I heard New York, but New York doesn't heart fare hikes. (Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)

I heard New York, but New York doesn’t heart fare hikes. (Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)

On Sunday, March 22, at 12:01 a.m., for the fifth time since 2008, the MTA is raising fares. On the one hand, the agency is attempting to overcome years of institutional deflation following the introduction of the unlimited ride cards that left today’s average fare lower in inflation-adjusted dollars than it was in 1996. On the other hand, New Yorkers are facing fare hike fatigue, and it’s unlikely to stop until Albany steps in as the MTA has budgeted for biennial hikes to align roughly with inflation for the foreseeable future. In advance, I’ve answered some frequently asked questions. Let’s dive in.

So what’s the new fare anyway?

It’s complicated. (It always is.) For the second hike in a row, the per-swipe cost is going up. One swipe will now deduct $2.75 from your MetroCard, and there’s an 11% bonus on all purchases above $5.50. The cost per ride for pay-per-ride cards then comes out to $2.48.

I’m not very good at math. What’s 11% of $2.75 and how do I find even amounts?

Have no fear; the MTA’s MetroCard Calculator is here. The key number to remember is $22.30. That’ll get you an even number of rides with the bonus and without any leftover amount. I’m sure we’ll see countless articles about this on various aggregator websites. It’s not that exciting.

How about the unlimiteds?

The 7-day card will cost $31, up a buck, and the 30-day card will jump to $116.50, up $4.50. For those who buy 7-day cards, the breakeven point is 13 rides per week, and for 30-day cards, the breakeven point is 48. If you ride 13 times or more in 7 days or 48 times or more in 30 days, you should be spending on unlimited cards and not pay-per-rides cards. Those totals are down considerably from where they were a few years ago.

Can I stockpile MetroCards?

While I remember stockpiling tokens as a kid with my parents in advance of each fare hike, the MTA no longer allows New Yorkers to hoard underpriced MetroCards. You can spend as much as you want now on pay-per-ride cards, and that money won’t expire. But if you buy a card on Saturday, you must activate it by March 29 to get full value, and you must begin using seven-day cards by April 4 and 30-day cards by April 27 to get any value.

Unused cards can be sent back to the MTA for a refund of the purchase price. Cards that you use in between that grace period gap will shut off at the end of the time period, and you can mail them back to the MTA for a pro-rated refund. For 7-day cards, that’s $4.29 per unused day, and for 30-day cards, that’s $3.73 per day. The refunds generally take around three weeks to process. (For example, if you activate a 30-day card on March 31, it will work until April 27. You can then mail it back for a refund of $7.46.)

I can’t believe there’s another fare hike. What can I do to stop it?

Complain to your legislators; write to Governor Cuomo. Ultimately, the politicians are in charge of transit policy and funding, and if they’re not going to step in, they deserve to hear all about it.

With that, let’s get to the good stuff. After the jump, weekend service charges for 13 subway lines. Read More→

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Renderings for a $10 billion bus terminal that will take 15 years to build. (Via Port Authority)

Renderings for a $10 billion bus terminal that will take 15 years to build. (Via Port Authority)

While discussing on Thursday the Port Authority’s apparently gold-plated plans to build the world’s most expensive bus terminal in the heart of Midtown, the bi-state agency’s board let slip a joke. Concerned with the $10 billion price tag, one Port Authority Board member suggested a design competition similar to the one Gov. Andrew Cuomo has hosted for the beleaguered LaGuardia Airport. John Degnan, PA chair, seemed amenable to the idea so long, as he said, as “maybe not a Spanish architect” emerge the winner.

This was, of course, a not-so-veiled jab at Santiago Calatrava and the World Trade Center PATH Hub’s ever-escalating costs. For the Bus Terminal though, the Port Authority doesn’t even need a Calatrava to drive up the costs. Their own engineering consultants were more than happy to oblige. Despite the shocking costs, though, the Port Authority’s overseers all seemed to agree that inaction isn’t an option, but moving forward on a $10 billion replacement plan is a tall order. Who will foot the bill? How? And why does this thing cost so much anyway?

