Last week, I journeyed down to Lower Manhattan for a session with Howard Roberts. The New York City Transit President graciously agreed to an interview, and we touched on all sorts of topics. Over the next few days, I’ll delve into the conversations he and I had. Today, we start with the trash.

The day before my meeting, clean subway stations were all the rage. The Daily News had just released its findings about the cleanliness of the subway system, and the paper reported that it would take a $100 million investment to ensure a clean subway system. On the surface, it seems like a daunting figure, but New York City Transit is committed to a cleaning program.

The agency is trying to determine what it really takes to clean stations, cars and the track bed. Those in charge want to present what Roberts called “a station that is clean and in a state of reasonable preparedness.” No will deny that the system has a long way to go to reach that point, but it remains a manageable priority.

“Wherever I can find a few extra cleaners, we’ll put them” into dirty stations, Roberts said. “We’ll get one station up at a time and go from there.”

Roberts hopes that the line manager system will allow him more flexibility and opportunity to insert cleaners into the system. The MTA knows that they don’t have enough money in the capital program to rehabilitate the stations that need it; they know they don’t have enough people to fix and clean everything. But New York City Transit, as an agency, has a budget over $5 billion. In that regard, a $100 million investment in cleanliness is a two percent drop in the bucket.

Through the new general manager program — one that Roberts hopes will better bring rider demands to the attention of the people at the MTA who can fulfill those desires — line general managers will be evaluated on a set of standards. Included in those standards will be station cleanliness. As the general managers grow to understand their lines, it will ideally become easier to assign the resources to the stations that need it. Perhaps we’ll see cleaner stations sooner rather than later.

Before leaving the issue of cleanliness behind, I brought up a familiar refrain. What can the MTA or the police do to encourage people to take responsibility for themselves and throw out their trash in the appropriate bins? The vast majority of riders tune out the PSAs, and I mentioned an approach similar to the one in use in DC in which cops ticket people for eating on the system. Roberts knows that this is a hot-button issue that could easily erupt.

“At this point in time, we are looking at the all possibilities,” he said. “But there would be a large public response” to any attempts to change the rules.

It’s all about practicality and knowledge at New York City Transit right now. The agency knows the stations could be cleaner, and the people in charge want to do something about it within the constraints of the budget. There’s hope yet for a cleaner system.

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Subway delays picking up

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Today hasn’t been the best day of the year for me. I just wrapped up two hours spent dealing with a TimeBridge e-mail sent to every single one of my Gmail contacts. Prior to that, however, I had a lovely Monday morning commute.

Arriving at the 7th Ave. stop in Brooklyn at around 8:30 a.m., hordes of people standing on the platform greeted me. This should have been a warning sign, but when a B pulled up a few minutes later, I eagerly smushed myself into the packed car. I needed to get to class post haste, and the train had just enough room for me. After pulling in to De Kalb Ave., we sat for longer than normal, and once in the tunnel approaching the Manhattan Bridge, the dreaded announcement came.

“Due to a sick passenger at 7th Ave. in Manhattan, this train will be going up the Broadway line,” intoned the conductor. Why couldn’t she tell us this before leaving De Kalb? As we crossed the bridge, I spied a B train just sitting on the Sixth Ave. side, facing an interminable red signal. At Canal St., I switched to an uptown R and made it to class just a few minutes late.

Little was I surprised then upon scanning the daily headlines to come across a story on the increasing number of subway delays in The Post. While a sick passenger is hardly the same as an avoidable delay, the news is alarming nonetheless. Reports Bill Sanderson:

New Yorkers’ subway commutes have slowed significantly over the last three years, according to the latest NYC Transit data. The city is still far from the 1970s bad old days of broken-down, graffiti-scarred trains – but the downward trend in the quality of subway service is unmistakable.

Through June, the number of delayed trains is up an average 24 percent from two years earlier, and 71 percent from three years earlier. And the distance trains travel without breaking down was down 7 percent in July from two years earlier, and 17 percent from three years earlier.

Subway bosses blame the problems on more track work, heavy ridership, and less money for maintaining cars.

In other words, if your ride seems slower than it used to, that’s because it is, and this problem figures to get worse before it gets any better.

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During the hullabaloo over the fully-wrapped Shuttle last week, MTA CEO and Executive Director sneaked in an interesting tidbit about the agency’s future advertising plans. According to the MTA head honcho, the agency is seriously considering offering up station sponsorship packages to willing advertisers.

Pete Donohue of The Daily News reported this development late last week:

MTA CEO Elliot Sander said the MTA is mulling the “complicated issue” of having corporations “adopt” or sponsor subway stations for a price.

