- Ephemeral New York, quickly rising on my list of new favorite blogs, remembers the subway token, five years after its demise.
- Pardon Me For Asking clues us in as to why MTA paint jobs at stations seem to move at glacially slow paces. (Related SAS posts here and here.)
- Check out the new-to-me blog The Daily Commuter. The writer is a fellow native New Yorker, and she spends over 90 minutes a day riding the MTA.
- Trainjotting wonders why a group is advocating Irish-language translations for subway signs.
- And heading outside of New York, check out Greater Greater Washington for some of the many urban challenges facing our Nation’s Capital. David Alpert burns a lot of pixels writing about the WMATA and the DC Metro.
- Kate Slevin at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Mobilizing the Region blog suggests seven ways in which the MTA can start to restore some credibility. Her suggestions should be considered and implemented by an increasingly beleaguered transportation agency.
Thursday will long be a day that David Mack tries to forget.
It started out with a ridiculous and clueless comment about the potential end of the MTA Board perks. Mack decided to share his belief that he, an MTA Board member tasked with improving public transportation, is inconvenienced by public transit and would cut back on his five to ten trips a year on LIRR if he were to lose his free ride privilege. This is, of course, came from the mouth of a multimillionaire real estate developer.
As shocked transit advocates and various officials picked up the story, Mack’s comments and the fact that the MTA Board would potentially vote down MTA Chair Dale Hemmerdinger’s proposal to curb the perks program snowballed. During the day, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, already on record as skeptical of the legality of the perks, announced his intentions to take the MTA Board to court to force a resolution to this issue. Gov. David Patterson chimed in as well, expressing his deep disappointment and anger with the MTA Board over this issue.
And then, Mack caved in. He released the following statement (via The Daily Politics):
“I regret that my comments yesterday did not reflect my commitment to the MTA and the work it does to provide the best public transportation system in the United States. My colleagues on the board are dedicated to keeping fares low, services efficient and continue to look for ways to make improvements to the system. I am proud to serve on this board, and I support Chairman Hemmerdinger and his policies. I plan to vote next week in support of changing our policies so that free passes for our transportation systems are used only by current board members, who are on official MTA business.”
So what happened? Well, clearly some combination of Patterson’s extreme displeasure and Cuomo’s legal maneuverings caused Mack to have a change of heart. But at this point, I’m not inclined to believe the sincerity of the words coming of his mouth, and I don’t believe he’s serving the MTA Board in good faith. I don’t see how we can trust him to be one of the key people in charge of transit policy for the nearly 18,000,000 Metropolitan Area residents relying on the MTA for their transit needs.
In the end, this problem runs deeper than Mack. In fact, loyal SAS reader Boris, in a comment here yesterday, nailed it: “It is appropriate for a for-profit corporation to have rich people on its board, because they know something about money and help the company make more of it. But the point of the MTA, as only a few of the MTA board members understand, apparently, is not to make money, but to provide transit services. This is the problem here.”
One day, something will give. The MTA Board needs an overhaul, but I don’t think Gov. Patterson is in a position to begin a takeover. Perhaps the pro-transit forces on the board — the knowledgeable people who have faith in transit and aren’t Pataki-era kickback appointees — can force out some of the board members who have less than pure motives for holding their board seats. None of this, however, will happen overnight.
For now, we’ll just have to be satisfied with the end of E-ZPass-gate and watch as the MTA Board votes down their own free perks. I hope Mr. Mack can manage those train fares once every five and a half weeks.
Updating this morning’s item on the end of the planned service upgrades, it seems that the Daily News sources weren’t 100 percent correct. According to The Times’ William Neuman, the MTA and New York City Transit will go ahead with $4.5 million worth of service upgrades. It’s better than nothing, right?
Extra service, sometimes in small increments, sometimes in larger ways, will be added to nine subway lines in July, according to information distributed to the authority’s board this week.
The changes include having the B and W trains run until 11 p.m. on weekdays, an hour and a half later than they currently run. And the No. 3 train, which currently shuts down from midnight to 5 a.m., would run during those hours between Times Square and 148th Street.
The changes will cost about $4.5 million for the remainder of this year and $8.9 million a year after that. They require approval by the authority’s board, which meets next week.
While I’m still working on getting the exact details of the service upgrades, Neuman reports that the “1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, B, J, M, N, Q, W and the shuttle between Times Square and Grand Central Terminal” will see additional service. Noticeably absent are the promised service expansions along the IND Crosstown line, more commonly known as the G train.
