• Envisioning Moses’ Manhattan · When Robert Moses ruled New York, roadways were king, and transit was shunned. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the leaders representing this transit-dependent city haven’t yet managed to overcome this irrational auto-friendly bias. As the State Senate debates the MTA’s future, design blog Vanshnookenraggen recently reimagined Manhattan in the image of Moses. Using Google maps and some imaging software, Vanshnookenraggen pictured the city as it would be with the ill-fated Lower Manhattan Expressway and Mid-Manhattan Expressway. Those projects would have been nightmares indeed for the city. · (10)

When all permanent measures fail, take the temporary road. That’s the lesson the State Senate is prepared to unleash upon the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, according to sources in Albany.

Faced with a March 25 deadline, irrational hatred of East River bridge tolls, an Assembly on board with Richard Ravitch and the need to do something quickly, the State Senate is prepared to unveil a temporary fix that will solve the MTA’s budget problems for this year.

According to NY1, the plan is a stop-gap measure: Tolls are out, any support for the MTA’s capital plan is out and a 25 percent fare hike is out. In will be a payroll tax, a four percent fare hike and a few other measures. While Richard Ravitch, the architect behind an equitable tax-toll-fare hike plan that would have saved the MTA, warned Albany against temporary fixes, the State Senate has all but officially rejected tolls and is going its own way.

Nicholas Confessore and William Neuman, writing an elegy to the East River bridge tolls in The Times, called the latest plan a “a scaled-back, short-term alternative to bail out the authority.” Reports the duo:

The Senate proposal, which was presented privately to Democratic Senators on Monday afternoon, would include a 4 percent fare increase, half of what Mr. Ravitch had proposed. It would also impose a tax of 25 cents on every $100 of payroll on employers within the 12 counties served by the authority. That would be significantly less than the 34 cents that Mr. Ravitch had proposed.

“The immediate impact would be, all service cuts are restored, fare increases would be cut in half, and there would be no tolls,” said one of the two people briefed on the plan.

Democratic staff members reviewed some of the authority’s finances in recent days and concluded that a scaled-back plan would suffice in the short term. But the Senate proposal would require the transportation authority to submit to a deeper forensic auditing, a step lawmakers from both parties have demanded as a condition of laying out more taxpayer money for the authority, long dogged by waste and corruption.

Senate staff members have not finished calculating precisely how much revenue their plan would generate. But it would clearly be far less than Mr. Ravitch’s plan, requiring lawmakers to return to the issue again within months. But one of the two people who were briefed said that since the authority’s capital spending plan was already financed through the end of this year, Senate Democrats believed there was time to return later to find a more comprehensive solution.

If this is what Carl Kruger earlier on Monday called “comprehensive and so outside the box that everybody should want to partner with it,” it’s clearly time for some new New York state leadership.

This is really just a punt by the State Senate. They’re enacting the least offensive measures of the Ravitch Plan while pushing off the MTA’s impending Doomsday by a few more months. Richard Ravitch knows what he’s talking about, and Sheldon Silvery, the Assembly speaker prepared to support tolls, recognizes now what the Senate will have to again tackle in a few months. The MTA’s long-term fix lies with the East River tolls just as it rested on the Triborough Bridge revenue a few decades ago.

If this is actually the plan to emerge from the Senate, I guess transit supporters should be happy. After all, if the MTA doesn’t have to cut back service while raising fares just four percent, New York has been saved from a transit doomsday. The MTA, though, is left with no clear vision for a future at a time when it should be laying the financial groundwork for more of the Second Ave. subway and more capital projects.

In six months or so, the Senate will have to revisit this issue. Maybe by then Malcolm Smith can corral the missing toll votes. The battle might be over, the war in a truce, but this whole story — a Ravitch-inspired fix that will require sacrifices from everyone — isn’t over yet.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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  • Twenty minutes after opening, South Ferry stop shuttered by Canal St. water main · It was the best of times and the worst of times for the MTA this afternoon. After fifteen months of delays and cost overruns, the new South Ferry terminal on the 1 line opened shortly after noon today. Twenty minutes later, a 140-year-old watermain near the Holland Tunnel broke, halting service south along the IRT to the new station. If that’s not a metaphor for this project, I don’t know what is.

