If you understand that disaster, you must be some kind of supergenius.

For two weeks, residents of Queens have been up in arms over the construction on the 7 line. Who can blame them? The MTA workers barely know what the alternate routes are, and getting to Manhattan from parts of the 7 line now takes up to three or four times longer than usual.

When the Authority originally announced the construction plans, Irish travelers complained that they would be unable to join the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Manhattan. Now, MTA CEO Elliot “Lee” Sander has announced that 7 train may run in Queens on March 17. Or maybe not. amNY reports:

Elliot “Lee” Sander, the MTA executive director and chief executive, said Wednesday that weekend service on the No. 7 train could be restored for the March 17 holiday, which falls on a Saturday. “We are looking at that,” he said after the MTA’s monthly board meeting Wednesday, but made it clear no decision has been made.

He added that the MTA is examining how service on the E and R lines and the Long Island Rail Road could pick up the slack for the thousands of revelers traveling to the parade. One scenario will let subway riders use the LIRR stop at Woodside.

But there’s an interesting twist to this story: Irish drinking establishments that are due for a big St. Patrick’s Day boon are torn about the service cuts to the 7 train.

The Irish bars in the Woodside area would see an increase in visitors for a big day of drinking if revelers can’t make it into Manhattan. So for once, maybe some people in Queens actually want the service changes to go in effect. Oh, the irony.

Update: Chuck Bennett at the amNY Subway Tracker Blog confirms that 7 service will be restored for St. Patrick’s Day. As an added benefit fewer, drunken partiers will be driving as they can now ride the train home in peace.

Categories : MTA Construction
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Let the passengers out first, folks. (Courtesy of flickr user Infinite Jeff)

For the MTA, a “late” subway is all relative. When you have no set schedule, how can a train really be late?

But the trains are supposed to run on time. They’re supposed to enter the station and leave the station in a timely fashion, and when passengers hold up the train, bad things happen. Ever wonder why you have to sit on the Manhattan Bridge for what seems like hours at a time? Blame the train delays ahead of you. And now, you can blame unruly passengers too, the latest reports say.

According to The New York Sun, trains delayed by unruly passengers in December jumped to 313 from a 2006 monthly average of 195. That’s a whopping 45 percent. With ridership nearing record numbers due to an increase in tourist visits to New York, tensions ran high on the trains at the end of last year.

The Daily News had more on the causes behind those pesky delays:

More than 4,270 trains were thrown off their schedules last year because riders blocked subway car doors from closing in stations, according to Transit Authority statistics. It’s now the fifth-leading cause of delays, up from 20th place just five years earlier…

Ridership has continued to rise in the past several years, resulting in more crowded trains. But TA spokesman Charles Seaton said he couldn’t say whether there was a connection to the number of door blocks.

Classifying delays is not always an exact science. Transit officials say that the “holding doors” category includes instances where riders try to squeeze onto crowded trains as opposed to intentionally trying to prevent a train from departing.

Well, come on. More passengers and more crowded trains might probably maybe just possibly result in more delays. And just like SUBWAYblogger, the MTA is trying to blame Mr. Last Minute Arrival Guy.

The top ten leading causes of delays from December 2006 after the jump.

Read More→

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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coldsores.jpg

Graffiti in the subways is bad. It’s illegal; it’s an eye-sore. Just don’t do that.

Now that we have my disclaimer out of the way, via Gothamist (and as I was writing this, SUBWAYblogger) comes a new take on the old reliable mustache-on-the-newsman subway ad graffiti: Printable Cold Sores

The instructions are easy:

1. Download the cold sore PDF file.
2. Buy some clear labels.
3. Print.
4. And enjoy.

Mike and Juliet would look much better with a few well-placed cold sores, and I’m sure a certain Midwesterner in NYC would agree with me.

Categories : MTA Absurdity
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The saga of the 7 line extension continues. A few weeks after MTA CEO Elliot “Lee” Sander announced that the project was on hold while the city’s contributions to cost overruns was in question, the Transit Authority is proceeding apace with the project, funding be damned. For now.

On Tuesday, the MTA awarded its first contracts for the project to extend the reach of the purple 7 to 34th St. and 11th Ave. But despite this allocation, the MTA is still proceeding with caution as the project may still exceed the $2.1 billion allocated for it by New York City. No one yet knows who will shoulder the burden for cost overruns.

Metro, one of New York City’s two free dailies, reports on the developments:

It’s full steam ahead for the 7 line extension — at least for now — as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority awarded a $35.8 million contract yesterday for a construction manager to oversee the project.

But the new subway plan could be stopped in its tracks as early as this summer if the first round of construction bids comes in too high, warned Mysore Nagaraja, the head of MTA Capital Construction. The city is giving $2.1 billion for the 7 line extension, which will run from Times Square to Eleventh Avenue and 34th Street. Yet fears of cost overruns have led to finger-pointing between the city and the MTA over who would be stuck paying a higher final tab.

Nagaraja was quoted in numerous news sources this evening as taking something of a hard line against the city’s refusal to cover cost overruns. “Right now, based on our estimate, we are within the 2.1,” he said, “but let’s see what happens with the proposals. We’re going to know whether we are under the budget or we’re going to be way over. At that time, decisions will have to be made between the city and the MTA as to whether we want to proceed with this.”

So we’re at a standstill but not. The MTA is proceeding with caution as it approaches a project the City it would fund and then later added a caveat of $2.1 billion. I’m afriad we’ll see a shell station at 10th and 41st St. that will never be completed and a less-than-satisfactory resolution to this process. Maybe the City and the MTA can reach a compromise, but history is not on the side of a compromise between these two stubborn governing bodies.


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.

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