As part of the master planning effort to replace the aging bus terminal, the Port Authority released an updated report [pdf] from its engineering team. In broad strokes, something has to give. The Port Authority Bus Terminal is essentially at capacity, and ridership models predict a continuing upward trend over the next 25 years. Currently, as the report notes, “peak demand exceeds capacity,” and the problem will only get worse over the next few decades.

To top things off, the current bus terminal is structural deficient and must be replaced. The report makes it very clear: “The structural slabs supporting bus operations will need to be replaced in 15-25 years,” and doing so requires replacing the terminal entirely. Additionally, the PABT “was not built for taller, longer, heavier modern buses.” It simply can’t withstand the physical pressure today’s coaches place on the building.

So what’s the $10 billion solution? To build a bus terminal that can, in the words of the PA, handle the seating capacity of Citi Field every peak hour. The devil is in the details on the various plans. The most expensive involves a rebuild of the current terminal and all of its supporting infrastructure at their current locations along with additional capacity to meet 2040 ridership projections. (Whether 2040 is too soon a horizon for an infrastructure project that will take 15 years to complete is an open-ended question that bears investigation.) This plan requires an interim bus terminal and contains only one tower above the terminal.

The other proposals are a little cheaper with potentially more development options, but each contain their drawbacks. One doesn’t include intercity buses; a few plans move the terminal to 9th Ave. — a long block away from the nearest subway station; the cheapest couldn’t even handle today’s crowds and would require additional facilities elsewhere to meet demand. The costs and locations of those aren’t baked into the proposal.

The cost breakdown though is alarming. According to the Port Authority’s engineers, the building would come with nearly $6 billion in hard costs and nearly $3 billion in soft costs — planning, engineering, legal, professional, financing and insurance. To me, that sounds like the costs of corruption in the construction industry in New York City and not really the actual cost of building something new. The $10.5 billion price tag also includes $1.9 billion in contingencies.

Streetsblog had more from the meeting on costs:

[Skanska’s Mark] Gladden compared the bus terminal replacement to the UPS Worldport in Louisville, Kentucky, which handles virtually all of the shipping company’s domestic air freight. Built 15 years ago, he said, it cost $850 million. Taking inflation and construction cost increases into account, the project would likely cost $1.7 billion today. Moving the project to New York, with its higher construction costs, would double the price tag to $3.4 billion. The UPS project didn’t have the steel requirements and logistical challenges posed by operating a bus terminal in Midtown Manhattan, Gladden said, which contribute to the additional costs.

Gladden added that East Side Access and the Second Avenue Subway, multi-billion dollar projects under the management of many of the same consultants working on the Port Authority Bus Terminal, serve fewer people than the bus terminal. The bus terminal, built for 150,000 daily passengers, now handles 232,000, about as many as Grand Central Terminal. That number will reach as high as 337,000 by 2040.

“We recognize that projects of this magnitude and this complexity right at the very beginning result in sticker shock,” Gladden said. “We have a high level of confidence that this estimate, at this point in the program development, reflects an accurate or reasonably accurate cost.”

Based on the Port Authority’s comments today, the agency — and thousands of bus commuters — are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Much like other New York City infrastructure, the PABT is literally collapsing. It’s not designed to handle the crowds, and it will outlive its useful and functional live soon. But the Port Authority will have to find $10 billion to fund a replacement building and soon. How they do that — without a Spanish architect — remains to be soon. Perhaps they should consult Spanish construction firms though; at least they know how to build on the cheap.

Categories : PANYNJ
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  • A brief thought on the price tag for a new Port Authority Bus Terminal · Except for this guy profiled by The Times today, no one in New York City has particularly kind words for the Port Authority Bus Terminal. It’s ugly inside and out and attracts all types of shady characters. It’s a grim place to wait for and board a bus, and practically, it’s at capacity. The Port Authority has plans to rebuild and replace, but how committed it is to those plans remains a mystery.

    Last year, when the PA announced a $90 million bandaid to spruce up the bus terminal, the agency made clear that it had a long-term goal to build a new bus station. The project would take around a decade and could cost upwards of $1 billion. With potential air rights or development opportunities, the dollars didn’t seem too extreme. But a new estimate blasts that figure out of the water. As both The Wall Street Journal and Capital New York reported, a replacement PABT could run anywhere from $8-$11 billion — or essentially the bulk of a new trans-Hudson rail tunnel or 2-3 phases of the Second Ave. Subway would cost.