The original service expansion plans called for increases across the board in the region. However, service increases for buses, the LIRR and Metro-North have since been scraped. Even worse, in some ways, though, are the sources of the money for this increase. The MTA says it will cut administrative costs (good) and subway car cleaning costs (bad).
In the end, this move seems like a PR effort. The MTA was getting slammed for raising the fares without extending service. So they’ve reshuffled some funds to extend service. Whether we’ll notice the dirtier subway cars, I do not know, but I’m not complaining about added service along train lines upon which I rely on a daily basis.
During E-ZPass-gate three weeks ago, shortly before seeing their free perks disappear, the ever-generous MTA Board vowed to fight to the death for their E-ZPasses and the various sundry perks these men and women, some of the richest in the city, enjoy.
Well, it’s good to see that the Board is staying true to its word, for once. They won’t give us our promised service upgrades, but they will battle tooth and nail for some free rides. Now, while I’d usually just post this story as an aside, a few choice quotes were too good to ignore.
In The Times today, William Neuman reports that the MTA Board is divided over the perks issue. The responsible board members want to eliminate the perks; the usually self-important folks want to keep them around. The pro-perks faction is led by David S. Mack, a very rich man, and the MTA’s Vice Chair and chair of a few Long Island-focused committees.
And what did Mr. Mack have to say? Take a look:
Mr. Mack said that it was important for board members to be familiar with the transportation system they oversaw and that free travel passes encouraged that. In their trips through the system, board members frequently notice problems that can be corrected swiftly with a phone call, he said.
“We’re invaluable,” Mr. Mack said…“If you saw something and called it in, it goes right there,” he added, as he put his foot on top of a wastebasket. “When the normal public calls it in, you know what happens with the bureaucracy, they don’t get the response that a board member would get.”
Now, that sounds positively altruistic from Mack. He rides the trains! He sees something, says something and results happen. You would think, then, that Mr. Mack is a regular rider on his trains. Not quite, reports Neuman:
But Mr. Mack, a Long Island resident who says he typically rides the railroad 5 to 10 times a year, said that if he had to pay, he might change his habits.
“Why should I ride and inconvenience myself when I can ride in a car?” he said.
No, you’re not reading this incorrectly. David S. Mack, a man so rich that he has a sports complex at Hofstra with his name on it, is complaining about having to pay to ride the rails five to ten times a year. A YEAR! I ride the subways ten times in a normal four-day period. Cry me a river, David.
With a few anonymous board members noting that no one on the board actually needs those free passes, I have to wonder just how indicative Mack is of the general state of the MTA Board. I know that Dale Hemmerdinger and Elliot Sander know what they’re doing, but does anyone else? Or is the Board populated with people as out of touch with the transportation network and the riding habits of the people who rely on it day in and day out as Mack is? No wonder the MTA is a huge a financial bind right now.
Update 12:10 p.m.: Eric Gioia — yes, that Eric Gioia — has released a statement about this debacle:
“Vice Chairman Mack should either clarify his statement or resign. With sentiment like that it is no wonder that the MTA is in such dire straits. His comments represent an absolute disdain for the very entity which serves millions of hardworking New Yorker every day who don’t have a choice to just ‘take their car.’ This sense of entitlement and contemptuous thinking is what leads New Yorkers to rightly ask who is on their side at MTA headquarters.”
Gioia is spot-on right in this matter. At least someone is trying to hold this MTA Board accountable.
Ah, December. Remember how enthusiastic and naïve we were when the MTA told us that along with the fare hike, New Yorkers would enjoy much-needed service upgrades as well? Those were the days.
Pete Donohue reports:
The cash-strapped will not launch a $60 million service improvement package because it doesn’t have the money, the Daily News has learned.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority last year unveiled plans that included more frequent bus, subway and commuter trains to soften the blow of fare hikes. The program was to be launched in phases starting this summer – if the authority could afford it.
It can’t, sources said.
“A final decision won’t be made on the enhancements until we report June revenue numbers next week, but revenues would have to turn around significantly as we are already $80 million behind in real estate taxes alone,” MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said.
On the one hand, I’m sympathetic to the MTA’s financial plight. The agency has long been screwed over by Albany with the congestion pricing debacle just the most recent in a long line of injustices. Its biggest source of dedicated revenue — real estate taxes — is at the mercy of the housing market, and the agency is trying to meet the demands of a 21st Century city without nearly enough money.
But on the other hand, the public was somewhat more accepting of this most recent fare hike because we were going to get more service. Under-served lines were supposed to see more trains and more frequent service, and now, straphangers will see nothing but another fare hike in 2009 with empty promises behind that one too. No one will be held accountable.
