Sometimes, when I ride the subways during supposed off-peak hours, I’m reminded of a twist on a phrase Yogi Berra coined. Of a popular spot, the Yankee great once said, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” In a way, it makes perfect sense and no sense at all, but applied to the subways, the inverse is seemingly true. Unfortunately, it’s too crowded, and everybody keeps going there.

My personal anecdote spans the course of this week. Hot on the heels of the MTA announcing that they recognize they have a crowded problem came some of the more crowded rides I’ve taken in months. I had to let some early-morning Q trains pass me by at 7th Ave. because it was impossible to board. Then, on Tuesday night, while coming back to Brooklyn from the Upper West Side, I had to stand all the way from 96th to Grand Army Plaza, and on Wednesday, journeying at 9 p.m. from Union Sq. back to 7th Ave., there were no seats to be had on my Q trains.

Traveling companions who boarded at Canal St. were shocked to find the train so crowded at a relatively late weeknight hour. “It never used to be this crowded,” one said to the other, and I nodded to myself. As recently as a five, let alone ten, years ago, the subways just weren’t this crowded. We’re living through an historically unprecedented explosion in ridership, and the MTA can’t catch up.

Right now, the problems facing the MTA are those of the present and those of the future. In the short term, the MTA, still years away from fully recovering from the effects of Sandy, has a backlog of repairs that need to be initiative. In the long term, to meet demands of today’s ridership, the MTA needed to start planning a decade ago, but right now, they’re stuck in a neutral planning for demands of the next decade without a fully funded five-year capital plan. There’s no easy way out of this conundrum.

The news isn’t exactly getting better for the financially beleaguered transit agency. In a comprehensive report issued this week [pdf], the Citizens Budget Commission examined the MTA’s finances and determined that the agency may face a funding gap greater than $15 billion. In a nutshell, the non-partisan group doesn’t believe the MTA has the cash on hand to make certain contributions to the budget, and thus, the funding gap is closer to $20 billion. On the one hand, this is all accounting sleight of hand, but on the other, someone — future New Yorkers and subway riders — will pay for more debt financing through steeper and more frequent fare hikes or worse service.

As part of the report, the CBC examined numerous funding options, and while no one around here went for their plan to cap unlimited ride MetroCards, the CBC has largely examined driving as a potential source of revenue. The new report discusses the Move New York tolling plan and a variety of fees and taxes on driving to fund transit expansion. These are ideas the MTA tentatively endorsed yesterday, and promisingly, the Board’s Staten Island rep seems to be on board. (For more on the CBC’s ideas, check out this video.)

But I keep coming back to the crowds. The MTA’s system in 2015 can’t handle increasing volumes, and nothing indicates ridership is going to decline. The MTA needs to start planning now for a future with even more straphangers, and they need the money to do so. Every day we wait is another day with trains too crowded for rush hour passengers, delays due to signal problems, and every transit woe in between.

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The Citizens Budget Commission believes a high cap on unlimited MetroCards could alleviate some of the MTA’s budgetary woes. (Source: CBC)

I love my Unlimited MetroCard. I’ve been using one for years, and it makes using the subway essentially free. I pay once per month — in my case, on a pre-tax basis — and get a card that simply tells me to “Go.” I can swipe in at Grand Army Plaza and take a 2 or 3 to Franklin Ave. without thinking about the cost or a subsequent card purchase. I can hop on a bus without a thought, and in fact, the more I ride, the better a deal I get from my unlimited card.

In a very real sense, as I wrote half a decade ago, the Unlimited MetroCards ushered in a revolution in New York City transit history. As then-Gov. George Pataki noted in the late 1990s, ”The goal” with these MetroCards “was very simply to empower the rider. Empower the person who takes the subway and the person who takes the bus by giving them the broadest possible range of options as to how they want to choose to use the mass transit system.”

And it worked. The average cost per ride a subway rider must pay declined precipitously, and only recently, through aggressive fare hikes, has the MTA clawed back revenue it lost to these unlimited cards. Still, the MTA drew in more in inflation-adjusted dollars in 1996 before unlimited ride cards were introduced than it does today. Furthermore, ridership has spiked — to over 6 million per day at times during peak ridership seasons last fall — and the MTA’s fare discounts push ridership.

