Londoners are very possessive about their drinking. They like to drink in pubs; they like to drink at home; and they like to drink on the Tubes on the way home from pubs. That is, they liked to drink on the Tubes until midnight on Saturday night/Sunday morning a new ban on alcohol on the Tubes took effect.

The ban is the product of new Mayor of London Boris Johnson. Johnson, the Conservative candidate, recently beat incumbent Ken Livingstone in what Calvin Trillin called an entertaining election in The New Yorker. Part of Johnson’s campaign was a drive to make London’s public transit system cleaner and safer for employees and non-drunk travelers.

As you could imagine, the general public was not too accepting of the ban when it went into effect late Saturday night. At a party called Last Round on the Underground to commemorate the last chance to drink on the Tubes, revelers went a bit overboard. The BBC reports:

Six London Underground stations were closed as trouble flared when thousands of people marked the banning of alcohol on London transport with a party.

Four tube drivers, three other staff members, and two police officers were assaulted, and there were 17 arrests. Several trains were damaged and withdrawn from service, which led to suspended services.

Drinkers gathered on Tube trains and station concourses for a last drink before the ban came in at midnight. Police said what should have been a fun event came to an “unfortunate” end.

The finger-pointing started pretty early on Sunday morning with union leaders blaming Mayor Johnson. They said the ban was hastily put into place and enforcement measures are not up to par.

In fact, London does not plan to increase patrols in the Tubes. Rather, they are relying on what the BBC has termed a “softly, softly” approach. Other riders and alert Transport for London staffers are supposed to police the ban as best they can. That sounds about as efficient as our beloved MTA.

Now, I’m fairly entertained by this story. During my first trip to London in the spring of 2001, I remember being struck by the prevalence of discarded alcohol containers. There were empty beer bottles all over the Tubes and I didn’t realize during that first trip that it was actually fine to drink on their subways. Here, in New York, people sneak drinks into brown bags and Nalgene bottles.

During a few of my subsequent trips to London, I was always entertained to see how the passengers were on the those final Tube trips as people rushed home from their nights out to catch the last trains back to wherever they’re heading — perhaps to some amusingly named suburbs. People just took the parties with them underground. Imagine that one in New York.

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Earlier this week, the MTA started asking bus riders in Manhattan to grade the borough’s bus system. I’ve written in the past about how I feel this is an exercise in futility, but the MTA wants to see the cold, hard proof.

So get out there, folks. Grade your bus line. Tell New York City Transit Prez Howard Roberts that buses are infuriatingly slow; that the schedules are inaccurate; that walking across town is often just as fast as taking the bus. Get your voice heard and perhaps the MTA can use this cold, hard data to push DOT to implement bus rapid transit lanes through the city. Heaven knows we need them.

Meanwhile, as you are considering whether to rate your driver considerate, the subways are suffering through a typical weekend of service changes. You can find those here or below.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 2, uptown 1 trains skip 103rd, 110th, 116th, and 125th Streets due to track and roadbed reconstruction at 110th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 2, downtown 2 trains replace the 5 from 149th Street-Grand Concourse to Nevins Street. Downtown 5 trains replace the 2 from 149th Street-Grand Concourse to Chambers Street. These changes are due to the Clark Street tunnel lighting project.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 2, there are no 3 trains between 14th Street and New Lots Avenue. In Manhattan, take the downtown 5 or uptown 2. In Brooklyn, take the 4. These changes are due to the Clark Street tunnel lighting project.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 10 p.m. Sunday, June 1, 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 Bronx-bound 6 trains is 125th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 2, there are no C trains between 168th and 145th Streets due to tunnel lighting and structural rehabilitation between 168th and 207th Streets. Customers may take the A train instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 2, free shuttle buses replace trains between 168th and 207th Streets due to tunnel lighting and structural rehabilitation between 168th and 207th Streets. Customers may transfer between the Broadway or Ft. Washington Avenue shuttle buses and the A train at 168th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 2, uptown A and C trains skip Spring, 23rd, and 50th Streets due to station rehabilitation at 59th Street-Columbus Circle.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 2, downtown C trains run express from 145th Street to Canal Street and downtown D trains run on the A line from 135th Street to West 4th Street due to station rehabilitation at 47th-50th Streets-Rockefeller Center.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 2, D trains run in two sections due to station rehabilitation at 47th-50th Streets-Rockefeller Center:
- Between 205th Street and Broadway-Lafayette Street and
- Between Broadway-Lafayette Street and Coney Island Stillwell Avenue

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 1, free shuttle buses replace G trains between Bedford-Nostrand Avs and the A/C/F Jay Street station due to track panel installation between Bergen Street and Bedford-Nostrand Avenues.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, May 31 to 10 p.m. Sunday, June 1, 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, May 31 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 2, Manhattan-bound N trains run on the D line from Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue to 36th Street (Brooklyn) due to track replacement on the 20th Avenue Bridge.

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Crowded subway cars often create bad situations for women, and the vast majority of men know little or nothing about it. Ask your female friends, however, and more than one of them are bound to have stories to tell about fellow straphangers getting a little too close, a little too frisky and a little too touchy-feely during rush hour. It is a sad reality of life in the subways.

