It’s an obvious idea, really. When an agency has hundreds of miles of tracks, subway cars and bus along with millions of passengers each day, why not test out innovations on the fly? Who needs a laboratory when New York City is filled with guinea pigs?

This approach to innovation is one that, over the last few years, New York City Transit has readily embraced, and with Howard Roberts at the helm, the agency is going to continue this policy full speed ahead. “Piloting stuff makes great sense,” Roberts said to me two weeks ago.

Over the last eighteen months, since Roberts took the helm at NYCT, more and more pilot programs have rolled out on the rails. The MTA embraced the Rider Report Cards and is in the midst of year two of the grading project. As a result of those report cards, NYC Transit has instituted the line manage program. Elsewhere, the city has seen the return of double-decker buses.

But the best, perhaps, is yet to come. As I wrote in August, New York City Transit will soon be tested train cars with flip seats that will enable the agency to accommodate more passengers during peak hours. The catch, of course, is that some of these cars won’t have seats, and everyone will be left standing.

Roberts wants to institute a test run of this program sooner rather than later to see if New York City Transit can begin to alleviate the problems of overcrowded. By deploying these retrofitted cars on some of the more crowded lines, the agency can add capacity to lines that can’t take more trains per hour.

When this pilot program commences — and it will still be a few months before that launch date — NYC Transit plans to stagger the seatless cars. Group them in the middle, and those rider angling for seats will avoid these cars like the plague. Mix it up, and straphangers will test these cars.

The MTA these doesn’t have much leeway in its budget for off-line experimentation. That the agency is willing to experiment on the fly, that they’re willing to take the risk that some pilot programs will work while others may not, is a sure sign that leadership is willing to do what it takes to respond to the demands of the passengers. If only our elected representatives were so obliging.

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When I sat down with New York City Transit President Howard Roberts nearly two weeks ago, our talk eventually turned to the state of the system. We all know about the MTA’s attempts to restore the system to a state of good repair, and we all know that the trains are very crowded with many lines running at or near capacity. Roberts and I spoke at length about these two challenges New York City Transit faces in meeting customer demand.

“My personal estimate is that only about 100 of our stations truly qualify for the state of good repair,” Roberts said to me, and I couldn’t disagree with his estimate. Outside of the so-called Central Business District in Manhattan and a few flagship stations — Atlantic Ave. and Coney Island come to mind — in the Outer Boroughs, the number of stations with cracked walls , exposed pipes and decaying platforms far outnumber those in top shape.

As always, it’s a matter of money. Restoring the system to a state of good repair remains at the top of the MTA’s list of priorities, but the agency must first spend the available funds on maintenance and operations. As long as the tracks are in good repair, as long as the cars are running, the stations will come third even as they considered a major priority.

The other part of his equation is line capacity. “A significant number of lines are already operating at capcacity,” Roberts said. Almost wistfully, the NYCT head spoke about the progress in other parts of the world. Shanghai, for instances, has 89 tunnel-boring machines at work and by 2012, will have a subway system three-quarters the size of New York’s. Meanwhile, in a few years, the city will have tunnel-boring machines digging out the LIRR’s East Side Access route, the Second Ave. Subway and the 7 Line extension, but those projects pale in comparison to those underway in Asia.

While the MTA awaits this great awakening, to meet ridership demands, the agency will attempt to bring computer-based train control online over the next few years. In early tests, the returns are very promising. On a closed L line, NYCT was able to feed 31 trains per hour through the tunnels as opposed to the 23 trains per hour peak-use riders currently enjoy. These are, as Roberts put it, “huge capacity improvements that we can get without boring more tunnels.”

These CBTC plans though are still at least five to ten years away from reality. While the MTA is eying an outfitting of the newer signal system on the IRT lines and potentially the F line as well, again, the money just isn’t there. It will continue not to be there as long as the economy slumps.

But as some point, this lack of state and federal investment will come back to haunt our country, Roberts believed. “Either Americans wake up with respect to infrastructure needs or we will no longer be the preeminent power in the world,” he warned. I couldn’t agree more.

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  • MTA, TWU look to avoid strike this year · Based on reports from the Transport Workers Union Local 100, the MTA and the TWU should avoid a repeat of the 2005 transit strike. Pete Donohue relied the information late last week that the two sides are already talking, and the TWU board has authorized an early settlement. This is good news. The last thing we need is another crippling transit strike. · (0)

In some alternate universe New York City, this transit hub already exists.

Thirty days ago Back in May, the MTA had just told Community Board 1 that answers on the fate of the Fulton St. Transit Hub would be forthcoming in 30 days. Over 150 days later, we still haven’t heard a peep out of the transit agency concerning this oft-delayed transit hub.

At the end of last week, the news got worse. The MTA still has no idea what’s happening downtown. With the economy in free fall and money tight all around, Lower Manhattan may just be stuck with a giant blue fence at the corner of Fulton St. and Broadway for a long time.

