• House delivers $237 million for MTA operating budget · Following up on yesterday’s item about Rep. Jerry Nadler’s (D-N.Y) promises to deliver federal funds for the MTA, the House voted to approve a bill authorizing $1.7 billion for public transit systems. Ostensibly, the money is earmarked for lowering fares and expanding operations as commuters the high cost of driving for public transit. This is the first time federal funds are being sent to public transit systems for operating costs, as the MTA is expected to receive $237 million, the agency will be able to use this money to pare down its debt. Don’t expect the fares to drop despite Congress’ wishes. [Associated Press] · (0)

At the end of last week, when New York City Transit announced that some service increases were heading our way in July, one line was noticeably absent from the list. That line was, of course, the IND Crosstown train, better known as the G train.

In fact, in writing about the service changes, Times transit reporter William Neuman explicitly mentioned the G train:

One line that had been scheduled for more service in the original proposal last December but was not included in this round of improvements was the G. Riders on the G often complain of long waits between trains. Officials said the G did not exceed the loading guidelines.

In English, that means that, based on metrics set by NYC Transit, G train capacity and wait times were within acceptable margins. In other words, tough.

G train activists — some of the more vocal in the system — were outraged. “The M.T.A. has done a grave injustice to G train riders and commuters in Brooklyn if it fails to enact service enhancements,” Hakeem Jeffries, Assembly representative from Brooklyn said late last week.

What Mr. Jeffries conveniently left was his anti-congestion pricing stance. While bemoaning the fate of service along a train important to his constituents, Jeffries didn’t offer up a mea culpa on his stance surrounding a plan that would have brought in money for the MTA to fund service upgrades.

This is, of course, nothing new for beleaguered proponents of the G train. While not the most devoted blogger, Teresa Toro’s Save the G organization has long fought for more service on the only major subway line to eschew the borough of Manhattan. And in this case I have to side with Toro, Jeffries and G train riders.

The MT’s loading guidelines view service overall. It’s true that the G train on weekends and off-peak times is mostly empty, and the ten-minute intervals between trains is manageable. But during rush hour, as residents from Gowanus to Greenpoint to and from Forest Hills to Long Island City scramble to make their G train connections, the four-car and six-car trains are packed to the gills. While the MTA needs to balance G train service with the demands of the Queens Boulevard trains, the G — particularly in the norther stretches of Brooklyn — needs more rush hour service. How and when it will happen is anyone’s guess.

Categories : Brooklyn, Queens
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Update 11:26 p.m.: A long time ago, all the way back in August of 2005, the MTA unveiled plans to install security cameras in subway stations as part of its counterterrorism efforts. The cameras were supposed to be installed and fully operation within three years which would put this project’s completion date in, oh, about six weeks.

Well, as astute riders may have noticed by now, the vast majority of subway stations do not have cameras and those that do had them long before 2005. While the MTA promised a pilot program for cameras in subway cars a few months ago, New York City is a long way away from seeing and being seen by surveillance cameras in the subway stations.

Today, the news got a little worse — or better, if you feel these cameras are an intrusion of privacy — when the MTA conceded that the project still has a steep mountain to climb. And according to a few anonymous agency officials, the original timeline for this project was overly ambitions. Who woulda guessed?

William Neuman has the story:

Aging fiber-optic cable in Brooklyn and Queens has become the latest obstacle to a planned high-tech system of surveillance cameras meant to safeguard the subway and commuter railroads, according to Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials…

On Wednesday, the authority’s board authorized the replacement of 84,000 feet of old fiber-optic cable, which was installed in the late 1980s. The replacement will cost $5 million and is being done as part of a separate project to build out the subway’s data network.

According to a board document, tests on the cable showed that it had “many broken fibers unsuitable to carry the high bandwidth required” to transmit large amounts of data, which hindered the surveillance camera project. The document did not say how long it would take to replace the cable.

The anonymous officials conceded that the MTA’s ambitious plans may not even be realized for another two or three years. There is no longer an internal timetable however, and the MTA must first replace a fiber optics cable outside that, according to Neuman, runs along the J/Z line from Broadway Junction to Sutphin Boulevard and along the E to Union Turnpike.

So as we sit here in 2008, and it looks like our subway stations won’t have security cameras until nearly a full decade after the Sept. 11 terrorist and attacks, around six or seven years after the Madrid Metro bombing in 2004 and five or six years after the London Undergound attacks. Point fingers anyway or bemoan the presence of cameras in the stations, but no matter how you slice or dice it, that’s quite the response time.

