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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With the holidays upon us, track work slows down. As you can see from the short list below, the MTA has scaled back the work. Furthermore, with the snow a lot of these advisories have been canceled. Pay attention to the strike-throughs. Mostly, the trains are running as they normally would for a weekend. However work on the L and F trains continues as planned, for now.

From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, December 20 and Sunday, December 21, Manhattan-bound 2 trains skip Burke Avenue, Allerton Avenue, Pelham Parkway and Bronx Park East due to track work.

From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, December 20 and Sunday, December 21, Bronx-bound 4 trains skip 161st, 167th, 170th Streets, Mt. Eden Avenue and 176th Street due to track work.

From 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, December 20, Manhattan-bound D trains run on the N line from Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue to 36th Street due to track panel installation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, December 20 to 5 a.m. Monday, December 22, Manhattan-bound F trains skip Ft. Hamilton Parkway, 15th St-Prospect Park and 4th Avenue due to construction work on an employee facility at Church Avenue.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, December 19 to 5 a.m. Saturday, December 20, there are no L trains between 8th Avenue and Union Square due to switch renewal near 8th Avenue. Customers should use the M14 instead.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, December 19 to 5 a.m. Saturday, December 20, L trains run every 24 minutes in two sections due to switch renewal near 8th Avenue:

  • Between Rockaway Parkway and Bedford Avenue and
  • Between Bedford Avenue and Union Square

From 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, December 20, the last stop on some Coney Island-bound N trains is Kings Highway due to track panel installation.

Categories : Service Advisories
Comments (0)

While yesterday’s FAQ hit on a few of the big misconceptions surrounding the MTA’s current budget crisis, there is one more major topic I’d like to hit on today. That topic focuses on the MTA’s current real estate holdings and the money they could draw in.

Over the last few weeks, these holdings have been in and out of the news. Most recently, we’ve heard that the MTA still expects $1 billion for the Atlantic Yards land even as the real estate development deal falls apart. Before that, Julia Vitullo-Martin published an error-filled piece in The Daily News about the MTA’s real estate. Her premise is one that deserves some attention, if only to dispute it.

When Vitullo-Martin wrote her piece, the MTA had yet to pass this Doomsday budget they unveiled upon the New York City world this week. But her point — that the MTA isn’t making the most of its real estate holdings — remain. Basically, she asked, “Shouldn’t we first insist that the MTA take advantage of any and all underused real estate that it already owns or controls under long-term leases?”

Her problem however is that she identifies parcels that either aren’t owned by the MTA or are like the Hudson Yards lands and are already included in plans for redevelopment. The MTA disputed the article and issued a statement:

The MTA is continually assessing its real estate to identify properties, like the Hudson Yards, that can provide revenue to the MTA without disrupting service. These opportunities are limited because so much of the MTA’s real estate is operated under master lease, wherein it can only be used by the MTA for transportation purposes. Nonetheless, we continue to find new revenue opportunities and use these funds to pay for critical capital needs, with $1 billion in the 2005-2009 capital program from asset sales (and another $500 million tentatively identified in the 2008-13 plan produced during the congestion pricing debate). It is bad public policy to sell assets to pay for operating expenses in any case, and to imply that the current fiscal crisis could be avoided in this way is simply not accurate.

Basically, that statement sums it up. Is the MTA making the most of its real estate holdings, as Vitullo-Martin alleges they aren’t? The answer to that is tough to pinpoint, but the fact remains that dealing with real estate holdings is a one-off solution. Let’s say the MTA really can get a few hundred million dollars for the Jay St. holdings in Brooklyn. In today’s market, that’s highly unlikely. But what happens when the budget comes due next year, and the transit agency can no longer sell real estate to cover a budget gap?

Like many critiques of the MTA, the real estate one is a red herring. We would all prefer the MTA to make ideal use of all of their lands, but forcing them to do so now would solve the problem for just one year, if that. We need long-term solutions and not some short-term measure. Hopefully, our politicians realize this as well.

Categories : MTA Economics
Comments (10)
  • Wrapping up the MetroCard Challenge · I had to buy a new 30-Day Unlimited Ride MetroCard today. It’s a sad day when I have to part with $81. But I take comfort in knowing it’s $81 well spent. From Nov. 17 through Dec. 16, I used my card 73 times for a cost-per-ride of $1.11.

    I’m a student commuting into Manhattan from Brooklyn each day, and since it’s finals, my social life is somewhat curtailed. Still, based on the spreadsheet that is open and available to the public, my usage seems to be on the high end. No matter, it’s well worth it for me to buy a 30-day card, and I save nearly 50 percent off of the pure base fare of $2.00. · (0)

By now, it’s no secret that the MTA Board had to approve the Doomsday budget yesterday. It’s little comfort to know they did so under duress. The law requires them to pass a balanced budget, and to achieve that untenable goal in 2009, the MTA will have to cut services and raise fares unless our state legislatures act.

Now, we have a buffer of a few months. As the various governing bodies in New York debate the merits of the Ravitch report, this budget won’t start to come due for a few months. In March, the Board will vote on the fare hikes. In June, the service cuts and fare increases will put implemented. That gives the city’s pro-transit forces a little under six months to get the ball rolling.