Downtown Express’ Julie Shapiro has more for us:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority still does not know when the Fulton St. Transit Center will be complete or what the completed structure will look like, but Bill Wheeler, the agency’s planning director, promised City Councilmember Alan Gerson answers soon…

One redesign possibility for the station is a smaller above-ground structure with a flat skylight as opposed to the domed oculus featured in the original design.

The M.T.A. could see some automatic cost savings if the economy continues its downward spiral, since the overheated construction market may cool and the price of materials could drop, Wheeler said.

Work on the belowground portion of the station is moving forward, and Wheeler expects the construction on Dey St. to be complete in the next month. Reopening the Cortlandt St. R/W station, though, will take at least several more months, he said.

Well, at least they’re putting a silver lining on the dark rainclouds of our terrible economy. Too bad the MTA won’t have the money to pay the decreased construction costs.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot going on in this short article. We know that the MTA still has no idea what to do with the transit hub’s above-ground structure, and while they plan to award contracts for the rest of the work, that hub will remain unfinished for at least the next three or four years.

We also see that the Cortlandt St. station, once due to reopen over a year ago, will be closed well into 2009. Much like the plans for the World Trade Center site itself, this transit hub, once a vital part to the redevelopment of Lower Manhattah, has just been one giant piece of bad news, and this latest development is no exception. It will be a great day when that Hub is finally built, and the city can put this ugly episode in its past.

Categories : Fulton Street
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I pulled off a rare feat yesterday afternoon. I missed the same train at two different stations ten minutes apart.

I had to get from the W. 4th St. area up to 83rd and Central Park West yesterday afternoon. The obvious way to go would be to take a B or C from the village to 81st St. As I walked down the ramp at W. 4th to the uptown platform, I just missed a C train. So I ambled down the stairs to the B/D/F/V area and just missed a B. Bad luck.

Hanging out on the mezzanine between the two platforms, I waited for the next train, and the A won that race. I thought perhaps I’d be able to cut the B off at 59th St. After all, the B makes four stops before 59th St. and generally sits at 7th Ave. until the signals clear. The A makes three stops before 59th St.

Well, as the A pulled into 59th St., the B was just leaving Columbus Circle. My gambit failed, and I managed to miss the same train at two different stations. Rare are the days when that happens.

Anyway, on to the weekend service alerts. Watch that West Side IRT. It’s a doozy.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, downtown 1, 2, and 3 trains skip 96th Street due to station rehabilitation work.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, 2 and 3 trains run local between 96th and Chambers Streets due to 96th Street station rehabilitation.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, free shuttle buses replace 2 trains between Wakefield-241st and East 180th Streets due to track, structural, and steel work north of East 180th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, there are no 4 trains between Utica Avenue and Brooklyn Bridge due to conduit and cable work. The 3 and a special J train provide alternate service.

From 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, October 11 and Sunday, October 12, Manhattan-bound 4 trains skip Mosholu Parkway and Bedford Park Blvd. due to installation of the 3rd rail connection between Woodlawn and Bedford Park Blvd.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, 4 trains run local between 125th Street and Brooklyn Bridge due to conduit and cable work.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, there are no 5 trains between 149th Street-Grand Concourse and East 180th Streets due to track, structural and steel work north of East 180th Street. Customers should take the 2 instead.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, there are no 5 trains between 42nd Street-Grand Central and Bowling Green due to conduit and cable work. The 4 and a special J train provide alternate service.

From 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, October 11, Flushing-bound 7 trains skip 33rd, 40th, 46th, 52nd, 69th, 74th, 82nd, 90th, 103rd, and 111th Streets due to track panel installation between 74th Street and 82nd Street.

From 6 a.m. to 12 noon Sunday, October 12, Manhattan-bound 7 trains skip 69th, 52nd, 46th, 40th, and 33rd Sts. due to work on a staircase at the 33rd Street-Rawson Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Sunday, October 12, uptown C trains run express from Canal to 145th Streets. There is no C train service between 145th and 168th Sts. Customers should take the A instead. Free shuttle buses replace the A train between 168th Street and 207th Street. These service changes are due to 168th Street tunnel lighting work and ADA work at 47th-50th Sts-Rockefeller Center station (D).

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, Coney Island-bound D trains run local from 34th to West 4th Streets due to steel repair.

From 12:01 a.m. to 6 a.m. Saturday, October 11 and Sunday, October 12 and from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, Brooklyn-bound D trains run express from Pacific to 36th Streets due to rail installation south of 36th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, uptown D trains run on the A line from West 4th Street to 59th Street due to ADA work at 47th-50th Sts-Rockefeller Center station.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, Manhattan-bound E trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to Queens Plaza due to a track-chip out north of Queens Plaza.

From 12:01 a.m. Sunday, October 12 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, Manhattan-bound F trains run local from Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue to 21st Street-Queensbridge due to a track chip-out north of Queens Plaza.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, October 10 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Long Island City-Court Square due to station painting at 77th Street station (R). Customers should take the E or R instead. (Because of increased headways on the R, it is necessary to shorten the G in Queens.)