    The number is appallingly large even as the Port Authority claims it wants to fast-track this project. But transit advocates are eying it skeptically and instead feel the new price tag is both completely divorced from reality and an attempt to torpedo the project before it becomes. Stephen Miller at Streetsblog followed this line of thinking. He spoke to Veronica Vanterpool at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, who, citing ARC and the transit options across the New New York Bridge, said, “There’s a tendency to over-inflate transit costs just to kill them.”

    The Port Authority flaks had almost nothing to add. “We look forward to updating the board on this critical project and continuing to engage the public and other stakeholders on ways to improve the bus passenger experience in the region and meet the demands of the future,” a spokesman said. But as the PA tries to find creative ways to wiggle out of another core-mission project, everyone agrees the PABT can’t withstand the crowds and isn’t designed to keep pace with transit growth and future demands. It shouldn’t though cost $10 billion to replace it, and a tenfold increase in costs even for an agency that plays as loose with dollars as the Port Authority deserves a deep, deep examination. · (23)

For the past few years, I’ve argued that big-ticket transportation items in New York City see the light of day only when they have a political champion lined up to fight for dollars. Senator Schumer delivered money for the first phase of the Second Ave. Subway; Mayor Bloomberg ushered in the 7 line extension; for better or worse, Al D’Amato shoulders the thanks (and blame) for East Side Access; and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is responsible for the mysteriously funded New New York Bridge. Without these politicians fighting for their projects, construction wouldn’t have begun, and money wouldn’t have flowed.

A few years ago, a trans-Hudson rail tunnel — with its flaws and all — had a champion in then-New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, but as we know, his successor has been no friend to transit. Now, with the Hudson River Tunnels suffering from damage inflicted by Sandy’s floodwaters and the general limitations of a century’s-old piece of infrastructure, the need for a replacement or a additional tunnels has never been greater and the silence from various leaders has never been so deafening.

As the Hudson Yards development kicks into gear, provisioning is in place for a future trans-Hudson tunnel, and Amtrak has amorphous and unfunded plans to build the Gateway Tunnel as part of a Northeast Corridor high-speed rail plan that you could be forgiven for thinking is a pie-in-the-sky idea. But the trans-Hudson tunnel is just crying out for someone to take the lead. In fact, from recent reports, it sounds as though the feds want to give money to this project, but no one is asking with enough specificity to satisfy grant requirements.

Andrew Tangel of The Wall Street Journal has the story:

A top federal transportation official on Thursday expressed support for digging new passenger rail tunnels under the Hudson River, as the current aging ones irk commuters with delays between New York and New Jersey. But Peter Rogoff, the U.S. undersecretary of transportation for policy, cited two major hurdles in jump-starting a tunnel project: money and coordination among various government agencies. “We would like to get on with it, but we are going to need funding growth to be able to address those kinds of projects,” Mr. Rogoff said.

Mr. Rogoff, who was in New York City for a meeting Thursday of the region’s top transportation officials, touted the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2016 proposed budget that calls for billions of dollars of additional funding for transportation projects across the country. Amtrak’s proposed “Gateway” project, which includes the tunnels and other major upgrades, is estimated to cost $15 billion to $20 billion, a steep price tag in an era of tight budgets. “For a project of this size and scope, you need a game-changing pot of funding specifically for construction,” Mr. Rogoff said.

Mr. Rogoff pointed to the president’s proposed budget, which includes about $50 billion in funding over six years that could potentially fund a tunnel project. Top transportation officials in New York and New Jersey have been holding informal meetings about the Amtrak project in recent months. The talks have included Amtrak officials, and Mr. Rogoff has said federal transportation officials have also taken part…“This project is not currently funded because we only get to the point of requesting those construction dollars when we have a fully baked project and the funding partners have all of their contributions nailed down,” Mr. Rogoff said following his speech at a meeting of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council. “Well, we don’t have nailed-down contributions from either New York or New Jersey on funding their portion of the construction, so we wouldn’t put it in our budget it until we did.”