As Doreen Frasca, an MTA board member, said yesterday, “What I’m going to do, and I know a lot of other people on this board are going to do, is go up to Albany, look our lawmakers in the eye, and say to them, ‘Why can’t you put transit first on the agenda for a change?’” We should all join her.

For now, though, I want to tackle something else. As I read through the comments on the City Room post about the MTA Board meeting, I was struck by how ill-informed New Yorkers are. In an effort to avoid thinking about Civil Procedure in advance of my rapidly-approaching 1:30 p.m. final educate the masses, I thought I’d try to respond to some of the misconceptions people have surrounding the MTA. So after the jump, some questions and my answers.

As a caveat, these answers may sound to be apologetic on behalf of the MTA, but I’m a neutral third-party in favor of full funding for public transit in New York. I’m not affiliated with the MTA and am, at times, supportive and, at times, critical of the agency’s operations.

In the end, my answer is that the MTA isn’t to blame as much as New Yorkers would like to blame them. The people to target are our elected officials who refuse to vote for congestion pricing, who balk at tolling the East River bridge tolls, who won’t fund mass transit. These things aren’t free; someone will have to shoulder the costs. Will it be the riders or will it be everyone? That’s up to us.

Anyway, here we go.

Click here to read the Second Ave. Saga MTA budgetary FAQ.

Categories : MTA Economics
Comments (23)
  • The dangers of drinking and swiping · From 1990 through 2003, subway-related deaths in New York City numbered 668. Of those, 315 were accidentally, and of those, 46 percent were alcohol-related. So as Crain’s New York noted today, be careful if you’re going to drink and swipe. · (3)

I’ll let the press release speak for itself:

The Board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) today approved the agency’s budget for 2009, including service cuts and a 23% increase in revenue from fares and tolls. These measures were necessary to balance the budget and close a $1.2 billion deficit. Agency officials and board members expressed hope that the recommendations of the Commission appointed by Governor Paterson and chaired by Richard Ravitch would be implemented to return the MTA to stable fiscal footing and eliminate the need for these measures.

“Today we fulfilled our requirement to adopt a balanced budget within the constraints of existing resources, and those resources are simply not great enough,” said H. Dale Hemmerdinger, MTA Chairman. “Our fervent hope is that available resources will grow in the coming months, so that this budget can be amended before it is implemented.”

“I have called this budget draconian, severe, and extremely painful, and it is all of those things,” said Elliot G. Sander, MTA Executive Director and CEO. “We are deeply appreciative of Governor Paterson for convening the Ravitch Commission and of the Governor and Mayor Bloomberg for supporting its recommendations. The transit system is the engine that powers the state’s economy. Implementing the Ravitch recommendations will secure its future and act as a stimulus bill for New York State, and I hope our legislators will act quickly.”

So there you go. The clock is ticking. In March, the board will vote on the fare hike. In June, the hike and service cuts will be implemented. Now is the time to contact your representatives on the City Council and in Albany. Tell them to approve the Ravitch recommendations. Otherwise, we’ll all be paying the costs.

Reactions and more coming later.

Categories : MTA Economics
Comments (2)

Last week, Gothamist unveiled a short post about a new brand of advertising popping up on subway cars. New York City Transit, it seemed, had started papering over the train windows with ads, and straphangers — including Railfan Window — weren’t so keen on the ads. They blocked out the view; they blocked out the light; and they may post a security risk.

I thought nothing of it. It was just another way for the MTA to make money, and the overall concerns seemed rather overblown. They certainly are ugly, but who’s really going to miss the view of a dark tunnel walls? The safety is certainly an issue, but there are bigger safety fish to fry in the subway.

Yesterday, the MTA shed some proverbial light on these ads. In fact, they are more than ads. As Jennifer 8. Lee reported on City Room, these billboards are part of the MTA’s anti-scratchiti campaign. The Times’ reporter wrote:

Despite the M.T.A. budget shortfall, transit officials say that advertising revenue is not the main motivation for the program. Instead, the sprawling ads have a practical purpose. The first is to reduce what officials call “scratchiti,” or scratched graffiti on the windows…

Paul J. Fleuranges, a spokesman for New York City Transit, said the agency hoped that the film, called Scotchcal, would cut down on the frequency of scratchitti. The vinyl graphic film, made by 3M, is widely used to wrap buses, because a it allows a full image to be printed on the outside, while the little perforated holes allows people (in theory) to look outside.

The other benefit transit officials are hoping for is that the film will save on energy costs, as the covered windows reduce the amount of hot sun that enters subway cars. “The car equipment people have for a long time sought to use tinted windows in an attempt to cut down on that ’sun soak’ effect; just like tinted windows reduce the warmth of the sun on a passenger vehicle and help keep the car cooler and assist in the A.C. cooling the car more efficiently,” Mr. Fleuranges wrote in an e-mail message.

Fleuranges also said that the police were consulted about concerns over safety inside the cars. Reportedly, people on the outside can see in, and people on the inside can see out. I haven’t had the pleasure of riding one of the pilot cars yet. So I can’t confirm or deny that assertion.

On the one hand, these are no different from the anti-scratchiti flim the MTA already employs. The only difference is that this film has an ad. But if they truly do block the view from the platform, the MTA should reconsider. It’s aesthetically unpleasing and potentially dangerous, but until the transit authority has more money, they’re going to sell every available inch of space.

Categories : Subway Advertising
Comments (14)
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