This weekend, on two separate occasions, I had the opportunity to see first-hand the state of the subway system. On Saturday evening, I took the N train from Pacific St. to Coney Island, and on Sunday, I used the Smith/9th Sts. subway stop coming to and going from Red Hook. Neither of these experiences presented much hope for the state of stations in disrepair.

The Smith/9th Sts. station has gotten a lot of press of late. Originally, the MTA had planned a full station overhaul as part of the Culver Viaduct Rehabilitation project. But when parts of the project were scaled back, the station rehab plans were placed in limbo. The station itself is a mess. The paint is beyond peeling; there are holes in the staircase; and it’s generally one of the ugliest and most run-down stations in the system. With views of Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bay of New York, it should be a crown jewel.

Meanwhile, on that N ride through Brooklyn, the Sea Beach line journeys through Gravesend and Bensonhurst en route to the modern marvel at Stillwell Ave. on Coney Island. As the N journeys through a trench in Brooklyn, decrepit station after decrepit station pass by. Walls are damaged by leaking pipes and dirty water. Paint is gone. Platforms are cracked. The train travels past a physically unsafe and visually unpleasant set of station.

These are just two examples of a widespread problem found in our subway system. The stations are in a state of disrepair, and according to New York City Transit President Howard Roberts, these conditions may be here to stay. Angela Montefinise and Kathianne Boniello had the story in The Post recently:

The head of New York City Transit acknowledges that less than a quarter of the Big Apple’s subway stations are in acceptable condition – and says the agency is an “unbelievably long distance” from bringing the rest up to par, even with higher fares.

“There’s not anything out there that anybody is very proud of,” NYC Transit President Howard Roberts Jr. told The Post in a wide-ranging interview about the fundamental problems plaguing the city’s 468 subway stations as the agency slashes its budget and talks about raising fares twice more in the coming three years…

Roberts’ response: It’s extremely bad, and it isn’t going to get better any time soon. Roberts said the number of stations in good condition could be “as low as 100,” far fewer than his agency’s capital plan suggests.

The issue, of course, is what it always is: The MTA doesn’t have the funds to do more than maintain the status quo. “We’re not doing as many rehabs, and we have very limited capacity to maintain and clean the stations we do have,” Roberts said to The Post. “We really do not have the funding to do a first-class job.”

According to the NYCT chief, the transit agency would have to employ over 800 more station cleaners and many more maintenance workers than it currently does. So as you look around at your surroundings each morning and wonder when those streaks of grimy water and patches of missing tiles are going to go away, just know that the answer is that they aren’t any time soon. As long as we have politicians who are reluctant to think out of the box in order to fund transit, our system will continue to suffer. And that status quo will just become more and more expensive to maintain.

We’re a long way from seeing our stations in a state of good repair, and that’s a damn shame.

Categories : MTA Economics
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  • The Return of the Son of Congestion Pricing · The MTA has no money, and with subway officials acknowledging the system’s state of bad repair, everyone is focused on solving the MTA’s fiscal crisis. To that end, reenter congestion pricing. According to an article in The Times over the weekend, Richard Ravitch and his commission to save transit as we know it is seriously considering recommending congestion pricing as a dedicated revenue stream for the MTA.

    On the surface, this move may be just the push congestion pricing needs to get over that legislative hump. No longer just a pet project of a very rich and very independent mayor, congestion pricing could be presented as the revolutionary plan to save the New York Metropolitan Area’s public transit system. Of course, Richard Brodsky is still predicting doom and gloom for any congestion pricing plan, but if pricing were to fail again, the legislature would continue to shirk its duties to the MTA and New York City. We could be in for one grand face-off between the Big Apple and Albany indeed. · (2)

For the vast majority of rush hour subway commuters, getting a seat is the Holy Grail of the ride home. That seat provides us riders with our own too-small space underneath the packed masses of disgruntled cube dwellers trying to make their ways to or from work in a train that’s too crowded, too hot, too slow and not on time. That seat is a beacon of hope, individuality and space in a place where, all too often, those three traits are noticeably absent.

