New York City Comptroller William Thompson holds forth on the MTA as Gene Russianoff, left, and firefighters union head Steve Cassidy, right, look on. (Photo from the Comptroller’s Office)

William Thompson, New York City’s Comptroller, has launched the latest salvo in the ongoing battle between New York officials and the financially-beleaguered MTA.

Speaking Wednesday in the subway station at 14th St. and 8th Ave., Thompson urged the MTA to delay passing its revised capital program amendment featuring millions of dollars of cuts until Richard Ravitch’s commission issues its report on funding the MTA later this year.

“I understand the severity of the MTA’s current financial crisis. Operating budget shortfalls are projected to run into the billions of dollars…The cost of capital projects has mushroomed,” Thompson wrote in a letter to MTA Board Chair Dale Hemmerdinger (PDF). But the MTA should not jump the gun by putting off vital projects before Chairman Ravitch and his colleagues examine the funding situation and issue their recommendations.”

To further stress his point, Thompson invited Steve Cassidy, the president of the Uniformed Firefighters’ Association, to stand with him in the subway yesterday morning. Cassidy leads the firefighters union, and the city’s comptroller is concerned that some of the MTA’s deferred capital improvements could impact firefighters’ safety underground.

“Every one of the New York City Transit projects proposed for deferral — signal upgrades, new buses and subway cars and station rehabilitations — is important,” he wrote. “However, I am especially concerned about the proposal to delay at least $366 million in fan plant projects. Delaying fan plant projects jeopardizes rider, worker and firefighter safety. In its own project descriptions, MTA New York City Transit notes that ‘fan plants enhance safety, especially in the post 9/11 environment’ and that they are vital for the ‘life safety’ of passengers.”

Cassidy support Thompson’s pleas. “Safeguarding riders on the New York City Subway is the responsibility of the MTA and FDNY,” he said. “It is imperative that these upgrades to the emergency ventilation system are carried out immediately to ensure both public and firefighter safety.”

The MTA, however, had a bone to pick with Cassidy and Thompson, long one of the MTA’s most vocal critics on issues concerning both the secrecy surrounding its bookkeeping and the state’s and city’s shirking of their respective financial duties to the transit authority. In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, the MTA defending itself from these charges.

“Every project in the capital program is important, but the proposed deferrals, including several fan plants, are projects that were chosen because they can be delayed without impacting the safety of the system,” read the statement. “All of the MTA’s underwater tunnels are protected with new fan plants in case of emergency, and the MTA continues to invest in other initiatives to significantly reduce the risk of fire and smoke. The MTA’s transportation network is safer than ever, and none of the proposed deferrals put that safety record at risk.”

Meanwhile, the MTA also noted that “delaying the current capital program amendment will force the MTA to halt work on critical projects currently in the plan.” Those projects, of course, include our beloved Second Ave. Subway, the East Side Access Plan, and station renovations throughout the system.

I don’t know the answer to this one, but I have to hope the MTA would not put its passengers and those working to keep New Yorkers safe in danger through capital program deferrals. I do know that the MTA’s financialy doomsday clock continues to inch closer to midnight, and while Thompson may be right in urging the MTA to wait until Ravitch’s report arrives in December, that five-month delay could be too long for an agency so vital to New York’s economic health and so close to its own economic disaster.

Categories : MTA Economics
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In a secluded and idyllic corner of Brooklyn, where South American taco vendors mingle with Fairway-bound foodies, a giant blue box recently opened its doors, and with it came an interesting experiment in public transit.

Just over three weeks ago, the highly-anticipated New York City Ikea opened its doors on the waters of the New York Harbor in Red Hook, New York. Red Hook has escaped the gentrification that has run rampant over the rest of the western sections of Brooklyn largely because the nearest subway stop is a mile away and the buses are never too reliable. But with the Ikea came more public transit options to the area.

As part of their efforts to attract customers while encouraging New Yorkers to avoid driving, Ikea is running free shuttles to various transit-accessible parts of Brooklyn and Water Taxi ferries to and from Lower Manhattan. Well, as New Yorkers — Ikea-bound and otherwise — are rather resourceful people, residents of Brooklyn have taken a liking to the free transit options. Jeff Wilkins of The Daily News explains:

Countless commuters are taking advantage of Ikea’s free bus and ferry – without ever setting foot inside the giant Swedish furniture store that opened last month in the waterfront neighborhood. The posh, coach-style shuttle buses, equipped with footrests, reading lights and music, are quickly becoming popular with travelers tired of shelling out $2 for overcrowded – and, by comparison, uncomfortable – city buses …

The free bus service transports passengers from Red Hook to stops on Court St. and to subway stations at Fourth Ave. and Smith and Ninth Sts. every 15 minutes during store hours.

