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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  • Know your MTA officials: Gary Dellaverson · Gary Dellaverson, the MTA CFO, has seen his name in print quite a bit lately. When Tishman Speyer pulled out of their Hudson Yards deal, Dellaverson made headlines by proclaiming that he would have another deal in place within a week. Five days later, he had fulfilled that promise. On Friday, Robin Finn and The Times’ Public Lives column paid a visit to Dellaverson. The CFO may be a messy pack rat, but after landing another $1-billion Hudson Yards deal in short order, his celebratory champagne was well earned. [The New York Times] · (0)

The New York Post would like you to know that subway delays are up.

Subway delays are the bane of any New Yorker’s existence. They hit seemingly at random but also only when the trains are crowded and un-air-conditioned and only when one is running late. Or at least that’s how it seems to feel. According to New York City Transit numbers, as shown above, subway delays are actually on the rise this year.

I briefly touched upon this uptick in delays on Friday. Over the weekend, Patrick Gallahue of the New York Post explored just how NYC Transit is planning on addressing these delays. With the average number of delays up 27 percent over the 12 months prior to March compared with the same time period a year ago, the MTA is trying to beef up how it is assessing subway delays and how it responds to them.

The agency is planning to use a system similar to the one that the NYPD employs for statistical analysis of criminal offenses, known as CompStat, to investigate why an increasing number of trains are lagging behind schedule.

“We are undertaking a major effort to categorize all the reasons [for the delays] and try to deal with them on a systematic basis,” NYC Transit President Howard Roberts said [Friday]. “Essentially, we will adopt something very close to the city’s CompStat system for crime and apply it to on-time performance.”

CompStat is an interesting model for the MTA to pursue. Initiated in the early 1990s by William Bratton, then the NYPD head, the program analyzed crime reports in a way that helped police leaders from the chief on down to precinct commanders identify trends and criminal hotspots. It was supposed to be responsible for an improved city response to rising crime rates and helped turn the tide against a crime in the Big Apple.

The only problem is that those assumptions — that CompStat worked and was the driving factor behind a reduction in crime — have been challenged by economists, urban planners and other academics. Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame wrote an article (PDF) noting that various other factors including increased police presence contributed to the reduction in crime as much if not more than the CompStat reports.

But indisputably, the CompStat approach here will help the MTA. By implementing an analytic software tool, the MTA will be in a better position to note which lines are suffering from which types of delays. As the line manager program expands, the people in charge — the analogous NYPD personnel would be the precinct commander — could address the problematic hotspots along their subway lines. Everyone wins.

Of course, this all seems like common sense, and of course, the MTA will be unable to avoid delays caused by chronic door-holders. But this new system should benefit everyone. As William Henderson, a member of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, said to The Post, “There are probably some delays you can’t do much about. The challenge is to find the delays you can do something about and try to put something in place to reduce those.”

Categories : MTA Technology
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Aren’t three-day weekends the best? Memorial Day certainly ranks up there. It’s the unofficial start of summer, and we’re getting some warm weather.

I’ll be out of town through Monday evening, but if you’re around this weekend, there’s a good subway-related event for you to check out. Ryan, a Second Ave. Sagas reader, e-mailed me last night to tell me that that shooting of Pelham 1-2-3 is out in full force this weekend.

According to Ryan, the NYPD has papered the FiDi with No Parking signs in advance of weekend shooting. The signs are up right now in the vicinity of Beaver and William Streets. If any intrepid readers venture down to the shooting and capture some photos, contact me with the details.

Meanwhile, for those of you spending Memorial Day in the city, service alerts abound. Because of the three-day weekend, most of these service alerts are in place through Tuesday morning 5 a.m. instead of the usual Monday morning 5 a.m. How fun.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 24 to 5 a.m. Tuesday, May 27, 1 trains skip 28th, 23rd, and 18th Streets in both directions due to work at Cortlandt Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 26, 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 24 to 5 a.m. Tuesday, May 27, there are no 1 trains between 14th Street and South Ferry due to Port Authority WTC-related work at Cortlandt Street. Customers should take the 2 or 3 to travel between 34th Street and Chambers Street. Free shuttle buses are available between Chambers Street and South Ferry.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 26, downtown 12 trains skip 86th and 79th Streets due to station rehab work at 96th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 24 to 5 a.m. Tuesday, May 27, 2 and 3 trains run local between 96th Street and Chambers Street due to work at Cortlandt Street. – This is the never-ending, terribly inconvenient service advisory. This Cortlandt St. project can’t finish soon enough.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 26, Manhattan-bound 2 trains run express from Gun Hill Road to East 180th Street due to track and structural work at East 180th Street.