Categories : Subway Security
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It’s no secret these days that the MTA is in financial trouble. While the word bankruptcy hasn’t been tossed around yet, with the agency facing a few billion dollars in debt, we’re probably not too far away from that point. But an unlikely source of funds — in the form of pork — may be riding to the rescue soon.

Yesterday, in The Observer, Eliot Brown summed up the financial straits in which the MTA currently finds itself. For the most part, Brown rehashes territory familiar to loyal SAS readers: The MTA doesn’t have a dedicated source of revenue outside of the volatile real estate taxes. Having spend years borrowing to fund both ambitious capital plans and operating budgets, the agency finds itself on the edge of a massive financial crisis.

But Brown touches upon a new source of potential revenue in the form of senior Democrat and chair of the House Transportation Committee Jerrold Nadler, one of the most influential New Yorkers in the House. Writes Brown:

At the center of the Congressional efforts is Mr. Nadler, the infrastructure devotee who is now the most senior Democrat from the Northeast on the House Transportation Committee, which is slated to reauthorize a 12-figure, six-year transportation bill in 2009 that would likely steer substantial money to the M.T.A.

“What helps is that not only am I very senior, but compared to five years ago or six years ago, we’re in the majority now, not the minority, and we have five Democrats from New York on the committee,” he said.

The M.T.A. is planning on more than $8 billion from the federal government, an amount Mr. Nadler said seemed reasonable. But much will depend on who wins the presidential election.

The presidential comment, by the way, is way anyone who cares about the New York City subways should take a good long look at the public transit policies of Barack Obama.

Anyway, the MTA is now relying on a substantial federal contribution which basically amounts to a big barrel of pork for the region from Nadler. They’re also hoping for a magically monetary solution from Richard Ravitch. Meanwhile, as MTA CEO Elliot Sander noted in Brown’s article, the agency can’t really trim the internal fat anymore. “The M.T.A. has already taken significant steps to tighten our belts,” Sander said to Brown.

This is, of course, a risky strategy for the MTA. While Nadler’s promise is refreshing and one our representatives in Albany should adopt, the federal transportation has a long way to go before funds reach New York City. The bills will have to clear the House and the Senate, and a president — Bush or whoever wins in November — will have to sign off on the bill. If John McCain captures the White House, it won’t be a result of any voters in New York.

The promised money from Nadler is a start, and it’s refreshing to hear from a New York politician who is willing to get money into the coffers of those agencies who need it. But I’m afraid that this might be too little, too late. We need Albany to take the MTA’s financial situation seriously. We need more money for our transit network before it gets much worse.

Categories : MTA Economics
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  • NYC Transit increases fare-jumping fines · It’s official. Beginning around July 7, 2008, fines for evading the fares in the buses and subways will go from $60 to $100. It is the first such increase in over two decades, and NYC Transit notes that “virtually all other forms of civil fines in the region have increased since the 1980′s, quite substantially in many cases.” Did you know that police handed out nearly 85,000 fare-evasion summonses last year alone? [New York City Transit] · (2)
  • MTA Board votes to end free perk program · After weeks of bad publicity and legal threats from New York’s Attorney General, the MTA Board voted this morning to end the free perk program. No longer will current and former board members enjoy free E-ZPasses and MetroCards for life. Instead, only current board members will receive the passes, and they are too be used for official MTA business only. Anyone want to bet that current board members are suddenly going to making many more trips for “official business only” now? [City Room] · (0)

The two-track station at 72nd St. will be significantly narrower than the originally-planned three-track stop. (Source: MTA Capital Construction)

When I started Second Ave. Sagas in November of 2006, I had planned to focus on the Second Ave. Subway and its progress. But the day-to-day construction of a new subway line doesn’t make for compelling blogging on a daily basis, and the MTA just has so much to offer. So Second Ave. Sagas has evolved to become a site about the MTA, its subways and public transportation in and around New York in general.

Today, though, we’re going to revisit those Second Ave. Subway roots. As the MTA struggles to meet budget projections by deferring planned capital improvements and cutting various services, the Second Ave. Subway is facing the same fiscal problems. Already over budget and behind schedule, the Second Ave. Subway is now facing the dreaded project modification axe as well.

