I’m a devotee of the 30-day Unlimited Ride MetroCard. I take so many trips around the city that the $81 card basically costs me just over $1.00 a ride. But the 30-day card also leads to some of the more annoying subway moments around.

Picture this: It’s early in the morning, and your subway stop is really crowded. You hear — and see — the train you want pulling in, and you rush to swipe your 30-day card. You step forward…and slam into the turnstile bar. “Insufficient Fare” flashes the LCD display. Your time has expired, and while you try to keep track of when the 30 days are up, no one really marks it on your calendar.

Dejected, you head to the MetroCard Vending Machine and fill up your card. As you trudge down to the platform, it’s too late. That train you wanted was long gone, and you’ll just have to wait for the next one.

But no longer! This subway frustration has been eliminated. The MTA’s EasyPayXPress program — and auto-bill for your MetroCard — now features an unlimited card program. So far, more than 16,000 pay-per-ride users take advantage of the program, and with the debut of unlimited card service, more should do so.

“The addition of an Unlimited card option is the natural next step for the EasyPayXpress Program,” NYC Transit’s VP of Corporate Communications Paul Fleuranges said. “We expect that Unlimited MetroCard users will, as we’ve seen with our Pay-Per-Ride population, appreciate the fact that they never have to worry about their card running out of rides or standing on an MVM line with their credit card or cash to buy a new one.”

Here’s how it works: Straphangers can sign up here for an account. Submit your credit card info, and in a few days, you’ll receive a MetroCard — good for two years — in the mail. The program automatically bills the credit card every 30 days, and the MetroCard will not expire until the 24-month term is up. In effect, it’s a two-year unlimited ride card.

The renewal options are designed for the user as well. It’s easy to switch from an unlimited ride account to a pay-per-ride card. So if you’re going away for a long vacation, you won’t burn the money on an unused unlimited-ride card.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I love this program. What’s not to like? It eliminates a key source of underground frustration, and it’s been a long time coming. So check it out.

Categories : MetroCard
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A Cemusa bus shelter on Manhattan’s East Side. Similar bus shelters have recently gone up along soon-to-be-axed routes in Brooklyn. (Photo by flickr user animalvegetable)

The bureaucracy in New York City is famed for its lack of interagency coordination. The MTA and Department of Transportation may cover similar ground, but prior to the last few years, the two agencies were rarely in tune with each other. Since Mayor Bloomberg has put forward his desire to make the city more pedestrian- and environmentally-friendly, NYCDOT and the MTA have been more cooperative. The recent Select Bus Service/Bus Rapid Transit plans are indicative of this effort, but now and then, the old bureaucratic mess reasserts itself.

Such was the case recently when Cemusa, the company that has contracted with the city to install bus shelters and newstands across the five boroughs, replaced some old bus stops along the B23 route on Courtelyou Road in Brooklyn. While the neighborhood appreciated the new shelters, there was one not-so-minor problem: In less than six months, the B23 will cease to exist as a bus. It is one of the lines slated for the impending service cuts. Oops.

James Barron of The Times covered this amusing story of bureaucratic snafus and transit woes recently. He writes:

Two bus shelters on Cortelyou Road in Brooklyn — one at Ocean Parkway, the other at East Fifth Street — were replaced this week with shiny new steel-and-glass structures that can keep passengers on the B23 bus line dry on rainy days and unmussed on windy ones.

But the B23 is one of six bus lines in Brooklyn that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority says it will eliminate unless it gets a financial lifeline from the State Legislature.

Asked why new shelters were being installed along a line that could soon disappear, Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the Transportation Department, noted that the proposed service changes were not definite. “But we will postpone any further installations on affected routes until the situation is clarified,” he said.

Amusingly enough, the area’s residents had a better idea of what was going on than the Cemusa workers did — that is, until the new shelters popped up. “I figured they were just beginning to prepare for the service shutdown,” Antonio Rosario said to The Times. “This makes no sense.”

Of course, Cemusa has since halted shelter replacement along the doomed line, but I wonder what will become of the new shiny stops. They’ll sit there, bright and unused, until the MTA has the money and political capital to restore the cut services. They’ll sit there as a monument to services we have lost and a reminder of our State Senate’s unwillingness to support transit. How fitting.

