A map of today’s WMATA Metro service offerings. (Via Peter Dovak on Twitter)

Whenever we begin to think the MTA has pushed New York City toward an intractable transit situation, Washington DC’s WMATA makes such a load splash to remind us that it could be much, much worse. Yesterday, at around 4 p.m., news broke that, following a fire on Monday, the DC Metro had to shut down for emergency safety inspections. Due to safety concerns with the electricity deliver system that runs the subway in the nation’s capital, the DC Metro will not run at all today as crews inspect the entirety of the system’s power cables. If all goes according to plan, the Metro will reopen tomorrow at 5 a.m., but if anything is amiss, the shutdown could run longer.

The Washington Post, unsurprisingly, has had the most comprehensive coverage of the safety issues facing Metro and offered up a summary of the problem:

This is about the havoc electricity can cause when it gets loose, when it isn’t contained within power cables by tight, reliable insulation — when the juice finds a path out…Like all subway power lines, the jumper cables are heavily insulated. But if the insulation is compromised — if it wears out or is damaged — there is an excellent chance that trouble will soon follow.

Here is why: Moisture is commonplace in subway tunnels. So are “particulate contaminants,” including brake dust, rust flakes and metallic shavings from train wheels. There is also a lot of grime in the tunnels. And there is plenty of other gunk, such as oil. In electrical-speak, these are “conductive substances,” meaning they have a low resistance to electricity. They offer a path for electrical current to jump dangerously all over a tunnel if the electricity escapes from its insulated containment. All it takes is for a path to be completed — for a trail of moisture, particulates or other conductive material to come in contact with the exposed electrical current. The phenomenon is called “arcing.”

…Jumper cables and other power lines are attached to one another, and attached to third rails, by large, elbow-shaped connector assemblies called “boots.” In its investigation of the L’Enfant incident, the NTSB also warned that throughout the subway, “a number” of boots lacked the proper type of “sealing sleeves,” which are designed to keep contaminants away from the electrical current. Metro acknowledged that about 80 percent of its 6,400 power-cable connector assemblies lacked adequate sealing sleeves. Wiedefeld said Tuesday that about half of the faulty boots have been upgraded, but months of work on that project still remains.

It’s a rather technical discussion, but you get the point: The WMATA’s power delivery system is in danger of failing, and the consequences can be disastrous for riders. So the agency is going to inspect all 600 jumper cables today and made a decision, on around eight hours’ notice, to shutter for the entirety of a busy mid-week day.

As you can imagine, reaction has not been particularly kind. The WMATA has a long history of safety problems from collisions and derailments to seemingly spontaneous fires, and politicians in the region — who should bear some of the blame for this situation — aren’t happy. A Virginia representative called it “a gut punch to the hundreds of thousands of commuters who depend on the system,” and John Delaney of Maryland did not mince his words. “It is deeply disturbing that the system is in such a precarious state that it must be entirely and abruptly shut down during the middle of a workweek,” he said. “This is a stark demonstration of a total agency failure; now is the time for every stakeholder in WMATA to demand better performance and improved safety.”

Traffic isn’t moving as a combination of buses, bikes, taxis, private vehicles and a trolling 2.4 mile mixed-traffic streetcar are all trying to pick up the transportation slack, but that is nearly besides the point. The point, as regional growth advocacy groups have noted is a history of lack of support for ongoing maintenance combined with a culture that hasn’t emphasized system safety. Perhaps it’s because the WMATA is run, at various points, by two states with differing political outlooks, a barely-empowered District of Columbia and the federal government, all fighting with and against each other. Perhaps it stems from a lack of transparency and sustainable funding, as NARP alleged in a statement.

Around an hour or so before the shutdown was leaked and later confirmed, David Alpert, founder of Greater Greater Washington, published his comprehensive overview of the transportation problems plaguing Washington DC. Without a balanced growth plan, more support for the WMATA and steady funding, the nation’s capital will see its subway system slide further toward unreliability. It’s a fear we’ve seen realized in New York and one that always seems on the precipice of returning. Wednesday’s outage is a reminder of how our cities rely on transit systems that do not enjoy the political support and fiscal backing these systems need to stay healthy, and I’m not sure I see a clear way forward without a massive shift in public priorities and philosophies.

Categories : WMATA
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While looking into the history of the Hudson Yards’ subway stop last night, I came across a series of dates that represent a stark reality. That reality focuses around how we have essentially stopped growing out the subway system for nearly sixty years now. Even with massive investment in capital expenses since the early 1980s, the subway we have now is nearly the same subway we had in the early 1950s, give or take just a handful of stops.

Mull on this, the most recent opening dates for new subway stations per borough:

Manhattan: 2015 (34th St.-Hudson Yards)
Queens: 1989 (21st St.-Queensbridge)
Brooklyn: 1956 (Grant Ave.)
Bronx: 1941 (Dyre Ave. stops) or 1933 (Concourse Line)

Staten Island, of course, still doesn’t have connection to the rest of the New York City subway system and most of its modest Railway dates to the 1860s. The year for the Bronx is up for debate since the Dyre Ave. stations in 1941 reopened as part of the IRT after they were converted from what we would now consider commuter rail. The most recent original subway stations to open in the Bronx are the Concourse Line stops which date from 1933.

Even this figures obscure the depth of the lack of system expansion. Since Grant Ave. — also a replacement stop for a formerly elevated station along Fulton St. — opened in 1956, four stations opened in Queens and seven (including South Ferry) have opened in Manhattan. That’s 10 new stations and one replacement over 60 years. If you look at New York’s so-called peer cities, including Paris and London, what we’ve done is embarrassingly inadequate in comparison.