Thrifty bus riders aren’t the only ones taking advantage of Ikea’s services. City residents are also saving $6 each way and taking the store’s free water taxi to and from Wall Street. “It’s such a nice ride, I’d almost be happy to pay for it,” said Steve Riley, 40, who lives in Park Slope, takes the Ikea bus and then transfers to the Ikea water taxi for his job in SoHo.

Wilkins writes that only eight of the 19 riders on the first shuttle of the day last week were bound for the Swedish furniture store. Two of those folks were employees.

So what does this mean for public transit in New York? Well, at a time when the MTA is increasingly coming under attack from politicians and the public, this news does nothing to bolster the MTA’s case. But is it a call for privatization? Some time this week or next, I’ll have a long post about the future of the MTA, but I’m not sure privatization is ever the way to go. It didn’t work in London; it hasn’t really worked anywhere mainly because public transit doesn’t really turn a profit. The aims of private companies and the goals of public transportation systems are rarely in line with each other.

Rather, the MTA could take a lesson from the comfort and ease of the Ikea Shuttle. Riders want to like their public transit options. They want to be ferried or bused in relative comfort with enough space to sit. They want a reliable and steady schedule, and from the sound of it, they’re willing to pay for that privilege. Perhaps the MTA could use the lessons of the Ikea Shuttle to improve bus service; perhaps the Ikea Shuttle will remain unique among the city’s transit options. Either way, it’s certainly an interesting case study in unintended consequences.

Photo above of the Ikea Shuttle by flickr user the real janelle.

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Once more unto the buses we go. Today’s bus story comes to us via the old reliable Straphangers Campaign. The transit advocacy group has released a report accusing bus service of lagging behind ridership demands, and the MTA isn’t happy about it.

In short, the Straphangers believe that bus riders are getting short-shrifted. “Crushed by crowds? Have to wait for more than one bus to go by? It’s not your imagination, transit officials have never caught up to the waves of new bus riders,” Gene Russianoff, Straphangers Campaign lawyer, said.

Their findings — with raw data available as a PDF table and map — were as follows:

Gains in service lagged behind increases in ridership in three boroughs, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens: In Brooklyn, the gap was more than triple, with ridership increasing 26% since 1997, but service only 8%. In Queens and the Bronx, the gap was 10 percentage points. Ridership was up 24% in the Bronx, but service only 14%. In Queens, ridership increased 30%, but service only 20%.

Gains in service outpaced increases in ridership in two boroughs: In Manhattan, gains in service were slightly more than increases in ridership (15% to 13%). On Staten Island, gains in service outpaced increases in ridership overall (23% to 18%).

Russianoff used the Straphangers’ findings to warn against the possible service cuts the MTA faces in light of budgetary issues. “It makes no sense to cut service that’s already lagging behind ridership and new riders are flocking to transit service as the price of gasoline heads toward $5 a gallon,” he said.

But while the Straphangers leveled their criticisms, New York City Transit swung back. Says their press office:

The Straphangers assertion that our bus customers are being “crushed by crowds” or that customers are “having to wait for more than one bus to go by” does not systemically occur on NYC Transit bus routes. It is equally untrue that NYC Transit has not kept pace with the increase in ridership which resulted from free bus-to-subway transfers and discounted fares. The fact of the matter is that the increase in bus ridership, most of which occurred by the end of 2001, was met with unprecedented increases in bus service.

At the heart of the matter is an assertion by the MTA that bus ridership levels are well within Board-adopted loading guidelines. While NYC Transit stresses this claim, the Straphangers claim that the MTA has long kept these numbers a secret and that their independent research doesn’t jibe with the MTA’s claims. “If New York City Transit’s own checks of ridership show it is providing enough matching levels of bus service, it should publicly release the crowding information on a regular basis,” Russianoff said.

The truth, much like the next bus, is out there somewhere.

