Well, this latest Hudson Yards development is not very good news for the MTA.

In a turn of events that one could call shocking or not shocking at all, the $1 billion deal between the MTA and Tishman Speyer for the rights to the Hudson Yards has fallen apart. The word first broke via a press release issued by MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin:

Late this afternoon, negotiations between the MTA and Tishman Speyer over the development of the Rail Yards on Manhattan’s Far West Side reached an impasse. The cause of the impasse was Tishman Speyer’s attempt to change a central deal term in an effort to postpone the closing on the Eastern Yard until the Western Yard was satisfactorily re-zoned. This demand changed the economics of the proposed deals and the certainty of payments to the MTA. The MTA remains committed to developing these unique and very valuable parcels of land.

For those who have been following progress on the negotiations, this collapse came just short of a month after the two sides missed a deadline for a conditional agreement. Now, while a Tishman Speyer deal remains a faint possibility, it’s back to the drawing board for an MTA facing the prospects of a significantly lower dollar amount for the rights to the Hudson Yards space.

Charles Bagli of The Times has all the details. From the prospect of Tishman Speyer, this deal was fraught with problems from the get-go. The real estate and development company could not find any tenants for their five planned office buildings, and they were not sure of the fate of the cost overruns of the 7 line extension, a frequent topic here at Second Ave. Sagas

Meanwhile, this deal could spell more fiscal problems for the financially-troubled MTA. Bagli reports:

But if the authority reopened negotiations with another bidder, it would almost certainly mean that it would get less money for the rights to the property, real estate executives said.

Developers who a year ago would have gleefully bid any price for a building or a project are now delaying or abandoning projects in New York and elsewhere as the economy has slowed and many lenders have balked at financing real estate projects in the wake of the credit crisis.

At the same time, the sudden setback in the development of the railyards is a very public embarrassment for everyone involved, including the developer, whose reputation may be at risk; the authority, which was counting on the money for its capital budget; and the Bloomberg administration, which had made the transformation of the once-industrial West Side a centerpiece of its two-term mayoralty.

On one hand — the very obvious hand — this collapse is bad news for the MTA. They will lose out on another $10 million a year, and the fate of the Hudson Yards is once hazy. They’re in the middle of constructing a 7 line extension to, literally, nowhere without a stop in the one area that’s actually populated and needs a subway stop at 41st St. and 10th Ave. The Bloomberg Administration is bound to put pressure on both parties to work out a deal since part of Mayor Bloomberg’s legacy rests on it, but it won’t be that easy.

On the other hand, some good could emerge from this impasse. First, the MTA should be pressure on the Bloomberg Administration to guarantee all funding for the 7 line extension. That should include any cost overruns and a fully functional station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. Building a shell now will only lead to higher costs in the future.

Next — and this won’t happen — the MTA should consider whether or not the 7 line extension is worth it now if the land rights are up for grabs again. The MTA could use the money being spent on that extension on Second Ave. or even on routine maintenance. While I know the city is funding the part currently under construction, having a subway line go nowhere will help no one.

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The butterflies are fleeing the bed bugs. (Photo by flickr user NewYork808)

While we’re know that the new subway fares aren’t deterring riders, the higher cost of a MetroCard swipe hasn’t stopped bedbugs from hanging out in the subways either.

According to a typical sensationalistic piece in the New York Post, bedbugs are taking over benches in the subways. Run for the hills!

Patrick Gallahue, John Mazor and Sylvia Harvey — how did it take three people to write a 143-word article? — write:

At a recent Department of Housing, Preservation and Development forum on the subject, a city bedbug educator admitted to seeing the pests on benches in subway stations – in one case, catching a ride on an unsuspecting straphanger’s caboose at Brooklyn’s Hoyt-Schermerhorn station, according to people at the meeting.

The official, identified as Edward Brownbear, also reported seeing the bugs on wooden benches at the Union Square and Fordham Road stations in Manhattan and The Bronx, respectively.

Sharis Lugo, 20, of Brooklyn leaped off a bench at the Union Square station when she heard the news, saying, “Ewww! That’s nasty . . . They’ve got to take these benches out of here!”

The bedbug news first broke a few days ago in this post on the bedbug meeting on Miss Heather’s New York Shitty blog, and now that the reputable Post and Yours Truly are picking up on the story, it’s bound to keep spreading.

Stainless steel benches would be so much more hygienic for so many reasons. Maybe this disturbing and disgusting news will be just what the MTA needs to get the ball rolling on replacement benches.

Continue on for a <i>New York Post</i>-produced video on the subway-bound bedbugs.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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The MTA runs three different regional bus companies. NYC Transit Bus offers service in the five boroughs; Long Island Bus does exactly what you would expect; and MTA Bus runs the express bus routes formerly controlled by NY DOT and run by private companies. Up until this week, these three bus companies were run independent of each other with little intra-agency coordination. No wonder the MTA is a mess of bureaucracy.