Meanwhile, all of these upgrades was supposed to cost, when first reported in December, $16 million this year and $46 million next year. Now, the MTA is saying that these upgrades would cost $30 million this year and $60 million next year. That’s a $16 million-per-year increase in the span of six months. The U.S. economy just isn’t that bad, and I’m not alone in nothing that these flexible numbers are rather perturbing.
Token chocolates, above, available at the Transit Museum store.
Rochester, New York, is so far away from New York City that a search for directions on Google offers up flight information before it provides driving instructions. Rochester, New York, is so far away from New York City that Google recommends a three-state drive that covers 333 miles and would take nearly six hours without traffic.
So it’s just another indication of how horribly inept New York State politics are that a Rochester representative to the New York State Assembly is now responsible for the fact that this city won’t be getting a viable method of enforcing bus rapid transit lanes any time soon. Gantt’s committee defeated a bill passed by the City Council with a home-rule endorsement that would have allowed the city to use cameras for BRT lane violation enforcement efforts.
Streetsblog’s Ben Fried has the skinny on this outrageous story:
Legislation central to New York City’s implementation of Bus Rapid Transit died in Albany yesterday, when the State Assembly transportation committee, chaired by Rochester Democrat David Gantt, defeated a bill authorizing bus-mounted enforcement cameras by a narrow 14-11 vote. Another traffic enforcement bill, which makes it easier to issue tickets for blocking the box, did make it through the committee.
“It’s really outrageous that after a year of pretty unanimous agreement about New York’s congestion problem, that all we’re left with is don’t block the box,” said Wiley Norvell of Transportation Alternatives. “It’s pretty sad when that’s the best Albany can do.”
Without bus-mounted enforcement cameras, which have proven successful in London, getting transit up to speed on DOT’s five planned BRT routes faces significant hurdles. “It’s going to make it a lot harder to move buses faster through the city, without camera enforcement of the lanes,” said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign. “It’s going to hurt this experiment with Select Bus Service.”
While Gantt hasn’t — and probably won’t — return calls to Streetsblog, his own logical reasoning is being torn apart in the New York press. As Fried notes, the NYCLU had already addressed civil liberties concerns. And as the Daily News opined today, Gantt’s efforts show a clear personal bias: “Gantt is lead sponsor of a bill tailor-made to promote the technology of his pal’s client – while blocking Bloomberg and elected officials in other jurisdictions from using cameras provided by different vendors.” His faux concerns over civil liberties are, in other words, a load of garbage.
More infuriating however is that, much like the doomed congestion pricing bill, the committee did a quick show-of-hands vote before killing this bill. Yet again, some upstate politician so far removed from the reality of life in New York City has affected our roads, our public transportation policy and our quality of life.
In the end, New York City is at the mercy of people who have other interests and don’t live in the city. These are people who don’t know why we need bus rapid transit and aren’t content to let New York City’s own Council determine the appropriate courses of action. Instead, they’re happy to reap the economic benefits of New York City while utterly depriving the residents of much-needed transportation solutions such as bus rapid transit lanes. Last time, we had Sheldon Silver — a Manhattan-based representative — to thank; this time, we’ve got David F. Gantt.
At some point, these shenanigans have got to stop. As I’m just left annoyed and wondering when some real leadership will land in the state of assembly, can New York City secede in the meantime?
DN: MTA raise shows an agency out of touch· While Elliot Sander’s recent $10,000 package raise was largely symbolic, the timing, as I argued yesterday, could hardly have been worse. Today, the Daily News editorial board takes the MTA to task for approving the raise. Sure, Sander could have jumped to the private sector; sure, he’s not compensated as well as other transit heads. But when the MTA is rolling back promised service upgrades (more on that in a bit) and generally crying poverty, the time is not ripe for a high-profile raise no matter how small. [Daily News] · (0)
The most useful poster nowhere to be found. (Courtesy of Vignelli Associates. Click to enlarge.)
In 1966, the newly formed Metropolitan Transportation Authority was busy planning for its subway system takeover, still two years away. Within the five boroughs, the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Authority, as it was originally called, faced the challenge of rebranding a subway system that was, in parts, over six decades old.
At the time, the subways were a mishmash of signs and fonts. It was a graphics design nightmare. Signage left over from when the subways were run by competing corporations — the Interborough Rapid Transit company and the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Company — and the city’s own Independent Subway System dominated the tunnels and clashed with each other. There was no consistency to it, no unique identity.