I’m guilty here of excerpting the key parts of the whole story, and I don’t have too much more to add. So I’ll wrap quickly: The trans-Hudson tunnel badly needs and should have a champion today, tomorrow, yesterday. It’s need is so blindingly obvious, and the region will practically collapse if anything even more serious happens to Amtrak’s current tunnels. That this hasn’t happened when the feds are basically throwing New York and New Jersey in the form of billions of dollars is dismaying. The short-term and long-term futures depend on it; who will step up and take on the challenge?

Categories : Gateway Tunnel
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For years, as our subway system has seen record ridership increases, the bus system has seen something of the opposite. Ridership has steadily declined over the years, and the MTA’s own actions in the form of service cuts have done little to stem the tide away from buses. On the one hand, I don’t blame people for not using local buses. As I’ve written before, they’re slow and unreliable and run entirely at the whims of surface traffic.

But on the other hand, the local bus network is a vital part of the city. Even if buses stop too frequently, they serve neighborhoods not easily connected by subway routes and offer increased mobility options for millions. In a sense, the MTA’s bus woes are entirely due to a lack of trying, and a few new studies underscore how simple changes can have a positive effect on ridership.

Our first glimpse at trends in bus ridership comes from within New York City itself. As BusTime has spread throughout the city, its system-wide deployment has coincided with a modest but steady increase in ridership. As CityLab notes, highlighting a study out of City College, bus ridership has jumped by around 2 percent following the availability of BusTime. It’s not easy to say if this is a situation where correlation and causation are related, and the MTA hasn’t publicly divulged user statistics on BusTime. But real-time information empowers potential riders to make informed and should drive up ridership as more people adapt the technology.

Eric Jaffe sums up the study:

A new study of a real-time bus arrival program in New York City offers an encouraging (if qualified) answer: it does generate new trips, though mostly for high-traffic routes. Candace Brakewood of the City College of New York and collaborators analyzed ridership patterns following the city’s roll-out of its Bus Time website. In a new paper they report a measurable jump in ridership (around 2 percent) that works out to upwards of $6.3 million in new revenue over the three-year study period…

Brakewood and company tracked bus ridership from January 2011 through December 2013. During that time New York launched real-time bus tracking in all of Staten Island, the Bronx, and Manhattan. (The program has since launched in every borough.) The researchers compared pre- and post-launch ridership to get a sense of just how influential Bus Time was in rider decisions. They accounted for key variables such as fare and service changes, seasonal patterns, the opening of the Citi Bike system, and Hurricane Sandy.

On average, across all the bus lines included in the Bus Time scope, real-time information contributed to about 118 new weekday trips—a 1.7 percent bump. The more significant increases only occurred on the most-traveled routes, where real-time info led to 340 new daily trips, or a 2.3 percent spike.

For bus routes that often lose substantial money on a per-rider basis, even these modest gains can go a long way toward staving off potential service cuts. As Jaffe notes, these findings are in line with similar studies conducted in other cities, and a potential barrier to a higher increase is the rate of adaptation. I rarely see people waiting at bus stops checking for real-time information. Perhaps a public awareness campaign on the existence of BusTime may be in order.

Meanwhile, another study highlights a simple way to speed up buses that the MTA uses only on Select Bus Service routes. Examining San Francisco’s bus boarding policies, Muni officials noted that multi-door boarding significantly lowers dwell times. In New York, we’ve seen the practical affects of this finding as the time savings for Select Bus Service routes is due nearly entirely to pre-boarding fare payment and multi-door boarding options.

The key to the San Francisco study lies in the economics of it. Muni notes in the report [pdf] that “transit operations have improved without adverse financial impacts.” The SF agency added a rear-door card reader and increased fare evasion patrols to fight potential jumpers. With a modicum of effort, the MTA could implement something similar, especially along high-volume routes, and could improve bus service in New York without the multi-year rollout and brouhaha that accompanies every single Select Bus Service routes. It’s certainly worth a thought or two.