    Update 6:20 p.m.: This sad parable just got more depressing. The MTA’s website reports “ongoing signal problems” at South Ferry. The MTA had months to test the operational signals at South Ferry, and yet, on day one, there are problems. MTA fail indeed.

    Update 11:30 p.m.: For the official word on the first new station to open in the subway system, check out the MTA press release. While we half-jokingly mock the transit authority about the delays and the unrelated water main break, opening up a new station and attempting to expand the system while combating other financial difficulties are laudable goals. At present, the MTA’s operating finances are in a sorry state, but those will improve in the future. When they do, the system should be a robust, far-reaching and modern one.

    The station is also the first post-9/11 Lower Manhattan project to open, and the politicians speaking earlier today were quick to praise. “This station represents not only our joint city, state and federal commitment to rebuilding Lower Manhattan, but also our commitment to mass transit in New York State,” Gov. David Paterson said. “This station is vital to the residents, commuters and tourists who pass through it each day, by allowing for increased subway service, better connections and spurring economic growth in Lower Manhattan. I thank our Congressional delegation for pushing for this funding in Washington. Projects like the South Ferry Station keep New York’s mass transit system among the best in the world.” · (6)

As the MTA’s self-imposed Doomsday rapidly approaches, New York Gov. David Paterson is resorting to a tried and true political method of buying time and votes for the MTA. According to The Post, Paterson is attempting to buy MTA votes with a $279 million slush fund for Senators. It’s government pork at its finest.

Fredric U. Dicker writes:

Gov. Paterson plans to tap into a little-noticed, $279 million slush fund to “buy” the votes of state Senate Democrats who are resisting his bridge-toll plan and pared-down budget, The Post has been told.

The slush fund is buried in Paterson’s $121 billion proposed “bare bones” state budget and is made up of reappropriated pork-barrel “member item” money left over from past years.

Much of the slush money was appropriated for projects backed by Senate Republicans, who narrowly lost their majority to the Democrats in the November election. That money could now be shifted to Democrat-favored pork.

It’s unclear if this move will actually help win votes for the MTA. New York State Senators are anything but honest and could just take this money and run. But if it works, Paterson’s about-face on pork spending will just be another move in the long line of political compromise for the sake of the MTA.

Hopefully, this $279 million gamble works. We can’t afford for it not to.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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The less you know…

By · Comments (12) ·

On Friday afternoon, I linked to a Sewell Chan piece on The Times City Room blog about the impending cut backs and fare hikes the MTA may soon have to enact. As the day dragged on, Chan’s piece generated over 180 comments on The Times’ website, but as one of my readers noted, these readers are woefully uninformed about the state of the MTA.

Let’s take a peek at some of the more egregiously ill-informed comments, starting with comment 8:

It’s because there workers demand raises every year since they are part of a union, they are entitled to a raise. That’s what the last hike was about not our budget problem but giving the workers more money.

Comment 9:

Didnt they just have a billion dollar surplus?!? What happened to that money?

Comment 23:

LIES!!! There is no fiscal crisis in the MTA. The MTA runs 2 sets of books, as proven by State Comptroller Alan Hevesi in 2002. They hide millions of dollars in this second accounting ledger so they can cry “Bankruptcy!” and squeeze millions of more dollars from the state and city budgets.

Comment 53:

The MTA has been paying fraudulent LIRR disability cases and inflated overtime/social security benefits. What happened to the surplus a few years back? What happened to the second set of accounting books

My personal favorite, e-mailed to me by fellow transit supporter Chris, at Comment 130:

This is RIDICULOUS!!!!!!! These idiots decide to “invest” the money into dangerous and ultimately pathetically awful securities….actually, more like “get-rich-quick” schemes for the highest levels of our society….you know, those geniuses who know better than us morons…..and now we have to foot the bill? Why cant Peter Kalikow, in all his brilliance take a pay cut, huh? He makes upwards of 400K for what? To bury the MTA in debt and have to impose these hardships on us? They should be dragged out into the streets and each given 100 lashes. Then they can keep their jobs. I bet you it wont happen again after that!

In case anyone has forgotten, Kalikow last served as head of the MTA in 2007. To say that anyone who doesn’t know that hasn’t been paying attention would be a gross understatement.

