Earlier this week, we took a brief look at the Ravitch Commission. The 12 members tasked with saving the MTA are all highly-regarded transit and finance experts who will do their best to find the money to keep our trains running.

Today, Streetsblog lets us in a not-so-secret secret: A fair number of the commission members are suppporters of congestion pricing. Four of the 12 members, not counting Ravitch, would seem to support a congestion charge proposal, and my money’s on Ravitch’s commission producing a report calling for a fee. It will be much harder to ignore this plan than it was for the state legislature to shoot down Mayor Bloomberg’s fee.

Meanwhile, service advisories:

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 14 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 16, uptown 1 trains skip 79th, 86th, 103rd, 110th, 116th, and 125th Streets due to station rehab at 96th Street and track chip-out at 110h Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 14 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 16, 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. These changes are due to the Clark Street tunnel lighting project.

Brooklyn-bound trains skip Bergen St., Grand Army Plaza and Eastern Parkway from 11 p.m. on Friday, June 13 to 7 a.m. on Sunday, June 14, from 11 p.m. on Saturday, June 14 to 8 a.m. on Sunday, June 15 and from 11 p.m. on Sunday, June 15 to 5 a.m. on Monday, June 16.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 14 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 16, there are no 3 trains between New Lots Avenue and 14th Street. In Manhattan, take the uptown 5 or downtown 2. In Brooklyn, take the 4 making all local stops. These changes are due to the Clark Street tunnel lighting project.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 14 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 16, uptown 5 trains skip 79th and 86th Streets due to station rehab at 96th Street-Broadway.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, June 14 to 10 p.m. Sunday, June 15, Bronx-bound 6 trains run express from Hunts Point Avenue to Parkchester due to track panel work between Hunts Point Avenue and Parkchester. The last stop for some 6 trains is 125th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 14 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 16, there is no C train service. A trains run local between 168th Street and Euclid Avenue. Manhattan-bound A trains run on the F from Jay to West 4th Streets. For Chambers, Canal, and Spring Streets, take the E instead. From High Street and Broadway-Nassau, take a Brooklyn-bound A to Jay Street and transfer to a Manhattan-bound A. These changes are due to Chambers Street Signal Modernization.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, June 14 to 10 p.m. Sunday, June 15, Coney Island-bound D trains run on the N line from 36th Street (Brooklyn) to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue due to track panel work between 9th Avenue and Bay 50th Street.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, June 13 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 16, 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 14 to 10 p.m. Sunday, June 15, 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 14 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 16, Brooklyn-bound NR train 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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Ever looking out for the public’s bottom line, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has issued another report on the state of the MTA’s finances. This one reveals that the transportation authority has doled out over $1.2 billion for personal claims and property damage over the last 12 years.

The Times’ William Neuman broke the story on City Room on Thursday:

The report said that over all, the two commuter railroads and New York City Transit received a total of 86,875 claims of all types from 1996 to 2007. Since 1996, 85 cases have been settled for $1 million or more, at a total cost of $233 million, or a fifth of all claims paid.

Over the period covered by the study, claims have generally amounted to less than $100 million a year. Last year they reached $144 million because of the settlement of some unusually large claims. The authority’s annual operating budget is more than $10 billion.

The report — available here as a PDF — isn’t so much as critical of the MTA as it is just laying out the facts. Where the report is most critical is in the infamous LIRR armrest issue. The arm rest settlements have exceeded $285,000. That’s a lot of torn pants.

Most of the other claims and the big-ticket items in particular were focused around safety issues. People filed claims for falling into that LIRR platform gap, for getting struck by trains and for worker-related issues. For their part, the MTA in response focused on improving safety standards underground. Said Jeremy Soffin:

Protecting the safety and security of our employees and customers is the MTA’s top priority. The MTA has made great strides in improving safety over the past ten years, and we continue to pursue new initiatives. Since 1996, the employee injury rate has been reduced by 60% and in 2007 the MTA achieved its lowest employee injury rate ever. Customer injuries have also decreased. Since 1996 the number of customer injuries per million customers has decreased by 28% even while the MTA ridership is at record numbers. As a result, the MTA’s ultimate incurred cost for employee and customer accidents is less than what would have been expected, a savings of approximately $335 million from 1997-2007. In addition, two of the causes identified by the Comptroller of higher recent claims — gap incidents and torn clothing due to armrests on the commuter railroads — have both been addressed.

In the end, it’s hard to be overly critical of the MTA for this expenditure. Considering that billions of people ride the subways each year, the injury rate and the amount paid out per year are relatively slow. It would be better to see the MTA’s paying out zero dollars a year, but in our litigious society, that’s just a pipe dream.

