A final Nostalgic weekend

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The 2007 version of the Nostalgia Train sits at Second Ave. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

As 2008 is coming to an end, so too are the MTA’s holiday Nostalgia Train trips. This Sunday is your last opportunity to catch the vintage subway cars as they travel up the V line from Second Ave. to Queens Plaza.

Luckily, the MTA has taken the guess work out of the journey this year. They’ve posted the departure times on their website. For your info, here it is:

From Lower East Side 2 Ave
10 a.m.
11:30 a.m.
1 p.m.
2:30 p.m.
4 p.m.

From Queens Plaza
10:45 a.m.
12:15 p.m.
1:45 p.m.
3:15 p.m.

If you can’t make it, flickr has loads of Nostalgia Train photos.

Anyway, on with the service alerts for the weekend. The NYC Transit press office didn’t send out the release this week with the changes. So some of these may not be accurate. Check the signs in your station before you travel.

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Categories : Service Advisories
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In one of the strongest pro-MTA editorials yet, The Times on Thursday urged New Yorkers to call upon Albany to save the MTA. It is a message I’ve harped upon for weeks and one well worth repeating.

As its new “doomsday” budget makes clear, the authority will require all sorts of drastic measures just to stay even. Without help from Albany, there will be fewer trains and buses, and a few subway lines and bus routes will be canceled altogether…

Governor Paterson and the Legislature must do whatever they can to keep the system from regressing to the slow and shabby days of the 1970s. A sensible course has been suggested by a commission led by Richard Ravitch, a former chairman of the transportation authority. The commission proposes raising revenues for public transit by installing tolls on Harlem River and East River bridges that do not already have tolls and levying a modest payroll tax for businesses, unions and governments in the New York City area.

Not surprisingly, the idea of new tolls has provoked a huge outcry from Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, and most city politicians have retreated from the idea. What this means, of course, is that the people who take their cars to work are winning out against the millions who take public transit. This is as unfair as it is environmentally unsound. Moreover, unless drivers pay their fair share, employers are likely to resist a new payroll tax proposed to help shore up the system.

New tolls and taxes are unpleasant. But longer waits and longer commutes and dirtier trains and much higher fares for millions of people who depend on public transit are more so. The remedy now depends on Albany.

In a sense, The Times is echoing what I wrote on Monday when I explored the vast difference between the numbers of drivers and transit commuters in Brooklyn. Why they published such an important editorial on Christmas Day, a notoriously slow news day, I do not know.

What I do know though and what The Times notes, many more people will be negatively impacted by a poorly funded MTA than by a bunch of bridge tolls on the East River. We’ll find out in a few weeks who will pay the most for the MTA’s woes. If the drivers don’t pay, the city as a whole will suffer, and Albany should make sure the MTA gets what it needs.

Categories : MTA Economics
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To celebrate the city and offer up a way to carry a map in your pocket, a design firm in Korea has published a heart-shaped version of the New York City subway map.

The PSFK design blog has more about this one-of-a-kind map:

A group of Korean graphic designers called Zero Per Zero have a unique take on the typical subway map of New York City. Playing on the I Love New York logo, the entire system is visualized as a big heart. The final design was the 2008 Design For Asia Grand Award Winner for a City Railway System which seems a bit odd considering it’s a remake of an American system, but we certainly applaud the simplicity and beauty of their artistic vision.

This playful design actually functions as the map it remixes and on closer inspection, it includes pictorial representations of remarkable locations throughout the city. It’s great to see designers offer a new interpretation of such a recognizable map in a way that may even improve the mood of some of NYC’s grumpy commuters.

The map itself costs under $7 but shipping from South Korea pushes that total up to around $20. I think it’s well worth it for map collectors.

After the jump, a detail of the map, and remember that the subways are running on a Sunday schedule today. Allow extra time for travel, and have a Merry Christmas!

