Pardon me while I leave the underground world of transportation and visit the devoted straphanger’s sometimes-nemesis, sometimes-friend: the taxi cab.

I’ve long been fascinated with New York City taxis in a more academic way than I am with the city’s subways. More specifically, I’ve watched with interest as the city has pioneered a radical plan to convert its entire taxi fleet from fuel-guzzling Ford Crown Vics to green hybrids of all shapes and sizes.

The root of my interest began in the spring of 2004 as hybrids were slowly becoming a popular item. I was enrolled in a class on the political economy of the automobile, and for one of my term papers, I proposed that the City of New York should convert its entire fleet into hybrids. Little did I know how prescient I would be.

The gist of the paper — which you can find here as a Word document — was that cab drivers would see significant fuel savings by switching to hybrids designed for optimal use in the stop-and-go traffic environment of New York City. Hybrids, in most cases, get fuel mileage in city traffic two to three times greater than the old Crown Victoria taxis do. While some passengers would be inconvenienced by the smaller trunk space and decreased leg room in the hybrids, the social benefits, ranging from a cleaner air to the city’s place as a model taxi fleet, would far outweigh the downsides.

While that is a fairly simple argument, I think it’s held up over time. Since I wrote that paper, the city has indeed embarked on a landmark program to convert its entire fleet to hybrids, and beginning this year, only hybrid cars may be registered as taxis. Considering that the entire taxi fleet turns over every three-to-five years, the clock is ticking for the 15 city miles-per-gallon Crown Victorias, a relic of the day when we worried too little about gas prices and paid too little at the pump for our gas-guzzling ways.

But of course, cab owners aren’t too happy about the switch, and they’re voicing their displeasures. Via Sally Goldenberg in the Post:

Owners cite a shortage of hybrids and argue that they’re also not as safe as the standard, heavy Crown Victorias. Ronald Sherman, a fleet owner and president of the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, said major hybrid providers Ford and Toyota can sell only a fifth of the number required to meet the directive. “Clearly, there will not be enough to sustain this mandate,” Sherman said. “The numbers simply don’t add up.”

In a letter to Matthew Daus, chairman of the city Taxi and Limousine Commission, he asked that the city push back the deadline due to a “nationwide hybrid car and parts availability crisis.”

“Crown Victorias are 5-star, across-the-board crash-rated vehicles that withstand severe accidents,” he wrote.

The Post also mentions that Sherman has long been a critic of hybrid taxis and testified against the Ford Escape hybrid earlier this year. That car has since been cleared by auto safety experts.

I can’t really explain Mr. Sherman’s opposition to the hybrids. While he is concerned about black-market cabs with more trunk space stealing the yellow cab businesses when the smaller trunks are prevalent, anyone who’s ever hailed a cab in New York will be quick to dispute this point with Sherman. The vast majority of people aren’t taking taxis with suitcases, and those who do will find a way to fit their suitcases into the back of a taxicab.

In the end, it’s all about an auto industry voice resisting change for the better. While not as egregious as various promotions celebrating subsidized gas for two years, Sherman’s voice is yet another trying to stem a tide that will help out the city environmentally and cab drivers financially. Trade reps should be encouraging these developments; they should work with the Bloomberg Administration to ensure a smooth transition. In 2008, with gas prices high and global climate change an accepted reality, Sherman’s words seem remarkably out of touch with the times.

Categories : Taxis
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  • MTA looks to wire 44 stations for PA service · While services are facing the budget cut, the MTA is hoping to bring some more stations up to date. According to the Daily News’ Pete Donohue, the transportation agency has filed a draft amendment to its capital plan that “includes funds to upgrade communications in 44 subway stations, repair some of the worst station stairwells and platforms, and seal up the most flood-prone subway tunnels.” These are, of course, vital projects intended to keep the subway system in operation during emergencies both weather-related and not. [The Daily News] · (2)

A state of _____ repair

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The 7th Ave. station along the Culver line in Brooklyn has seen better days. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

A state of good repair. The MTA tosses that phrase around a lot these days, but no one really knows what it means.

New Jersey Transit defines it as follows: “‘State of Good Repair” is achieved when the infrastructure components are replaced on a schedule consistent with their life expectancy.” The MTA’s definition is, for all intents and purposes, the same.

In New York over the last twenty five years, the MTA has been fighting an uphill battle to return the subway system to a state of good repair. They’ve overhauled track beds and switches; they’ve purchased new rolling stock. And when time and money allows, they’ve attempted to redo stations, but it is here that we run into differing opinions over what exactly a state of good repair entails.

Over the weekend, Times reporter Javier C. Hernandez ventured out into some of the 19 stations that will see their renovation plans deferred. As expected, commuters who frequent those stations aren’t too pleased to hear that the MTA is forgoing outer-borough renovations yet again:

In the distance is one of the city’s most stunning views: the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan skyscrapers and a pristine New York Harbor. But the trip to the top of Brooklyn’s Smith-Ninth Street subway station, the highest in the city, is not so appealing.