But with if those seats were gone? What if, instead of standing expectantly above a seat waiting for that person to get off at DeKalb Ave. or Rockefeller Center or 68th St., those seats simply didn’t exist at all in the subway? Could more people fit into the trains at rush hour? That’s what New York City Transit head Howard Roberts is wondering, and he plans to find out.

In a pilot program announced over the weekend and set to debut in five-to-seven months, NYC Transit will be eliminating seats from some rush hour subways an in effort to combat over-crowded subways. Pete Donohue had more:

The agency is planning a pilot program featuring a train with flipup seats in four of 10 cars. The flipup seats will be locked in the up position during rush hours, meaning everyone inside the car will have to stand, the Daily News has learned.

“Each car will be able to carry more people,” NYC Transit President Howard Roberts said of the no-sitting strategy. “It means more capacity. It gives the ability to pick up more people, and have fewer people left on the platform waiting for the next train.”

After rush hours, workers will unlock the flipup seats for riders to use, Roberts said.

Right now, the MTA is still attempting to work out logistics of this program. The NYCT chiefs do not yet know which lines will enjoy these seatless cars, and officials aren’t sure of the long-term prospects of the plan. But those in the know believe two things to be: More people will fit into the cars, and passengers won’t like this plan.

It’s hard to argue with the former point. With seats gone, people will squeeze into every available inch of a train car. No one will sit with their legs spread open as annoyed and tired commuters glare uselessly in that person’s direction. No longer will people sit on top of each other for seats; instead, they’ll stand too close to each other.

It’s the second statement — Gene Russianoff’s assessment that passengers won’t like this plan — from which I dissent. If the MTA adheres to the NYCT plan and keeps six out of ten cars with seats, passengers looking to take a load off can still gamble in those cars. Sure, it may mean more people rushing for seats, but I, for example, could rarely if ever get a seat from W. 4th to 7th Ave. along the BMT line. I would be happy to find a car without those annoying seats that jut into the car so prominently featured on the R68s.

The folks who stand to lose are the aged and infirm who can’t stand up for the duration of their subway rides. The folks who stand to lose are those who get on early enough and ride far enough to get a coveted seat on the way home. The folks who stand to gain are the rest of us, and outside of rush hour, when the seats will be flipped down, nothing will seem changed. The needs of the many — space in a train on the way home — outweigh the needs of the few who want seats for their short commutes at the end of the day.

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So today is the last day of my job working here. In three weeks, I’ll be starting law school, but I’ll still be bringing you the same great coverage.

Over the next two weeks, I’ll be out of the city, away from the hustle and bustle of the subways, but that doesn’t mean SAS will sleep. The subways don’t shut down; neither will this blog. I’ll be here for a few days, and then I have what promises to be a fantastic slate of guest columnists from around the Internet lined up.

I also want to say thank you to everyone who stopped by during the month of July. It was this site’s best month ever in its 20-month history.

Now on with the service advisories. Subway Weekender has your visual right here. The map of all of these extensive changes is available here as a PDF. Read on for more.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, August 2 to 5 a.m. Monday, August 4, downtown 1 and 2 trains skip 86th and 79th Street due to station rehabilitation at 96th Street.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, August 2 to 5 a.m. Monday, August 4, uptown 2 trains replace the 5 from Nevins Street to 149th Street-Grand Concourse. Uptown 5 trains replace the 2 from Chambers Street to 149th Street-Grand Concourse. This is due to Clark Street tunnel lighting.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, August 2 to 5 a.m. Monday, August 4, there are no 3 trains between New Lots Avenue and 14th Street. In Manhattan, customers should take the uptown 5 or the downtown 2. In Brooklyn, take the 4 instead. This is due to Clark Street tunnel lighting. – So much for that added service.


From 4 a.m. Saturday, August 2 to 10 p.m. Sunday, August 3, free shuttle buses replace 4 trains between Woodlawn and Bedford Park Blvd. due to switch replacement work at Woodlawn.