But has the unlimited ride card outlived its useful life? That’s the question New York City’s Citizens Budget Commission posed recently. The independent group argues that, with ridership up and demand greater than subway supply, the MTA could incrementally rollback the incentives from the unlimited ride cards. After all, in the 1990s, the agency had to incentivize riders to return to a restored system, but today, the system sells itself. By capping unlimited ride cards at levels beyond the reach of all but the power users, the MTA could, they argue, draw in an additional $93 million a year.

Here’s their take:

The need for increased fare revenue need not be met exclusively through current practices of raising base fares and adjusting discounted prices. The MTA can generate revenue by capping the number of rides permitted on the 7-day and 30-day passes. Unlike recent fare increases hitting nearly every straphanger, the caps would provide needed revenue while affecting fewer riders, many who now enjoy very deep discounts, and would still retain heavily discounted fares.

Based on data provided by the MTA for October 2013, riders used 7-day passes for 45 million rides per month and 30-day passes for 66 million rides per month. These rides can be attributed to an estimated 2.8 million 7-day passes and 1.1 million 30-day passes. At a price of $30 the break-even number of rides for a 7-day pass was 13; for a 30-day pass at $112 the number was 48 rides. (Both calculations use the $2.38 fare available with a volume discount.) Rides above these numbers are effectively “free” for the pass holder.

Each “free” ride represented $2.38 in foregone revenue assuming the unlimited passes were eliminated and passengers purchased volume discount rides instead. The monthly number of “free” rides on the unlimited passes is estimated at 28.4 million. This equals about $67 million in foregone revenue monthly, or $807 million annually. Since a significant share of unlimited pass purchasers does not actually use the cards enough to reach the break-even point, these “unused” rides are extra revenue for the MTA. If this extra revenue was also foregone, the net gain from eliminating the unlimited passes would be $619 million annually. But eliminating unlimited passes would be a radical change, causing hardship for many straphangers and undermining the sense of convenient mobility the passes are intended to promote. A fairer strategy is to cap the number of rides on these passes at a number above the break-even point.

The CBC acknowledges that the MTA hasn’t made enough information available to assess the proper cut-off for unlimited ride cards, but they assume a hair over three swipes per day, an exceedingly high volume of rides. Limiting pay-per-rides to 22 swipes per 7 days or 92 per 30 days could lead to eliminating nearly 4 million rides that are free — that is, they are taken after the breakeven point on MetroCards. The unlimited ride cards would still be a great deal, but the MTA would capitalize on very high volume users (and those who try to defraud the system by selling swipes) to the tune of $7.8 million a month.

Part of me hates this idea. The psychological benefits of a true unlimited ride card encourage transit use at a time when New York City’s transit advocates should do all they can to keep residents out of private automobiles. It cuts against the grain of environmental advocacy, congestion pricing proponents and Vision Zero efforts to add any new psychological barrier, albeit a small one, to transit use.

But on the other hand, it’s hard to deny that revenue is revenue. The CBC estimates that only 60,000 30-day card users and around 415,000 7-day card users would exceed their lofty cap, and those figures are only 15 percent of all 7-day card users and 5 percent of 30-day users, relatively small percentages overall. It’s an idea that warrants some debate and discussion. As the CBC says, “Unlike general fare increases affecting nearly every straphanger, the caps would provide financial benefits while affecting only the relatively few riders who use their 7-day and 30-day passes most heavily and would still benefit from discounted fares.”

Categories : MetroCard, MTA Economics
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Pesky escalators at 34th St. and 11th Ave. await passengers (via MTA)

Pesky escalators at 34th St. and 11th Ave. await passengers (via MTA)

For the most part, the abandoned subway stations dotted through the city are remnants of subway service past. The 91st St. station located beneath by childhood apartment building flashes by in the blank of an eye, and the Bergen St. express stop — destroyed in a fire — is visible only during the right GOs. Then, there are the stations never used such as the mythical South 4th St. stop or the lower level at Nevins Street. Urban explorers and city historians know about these secrets.