Inside the station, scraps of paint fall from the ceiling as commuters make their way up cracked, rusty steps. “I’ve been waiting so long for things to change,” said Steven De Jesus, a contractor who commutes by train. He pointed to the peeling walls. “It’s horrifying and despicable right now.”


The authority has said that the stations, which sit above ground on the D, N, F and G lines in Brooklyn and the No. 6 line in the Bronx, were in good condition and posed no safety risks. But commuters say the stations urgently need attention. At some stations, stairways are crumbling, water is leaking through the ceilings and outdoor roofs, and gaps between wooden planks are widening.

Therein lies the rub. The stations may post no safety risks, but anyone who subscribes to the City Beautiful notion of public works won’t be too pleased.

Above this post is one of a set of five photos I snapped a few weeks ago in the 7th Ave. station on the Culver line; one, two, three and four are all available on flickr. The truth is that this station — and many like it — is not in a state of physical repair. Dirty water has corroded station tiles, and streaks of something run down the walls. In some spots, the tiles are gone; in others, they’re buckling. It’s generally not very nice.

But when funds are tight, the station renovation plans get the axe, but these superficial appearances don’t matter nearly as much as modern signals and solid track beds. In the end, the MTA will face more complaints from people dismayed with the state of their surroundings, and as the stations grow grimier, they take on the appearance of something less than desirable in any neighborhood. But until money flows the MTA’s way, that physical part of the state of good repair will be the first thing to go when the budget crunches arrive.

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Before I jump into the service advisories for the weekend, I wanted to remind you all of the importance of June 30. After Monday, all One-Day Unlimited Ride Metrocards purchased prior to the fare hike will expire.

For those who stockpiled MetroCards, this month was the drop-dead point. Thirty-day cards had to be activated by June 1; seven-day cards had to be swiped by June 24; and the one-day Fun Passes must be used by the end of the day on Monday. So if you have one-day passes lying around the house, take a few subway rides this weekend.

But worry not if your cards go unused. Refunds will be available to those customers who have unused pre-fare hike Unlimited Ride MetroCards. Ask your nearest friendly station booth worker for an envelope, mail it off to the MTA and wait a few weeks. You will get a refund. I’ve done it before; it actually works.

And now on to the weekend service advisories.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 30, there is no 1 train service between 14th Street and South Ferry. Also, 1 trains skip 18th, 23rd and 28th Streets in both directions. Customers may take the 2 or 3 trains between 34th and Chambers Streets. Free shuttle buses are provided between Chambers Street and South Ferry. These changes are due to Cortlandt Street Underpinning.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 30, Manhattan-bound 2 trains run express from Gun Hill Road to East 180th Street due to signal and structural work at East 180th Street. Also, 2 trains run local between 96th and Chambers Streets because of Cortlandt Street Underpinning.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday, June 29, Manhattan-bound 2 and 4 trains skip Eastern Parkway,
Grand Army Plaza, and Bergen St.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 30, 3 trains run local between 96th and Chambers Streets due to Cortlandt Street Underpinning.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, June 28, Manhattan-bound 4 trains run express from Utica Ave. to Atlantic Ave.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 30, there are no 5 trains running between 149th Street-Grand Concourse and East 180th Street due to signal and structural work at East 180th Street. Customers should take the 2.

From 11 p.m. Friday, June 27, to 7 a.m. Saturday, June 28, from 11 p.m. Saturday, June 28, to 8 a.m. Sunday, June 29, and from 11 p.m. Sunday, June 29, to 5 a.m. Monday, June 30, downtown 6 trains run express from 125th St. to Grand Central.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 30, there are no C trains between 168th and 145th Streets. Also, free shuttle buses replace A trains between 168th Street and 207th Street. Customers may transfer between the Broadway or Fort Washington Avenue shuttle buses and the A train at 168th Street. These changes are due to structural work and track and roadbed replacement work between 168th Street and 207th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 30, the last stop for some Coney Island-bound D trains is Bay Parkway due to track panel work between 8th Avenue and 86th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 30, Manhattan-bound F trains run on the A line from Jay Street to West 4th Street due to infrastructure work.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, June 27 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 30, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square due to track chip-out between 36th Street and Roosevelt Avenue. Take the E or R instead.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, June 28 to 10 p.m. Sunday, June 29, free shuttle buses replace J trains between Crescent Street and the Jamaica-Van Wyck E station. (There are no J trains between Crescent Street and Jamaica Center-Parsons/Archer.) This is due to track panel installation between Cypress Hills and Jamaica Center-Parsons/Archer.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 30, Manhattan-bound N trains run on the D line from Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue to 36th Street due to track panel work between 8th Avenue and 86th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 28 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 30, Brooklyn-bound NR trains are rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge from Canal Street to DeKalb Avenue due to track roadbed work between Prince and Whitehall Streets.