Within the next 60 to 90 days, according to an MTA press release issued on Wednesday, the transportation authority will begin to overhaul and streamline their bus operations. Internally, this move is part of the MTA’s efforts at cutting down on its cumbersome bureaurcracy while at the same time improving service through cooperation and coordination.

The MTA’s release has more:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) today announced plans to begin integrating the operations of its three bus companies to create the more seamless and efficient Regional Bus Operations. New York City Transit Bus, MTA Bus and Long Island Bus will each maintain its individual identity and funding, while a managerial restructuring will increase accountability and ensure consistency in serving the entire MTA region.

“By streamlining the management of our bus companies we will eliminate redundancies, improve efficiency and service, and save money,” said Elliot G. Sander, MTA Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer. “This initiative builds on the early success of our subway general manager program, and we will continue to identify and implement ways to become more efficient and improve service for our customers. Unifying bus operations is also a big first step toward creating a truly regional transportation network and is a critical part of our institutional transformation agenda.”

Over the next few months, the MTA will focus on internal restructuring. The agency plans to, among other measures, implement an integrated bus command center that provides a single point of contact for emergencies. These measures will also help the agency prioritize many internal needs — such as emergency shuttle buses — as well.

While a bureaucratic restructuring is all well and good for those of us interesting in the behind-the-scenes minutiae of the MTA, these changes will also affect services levels for the better. According to the MTA, they agency will be able to better coordinate regional bus service. Resources will be centralized; schedules will be available in one place on the Internet, for example. And more importantly, this consolidation should allow for better and more comprehensive bus service throughout the region.

Now if only the city would really take the bull by the horns and implement a dedicated Bus Rapid Transit system. That will be the day to truly celebrate the city’s bus service.

Categories : Buses
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If the subways seem more crowded that usual lately, it’s not an illusion spurred on by sluggish trains and grumpy commuters. According to the numbers released by New York City Transit, subway ridership is on the climb yet again, and the figures could reach near-record levels by the end of 2008.

The MTA this week announced the final tally of subway and bus riders through February. The subways have seen over 256.5 million riders this year while 118.5 million have ridden the city’s buses. Last year through February, 240.2 million swiped their MetroCards through subway turnstiles while 114.9 dipped their way onto buses.

If the subways maintain this six percent growth rate throughout 2008, we could see upwards of 1.66 billion subway riders this year. This total would be a new record in the MTA era and just 300 million off the all-time peak subway ridership figures.

The make or break moment will come next month when the MTA releases the March 2008 ridership figures. Then, we’ll see what — if any — effect the most recent fare hike had on ridership figures. In March 2007, 135 million people rode the New York City subways, and I believe even more rode the trains this March despite an early March hike. But will that number increase again by another six percent?

Internally, New York City Transit and the MTA don’t anticipate a decline in ridership, and they say that an increase is overwhelmingly likely. The average fare, after all, didn’t increase too much beyond the February 2008 levels of $1.29 per subway ride per customer. No matter how you slice or dice the fare hike, it’s still significantly cheaper and way more convenient to pay $81 for a monthly Unlimited Ride MetroCard than it is to pay $45 every five days to fill up at the pump. So the numbers will go up, but the rise might not be as drastic as it was from February 2007 to February 2008.

Meanwhile, while the increased ridership figures means more bucks for the MTA’s coffers, the demands of 1.6 billion people on the system will soon become a bit overwhelming. The shortcomings of under-served lines will grow more evident; the crowds on the packed lines will grow worse. Soon, we’ll need a tit-for-tat from the MTA. More people will ride the trains, but we also need more service to meet that demand. From where will the funds for that service — a vital necessity for the economic health of New York — come?

Photo above of a crowded 7 train by flickr user scottpowerz.

Categories : MTA Economics
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In early April, as the depths of the MTA’s financial problems came into view, Gov. David Patterson asked former MTA Chair Richard Ravitch to lead a blue-ribbon panel. Ravitch’s task is to find and present the various ways through which the MTA can find the money it needs for both the $3-billion gap in its current capital plan and the $17-billion abyss in its next five-year construction program.

It is a daunting task indeed, but if anyone is up for the challenge, it is Ravitch, who helped lead the MTA out its darkest days. In 1979, Ravitch took the reins of the beleaguered transit authority. When he stepped down four years later, he had implemented the first five-year plan and had the dangerous and decrepit subways on the rebound. Twenty five years after stepping down from his MTA post, Ravitch is set to lead what Patterson, in his April 8 speech announcing the commission, called “a blue ribbon panel of business leaders, civic leaders and economists.”

