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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Getting across town in Manhattan is something of a nightmare. While buses run down the major thoroughfares fairly frequently, it’s often faster to walk from one end of the island to the other than it is to sit in crushing traffic while on a bus.

To that end, the Regional Plan Association thinks they have a solution: Eliminate fares on crosstown buses. The logic is really quite simple. Most riders on crosstown buses will eventually pay for a connecting subway ride, and by eliminating the fare, the MTA would speed up travel times to the point that the agency wouldn’t really be losing money.

Pete Donohue first reported on this proposal in the Daily News last week:

Eliminate [the fare] process on routes like the M34 and the M42, on 34th and 42nd Sts., and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority still might not absorb a big loss, according to the Regional Plan Association…

For most crosstown bus riders, the trip is just one leg of a larger one that includes the subway. Transfers between the buses and subway trains are free. So, bus riders can simply get on without paying, according to an association report on possible mass transit upgrades.

“Most of the people riding those buses are taking the train, so you capture the revenue anyway,” said Jeffrey Zupan, senior transportation fellow at the association. Any revenue losses probably would be offset by improved efficiency, Zupan said. Bus trips would become quicker, meaning fewer buses would be needed.

I’d have to see the numbers, but it sounds like a good plan. Of course, with money tight and a fare hike on tap for 2009, the MTA probably won’t institute a measure that would, in the short term, result in less revenue for the agency. The authority is more likely to explore pre-boarding fare payment options.

Still, ideas like these could help improve surface transit in the five boroughs. Until New York can adequately enforce bus-only lanes, proposals from the RPA and other like-minded organizations should get their days in the sun.

Categories : Buses
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Weekend Service Advisories

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You know the drill. Nothing too unexpected this week, but remember that downtown trains are still skipping 96th St. on the West Side IRT.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, uptown 1 trains skip 50th, 59th, and 66th Streets due to 59th Street-Columbus Circle station rehabilitation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, downtown 1 trains skip 96th Street due to station rehabilitation work.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday. October 20, Brooklyn-bound 2, 3 and 4 trains skip Bergen Street, Grand Army Plaza and Eastern Parkway due to station painting at Grand Army Plaza.

From 12:30 a.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday, October 18, from 12:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday, October 19 and from 12:30 a.m. to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, there are no 3 trains running due to a track chip-out north of 135th Street station. Free shuttle buses and 2 trains provide alternate service.

From 5 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 10 p.m. Sunday, October 19, there are no 4 trains between Woodlawn and 161st Street-Yankee Stadium due to electric work. Free shuttle buses replace 4 trains between Woodlawn 4 and Bedford Park Blvd. D stations

From 6 a.m. Saturday October 18 to 10 p.m. Sunday October 19, 7 trains run in two sections due to switch renewal north of Willets Point station:

  • Between Flushing-Main Street and Willets Point-Shea Stadium and
  • Between Willets Point-Shea Stadium and Times Square-42nd Street

The train between Flushing-Main Street and Willets Point will run every 12 minutes.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, free shuttle buses replace A trains between 168th and 207th Streets due to 168th Street tunnel lighting. Customers may transfer between the Broadway and Ft. Washington Avenue shuttle buses and the A train at 168th Street. There is no C train service between 145th Street and 168th Street. Customers should take the A instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, Queens-bound
A and C trains run express from Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts. to Utica Avenue due to station painting at Utica Avenue.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, uptown A trains skip Spring, 23rd and 50th Streets due to cable work north of Canal Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, uptown C trains run express from Canal to 145th Streets due to ADA work at 47th-50th Sts/Rockefeller Center.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, uptown D trains run local on the C from West 4th to 59th Streets due to ADA work at 47th-50th Sts/Rockefeller Center.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, uptown E trains skip Spring and 23rd Streets due to cable work north of Canal Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18, to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, free shuttle buses replace E trains between Jamaica Center and Union Turnpike due to preparation for tunnel work.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, Manhattan-bound F trains skip Ft. Hamilton Parkway, 15th Street-Prospect Park, and 4th Avenue due to cable work north of Ditmas Blvd.

From 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, October 17-20, Manhattan-bound F trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to 21st Street-Queensbridge due to completion of track-chip out north of Queens Plaza.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, October 17 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Long Island City-Court Square due to Lawrence Street station rehabilitation and construction of the underground connector. Customers should take the E or R instead.

