A homeless man sleeps as the uptown 2 leaves 72nd St. This is becoming a common sight on late-nite trains. (Courtesy of flickr user slice_of_danny)

I boarded a downtown 2 train at 96th St. on Saturday night around 11:45 p.m. and encountered a familiar scene. As the car doors slid open and the automated voices loudly announced the stop, I noticed that the car was completely deserted except for one guy.

“Uh, oh,” I thought to myself. “That’s trouble.”

Certainly enough, as the doors slide closed, I got a good whiff of the car, and it was not pretty. Breaking the law, I moved between train cars and found olfactory relief. I wish I could say this incident was a rare occurrence, but more and more, I’m noticing it’s an every-weekend event. Ride the subway late enough, and you’ll see the tell-tale signs. Crowded cars surrounding an empty car while the guy with no shoes sleeps sprawled across three seats in that empty car.

This problem isn’t limited to the trains either. As it’s incredibly hard to sleep with some guy yelling at you to “Stand clear of the closing doors please” every five minutes, many residents of the subway have taken to sleeping in stations. Forgotten corners house homeless people, and the 2nd Ave. stop at Houston Street is a breeding ground for unsavory smells.

Many of us straphangers don’t believe the MTA ever does anything about that Stinky Guy in the next car. No one wakes him up or makes him leave the trains. But, as The New York Sun reports, the MTA is actually trying to do something about the homeless problem but at a huge cost to the cash-strapped Authority.

The MTA this year renewed its $1.5 million contract with the Bowery Residents’ Committee, a nonprofit social service provider, to fund the program for outreach workers to visit subway stations and try to convince homeless people to accept escorts to city-run shelters or detox centers…

The outreach program carried out 875 escorts last year, according to statistics provided by the MTA. Outreach workers estimated that they were re-escorting the same homeless people back to the shelters from subway stations about 25% of the time. “It’s a tough sell,” the program director, Robert Rumore, said. “The largest portion of people we escort is back out again.”

The article from Monday’s Sun details a program that is hardly the definition of success. Groups of homeless people living together in the subway exert pressure on each other to ignore the entreaties of outreach workers who are facing an uphill battle against people suffering from psychological disorders or chemical dependency issues. Furthermore, while 22 workers patrol the 660-mile subway system, no one works on weekend nights when the problem seems to be at its worst.

Meanwhile, because many of these homeless people earn money for food by panhandling in the subways, they are loathe to leave the warmth and shelter provided by the roof of the train.

The police, too, are handicapped. Arrests are meaningless for homeless people, and they, more often than not, return to the subway after being released. While the NYPD’s Homeless Outreach Squad claims some measure of success in reducing the number of homeless subway dwellers down to just under 1000, it may simply be impossible to find a solution in which 100 percent of the subway system is homeless-free.

While I wholeheartedly support the social benefits of homeless outreach projects in the subway, I am left wondering at the cost to the system. According to The Sun, this project costs $2000 per homeless person removed, and even then, at least a quarter of the 875 folks taken out of the train system head right back in.

Is the solution a return to the draconian Giuliani-era programs of arrest and incarceration? I don’t think so. But an increased presence of authority figures could do wonders for the problem of Stinky Homeless Guy in A Train Car Syndrome that so plagues the New York City subways.

Categories : MTA Economics
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Subway ridership by month, 2005 and 2006. (Source: NYCT Performance Indicators)

The F train is too crowded; there’s no doubt about that. While we’re content to blame bad scheduling and unannounced service cuts, subway ridership numbers are contributing to the overcrowding as well.

After decades of declining ridership numbers, the number of straphangers has shot up over the last few years, and 2006 was no exception. In fact, subway and bus ridership numbers are at a 37-year high, and the city could see record ridership levels sometime in the next decade. Crain’s NewYorkBusiness.com reports:

Annual ridership on subways and buses rose to 2.2 billion, a level not seen since 1969, when 2.3 billion rides were recorded, MTA officials said on Friday…

In 2006, there were 1.5 billion trips on New York’s subways. That’s up 3.4% from a year earlier and the highest since 1952, when 1.55 billion trips were made. Average weekday subway ridership rose 2.7%, to 4.9 million, the most since a 1953 when 4.99 million trips were reported.

So trains are more crowded, and the MTA is not increasing service. In fact, while New York City Transit officials won’t confirm this, most riders feel that subway service has actually declined this year with the F and L trains serving as the biggest examples of this.

It’s all a matter of economics really as Newsday reports that the average paid fare is just $1.29, a far cry, inflation-wise, from the five cents charged in 1904. The MTA may simply have to raise the fare again to meet service and maintenance demands.

