• Cemusa still getting NYC street names wrong · At the end of September, a few alert New Yorkers noted a glaring mistake on a new Cemusa bus shelter announcing its location as Bowery St. It seems that this misnomer wasn’t the only error on the septic new street furniture. City Room earlier this week spotted a Harlem mistake. The Spanish company believed the station to be located along Frederick Douglas Boulevard. They have since ordered a sign with the proper spelling (Douglass with a second S), but I wonder how many more mistakes are out there. · (2)

Who would believe that this project won’t wrap up on time? (Source: flickr user Betty Blade)

When the MTA announced earlier this week that the long-anticipated Culver Viaduct rehabilitation project would take longer and cost more than originally anticipated, Brooklynites the world over were shocked — shocked, I tell you! — by the news.

No, wait. They weren’t.

According to The Brooklyn Paper, this project and our dreams for an F Express train will have to wait longer than we had hoped. The MTA, according to the paper, still plans to begin the project next year, but the completion date for the station renovation at Smith and 9th Sts. has been pushed back to 2011.

Worse still for the cash-strapped agency is the price tag. Originally set at $187.8 million, the rehabilitation plan will now cost “upwards of a quarter-billion dollars,” as MTA spokesperson Deirdre Parker told Mike McLaughlin.

So that’s the bad news, and while I’m poking fun at the MTA’s inability to finish most major rehabilitation projects on time and at budget, there’s more at work here than simply business as usual. While The Brooklyn Paper story doesn’t get into the why’s of this delay and significant cost increase, we are well versed in these problems.

First, as with any other contractor in the city, costs are spiking. The economy is suffering through its worst downturn since the Great Depression, and with financial institutes collapsing and consolidating, a lot of construction projects are left unfunded and unfinished. The MTA, as a public benefit corporation, isn’t in danger of collapsing, but it will face rising costs. This 33 percent increase probably won’t be the last that we’ll see in regards to this project.

Second, the MTA itself has no money. The agency is attempting to reorganize internally and coax more money out of the state legislature. As such, it has to scale back their aggressive timetables for many of its top-priority projects. This is, of course, a double-edged sword. The longer these projects are delayed, the more they will cost. If the government were to provide for proper funding, the MTA would be able to improve its cost and timetable efficiency.

I know it’s rather naïve of me to think that a third Bloomberg term would deliver more respect to the MTA. But if we’re truly heading down that path, I hope the Transit Authority is allotted more financial resources over the next few years. If its not, we’ll be paying the price long past the completion of one long-delayed project in South Brooklyn.

Categories : MTA Construction
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A TV monitor at the Myrtle-Wyckoff L stop will test the real-time train data. (Photo by Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times)

In my morning missive on GPS-based advertising, a few commenters wondered why, if an advertiser can employ GPS, the MTA can’t get its own GPS bus arrival board project off the ground. While some questions are simply unanswerable, the MTA — or more specifically, the L train’s line manager — is making strides to deliver real-time train location information to passengers.

As William Neuman reported today in The Times, by taping into the L’s computerized operating system, the MTA can show where the trains are on TV screens purchased at Circuit City. It’s a simple technological fix to a problem that has long plagued New York City Transit. The Gray Lady’s transit writer has more:

Beginning in December, officials will install a computer screen at each end of the platform showing a graphic representation of the entire L line and the location of every train on it. Waiting passengers can watch the trains move along the tracks as the data is updated every 15 seconds. That way, passengers can see for themselves if there really is another train “right behind this one.”

If the system works, and riders like it, it could be installed in other stations on the L line, said Greg Lombardi, the line’s general manager, who helped create the system. Ultimately it could be used on other lines as well.

“There’s no end to the possibilities,” said Wilson M. Milian, a director of technology projects at the transit agency. He said that the same information could some day be displayed on the Internet, so that riders could quickly check the location of trains before heading to the subway.

Imagine that. Real-time train information in New York City. This could be the push the MTA needs to update the rest of its technology.

As Cap’n Transit writes, the MTA could introduce this technology across its agencies, incorporate it with service advisories and provide a historical database of real-time train information. The possibilities are truly limitless, and if this is the innovation coming out of the nascent line manager program, by all means should it be continued and expanded.

Categories : MTA Technology
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The most compelling two seconds of a bus you’ll ever see.

In its ever-increasing quest to wrangle money out of the exposed services of its buses and subways, the MTA earlier this week announced yet another new source of advertising revenue. While the agency isn’t yet slapping product promotions on the names of its stations – do it! — it will now feature rotating, GPS-targeted ads on digital panels on the outsides of some buses. This will not end well.

Holly M. Sanders, writing in The Post, explored the ins and outs of this $800-million, ten-year advertising deal between the MTA and Tital Worldwide:

Titan Worldwide, which has a 10-year, $800 million-plus contract to sell ads throughout the city’s bus and commuter-train systems, said that using GPS technology, it can wirelessly beam ads based on the bus’ location and the time of day.

For instance, the screens can show an ad for Saks Fifth Avenue while in Manhattan and change to Target in Brooklyn. The ads can even change languages according to the ethnicity of a neighborhood

“In the morning, we can show Starbucks, and on the way home from work, a Budweiser ad,” said Dave Etherington, Titan’s global marketing director.

As Jossip noted, these ads are rife with the potential to display inadvertently racist message because the GPS is set to include ethnicity and demographic information as the buses travel the city streets. I will leave the pitfalls of this approach up to your imagination. But installing these monitors on buses that, for example, travel from the UN to Harlem (M104) or any myriad buses that run up and down Flatbush Ave. could lead to some social faux pas.