Categories : MTA Economics
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  • House approves Amtrak bill, but Bush may veto it · The House of Representatives yesterday approved a $14.4-billion rail investment bill. The bill will reauthorize Amtrak’s funding, provide some money to long-awaited Moynihan Station project and provide money to construct a high-speed bullet train from New York City to D.C. While the White House may veto this bill, it has the votes in the House and Senate to pass anyway. While I applaud the focus on rail, this strikes me as a “too little, too late” measure. We could use a lot more investments like this one in our national rail. · (4)

At the end of last week on a Friday during the summer, a few anonymous MTA officials dropped a story on Pete Donohue. The MTA, they said, is not-so-quietly considering a fare hike for 2009 to meet operating budget deficits that will exceed tens of millions of dollars.

On Wednesday, with MTA CEO and Executive Director Lee Sander testifying in front of the New York State Assembly’s Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, agency officials dropped any pretense of anonymity and flat-out toward the gathered assembly members that a 2009 fare hike will be necessary if the agency doesn’t see more money flowing its way.

Times reporters William Neuman and Jeremy Peters tell the sad but expected tale:

The executive director, Elliot G. Sander, said that the transportation authority faced an operating deficit of as much as $500 million to $700 million next year and that it would “have no option” but to raise fares in 2009 if it did not receive considerable outside financial assistance.

“Our hope is for additional support from Albany and other partners,” Mr. Sander said, speaking in Albany at a hearing of the State Assembly’s Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions. “If we do not have funding from our outside partners, then the only recourse the M.T.A. has is to raise fares, engage in service cutbacks and cutting staff.”

The authority previously proposed raising fares in 2010, as part of what it said would be a series of regular, moderate increases every two years. But an increase next year would disrupt that initiative before it even started.

Now, MTA haters will be quick to unleash familiar refrains: The MTA has no budget accountability; the MTA has no idea how to balance its books. And while I’m not usually one to leap to the MTA’s rescue, it’s clear from Sander’s testimony that this was a largely unexpected fiscal problem (and one that could have been averted through congestion pricing).

As I’ve noted before, the MTA’s expected revenue from the real estate tax is nearly $100 million below expected levels, and as Sander said today, their fuel expenditures are already 17 percent over budget. Oil prices are heading in only one direction these days, and it isn’t down.

So the MTA has a valid excuse. Now though the ball is firmly in the Assembly’s court. During the congestion pricing debate, numerous elected representatives — and, most vocally, Richard Brodsky — told the MTA that, to get more money from the state, all Lee Sander had to do was ask. As Jay Gallagher at The Journal-News’ Politics on the Hudson blog reported yesterday, that’s exactly what Sander did. “I am asking the Legislature and the governor for more financial support,’’ he said to Brodsky’s committee.

So what say you, Mr. Brodsky? The MTA has laid out its case, and the city’s vital transportation authority has found itself up the proverbial creek with nary a paddle in sight. Will Brodsky keep his word or will he just renege on yet another transit-related promise in the area?

Fare hike 2009, here we come.

Categories : Fare Hikes
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Where: The last car of a Canarsie-bound L train
When: Yesterday evening, shortly after 6:30 p.m. at Lorimer St.

Pardon the blur. It’s tough to grab a photo and sneak out of the subway doors as they’re closing. It seems that some enterprising prankster or some oblivious MTA worker had some issues with the subway map. Or perhaps the world has literally been turned upside down.

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Richard Ravitich’s clock is now ticking. By December 5, Ravitch and his newly-appointed 12-member Committee on MTA Finances will have a ten-year plan on the desks of Gov. David Patterson and the New York State legislature, and the fate of the MTA will be tied to that report.

Patterson on Tuesday unveiled the rest of Ravitch’s committee, and the governor filled it with transportation experts and officials and finance and electricity executives. The committee will now begin its unenviable task of finding tens of billions of dollars for the MTA to meet both its capital budget and its operations budget.

