Things did not look good for me when I arrived down on the platform at 7th Ave. in Brooklyn at around 8:40 a.m. yesterday morning. A Q train was pulling in, and I thought I’d hop it to DeKalb and switch to my W. 4th St-bound B.

There was but one catch. This Q train was far too crowded to board. When the B then pulled up, it too was far too crowded to board, and a subsequent Q suffered the same fate. When a second Q pulled up moments later, I was able to cram my way in for the short hop to DeKalb. Then, I had to wait nearly 15 minutes for a B train. As usual, at no point did the MTA announce a problem, and it wasn’t until I arrived late to class that I learned I suffered through some good old “residual delays.”

Except I hadn’t really. A steady stream of Q trains kept arriving, but they were too full. Simply put, the demands of the ridership could not, for a morning, keep up with the supply of the trains New York City Transit had to offer.

This overcrowding to an extreme isn’t a new phenomenon. The MTA’s ridership levels over the last few years have approached records set over fifty years ago, and overcrowded trains have become a major problem.

Perhaps, though, the end is in sight. With thousands of people losing their jobs due to the recent economic slowdown, the MTA expects ridership levels to end their climb. Marlene Naanes has the report:

Transit ridership is at a 40-year high, continuing a steady increase since 1996. However, this month City Comptroller Bill Thompson predicted more than 150,000 job losses in the next two years, which could affect the number of people taking trains and buses or being able to afford fares.

An MTA spokesman, however, said that it is unclear if the number of straphangers will decrease. “There will be some reduction in the pace of growth, not necessarily a drop in ridership,” MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said.

In all likelihood, actual ridership won’t decline, but it won’t increase either. The MTA will lose some revenue because they won’t have the projected money from increased ridership, and the agency will still have to deal with overcrowding.

But, to find a silver lining to this cloud — or perhaps it’s the other way around — the trains won’t be even more crowded. This morning, as I crammed myself into a Q train packed to the gills with people, I could barely move. I doubt it could actually get much worse.

Categories : MTA Economics
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  • Subway porn · I’m not taking about pictures of new cars or sparkling tunnels. I’m talking about real pornography on someone’s iPod. According to Free Williamsburg writer Brian Ries, one of the passengers on his L train this morning was watching pornography, and the entire car knew about it. Perhaps a crowded train at rush hour isn’t the best time for one to fulfill his or her pornography needs. · (4)
  • New bus depot already in need of $1.1 million repairs · In 2003, the MTA opened up a fancy new bus depot on 100th St. between Lexington and Park. Five years later, the depot is already in need of substantial repairs. The walls are buckling, and bricks have fallen from the building. While some critics will claim this as par for the MTA’s course, it is in reality the fault of the contract, and according to NYC Transit head Howard Roberts, the MTA will not take this sitting down. “We will initiate proceedings against the original contractor,” he said to The Daily News earlier this week. Justice will be served. · (3)

We’ve all shared in that familiar experience of knowing that we’re going to miss the train.

We get to the top of the staircase, and we can hear the train pulling in. We swipe through the turnstile, pushing back against a wave of passengers pouring of the gate. We hear the announcement. “Stand clear of the closing doors.” We dash downstairs, hoping that maybe someone will block the doors. Maybe the conductor will have to hold the train.

With marked futility, we jump down the stairs only to see the train pulling away to the station, mere seconds separating us from the comfort of a train. While the next one isn’t that far behind — except late at night, it never is — there’s nothing more frustrating than just missing that train. For the next few minutes, we’ll stand at the platform’s edge peering into the dark tunnel. We’ll check our watches, tap our feet and think that maybe we shouldn’t have lingered in the shower. Everyone knows this feeling; no one likes it.