Categories : Buses
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Not too much, not too little. As always, these come to me via the MTA. Any inaccuracies or errors are theirs and not mine. Check the signs at your local station before venturing out this weekend.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, Bronx-bound 1 trains run express from 96 St to 137 St. For service to 103 St, 110 St, 116 St, and 125 St, take the uptown 1 to 137 St or 168 St and transfer to a South Ferry-bound 1. From these stations, take a South Ferry-bound 1 to 96 St and transfer to an uptown 1.

From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, March 15, South Ferry-bound 1 trains run express from Van Cortlandt Park-242 St to 215 St. For service to 238 St, 231 St, and 225 St, take the Bx9 bus instead. From 238 St, walk or take the Bx9 bus to 242 St and transfer to a South Ferry-bound 1 train.

From 6:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday, March 14, and from 9:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Sunday, March 15, 1 trains run every 16 minutes between 137 St and 242 St. The last stop for some 1 trains headed toward Van Cortlandt Park-242 St is 137 St. To continue your trip, transfer at 137 St to a Van Cortlandt Park-242 St-bound 1.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 13 to 6:00 a.m. Sunday, March 15, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, March 15 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, Bronx-bound 4 trains run express from 14 St-Union Sq to Grand Central-42 St.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, Brooklyn-bound 4 trains run local from 125 St to Grand Central-42 St.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, 5 trains are suspended in both directions between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St. 5 service operates every 20 minutes between E 180 St and Grand Central-42 St, days and evenings only. Free shuttle buses operate all weekend between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St, stopping at Baychester Av, Gun Hill Rd, Pelham Pkwy, and Morris Park. Transfer between trains and shuttle buses at E 180 St.

From 7:45 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Sunday, March 15, 5 trains are suspended in both directions between E 180 St and 149 St-Grand Concourse. Take the 2 instead. Transfer between 2 and 5 trains at 149 St-Grand Concourse. Trains from Manhattan skip 138 St-Grand Concourse. Take the 4 instead.

From 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, March 14, and from 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Sunday, March 15, Bowling Green-bound 5 trains run local from 125 St to Grand Central-42 St. 5 trains run every 20 minutes.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, Bronx-bound 6 trains run express from 14 St-Union Square to Grand Central.

From 6:45 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 7:00 p.m. Sunday, March 15, Brooklyn Bridge-bound 6 trains run express from Parkchester to Hunts Point Av.

From 2:15 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 4:30 a.m. Monday, March 16, 7 trains are suspended in both directions between Times Sq-42 St and Hunters Point Av.

  • Use E, F, N and Q trains for service between Manhattan and Queens. The 42 Street S Shuttle operates overnight.
  • Free shuttle buses operate between Vernon Blvd-Jackson Av and Queensboro Plaza, stopping at Hunters Point Av, Court Sq, and Queens Plaza.

From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, March 15, Flushing-Main St bound 7 trains run express from Queensboro Plaza to 74 St-Broadway. For service to 33 St, 40 St, 46 St, 52 St, and 69 St, take the Flushing-Main St bound 7 to 61 St-Woodside or 74 St-Broadway and transfer to a Hunters Point Av-bound 7. From these stations, take a Hunters Point Av-bound 7 train to 61 St-Woodside or Queensboro Plaza and transfer to a Flushing-Main St bound 7.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 13 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, March 15, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, March 15 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, Inwood-207 St bound A trains run express from Canal St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, A trains are suspended in both directions between Ozone Park-Lefferts Blvd and Rockaway Blvd. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service via 80 St. Howard Beach/Far Rockaway-bound A trains skip 88 St.

  • For service to 88 St, take the A to 80 St and transfer to free shuttle buses.
  • For service from 88 St toward the Rockaways, take a Brooklyn-bound A to 80 St and transfer to a Howard Beach/Far Rockaway-bound A.
  • A service operates between Inwood-207 St and Howard Beach/Far Rockaway.
  • Free shuttle buses operate between 80 St and Ozone Park-Lefferts Blvd, stopping at 88 St, Rockaway Blvd, 104 St, and 111 St. Transfer between shuttle buses and A trains at 80 St.

From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, March 14 and Sunday, March 15, 168 St-bound C trains run express from Canal St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, D trains run local in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and 34 St-Herald Sq.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, Norwood-205 St bound D trains run local from 36 St to DeKalb Av.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, Jamaica Center-Parsons Archer bound E trains run express from Canal St to 34 St-Penn St.