City Room breaks down the well-qualified committee:

  • Laura L. Anglin, the state budget director since January.
  • Kevin M. Burke, chairman and chief executive of Consolidated Edison.
  • Robert B. Catell, chairman of National Grid U.S., a unit of the Keyspan Corporation.
  • Douglas Durst, the prominent real estate developer who runs the Durst Organization.
  • Peter C. Goldmark, who directs the climate and air program at the Environmental Defense Fund. He was formerly state budget director, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, and chairman and chief executive of The International Herald Tribune, part of The New York Times Company.
  • Denis M. Hughes, president of the New York State A.F.L.-C.I.O. since 1999.
  • Mysore L. Nagaraja, a transportation project consultant who was formerly president of the M.T.A. Capital Construction Company and senior vice president and chief engineer at New York City Transit.
  • Mark Page, the city’s budget director since 2002.
  • Kim Paparello Vaccari, head of the transportation group at Banc of America Securities.
  • Steven M. Polan, a partner at the law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips and a former general counsel to the M.T.A.
  • The Rev. Joseph McShane, the president of Fordham University since 2003.
  • Elliot G. Sander, executive director and chief executive officer of the M.T.A. since 2007.

I’m a bit intrigued by the appointment of Mysore Nagaraja to the committee considering the circumstances surrounding his departure, but he does have the most intimate knowledge of the MTA capital plan right now. Veronique Hakim is simply the interim head of MTA Capital Construction right now and is not really experienced enough in that role to join this group.

Meanwhile, public officials said all the right things in unveiling this commission. “New York’s leaders have too often underestimated the critical importance of mass transit to the economic wellbeing of the region and the quality of life of our citizens,” Paterson said. “The congestion pricing debate highlighted the need for sustainable funding for the MTA. This Commission will help ensure that the MTA has the resources it needs to expand and maintain a mass transit system that can increase regional prosperity while also curbing sprawl, reducing traffic congestion and improving the environment.”

While the commission is bound to recommend some form of congestion pricing providing a dedicated revenue stream for the MTA and public transit, the commission may bring about some much-need organizational change at the MTA. Ravitch and his commission will investigate “initiatives to maximize MTA efficiencies,” and I have to believe that the commission may look into some of the fiscal problems inherent in the MTA’s operations.

As I’ve said before, Ravitch is facing a tough task, but we need him to fulfill the promise he brings to the job. He’s going to have to ask tough questions of the MTA and demand tough compromises from the agency as well as from the state and its citizens. The economic future of the MTA and our region will depend on it.

Categories : MTA Economics
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Click the map to enlarge

The New York Times yesterday posted the above map on their Website. With vacation season upon us and gas prices rising, everyone is concerned about how $4-a-gallon gas is impacted the wallets of American consumers, and you can see the full breakdown here.

As the map shows, the percent of income spend on gas is lowest in a few major metropolitan areas. The New York area is bathed in dark purple; Chicago and its surrounding environs is dark purple; Boston, Washington and Philadelphia complete the Northeast Corridor of purple; and the San Francisco Bay Area reveals similar results.

Not coincidentally, those are also the areas in this country with the best public transportation systems. We have, for better our worse, the MTA and New Jersey Transit; Boston has the MBTA; D.C. has Metro; Philadelphia has a comprehensive SEPTA system that links to New Jersey Transit; Chicago has the CTA; and Northern California has BART, CalTrain and MUNI.

Despite this obvious relationship between gas expenditures and public transit access, politicians — even those in public transit-rich areas — are still focused on oil issues. It’s no wonder then that Streetsblog is calling on politicians to change their focus to mass transit expansion.

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  • IDk, my bff, Gene Russianoff? · Gene Russianoff, staff lawyer and public face of the Straphangers Campaign, is taking questions this week at City Room. At 220 questions and counting so far, most of the City Room folks posing quandaries to Russianoff are too focused on how the MTA can make their own commutes better, but some of the questions delve into the long-term outlook for the subway system and the problems inherent in the MTA bureaucracy. The answers will be forthcoming this week. [City Room] · (1)

This rendering will forever remain a very nice picture.

It’s starting, and I hope it doesn’t end up costing the city the Second Ave. subway yet again.

In a move that isn’t too shocking, the MTA has abandoned its plans to do a full overhaul of the 4th Ave. station on the F line. While the agency will still rehab all of the tracks and Culver Viaduct structure itself, in an effort to save nearly $65 million, the MTA has withdrawn the station rehab plans. This move is a big blow to an area sorely in need of an aesthetically appealing station and is sure to be an early warning sign of more construction cuts to come.

Mike McLaughlin of The Brooklyn Paper broke the news late last week:

The almighty transportation agency has abandoned its ambitious plans to renovate the shabby Fourth Avenue station in Park Slope into a glittering, light-filled, Euro-styled stunner.

Just last November, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority showed off renderings (left) of the elevated F-train platform basking in sunlight from new windows, renovations that were part of a larger project to reconstruct the crumbling elevated tracks on the F and G line between the Carroll Street and Fourth Avenue.

