this should be the state of things at 59th St. for at least the better part of the next year, the MTA celebrated a milestone in the construction yesterday when a new entrance opened at 60th St. and Broadway.

For the celebration, the MTA broke out the ribbon-cutting scissors, and MTA CEO Executive Director Lee Sander did the honors. As this entrance opens, the one on the island in the middle of Broadway closes, and the MTA tells us more about this new entrance and the final plans — with their 42-month timeline and $108-million price tag — for the station:

The new 60th Street control area cost $14 million and was carved out of solid rock made up of the well-known Manhattan schist while a vast array of street utilities were suspended from the decking beams. Those utilities included 20-inch and 32-inch city water lines, a 20-inch Con Ed steam line as well as numerous smaller electric, gas and fiber optic lines. The entrance, which includes two new street-to-platform level staircases and a MetroCard Vending Machine, was newly constructed under concrete decking, which minimized the disruption to street traffic on southbound Broadway.

“Funding for transportation is a scarce commodity, but we are doing everything we can with the resources we have available to improve the experience our customers have with us,” said Elliot G. Sander, the Executive Director and CEO of the MTA. “Whether it is a much needed new subway entrance or the initiation of Select Bus Service, we are committed to improving customer service.”

“This station rehabilitation project and particularly this new entrance are examples of the difficulties NYC Transit faces when upgrading what is an aging system,” said NYC Transit President Howard H. Roberts, Jr. “Despite the complexities of the construction, we have delivered to the customers who use this station a new, modern entrance which will provide additional egress capacity for the more than 69-thousand people who use the station daily.”

In the end, the renovated station will feature an elevator at one of the Central Park West access points and three new staircases along Broadway. Both platforms levels will be overhauled, and the now-abandoned central platform on the A/B/C/D level will be restored to use.

For many, the current state of the station is a major inconvenience. It’s not a pleasure to navigate through Columbus Circle right now. But in the end, it should be worth it. With the Time Warner Center and CNN occupying what had been largely unused real estate at Columbus Circle, this popular station has become more overrun with people, and the MTA, beleaguered and beaten, is doing all it can to modernize this station. Now if only they could do something about the other 467 at the same time.

Categories : MTA Construction
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A Confused N Train

Where: Don’t let the photo confuse you; that’s an N train, and it’s not an Atlantic Ave-Pacific St. Rather, it was en route to 14th St./Union Square on a Sunday night two weeks ago.

What: One very confused train (and, thus, some very confused passengers). On Sunday, June 29, at a time when, according to the service alerts, Brooklyn-bound N and R trains were supposed to be running over the Manhattan Bridge to DeKalb Ave., this train was suffering an identity crisis. With a W label affixed to its route map and the map itself stuck on Atlantic/Pacific since the time I boarded it at Times Square, the train did not know what to do. It didn’t run over the Manhattan Bridge; it wasn’t a W; and it couldn’t really handle all the confusion.

What good is new technology if it’s too hard to harness?

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If anything ever deserved that MTA Absurdity tag I like to stick on posts, this is it.

According to news stories released on Tuesday, New York City Transit is holding back on a planned anti-groping ad campaign because officials fear it will encourage more deviant behavior than it would combat. That’s right; the MTA feels that by attempting to raise awareness of a serious issue they will serve only to encourage it.

Patrick Gallahue, transit reporter at the New York Post, has more about this odd story:

City transit officials have prepared a campaign to combat deviants who grope or molest women on the subway – but have been sitting on it because of fears the ads could actually encourage sickos.

The New York City Transit campaign was set into motion after a study last year by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer found that 10 percent of women surveyed reported having been sexually abused in the subway and 63 percent claimed to have been sexually harassed.

Stringer recommended a public awareness campaign, which NYC Transit quietly prepared. The agency made it as far as developing mock-ups, which never went to print. Sources said the agency held off on launching the campaign out of fear it could actually provoke deviant behavior.

As Jossip notes, wouldn’t the same logic preclude the MTA from releasing anti-terror ads? By urging people to combat suspicious subway behavior, we could be encouraging it. By trying to fight litter, might the MTA’s latest ad campaign simply remind people to litter even more frequently in the subways?

Subway assaults and groping is clearly a serious problem in the subways. The MTA shouldn’t belittle these concerns by refusing to run these ads and for such a flimsy reason. Just stick ‘em up in the subways; groping incidents won’t increase.