Categories : Brooklyn, Buses
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  • Official: Hudson Yards to take ‘decades’ to complete · The Hudson Yards project is quickly turning into a giant bust. While city officials are still optimistic that something will happen there, Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber said earlier this week that it will take decades to complete it. Meanwhile, Lieber also stressed the importance of the city-funded 7 line extension to the success of the project.

    “We knew, and part of the plan all along was that you weren’t going to have companies relocating their headquarters, offices, or their employees to a place that people couldn’t get to,” Lieber said at an economic development forum on Tuesday. “So key to that is being able to deliver the mass transit to be able to accommodate the commuters.”

    With this admission of an ambiguous start or end date for the project, I still this is as nothing more than a subway to nowhere. The MTA claims the project will be completed by 2013, and there’s a good chance nothing will be at the Hudson Yards site by then. Meanwhile, the state and transit agency are still embroiled in a dispute over the cost overruns that have, for now, shelved the proposed station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. Right now, the city then is paying over $2 billion for a train that doesn’t go anywhere and may not even serve a real development for decades. That’s just a terrible allocation of money and resources. · (10)

At this point, only a willfully ignorant person would claim that the MTA should not be rescued. Just a few weeks before the MTA is set to jack up fares and start cutting services, the MTA announced a higher-than-expected deficit for 2009. The future is not rosy.

Meanwhile, Albany remains deadlocked and on vacation. Some Senators won’t support tolls; others won’t support taxes; and as a NY Magazine graphic showed, nothing is going anywhere in the Senate.

This stalemate, though, isn’t for a lack of trying on behalf of the transit supporters. In an effort to bridge some of the gaps in the Senate, Richard Ravitch, the architect of the tax-and-toll plan aimed as spreading the pain around, unveiled an amended plan that reduces some toll burdens in exchange for a few other fees. Still, the same old reactionary state Senators refuse to support a plan. Still, they pretend as though driving and tolls — and not a fully funded transit system — is some populist cause. It’s frankly getting embarrassing and angering at the same time.

William Neuman of The Times outlined the new fees and a plan to refund tolls for businesses reliant on automobile traffic across the East River bridge spans. He writes:

Seeking to win over State Senate opponents of a plan to create new bridge tolls on the East and Harlem Rivers, supporters of a financial rescue for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority offered a compromise on Wednesday that would give toll rebates to drivers traveling to medical appointments and to businesses that frequently use the river crossings…

To pay for the rebates, the state commission proposed two additional charges: a 50-cent surcharge on yellow-cab rides and an increase in the Manhattan parking garage tax. Those additional charges would raise an estimated $150 million a year.

The compromise was intended to overcome the objections of half a dozen Democratic opponents of the toll measure who have blocked the rescue plan in the State Senate, where Democrats hold a 32-to-30 margin. Senate Republicans have so far refused to support the plan and have said they have been left out of discussions.

What Neuman doesn’t say is that this compromise, crafted to address a lot of the pro-business concerns, is also aimed at attracting Republican support for the MTA. It should work; it needs to work. But the same old politicians are at it again.

We already know what the reactionary Taxi Workers Alliance thinks about this proposed plan. They won’t like it, but the real problem are the State Senators. Glenn Blain and Pete Donohue tracked down some of the more colorful and off-putting quotes from the Gang of Senate Idiots who won’t support an MTA funding plan.

Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn), called the proposed amendment “ridiculous” and “not even worthy of comment.”

Sen. Pedro Espada (D-Bronx) said exemptions would likely be lifted at a later date, presumably by the state Legislature, and everyone would get tolled. “It just fundamentally wrong,” he said. “It is anti business. It is anti small business.”

Sen. Ruben Diaz, also of the Bronx, echoed Espada’s comments. “I am opposed to any toll,” Diaz told The Times. “They’re going to do a rebate? After two years they’re going to say no rebate. It’s a gimmick.”