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Categories : Subway Maps
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  • R160s arrive on the E · As part of a $1.1-billion capital investment in new rolling stock, New York City Transit unveiled its first set of R160s along the E line at 7:03 a.m. on Tuesday morning. According to the agency’s press release, this 10-car set was the first of a 1662-car order that will replace the oldest trains along the lettered lines. Based on recent test runs I’ve seen, I have to believe that the E and F lines will be receiving the bulk of these cars, but all of the lettered lines should enjoy some new cars. · (17)
  • Market sends MTA pension fund down by $500M · According to a Pete Donohue report in The Daily News, the recent economic slump has impacted the MTA’s pension funds to the tune of $500 million. Between January and the end of the November, the authority’s pension fund shed nearly a quarter of its overall value, and this news is clearly not good for a cash-strapped agency. · (1)

One of the less endearing aspects of the fancy new subway cars that continue to take over the system is the automated public address announcements. At some point, we just don’t need to be told, at a volume far louder than necessary, that the MTA is ready to “apologize for the unavoidable delay.” In an ideal world, we wouldn’t be bombarded with “an important message from the NYPD” every five minutes either. But if one group has its way, we may soon be hearing advertisements over the subway loud speaker.

Over the last few months, as the MTA has tried to raise revenue from every available source, the agency has started to sell open space. They have sold the windows, the turnstiles and the outside walls of entire subway cars. Now, PETA, of all groups, is calling upon the MTA to sell airtime over the subway’s public address system as well.

PETA, in fact, has this all planned out, as their press release notes. They want to inaugurate something that would infuriate subway riders with a group of pro-vegetarian ads. Says the release:

Given the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (MTA) announcement that it will be increasing fares and cutting services to help meet its 2009 budget, PETA has contacted the MTA with a suggestion. PETA has offered to kick off the first-ever paid advertisements to be heard over bus and train public-address systems. PETA’s ads would feature the voices of pro-vegetarian advocates Casey Affleck, Kevin Nealon, and Forest Whitaker…

PETA points out that encouraging commuters to adopt a vegetarian diet would help them address their own financial woes, too, since vegetarians slash not only their grocery bills but also their risk of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain types of cancer–not to mention the high medical bills that come with treating these conditions.

“Broadcasting PETA’s ad on public transport could help the MTA’s bottom line and save passengers’ and animals’ lives,” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. “Commuters have a lot on their minds, and our ads will liven things up and give them something positive to think about.”

To hear the ads that hopefully won’t be appearing in the subways, head on over to PETA’s blog.

I have to applaud the pro-animal group for its ingenuity and effort here. They recognized a situation they could exploit and became, as far as I could tell, the first group to propose in-system audio ads. But New Yorkers would absolutely positively hate these intrusive advertisements.

To most of us, the subway ride is a means to end. We’re trying to get somewhere else in the city, and we do so under less-than-ideal conditions. Can you imagine how a packed car would respond to a 30-second anti-carnivore ad blaring over the loud speaker at 9:15 a.m.? I can, and it’s not a pleasant image.

Hopefully this will be one advertising idea the MTA doesn’t adopt in its efforts to raise funds. I’d take the East River bridge tolls any day over in-system audio ads.

“All infographics should have googly eyes” by flickr user arimoore.

Categories : Subway Advertising
Comments (16)

With the recent murder of an MTA bus driver — the first since 1981 — the MTA is going to begin a bus partition pilot program. Ideally, the partition would separate vulnerable bus drivers from threatening passengers.

William Neuman reported on this plan late last week. He wrote:

The partitions will be tested on buses operating out of the Flatbush Depot in Brooklyn, where Mr. Thomas worked. There are 252 buses assigned to thedepot, according to Paul Fleuranges, a spokesman for the transit agency. He said it was not yet known how many buses would get the partitions as part of the test. They need to be designed, and it was not clear when the program would begin…

The pilot program was proposed by a committee studying bus driver safety and composed of representatives of Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the transit agency’s management.

The committee also proposed other changes that were still being considered. One would eliminate the paper transfers issued on buses to people who pay their fare in cash, according to a person briefed on the committee’s work.

It’s worth noting that eliminating paper transfers would also help the MTA capture more revenue from bus passengers.

I can’t argue against supporting safety for bus drivers. While it may seem as though the MTA is overreacting to its first murder of a bus driver in nearly 30 years, the agency reported 236 assaults on bus drivers between January 1 and December 9 of this year. That’s not a good number by any means, and if the authority can install something as simple as a partition to keep drivers safer, then they should do so.