But what of the station that’s pre-abandoned? It one day will be used, but for now, it sits mostly finished but with no passengers. It’s the newest subway station in New York City, and it’s not yet set to open until, well, soon — perhaps by mid-summer if all eventually goes according to plan. I am of course referring to the 7 line extension at 11th Ave. and 34th St. As recent photos released by the MTA show, it’s a gleaming, bright, brand-new subway stop entirely devoid of people, and as a recent report released by the MTA shows, the station is likely delayed again until the start of the third quarter of 2015.

The latest new came out of Monday’s MTA Board committee hearings. As the Capital Construction committee books reveal, the MTA is “aggressively pursuing completion” before the end of June, but foundation work at a site underneath planned development and testing is likely to push that date into July. During Monday’s meeting, MTA officials confirmed that the June opening is unlikely, and a summer opening is in the 7 line extension’s future. Considering how unfinished the station looked in December of 2013 when Mayor Bloomberg had his ceremonial non-opening, we never should have believed the station would be ready in 2014 in the first place.

The source of the latest delays is two-fold. First, the MTA’s own testing issues are an impediment. The fire alarm and transmission-backbone systems are behind schedule while Transit is finally beginning Level 4 acceptance testing for those pesky incline elevators. The MTA and its consultants anticipates 15 weeks for remaining testing with two weeks’ lead time; hence, the July revenue service date.

Meanwhile, additional work at Hudson Yards — something that wouldn’t have been a problem a year ago — has reared its head. Site J was due to host a ventilation plant that wasn’t required for revenue service. Work was due to start around now, and, well, here comes the work. As crews seek to sink parts of the foundation near passenger areas, the MTA may need to coordinate schedules around this work. You may think this should have been a consideration earlier in the project, but here we are.

The mezzanine level at Hudson Yards awaits 7 train passengers. (Via MTA)

The mezzanine level at Hudson Yards awaits 7 train passengers. (Via MTA)

What is completely surreal about this project right now is that it’s a nearly finished subway station underneath the streets of Manhattan. You can skim through the photos in this PDF or take a stroll near the Javits Center. It’s not a particularly important stop for a few more months, and I’d wager that most New Yorkers have no idea it’s on the eternal verge of opening. But it’s there, awaiting completion for the past 15 months.

And yet, while it doesn’t really matter in the short-term if this station opens in June or July or last April or next September, it matters for the credibility’s sake. The MTA is asking for $15 billion for another capital fund, but it can’t open a one-station extension that was supposed to ready for service before 2013 ended. The cognitive dissonance is overwhelming. Meanwhile, according to MTA documents, Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway is still set to open by the end of December 2016. I think I’ll take the over.

Categories : 7 Line Extension
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Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have woken up on Sunday morning to something of a Twitter storm. I had, you see, come across this Post article on the fare hike in which a copy editor writing the headline called the subways “atrocious” (which has since been changed to “woeful”) and the intrepid reporter noted that service is “worse than ever.” Acknowledging that there are clear warning signs and less-than-reliable service these days, I wasn’t impressed by this article.

Today’s problems — as anyone who has lived in New York for longer than the five years the 20-something author from Newburgh, NY, has knows — is not nearly close to being “worse than ever.” Hop back in time to the late 1980s and early 1990s when train breakdowns were common and doors wouldn’t open. Jump back to the early 1980s and late 1970s when muggings were commonplace and track fires frequent. Jump back to the mid-1970s when the MTA briefly pondered cutting the L train entirely due to a cratering ridership and backlog of maintenance. That was literally worse than ever.

Perhaps it was unfair of me to come down so hard on a reporter for The Post. After all, it’s The Post, and I should expect nothing better. (It also led to a fantastically sarcastic reply from Joseph Cutrufo.) But the underlying problem with Gabrielle Grilli’s was just how wrong it was around the edges. She claimed that recent fares hike cover “only the raises of MTA employees” and warned that the MTA is going to cancel the Second Ave. Subway without explaining how that threat affects only future, unfunded portions and not the one currently under construction. It also has nothing to do with the fare hikes and everything to do with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s lack of support for the MTA’s capital plan.