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, 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. Sunday, October 12 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, Q trains run in two sections due to rail and track plate renewal:

  • Between 57th Street and Brighton Beach and
  • Between Brighton Beach and Stillwell Avenue

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, October 11 to 5 a.m. Monday, October 13, free shuttle buses replace R trains between Bay Ridge-95th Street and 36th Street due to station painting at 77th Street station.

Categories : Service Advisories
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  • The MTA’s South Ferry Christmas present · According to the Downtown Express, the MTA will open the South Ferry station this December just prior to Christmas. While the neighborhood weekly reports this as, more or less, an on time opening, in reality, this project was originally set for an early 2008 completion date. No matter the final deadline, this new two-track, full-train solution to South Ferry should make for an easier ride up and down the 1. · (0)

Over the last few weeks, the rather amusing image, at right, from the Daily Kos has made the rounds online. While it’s mostly funny for its portrayal of Sarah Palin as a derailed Thomas The Tank Engine, the image has more than a bit of truth about it when it comes to the presidential candidates and their public transit policies.

To wit, we have a story out of the Washington Post about John McCain’s love — or lack thereof — of public transit. Earlier this week, in the midst of a funding crisis for DC’s WMATA, McCain made a point to vote against a bill that would have provided fiscal relief for the rather beleaguered system affectionately termed America’s Subway by those in the District. Michael Laris reported:

McCain was also one of two dozen senators who voted last week against a bill that included [Congressman Tom] Davis’s proposal to authorize $1.5 billion in dedicated funding to Metro over 10 years. The provision was part of broader rail safety and Amtrak funding legislation.

Davis said that he was disappointed with McCain’s vote but that he thinks McCain’s opposition was directed more at Amtrak.

A statement from the McCain campaign, however, targeted the Metro funding as well as Amtrak. “Senator McCain strongly objects to earmarks in the bill such as a $1.5 billion earmark for the Washington . . . Metro system and questions if this money is warranted above the needs that may exist among other mass transit systems in our country,” the statement says. “With the serious financial situation facing our nation, this [multibillion-dollar] commitment of taxpayers’ dollars can [be] dedicated to addressing far more important national priorities.”

From the campaign’s statement alone, it’s clear that John McCain simply doesn’t understand the role transit plays in our national economy. It’s not a stretch to say that New York City and Washington, DC, are such vital, important cities because of their transit networks. If bankers in New York had to drive into the Big Apple everyday and couldn’t enjoy Metro-North, the Long Island Rail Road or New York City Transit, New York just wouldn’t be a financial hub. The same holds for DC.

While the economy is hurting for various other reasons right now, avoiding investment in transit won’t help those “far more important national priorities.” In fact, as I noted yesterday, transit should be one of those important national priorities.

A few weeks ago, City Hall, a monthly focused on New York politics, called for a national transit bailout. John McCain would rather bailout everything else other than transit, and as we know, without investment in infrastructure, the rest of the economy will suffer.

I hate to bring partisan politics into this blog too often. By it’s very nature, it’s a partisan site in favor of pro-transit investment that should pressure drivers to avoid unnecessary car rides. But right now, it’s safe to say that if transit is a key issue for any voter in this campaign — and considering the state of the MTA, New Yorkers should focus on this — John McCain is not the right candidate for the job.

We need proactive solutions to our transit funding problems. The WMATA and the MTA play too vital a role in our country and are in too deep a hole to get out on their own.

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The MTA is not immune from the nation’s current economic woes. According to a story with alarming consequences in today’s Daily News, the transit agency could be facing a budget crisis when and if its debt payments increase due to rising interest rates.

Pete Donohue has the details:

Skyrocketing interest rates caused by the Wall Street meltdown could raise the MTA’s annual payments by tens of millions of dollars above what was anticipated in its budget plans, experts told the Daily News.

The latest financial headache for the debt-heavy Metropolitan Transportation Authority comes as the authority faces a huge 2009 budget gap and is trying to avoid service cuts. “The potential impact could be significant,” one expert said.

The best-case scenario would be for government bailout efforts to free up credit and lower interest rates soon. “If that happens soon – very soon – our budget target for interest cost has a prayer of being met,” said Doreen Frasca, chairwoman of the MTA’s transit committee and the founder of a financial services firm.

The MTA issued a statement to Donohue about potential debt payment problems, and while the agency has stabliized some long-term bonds, short-term, variable-rate certificates pose a problem. “The situation is in such flux that the full impact on our bottom line cannot yet be assessed,” the statement said.

In short, the MTA could be facing a massive budget crisis if their debt payment plans don’t steady. The agency will not have the money it needs to pay off its massive debt, and if creditors call in the money, bankruptcy would be the worst case scenario.

While the federal government is busy bailing out investment banks and financial institutes that made a number of unnecessarily risky investments, will they extend the courtesy to institutions like the MTA whose long-term financial health is just as vital to our economy as the failing banks? I doubt it.

Categories : MTA Economics
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