Remembering the token

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It’s hard to believe, on one side of the coin or the other, that the MetroCard as we know it is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. While the pilot launched in 1993, the first stations equipped with fare card readers opened in early 1994. Three years later, every subway station and bus were equipped with MetroCard readers, and four years later, Straphangers could take advantage of the promise of an unlimited fare card, thus ushering in a new era in booming transit ridership.

These days, we’re waiting impatiently for the end of the MetroCard era. It was not exactly a new technology when it was introduced, and the MTA has since been lapped by nearly all of its competitors when it comes to some form of contact-less fare payment. Since 2006, the agency has spun its wheels with a variety of pilot programs but has now committed to finding a replacement by 2019. We still don’t quite know what form that next-gen fare payment technology will take, and hopefully, we’ll know more after my Problem Solvers session on that topic next Wednesday. (RSPV now. Seats are going fast.)

I’ll spend some time looking forward next week. Tonight, I wanted to look back. For fifty years, the token reigned supreme, but these days it is only a memory. Many New Yorkers — those who moved to the city over the past 10 years — now the token only in the abstract. It was a thing some may remember as tourists as the keys to the subway while others hear of it only in city lore.

For me, tokens were a part of my youth. I could flash my transit pass to the token booth clerk to gain entrance to the subway, but my parents weren’t so lucky. They kept piles of ten-packs of tokens in a shoe box in our linen closet, stockpiling them right before fare hikes. Tokens required planning and attention to the number of rides one might make during a day, and their brothers in arms — the flimsy paper transit for the bus system — always come with a pesky time limit.

For all their symbolism, by the time of its death, the token was around for only half of the subway system’s life. For fifty years, so long as the fare remained the same as a Treasury Department coin, the city’s transit agencies could collect nickels and then dimes, but as soon as the fare went up to 15 cents, collecting coins become impractical. The first hints of a New York City subway token came in the early 1940s when the IRT purchased a bunch of tokens in the late 1920s in anticipation of a fare hike that never came. The company eventually ditched those plans, and the token would not emerge as a potential discussion piece until 1947.

By then, the city knew it had a financial problem on its hands. The subways were bleeding money, and the various agencies discussed a token in conjunction with a fare hike. The transit deficit at the time was $84 million — or over $850 million in today’s money — and the proposals on the table ranged from 7-10 cents. Anything requiring multiple coins would have led the debut of a token.

The Board of Transportation was not easily swayed. In an extensive July 1947 article discussing the looming transit referendum, The Times mentioned that BOT objected to tokens on that grounds that they can be “easy to counterfeit and bulky to handle.” In fact, the BOT was so concerned with slugs that many related to transit services planned to lobby the feds for an eight-cent coin in advance of the potential fare hike.

When the fare hike became a reality in 1953, the New York City Transit Authority had to turn to tokens because some turnstiles were not equipped to handle multiple coins. Nearly immediately, the TA had to deal with the issue of slugs, fake tokens that would be a thorn in the agency’s side for fifty years. Furthermore, token clerks had to deal with surly, incommunicative customers and were instructed to avoid becoming “impatient, discourteous or abusive to the passenger.” By late 1953, one Times even urged the TA to sell tokens in bulk as little packages could make great birthday presents or stocking stuffers at Christmas.

Ultimately, the token settled in for 50 years of use, abuse and redesigns. Its departure earned an obit, and New Yorkers’ pockets were lighter for it. Now we carry around a flimsy piece of plastic that one day too will become part of New York City subway history. The MetroCard may live a lifespan half that of the token, but it won’t make it to the venerable old age of 50. Few symbols in New York City do.

Categories : Subway History
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More ferry terminals may pop up around the water, but to what end? (Photo by East River Ferry on flickr)

Whether we recognize it or not, New York City is facing something of a transportation crisis. The problem itself won’t come to a true head for a while, but outside of a few avenues, our current transit options are nearly maxed out. Our roads are continually congested, and without significant expansion, the subway system can’t withstand too many more trains — or passengers — per hour during peak times. Buses and a real bus rapid transit network could pick up some slack, but lately the focus has turned to the city’s myriad waterways.