From 10:45 p.m. Friday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, Jamaica-179 St bound F trains skip 75 Av, Van Wyck Blvd, and Sutphin Blvd.

From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 13 to 8:00 p.m. Sunday, March 15, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound F trains skip Avenue I, Avenue N, and Avenue U.

From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 14 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 16, Astoria-Ditmars Blvd bound N trains run local from Lexington Av-59 St to DeKalb Av.

From 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Saturday, March 14 and from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Sunday, March 15, Q service is extended to Astoria-Ditmars Blvd.

42 St Shuttle
From 12:01 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. Saturday to Monday, March 14 to March 16, the 42 St S Shuttle operates overnight due to work on the 7 Flushing Line.

Categories : Service Advisories
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The $4 billion PATH Hub will star to open later this year. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Santiago Calatrava’s PATH Hub soars through the Lower Manhattan sky. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Much like the PATH’s new World Trade Center Hub itself, every new article about the absurdly expensive subway stop and the man who designed it is superfluous. We learned from a thorough Times investigation late last year that everyone — from the governors of New Jersey and New York to Mayor Bloomberg to the MTA and the 1 train to the Port Authority to Santiago Calatrava — bears some responsibility from the $4 billion boondoggle. Yet, Calatrava can’t help himself, and when the media comes a-knockin’, he’s the first person in line to attempt to defend himself from charges of egotism and excess in the realm of capital-A Architecture.

The latest entry in the media coverage surrounding the Spanish architect and the world’s most expensive subway station comes to us via a New York Magazine profile. Similar to the coverages in The Times this winter, it offloads enough blame on the shoulders of long-gone state officials and Port Authority executives to make its point, but it also serves, for some reason, as a platform for Santiago Calatrava and his supporters to pat themselves on the back for a job not too poorly done. Andrew Rice, a contributing editor with the magazine, spends a lot of time doting over Calatrava and his design, and while the building makes for an impressive sight, it’s still just a subway station.

I’ve had my say on the PATH Hub over the years. At a time when transit dollars are scarce, spending $4 billion on a mall-cum-subway stop will always seem irresponsible to me, even when the building is open and, in the eyes of many, a commercial success. For nearly the same amount of money, we could have had a new phase for the Second Ave. Subway, most of the worst-case scenario ARC overruns covered, or numerous other capacity-adding transit projects. Instead we have this, and it should serve as a lesson to future generations of politicians and bureaucrats.

But I can’t ignore this piece entirely; it has too many good quotes and lines. So let’s run down some of the best. Try as it might, the New York Magazine piece just can’t help itself from casting doubt on all of Calatrava’s detractors, and the results are something to behold.

The question remains, however, whether it will all have been worth $4 billion. Calatrava’s patrons at the Port Authority no longer seem convinced. “If we were looking at it today,” says Patrick Foye, the agency’s executive director, “we might come to different judgments about how those dollars ought to be spent.” In private, Foye is apparently openly hostile to the project. “He thinks it’s a boondoggle,” says a former government official who remains engaged with the redevelopment of the World Trade Center.

Calatrava is walking away with a nice chunk of change at the expense of taxpayers:

An STV spokeswoman confirms that Calatrava’s firm has a 20 percent share of the contract, which indicates he has made around $83 million to date. Calatrava told me that it wasn’t his job to monitor the budget. “It is very difficult,” he said. “I have never estimated anything in this project, because there was a whole team, maybe 25 people, working the whole time on cost estimation and cost control. But I kept looking at those fellows and telling them this is like geology: You only know what you have under your feet when you excavate.”

Meanwhile, the Port Authority thinks its crap don’t stink:

“It’s the most architecturally complex structure ever built by humankind,” said Steven Plate, the PA’s director of construction at the World Trade Center. “But it’s a piece of art.” … “I think we are even more beautiful and more functional than Grand Central station,” Plate said. Though he is a civil engineer, he is no political neophyte — he used to be the mayor of Glen Ridge, New Jersey — and when he escorted me into the areas still under construction, he seemed intent on sending a calculated message: This isn’t our building’s fault.