Over the weekend, Verlyn Klinkenborg, a member of The Times Editorial Board, penned a thoughtful piece on what he termed the “If Only” train. He writes:

Somehow, I always imagine that missing the train is the result of a single delay, not the loss of a second here and a second there since the alarm first went off. Perhaps I’d have caught that train if I’d gone to bed a few minutes earlier the night before. And while I stand on the platform, waiting for the next train, I have time to ponder the significance of the train that just pulled out. I can’t help feeling that if I’d caught that train, I’d already be in the future — and not the future I’ll eventually enter by hanging out in the present until the next train comes. How much better or worse that future would be I can’t really say.

This, of course, leads to another thought. Over the past 30 years, I’ve missed lots of “if only” trains in the New York subway system. What if I’d caught one of them, say, 25 years ago? Where would I be now? And what about the trains I made by a hair all these years? Surely those were almost “if only” trains. Because I caught them I must already be in a different future than I would have been had I missed them and gotten stuck in the present back in the past. Time travel is so confusing, even on the Broadway local.

While he is more resigned than I’ll ever be to missing that train, Klinkerborg so captures the essence of missing for that train by a second that it will be hard for me not to smile ruefully the next time I see the orange B gliding through the tunnel away from me.

Photo of a train doing just that by flickr user UKASEME.

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  • MTA gearing up for second round of budget projections · For an unprecedented second time this year, the MTA will soon be revising its budget projections, according to a report in Metro. Earlier this year, the MTA updated its financials to project a $900 million budget deficit. As the markets have crashed since that number was released, the agency will meet again to pour over the books in two weeks. What emerges from that meeting will not be good news for the MTA’s bottom line or passengers hoping for a small fare increase next year. This will be ugly. · (2)

Elliot Sander, the MTA’s first CEO and Executive Director, has a tough job right now. He’s supposed to be wielding the power once left to the chairman of the MTA’s board, and he’s supposed to be guiding a beleaguered public-benefit corporation through some very tough economic times.

While I think Sander has done an admirable job, he has steered something of a bumpy ship. In a very well done piece in today’s Times, transit beat writer William Neuman analyzes Sander’s tenure. The transportation expert-turned-MTA head has his supporters, and while his detractors are rather guarded in their words, they’re still there, assessing his every move.

When Mr. Sander took over the authority in January 2007, he became the first executive director to take full advantage of the expanded powers. But Mr. Sander’s position is also something of an unwieldy hybrid: he has much of the power once held by the chairman but not the broad sway and job security that comes with a fixed term and a vote on the board.

Though Mr. Sander is an employee of the board, he serves at the behest of the governor and can be removed at any time. And the governor he serves today is not the one who appointed him: his friend, Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned earlier this year in disgrace. Though Mr. Sander says he has a strong relationship with Mr. Spitzer’s replacement, Gov. David A. Paterson, the two are clearly not as close.

Richard L. Brodsky, a Westchester assemblyman who helped lead the push for the 2005 change in the authority’s structure, now worries that it was a mistake. Having no fixed term, he says, might undercut Mr. Sander’s ability to make demands of the governor, who is struggling to close his own widening budget shortfall.

“Lee has been a very good C.E.O.-slash-executive director at a time when that was needed to get the M.T.A. functioning again,” Mr. Brodsky said. “But it also needed a 400-pound gorilla who didn’t need the job and could say ‘No’ to governors, and I don’t think Lee ever thought of himself as having that job.”

Neuman’s article goes on to touch upon some of the ammunition Sander’s critics have used against them. He took a significant pay raise a time when the MTA’s finances were in shambles. He promised service increases and then had to roll them back a few weeks later. His State of the MTA speech, while appropriately grand, has approximately no chance of becoming a reality.

In the end, I give Sander a good grade for his effort. He’s overseen the agency through some of its toughest fiscal times while ensuring that the trains continue to run and that service levels remain the same. While there’s trouble brewing on the financial horizon for the MTA, for now, Sander remains the man for the job. He has the expertise and political support to see the MTA through some dark days.