“It’s something we are looking at potentially for the future,” Sander said. “It’s incumbent on the MTA to look at all possible avenues to increase revenues given the financial challenges we have.”

In the past, transit officials have described station adoption as an arrangement that could involve granting a corporation certain exclusive rights, like controlling ads there.

This is not a new idea. In fact, I first suggested this rather unoriginal idea back in July of 2007, and I will stand by my words. The subways have never been a pristine, ad-free environment. In fact, from the day the IRT first opened in 1904, the walls were adorned with ads. Even then, the system’s operators knew that fare revenue alone would not sustain the system.

Today, this idea makes even more sense. The MTA could sell high-traffic stations to top corporate clients who would then be free to brand the stations, respectfully, as they see fit. Not every space of wall needs to have a Disney ad at Times Square, but if every ad in the station were a Disney ad, the MTA could stand to draw in a pretty penny. The issue of naming rights, of course, opens up a whole different can of worms.

Advertising, of course, is but one way the MTA could start licensing aspects of their stations. A few months ago, the NYC Transit Riders Council suggested a modified adopt-a-station program. While the MTA shouldn’t necessarily outsourcing station maintenance programs, the agency needs the money. It might not be pretty; some people might complain; but, as they say, money is money. If it takes some more advertising, I won’t complain.

Categories : MTA Economics
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Weekend service changes

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Sorry for the delay in getting these up. I passed out for few hours this afternoon after a rather long week. We’re still well before midnight. So these changes aren’t in place yet. It’s a busy weekend, but basically, the changes are as they always are.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, 2 and 3 trains run local between 96th and Chambers Streets due to 96th Street station rehabilitation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, free shuttle buses replace 2 trains between 241st and East 180th Streets due to track, structural, and steel work north of East 180th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, there are no 4 trains between Utica Avenue and Brooklyn Bridge due to conduit and cable work. The 3 and a special J train provide alternate service.

From 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, October 4, Manhattan-bound 4 trains skip Mosholu Parkway and Bedford Park Blvd. due to installation of the 3rd rail connection between Woodlawn and Bedford Park Blvd.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, there are no 5 trains between 149th and East 180th Streets due to track, structural and steel work above East 180th Street. Customers should take the 2 instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, there are no 5 trains between 42nd Street-Grand Central and Bowling Green due to conduit and cable work. The 4 and a special J train provide alternate service.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday, October 5, Flushing-bound 7 trains skip 33rd, 40th, 46th, 52nd, 69th, 74th, 82nd, 90th, 103rd, and 111th Streets due to track panel installation between 74th Street and 82nd Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5 a.m. Sunday, October 5, there is no C train service. Customers should take the A instead. Manhattan-bound A trains run local from Euclid Avenue to Broadway Junction, then express to Utica Avenue. Trains resume local service to 168th Street. Brooklyn-bound A trains run local from 168th to West 4th Streets, then on the F line to Jay Street where trains resume local service to Euclid Avenue. These service changes are due to Chambers Street Signal Modernization.

From10 p.m. Friday, October 3 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, Bronx-bound D trains skip 170th, 174th-175th, and 182nd-183rd Streets due to electric cable installation.

From 12:01 a.m. to 6 a.m. Saturday, October 4 and Sunday, October 5 (and the following weekend Oct. 11-13), Brooklyn-bound DN trains run express from Pacific to 36th Streets due to rail installation south of 36th Street.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, Queens-bound E trains run local from Queens Plaza to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue due to a track-chip out north of Queens Plaza.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 3 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, Manhattan-bound E trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to Queens Plaza due to a track-chip out north of Queens Plaza.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, October 3 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, Manhattan-bound F trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to 21st Street-Queensbridge due to a track chip-out north of Queens Plaza.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, Queens-bound F trains run local from 21st Street-Queensbridge to Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue due to a track chip-out north of Queens Plaza.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, downtown F trains skip 23rd and 14th Streets due to conduit and cable work.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, October 3 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square due to a track chip-out north of Queens Plaza. Customers should take the E or R instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, Manhattan-bound N trains run on the D line from Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue to 36th Street (Brooklyn) due to track panel installation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 4 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 6, Manhattan-bound Q trains skip Neck Road and Avenue U due to station rehabs.

Categories : Service Advisories
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The new sexual harassment PSA comes in both Spanish and English. (Click for the enlarged bilingual version.)

Just a few weeks after debuting its first anti-groping PSA campaign, the MTA is set to expand their efforts at combating sexual harassment underground.

“After much thought and discussion on the subject, we have come up with a message that we feel sets the right tone and provides customers with the information they need to respond to this type of criminal behavior,” New York City Transit President Howard Roberts said.