For much of the 2013 mayoral campaign, we heard candidates from various parties talk endlessly about the opportunities for expanded ferry service. It sounds good, right? These are politicians actually promoting increased transit, and at a time when subway construction is exceedingly expensive and no one at the MTA is willing to try to rein in those costs, sticking some boats on the water seems downright economically responsible. It is but a political smoke screen as well, and I’ll get to that shortly.

Lately, the jockeying for ferries has come from the local level. Ydanis Rodriguez, the new chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, has been agitating for more ferry service for his constituents even though most of them live on a bluff high above the nearest coast. Now, Queens reps are calling for more ferry service too. The Queens Chronicle reports:

The words “commute” and “New York City” usually make one think of squeaky, dirty, crowded subway cars snaking through tunnels and along elevated rails. Or perhaps one conjures up thoughts of passengers packed into buses like sardines or jockeying for room under bus shelters. Some, especially out here in Queens, may think of a commute as idling on a packed highway in a car. One thing that most New Yorkers may not think of — unless maybe you’re from Staten Island — is boats…

The expansion of ferry service to the East River in 2011, connecting Wall Street and East 34th Street with Brooklyn and Long Island City, has also proved successful, as has a route to the Rockaways that was originally meant to be temporary. Now ferry advocates — and elected officials — are looking to expand service to other parts of Queens with waterfront connections.

…Already expansion beyond Long Island City and Rockaway may be imminent. According to one source, expansion of the East River ferry to Astoria is “more than likely,” and former Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. allocated money toward a feasibility study. Vallone’s successor, Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), said bringing ferry service farther north to Astoria would be a boon for the Western Queens waterfront, especially if they add a stop on Roosevelt Island, where a tech school is slated to be located. “We can find the money for this worthwhile cause,” said Constantinides, a member of the Council’s Transportation Committee. He pointed to Hallets Cove as a location for a ferry, noting the amount of development taking place there and the need for more public transportation.

Throughout the article, Queens politicians and ferry advocates discuss the success of the Rockaway boats and potential landing spots in College Point, Willets Point, Fort Totten or downtown Flushing. One quote in particular sums up the thinking. “We’re on the right path with expanding bus rapid transit and bike lines and now with ferries,” Constantinides said. “We’re not building any more subways. Better utilizing the city’s waterways is the new frontier.”

I have such major issues with this defeatist attitude toward subway construction. We’re giving up because politicians aren’t strong enough to fight back against rampant cost issues or, in the case of Constantinides’ own district, intense NIMBY opposition to a plan that would have brought the subway to Laguardia Airport. We can’t throw in the towel on future subway construction and expect New York to be able to grow. Ferries won’t cut it.

Meanwhile, the comments and coverage concerning ferries fail to make note of the issues of scale. The Rockaway ferry may be a success, but that’s with ridership of 700 per day. One peak-hour subway carries at least twice, and sometimes three times, that amount from Queens or Brooklyn into Manhattan. Ferries can help out around the edges; they can’t affect transformative change or do much to alleviate the transit capacity problems plaguing New York.

The single biggest issue with any New York City ferry network concerns population patterns. New York of the 20th century built inland and, thanks to Robert Moses, rung its waterways with roads. Not too many people live near potential ferry terminals, and not too many work near them either. So a ferry network also involves getting people to and from the terminals, and with fares not unified, such a setup currently involves a steep added cost per day. Most New Yorkers would rather take a crowded train than add $3-$5 per day to their commuting costs.

Furthermore, nearly every place in New York City that is well suited for ferry service already has it. The East River ferries offer relatively quick commutes to areas where people work. Many of the folks who live in uber-expensive waterfront condos in DUMBO, Williamsburg and Long Island City work near Wall Street. Travel patterns shift as one moves further east in Brooklyn and Queens.

But there are political forces at work here that account for the popularity of the boat movement. First, there are no NIMBYs to battle. Some people may object to a nearby ferry terminal and the noise from the boats, but it doesn’t engender the same level of protest that a new subway line or removing a lane of automobile traffic for bus rapid transit would. Second, the costs of starting a ferry line are relatively low and turnaround time is short. Thus, a politician can propose a ferry route, secure funding and attend a ribbon-cutting in a single term while proclaiming to be pro transit. Never mind the fact that, at most, a wildly successful ferry with 4000 daily riders services half of one-tenth of a percent of all New Yorkers. It’s an easy political win.