“Basically, I want the commission to examine three basic issues,” he said. “One is how to balance the subsidizing of the MTA Capital Plan, through the subscription of those who use the services and a broad balance of taxes for businesses and the rest of the public. Secondly, what we want to look at are the elements of Mayor Bloomberg’s plan that all of us like, and that perhaps we can still weave them into the process. And finally, we have to get the MTA out of its habit, which is 25 years old, of refinancing and basically covering debt with excessive borrowing.”

In acknowledging the weight of this task, Ravitch also noted the near-impossibility of adequately addressing this charge. “I am not sure it is anything but a Sisyphean task, but I will undertake it with energy and enthusiasm,” he said to The Sun on April 9.

An an overview piece released this week by the Gotham Gazette, Graham Beck, the managing editor of Transportation Alternative’s Streetbeat newsletter, tackles the challenges facing Ravitch and offers up the usual suspects as revenue sources:

To cover all these costs, the MTA has four potential funding sources: fares from subway, bus and commuter-rail riders; city, state and federal government contributions; an increase in existing taxes dedicated to transit, like the mortgage recording tax; and new revenue streams slated for transit, such as congestion pricing.

An increase in all four of these sources will almost certainly be needed if the MTA wishes to maintain the level of service, reliability, cleanliness and safety that 8.5 million daily riders have grown accustomed to and if the agency hopes to expand and improve the system.

Another fare hike within the next 20 months or so seems inevitable at this point. Without the congestion pricing revenues, the MTA has been pushed into a corner by the New York State legislature. But at the same time, congestion pricing may not be so dead. As Beck writes, Ravitch and his commission are sure to suggest traffic fees as a means to securing the financial future of the MTA.

Beck also speculates, as per prior Regional Plan Association studies, that the commission could turn to payroll and commuter taxes or an increase in the gas tax as well. The panel will also probably urge the state and federal governments to up their contributions to public transportation as well.

Right now, we know what the commission will produce, and it’s hard to argue with any of their outcomes. It also will be hard to imagine many — or any — of their proposals garnering much support among our elected officials. We can only hope that, when the time comes to fight for the money and the measures, those in favor of them wage a better PR campaign than the failed effort put forth by Mayor Bloomberg to back his congestion pricing scheme. The money is there; we just have to find a way to funnel it to the MTA.

Categories : MTA Economics
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Metro cars in Stockholm come wrapped in advertising. (Photo by flickr user MalteR)

As the depth of the MTA’s financial crisis has come into focus, I’ve written extensively on advertising options that aren’t being exploited underground. Each time I discuss advertising, I run across a few people passionate about their dislike of possibilities of more subway advertising.

I started this advertising exercise last July when I suggested that the MTA explore full-station branding options. We could have a Times Square station sponsored by Disney or a Yankee Stadium stop sponsored by Adidas. We’ve seen station-wide poster campaigns, but truly branding a station could result in a windfall for the MTA’s coffers.

I’ve also discussed floor-to-ceiling ads for subway cars. We’ve seen this in the 42nd Street Shuttle, and while these cars are not alway aesthetically pleasing, these types of advertising campaigns exploit available surface space. Some people find them ugly; some find the implementation to be less than ideal; but money is money.

Last week, the MTA unveiled another potential ad campaign in its infancy: Much like buses, the MTA will begin to sell advertising space on subway car exteriors. According to The Post’s Patrick Gallahue, the Shuttle will once again serve as the test for new forms of advertising. Some cars are running Continental Airlines posters to complement the internal ads, and if this campaign is successful, the MTA may look to expand this form of advertising to other train lines.

Again, I am all for this type of thinking. If the MTA can capture additional revenue this way, then so be it. If you don’t like it, thank Sheldon Silver and the State Assembly Democrats for derailing congestion pricing. Thank Mayor Bloomberg for his poor PR campaign in support of his PLANYC2030 measures.

Over the last ten years, the MTA has nearly tripled its advertising revenues from $37 million in 1997 to over $105 million in 2007. With purse strings in New York tightening, the agency needs the money anyway it can get it, and outside of a fare hike, advertising is the best route for revenue.

Categories : MTA Economics
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  • After derailment, service changes but no injuries · Earlier this afternoon, a downtown-bound N train derailed in the tunnel near 57th St. and 7th Ave. Luckily, no one was injured, but service is all sorts of messed up right now into and out of Queens along the N and R lines. As of 8 p.m., service along the N has been suspended between Queensboro Plaza and Ditmars Boulevard in both directions, and Brooklyn-bound R trains are running along the F line between 36th St. in Queens and Herald Square in Manhattan. Check the MTA’s service alerts page for updated information. · (3)
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