Finally, my two favorite — both of which feature some adult language in the form of the F word:

Recently, at a public talk that was later widely circulated as a web video, the architects Michael Graves and Peter Eisenman offered a scathing assessment, accusing him of “arrogance” and immoderation. “Cala-fucking-trava! My God, what a waste,” Graves said. “?‘I will make wings for you, and this subway station will cost $4 billion’ … Meanwhile, the kids don’t have erasers on their pencils.”

Of course, you can simultaneously admire the design’s ambition and wonder whether it was worthwhile. “He’s one of the great designers,” says Mitchell Moss, director of NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation. “But this is a fucking train to Jersey.”

And Moss’ words are, in a nutshell, what this whole thing was all about. It’s just a station for a subway with seven stops in New Jersey.

Categories : PANYNJ
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I recently had the opportunity to look at a calendar, and I was shocked to discover that it’s 2015, by many accounts the 15th year of the 21st Century. Considering how much time has elapsed since the heady days of the Y2K threat, that Limp Bizkit song called, for some reason, “9 Teen 90 Nine,” and unironic promises to “party like it’s 1999,” you would think that the country’s busiest transit agency would have perhaps planned for the 21st Century by now. You could be forgiven for being wrong.

In a move that resembles a bit of Orwellian nomenclature, the MTA, according to Pete Donohue, has named a Vice President of 21st Century Service Delivery. Better late than never, right? Here’s the story:

Transit officials recently created a new top-tier executive position for the subway system: vice president of 21st Century Service Delivery. The job was given to NYC Transit division veteran John Gaul.

Gaul’s will focus on improving customer service, relieving subway overcrowding and spearheading other priorities such as a new fare-paying system to replace the MetroCard, Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Kevin Ortiz said.

“He will lead efforts to redefine how we deliver customer service within our system; everything from train service to how we communicate with our customers, how we can accelerate bringing new technology into the system … and how we can strategically and aggressively enhance capacity within our system.”

Color me highly skeptical, but shouldn’t the MTA have been playing for the 21st Century, say, 20 or 25 years ago and not a decade and a half into the 21st Century? On a more practical and less snarky level, none of the elements of Gaul’s job that Donohue described are particularly unique to the 21st Century. If anything, Gaul is helping the agency catch up to where they should have been where the 21st Century dawned.

In presenting the story to the Daily News, Transit sources cited a slew of technological advancements and initiatives that won’t wrap for a few more years. We see mention of a new fare-payment system that should have been implemented already and likely won’t be fully installed before a quarter of the 21st Century elapses. We see a nod to the Help Point customer intercom system, a technology rendered redundant by cell phone service and one hardly new to transit systems (or college campuses) across the nation. We see Transit officials hoping that Gaul can work to “relieve subway overcrowding” — something that can’t be accomplished without signal upgrades and perhaps automatic train operations. By and large, these are late 20th century challenges not otherwise unique to our times.

So what should a 21st Century Service Delivery ops team work towards? For one — and especially for the MTA — the eyes should be focused on mid-21st Century anticipations. Speed up the pace of technological adoption and work on those B Division countdown clocks with some urgency, but also work to anticipate new transit trends in both customer-facing technologies but also in service patterns. How can the MTA grow today to meet demands of New Yorkers in 30 or 40 years? Inevitably, that would require serious cost and efficiency improvements. Is Gaul up to that challenge?

Ultimately, the MTA as a whole should be looking to the 21st Century. One position alone won’t be sufficient, and perception that this is nothing more than a nod to progress (rather than actual progress itself) will be tough. Gene Russianoff, in a statement to Donohue, said it best, “What should the chief goal of the new 21st century subways and buses vice president? Why, to get the transit agency into the 21st century before it ends.”

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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  • With MTA Chair term nearly up, advocates line up behind Prendergast · By some counts, Tom Prendergast is the sixth person to head up the MTA in the time since I started this site back in November of 2006. Peter Kalikow was the MTA chairman then, and when his term expired, he was replaced by the two-headed leadership of Dale Hemmerdinger and Lee Sander. That pairing proved short-lived for political purposes, and Jay Walder took over in 2009 after Helen Williams served as the interim head. Amidst tense relationships with both the TWU and then-new Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Walder departed for Hong Kong, and Joe Lhota took over until he ran for mayor. Prendergast has served in the role since the start of 2013 — seemingly eternity for an MTA head.