The new campaign features the bilingual ad shown above and a brochure that MTA employees and NYPD officers will distribute in the system beginning on Monday. The brochure contains a clear and concise set of instructions reminding people to be aware of their surroundings and to assume that, if they feel they are being touched, then they probably are being touched. The MTA also urges potential victims to seek out the nearest police officer or MTA employee to report the problem.

“NYPD officers assigned to the subways have helped drive crime down to record lows in recent years with the help of the riding public,” NYPD Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said. “The Police Department is determined to continue crime suppression, including sexual-related crime and misconduct, with the public’s continued cooperation and with the aid of NYC Transit’s important informational campaign.”

Categories : MTA
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A fully-wrapped Shuttle

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The outside of an ad-wrapped Shuttle. (Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority)

Following up on this morning’s news about fully-wrapped subway cars, I’ve gotten my hands on some photographs from today’s press conference. As you can see, one of the 42nd St. Shuttles is now fully wrapped in History Channel advertising.

“We have had tremendous success growing our advertising revenue over the past decade as advertisers have taken advantage of booming ridership to reach record numbers of New Yorkers,” MTA CEO and Executive Director Elliot G. Sander said. “In light of the current fiscal crisis, we are pushing the envelope by introducing new advertising strategies that could generate millions in additional revenue for the transit system.”

While this Shuttle is a rather glaring example of a new advertising approach, the MTA isn’t stopping there. Per the agency’s press release:

As part of this October initiative, CBS will employ three additional display strategies. First, the staircase at the Grand Central end of the Times Square Shuttle will be fitted with vinyl displays. Second, one of the remaining Times Square Shuttle trains between Grand Central and Times Square stations will include exterior panel displays. In addition, these exterior panel displays will also be posted on trains that move through Grand Central Terminal and Times Square stations (numbers 1, 3, 4, and 7 trains). And, third, the turnstile arms in the Shuttle fare control areas at Times Square and Grand Central Stations will be equipped with ad covers…

In addition to the above efforts in the GCT/Times Square Area, in the first quarter of 2009 Times Square Shuttle tunnel will also become the home of the first in-tunnel advertising installation. The shuttle riders will be able to view a full motion video presentation through the window of the shuttle car. The MTA is also planning to pilot test a digital dominated station concept at two of the NYCT stations, Grand Central Shuttle Station and 42nd and 6th Avenue Station mezzanine (Bryant Park).

The MTA will also being pilot-testing digital advertising on the exterior of one of its buses and the interior of one of its commuter rail cars. The agency expects to draw in $125 million this year in advertising revenue and expects to see substantial growth if these pilot programs prove fruitful.

It might not look good, but money is money is money. I’m particular intrigued to see the turnstile arm ads, and I’ll take this commercialization any day if it means more money for the MTA’s coffers.

Click here for a photo of the wrapped train’s interior.

Categories : Subway Advertising
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  • Sometimes, it’s not the GPS’ fault · On Monday night, a driver in Westchester ended up driving on the Metro-North tracks. His car got stuck, and he had to get out as a train barreled down on him. After the inevitable collision and once the police arrived on the scene, Jose Silva said that “he did what he was told” by his car’s GPS. At some point, wouldn’t it make sense not to turn right on railroad tracks no matter what the automated voice inside one’s car is saying? Personality responsibility should trump technology. [Associated Press] · (1)

In Toronto, even the turnstiles have advertising. (Photo by flickr user batbob)

Every few months, the issue of subway advertising rears its head. Some people call it a practical way to raise money; others decry it as yet another example of a public space reduced to a billboard. That debate will be sure to rage today as the MTA is set to unveil a fully wrapped Shuttle train sponsored by the History Channel.

At 10 a.m. this morning in Grand Central Terminal, the MTA bigwigs will gather for a great unveiling of this ad-covered subway car. Unfortunately, I have class at 10 a.m. and won’t be there to cover it in the flesh, but I’ll try to land some pictures later tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Pete Donohue has the story on other advertising opportunities the cash-strapped MTA plans to pursue:

The MTA pulled in a record $106 million last year by selling advertising space in its vast network, which includes the Long Island Rail Road and nine bridges and tunnels. In July, transit officials said they expected to generate more than $110 million through advertising this year.

Officials said they were also planning to test the projection of commercials on subway walls opposite station platforms – directly in the line of vision of riders waiting for trains.

Another plan will target straphangers on trains, with images on tunnel walls between stations calibrated to the speed of trains. The ad would unfold like a silent movie or flip book.

Donohue includes the requisite quotations from one person who doesn’t mind the advertising and the other who does. In reality, the debate shouldn’t even exist. Advertising has been and always will be a part of the subways. The owners of the private companies that operated the subways in the early 1900s sold advertising space as soon as they had the system up and running.