Poster image from the MBTA’s anti-groping campaign in the Boston T.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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  • Why Manhattanites loathe the bus · This afternoon, I had to run an errand during lunch time. I left my office on 9th Ave. between 15th and 16th and walked over to 14th St. As I crossed 14th St. and 9th Ave., I passed in front of an M14D, waiting for the light to change so it could turn onto 14th St. For a brief minute, I thought about taking the bus. I didn’t have much time, and I had to get to 14th St. between 5th and 6th Aves. As I looked down 14th St., I changed my mind and hoofed it. I beat the bus to my destination by a full avenue block. No wonder the M14 always finishes near the top in the Pokey Awards. Anyone who thinks we don’t need dedicated bus lanes is fooling themselves. · (7)
  • Just avoid Midtown altogether today · With the MLB All Star Game parade upon us, Sixth Ave. from 42nd St. to 59th St. is closed, and the surrounding area is a mess. The MTA has tossed up a bunch of service alerts mostly relating to bus service along crosstown routes and up Sixth Ave, but certain subway entrances at Times Square, Bryant Park and 57th St. (on the F) are closed as well. These changes are in place until 6 p.m. tonight, and travelers are better avoiding what will be a very crowded area of town today. · (0)

Ads, ads, everywhere ads

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The MTA hasn’t started advertising on its (non-existent) straps as they do in Seoul. (Photo by flickr user Queenbean79)

As the talk of the MTA’s budget problems has grown, we’ve heard stories, on and off, about the agency’s efforts to attract more advertising dollars. In April, I warned riders that more ads were soon to be a reality, and in May, word leaked of MTA plans to brand the outside of rail cars.

Today, we find out that the MTA wants to add even more advertising streams, including the ever-popular in-tunnel, flip-book style advertising found in both the Boston T and the Washington Metro. Pete Donohue has more:

Ad-generated income totaled $106 million last year, up from $90 million the previous year, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said.

That figure is expected to top $110 million this year as the MTA continues to test new strategies to capture the attention of riders – including projecting commercials onto subway station walls in the line of vision of passengers standing on platforms.

After years of consideration, the MTA this year also will test the placement of ads on tunnel walls between stations that would unfold like a flip book or silent movie as a train rolls by, officials said. “It’s high priority of ours,” MTA CEO Elliot Sander said. “We’ve made strong progress in generating new revenues, which is critical, given the MTA’s challenging financial circumstances. We’ve done a very good job with this.”

While suggesting expanding subway advertising always seems to spark a debate, it’s hard to fault the MTA for this one. The agency needs money, and they certainly have a lot of space that could be turned over to advertising. It’s easy to ignore ads, and it’s a lot better to be subjected to more ads than another fare hike.

I do wonder if the MTA couldn’t coax more than four million additional dollars out of an expanded advertising program. The opportunities are out there; someone just has to sell it.

Categories : MTA Economics
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  • SAS safe from cuts, for now · While Phase I of the Second Ave. Subway may not be on schedule or at budget, the project seems safe for now simply because the Feds keep sending money its way. As NY1 reported late last week, Sen. Schumer is one step closer to securing more funds for the project, and while looked at how looming cuts could impact MTA expansion projects, the consensus seems to be that the LIRR Third Track project will draw the short straw. Too much work and too much money has already been put into the SAS, the 7 Line Extension and the East Side Access project to can them now while the Third Track is still just in the planning stages. · (5)

With the number of delays caused by track files mounting by the year, New York City Transit is stepping up awareness efforts aimed at combating litter in the subways.

The new public service campaign — built around a fake newspaper this time instead of a real one — uses the Subway Gazette, a creation of NYC Transit, to stress the point that service delays caused by litter are completely preventable. In the ad, a rider of the 42nd St. Shuttle is seen reading the ad, and we the viewer just so happened to be engaged in that age-old subway tradition: We’re reading the newspaper over that paper’s owner’s shoulder.

The text of the Subway Gazette article is fairly technical. Using much of the same information contained in NYC Transit’s press release, the article is designed to draw attention to the mounting problem of track litter. As per the MTA:

The initial run highlights all of the problems that can arise when careless customers discard of trash improperly. When riders fail to hit that easy lay-up into platform trash receptacles, trash often ends up on the platform and then gets blown onto the roadbed by passing trains. Once on the tracks, trash can help spark track fires or clog drains along the roadbed and that can lead to flooding. Smoke conditions and flooding can and do lead to delays in train service and, in the case of fires, they can be downright dangerous.

The poster itself says, “Litter causes track fires. That’s bad news. Please put newspapers and other refuse in trash cans.” Seemingly in conjunction with this poster, the automated announcements on the newer subway cars have ramped up their anti-trash messages as well.

But with this campaign, many are wondering just how effective NYC Transit’s “Your Litter” ad campaign has been. As Sewell Chan noted on City Room, the MTA has been pushing this message since January, and track fires caused by litter are on the rise yet again. In fact, these types of delays have skyrocketed by 73 percent since 2003.

If the MTA is very concerned with these track-fire problems — and they are a legitimate problem — I have a solution that goes beyond PSAs and touches down in the realm of the draconian. Down in Washington, D.C., the WMATA does not allow eating or drinking in the Metro. They were able to implement and effectively enforce these rules through a few high-profile and unpopular incidents, including one involving a teenage girl and a basket of French Fries. It was an unpleasant PR nightmare, but it worked. No longer do people eat or drink on the Metro.

If the MTA and the NYPD were to collaborate on a litter-based sting — not involving 12-year-old girls — people would start to get the message. The MTA would take its flack for a few days, but how is that any different from the rest of the week? If it meant less litter, cleaner subways and track beds safe from the threat of smoke and fire, it would be tough to turn that offer down.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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