Categories : Buses
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Back in November, when The Daily News first reported on the looming three-dollar fare, I figured someone in a position of power would act before things got that desperate. But as the New York state legislature and City Council continue to deliberate or ignore the implications of inaction on the Ravitch Report, the MTA took another step closer toward a $3 base fare for the New York City subways and buses.

In a pdf file announcing upcoming public hearings scheduled for January and February, the MTA detailed how it will attempt to generate a 23 percent increase in fare revenue across all MTA fares and tolls. While the language is convoluted, the news is decidedly grim.

First and most prominently is the news that base and cash fares could go up to as much as $3, and Pay-Per-Ride MetroCards may feature a $3-per-swipe deduction as well. Alternatively, the MTA could go with a $2.50 charge on MetroCards while the base cash fare and single ticket rides stand at $3. The discount bonus for pay-per-ride cards, if it survives this fare hike, would not kick in until a user reaches a $12.50, and the MTA proposes that the bonus range from as high as 35 percent (unlikely) to as low as 0 percent (not ideal but likely).

The Unlimited Ride MetroCards, preferred by around 46 percent of subway riders, would see marked increases. The one-day pass could cost as much as $9.50; the seven-day pass could be $32; the new 14-day card could cost $60; and the 30-day unlimited would be as much as $105. While that 30 percent increase for the 30-day card pales in comparison to the 50 percent base fare hike, crossing that $100 barrier is a significant psychological blow to New Yorkers.

Elsewhere the hikes would be significant with drivers paying a lot to cross over and through the MTA’s bridges and tunnels. Seniors would enjoy fewer discount hours and paratransit fares could hit $6 per ride. But this is all avoidable if the state can pass a sensible MTA bailout plan.

Instead of bailouts though, let’s talk about another idea not mentioned. What if the MTA adopted a Washington, DC, or a London style fare structure? Right now, it costs $2 (or less) to ride from Coney Island in Brooklyn to Riverdale in the Bronx, a distance of nearly 27 miles driving. It also costs $2 to ride from 14th St. and 8th Ave. to Grand Central, a distance of about 2.2 miles driving.

Various other subway systems aren’t so generous. In DC, an off-peak 14.1-mile trip costs $2.35 via the Metro while a three-mile ride costs $1.35. At rush hour, the fares increase so that the 14.1-mile trip is $4.30 and the three-mile ride is $1.60. A variable pricing structure would certainly do a lot to increase the MTA’s revenues.

There are, as I see it, two major problems to this proposal. First, the MTA’s antiquated MetroCard system isn’t set up to allow for entry and exit fare swipes. The MTA would have to refit the entire system with newer and better SmartCard technology. While the day should come when the MTA does just that, a time when money is tight and fares may need to be jacked up just so the agency can meet its operating budget is no time for an enormous technological investment.

Second, this proposal basically fleeces people who can’t afford — or, in some cases, choose not to — live close to Manhattan. Unlike Washington, D.C., and London, two cities with variable fare structures, New York City isn’t really a suburban city. People in D.C. commuting in from Franconia-Springfield generally choose to live in the suburbs and take Metro into the city. Folks in New York commuting from Coney Island to Manhattan aren’t enjoying the same luxury. At that point, we’re taxing the people who can least afford to pay.

Anyway, as the MTA gears up for public hearings, we’re going to need some out-of-the-box solutions to combat this potential fare hike. We can imagine a world of variable pricing; we can imagine a world of East River tolls. But unless imagination becomes reality, we’re going to soon be facing a New York City with significantly higher mass transit fares.

Categories : Fare Hikes
Comments (11)

Based on news coverage of the Ravitch Commission’s report, you could be forgiven for believing that most of Brooklyn commutes into Manhattan via automobile over the East River bridges. After all, reporters and sources act as though tolling the East River bridges represents a direct challenge to our American way of life.