Categories : Buses
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Two nights ago, I had the distinct pleasure of driving on some of the worst roads in the area. I had just dropped my parents off at the 4 terminal at Woodlawn so they could journey down to Yankee Stadium, and I had to get our car back to its garage on the Upper West Side. I scooted up the Mosholu Parkway to the Henry Hudson Parkway and drove that lovely road south to 96th St.

For years, that had been my ride back and forth to high school. It was where I cut my driving chops, and by the time I graduated from high school, I could ride that stretch of the Henry Hudson Parkway with my eyes closed (not that I, um, ever did that, mom).

But Sunday’s drive was something special. All around me, cars were driving aggressively. People were speeding, and those going to slow were glaring at the other cars zooming past them. People were switching lanes without signaling; they were speeding up to block other cars from moving in front of them. It was one of the more tense ten-mile drives I’ve ever taken, and I just chalked it up to the general chaos of the too-narrow Henry Hudson Parkway.

On the way back to Brooklyn a few hours later, I observed another odd moment. My 3 train heading down the West Side was largely empty, and those of us on the train had various bags and suitcases from Fourth of July weekends spent outside the cozy confines of the Big Apple. At 34th St., a few more straphangers toting suitcases boarded the train. At this point, most of the train was empty. I was sitting near the middle set of doors with my bags; a couple with their bags was across the aisle from me.

A few minutes later, at Park Place, a woman got on the train at the far set of doors, she walks past about 15 empty seats, audibly sighs and rolls her eyes while stepping over our suitcases before parking herself in front of the set of doors at the opposite end of the train car than those through which she boarded. She then de-trained at Fulton St., one stop later.

Every day, as I ride the train, I see more and more behavior like this. I see people who get flustered when asked politely to move out of the doorways because no one else can enter or exit the train. I see people taking up too many seats; I see healthy young riders ignore older and infirm riders who need a seat. And I hear music; I hear everyone else’s music at volumes so loud as to bother the rest of the train.

After the subway incident on Sunday night, I wondered if I hadn’t imagined a tougher ride down the Henry Hudson a few hours earlier. All around us, New Yorkers are retreating into their isolated worlds, and I wonder where this hostility comes from.

Sure, no one likes to spend more time than they need to on crowded train cars, stiflingly hot platforms or in traffic on the West Side Highway. But we’re all in this together, and if it means stepping over a few suitcases in an empty train car without making a production about, then do so. If it means turning down the iPod volume a few notches, then do so. We’d rather all be at our destinations, but don’t make the trips worse for everyone else. Let’s restore some decency and humanity to our roads and subways. Is that too much to ask?

Above: A sign from Tokyo urges subway riders to practice good riding etiquette. (Photo by flickr user French Disco)

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  • The accuracy of the advisories · Every Friday, I post the MTA’s weekend service advisories, and every weekend, I notice that the MTA’s official announcement of the weekend changes are either incomplete or flat-out wrong. Sometimes, trains go over bridges when they shouldn’t; they run local when they should run express; signs that promise service advisories are wrong while trains run different routes with no signs in sight; and nary a conductor says anything about it.

    I’m not the only one picking up on this; my buddy Chris over at East Village Idiot noted this problem today as well. Disgruntled straphangers, he notes, have taken to editing the MTA’s signs to better reflect the true nature of service changes. As the MTA works to increase communications between HQ and riders, NYC Transit should look to beef up those weekend service advisories. Traveling around on the weekends is tough enough as it is. · (7)

That’s today, folks. So don’t jump that turnstile. And if you want the details on Section 1050.4 of the MTA NYC Transit Rules of Conduct, click here.

And for the fun of it, City Room’s Sewell Chan details the history of the MTA’s anti-fare-jumping efforts.

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The New York buses are, for better or worse, a begrudgingly accepted part of the transit landscape. Their schedules are unreliable and service is painfully slow on a good day. But as buses go, the last few weeks have been rather momentous.

First, we saw the roll-out of the MTA’s new Select Bus Service. With pre-boarding fare-payment schemes and dedicated bus lanes, New York’s form of bus rapid transit could revitalize a much-maligned mode of transit. The early returns are promising.

Last week, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Mobilizing the Region blog featured an early test-run of the BRT system. Veronica Vanterpool, TSTC’s associate director, noted that the BRT measures shaved 17 minutes off of her cross-Bronx commute. While enforcement efforts and pre-boarding confusion plagued the ride, Vanterpool believes that, as the system matures, it will become even more efficient. Score one for the good news.