So we’re stuck in a boat rut. It may make limited sense to examine some ferry routes, but the most they can do is shuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic that is the subway system. Without high-capacity expansion, trains will be more crowded than ever before, and New York City will face growth constraints. It would take real leadership to tackle this problem; the ferries are simply a smokescreen.

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Sorry for the lack of updates. Busy day plus slow news week. The weekend, though, has plenty of changes with work affecting service on 16 subway lines. That’s most of the lines that operate on the weekend. Good luck.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, Bronx-bound 1 trains run express run express from 96 St to 145 St due to steel repair work south of 125 St to 133 St.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 8 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, 2 trains run local in both directions between 96 St and Times Sq-42 St due to track work at Times Sq-42 St.

From 11:45 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Friday, March 7 to Sunday, March 9, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, March 9 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, 3 service is suspended due to track work at Times Sq-42 St. Take 2 trains or free shuttle buses running between 135 St and 148 St.

From 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday, March 8, and Sunday, March 9, 3 trains are suspended in both directions between Franklin Av and New Lots Av due to subway car testing south of Crown Hts Utica Av. Take 4 trains for service between Franklin Av and Crown Hts Utica Av. Free shuttle buses operate between Crown Hts Utica Ave and New Lots Av making all 3 line subway station stops.

From 6:00 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Saturday, March 8, and Sunday, March 9, 3 trains run local in both directions between 96 St and Times Sq-42 St due to track work at Times Sq-42 St.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 8 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, Bronx-bound 4 trains run local from Brooklyn Bridge City Hall to Grand Central-42 St due to track maintenance north of 14 St-Union Sq.

From 5:45 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, March 8, and from 7:45 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday, March 9, 5 trains run every 20 minutes between Eastchester Dyre Av and Bowling Green due to track maintenance north of 14 St-Union Sq. Bronx-bound 5 trains run local from Brooklyn Bridge City Hall to Grand Central-42 St.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 7 to 4:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from Parkchester to Pelham Bay Park due to station renewal work at Middletown Rd and Castle Hill Av stations.

From 2:00 a.m. Saturday, March 8 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, 7 trains are suspended between Times Sq-42 St and Queensboro Plaza due to CBTC signal work and hurricane-related repair work in the Steinway tunnel, and track tie replacement work at Queensboro Plaza. Use E FNQ trains for service between Manhattan and Queens. Free shuttle buses make all subway station stops between Vernon Blvd-Jackson Av and Queensboro Plaza. The 42 Street Shuttle operates overnight.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, Brooklyn-bound A trains run express from 59 St Columbus Circle to Canal St due CPM structural survey for Hurricane Sandy work.

From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, March 8, and Sunday, March 9, Brooklyn-bound C trains run express from 59 St Columbus Circle to Canal St due to due CPM structural survey for Hurricane Sandy work.

From 6:45 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday, March 8, Bronx-bound D trains run express from Bay Pkway to 9 Av due to rail renewal work north of Bay Pkway.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 8 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, D trains run local in both directions between 34 St Herald Sq and W4 St Wash Sq due to MOW switch work north of W4 St Wash Sq.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, March 8, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, E trains run local in both directions between Jackson Hts Roosevelt Av and Forest Hills 71 Av due to signal modernization at Forest Hills-71 Av and Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, Queens-bound F trains run express from Church Av to Smith 9 Sts due to signal work at Church Av.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, Coney Island Stillwell Av-bound F trains are rerouted on the A line from W 4 St to Jay St-MetroTech due to due CPM structural survey for Hurricane Sandy work.

From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, March 8 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, F trains run local in both directions between Jackson Hts Roosevelt Av and Forest Hills-71 Av due to signal modernization at Forest Hills-71 Avenue and Kew Gardens-Union Turnpike.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, Queens-bound G trains run express from Church Av to Smith 9 Sts due to signal work at Church Av.

From 10:30 p.m. Friday, March 7 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, Q trains are suspended between Coney Island Stillwell Av and Prospect Park in both directions due to track panel work from Church Av to Newkirk Av. Take free shuttle buses.