The MTA is currently running these screens on the ever-popular trial basis along the slow M23 route. If this is deemed a feasible source of advertising — and a with a ten-year deal in the works, why not? — these panels will annoyingly come to a bus near you next year.

Categories : Buses, MTA Economics
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Along with everyone else, the MTA is trying to stave off financial doom. Unlike with Lehman Brothers and the other failed financial institutions, though, the MTA’s fiscal troubles stretch back decades, and the transit agency has been trying to come up with a fix long before Wall St. headed south last month.

For the last few months, Richard Ravitch and his commission have been trying to assess the MTA’s financial situation. The panel’s recommendations are due in approximately six weeks, but it may be too late to solve some of the MTA’s more crushing problems before the agency must adopt a strict budget with cuts to services — but not, as far as I can tell, cuts to train and bus service quite yet.

William Neuman, writing in today’s Times, has more on this alarming story:

When Gov. David A. Paterson created a commission last spring to recommend a solution to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s financial troubles, the panel’s head, Richard Ravitch, a respected former chairman of the authority, quickly took on white knight status, with officials and politicians hoping he would ride in before the year was out to save the authority from disaster….

But the stock market’s troubles and the global banking crisis have accelerated the authority’s financial slide to the point that officials are now working to carve deeper cuts in their budget plans for 2009. And it appears likely that there will be insufficient time for the State Legislature to act on the Ravitch commission’s proposals, meaning the authority will be forced to adopt an austerity budget with both service cuts and fare increases by late December, an official said.

Further, because of sharply falling revenues, an even larger increase in fares and tolls might have to be considered than in the authority’s earlier budget plan, which called for an 8 percent rise in revenues from those sources, the official added. All that sets the stage for a winter of wrangling among the governor, the Legislature, the mayor and authority officials, who will be under intense pressure to rescue the region’s mass transportation system.

“We clearly are going to be laying out some very painful stuff,” MTA CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander said to Neuman. “We are going to have to balance the issue of fare increases and service cuts and also see how we can cut our budget further. Those are the three pieces to the puzzle and we’re just in the process of dealing with those trade-offs.”

From what I’ve heard, the MTA is loathe to cut actual service, and when The Times and officials start talking about “service cuts,” everyone gets worried. In reality, the first services to go will be bureaucratic in nature followed by maintenance and cleaning staff. Only after the agencies are pared to their bare essentials will the MTA brass consider reducing the frequency of trains.

But the MTA and New York City can ill afford these cuts. In a bad economy, the government should be investing in its infrastructure. Spending on the subways could spur on job growth and economic development in areas awaiting investment. Ensuring safe, reliable and steady access to the city’s core business areas via public transportation is just as important for the region’s economic health as anything else.

In the end, we’ll have a clearer picture of the MTA’s short-term financial outlook when Ravitch drops his report during the first week of December, but early signs are not favorable. It could be a cold winter for the MTA.

Categories : MTA Economics
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  • Spending on infrastructure could kick-start the economy · While the U.S. economy is slumping, most experts feel that more infrastructure investment could get the fiscal ball rolling again. The nation’s rail system needs work; it’s roads are in terrible shape. A New Deal-type infrastructure plan would spur on the economy while providing cities and states with some badly-needed improvement. On the surface, it sounds good to me. · (2)

Brooklyn pols are looking for more than just this quick fix to some prominent Brooklyn subway problems. (Photo by flickr user Gatto Arancione)

Once upon a time, Jay St./Borough Hall and the 4th Ave./9th St. stops were two of the nicer destinations in the subway system. The former served as the headquarters for New York City Transit while the later once featured windows overlooking 4th Ave. with Brooklyn beyond.

Today, these stations are among the worst in the system. The Jay St. stop is forever in a state of disrepair, and as numerous photos show, the station appears to be a permanent work zone. Further down the F line, a long-overdue rehab for the 4th Ave./9th St. stop got the axe when the MTA’s finances went south.

Now, Brooklyn politicians and residents are demanding solutions to these blighted stations. On the Jay St., side, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz wants the MTA to address both the state of the station and its former headquarters, no empty, at Jay St. Reports a trio of Daily News staff writers:

Despite promises to spruce it up, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has let 370 Jay St. and its subway hub become a “blight on the face of downtown Brooklyn,” said…Markowitz. “This section of Jay St. is an embarrassment – and our commuters, residents and local businesses deserve better…”

Most of the 14-story building, which the MTA leases from the city, is vacant. The facade is wrapped in scaffolding and black mesh, giving it the look of a haunted house.The subway station is even worse, with columns that are missing tiles, lots of chipping paint and large sections of the platform sealed off with plywood.

MTA officials insist they are going to invest $106 million to rehabilitate the station and that funds to fix the building above it are in the next capital improvement plan.

Famous last words from the MTA.

Meanwhile, the Park Slope Civic Council has called upon the MTA to prioritize the mess at 4th Ave./9th St. The council wanted the MTA to open a long-shuttered second entrance to the busy station, improve the dim lighting underneath the Gowanus Viaduct and court retail for the deserted stretch of 4th Ave. under the station. The MTA will not be adopting any of these proposals at the current time.

While this is always a matter of money that the MTA doesn’t have right now and probably won’t have in the future, it’s a shame that these Brooklyn stations continue to get the shaft. Brooklyn, after all, features some of the more beatific rides in the city. If only its stations matched the scenery.

Categories : Brooklyn
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