Meanwhile, as Crain’s reports, 30-day unlimited MetroCards make up nearly 30 percent of all MetroCard sales. While these discounted MetroCards are driving more commuters underground, they are money-losers for the MTA. If people are paying less per ride, the MTA simply cannot capture the same revenue.

So here’s the tradeoff: Would your rather have cheaper subways and questionable service levels or a slightly more expensive train ride but more frequent subway service?

Categories : MTA Economics
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Well, it’s nearly that dreaded 12:01 a.m. on Saturday morning time when every subway line starts doing something it’s not really supposed to be doing. Want some weekend service advisories?

Well, check them out here.

The West Side and East Side IRT lines are doing that funky thing again; the 7 is, well, basically just screwing everyone out of train service; and there’s still no weekend C service. Take the A instead.

Until Monday…

Categories : Service Advisories
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When last Captain Obvious paid us a visit two weeks ago, the good Captain noted that bus schedules around the city were wrong. Big surprise there.

Well, the Captain has returned this week. The story: Those subway schedules available on the MTA’s website aren’t too accurate either. Stop the presses.

In all seriousness, this news is hardly a shocker; the MTA’s schedules are notorious punchlines. But The Brooklyn Paper actually managed to turn this into an interesting story:

During the morning and evening rush, an F train is supposed to arrive every four to six minutes, according to MTA timetables. But a Brooklyn Paper reporter found that on most days, the gap is a lot longer.

A few minutes extra may not seem like a big deal, but a two-minute addition to the scheduled four-minute gap means that, on average, there are five fewer trains per hour — about 40 cars — than the schedule says there should be.

Since each car can hold 175 people, those extra five trains during the 8-9 am rush can carry up to 7,000 people.

Now, I live near that F train stop, but I never take it to work. I find the B/Q stop on the other side of the North Slope area to be much more reliable. I can take one of two trains into Manhattan during rush hour; the wait is never too long, and the trains, while crowded, aren’t jammed pack as the F train generally is.

But this overcrowding of the F train and the frequent delays are a cause for concern. Population, as the article notes, along the F train corridor has exploded since the MTA set the schedules a few years ago, and this boom shows no signs of slowing. These areas along the F train are among the strongest waves of gentrification into the heart of Brooklyn. This leaves the F, already ranked 11th out of 22 by the Straphangers Campaign, floundering a bit.

The Brooklyn Paper issues some sensible suggestions for expanding service along the F line. The MTA could extend V train service past 2nd Ave. in Manhattan; they could permanently extend the temporary G train extension to Church Ave.; or they could simply make sure the trains run on time.

The MTA, of course, says nothing is wrong with the current F train service, but maybe they should try waiting at 7th Ave. in Park Slope during the morning commute for a train.

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While the good folks in Queens are still trying to figure out the whole 7 train mess, Theodore Kheel’s recent call for a higher road tax that would subsidize free subway rides has found an unlikely ally among the City’s religious community.

Writing in The Jewish Press, Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum has expressed his support for the free subway rides on religious grounds:

With increasing permitted use of automation and technology on Shabbos, such as halachically acceptable elevators and escalators, the possibility of using fare-free subways on Shabbos and Yom Tov would be of great interest. The majority of poskim in the past have leaned towards disapproval. The ability to use the subway on Shabbos was inhibited due to such considerations astechum Shabbos (measured distances prohibited outside a city) and maaris ayin (appearance of transgressing Shabbos). Should the entire NYC subway system become fare-free fulltime, the question of subway usage on Shabbos could be more clearly defined.

Since many very observant Jews do not believe in spending money on the Sabbath, free subway rides would enable these religious men and women to utilize the City’s rapid transit system without breaking the Sabbath.

My only issue with Tannenbaum’s article is his reliance on the same misinformation being promulgated by the media as they attempt to describe Kheel’s plan. Tannenbaum wrote, “Questions whether the subway system would be able to carry the increased number of passengers can be answered by a review of the subway’s history. In 1943 the NYC subway system carried eight- million passengers daily. Today’s passenger load is less than four-and-a-half million daily.”

As I’ve pointed out in the past, that information is incorrect. The 8 million figure was a one-day high set in 1946 and not an average daily total. Here’s what I wrote two weeks ago in clearing up this misconceptions:

But the most accurate ridership information I could find (in [a] PDF presentation) showed an annual ridership of slightly more than 2 billion in 1946, largely considered the busiest year in subway history. That amounts to an average daily ridership of around 5.5 million people. Recently, in September of 2006, just over 5 million people a day rode the subways. We’re not that far off from those records.