From 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Saturday, March 8, and from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Sunday, March 9, Q service is extended to Ditmars Blvd to replace partially-suspended 7 service due to CBTC signal work and hurricane-related repair work in the Steinway tunnel, and track tie replacement work at Queensboro Plaza.

From 11:45 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. Friday to Sunday, March 7 to March 9, R trains are suspended between 59 St and 36 St in both directions due to cable repair work.

(42nd St)
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 8 to 6:00 a.m. Monday, March 10, 42 Street Shuttle trains operate overnight.

Categories : Service Advisories
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In an effort to reach an agreement with the United Transportation Union Local 645 and avoid a strike for as long as possible, the Long Island Rail Road has issued a request for a second Presidential Emergency Board. The new PEB request and subsequent arbitration proceedings will delay any potential work action the UTU make consider until July 19 at the earliest.

The MTA has tacitly recognized of a favorable outcome in this fight. Currently, 59 of the agency’s 60 unions are working without a contract, and the UTU could set the stage for subsequent negotiations. If the MTA cannot achieve a net-zero labor increase, either through work rule reform, layoffs or a combination of both, the agency’s precarious financial picture will be thrown into doubt. That seems to be the X Factor New York politicians are so willing to ignore, but it was the MTA’s focus in their statement announcing the request for a second PEB.

Said the MTA:

The MTA wants to resolve these contract issues at the bargaining table, where they belong. But the recommendations of the first Presidential Emergency Board ignored the enormous burden that a 17% wage increase over six years – without a single change in work rules or other cost offset – would place on the MTA’s budget. If those terms were applied across the entire MTA workforce, they would be equivalent to raising fares 12% – or cutting $6 billion from the capital budget for keeping our system safe and reliable.

In response to this procedural move, the TWU — a very interested bystander — issued a stridently worded statement speaking out against the measure. One union official noted that “the MTA’s repeated insistence that it has no ability to pay the raises recommended by the panel is ‘a phony smokescreen rejected by four consecutive panels of arbitrators’ who have handled recent MTA labor disputes.” The TWU is the MTA’s largest union, and their top brass have vowed to support the UTU were it to engage in a strike.

Meanwhile, as this labor fight takes shape, Dana Rubinstein explored how Gov. Andrew Cuomo is using the MTA as a piggybank. Between the $40 million diversion for debt purposes and the $7 million Verrazano Bridge toll giveaway, Cuomo is not standing behind the MTA as a variety of interests jockey for money. Brooklyn now wants its own toll relief, and the union issues will loom throughout the spring and summer.

When the dust settles, the riders will wind up paying more and getting nothing in return. After all, it was Tom Roth, the UTU’s expert witness, who said at the last PEB that “he passenger has had a good run here at the MTA, and it is about time the fares went up.”

Categories : Transit Labor, UTU
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  • Great Moments in Calatrava’s PATH Hub · As the PATH’s World Trade Center hub opens piece by piece, the city’s architect critics are starting to poke around inside of Santiago Calatrava’s marble-lined subway palace. In a piece scheduled to appear in The Times tomorrow, David Dunlap gives the new Platform A a once over, and he’s not impressed. As Dunlap sums it up, “Clunky fixtures and some rough workmanship in the underground mezzanine of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub…detract from what is meant to be breathtaking grandeur.”

    As you read through the rest of Dunlap’s takedown, keep in mind that the structure is still unfinished, but in light of the fact that others have sued Santiago Calatrava over shoddy workmanship, this can hardly be a surprise. Great designs on paper that are tough and expensive to execute are, after all, a hallmark of the architect.

    My favorite part of Dunlap’s column, though, comes in the form of a quote from Frank Lorino, one of the architects working for Santiago Calatrava New York/Festina Lente. “We have fought to bring the highest degree of quality to the project,” he said to The Times, “but the concerns of time, budget and scheduling have often taken precedence over quality.” Someone associated with Santiago Calatrava’s $4 billion subway station is complaining about the concerns of budget. I have no further words, your honor. · (22)

Approximately a year ago, the MTA announced an expansion of their On The Go kiosks. As part of a creative advertising arrangement in which the MTA would shell out no dollars and draw in money after a certain threshold, two licensees — CBS Outdoor and Control Group Inc. — will foot the bill for installation and earn back the costs off of the ads they can sell. In exchange, the MTA gets touch-screen kiosks installed throughout the subway system and a cut of they money once the two companies recoup their initial investments.