Categories : MTA Politics
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  • Fare jumpers arrested for more serious crimes · In an effort to boost their revenue streams, the MTA has ramped up enforcement efforts against those who attempt to avoid paying their $2 fare. For the cops, it seems, these efforts have been paying off as around 400 of the 7000 people arrested per month have outstanding warrants for more serious crimes. In light of last week’s shooting in a Queens F station, the cops are now more aware than ever that around six percent of fare jumpers could pose a risk of violence. · (6)
  • 104 and counting · On October 27, 1904, at 1 p.m., the first Interborough Rapid Transit subway car departed City Hall en route to 145h St. For the next six hours, the IRT allowed complimentary pass holders on, and at 7 p.m., the gates opened, at five cents a ride, to the public. The Times wrote about what they called a simple ceremony and expressed remorse that President Roosevelt couldn’t attend. On the first day, from 7 p.m. until midnight, 25,000 per hour rode the rails, and 104 years later, the subways in New York are still going strong. Happy Anniversary. · (3)

Every few months, the issue of handicapped accessibility rears its head. Usually, the news focuses around how the MTA is slowly — very slowly — but steadily working to improve access for riders with disabilities, and today’s latest is no different.

Late last week, the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, the official MTA watchdog, released its assessment of the MTA’s accessibility efforts. The report gave mostly high marks to the transit agency but urged it to do more.

NY1’s Bobby Cuza filed a story about the report. As the PCAC did, Cuza highlighted how the MTA is actually ahead of schedule in bringing its subway stations in line with ADA requirements, but enforcement of these measures lags significantly. Cuza writes:

The report does acknowledge the significant progress the MTA has made. Back in 1992, the agency promised that 67 key subway stations would be made fully accessible by the year 2010 – a milestone the MTA reached this past summer, two years ahead of schedule.

But the report notes even so-called accessible stations often have broken-down elevators. And it recommends that stations display floor plans showing where elevators are located.

“We’d like to be able to use the elevators, but we need to know where they are,” said Dr. Jan Wells, associate director of PCAC. “And we think there should be diagrams posted in good places in the subway, and on the website.”

Despite these shortcomings, the PCAC did praise the New York City Transit for its recent efforts. “Given the magnitude of the challenge in making a 100-year old subway system accessible, NYCT should be applauded for the strides that have been made. Reaching the goal of 67 ADA accessible stations well ahead of the 2010 deadline is to be commended,” the report says.”PCAC recognizes, too, the support for improving accessibility expressed by current NYCT President Howard Roberts, especially in tight fiscal times, and we hope that this backing will continue.”

But despite this praise, the PCAC still urged NYC Transit to do more. I’ve included the full recommendations after the jump, but we’ve heard it all before. The agency should better present information about elevator outages, and the agency should quickly address elevator problems. Signage could be improved in stations, and train announcements should be clearly. For the most part, these are quality-of-life changes that would improve service for everyone while being of particular benefit to disabled riders.

Of course, the report hardly mentions the 800-pound gorilla in the room. “Despite the advances that have been made to date,” the watchdog committee wrote, “ensuring accessibility throughout the system is a long, costly, and continuing process.”

While the MTA must make any station it renovates handicapped-accessible and ADA-compliant, the agency doesn’t exactly have the money to voluntarily upgrade stations right now. In fact, if — or when — the MTA has to start cutting expenditures, voluntary services may be the first to go. We won’t see any steps backwards in addressing compliance, but the commendable forward progress may slow a bit over the next few years if funding starts to dry up.

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A view down the tracks of the Manhattan Bridge. (By flickr user Ioan Sameli)

In 1986, the city embarked a renovation project of the Mahattan Bridge that would take 18 years. The bridge had to be repaired because the subway cars that rumble by the northern and southern sides of the bridge cause the structure to sway.

For 18 years, various parts of the bridge were closed. Sometimes, the N went through the Montague St. Tunnel. Other years, the B and D didn’t make across the bridge. The Q turned from yellow to orange and back to yellow again depending upon the state of renovations. For the last four years, as Brooklyn has undergone a population boom, the easy access over the Manhattan Bridge has been one of the driving forces behind this push.