Categories : Service Advisories
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  • House delivers $237 million for MTA operating budget · Following up on yesterday’s item about Rep. Jerry Nadler’s (D-N.Y) promises to deliver federal funds for the MTA, the House voted to approve a bill authorizing $1.7 billion for public transit systems. Ostensibly, the money is earmarked for lowering fares and expanding operations as commuters the high cost of driving for public transit. This is the first time federal funds are being sent to public transit systems for operating costs, as the MTA is expected to receive $237 million, the agency will be able to use this money to pare down its debt. Don’t expect the fares to drop despite Congress’ wishes. [Associated Press] · (0)

At the end of last week, when New York City Transit announced that some service increases were heading our way in July, one line was noticeably absent from the list. That line was, of course, the IND Crosstown train, better known as the G train.

In fact, in writing about the service changes, Times transit reporter William Neuman explicitly mentioned the G train:

One line that had been scheduled for more service in the original proposal last December but was not included in this round of improvements was the G. Riders on the G often complain of long waits between trains. Officials said the G did not exceed the loading guidelines.

In English, that means that, based on metrics set by NYC Transit, G train capacity and wait times were within acceptable margins. In other words, tough.

G train activists — some of the more vocal in the system — were outraged. “The M.T.A. has done a grave injustice to G train riders and commuters in Brooklyn if it fails to enact service enhancements,” Hakeem Jeffries, Assembly representative from Brooklyn said late last week.

What Mr. Jeffries conveniently left was his anti-congestion pricing stance. While bemoaning the fate of service along a train important to his constituents, Jeffries didn’t offer up a mea culpa on his stance surrounding a plan that would have brought in money for the MTA to fund service upgrades.

This is, of course, nothing new for beleaguered proponents of the G train. While not the most devoted blogger, Teresa Toro’s Save the G organization has long fought for more service on the only major subway line to eschew the borough of Manhattan. And in this case I have to side with Toro, Jeffries and G train riders.

The MT’s loading guidelines view service overall. It’s true that the G train on weekends and off-peak times is mostly empty, and the ten-minute intervals between trains is manageable. But during rush hour, as residents from Gowanus to Greenpoint to and from Forest Hills to Long Island City scramble to make their G train connections, the four-car and six-car trains are packed to the gills. While the MTA needs to balance G train service with the demands of the Queens Boulevard trains, the G — particularly in the norther stretches of Brooklyn — needs more rush hour service. How and when it will happen is anyone’s guess.

Categories : Brooklyn, Queens
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Update 11:26 p.m.: A long time ago, all the way back in August of 2005, the MTA unveiled plans to install security cameras in subway stations as part of its counterterrorism efforts. The cameras were supposed to be installed and fully operation within three years which would put this project’s completion date in, oh, about six weeks.

Well, as astute riders may have noticed by now, the vast majority of subway stations do not have cameras and those that do had them long before 2005. While the MTA promised a pilot program for cameras in subway cars a few months ago, New York City is a long way away from seeing and being seen by surveillance cameras in the subway stations.

Today, the news got a little worse — or better, if you feel these cameras are an intrusion of privacy — when the MTA conceded that the project still has a steep mountain to climb. And according to a few anonymous agency officials, the original timeline for this project was overly ambitions. Who woulda guessed?

William Neuman has the story:

Aging fiber-optic cable in Brooklyn and Queens has become the latest obstacle to a planned high-tech system of surveillance cameras meant to safeguard the subway and commuter railroads, according to Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials…

On Wednesday, the authority’s board authorized the replacement of 84,000 feet of old fiber-optic cable, which was installed in the late 1980s. The replacement will cost $5 million and is being done as part of a separate project to build out the subway’s data network.

According to a board document, tests on the cable showed that it had “many broken fibers unsuitable to carry the high bandwidth required” to transmit large amounts of data, which hindered the surveillance camera project. The document did not say how long it would take to replace the cable.

The anonymous officials conceded that the MTA’s ambitious plans may not even be realized for another two or three years. There is no longer an internal timetable however, and the MTA must first replace a fiber optics cable outside that, according to Neuman, runs along the J/Z line from Broadway Junction to Sutphin Boulevard and along the E to Union Turnpike.

So as we sit here in 2008, and it looks like our subway stations won’t have security cameras until nearly a full decade after the Sept. 11 terrorist and attacks, around six or seven years after the Madrid Metro bombing in 2004 and five or six years after the London Undergound attacks. Point fingers anyway or bemoan the presence of cameras in the stations, but no matter how you slice or dice it, that’s quite the response time.

Categories : Subway Security
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