From 1 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, J trains run in two sections due to station painting at Canal Street:

  • Between Jamaica Center and Essex Street and
  • Between Essex and Chambers Street

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20 (until October 27), free shuttle buses replace L trains between Canarsie-Rockaway Parkway and Myrtle-Wyckoff Avs. due to removal of the old concrete roadbed at Bushwick Avenue-Aberdeen Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, N and R trains rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge between DeKalb Avenue and Canal Street due to Lawrence Street station rehabilitation and construction of the underground connector.

From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, October 18 and Sunday, October19, Q trains run in two sections due to rail and track plate renewal:

  • Between 57th Street and Brighton Beach and
  • Between Brighton Beach and Stillwell Avenue

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 18 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 20, Manhattan-bound Q trains skip Neck Road and Avenue U due to station rehabilitations.

Categories : Service Advisories
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It’s beginning to look a lot like a Metro-North stop. (Photo courtesy of the MTA)

In a few months, when the new Yankee Stadium opens, the MTA will debut its latest addition to Metro-North: a stop at Yankee Stadium.

Yesterday, the authority released a bunch of pictures of the ongoing construction. The pedestrian bridge is coming along; the platforms are staircases are rounding into shape. But a major question remains on the fares the MTA will charge for this quick ride from Grand Central to Yankee Stadium.

To that end, the commuter railroad would like to hold a hearing to set the fare. The MTA’s press release fills us in:

Fares from Grand Central and Harlem-125th Street and from suburban Hudson Line stations would be the same as existing fares to and from all other Hudson Line Bronx stations.

Metro-North also will introduce new “via” fares for travel to the new station for Harlem and New Haven Line stations. These via fares will consist of the already established one-way fare to Manhattan plus a small additional amount for the portion of the trip between Manhattan and the new station. Metro-North is proposing an additional $1.00 for all peak one-way fares and 75 cents for all one-way off-peak fares.

The new station will be open year round serving both the neighborhood and baseball fans attending the ball games. Metro-North also proposes to honor CityTickets for weekend travel between the new station and both Grand Central and Harlem-125th Street. CityTicket is a special, $3.25, weekend-only fare for travel on Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road within New York City limits.

I wonder if Metro-North would consider variable pricing for trains around game time. They could alternately charge less for access to Yankee Stadium in an effort to discourage driving and encourage rail use. Or they could charge more for Yankee Stadium-bound trains as a way to capture additional revenue during extreme peak hours.

In the end, the MTA will probably just adopt the fare recommendations set forth by Metro-North. The hearing will take place on Monday, November 17, at 6 p.m. at the office of the Bronx District Attorney just up the block from Yankee Stadium.

Categories : Metro-North
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The MTA may be facing a cash-flow shortage over the next few months.

Earlier this week, amidst a collapsing economy, the MTA issues a $500 million bond request. The cash-strapped transportation agency had hoped to generate cash flow by selling off bonds. This money was destined for high-profile, big-ticket projects such as the Second Ave. Subway.

Well, it turns out that the middle of an economic crash is not a good time to attempt a bond issue. According to WNYC, the MTA has already scaled back its request by $300 million, and it’s unclear how this turn of events will impact the transit authority and its bottom line. WNYC has more:

The turmoil in the bond market has forced the MTA to rethink a half-billion dollar bond issue.

The transit agency delayed selling the bonds for two days because of weak demand. This morning, it got into the market, but reduced the amount it wanted to borrow to $200 million.

The bond’s high-yielding interest rate — up to 6.5 percent — will force the transit agency to devote more of its budget to financing costs, but it’s too early to say how much. The MTA’s Gary Dellaverson says he assesses the market every day to determine when to put the other $300 million worth of bonds on sale.

Dellaverson issued a cautious warning. “If it were to be a long-term condition, it would be something of great concern because MTA relies heavily on the bond market to finance its capital projects,” he said.

In the short term, Dellaverson will keep his eyes open for a better time to issue the other $300 million in bond requests the MTA would like to fulfill. In the meantime, though, this MTA will be hoping for a break in the market. Any delay in this bond issue could result in a slowdowns in construction on the East Side or the 7 Line extension, and we could be in for yet another delay in the long and tragic history of the subway along Second Ave.

Categories : MTA Economics
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