Overall, it’s a small bone to pick. I wonder if Rabbi Tannenbaum’s thoughts will gain more traction as the Institute for Rational Urban Mobility continues its Kheel-funded study of a free subway system.

MetroCard photo from Triborough’s flickr stream.

Categories : MTA Economics
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I don’t know what any of that means either. Or as my roomate said, “What the f***?” (Image courtesy of flickr user Plaid Ninja. Click on it for a bigger view.)

So the 7 train. Apparently, it’s a mess, and Queens residents aren’t too happy. I don’t blame them; that service advisory note up there is utterly incomprehensible.

Currently, the 7 line is undergoing a massive reconstruction project. According to the WNBC report, the MTA is reconfiguring the tracks and upgrading switches from Times Square out to the heart of Queens. Because the 7 is the only line that runs from Manhattan to Flushing, it clearly inconveniences everyone who lives along this purple train.

Furthermore, I’m a firm believer in conspiracy theories. The MTA is doing the project now, in the cold of winter when no one wants to walk anywhere, because baseball season is around the corner. Imagine if tens of thousands of Mets fans could not get to Shea for opening weekend because of 7 line service shutdowns. Queens residents suffer now so baseball fans don’t have to suffer in April.

The litany of complains are quite familiar. Travel times are quadrupled; local businesses are feeling the pain; and everyone is pissed off. In fact, even City Council member Eric Giola participated in a rally protesting the service cuts. He called the shuttle bus service “insufficient and inconvenient.” You tell ’em, Eric.

Uncharacteristically, the MTA decided to listen to their riders’ complaints. How? By, um, telling people more frequently how to find some alternate route and, ah, making sure the employees are giving out the right information (which they were not last weekend). The Daily News reports on the new measures the MTA will take this weekend:

  • Boosting the number of service-disruption announcements at stations and on subway trains.
  • Putting more and better-informed Transit Authority personnel in stations to help lost and confused riders.
  • Alerting riders that they can board No. 7 trains, and get off Manhattan-bound trains at the 69th St. and 61st St. stations. The TA has been telling riders that trains weren’t running between Times Square and 74th St./Broadway.
  • Better publicize increased E and F train service on the affected weekends.
  • Increasing the number of supervisors to improve coordination of TA efforts.
  • Additional training and better info packets for bus drivers, station agents and other workers on the disruptions and travel options.

Pardon me if I’m a little skeptical, but doesn’t this seem like basic levels of customer service? Shouldn’t the MTA have made sure that its employees knew what was going on before the service cuts instead of after a debacle of a weekend? While Giola expressed his pleasure with the new customer service measures, I expect this weekend to be more of the same for those residents in Queens unlucky enough to live on the 7 line.

But don’t worry; baseball season is right around the corner.

Bag inspectors working to guard the City’s subways. (Courtesy of flickr user Runs With Scissors.)

I’m not exactly going out a limb if I were to state: “New York City and, in particular, the subways should be considered high priority homeland security targets.” No, around these parts, that’s fairly common knowledge.

But 230 miles to the south, those in charge of the federal purse strings have been loathe to see things our way. The Department of Homeland Security, led and created by those Republicans who aren’t beholden to a New York voter base, has hardly been forthcoming in giving New York the money it needs to adequately protect itself from another possible terrorist attack. As the media has documented, low-population states such as Wyoming have long received more money per person than the coastal states. Wyoming is no terrorist target when compared to New York, Boston, Los Angeles or other coastal cities.

In fact, DHS did such a good job allocating money that last year, grants to Washington, D.C. and New York City were slashed. That means less money for the subway, less money for the ports, less money for the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and even the Washington Monument and Capitol building. That’s smart government.

So then, it comes as no surprise that U.S.A. Today recently noted that it is nearly impossible to protect the city’s subway system. Mimi Hall reported:

It has been a difficult, time-consuming effort just to get the work going, says William Morange, the transit authority’s security director. There are no 100-year-old records left behind to guide workers. No detailed descriptions of which parts of which tunnels were built in bedrock and which were dug out of silt.

Schiliro calls the MTA’s construction and other security upgrades “incremental risk reduction.” He says none of the nation’s subway systems will be as safe as they could be and should be without more help and money from the federal government.

This story is your typical “how to protect the subways” story, but it never hurts to see these reports in print. The litany of complaints is the same: There isn’t enough money; no government agency has ever completed an accurate risk assessment focusing on the subways in the urban (and largely liberal) areas of the country.