This weekend, we’ll return to the glory days for the 1990s, if only for 53 hours. The bridge is due for its biennial inspection as the city has to make sure its fixes are holding. As such, service along the Broadway and Sixth Ave. lines as they cross the bridge is fairly wacky.

The Q and N are running local in Manhattan and are heading into and out of Brooklyn via the Montague St. Tunnel. After DeKalb Ave., the trains will run along the Brighton and Sea Beach lines, respectively, out to Coney Island. That’s the easy part.

The D meanwhile is all over the place. In Manhattan, the train will run in two section. First, it goes as normally would to 34th St. At 34th St., the D will run local along the R and into and out of Brooklyn via the Montague St. Tunnel. After DeKalb Ave., the D will run express to Coney Island. Meanwhile, a shuttle will operate between W. 4th St. and Grand St. There will be a quiz on this on Monday.

And now on to everything else.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, October 25, Manhattan-bound 1 trains skip 238, 231, and 225 Sts. due to emergency track work. For service from these stations, take a Bronx-bound 1 to 242 St and transfer to a Manhattan-bound 1. For service to these stations, take the 1 to Dyckman St and transfer to a Bronx-bound 1.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, October 26, downtown 1 trains skip 207th St. due to emergency track work. For service from this station, take the A at 207 St-Broadway and transfer to the 1 at 168 St, Or take an uptown 1 to 215 St and transfer to a downtown 1. For service to this station, take the 1 to Dyckman St and transfer to an uptown 1.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 27, there are no 1 trains between 34th Street and South Ferry due to signal work near South Ferry. Customers may take the 2 train between 34th Street and Chambers Street. A free shuttle bus will operate between Chambers Street and South Ferry.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 27, uptown 2 trains skip 79th and 86th Sts. due to several jobs, including track chip-out north of 135th Street, and communication and cable installations.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 27, there are no 2 trains between 96th Street and 241st Street due to several jobs, including track chip-out north of 135th Street, and communication and cable installations. Free shuttle buses replace the 2 between 96th Street and 149th Street-Grand Concourse. 5 trains replace the 2 between 149th Street-Grand Concourse and 241st Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 27, 2 trains run local between 96th Street and Chambers Street due to signal work near South Ferry.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 27, there are no 3 trains running due to a track chip-out north of 135th Street station. Free shuttle buses and 24 trains provide alternate service.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 27, there are no C trains running. Customers should take the A instead. Uptown A trains run local from Euclid Avenue to 168th Street. Downtown A trains run local from 168th Street to West 4th Street, then on the F line to Jay Street, then resume local service to Euclid Avenue. These changes are due to Chambers Street Signal Modernization.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 27, D trains run in two sections due to the biennial inspection of Manhattan Bridge:

  • Between 205th Street and 34th Street-6th Avenue D station and
  • Between the 34th Street-Broadway Q station and Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 27, no D trains between 34th Street-6th Avenue and DeKalb Avenue due to the biennial inspection of Manhattan Bridge. A special shuttle S train runs between West 4th Street and Grand Street stations.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 27, Manhattan-bound F trains skip Ft. Hamilton Parkway, 15th Street-Prospect Park, and 4th Avenue due to construction of employee facilities at Church Avenue station.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, October 24 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 27, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Long Island City-Court Square. Customers should take the E or R instead.

From 1 a.m. Saturday, October 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 27, J trains run in two sections due to structural work at Canal Street:

  • Between Jamaica Center and Essex Street and
  • Between Essex Street and Chambers Street

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 27, free shuttle buses replace L trains between Canarsie-Rockaway Parkway and Myrtle-Wyckoff Avs. due to removal of the old concrete roadbed at Bushwick Avenue-Aberdeen Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 27, N and Q trains run on the R between DeKalb Avenue and Canal Street due to the biennial inspection of the Manhattan Bridge.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 27, N and Q trains run local between Canal Street and 57th Street due to the biennial inspection of the Manhattan Bridge.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 25 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 27, Manhattan-bound Q trains skip Neck Road and Avenue U due to manhole excavation and conduit work.

Categories : Service Advisories
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