To remedy this problem, the MTA turned to Massimo Vignelli, one of the foremost Modernist designers of the era. While Vignelli would come to fame and infamy in New York due to his artistic but confusing subway map, the system still relies on signage and graphics he designed over four decades ago.
Taking a modular approach to subway signs, Vignelli used a clear Sans Serif font — Akzidenz-Grotesk, a cousin of the popular Helevtica — and designed the familiar paneled signs that could be manipulated to present everything from line route information to station identification. While Vignelli’s original designs were white with black lettering, vandals armed with spray paint quickly defaced these signs, and the MTA adopted the familiar white-on-black signs we know today.
As I was poking around the Vignelli Associates Web site recently, I came upon a partial representation of one of Vignelli’s signs that you see above. I did a double-take when I saw it simply because it is exactly what the New York City subway system is missing.
Allow me to present a familiar scene. A large family, clearly not from New York, is huddled near the token booth trying to make heads or tails of the subway map. They’re at Grand St. in Chinatown; they need to get to the Upper West Side to visit their daughter at Columbia; and it’s Saturday. They can’t tell which trains are running where, what to transfer to or how to go.
Enter this long-lost Vignelli sign posted above. Adaptable to individual stations, this sign explicitly lays out how to get from that point of entry to any other major station in the system. Using two columns — one labeled “Destination,” the other “How to get there” — this sign is a textbook example of an easy and direct way to present complicated information. Suddenly, the tourists don’t need to decipher a map; they can read a sentence instructing them to take an uptown D to 59th St./Columbus Circle, where they can switch to a 1 train making local stops through the Upper West Side. Easy as pie.
Why the MTA (or, in this case, New York City Transit) doesn’t employ signs such as these in popular stations is a question I will have to research. It wouldn’t be too hard to stick these types of signs up in tourist hot spots with directions to other major New York City destinations, and, in fact, it’s easy to group stations served by the same line in nearby neighborhoods as well.
It’s a testament to Vignelli’s abilities that his designs have withstood four decades of time. They still look good in the subways today, and his designs are evocative of the New York subway system. Perhaps then we should bring back one of his earlier ideas; it’s much easier to read a sign telling riders “how to get there” then it is to decode the subway map.
While the MTA is crying poverty and threatening fare hikes and service cutbacks, the Authority is also doling out raises to its executives. According to a report in the Daily News, MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger has authorized what Pete Donohue termed “a $10,000 boost” to CEO Elliot “Lee” Sander’s compensation package.
Hemmerdinger attempting to defend the move, noting that Sander’s $340,000 annual salary is low. “I approved a 3% increase for the executive director/CEO, equal to increases earned by the management that reports to him. Lee is still paid less than the heads of smaller transit agencies in Washington and Los Angeles, and far less than what he would earn in the private sector,” he said in a statement.
The reality of the situation is that $10,000 isn’t going to make or break an agency looking at annual deficits of hundreds of millions of dollars, and Sander has done an excellent job looking to the MTA’s future while negotiating the tough financial constraints of the present. But at a time when the authority is practically begging for a money, a high-profile raise no matter how small isn’t the right message to send to the fare-paying public or the legislatures holding the purse strings.
Over five months ago — an eternity in the world of construction — Mysore Nagaraja left his post as head of MTA Capital Construction. Since then, the MTA has soldiered on with an interim head in place; Veronique Hakim is still just the acting head of the construction agency.
Now, however, this turmoil at the top has the feds worrying that the MTA is falling behind on their big-ticket items such as the Second Ave. Subway and the LIRR East Side Access project. The news just keeps getting worse for the MTA, and the future for a few much-needed expansion plans remains murky.
Pete Donohue had more about the feds’ concerns:
The Federal Transit Administration is concerned that major MTA construction projects could be mucked up because the authority hasn’t filled high-level management positions, the Daily News has learned.
“Several key positions,” including Capital Construction president, “continue to be filled on a temporary basis and other key positions are still vacant,” FTA monitors wrote in an April report in a section titled Major Issues/Problems.
Later in the report, which focuses on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s extension of the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal, the feds observe that an MTA-hired consultant “continues to stress the importance for [the MTA] to fill these positions as soon as possible to properly manage a project of this magnitude.”
The Daily News also notes that the project’s completion date is now 2015, two years late, and that the plan is now $1 billion over budget. Somehow, that’s less surprising than it should be.
For their part, the MTA says a new Capital Construction head will be forthcoming, and that person couldn’t arrive soon enough. With their finances in turmoil, the MTA can’t allow their on-going and federally-supported construction projects to fall further behind. The agency needs the continued support of the feds, and New Yorkers need these expansion plans to become a reality.