Getting across town in Manhattan is something of a nightmare. While buses run down the major thoroughfares fairly frequently, it’s often faster to walk from one end of the island to the other than it is to sit in crushing traffic while on a bus.

To that end, the Regional Plan Association thinks they have a solution: Eliminate fares on crosstown buses. The logic is really quite simple. Most riders on crosstown buses will eventually pay for a connecting subway ride, and by eliminating the fare, the MTA would speed up travel times to the point that the agency wouldn’t really be losing money.

Pete Donohue first reported on this proposal in the Daily News last week:

Eliminate [the fare] process on routes like the M34 and the M42, on 34th and 42nd Sts., and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority still might not absorb a big loss, according to the Regional Plan Association…

For most crosstown bus riders, the trip is just one leg of a larger one that includes the subway. Transfers between the buses and subway trains are free. So, bus riders can simply get on without paying, according to an association report on possible mass transit upgrades.

“Most of the people riding those buses are taking the train, so you capture the revenue anyway,” said Jeffrey Zupan, senior transportation fellow at the association. Any revenue losses probably would be offset by improved efficiency, Zupan said. Bus trips would become quicker, meaning fewer buses would be needed.

I’d have to see the numbers, but it sounds like a good plan. Of course, with money tight and a fare hike on tap for 2009, the MTA probably won’t institute a measure that would, in the short term, result in less revenue for the agency. The authority is more likely to explore pre-boarding fare payment options.

Still, ideas like these could help improve surface transit in the five boroughs. Until New York can adequately enforce bus-only lanes, proposals from the RPA and other like-minded organizations should get their days in the sun.

Categories : Buses
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Weekend Service Advisories

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You know the drill. Nothing too unexpected this week, but remember that downtown trains are still skipping 96th St. on the West Side IRT.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, uptown 1 trains skip 50th, 59th, and 66th Streets due to 59th Street-Columbus Circle station rehabilitation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, downtown 1 trains skip 96th Street due to station rehabilitation work.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday. October 20, Brooklyn-bound 2, 3 and 4 trains skip Bergen Street, Grand Army Plaza and Eastern Parkway due to station painting at Grand Army Plaza.

From 12:30 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, October 18, from 12:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday, October 19 and from 12:30 a.m. to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, there are no 3 trains running due to a track chip-out north of 135th Street station. Free shuttle buses and 2 trains provide alternate service.

From 5 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 10 p.m. Sunday, October 19, there are no 4 trains between Woodlawn and 161st Street-Yankee Stadium due to electric work. Free shuttle buses replace 4 trains between Woodlawn 4 and Bedford Park Blvd. D stations

From 6 a.m. Saturday October 18 to 10 p.m. Sunday October 19, 7 trains run in two sections due to switch renewal north of Willets Point station:

  • Between Flushing-Main Street and Willets Point-Shea Stadium and
  • Between Willets Point-Shea Stadium and Times Square-42nd Street

The train between Flushing-Main Street and Willets Point will run every 12 minutes.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, free shuttle buses replace A trains between 168th and 207th Streets due to 168th Street tunnel lighting. Customers may transfer between the Broadway and Ft. Washington Avenue shuttle buses and the A train at 168th Street. There is no C train service between 145th Street and 168th Street. Customers should take the A instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, Queens-bound
A and C trains run express from Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts. to Utica Avenue due to station painting at Utica Avenue.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, uptown A trains skip Spring, 23rd and 50th Streets due to cable work north of Canal Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, uptown C trains run express from Canal to 145th Streets due to ADA work at 47th-50th Sts/Rockefeller Center.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, uptown D trains run local on the C from West 4th to 59th Streets due to ADA work at 47th-50th Sts/Rockefeller Center.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, uptown E trains skip Spring and 23rd Streets due to cable work north of Canal Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18, to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, free shuttle buses replace E trains between Jamaica Center and Union Turnpike due to preparation for tunnel work.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, Manhattan-bound F trains skip Ft. Hamilton Parkway, 15th Street-Prospect Park, and 4th Avenue due to cable work north of Ditmas Blvd.