    In an ideal world, the MTA head would serve a full six-year term as Peter Stengl, Virgil Conway and Kalikow did. But the best laid plans often run afoul of politics, and the turmoil at the top has reverberated throughout the organization. Efforts at trimming the MTA fat have succeeded, but plans to, say, bring countdown clocks to the B Division haven’t progressed much. Now, the six-year term that began with Walder’s appointment in 2009 is set to expire at the end of June, and the governor hasn’t indicated if he plans to stick with Prendergast.

    In a piece in today’s Daily News, Pete Donohue highlights statements from transit advocates and MTA Board members who wish to see Prendergast reappointed. Gene Russianoff called Prendergast “the perfect transit advocate for a system badly in need of adequate funding,” and others closely associated with the MTA offered similar support. “He’s a serious transportation professional who has brought tremendous stability and a forward-looking perspective to the MTA. I expect as long a tenure as possible, because God knows, as an institution, we’ve been hobbled by a succession of short-term chairmen,” Fernando Ferrar, the Board’s vice chair, said.

    To me, it’s a no-brainer to reappoint Prendergast if he’s interested in sticking around. The MTA needs state support and leadership continuity to address a yawning $15.2 billion gap in the capital plan, and the Sandy recover efforts will continue, likely for the next 3-4 years. Prendergast has a good working relationship with the MTA’s unions and, to a greater degree than other recent MTA Chairs, the respect of enough representatives in Albany to be an effective champion for the agency. Cuomo shouldn’t wait until June or later to make a move here, but timely decisions relating to transit sadly do not appear to be on our governor’s agenda. · (7)

If the MTA has its way, token booths will become relics of another era. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

For years, the MTA has tried to do away with station agents. Since they no longer sell tokens, their roles have been greatly reduced. They serve some nominal safety function as a deterrent against crime — though the fact that agents don’t leave booths limits this impact. Meanwhile, over the past seven years, as the MTA has cut costs, station agents have dwindled by 20 percent, and some stations that straddle wide avenues with no crossovers have no agents in sight.

Now, according to Pete Donohue’s latest column, the agency would like to do away with token booths entirely. The MTA wouldn’t fire the agents — at least no right away — but the MTA wants them out of their booths. Donohue has more:

The token booth clerk is going the way of the token itself. Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Thomas Prendergast is looking to redeploy token booth clerks who now spend their entire shifts inside locked cubicles.

“What we’re trying to do is move to a day where we are actually utilizing our employes in ways that are rewarding for them . . . but also provide a more needed service for us in the form of a customer service agent that would be able to be out and about in the station,” Prendergast said during a state Senate committee hearing on authority finances…

Now, the MTA is again thinking outside the booth. “We can all understand and agree, a visible presence of someone on the platform observing and seeing something going on and reporting on it is of value to the system, and that’s the direction in which we’d like to move,” Prendergast said.

But the MTA also is installing intercoms on platforms so riders can report things themselves. Stations are also being wired for cellphone service. And the MTA plans on introducing by 2019 “new fare payment technology” that could entail riders paying at turnstiles with their smartphones or bank-issued credit and debit cards. There were 3,303 token booth clerks a decade ago. There are 2,600 now. There will be far fewer in 2025.

In his piece, Donohue casts a skeptical eye on the idea. He compares it to the MTA’s plan late last decade to introduce those burgundy vest-sported courtesy workers who replaced shuttered station booths and were quickly dismissed when economic troubles hit. I can’t blame anyone for objecting, and we haven’t even heard from union officials yet.

The question that needs to be answered, though, is whether this is a feasible and good idea. The union, as I mentioned, will raise a stink. They’ve pointed to safety concerns in the past and don’t feel that station agents are equipped to handle face-to-face interactions with unruly passengers. But what do agents do? They sometimes know directions, sometimes will assist with damaged or malfunctioning MetroCards. But their impact is largely psychological. If they were eliminated, would the vast majority of subway riders even notice? I don’t think so.

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