The overall issue with articles such as this one is that they are how the public gets its information. I have a dedicated but small readership, and The Post and The Times and The Daily News all reach more eyeballs than I do by an extremely high number. To see this type of coverage in our newspapers is discouraging, especially when these papers are supposed to serve as a conduit between the public and its politicians.

Grilli clearly tried to write something else. Her story wasn’t based entirely in fiction as a late-night release from the Straphangers showcased how certain elements of subway service are trending downward in recent years. Here’s what Gene Russianoff had to say:

This is the fifth subway, bus and commuter fare increase in eight years in the New York City area, leaving riders weary and angry. More hikes are planned. At the same time, service is suffering. Delays are on the rise throughout the system and crowding is at record levels.

The MTA also has a $15 billion gap for rebuilding transit over the next five years. If this shortfall stands, New Yorkers will likely lose many improvements for better service. This could range from fewer new subway cars and buses to the slow installation of countdown clocks alerting riders of train arrivals. It also could mean borrowing billions for these improvements, which would create more pressure on fares.

What riders desperately need are state leaders who will be powerful champions for funding decent transit. First and foremost, there’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, who appoints the MTA’s Board of Directors. Governor Cuomo should forcefully make the case for new transit funding. He can tell New Yorkers that the MTA fuels the State’s economy, conserves the State’s energy and promotes its environment. He should also press for progressive transit funding, like MoveNY’s fair tolling plan.

And here’s what he shouldn’t do: On one day, call the MTA’s capital budget “bloated” and on others use the system as a personal photo op. And on yet other days, raid hundreds of millions from dedicated transit taxes and use them for non-transit purposes. Cuomo’s leadership is key to winning a robust capital program. But the possible loss of critical rebuilding projects is a reminder of a painful truism: Never leave the subways without funding.

The MTA’s own board materials published in advance of Monday’s committee meetings lay bare this reality. Terminal delays on both weekends and weekdays jumped by around a third over the past year; trains aren’t arriving as regularly as they should; on-time performance is declining; and as rolling stock ages — even newer cars are reaching their teenage years — breakdowns increase slightly. All in all, things aren’t nearly as bad as they were or could be, but the system needs to be maintained, with money and attention and support, to avoid a future that repeats the past.

In something of a Catch-22, one of the reasons for these performance issues can be traced to recent record-high ridership with daily fares pushing past 6 million on a regular basis. The system simply isn’t currently built to withstand this many people. In essence, the subways are so popular that they are breaking down under the strain of too many people. For years, advocates have warned of the need to build for the future either through technological initiatives that can increase capacity on preexisting subway lines or through system expansion projects. Neither of these are far enough along to solve today’s problems, and it’s questionable if they can solve tomorrow’s problems before it’s too late.

It’s true, as the Straphangers and Riders Alliance have both pointed out lately, that Cuomo needs to step forward and be responsible. But we shouldn’t have this conversation without a look at the institutional flaws at the MTA. The agency is asking for $30 billion, and perhaps it’s bloated though not as Cuomo expects. His AirTrain proposal is more bloated than useful. Do they need this much? And why does everything cost so much and take so long? The MTA’s construction projects are more expensive and time-consuming than any other international transit agency’s work. They can’t automate lines or build new ones. They can’t even bring escalators, elevators and vent fans online in a timely fashion. Something needs reform just as something — the MTA and its subway system — needs proper political support.

Ultimately, contractor corruption and work efficiencies aren’t sexy. It’s easier for Gabrielle Grilli to highlight today’s service problems because she doesn’t know better just as it’s easy for people to bemoan the long lost W train or fetishize 1980s graffiti because they don’t know better. People who do know better though should come through with what’s needed: support, money and a real eye for reform. New York’s present and future depend on it.

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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
Comments (47)

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
Comments (2)
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