Again, we have Senators from districts that rely overwhelming on mass transit — about 70 percent of Diaz’s and Espada’s constituents commute via subway — who are resorting to faux-populist arguments. At least the TWA’s position is somewhat defensible. Espada, Diaz and Kruger are simply showing why they should never have been elected in the first place.

When transit fails in the city — and it will if no funding plan is implemented — those are the men to blame. Pro transit advocates have done everything they can, but if they can’t convince the blind gatekeepers, we’re all lost.

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For the last few months, I’ve fielded a lot of questions — mostly from the same person — about the trains along Queens Boulevard. The express trains, it seems, have been anything but that as they crawl out to Forest Hills.

Today, amNew York’s Urbanite blog revealed why. According to transit beat writer Heather Haddon, NYC Transit is replacing 800 feet of track in between Roosevelt Avenue and Forest Hills-71st Avenue. While most of the actual track replacement work is being completed over the weekends, the tunnel is currently replete with temporary tracking so trains have to run at slower speeds.

According to NYC Transit spokesperson Deirdre Parker, the work is scheduled to last until the end of the year but it should wrap up by September. Meanwhile, to combat the expected five- to ten-minute slowdowns, Transit will be running two fewer rush hour trains down an already-overcrowded line. While Haddon found a commuter who decried maintenance and upkeep as “heartless,” it’s simply the cost of a well-kept system. Them’s the breaks.

Categories : MTA Construction
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Confused by the state of the MTA funding debate? Not sure who proposed what or which faction support what plan? You’re not alone, and New York Magazine wants to enlighten you.

Courtesy of Jacob Gershman and the weekly mag comes a guide in subway map form. While not quite as confusing as the old Vingelli subway map, this new chart attempts to replicate a map with which we are all familiar. Check it out:

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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Is this art or vandalism? Twenty five years later, the debate still rages. (Photo by Martha Cooper)

It’s hard for New Yorkers in 2009 to conceptualize what the subways were like 25 years ago. I was reminded of this fact earlier this week when my Criminal Law case tackled the ever-popular decision in People v. Goetz. That seminal case, as students of New York history know, involved the vigilantism of Bernard Goetz on a subway car in 1984.

Without touching upon the moral issues raised by the case, the class discussion showed a clear divide between people who had grown up in New York and people who hadn’t. Those who hadn’t were having a tougher time understanding what the subways were like in the 1980s.

These days, we have no qualms about riding the trains at 2 a.m. heading home from a night out. Twenty five years ago, though, the graffiti-covered trains, prone to electrical problems, track fires and all sorts of breakdowns, were just not that safe. But back then, the system wasn’t that safe, and everyone knew it.

During the same year as the Goetz shooting, Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant released a book called Subway Art. The tome — a picture book — was one of the first to focus on the graffiti-covered subways as an art form. Today, the duo is reissuing the book in 25th Anniversary form with a whole slew of new photos. (The old one is available online here in its entirety.)

Over the weekend, as part of the recognition of this book’s release, The City Section ran a profile of Cooper, and it elicited some interesting feedback from New Yorkers who lived through the downs and ups of the city’s subway system.

“Wish that non-native NYers would stop idealizing the graffiti-covered trains,” wrote one lifelong New Yorker on Twitter.

And that’s the real debate, isn’t it? Should we be glorifying graffiti or should graffiti serve as a reminder of lawless and decrepit days underground when the subways were safe and New Yorkers used them not because they wanted to but because they had to?

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell explores all of these issues. The combination of the public outcry over the Goetz shootings and the NYPD’s push in the mid-1980s to rid the system of graffiti helped turn the subway systems around. No longer were the subways viewed as Anarchy Underground where anything went because no one was around to police it.

We sit here comfortably in 2009, and we’re able to look back on graffiti-covered trains as art if we so choose. I have to wonder though if we should so choose. This book and The Times’ coverage of it glorifies what in its simplest form was a destructive crime that contributed to the problems — both actual and perceived — that plagued the subways. Is it art for art’s sake or art done at the sake of other people’s safety?