But up in Boston, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has launched a campaign aimed at raising awareness of subway groping. They’re trying to combat a problem that has long remained under the radar. Tovia Smith on NPR’s All Things Considered had more on this story last week:

Transit officials in Boston recently launched an aggressive campaign aimed at cracking down on people who take advantage of the tight squeeze on crowded trains. Over the past month, officials say the program has led to a record number of arrests for subway sex assaults…

Transit officials say women usually don’t report groping incidents because they’re embarrassed and don’t believe it will have any effect. So officials have plastered subway cars with nearly a thousand signs urging victims to speak out — and warning potential predators that they are being watched by cameras and by “the grope patrol” of undercover police officers.

The ads — one of which you can see above — urge women to report gropers and warn potential violators that they will be caught. It is a tastefully done and very necessary public awareness campaign. Furthermore, women are being more proactive in reporting groping incidents and many are relying on cell phone cameras to catch perps in the act.

Here in New York, the MTA doesn’t enjoy the same threat of security cameras as the MBTA. While that may change, the MTA takes a very hands off approach to subway groping. Now and then, sexual offenders are caught on camera by vigilant passengers, but more often than not, passengers both male and female are subjected to behavior that they shouldn’t tolerate.

I have to believe that perhaps a similar campaign to that in Boston would be a bit more effective than patrols armed with machine guns. But either way, this is a problem we shouldn’t keep silent any longer.

Categories : MBTA
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All’s well that ends well for E-ZPassgate. This afternoon, the MTA issued a statement about the long-standing practice of issuing free ride perks to their board members. Said the statement:

In light of Attorney General Cuomo’s opinion, the MTA will amend its longstanding practice of issuing free passes on the agency’s transit network to its current and former board members.

Subject to approval of its Board, the MTA would rescind its policy of issuing free lifetime passes on its operating systems to former board members. Hereafter, pursuant to the MTA’s enabling legislation, active board members may only utilize passes on the transit network to the extent that such use constitutes actual and necessary expenses incurred in the performance of their official MTA duties.

I guess the MTA wasn’t so willing to fight to the death for the right to E-ZPass. Now we can go back to worrying about important issues like bedbugs in the subways.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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  • Public transit relieving our gas pains · With gas prices climbing well past the $4-per-gallon mark, Americans are feeling the squeeze. But here in New York, we’re feeling it less than others, reports the New York Post. Why? Because of our extensive public transit network, of course. If only other big cities around the country would follow New York’s lead, our country wouldn’t be so vulnerable to ever-climbing gas prices. [New York Post] · (0)

It’s Day Three of E-ZPassgate. Let’s recap.

On Tuesday, the Daily News reported on the free E-ZPasses for life that MTA board members, current and former, received in exchange for their public service. On Wednesday, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo ordered the MTA to stop, and the MTA magnanimously complied.

Just kidding. The MTA vowed to take the issue to court, and now a state authority and the state’s top lawyer at an impasse.

As details about this ridiculous story have emerged, we’ve developed a clearer picture of the MTA perks. For instance, as William Neuman reports in The Times today, the free E-ZPass rides are valid only on MTA-controlled tolls. The board members have to pay Port Authority tolls out-of-pocket.

Meanwhile, the Daily News noted that public transit perks are included as well. MTA board members receive free lifetime passes for themselves+1 on Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road and free lifetime MetroCards too. Wouldn’t you want to get your hands on a free unlimited ride MetroCard valid forever?

So all this drama got me thinking: What are some of the other unreported MTA perks? One can only wonder…

Free rush hour crowds for life — If any MTA board members want to experience the joys of a crowded commute, they can use their free MetroCards to ride the subways during rush hour. It’s the experience of getting shoved around a packed subway car, and it’s free!

Free Sauna (Summer Only) — If any board members are feeling the strains of a busy day riding around the MTA bridges and tunnels for free, they could always duck into the subways during the summer for a nice sit in the sauna-like conditions underground. It’s a great way to sweat off a few pounds.

Free Waits – This one’s fairly self-explanatory.

So there you have it. Along with all the free stuff the MTA Board members — some of the most successful real estate barons in New York — receive come some great ancillary perks. The rest of us pay $2 (or less) per swipe for this benefits, but these folks can get them for free. I hope they consider that as they fight tooth and nail for the free E-ZPass benefits.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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  • MTA Board ready to fight for their right to E-ZPass · This just keeps getting better and better. While Andrew Cuomo wants the MTA to can the free E-ZPass perks for their current and former board members, the MTA, reports William Neuman at The Times’ City Room blog, is ready and willing to fight Cuomo on the issue.