Recently, the first batch of screens have popped up in Grand Central, and Gizmodo profiled the work behind building a computer sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of the subway. As with many things MTA, this is a story about false starts and delayed promises. Mario Aguilar writes:

The initial plan for the kiosks was to populate the city’s busiest stations, to help make the dynamic and often confusing system a little easier to work with. By the end of 2013, however, Control Group had only managed to install a single testing unit at Bowling Green station, near the company’s headquarters across from City Hall. After a 30-day trial period, it was apparent that everything from the hardware to the user interface had to be improved before the units would be ready to meet the needs of millions of commuters. “We wanted a better experience,” says Control Group partner Colin O’Donnell, “and we were willing to wait for it.”

Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a minor course adjustment when it comes a massive agency like MTA. “It’s a behemoth,” says O’Donnell. Moving millions of passengers every day necessitates a certain amount of bureaucracy, and when every last person in that bureaucracy needs to sign off on a decision, approving something as simple as a hardware change can take, well, six months.

O’Donnell says that the initial run’s core problem was the touchscreen it had chosen. The prototype we tried last year used a surface outfitted with 3M’s dispersive signal technology (DST), which calculates the position of a touch on a screen by sensing the vibrations the touch creates. It’s rugged and cost-effective, but also a bit clumsy…User testing proved that people found the firm pokes unintuitive, but more importantly it turned out that subway stations are full of vibration-causing ambient noise and rumbling trains—no kidding!—which confused the touchscreen’s contact microphones and drastically undermined performance. As one staffer put it, the tech worked well in Control Group’s lab on the 21st floor of a skyscraper, but simply didn’t cut it underground with the trains rumbling by.

It’s worth reading Aguilar’s entire piece as it provides a rare glimpse into why technology takes forever to spread throughout the MTA’s vast system. We often scoff at the notion that the world underneath the city is a challenging one and question why simple tasks such as escalator repair can take so long. But as Control Group’s experiences show, it isn’t easy building something that can stand up to 24-hour use, and the dirt, dust, debris and vibrations of the transit network under our feet.

As the video shows, these things aren’t perfect. I haven’t used them yet, but the navigation looks clunky and the touch aspect sensitive. Furthermore, MTA’s own Trip Planner, the underlying software for the navigation system, for instance, isn’t perfect. The system routes people standing on the IRT platform at Grand Central to the 7 and Q for a ride out to Coney Island when the intuitive trip would involve an express ride to Atlantic Ave. and a transfer. Still, it’s a start, and hopefully, with the promises of revenue based on user engagement, these will only get better with time.

Categories : MTA Technology
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New York is a city of noise. Amidst the hustle and bustle of pedestrian life, the largely unnecessary honking of horns and the blaring of car alarms, and the sirens that go by at all hours of the day, we tend to block out the aural distractions. Thus, a simple beep, while annoying at the wrong time, is very easy to ignore.

For subway turnstiles, that’s a problem. For every MetroCard swipe, failed or otherwise, an MTA turnstile emits a beep. No matter the outcome, the beep is the same, and even the slight double-beep of a failed swipe or a triple-beep of an empty card aren’t distinct enough to catch the attention of someone who’s already trying to zoom through. In other words, a stiff turnstile arm to the gut is far more likely to draw someone’s attention that a double beep.

As problems go, it’s not a particularly pressing one, but with the MTA eying a complete overhaul of the fare payment system within the next few years, the agency is particularly primed to do something about it. Enter James Murphy. The former frontman for LCD Soundsystem has been pushing his plan to make the subways more tolerable for a few years, and he recently garnered a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal. Murphy’s solution doesn’t solve the problem of differentiating between swipe outcomes, but it would make the subways, he says, sound more pleasant.

For the past 15 years, Mr. Murphy has been crafting what he says is a low-cost musical solution: He has worked out a unique set of notes for every station, one of which would sound each time a passenger swipes his or her MetroCard to catch a train. The busier a station becomes, the richer the harmonies would be. The same notes would also play in a set sequence when the subway arrives at that stop. Each of the city’s 468 subway stations would have note sets in different keys.