From 12:01 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, August 3, downtown 4, 5 and 6 trains run express from 125 St. to Grand Central. This is due to emergency work and is not included on the MTA’s regular service release for the weekend.


From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, August 2, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from Parkchester to Pelham Bay Park due to painting of the elevated structure.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, August 2, to 5 a.m. Monday, August 4, there is no C train service. Customers should take the A in Manhattan and the F in Brooklyn. Manhattan-bound A trains run on the F line from Jay Street to West 4th Street and the local on the 8th Avenue line from West 4th to 168th Sts. Brooklyn-bound A trains skip 163rd, 155th, and 135th Sts. and run local from 125th Street to Canal Street. This is due to several jobs including track repairs along the 8th Avenue line, station rehabilitation and underground connector at Jay Street and communications installation.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, August 2, to 5 a.m. Monday, August 4, Bronx-bound D trains skip 182nd-183rd Sts. due to track and roadbed cleaning between Tremont Avenue and Bedford Park Blvd.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, August 2, to 5 a.m. Monday, August 4, F trains replace the C in Brooklyn to Euclid Avenue. G trains replace the F between Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts. and Coney Island due to station rehabilitation and underground connector at Jay Street.


From 8:30 a.m. Friday, August 1 to 5 a.m. Monday, August 4, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square due to station rehabilitation and underground connector at Jay Street. Customers should take the E or R instead.


From 1 a.m. Saturday, August 2, to 5 a.m. Monday, August 4, J trains run in two sections:

* Between Jamaica Center and Delancey-Essex Streets and
* Between Delancey-Essex Streets and Chambers Street

This is due to station rehabilitation at Chambers Street.


From 4 a.m. Saturday, August 2, to 10 p.m. Sunday, August 3, free shuttle buses replace M trains between Middle Village-Metropolitan Avenue and Myrtle Avenue-Broadway due to track panel work near Central Avenue.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, August 2, to 5 a.m. Monday, August 4, Manhattan-bound N trains run on the D line from Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue to 36th Street due to track panel installation.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, August 2 to 5 a.m. Monday, august 4, Brooklyn-bound NR trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge from Canal Street to DeKalb Avenue due to tunnel rehab work between Whitehall and Canal Streets.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, August 2 to 5 a.m. Monday, August 4, Q trains run in two sections due to track roadbed work:

* Between 57th and Pacific* Streets and
* Between Atlantic* and Stillwell Avenues

*Customers must walk through the passageway between Pacific Street and Atlantic Avenue. This is due to rail maintenance and repair between Atlantic Avenue and Prospect Park.

Categories : Service Advisories
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  • SAS construction delayed for more entrance studies · According to NY1, the MTA is pushing back construction on parts of the Second Ave. Subway. As the news agency reports, the MTA will reconsider planned entrances at 86th and 72nd Streets because “East Side residents and city officials had expressed concern over the impact the mid-block entrances would have on parking and vehicle traffic in the neighborhood.” A Second Ave. Subway delay? Surprise! · (4)

Fourteen years, six months and 25 days ago, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority introduced the world to the MetroCard. These pieces of plastic — then blue with yellow letters — had a magnetic strip that would automatically deduct the $1.25 fare. Until Jan. 6, 1994, straphangers had the distinct pleasure of carting around packets of tokens or cash to buy tokens from surly clerks.

Over the years, the MetroCard has ushered in a mass transit ridership boom in New York. With the advent of discounts and unlimited ride cards — which just celebrated their tenth anniversary — New York’s vast public transit system became infinitely more accessible. Riders could pay by credit card — a fact the L train still oddly touts as a new development — and no one had to deal with pockets stuffed with tokens.

This week, in one of the more disastrous MetroCard-related incidents for the MTA in the card’s short history, the MetroCard Vending Machines went down throughout the system, leaving straphangers stranded at rush hour on two consecutive days. According to the MTA, these failures came about when an encryption device, required by credit card companies to process secure transactions, failed, and the one remaining device could not handle the load on its own.