The trackwork is still set to start later this year and finish in 2012. And improvements to the equally beleaguered Smith–Ninth Street station are still slated to begin next year. But the overall $250-million project has been trimmed to $187.8 million, so something had to give, said Deirdre Parker, a spokeswoman for New York City Transit.

“Work on the Fourth Avenue station was never officially funded. Consideration has been deferred until the next capital plan,” Parker said in an e-mail to The Brooklyn Paper. And, yes, that next capital plan will roll around in, oh, 2013.

While the Smith-9th Sts. station will get its much-needed aesthetic overhaul, this news is just another step backwards for an MTA that has spent much of 2008 backtracking on promised upgrades. It’s easy to renege on promises of aesthetic upgrades; they don’t impact train performance. But as many transit rider advocates note in McLaughlin’s article, appearances matter. (Ed Note: See clarification at bottom.)

Meanwhile, I can’t help but fear for the future of other big-ticket items. A whole bunch of Q stops are set for renovation, and various projects — Chambers St. on the BMT Nassaue Line, South Ferry, Bowling Green, to name a few — are in different stages right now. Could these all face the axe as the MTA looks to trim its budget? Are we looking an age in which station aesthetics – already a sore point for the MTA — are sacrificed even further in the name of money?

And then what happens when we start looking at the big-ticket capital projects? Are the Second Ave. Subway and LIRR East Side Access projects in danger?

In the various questions posted to Gene Russianoff on The Times’ City Room blog, more than a few straphangers focused on station aesthetics. As anyone who’s been to London or Paris or Moscow can attest to, New York’s subways are a visual mess, and I fear that, as the pursestrings tighten, this is a situation that will not improve any time soon.

Addendum: Paul Fleuranges, NYC Transit’s Vice President, Corporate Communications, writes in with a clarification and a correction this morning. “There was never any intent to perform a full station rehabilitation of the 4th Avenue station during the Culver Viaduct rehabilitation; as such work is not contained in the funding envelope for this particular capital improvement in the 2005 – 2009 program,” he says.

Instead, the work will include surface reconstruction in a station that has seen parts of its outdoor platform beginning to crumble. The 4th Ave. renderings were simply views of what the station could look like if it were to receive funding in the capital plan that covers 2010-2014.

Categories : MTA Construction
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Much like every other straphanger in the New York area, the Daily News editorial board isn’t too thrilled with the news that another fare hike may head our way next year. The board issues a stridently worded editorial blasting MTA Chair Dale Hemmerdinger and CEO Lee Sander for breaking their fare hike and fiscal promises.

Take a look:

Back in March, the MTA socked riders with another fare hike for subways, buses and commuter rail. The salve was a pledge that there would not be another increase for at least two years.

Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger and CEO Lee Sander promised to get the agency’s fiscal affairs in order. They promised they were starting an orderly program of fare increases: Riders would pony up every other year, with hikes in line with inflation. They promised they would get whatever additional money they needed – and it would be a lot – from state and city governments.

“Trust us,” harrumphed Hemmerdinger and Sander.

And they took the public for a ride. Barely three months after giving their word – and pushing through a hike with the blessings of then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Mayor Bloomberg – the MTA is floating the prospect of another increase as early as next year.

All of a sudden, the agency is broke, suffering from declining revenues while costs are climbing. Real estate-related taxes dedicated to the MTA are plummeting, thanks largely to the subprime crisis. Next year’s budget gap won’t be $220 million, but as much as $700 million.

The editorial ends with an exhortation to Sander and Hemmerdinger to “shoot straighter.”

Now, that’s all well and good except there’s a problem: Sander and Hemmerdinger did shoot straight last year, but they were trumped by then-governor Eliot Spitzer who lessened what would have been a substantial fare hike.

This is not a new story. In November, when Eliot Spitzer spoke out against the fare hike, I lambasted him for ignoring the financial realities of the MTA’s situation, and I wrote about how Spitzer’s pandering was reminiscent of the five-cent fare follies of the early 20th Century. I still think this current debacle is Spitzer’s fault.

To anyone watching our economy and the MTA’s books, disaster was looming in November. The MTA was relying on real estate tax revenues to cover its operating deficit, and Sander routinely stressed, rightly so, that this revenue stream was in danger of drying up as soon as the economy went south. Well, the real estate market went south in a big way, and the MTA is seeing its worst fears realized.

Had the MTA been allowed to implement its desired fare hike at the end of the 2007 instead of Spitzer’s reduced hike proposal, we wouldn’t be discussing a potential 2009 fare hike. As it is, Spitzer’s proposal benefitted cars and tourists more than anything else, and we and the MTA are still paying the price.

Categories : Fare Hikes
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