Concurrently, Streetblog’s Brad Aaron pondered how New York City should beef up BRT enforcement. While we have blamed David Gantt for shooting down camera-enforced lanes, Aaron argues that New York should follow Europe’s lead and implement dedicated lines by way of concrete dividers. As these dividers have done with the 9th Ave. bike lane, permanent concrete structures will keep drivers out for good, cameras or not. Sign me up.

And then, on Friday, New York City Transit sneaked out another bus-related story while no one was paying attention. The agency released the Express Bus Rider Report Cards, and as riders were wont to do with the subways, bus service received a C grade. As you might expect, bus riders were most critical of the wait times between buses, the accuracy of schedules and seat availability. If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty, all the details are availabe here as a PDF.

I don’t believe these bus grades can come as a surprise. Bus service across the board is unreliable in the city at best. Buses run at the whim of traffic, and the posted schedules are reliable only as a tool to help potential riders determine how long it should be between buses. The Express Bus service is supposed to be more reliable than the local service, and when the regular bus line report cards hit, I’m sure riders will have similar complaints.

Right now, New Yorkers could use a good bus service, but it seems that buses are viewed as a measure of last resort. If it’s raining, take the bus but only if it’s there. Friends of mine who are new to the city never really learn the bus system, and even life-long New Yorkers use the buses reluctantly. The Select Bus Service is a start, but as the rider report card results show, MTA Bus, now under the umbrella of NYC Transit, has a long way to go.

Categories : Buses
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I’m out of town for the long weekend, and most people are too busy BBQing on Friday to worry about transit news. So without further ado, let’s jump into the weekend.

On Friday, July 4, NYC Transit will be running trains on a Sunday schedule. For information on viewing the fireworks, click here. Once the fireworks are over, NYC Transit will run extra trains on the C, F, L, 3 and 5 trains as well as the 42nd St. Shuttle.

From 12:01 a.m. to 7 a.m. on Saturday, July 5, from 12:01 a.m. to 8 a.m. on Sunday, July 6, and from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. on Monday, July 7, uptown 1 trains skip 103, 110, 116 and 125 Sts. For service to these stations, transfer to a downtown 1 train at 125 St.

From 12:01 a.m. on Friday, July 5 to 5 a.m. on Monday, July 7, Manhattan-bound 2 trains run express from Gun Hill Road to East 180 St. For service to stations in between, transfer to a Wakefield/241 St.-bound 2 train at East 180 St.

From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, July 5 and Sunday, July 6, 3 trains run in two sections:

  1. Between 148 St. and Utica Ave.
  2. Between Utica and New Lots Avs

From 12:01 a.m. on Friday, July 4, to 5 a.m., Monday, July 7, there are no 5 trains between 149 and East 180 Sts. For service to stations in between, take the 2 train instead.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. on Saturday, July 5, Manhattan-bound 6 trains run express from Hunts Point Ave. to Third Ave. For service to stations in between, transfer to a Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 train at Third Ave.

From 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, July 5 to 5 a.m. on Monday, July 7, Flushing-bound 7 trains skip 82, 90, 103, and 111 Sts. For service to these stations, transfer to a Manhattan-bound 7 at Willets Pt-Shea Stadium.

From 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. on Sunday, July 6 and Monday, July 7, Manhattan-bound F trains run on the A from Jay to West 4 Sts. For service to stations in between, transfer to a Brooklyn-bound F at West 4th St.

From 8:30 p.m. on Friday, July 4 to 5 a.m. on Monday, July 7, there are no G trains between 71-Continental Avs and Court Sq. Take the E or R instead.

From 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, July 5, to 5 a.m. on Monday, July 7, Brooklyn-bound N trains make all local stops from 57 St, Manhattan to 59 St, Brooklyn.

From 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, July 5 to 5 a.m. on Monday July 7, Manhattan-bound N trains run on the D from Stillwell Av to 36 St. For service to stations along the N line, transfer to a Coney Island-bound N train at 36th St.

From 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, July 5, to 5 a.m. on Monday, July 7, all Q trains run local between 57th and Canal Sts.

From 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, July 5, to 5 a.m. on Monday, July 7, Manhattan-bound R trains run on the V from Queens Plaza to Broadway-Lafayette St, then over the Manhattan Bridge to DeKalb Ave.

Categories : Service Advisories
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