The subways certainly aren’t known for their cleanliness. (Photo by flickr user Lanamaniac)

The MTA knows that it needs to increase subway service while facing a budget deficit. While bus expansion plans have kept pace with population growth, subway service hasn’t followed suit. Now, after one fare hike and with the threat of another looming, the MTA is going forward with some service expansion plans.

Meanwhile, the MTA is also facing a budget deficit that could see the agency’s bottom line reach record levels of debt. With Wednesday’s MTA Board meeting set to focus on budgetary concerns, New York City Transit is gearing up to approve its own budget with various services — but not subway service — facing the axe.

amNew York’s Matthew Sweeney took an in-depth look at how New York City Transit plans to save money behind the scenes to not only provide riders with more service but to meet budget deficits that could reach a billions dollars. He reports:

New York City Transit is expected to vote Monday on its budget-savings plan that would halt plans to repair 19 stations, put off paint jobs for flaking elevated structures, and institute a more “efficient” way of cleaning subway cars…

Many of the cuts, however, will take place behind the scenes and delay needed repairs to transit buildings that keep the system running, such as tunnel vents, bus depots, and a subway-car overhaul shop…

Another $8.9 million in savings will come from the MTA’s operating budget. The savings, which will fund increased service on certain train lines, include subway car cleaning and quality control.

For their part, the MTA says that riders won’t notice the changes brought about by the cuts. “None of the reductions will have an impact on what riders see,” Paul Fleuranges, NYC Transit spokesman, said to Sweeney in an e-mail.

I hope that is indeed the case, but I worry when I hear that subway car cleaning efforts may be re-examined. Subway cars aren’t that clean to begin with; my Saturday night Q train this week was a mess. Anything worse would make the cars resemble the T cars in Boston.

While the MTA will go ahead with the vital projects — the Culver Viaduct rehabilitation, for example, is not in jeopardy — I’m guessing that the planned improvements along the Q/B Brighton line will be shelved for now. Local officials will be up-in-arms about these cuts.

Overall, the MTA believes that these cuts to some capital projects could clear up $2 to $3 billion in savings to meet budget deficits in its current plan. There is a chance that big-ticket items — Second Ave. Subway, East Side Access plan — could face delays as well, but the MTA is hoping to avoid that scenario. The city needs subway expansion plans, and with the government set to contribute money earmarked for these projects, it’s growing harder for the MTA to delay or even shelve them entirely as they’ve done in the past.

In the end, the MTA is technically cutting service. But as we originally feared, they aren’t cutting subway service. Instead, they’re cutting services while adding more trains, and we’re left questioning Albany’s commitment to funding the MTA and public transit in New York. As MTA Board member Andrew Albert said to Sweeney, “You have to be concerned about the lack of funding support from the state and the city. They want all of these improvements and then they scream when we raise fares. They have to come up with more money.”


Categories : Service Cuts
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Before we get to the service advisories, let’s laugh one more time this week at the MTA Board. While David Mack has been utterly shamed into dropping his opposition to the free MTA Board perks, Chair Dale Hemmerdinger received a little bit of bad press today.

I’ll let Metro’s Patrick Arden explain the story:

The MTA played favorites in deciding to send three Queens bus routes to a distant shopping mall owned by MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger, City Council members said Thursday.

There could soon be three Queens buses bringing people to the Shops at Atlas Park, a mall owned by MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger. [Ed. Note: The Mall is managed by Hemmerdinger's son. Hence the nepotism.] The Shops at Atlas Park in Glendale belongs to Hemmerdinger’s ATCO Properties, and his son Damon is its development director.

The mall was already served by the Q29 bus last summer, when the Q54 also began to make the trip. Within days of Hemmerdinger’s confirmation in October, a study of Q54 ridership was undertaken, and soon the MTA recommended extending the Q45 so passengers could be let off at Atlas Park. Another proposal to reroute the Q23 was later rejected.

Supposedly, these service upgrades had been in the works for a few years, but with the Hemmerdinger-owned mall now showing up on MTA maps, this one reeks of nepotism.

And now on to the service advisories.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 23, uptown 1 trains skip 103rd, 110th, 116th, and 125th Streets due to track and roadbed replacement at 110th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 23, Manhattan-bound trains run express from Gun Hill Road to East 180th Street due to signal and structural work at East 180th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 23, 23 trains run local between 96th Street and Chambers Street due to station rehab work at 96th and 59th Streets and tunnel lighting work between 72nd and 42nd Streets.

From 11 PM Fri to 7 AM Sat, 11 PM Sat to 8 AM Sun, 11 PM Sun to 5 AM Mon, Brooklyn-bound 2 and 3 trains skip skip Bergen St, Grand Army Plaza, and Eastern Pkwy.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 23, there are no 5 trains between 149th Street-Grand Concourse and East 180th Street due to signal and structural work at East 180th Street. Customers should take the 2 instead.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, June 21 to 10 p.m. Sunday, June 22, 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 6 trains is 125th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 23, there are no 7 trains between Times Square and Queensboro Plaza due to tunnel work in the Steinway Street tube, track repairs at Court House Square, and signal work between Queensboro Plaza and 33rd Street. Customers should take the N train and free shuttle bus for alternate service. The 42nd Street S shuttle runs overnight during this time.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 23, Manhattan-bound 7 trains run express from 74th Street-Broadway to Queensboro Plaza, stopping only at 61st Street-Woodside, due to signal work between Queensboro Plaza and 33rd Street-Rawson Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, June 21 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 23, there are no C trains between 168th and 145th Streets. Free shuttle buses replace A trains between 168th and 207th Streets. Customers may transfer between the Broadway or Fort Washington Avenue shuttle buses and the A train at 168th Street. These changes are due to structural work and track and roadbed replacement between 168th Street and 207th Street.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, June 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, June 23, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square due to track chip-out between 36th Street and Roosevelt Avenue. Take the E or R instead.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, June 21 to 10 p.m. Sunday, June 22, 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 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 21, Manhattan-bound J trains skip Flushing Av, Lorimer, and Hewes Sts due to Emergency Work. For service to/from these stations transfer at Myrtle Av to a Manhattan-bound J or Marcy Av (get a ticket) to a Queens-bound J.

From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 21, free shuttle buses replace M trains between Metropolitan Av and Myrtle Av-Broadway due to emergency work.

Categories : Service Advisories
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We’ve had a busy week what with the MTA’s Board shenanigans and the forthcoming service enhancement plans. I’ve missed a few good blog posts in the interim. So let’s do it up, bullet-point style.

Comments (9)

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.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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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?

Neuman reports:

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.

Comments (10)

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.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
Comments (8)

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.

Just three months after announcing that the service upgrades were to be postponed, the MTA has shelved them entirely due to dire financial circumstances. What an utterly unsurprising turn of events.

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.

Categories : Fare Hikes
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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?

Categories : Buses
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  • 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.

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