If there’s any doubt about who is winning the PR game, I think this wraps it up in favor of the anti-congestion pricing, anti-tolling, anti-MTA crowd in the New York State legislature who would rather cut their own arteries than fund transit. People are hung up on six-year-old scandals, on misunderstandings surrounding MTA finances, even on how the tolling plan would work. And of course, some people don’t even know who’s in charge of the MTA.

When the MTA votes to enact its Doomsday budget in ten days, people will again protest the MTA. They’ll call for the heads of Dale Hemmerdinger and Elliot Sander. Again, transit advocates who have failed so far will attempt to educate the public, but the public just isn’t listening. They’ve made up their minds about the MTA, as at the City Room readers show, no amount of facts, truth or logic will convince them otherwise.

The MTA is not efficient, and its history as way too many separate entities has never been more glaringly obvious. A new public benefit corporation built from the bottom up with streamlined operations and inter-agency lines of communication would be far better for the City of New York in 2009. But right now, we’re stuck with what’s there, and whether New Yorkers know and understand it, when Albany fails to act, the state legislature will have won the anti-tolling war, but they will lose the mass transit battle for all New Yorkers.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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We’re approaching the Eleventh Hour for the MTA. On March 25, the Board will meet to vote on what is looking more and more like an inevitable fare hike and service cut plan. If any news breaks over the weekend, I’ll have it.

In the meantime, mull over this one from the New York Post’s Inside City Hall column. Supposedly, Mayor Bloomberg and his aides are unhappy that the MTA isn’t, in the midst of a financial crisis, play hardball with the Transit Workers Union. The Mayor’s Office — and many New Yorkers — believe the TWU contract to be very favorable to the workers, and many critics of the MTA feel that the authority is held hostage by the union.

For now, any conflict with the union simply won’t be an issue. The MTA is too focused on securing its long-term financial position than on hammering out a deal with its workers. But when push comes to shove, the MTA and the TWU should evaluate the number of jobs currently in place in the transit agency and decide if they are all necessary. Accountability cuts both ways.

On to the service alerts:

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 16, 2 trains run in two sections (due to a track chip-out at President Street):

  • Between 241st Street and Crown Heights-Utica Avenue and
  • Between Franklin Avenue and Brooklyn College-Flatbush Avenue

Customers must transfer to the shuttle train at Franklin Avenue for stations along Nostrand Avenue to Flatbush Avenue. Note: In the early morning hours between 12:30 a.m. and 5 a.m., trains run every 30 minutes between Franklin and Flatbush Avenues.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 16, downtown 2 and 3 trains run local from 96th Street to Chambers Street due to station rehabilitation at 96th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 16, uptown 2 and 3 trains run local from 72nd to 96th Streets due to station rehabilitation at 96th Street.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 16, Brooklyn-bound 2, 3 and 4 trains run express from Atlantic Avenue to Crown Heights-Utica Avenue due to a track chip-out at President Street. A shuttle train will operate between Franklin Avenue and Brooklyn College-Flatbush Avenue.

From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, March 14 and Sunday, March 15, Manhattan-bound 2 and 5 trains run express from East 180th Street to 3rd Avenue-149th Street due to switch work.

From 12:01 a.m. to 7 a.m. Saturday, March 14, from 12:01 a.m. to 8 a.m. Sunday, March 15 and from 12:01 a.m. to 5 a.m. Monday, March 16, Brooklyn-bound 4 trains run local from Grand Central-42nd Street to Brooklyn Bridge due to rail installation.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 13 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 16, free shuttle buses replace A trains between Jay Street-Borough Hall and Utica Avenue due to the Jay Street rehabilitation project.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 16, there is no C train service. A trains run local between 168th Street and Euclid Avenue with free shuttle buses replacing A trains between Jay Street-Borough Hall and Utica Avenue due to the Jay Street rehabilitation project. However, note that during the late night hours between midnight and 5 a.m., Queens-bound A trains run express from 125th Street to 59th Street. Customers must back-ride on the Manhattan-bound side for missed stations.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 16, uptown D trains run local from 59th to 145th Streets due to switch renewal south of 81st Street.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 13 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 16, Manhattan-bound E and F trains run local from Forest Hills-71st Avenue to Roosevelt Avenue due to a track chip-out north of Grand Avenue.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 5 a.m. March 16, Jamaica-bound E and F trains run local from Roosevelt Avenue to Forest Hills -71st Avenue due to a track chip-out north of Grand Avenue.