Today, the parallels to the times of the graffiti-covered trains are not inapt. The MTA is facing funding shortfalls that could lead to massive fares and a partially shuttered system. Station agents will be let go, and that fear of safety could creep in around the edges. Perhaps the best way, then, to appreciate the impact street art had would be to talk about its problems as well as its artistic value. If we glorify this vandalism- and crime-filled past, don’t we risk repeating it?

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  • Business owners bemoan start of Bleecker St. renovations · Finally, the MTA is restoring order to the underground mess at the junction between the B, D, F, V and 6 trains at the Broadway/Lafayette-Bleecker St. station on Houston St. I first highlighted the planned renovations nearly two years ago, and recently, the MTA has begun work that will finally connect the uptown 6 with the rest of that station.

    But as with any surface work the MTA has to do come complaining business owners. The Daily News’ Rich Schapiro spoke to a bunch of Lafayette St. owners who say the MTA’s construction efforts are harming their businesses. Take, for instance, Mia Kwon of Save Khaki. “It’s a lot of noise, a lot of dust – all day,” she said. “With the economy the way it is, they couldn’t have picked a worse time. And this is just the beginning.”

    The economy, of course, has nothing to do with it. The MTA has to move the uptown 6 platform southward a few hundred feet to connect it with the rest of the station, and these owners would have complained in boom times as well. That’s just nature of things in New York. People like to complain about the inadequacies of the subway system, and they like to complain when the MTA temporarily inconveniences them in an effort to make the system better. NYC Transit spokesman James Anyansi summed it up: “We regret the inconvenience, but this is work that has to be done.” As heartless as that sounds, Anyansi is right. This is long overdue work. C’est la vie. · (5)
  • MTA to announce more service cuts soon · Earlier this morning, I reported the alarming news that the MTA’s deficit is growing by nearly $200 million. While the first reports noted that the MTA would consider new cuts, updates from this morning indicated that the announcement of those cuts could come before the month is out. According to The Post, the MTA is set to unveil a second round of service cuts on April 29. If Albany doesn’t act decisively and soon, New York City will be left with a crippled transit infrastructure and little hope for its immediate future. · (2)

In late February, as the MTA Board was approaching its date for enacting the Doomsday budget and funding efforts out of the State Senate had yet to collapse, I noted that the MTA deficit may wind up higher than $1.2 billion. At the time, the MTA’s year-to-date tax revenues were well below expected, and the deficit figures I tossed around were in the $1.8 to $2 billion range. The situation, in other words, could get worse before it gets better if Albany fails to find a permanent solution to the MTA’s funding woes.

Today, that scenario became one step closer to a reality. According to new financial documents released Monday, the MTA is now expecting to wind up with revenues at least $200 million less than expected. The agency may have to resort to more fare hikes and service cuts to balance its budget. William Neuman of The Times has more:

In the latest forecast, released Monday in materials for a coming bond sale, the authority said the state had informed the authority that it should expect a shortfall as large as $200 million in revenue this year from a basket of taxes dedicated to mass transit, including portions of the sales tax and a tax on corporate profits.

That is more than double what the authority projected in February when it tried to gauge how its tax revenues would be affected if the decline in the region’s economy became much worse. At that time it estimated that if the economy hit bottom, its dedicated state tax receipts could be down by as much as $82 million.

Making the picture even bleaker, the projected shortfall in dedicated taxes is in addition to a previously disclosed drop in revenue from taxes on real estate transfers and mortgages. For just the first three months of the year, those taxes were $123 million below the levels written into the authority’s budget.

In February, the MTA predicted at least a $651 million increase to the deficit, bringing the total to $1.8 billion on the year. That was before the state unveiled this bad news. Now, the deficit could reach the $2 billion mark before 2009 is out.

As I explored on Friday, this crushing debt is due to some very bad political decisions made during the Pataki Administration. In the mid-1990s, then-Gov. Pataki opted to pay for the MTA Capital Construction budget on credit, and now, the debt payments are due.

The news though for the agency keeps getting worse, and at some point, Albany will be forced to act. Whether that point arrives before the MTA is sitting on the brink of bankruptcy remains to be seen. Either way, what happens over the next few months will impact the future of New York City for years to come.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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