In a presentation last week to Community Board 8 (available here as a PDF), the MTA announced plans to scale back the planned station stop at 72nd St. from three tracks to two. According to MTA documents, these cuts are a product of — what else? — rising costs. By eliminating one of the tracks, the MTA will reduce construction expenditures by lessening the amount of material excavated, the number of truck trips needed for the job, the amount of material needed for the station and the number of and dollar amount of the deep subsurface easements in the area around 72nd St. Yes, there will be a quiz.

Now, as critics of the current Second Ave. Subway plan have often noted, this new subway line is sorely lacking in express service, and while monetary concerts preclude a four-track system — something we’re bound to regret in, oh, twenty years or so — the third track at 72nd St. would have made orchestrating the Q’s merge from the Broadway line onto the T’s Second Ave. line easier. As the original environmental impact statement said in 2004:

[The 72nd St. station] would accommodate a three-track station and the transition to the existing Broadway Line, which would allow for a smooth merge between the two services (Second Avenue and Broadway) and permit turning back some Broadway services under special operating conditions, such as the closure of the Manhattan Bridge tracks, which result in additional trains on the Broadway Line.

Over on Subchat, the debate over the fate of this track extends through many messages with some folks believing that it was a luxury that could go with money tight and others believing that we’ll come to miss it. I believe that the lack of a third track may, at times, hold up merges from Broadway onto the Second Ave. line. It will cause passengers transferring from a T to a Q at 72nd St. to wait for the next train instead of finding one waiting across the platform, but that’s getting way too far ahead of ourselves as the sections south of 72nd St. on Second Ave. are simply plans on paper with no funding behind them right now.

In the end, many people will see this move as a precursor to the eventual collapse of this project yet again. I don’t see that happening though. The MTA, the city, the state and the feds have spent too much money on this version of the Second Ave. Subway for it to fall apart again. We may only get three stops for now; we may get more. But sometime around 2015 subways will run up Second Ave. The city needs it too much.

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With construction fences lining the avenue, it’s easy to see why Second Ave. businesses are suffering. (Photo courtesy of The Launch Box. Click to enlarge.)

Amidst all the bad news surrounding MTA budgets and E-ZPass scandals last week, the Second Ave. Business Association is trying to draw attention to another subway-inspired plight.

The construction of the city’s long-awaited subway line is stifling businesses to the point of collapse along Second Ave. As construction slowly makes it way south, those in the line of fire are holding their breaths as advocates work for a financial solution to aid those in peril. Christine Lin of the Epoch Times has more on this story:

Since the Metropolitan Transportation Authority began construction of the Second Avenue Subway in March, businesses between 91st and 96th streets have suffered, say storeowners in the area.

Crowe’s Bar and Restaurant has had to lay off several employees in nine months. Sidewalk space has been reduced from 21 square feet to only six, discouraging foot traffic and ultimately causing six businesses to close, according to Barbara D’Antonio, owner of Wine Lovers just down the street on Second Avenue…

Due to extensive tunneling, the construction will continue until 2015, working its way down Second Ave. The area between 91st and 96th streets will serve as the launch box for the tunnel-boring machine, so the area will be affected for the duration of construction.

Business owners fear that in that time, the noise and dust will drive more stores to close, and in their stead chain stores will spring up. Already another six stores are in immediate danger of closing, say the business owners.

Currently, as Ben at The Launch Box detailed last week, three bills are winding their way through the New York State Assembly. These measures would help businesses currently impacted by the construction and those facing future problems due to the project’s making its way from the East 90s down to the 70s. These bills include tax abatements and grants for affected businesses. At the same time, the MTA is urging everyone to Shop Second Avenue.

But will these measures be enough? The Daily News provides some concrete figures, and businesses along Second Ave. are losing both customers and employees. Some owners are seeing significant decreases in revenue, and many others say their businesses will close if the bills don’t pass the Assembly.

I’m torn on this topic. I feel for the business owners along Second Ave. who are seeing their livelihoods impacted by the construction. But I know that the city needs this subway. It is again up to the people in charge to provide for these business owners during lean times. We can’t allow the city to run rampant over people’s lives as Robert Moses did while building the city’s numerous neighborhood-destroying roads, but we can’t watch mega-projects that are vital to the city’s future founder.

As Carolyn Maloney, Congressional representation from the Upper East Side, said, “We don’t want to wake up and find a brand new subway line surrounded by empty storefronts. It is only fair that the New Yorkers who are bearing the burden of Second Avenue Subway construction get the help they need.”

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