From 8:30 p.m. Friday, March 13 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 16 (until further notice), there are no G trains between Forest Hills-71st Avenue and Court Square. Customers should take the E or R instead.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 13 to 5 a.m. Monday, March 16, free shuttle buses replace L trains between Rockaway Parkway and Broadway Junction due to track panel installation at East 105th Street.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 10 p.m. Sunday, March 15, N trains skip Prince, 8th, 23rd, and 28th Streets due to switch renewal at Queensboro Plaza. Customers may take the Q instead.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 10 p.m. Sunday, March 15, there are no N trains between Queensboro Plaza and Lexington Avenue-59th Street due to switch renewal at Queensboro Plaza. Customers may take the 7 instead.

From 5 a.m. to midnight Saturday, March 14 and from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, March 15, there are no N trains between Lexington Avenue-59th Street and Times Square-42nd Street due to switch renewal at Queensboro Plaza. Customers may take the 4, 5, 6, Q or R instead.

From 4 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 10 p.m. March 15, Q trains run local on the R line between Canal Street and DeKalb Avenue in both directions due to switch renewal at Queensboro Plaza.

Categories : Service Advisories, TWU
Comments (1)

The numbers in today’s editorial in The Times are telling. In Carl Kruger’s State Senate district — one far away from the densely packed Manhattan — 33,000 of his constituents rely on transit on a daily basis while just 6000 drive. And yet, despite this glaringly obvious disparity — and protests in support of tolls — the Senate will not act on a permanent plan to fund the MTA.

In a board meeting this morning, the MTA Board did not paint a rosy picture of the future. While they could be accused of politicking, the transit agency will face a huge budget deficit if nothing is done to rescue them. Sewell Chan reports on the layoffs, fare hikes and service cuts that will come if Albany continues to stall:

With the State Senate balking on a financial rescue plan that would impose tolls on East River and Harlem River bridges to help close a mounting budget gap, officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority warned on Friday that if Albany does not act by March 25, they will have no choice but to order steep fare increases, impose “painful” service cuts, and lay off at least 1,100 employees.

“The situation is dire,” the authority’s chairman, H. Dale Hemmerdinger, said at a special meeting of the authority’s board. He described “25 to 35 percent increases in the cost of getting to work” and “serious and painful cuts in service.”

…The Friday board meeting was in large part held to place pressure on Albany to act.

“The Legislature has not been able to reach an agreement on the Ravitch Commission recommendation or any other solution on the M.T.A.’s fiscal crisis,” Mr. Hemmerdinger said. “It’s too soon to know what will happen, but with the March 25 board meeting rapidly approaching, it’s time for the board to refocus on the tough decisions that will have go be made to keep our budget balanced.”

So that’s that. Hopefully, this political move will help. If not, get ready to wait 20 minutes for your $2.50 ride on a dirty subway car. That is, after all, in the minds of the Senate, far better than tolling the precious East River bridges.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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Everything is a mess in Albany right now. Malcolm Smith has no control over his party, and Senators who once supported tolls are flip-flopping for no good reason.

The problem starts at the top, and nowhere is that more apparent in Malcolm Smith’s statements. “I haven’t yet put together a plan, nor have I (seen) a plan that I think is worthy of having that kind of discussion,” he said. Elizabeth Benjamin has more from Smith:

“We are going to try and put something together and hopefully we get there. I know they have this deadline; I just don’t think it’s appropriate for the MTA to sort of hold the public hostage and say, ‘Well if we don’t get to the deadline we’re going to charge you more.’

“The public didn’t cause their failures in terms of how they managed their budget. It’s the failure of their performance that has now asked the legislators to help. Yes, we can be there to help, but then we should have together have decided what the deadline was. Not them to impose their will on us and say ‘because we screwed up, that we now are going to tell you if you don’t help us we’re now going to have a problem or cause a problem for the public.'”

Smith is ignoring years of Pataki Era neglect and poor management to punt on the issue. But he’s not the only one. Hiram Monserrate, a Queens Senator who had once supported tolls, changed his mind. Criticizing what he terms the “so-called Ravitch plan,” Monserrate doesn’t want to institute tolls and the blames the MTA for “failing to explain ‘specifically’ how toll revenue would be used to pay for service and capital improvements.”