    MTA Chair Dale Hemmerdinger said, “The practice of providing board members free access to the system they oversee dates back at least to the 1950s. We believe the M.T.A. has acted in a manner fully consistent with the 1992 law referred to by the attorney general…But given the newly stated view of the attorney general which is contrary to the M.T.A. position we are going to seek a declaratory judgment and allow a court to determine whether or not this constitutes compensation.” So the millionaires on the MTA Board will use public money to find out if they can keep their free E-ZPass benefits. This, folks, is why people complain about the MTA’s inefficiency and why I have a category labeled MTA Absurdity. · (2)

When I posted on the MTA Board’s free E-ZPass perk yesterday, a few outraged commenters expressed their disbelief at this overwhelming generosity of a public transportation agency encouraging road use by its current and former board members. Second Ave. Sagas readers aren’t the only ones unhappy by the news; New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo wasn’t pleased by the Daily News report, and he wants the MTA to rescind the free E-ZPasses.

Pete Donohue has the follow-up:

State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo moved swiftly Tuesday to end the E-Z life for MTA board members, warning the authority to revoke the free travel perks. Just hours after the Daily News revealed how some 60 past and present board members – many of them multimillionaires – get the free tags for life, Cuomo’s office issued a stern warning that the practice is illegal.

Cuomo also told the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to produce records of any other benefits doled out to board members who are supposed to “serve without salary or other compensation.”

The letter to the MTA, penned by top Cuomo aide Benjamin Lawsky, was titled “Illegal Compensation of Board Members.”

While the MTA has yet to respond to Cuomo’s missive, Straphangers Campaign head Gene Russianoff had some strong words for the agency. “If participation on the MTA board is uncompensated and motivated by public service, then it should be uncompensated,” he said. “If the MTA wants to say thank you, maybe they should give flowers and some chocolates to board members, not an E-ZPass worth many thousands of dollars.”

Hear, hear.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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Over the past twenty years, New Yorkers have seen their subway fares increase by 100 percent from a base fare of $1.00 in 1988 to the $2.00 we pay today. Meanwhile, fines for breaking the subway rules have stagnated, and a perp caught jumping the turnstile today pays the same $60 today as he or she would have doled out in 1988. Now, considering law-abiding passengers are getting held up for more money, those fines just don’t seem, well, fair.

At least, that’s what New York City Transit thinks, and the agency is trying to increase fines levied on everything from subway vandalism to fare-jumpers and weapons charges. Brooke Naylor and Pete Donohue had more in the Daily News:

Fines for all bus and subway rule violations will likely go up, some doubling to $200, the Daily News has learned. Smoking, littering, vandalism, taking up two seats – you name it – NYC Transit wants the fines to go up since they haven’t risen in two decades.

NYC Transit President Howard Roberts on Thursday said he wants a stiffer penalty for fare-beating to serve as a deterrent. One source said fare-beating fines – now $60 – likely will be upped to roughly $100.

Sources said the authority is drafting higher penalties for all 45 types or categories of violations. Roberts said he’d like to double the maximum penalty of $100 now applied to four offenses: vandalism/obstructing train or bus traffic, committing “harmful acts,” carrying weapons and carrying explosives.

According to Naylor and Donohue, the MTA board will have to approve the higher fines, and some may require legislative action as well. It’s hard to see anyone voting against higher fines for quality-of-life violations in the subway.

While the MTA is doing all it can to draw in more revenue from the limited options available to it, this move seems to me like a no-brainer. And I can only wonder why it’s taken the transportation authority twenty years to act on this issue. After all, $60 in the 1988 is now worth nearly $109. We’re letting fare-jumpers off cheap these days.

Recycled MetroCard artwork photo by flickr user

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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Peter Kalikow may be, thankfully, gone from his post atop the MTA Board, but he’s still irking subway watchers in New York City.

According to a report in today’s Daily News, Kalikow is just one of many current and former MTA board members enjoying free E-ZPass tags for life at the expense of New York City taxpayers. But Kalikow’s case is extra special: He gets tags for eight of his 40 cars so he doesn’t have to switch out tags based on whatever it is the former public transit official is driving.

Pete Donohue reports:

The former chairman isn’t the only member of the MTA millionaires club who takes advantage of the freebie. As of early May, 21 board members held 33 tags, and MTA records show 37 former board members have 62 passes.

Board Vice Chairman David Mack, a real estate magnate, has six of the special E-ZPass tags, which are orange, not white, like those on windshields of paying customers.

Fellow board Vice Chairman Andrew Saul, director of a national chain of apparel stores, has four tags, according to records provided by the MTA under the Freedom of Information Act. Mack has 11 cars, his assistant said. Saul, as is his custom, didn’t return a reporter’s telephone call.

“When riders learn about these free all-you-can-drive passes, they become very skeptical about an MTA board that decides the cost of a MetroCard or how much subway service they get,” said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign.

Of course, the MTA board members see nothing wrong with the perks. “Everybody on the board serves for nothing,” Kalikow said. “They do a lot of hard work and it’s a way of saying thank you.”

That’s quite the thank you note.

Now, I can understand giving perks to those people who have served the city in a public transportation capacity. Free MetroCards for life would encourage mass transit use. A singular E-ZPass per board member would seem reasonable if less desirable for the anti-car contingency.

But at a time when the MTA is searching for cash and the agency stands to benefit more from having fewer cars on the road, rewarding multi-millionaires with free E-ZPasses for life for more than one car per person seems a bit excessive to me.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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