As Murphy notes that other subway systems have far more soothing sounds, he isn’t the only one proposing a solution. Still the MTA doesn’t seem too open to the idea:

[Spokesman Adam] Lisberg said Mr. Murphy’s plan “is a very cool idea,” one that several people have independently proposed over the years. But it might be hard to put into practice, he said: It’s likely to require a lot of time and money, and probably means temporarily taking each of the city’s 3,289 turnstiles out of service, something the authority is not inclined to do “for an art project.”

“If you screw something up,” Mr. Lisberg continued, you risk breaking the turnstile. Given the 5.5 million passengers who use the system on an average weekday, he said the transit authority was “not inclined to mess with anything that could get in their way.”

In other words, please swipe again.

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Will the Farley Post Office redeem Penn Station, hidden in this photo underneath Madison Square Garden?

When you stop to think about it, the Farley Post Office building doesn’t make for the most practical of train stations. The first thing you notice are the steps, and who wants to navigate those while lugging some giant suitcase around the streets of New York City? The second thing is its location. It’s an avenue block away from the 7th Ave. subway and two from Herald Square. That’s not added convenience; that’s moving westward to a more inconvenient spot.

Yet, the Farley Post Office is the subject of future plans to save Penn Station. It is the subject of a decades-long initiative to convert the majestic building into a new gateway to the city. By moving Amtrak’s waiting area to Farley — and spending over $1 billion in the process — various interests hope to redeem the shortcomings of Penn Station by simply turning the Farley Post Office into Moynihan Station. It is a project not without flaws.

Prior to the end of the Bloomberg Administration, various groups made a push to draw attention to the need for something better than Penn Station. It hardly needs saying, but the current station is a visual dump and a mess to navigate. The plans were fanciful, but the momentum behind the MSG replacement has died down in light of the arena’s 10-year occupancy permit.

Now, though, Moynihan Station, at least, has reared its head. As Laura Kusisto and Eliot Brown reported in the Wall Street Journal, there’s movement afoot to generate money for future phases of the Moynihan project. The money would come from — what else? — air rights, but no one’s saying much of anything right now. Kusisto and Brown report:

Empire State Development Corp., the state economic-development agency, is looking for a broker to sell 1.5 million square feet of unused real-estate-development rights attached to the property on Eighth Avenue between 31st and 33rd streets, according to a request for proposals posted on its website last month. It is unclear how fast the state intends to proceed with the selection of a broker and marketing of development rights, nor is it clear if developers would be willing to pay a price that satisfies state officials or that would fully fund the project. A spokeswoman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo declined to comment.

But the move toward the sale is one of the first signs that the Cuomo administration is interested in remaking the interior of the post office into a grand waiting room for Amtrak—a project about which administration officials have said little publicly…

Using the Farley building as a train station has been a dream of planners and state officials for more than two decades. Its intent is both to evoke the original Penn Station that was demolished in 1963 and to spur nearby real-estate development, although it would do little to expand train capacity.

As the local politicians noted to the Journal, no one really knows where the 1.5 million square feet of development would go, but that’s a solvable problem with old buildings dotting the midtown landscape. The biggest question surrounds the transit purposes. Kusisto and Brown do not hold back when the note that Moynihan would “do little to expand train capacity.” Amtrak says a new station is required if the Gateway Tunnel sees the light of day — but that station would be south of the current Penn, not west.

So we’re left with something that resembles a band aid and seems more like a vanity project. It may, as Alon Levy argued a few years ago, even have negative transportation value. But the Moynihan train won’t slow down. It inches forward, but it seems to draw ever nearer. While it solves the aesthetic problem as a high cost, it does nothing to solve the transit problem, and that’s more important right now.

Categories : Moynihan Station
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  • Event: March 19th ‘Problem Solvers’ on the future of the MetroCard · When I first launched the “Problem Solvers” series with the Transit Museum, I knew that I wanted to focus a session on the future of the MetroCard. For a few years, I’ve tried to schedule a sit-down with the right someone at the MTA to discuss the agency’s next-generation fare payment plans and the prognosis for the familiar piece of plastic New Yorkers carry with themselves 24-7.