As U.S.A. Today noted the problem with protecting the subways, they also noted that the Democrats now in power in the halls of Congress are trying to secure more funding for subway security.

This is all well and good, but actual subway security only goes so far. There are too many access points, open areas and miles and miles of tracks to patrol. There are too many forgotten and neglected entrances and exits into the subway system, and too many nooks and crannies for everyone to inspect. I will always advocate more federal funds from DHS for security in New York City, but at the same time, I hope the Department is doing enough to protect the country from those who would perpetrate a terrorist attack in the subways. If we can prevent the terrorists — whoever they may be — from reaching the subways in the first place, we’ll have less to worry about underground as the subways continue to roll on.

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Riders of the 6 train can now view the City Hall stop from the comforts of a train. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

For official purposes, the last stop on the downtown 6 train is the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall stop. It’s a four-track station and the last chance to switch to the downtown IRT trains into Brooklyn.

But at this stop, the 6 doesn’t just start back uptown. Instead, it turns around in a loop station that has lain dormant for over 60 years. This station, considered the most beautiful in the New York City subway, is the City Hall station. With its Gustavino arches and intricate chandeliers, it was the original starting point for the first line of the IRT in 1904.

The station went out of service because the gap between the train and platform grew too wide and because it is a mere 300 feet from the Brooklyn Bridge stop. While plans to reopen it as part of the Transit Museum were halted due to security concerns following the Sept. 11 attacks, for years, those in the know knew that a savvy rider could spy this station if they stayed on the 6 train as it made its curve along that tight loop.

While the automated announcements have long said that the Brooklyn Bridge is the last stop, riders could generally stay on the train provided they ask the transit workers or simply avoided them. It’s thrilling to see the dimly lit station come into view as the 6 crawls around the sharp curve.

Now, via Chuck Bennett’s excellent Tracker Blog comes the news that the MTA will no longer be calling the Brooklyn Bridge stop the “last stop”. Bennett writes:

“Ladies and gentlemen, the next stop on this train will be the Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall uptown platform. For your safety, please remain inside of the car until the train comes to a complete stop and the doors open.”

No more “last stop.”

So now, we’re not sneaking around the trains to spy the beautiful City Hall stop. Enjoy the view.

Categories : Abandoned Stations
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It’s Presidents’ Day, and I’m on the road this weekend. So posting is light. I’ll be back on Tuesday with a full day of subway news and notes. For now, just remember that today — Monday — is a special Monday. The trains are running on a Saturday schedule, and nothing is as it seems.

So after a weekend that saw Queens residents up in arms over 7 train problems, good luck getting around. The West Side IRT lines are very messed up right now, and they’re not the only ones. For more, check out the MTA’s weekend service advisories. Most of the service problems from the weekend carry through until 5 a.m. on Tuesday.

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Feb
16

Catholics call out condoms

By · Comments (4) ·

All New York City wanted to do was provide a service for people that promotes healthy lifestyles. In the face of countless studies that say abstinence-only policies simply serve to promote unsafe sex, the City decided to be proactive in the fight against STDs by distributing free NYC-branded condoms throughout the Big Apple.

Sadly, some folks don’t look too kindly on this immoral behavior. First, the MTA was upset because the City was using their subway bullets. The MTA didn’t want to be associated with a condom. (They prefer to go about their business without one.) So the City compromised, and that’s why the N is 8th Ave. IND blue and the C is Broadway BMT yellow. It’s almost-but-not-quite the same.

Then, along comes the actual hand-out, and one group was furious. They declared war on the condoms! If you guessed the Catholic Church, well, then step on down. You’re the next contestant on Ridiculous Outrage.

Edward Cardinal Egan, New York’s leading Catholic clergyman, and Brooklyn’s Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio issued a joint statement yesterday condemning the condoms. The Post reports:

“The decision of the City of New York to distribute [26] million free condoms to the public – and minors as well, according to news reports – is tragic and misguided,” Egan and DiMarzio said.

“Our political leaders fail to protect the moral tone of our community when they encourage inappropriate sexual activity by blanketing our neighborhoods with condoms,” the statement continued.

Egan and DiMarzio warned that the condom plan will “degrade societal standards.”

“The taxpayers’ money that is being spent to distribute condoms and promote the attitude that ‘anything goes’ would be far better spent in fostering what is true and what is decent,” they said.

I guess “what is true and what is decent” doesn’t covering “saving lives” and “protecting against disease.” Meanwhile, for the first time since Sex Ed classes in high school, people are actually talking about condoms on a near-daily basis, and that is a very good thing.

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