From 11 p.m. Friday, May 23 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 26, downtown 4 and 6 trains run express from 125th Street to Grand Central due to track and roadbed reconstruction at 96th Street.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, May 24 to 10 p.m. Sunday, May 25, 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 3rd Avenue.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 26, there are no 7 trains between Times Square and Queensboro Plaza due to tunnel security work and signal work. Customers should take the N or Q trains and free shuttle bus for alternate service.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 26, there is no C train service. Customers should take the A train instead. The A train runs local between 168th Street and Euclid Avenue. 207th Street-bound A trains run on the F line from Jay Street to West 4th Street. These changes are due to signal work at Chambers Street.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, May 23 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 26, there are no G trains between Court Square and Forest Hills-71st Avenue due to track chip-out between Roosevelt Avenue and Queens Plaza and switch renewal work between 21st Street-Queensbridge and 36th Street. Customers should take the E.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 26, Brooklyn-bound NR trains rerouted over the Manhattan Bridge from Canal Street to DeKalb Avenue due to rehab work at Lawrence Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 26, Q trains are extended to the Astoria-Ditmars Blvd. N station to supplement N service due to work on the 7 line. – Last weekend when this alert was in place, the rollover signs on the Q still said 57th St. How confusing.

From 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, May 24, Manhattan-bound Q trains run express from Kings Highway to Prospect Park due to tree removal adjacent to the Brighton Line right-of-way.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, May 26, 42nd Street S shuttle train will run overnight to replace 7 service between Grand Central and Times Square.

Categories : Service Advisories
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New Yorkers who rely on the subways for their daily needs are prone to complain, and everyone knows the typical refrains. “Another delay on the 7.” “The L train stalled just past Bedford Ave.” “Signal problems on the A/C/E again.”

At times, subway complaining can almost seem like a game. It’s Subway Misery Poker. Did you have a worse commute than your co-worker? And sometimes, it’s hard not to think that we’re all exaggerating how bad we have it. After all, twenty-five years ago, track fires were a common occurrences and train doors often broke, stranding passengers up and down entire subway lines. The MTA in 2008 is a far cry from the MTA of 1980.

Yet, here we are again in 2008, and maybe things are that bad. Much like in 1980, Richard Ravitch has again been asked to ride in and gallantly save the MTA from sure doom. But just what is the extent of that doom?

In an extended post on amNew York’s Subway Tracker blog today, Matthew Sweeney expounded on the precarious state of the New York City subway system. Those complaints of poor service and frequent delays may be more valid than we as a city would like to admit.

Trains are falling farther and farther behind since at least March 2006. It’s worst in the evening rush where NYC Transit rates itself as running 88% of trains on time in March — the most recent data available — down from almost 92% in March last year…

The number of delays is up as well — an average of 27% over the last 12 months. Delays are counted as any train “abandoned en-route, abandoned at the terminal, and arriving late to the terminal due to any incident.” Anything from a signal problem, a sick passenger or track work can cause a delay. Track work is the most common cause of delays. In March, delays spiked upward with 1,361 more incidents than February. Delays have been on the rise for a couple of years. There were 105,290 train delays in 2006, and 138,446 last year…

Another indicator — the mean distance between failures, which is the number of miles divided by delays caused by the cars themselves — has a bleak prognosis. In March 2008, cars traveled 12% shorter distance before having a problem than they did during the same time last year.

“Every month we’re showing record ridership and we’re not putting any more service out there to accommodate the ridership,” MTA Board Member Andrew Albert said at Thursday’s meeting. “Right now it is crush conditions.”

On top of — or is it behind? — all of these problems with the physical plant, the MTA is suffering an acute money crisis, spurred in part by congestion pricing, in part by a terrible economy and in part by decades of government neglect at the city and state levels. That is where Richard Ravitch comes in. Ravitch has been tasked with finding viable options for the MTA to fund its projected $17 billion capital budget gap. But besides the expansion plans that are in jeopardy, a gap this large would seriously impact the MTA’s ability to maintain what the agency calls a “state of good repair” which, as you can see from stations and cars, isn’t a very high standard.

Without the money, the system will quickly tumble from good repair to bad repair. While it’s hard to imagine returning to those dark days of the 1970s and 1980s simply because the city is safer than it was twenty and thirt years ago, the subways will quickly become grimier and more unreliable than many New Yorkers ever remember them to be.

Eliot Brown writing in The Observer earlier this week profiled Ravitch’s tough task, and there’s plenty to like about Ravitch and his commission. I’m eagerly awaiting their recommendations.

So it is left to Mr. Ravitch and his commission, with members expected to be named in coming weeks, to sort through the mess and chart a viable course for the M.T.A. and State Legislature to follow.

Commissions such as these often follow a similar formula, as politicized members produce a report with a more or less predetermined outcome so as to give the commission’s creators a perceived mandate to proceed with whatever policy action they had intended, perhaps with a few tweaks.

But such a result is unlikely from Mr. Ravitch, those who know him say, as he has a well-known reputation for freely speaking his mind and fiercely defending his independence, an element considered key to his successful track record.