From 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, October 17-20, Manhattan-bound F trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to 21st Street-Queensbridge due to completion of track-chip out north of Queens Plaza.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Long Island City-Court Square due to Lawrence Street station rehabilitation and construction of the underground connector. Customers should take the E or R instead.

From 1 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, J trains run in two sections due to station painting at Canal Street:

  • Between Jamaica Center and Essex Street and
  • Between Essex and Chambers Street

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20 (until October 27), 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. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, N and R trains rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge between DeKalb Avenue and Canal Street due to Lawrence Street station rehabilitation and construction of the underground connector.

From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, October 18 and Sunday, October19, 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 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, Manhattan-bound Q trains skip Neck Road and Avenue U due to station rehabilitations.

Categories : Service Advisories
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It’s beginning to look a lot like a Metro-North stop. (Photo courtesy of the MTA)

In a few months, when the new Yankee Stadium opens, the MTA will debut its latest addition to Metro-North: a stop at Yankee Stadium.

Yesterday, the authority released a bunch of pictures of the ongoing construction. The pedestrian bridge is coming along; the platforms are staircases are rounding into shape. But a major question remains on the fares the MTA will charge for this quick ride from Grand Central to Yankee Stadium.

To that end, the commuter railroad would like to hold a hearing to set the fare. The MTA’s press release fills us in:

Fares from Grand Central and Harlem-125th Street and from suburban Hudson Line stations would be the same as existing fares to and from all other Hudson Line Bronx stations.

Metro-North also will introduce new “via” fares for travel to the new station for Harlem and New Haven Line stations. These via fares will consist of the already established one-way fare to Manhattan plus a small additional amount for the portion of the trip between Manhattan and the new station. Metro-North is proposing an additional $1.00 for all peak one-way fares and 75 cents for all one-way off-peak fares.

The new station will be open year round serving both the neighborhood and baseball fans attending the ball games. Metro-North also proposes to honor CityTickets for weekend travel between the new station and both Grand Central and Harlem-125th Street. CityTicket is a special, $3.25, weekend-only fare for travel on Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road within New York City limits.

I wonder if Metro-North would consider variable pricing for trains around game time. They could alternately charge less for access to Yankee Stadium in an effort to discourage driving and encourage rail use. Or they could charge more for Yankee Stadium-bound trains as a way to capture additional revenue during extreme peak hours.

In the end, the MTA will probably just adopt the fare recommendations set forth by Metro-North. The hearing will take place on Monday, November 17, at 6 p.m. at the office of the Bronx District Attorney just up the block from Yankee Stadium.

Categories : Metro-North
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The MTA may be facing a cash-flow shortage over the next few months.

Earlier this week, amidst a collapsing economy, the MTA issues a $500 million bond request. The cash-strapped transportation agency had hoped to generate cash flow by selling off bonds. This money was destined for high-profile, big-ticket projects such as the Second Ave. Subway.

Well, it turns out that the middle of an economic crash is not a good time to attempt a bond issue. According to WNYC, the MTA has already scaled back its request by $300 million, and it’s unclear how this turn of events will impact the transit authority and its bottom line. WNYC has more:

The turmoil in the bond market has forced the MTA to rethink a half-billion dollar bond issue.

The transit agency delayed selling the bonds for two days because of weak demand. This morning, it got into the market, but reduced the amount it wanted to borrow to $200 million.

The bond’s high-yielding interest rate — up to 6.5 percent — will force the transit agency to devote more of its budget to financing costs, but it’s too early to say how much. The MTA’s Gary Dellaverson says he assesses the market every day to determine when to put the other $300 million worth of bonds on sale.

Dellaverson issued a cautious warning. “If it were to be a long-term condition, it would be something of great concern because MTA relies heavily on the bond market to finance its capital projects,” he said.

In the short term, Dellaverson will keep his eyes open for a better time to issue the other $300 million in bond requests the MTA would like to fulfill. In the meantime, though, this MTA will be hoping for a break in the market. Any delay in this bond issue could result in a slowdowns in construction on the East Side or the 7 Line extension, and we could be in for yet another delay in the long and tragic history of the subway along Second Ave.

Categories : MTA Economics
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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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