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still rehab all of the tracks and Culver Viaduct structure itself, in an effort to save nearly $65 million, the MTA has withdrawn the station rehab plans.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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I bet you didn’t see this one coming: According to transit experts and sources at the MTA, New Yorkers may be in store for a second fare hike in two years come 2009 if the authority doesn’t come up with some money stat. It would be just the second time in city history that subway fares increased in consecutive years.

Pete Donohue has more on this alarming news:

A rare back-to-back increase – along with service cuts – could be in store for commuters now that MTA number crunchers are suddenly dealing with a massive hole in next year’s budget.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s projected 2009 budget gap has ballooned – doubling or even tripling original estimates, sources said. Without new state money, officials may soon raise the spectre of increases, service cuts – or both, sources and experts said. “They don’t have many options,” one source said…

The latest projections had the MTA struggling to fill a $220 million budget hole. That number has grown to $500 million to $700 million, sources said. Part of the problem is that last year the MTA predicted that revenue from fees on real estate transactions would drop by $160 million between January and May. Instead, they plummeted by $240 million, MTA documents show.

And despite pledges to fight for more MTA funding, the state Legislature later joined Gov. Paterson in slashing expected subsidies from one state account by $40 million earlier this year. The hit repeats next year.

Meanwhile, Donohue notes that Richard Ravitch, tasked with forming a panel to figure out how to close the MTA budget gap, is still reviewing the beleaguered authority’s finances. He has yet to put together the panel.

To those who have been watching the MTA this year as tax revenues have dried up, the arrival of this news comes as no surprise. For the last few years, in fact, city officials have grown increasingly wary of how the MTA has relied on tax revenues to shore up its budget, and a few public advocates had been sounding alarming bells for a while. The state legislature, however, seems loathe to give money to the MTA, and its decision to slash subsidies is both alarming and bewildering.

So what now? Well, this story — anonymous sources, rising numbers — could be a political ploy to get those in charge of the purse strings focusing on the MTA. But the reality is that if outside money doesn’t start flowing to the authority, the fares will have to go up.

Despite Donohue’s man-on-the-street Bryan Tran’s statement — “Any higher and I will have to walk everywhere. It’s ridiculous.” — the fares just aren’t that high. The average cost-per-ride for an unlimited ride user is still well below what the $1.50 base fare we all used to pay in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

If anything, this news just drives home what Sheldon Silver and the anti-congestion pricing contingent did when they opted to let that MTA-saving measure die in committee. Perhaps it’s time to start paying closer attention to Ted Kheel after all.

Categories : Fare Hikes
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Hold that train

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I’m going to do something I don’t do too often in this space: I’m going to rant about the way the MTA handles train transfers at stations with island platforms. Here we go.

On Tuesday, when I was on the way back to Brooklyn from work, I took a B from West 4th St. to DeKalb where I would switch to an M or R to take me to Union St. and my gym. Usually, it’s a pretty quick ride; during rush hour, I can get a B to DeKalb or a D to Pacific St. and the M/R trains usually show up after a few minutes’ wait.

Tuesday was no exception. As the B pulled into DeKalb, the R train was sitting across the platform with the doors open seemingly waiting for connecting passengers. The B did its usually crawl into DeKalb, and we sat for a beat before the doors open. The entire time we sat there, the R had been posed, doors open awaiting passengers.

When the doors to the B finally opened, the doors to the R slammed shut. All of us waiting for that train — the Bay Ridge-bound passengers and the folks looking for stops in between — were denied our connection. It was an inexplicable move by the MTA. Why bother holding the doors to the R open just to close them when the passengers on the B finally decamp from their train?

A few minutes later, an M showed up to whisk us south through Brooklyn, and I was soon at Union St., the incident largely forgotten for most of the people who were stymied by the R. I however couldn’t help but think about that R train. How many times have we seen this happen? Whether it’s at Broadway and Lafayette on the BMT IND or W. 72nd St. on the IRT, trains will routinely close their doors right as a train on the adjacent platform pulls up. Frustrated passengers are left staring at lights receding down the tunnel while their desired transfer heads off into the distance.

It wouldn’t be too hard to or too inconvenient for train operators to hold their doors and extra 10 or 15 seconds at major transfer points. It wouldn’t throw off the train schedules, and it wouldn’t create back-ups in the tunnels. It would create good will and positive feelings from other passengers, and that is something the MTA could sorely use these days.

Categories : MTA
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By virtue of its role as one of the world’s largest public transit agencies, the MTA is a very green organization, and now the cash-strapped MTA is looking to capitalize on its negative carbon footprint in an effort to maximize its revenue potential.

Earlier this week, Matthew Sweeney at amNew York broke the story that the MTA is working with analysts at Booz Allen Hamilton to develop a way to sell carbon credits in the growing emissions trading markets. Sweeney writes:

Last month, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved a $776,000 contract with consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton to measure its carbon footprint and look at ways to create revenues “in a tradable-carbon situation.”

What that means is that the MTA hopes eventually to quantify the amount of pollution it removes from the air through mass transit, put a value on it, and sell it to a company that is a high polluter. By paying the MTA, the company would legally be allowed to pollute.

“This is all quite new and unique and a little bit out there,” said Projjal Dutta, director of sustainability initiatives at the MTA.

The MTA, Sweeney notes, “actually has a negative carbon footprint because subways, trains, and buses take cars off the road and reduce congestion, which means that cars do not burn as much fuel sitting in traffic.”

In trying to wrap my head around the idea of the MTA trading its carbon credits in an emissions market, I keep landing on two distinct points that are seemingly at odds with each other. On the one hand, as we well know, the MTA is searching high and low for any dollars it can scrounge up. The authority needs money to keep our public transit system in a state of good repair and, looking ahead, for much needed expansion plans as well. To that end, if the powers that be feel they can capitalize on the MTA’s negative emissions, then they should do so.

But on the other hand, the environmentalist public transit advocate in me is a little wary of the carbon trading plan. If the MTA is allowing some other company to continue to pollute by trading them their carbon credits and profiting from it, does that really match the agency’s desired and publicly-stated goals of becoming a greener organization? Until the U.S. starts putting stricter caps on greenhouse emissions, the MTA is simply profiting off some other company’s pollutants. That’s fine for the bottom line but not so fine for the environment.

Categories : MTA Politics
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