According to Ray Rivera, writing for The Times, these outages resulted in 122,000 failed transactions. New York City Transit, the branch of the MTA that operates the MetroCard machines, has refunded all cards that were charged but did not result in a MetroCard being distributed to the charge card holder. According to Paul Fleuranges, the VP of Corporate Communications at NYC Transit, the problem has since been cleared up and the agency has issued 20,218 refunds.

This technological snafu got me thinking about the fate of the MetroCard. I’ve been long anticipating the demise of the MetroCard and the rise of the smart card in New York. That day, however, seems a long way off. Could a smart card technology have avoided this disaster though?

The short answer, of course, is no. As with any technological problems, once a computer glitch hits and particularly so for one based on a payment system, it will impact any attempt to buy a product. In thise case, the credit card problems had everything to do with the credit card transactions and nothing to do with the MetroCard itself.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t look for better ways to purchase MetroCards. Right now, we’re stuck, for better or worse with the MetroCard Vending Machines. We’re stuck with hulking machinery that isn’t too flexible with the change it distributes and often has problems — particularly at busy stations — reading credit cards. Those of us who rely on pay-per-ride cards can take advantage of the EasyPayXpress program, but the 50 percent of us who use Unlimited Ride cards are stuck waiting on line as outdated technologies lumbers along.

Why not add an EasyPayXpress option for Unlimited Ride cards? Why not start a mail-order MetroCard service not related to the TransitChecks program? Or why not make Unlimited Ride cards renewable with the option for an automatic refill billed to one’s charge card?

Fourteen and a half years ago, the MetroCard was the next great technology, and fourteen and a half years ago, Apple users were stuck with laptops that looked like this and sported a whopping 4MB of RAM. Perhaps it’s time to upgrade the technology.

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With both the City and State of New York facing precarious financial situations and the MTA’s deficit growing, money is tight across the board right now. With David Paterson in power, the MTA may have little choice but to raise fares. Little did we know, earlier this year, just how much Eliot Spitzer’s resignation would cost the MTA.

In a recent Newsday column, Anne Michaud explored the current relationship between the MTA and New York’s governor. Things could be better.

The story begins, in a way, with Eliot Spitzer’s long trumpeting mass transit and working closely with MTA CEO and Executive Director Lee Sander, a Spitzer appointee, to ensure a healthy transit system for New York City. The tale collapses in on itself when Spitzer is forced to resign just before congestion pricing — a potential dedicated revenue stream for the MTA — is set for a vote. The man who takes over, David Paterson, does not share the same relationship with Sander that Spitzer has.

It is in this shifting power that Michaud sees potentially dark days ahead for the MTA. She notes that Paterson has maintained something of an arm’s distance between his office and Sander. He did not intervene after Sander fielded criticism for a pay raise, and he spoke out, as he should have, against the MTA Board’s free perks. He has also second-guessed the MTA’s need for all of their fare hikes and in doing so, could be jeopardizing the future of some very big and very important projects. Write Michaud:

Transit advocates worry that, as a result, Sander will lose confidence to advocate for important projects in the next capital budget, such as the Third Track for the Long Island Rail Road. Now is an even more crucial moment for transportation than when Spitzer arrived as governor. As gas prices climb, all eyes are turning to urban-centric, transit-oriented development. Downtowns will not only be cool again, they will be essential.

Insiders say that Paterson is as committed as Spitzer was to keeping the MTA in a state of good repair. But it’s possible that, faced with difficult choices, the governor will choose to stretch out the completion date of some expansion projects such as the Second Avenue subway, East Side Access and the Third Track.

This alarming news brings us back to the current budget crunch. As Paterson struggles to find money for key services, he will look toward New York City’s transit network and view certain projects as expendable. He will tell — not ask — the MTA to defer maintenance and upgrades and delay capital construction efforts.