“He’s incredibly blunt about things, and may put some people off, but on the other hand you can depend on what Richard is saying as being what he really believes,” said Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association. “He is a remarkable man.”

And that is where we are now with the subways. The system is nearly maxed out in terms of capacity, and the MTA is without the money — thanks to anit-congestion pricing foes — to address the situation. For the second time in less than thirty years, New York and the MTA will turn to Richard Ravitch to rescue their subway system. This time, the system is simply on the brink of collapse instead of a full-fledged nightmare, and we all have to hope that Ravitch can pull this rabbit out of his hat. The future health of New York depends on it.

The 1972 New York City Subway Guide courtesy of the Field Guide to New York City Subway Maps.

Categories : MTA Economics
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An Ironic Green Metrocard

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Where: Express tracks on the 7 at Shea Stadium
What: A discarded green MetroCard thrown out by a Mets fan heading back toward Manhattan.

For some reason, I don’t think this is what the MTA had in mind when they started their green campaign. A MetroCard thrown on the tracks is litter even if it’s yellow, green or blue. I thought there was something poetic in the irony of an environmentally themed MetroCard lying on the tracks as just another piece of subway trash.

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  • The 14-day Metrocard hasn’t caught on yet · Yesterday, I was planning my next few months of Unlimited Ride MetroCard purchases. My 30-day monthly had expired, and I’m spending two weeks in August out of the city. So I figured I would be able to purchase a monthly for May 21-June 20 and a monthly for June 21-July 21. That handy time frame would leave me with about 16 days in the city before my two-week excursion out of the Big Apple. What’s a subway rider to do?

    It was then I lit upon the latest offering from the MTA: As part of the fare hike, they instituted a 14-day Unlimited Ride MetroCard for $47. It would be perfect for me at the end of July. It seems, however, that I am among the few straphangers thinking along those lines. As Pete Donohue reports in the Daily News, 14-day card swipes accounted for just one percent of all MetroCard trips in March. Of course, the new card will take longer than overnight to catch on as riders adjust to the flexibility afforded by this card. As Paul Fleuranges, NYC Transit spokesman, said, “One month does not a trend set.” [Daily News] · (1)

After a few weeks of random purse-snatches and one escape through a subway tunnel that have led to lingering tensions between New York City Transit and the NYPD, the cops finally arrested the suspected purse-snatcher. While the resolution of this drama is a welcome denouement, the real story comes from an analysis of recent subway crime statistics. They may have bottomed out with nowhere to go but up.

At the end of December, the MTA announced a period of record low crime in the subways. While ridership reached a 50-year peak, crime had hit an all-time low. But it was not to last.

According to recent numbers, crime numbers in the subway saw a slight uptick during the first four months of the year. Pete Donohue reports:

The latest data shows that crime rose slightly during the first four months of this year – the third time in the last five years there has been an uptick.

There were 704 felonies, including robberies, on trains and in stations between January through April – an increase of 1.7%, according to NYPD statistics reported to the MTA.

Serious offenses are rare considering the volume of riders, but the mini-spike calls into question whether police can bring down the crime rate much more. “I doubt it can go down dramatically or [get] much lower,” said Eli Silverman, police studies professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “But can they keep it pretty close to where it’s been? I think they can.”

Silverman raises an interesting idea: At some point, due to the magnitude of the subway system and limitations of a personnel-based police force, the MTA and the NYPD won’t be able to continue lowering the subway crime rate. In fact, it’s quite possible that we’re at that nadir; unless different surveillance and prevention measures are put into place, subway crime won’t get lower.

Perhaps adding cameras to subway cars or stations could force the crime rate a few ticks lower. Perhaps increased police presence — Operation Torch? — will deter a few more potential criminals.

But either way, the MTA and NYPD have done a stellar job in turning the subways around over the last few decades from a crime-infested disaster to a vast public transit system about as safe as one could hope. As long as crime stays low, we’ll all come out ahead.

Categories : Subway Security
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  • Inside the subway bathrooms · Matthew Sweeney, an amNew York reporter, ventured where few subway riders dare to go: into the subway bathrooms. In a piece that spends altogether too much time opining on the malodorous smells emanating from these public restrooms, Sweeney notes that the MTA is closing the system’s restrooms from midnight to 5 a.m. While some late-night revelers bemoaned the new closing time and threatened to use convenient corners to relieve themselves, the MTA says they need to close them to prevent people from living in the bathrooms and to clean them.

    Of course, MTA cleaners refuse to evict restroom residents. Writes Sweeney,”One cleaner said that sometimes a homeless person will refuse her request to leave bathroom, so she has to clean around them.” I’m all on board with cleaning out the restrooms, but make an effort. Get the semi-permanent residents out of there too. [amNew York] · (8)
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