    At first, I couldn’t get anyone because the MTA didn’t really know what it was going to do replace the MetroCard; it knew only that by 2019 it would be too expensive to maintain the current system. But now I have some exciting news: The next “Problem Solvers” Q-and-A session, set for March 19, will focus on the MetroCard’s future. Joining me at 6:30 p.m. at the Transit Museum in Brooklyn will be Michael DeVitto, Vice President and Program Executive for fare payment programs at NYC Transit. We will discuss the future of the MetroCard, current initiatives on new fare technology, and all that goes into designing a fare system for the city’s transit network. We will, of course, talk about progress toward a new fare payment system.

    “Problem Solvers” is a free event hosted by the Transit Museum, and this session is slated for Wednesday, March 19th at 6:30 p.m. (with doors at 6). Please RSVP here and join me for what should be an illuminating and informative conversation on a topic I’ve followed closely over the past seven and a half years. · (3)

Will the New York Wheel give a boost to Staten Island transit options?

For better or worse, Staten Island has garnered a lot of ink lately. Gov. Cuomo’s toll giveaway garnered an intense reaction from New York politicians and media commentators alike. But for all the negative attention the toll measure has garnered, other forces are pushing Staten Island transit in a better direction all thanks to a giant Ferris wheel and an outlet mall.

As you may recall, toward the end of the Bloomberg Administration, the mayor, Staten Island politicians and some high-powered real estate folks got together on the New York equivalent to the London Eye. This giant Ferris wheel will sit above the St. George Terminal and abut a new outlet center. This being Staten Island, there will be more parking than any transit advocate would like to see, but the potential for these new attractions is also drawing ferry operators.

In a big piece in this week’s Crain’s New York, Lisa Fickenscher explores potential Staten Island growth fueled by better ferry service. The underlying premise is still shaky. We don’t know if the Ferris wheel or mall will actually become a reality or if 6 million people will make the long trek across the harbor to see these attractions. But relying on the Field of Dreams mantra, ferry operators believe that if you build it, they will come.

Fickenscher writes:

If the developers of those megaprojects are right, and some 6 million annual visitors begin flocking to sleepy Staten Island in two years – when the attractions are expected to be completed – every major ferry company in the city, including New York Water Taxi, BillyBey Ferry Co., Statue Cruises and Seastreak, will be dropping off riders at a dock just a short distance from the St. George Terminal, where the Staten Island Ferry lands.

All those businesses are currently in negotiations with the New York Wheel and BFC Partners, which is developing the outlet center, evaluating whether they need to purchase more boats and how much they should charge to transport tourists from points in midtown Manhattan, New Jersey, Brooklyn and Queens directly to the North Shore of Staten Island. There are no regulatory impediments standing in the way of expanded service. The city is seeking a developer to build and operate a new ferry landing…

The ferry operators’ main competition would not be each other but the Staten Island Ferry, which transports 20 million people a year to the borough on nine boats that operate seven days a week – and, most important, offers a free ride. “The big unknown is how many people will use the Staten Island Ferry,” said [Statue Cruises' Michael] Burke. “I think a majority will go on the free boat.”

To keep the cost competitive with the free option, [Paul] Goodman of BillyBey said that subsidies either from the developers or from the city may be necessary. That could allow the boats to also cater to Staten Island commuters willing to pay a little more for direct service to midtown, for example. The city has already indicated that it will not subsidize new ferry service to St. George.

It will be interesting, to say the least, to see how Staten Island reacts to a potential invasion of tourists. At least the hordes of crowds will be confined to the St. George area, but the new attractions could create traffic problems across the Outerbridge Crossing or the Goethals, Bayonne or Verrazano Bridge. Meanwhile, the free Staten Island ferries will fill up with day travelers while regular commuters could find their rides far less comfortable. For a borough that has battled the tensions of development for decades, what lies in store could create some deep fissures.

More important though is the added ferry service. Can more ferries at St. George solve Staten Island’s transit problems? Can the city figure out a way to encourage ferries to eye alternate landings throughout Staten Island to better serve the borough’s commuting population? These aren’t questions we can answer now, but they are questions that deserve more thought and consideration before the New York Wheel and outlet mall open in 2016. Staten Island deserves it.

Categories : Staten Island
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