Meanwhile, the MTA is facing crippling financial problems, and if they can milk a few more million dollars out of something isn’t their customers’ pockets, why should we stop them? It may not be the most pleasant thing to see out the window during a train ride; it may mar some people’s sense of public space; but it’s far, far better than the alternative. Until someone does something lasting about the MTA’s finances, advertising it shall be.

Categories : Subway Advertising
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The Lower Manhattan street furniture/grate will include some much-needed bike parking. (Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Authority/Rob Wilson)

Speak of the devil. Just this morning, I finally got around to writing about the anti-flooding grate prototype the MTA plans to install in flood-prone areas. A few minutes ago, the MTA unveiled the second grate prototype.

These grates — found in Lower Manhattan — are a street furniture collaborating between Grimshaw Billings Jackson with Systra/HNTB. The current prototype is on display in front of 151 Broadway between Worth and Thomas Sts. In addition to a few benches, these raised grates also provide bicycle racks for the neighborhood. The MTA plans to install this design at 15 locations on West Broadway between Chambers and Leonard Sts. and on Varick St. between Leonard and Franklin Sts. These units will range in length from 16 to 24 feet.

These grates are more functional than the ones prepped for Queens and northern Manhattan. The bike racks are a much-needed addition, and city officials praised this design. “Initiatives like this are critical to the continuous functioning of the City,” Janette Sadik-Khan, commissioner of the Department of Transportation, said. “The fact that this new street furniture does more than double-duty as protection from stormwater by providing seating and bike racks shows that good design can turn problems into assets.”

I’m glad to see such forward thinking from the MTA, and the incorporation of other modes of urban transport into something benefiting the subway should be applauded.

Categories : MTA Technology
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A grate prototype rests on Sutphin Boulevard in Queens. (Photo by David W. Dunlap/The New York Times)

When the subways flooded in 2007, the MTA knew they had a grate problem. Run-off from the storms were sloshing underground through sidewalk grates, and the tracks along Queens Boulevard — buried just a few feet underground — were quickly rendered inoperable. While in other cities, such as DC, the subways are far enough underground to escape the problems of heavy rains, in New York, cut-and-cover construction techniques resulted in subways prone to flooding.

When the last big storms hit New York City over the summer, the MTA protected their tunnels by manually covering these grates with tarps. Clearly, this would not be the most efficient way, going forward, for the transit agency to operate every time bad weather hits the Big Apple.

To that end, the MTA has spent the last year developing a new type of sidewalk grate that would push water away from vulnerable subway areas and into proper sewage canals. Pictured above is that prototype, and a few days ago, CityRoom had the story behind these aesthetic and functional grates. Wrote David W. Dunlap:

hammered stainless steel and available in three different heights, their almost sculpturally undulating form is a deliberate reference to the problem they are supposed to help solve. “You’re aware that this is here for storm water,” said Rob Rogers, whose firm, Rogers Marvel Architects, designed the new grates in association with di Domenico & Partners. “It has a didactic purpose…”

The prototype shown on Friday at the corner of Sutphin Boulevard in Jamaica was made up of one unit in each height, which formed a whole composition when combined. They can also be used singly or in pairs. The lowest unit, which would hold back flood waters up to six inches above the sidewalk, incorporates a seat. But the gentle troughs between the waves are not uncomfortable and could certainly serve as a temporary perch for someone, say, waiting for a bus.

As a flood-control device, the structure creates a protective collar, or sleeve, around ventilating grates that are typically set flush to sidewalk level. The idea is not to completely waterproof the platforms and tracks below, but to mitigate a devastating cascade of water, silt, mud and debris.

As Dunlap notes, these grates are still grates — The MTA needs to circulate air through their system as well — and water will find its way underground. But by elevating the grating, the MTA can ensure that runoff on the sidewalks will head to storm drains and not underground subway tunnels. Eventually, the MTA will install these grates in other flood-prone areas as well. Sounds good, right?

Well, I love the grates, and I’m glad to see the MTA taking a proactive step to address this problem. I have two concerns, albeit minor ones. Will the stainless steel get too hot when exposed to direct sunlight in the summer? We’ve heard about parents complaining about playground mats that get too hot. What will happen the first time someone gets burned on the bench?

I’m also less than thrilled with the reduction in sidewalk. Personally, I feel that New York as a walking city doesn’t afford its residents with enough sidewalk space. In the grand tradition of Jane Jacobs, I support widening the sidewalks, but these grates do just the opposite.

Of course, we can’t have our cake and eat it too. We can’t have flood-proof subways and enough sidewalk space, and in this case, I’ll take dry subways and trains that aren’t delayed every time it rains.

Categories : MTA Technology
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