Again, our eyes will fall on Richard Ravitch to rescue the system. He’ll have to battle through a hostile legislature and a skeptical governor. Hopefully, he’s up for the job.

Categories : MTA Economics
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Tuesday afternoon saw more bad news, in the form of two surveys, head the MTA’s way.

The Straphangers Campaign published the first one — a rigorous scientific survey focusing on the State of the Subways. As I mentioned yesterday afternoon, the L and 7 trains — the two trains operating as guinea pigs for the line manager program — walked away with the top honors. More on that shortly.

The second report, issued by Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind and based on system-wide observations, found the subways to be structurally unsound, poorly maintained and largely unhygienic. Hikind and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer stop short of charging the MTA with system-wide neglect and are not pleased with the state of the subways.

We start with the Straphangers’ State of the Subways Report Card. This survey has become an annual rite of passage for the Straphangers, and the findings stay fairly consistent on a year-to-year basis. The L line — populated with some of the newest cars in the fleet — pulled in top honors because the trains run frequently, are generally on time, don’t break down too often, are clean and have audible in-car announcements. The 7 followed suit, earning higher marks on seat availability but lower scores on in-car announcements.

These line rankings are well and good, but as Julia noted yesterday, the methodology does not account for overlapping lines. Sure, the W may be the worst stand-alone line in the city, but at no point does it stop at a station where it is the only train servicing that stop. Discounting for this vital fact lessens the overall impact of the results. (For a comprehensive overview of the results, this PDF chart shows the category breakdown, and this one shows the overall rankings.)

The Straphangers’ more important findings came from their overall analysis of the system. According to their findings, subway cars are breaking down every 149,646 miles (down from 156,624 the year before), and only 85 percent of subway announcements are audible, down from 90 percent. That 85 percent seems rather generous to me. At a time when the MTA has less money than ever to reinvest in the systems, these findings do not project to improve next year.

Meanwhile, originally spurred on by rider complains, Hikind and Stringer released their findings today as well (PDF available here). Their results — while expected — are not encouraging:

Surveyors found that subway stations throughout New York City, regardless of their size (large, small) or location (underground, outdoors, elevated) had platform conditions that were unsafe, deteriorating and easily recognizable by surveyors. A pattern of neglect, lack of maintenance, shoddy workmanship and seeming indifference has led to system wide safety hazards at station platforms…

Station platforms are cracked, have significant gaps in many locations, and represent serious safety hazards to riders, especially to the most vulnerable, the young and the elderly. Cement fillings and lifted
wooden and concrete beams on the station platforms are poorly connected to the platforms and represent tripping hazards to unsuspecting riders. Rubbing boards placed on the edges of the platforms are deteriorating as well. Riders’ footwear is liable to get caught in the holes of the rubbing boards and many have corroded to the extent that any pressure on them could result in riders falling onto the tracks below.

What is disconcerting is the fact that MTA employees failed to recognize these corrosive conditions when they were readily apparent to surveyors. It is apparent that safety issues at stations are not being taken seriously by the MTA. Each hazard documented was observed visually by surveyors and was easily recognizable as conditions that threatened the safety of subway riders. Additionally, in the rare situations that these safety hazards were recognized, MTA employees performed shoddy work in repairing them and in many instances, these partial repairs created even more dangerous conditions than beforehand. It is most shocking that these conditions are still prevalent throughout New York City after having been pointed out to MTA officials.

While the MTA has not yet issued a statement in response to either of these two reports, these findings highlight the funding problem facing the transit agency. Riders are nervous about their physical safety while stations are decaying and subway cars are breaking down more frequently. As the MTA’s deficit continues to grow, more and more maintenance projects and “state of good repair” renovations have been delayed or postponed until the money materializes.

These reports just remind us that the MTA is facing a crisis both in its wallet and in its system. Hikind is an elected official. Will he do something about it? Will he help deliver more money to the MTA? Someone has to step up. Who knows who it will be?

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