What does Monserrate want the MTA to tell him? It’s really quite simple. The East River bridges get tolled; the MTA collects the revenue — as it current does from its own Bridge & Tunnel division; the money goes into the budget; and out comes a better-funded transit agency. Is he really asking for a specific count of how the MTA plans to spend all of the few hundred million dollars it stands to earn if the East River bridges are tolled? Or is he just being dense and/or obstructionist?

Meanwhile, the man behind the so-called plan spoke out against the Albany ineptitude. “I understand it’s a tough environment and that our recommendations represent painful choices, but there is no way of avoiding a decision,” Richard Ravitch said to William Neuman of The Times. “Doing nothing has consequences.”

Indeed it would. As Ravitch noted and as I’ve said numerous times over the last few weeks, forcing the MTA to adopt its Doomsday budget would, in the words of Ravitch, be “disastrous to the economy and the people of the MTA region.” Neuman had more:

He warned that failing to enact a comprehensive rescue plan that includes new tolls and taxes this year would create a deficit next year larger than the $1.2 billion budget gap the authority is struggling to bridge this year. It would also force a fare increase in 2010 much larger than the 23 percent rise the authority has proposed for this year, he said…

In an interview, he said that if the Legislature ultimately offered the authority a one-time cash infusion, the authority should go ahead with the fare increase and use the state funds to pay for long-term maintenance, or perhaps hold onto it to help close the budget gap next year.

The authority’s board will meet on Friday in a special session to review its finances with and without a rescue plan. The board will meet again on March 25 to vote on the size of a fare increase, which would take effect in June. It will also vote then on whether to move ahead with planning for a series of deep service cuts, most of which would take place later this year.

The MTA Board meets this morning, and I’ll try to have an update up this afternoon. In twelve days, though, transit in New York City will never be the same, and those changes will not be for the better if the Senate continues to dilly-dally in Albany.

Categories : Doomsday Budget
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With Shea Stadium but a memory, the subway stop nearby will soon carry a new name. (Photo by flickr user wallyg)

Earlier this week, the DC-based Greater Greater Washington tackled the problem with Metro station names. The WMATA’s system has some rather ludicrous names. For example, when I lived in DC for ten months, my Metro stop was called Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan.

Here in New York, we are far more efficient with our station names, and by and large, those names are immutable. After all, Columbus Circle has been known as that since the year after the subway first opened, and 50th St. will always just be 50th St. Street-based names are succinct, and they tell you right where the train will shed its passenger load.

Now and then though, a station tied into a geographic location has to change its name because that geographic location isn’t there anymore. Out in Flushing, where 7 line riders used to travel to Willets Point-Shea Stadium, the MTA is attempting to figure out how best to rename the stop, now home to the corporately-sponsored CitiField. The MTA is none too keen on slapping Citi’s branding on a subway stop without a fiscal contribution, and they have tried to extract one from the Mets will little success. In The Times today, William Neuman reports:

Officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had once hoped that a bit of Citigroup’s $400 million endorsement pact with the Mets might trickle down their way, through a naming rights deal of their own for the station.

But those hopes evaporated with the bank’s near-collapse and the Mets’ refusal to share the wealth.

So on Tuesday, transit officials informed the Mets that when the subway station (currently named after the team’s former home, the now-demolished Shea Stadium) was rechristened, it would not actually use the name of the new ballpark.

Instead, the station, on the No. 7 line, will be called simply Mets/Willets Point. New signs will go up soon replacing the old signs, which say Willets Point/Shea Stadium. The nearby Long Island Rail Road station will be renamed in the same way.

“We’re willing, as we have said, to entertain corporate names on stations, but only for a fee,” said Jeremy Soffin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Good for the MTA. There’s no need to give Citi the free advertising, and it’s quite possible that CitiBank won’t exist long enough to fulfill the terms of its 20-year endorsement pact.

Meanwhile, Neuman reports on the MTA’s $40 million rehab of the newly named Mets/Willets Point station. That station — a highly-trafficked and impossible-to-navigate one at its worst — has gotten a fresh coat of paint, some elevators, new lights and a streamlined entry path.

With new Yankee Stadium simply called Yankee Stadium, the MTA won’t have to rename the B/D/4 stop in the Bronx. The new Metro-North station will be called Yankees/E. 153rd Street, another succinct geographic demarcation of its location.

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