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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Three days ago, the MTA dropped the news that a second fare hike may become a reality in 2009. Lost in the news on Friday were some alarming reports about the state of the MTA’s capital plan.

In discussing the financial state of the transportation authority, Mayor Bloomberg dropped a bit of a bombshell about the MTA’s construction plans. Pete Donohue repoted on Mayor Mike’s statement:

Mayor Bloomberg warned Friday that straphangers could face another fare hike next year – and said the city is broke and can’t help.

The mayor also said the MTA’s construction plan is in “shambles,” and he slammed state lawmakers for sinking his congestion pricing plan – which would have raised transit money.

“I think there is a very good likelihood that we are going to have to face the issue of a fare increase or something else,” Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show. “The city doesn’t have any money to give. We are out of money.”

We know about the fare hike, but we hadn’t heard about the problems facing the MTA’s construction plans. For a while, rumors have swirled about the state of the progress on the MTA’s big-ticket items. Observers have noted a lack of above-ground work on the Second Ave. subway and the LIRR’s East Side Access project. Now, Bloomberg’s statement confirms our worst fears: The MTA could be facing a construction problem.

Across the city, the spiking cost of work is effective progress on buildings and development. Concrete costs are up; raw material prices have gone through the roof; and the MTA is not immune to these increases. A few weeks ago, the MTA noted that real estate revenues were down by nearly $81 million off of projected levels.

The MTA has long said that these problems won’t impact construction and expansion plans, but something has to give. Either we’re facing a fare hike or the MTA is facing a massive economic problem that could bring reduced service and a construction shut down. While these problems are not unique to New York, we can’t really afford to see the MTA fall into a recession reminiscent of the 1970s.

We’ll either see yet another fare hike or the government — the city, the state, the feds — will have to come through with the bucks. Either way, this tale is far from over.

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What is the MTA smoking?

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This one comes off a tip from Chris. Perhaps running spellcheck on those Website blurbs would be a good idea. Or maybe the MTA just want you to use your Saturday and Sunday to have that extra bit of controlled-substance fun.

If you’re looking for the weekend service advisories, you can find them in this post.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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Busy weekend on the IRT

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Ah, the weekend. With 96-degree weather on tap and a few days of sunshine, it will be nice for all of us cubicle dwellers to get out in the sun for a few days. The subways are, of course, chock full o’ service changes, but before we get to those, let’s recap the week that was on Second Ave. Sagas.

We started out in London where an alcohol ban on the Tubes went into effect. Then, back on our side of the Atlantic, we reassessed U.S. transit policy and pondered a free subway system. We looked at expansion plans that were pushed aside when the MTA ran out of money a few decades ago and ended the week with the threat of another fare hike next year.

And now here we are on Friday. Let’s get to the good stuff. The press release, sans a few key changes, is here.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 7 to 5 a.m. Sunday, June 8, 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, June 7 to 5 a.m. Sunday, June 8, downtown 12 trains skip 66th, 59th and 50th Streets due to 59th Street-Columbus Circle station rehabilitation. (2 trains will make local stops during the nighttime hours with the exception of local stops between 72nd and 42nd Streets.)

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 7 to 5 a.m. Sunday, June 8, 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.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 7 to 5 a.m. Sunday, June 8, there are no 3 trains between 14th Street and New Lots Avenue. In Manhattan, take the uptown 5 or downtown 2. In Brooklyn, take the 4. The 4 trains will be making local stops in Brooklyn. These changes are due to the Clark Street tunnel lighting project.

From 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 7, Flushing-bound 7 trains skip 82nd, 90th, 103rd, and 111th Streets due to track panel work between 74th Street and Willets Point-Shea Stadium stations.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 7 to 5 a.m. Sunday, June 8, 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. to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 7, 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 7 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 9, Coney Island-bound N trains run on the D line from 36th Street (Brooklyn) to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue due to track replacement on the 20th Avenue Bridge.

Categories : Service Advisories
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