But it’s simply not true. In a survey a long time coming, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign noted the grave inequities among the numbers of commuters who drive and those who ride the subway. The report — released on Friday — is telling. “For example, according to the 2000 Census, only 3.1% of Brooklyn workers, 3.5% of Nassau County workers, and 4.4% of Westchester County workers drive alone to Manhattan to work,” Steven Higashide wrote on the TSC’s Mobilizing the Region.

The fact sheets are just as telling. In Brooklyn, the borough potentially hardest hit by the tolls, 37.9 percent of all commuters head into Manhattan each day. In total, 4.6 percent of Brooklyn residents drive into Manhattan each day either alone (3.1 percent) or via carpool (1.5 percent). On the flip side, 32.6 percent of borough residents rely on the subway. That’s 86 percent of all Manhattan-bound commuters on the train as opposed to 14 percent on the road. The numbers are rather similar across the entirety of the MTA’s Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District.

Furthermore, those who drive make, on average, over $30,000 a year more than those who take the train. So not only do few people commute via car each day, but they do as a luxury. They should be, in other words, the people paying the tolls. It would be regressive, as always, to tax the straphanging public and not the driving few.

This whole debate, then, is fairly ridiculous. It would be far, far better to raise the bridge tolls and avoid service cuts and huge fare hikes than it would be to keep the sacred East River bridges free while the vast majority of commuters would be stuck with longer wait times and more crowded trains. Streetsblog called the gap between those who drive and those who straphang “cavernous” and noted that “the populist ‘defense’ of the driving public is a bunch of hokum that no reporter should let go unchallenged.”

Now, if only the politicians who control the fate of transportation in New York would awake to these realities, we could have hope yet. For some reason, though, I get the feeling that the fare hikes and service cuts will stay while the East River bridge tolls will remain free for the small percentage of people who use the bridges each day. That is backwards indeed.

Categories : Ravitch Commission
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During the press gaggle prior to the tour of the new South Ferry station, the transit reporters gathered around Michael Horodniceanu, the president of MTA Capital Construction, to pepper him with questions. Talk, of course, turned to the ever-delayed Fulton St. transit hub.

When we lasted checked in with the Fulton St. hub, it was October, and the MTA had no plans for the hub. It was stuck in MTA Purgatory. Two weeks ago, Horodniceanu sort of ducked the questions surrounding the above-ground parts of this structure. “We have not yet made a decision on it,” he said. He did claim that the final structure would be “similar to what we’ve seen.” What we’ve seen is an oculus erased from the plans nearly a year ago.

At the MTA Board meeting this past week, the agency’s CEO and Executive Director Lee Sander had an update on the Fulton St. Hub, and Julie Shapiro and Josh Rogers of the Downtown Express reported on the update. While work continues apace below ground, things are moving slowly above ground. Perhaps passengers will just exit via a ladder leading down into the transit complex.

Anyway, the two downtown reporters write:

Nearly one year after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced it had run out of money to build the aboveground portion of the Fulton Transit Center, the agency still has made no decisions about the future.

“We have a couple of different options for what’s above ground,” Lee Sander, M.T.A. executive director, said this week. “The issue is really figuring out how we pay for it.”

He did not disclose any information on the alternatives under consideration. He said he was “highly confident” something will be built above street level, but he has made similar comments throughout the year and the M.T.A. had said they would have a new plan for the site by last February…

Sander would only say Thursday that the M.T.A. is not interested in topping the station with a commercial structure to raise revenue. “At this point that’s not in our plans, and given the fact that we’re in the environmental planning process, I think I will leave my comments there,” he said.

So the MTA, as Shapiro and Rogers noted, “displaced 140 businesses in 2006 to make way for a domed Fulton station that was to become a new Downtown landmark,” and since then, nothing has happened. The intersection of Fulton St. and Broadway remains an empty lot surrounding by a blue construction fence, and the MTA heads can tell us only what is not going to fill that spot.

At some point, something will rise above the Fulton St. transit hub, and in the end, as long as the below-ground connections work out, it doesn’t really matter what happens above ground. But for now, we know we’ll be waiting a long time for the MTA to build something. They have to figure out what will go in the empty spot, conduct the appropriate environmental reviews, find the money for construction and then build it. Yikes. We might be in a for a few years of nothing at Fulton St.

Categories : Fulton Street
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