It’s relatively easy to trace the history of divestment in the subway. Robert Moses bears some of the blame as does a crippling forty-year insistence on a five-cent fare. White flight in the 1950s followed by the collapse of the city in the 1970s meant that money simply wasn’t available to invest back into the transit system, and national trends at the time didn’t really support federal funding for transit expansion either. It’s been a perfect storm of non-investment at both the local and federal level since my parents were children.

Yet, I have a nagging concern that we’re simply not thinking big enough. The MTA has a $28 billion capital plan on the table, and yet, the plan would add a handful of Metro-North stops to the Bronx and no subway stations. The three new Second Ave. Subway stations set to open this year are part of the capital plan that ended in 2015, and the next three that are a part of Phase 2 aren’t likely to be fully funded until the 2020-2024 plan. We’re not expanding, and we’re not keeping up.

So what happens next? It’s hard to deny the city is growing. Although Brooklyn’s population, for instances, remains a hair lower today than it did in the early 1950s, Queens has 50% more residents now than it did in the 1950s. Can we add transit on par with European counterparts? We would need massive investment and proper prioritization (unlike, say, the Brooklyn-Queens Connector). It’s possible but improbably as long as the city and state play a tug-of-war over control of transit planning within and around New York City.

At some point, though, this lack of investment and growth will come back to bite us as competitive cities can offer better and more efficient mobility. We should have a Utica Ave. subway, a circumferential line, extensions through Queens, and a new cross-Bronx subway (or light rail). That we do not and have no plans to build any or all of this should cause some internal urban soul searching. That it hasn’t so far is the problem.

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It’s been a sliver over six months to the day since the MTA opened the 7 train’s new 34th St.-Hudson Yards subway station. After nearly 21 months of delays and bickering between the city and MTA that led to the project’s being cut in half mid-planning, the 34th St. stop was the first new subway station, other than the replacement South Ferry terminal, since the 63rd St. line opened in 1989. The new station, a deep-bore tunnel 125 feet below ground with a full-length mezzanine and new-to-the-MTA incline elevators, is supposed to be the model for future new stations along the Upper East Side. When I first saw it, it seemed big and somewhat sterile, but sterile isn’t a bad thing considering the state of many other New York City subway stations.

Eventually, the Hudson Yards stop will serve as a gateway to a new neighborhood in Manhattan, and the signs of that emerging neighborhood are easily visible at street level. Construction dominates the landscape, and the growth of the Far West Side is a fait accompli at this point. It’s not a matter of if, but when, and despite a paucity of riders in the early going, the 7 line will bring a whole heckuva lot of people to this supposed last frontier of Manhattan.

This past Saturday, I found myself near the Hudson Yards stop for the first time since its opening in September. There were no politicians, no one lined up to storm the station and no 7 train cookies this time around. Rather, there was a particularly speedy ride to Times Square and a station struggling to get by. On one hand, it doesn’t feel like a New York City subway stop; it’s too new and clean and bright and airy. But on the other hand, it feels very much like a New York City subway stop. The bathrooms, for instance, seem permanently in a state of never opening, and scenes from the station betray some of the reasons why subways arrived first in September of 2015 rather than December of 2013.

I’ll let these pictures, with a little bit of commentary, tell the full story.

Testing problems with these escalators were one of the reasons the station's opening was delayed. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

Testing problems with these escalators were one of the reasons the station’s opening was delayed. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

One of the quirks/flaws of the Hudson Yards station is its lack of staircases. Since the platforms are so deep, the only ways to get from the fare payment level to the mezzanine above the platform involve either five escalators or two inclined elevators. On Saturday (and for some time now), these have been reduced to one down escalator, two up escalators and the inclined elevators because some of the escalators — a sticking point in getting the station open in the first — have been out of service. And when are these expected back in service? Well, take a look at the next photo.

Some of the escalators at Hudson Yards seem out of service indefinitely. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

Some of the escalators at Hudson Yards seem out of service indefinitely. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

According to the MTA’s website, one of these escalators has been out of service since February 7 and the other since February 24. It’s not clear when either or both will be back in service, and that sign doesn’t give me much hope for a speedy repair. It’s somewhat mind-boggling that the MTA is struggling with a technology as commonplace as an escalator, and the lack of stairs to the mezzanine level now feels like a glaring omission.

An industrial fan attempts to dry a puddle not far from the inclined elevators. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

An industrial fan attempts to dry a puddle not far from the inclined elevators. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

Meanwhile, on that mezzanine level, an industrial fan sitting in front of a wall panel that simply says “water” and hides a bunch of water pipes is hard at work attempting to dry a leak from said water pipes. The water intrusion as this station isn’t nearly as bad as it was at the new South Ferry stop, but water from the cooling system dripped through earlier this winter in enough places to cause indoor icicles. Here, a temporary leak seemed to be plaguing the station, but a leak six months in is worrying enough.

In the grand scheme of the Hudson Yards station, these aren’t major problems that affect, say, the structural integrity of the station, but they are issues indicative of the MTA’s struggles with megaprojects. They are why Brooklyn residents don’t trust the MTA on its ducking and dodging on the L train repairs, and they are why Upper East Siders, while anticipating the Second Ave. Subway, are worried the same problems that delayed the 7 line will plague those three and a half new stops in a few months as opening day ticks nearer. Either way, it’s not a good look for the MTA.

Categories : 7 Line Extension
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The details won’t come out until the New Jersey Transit union reserves information on the settlement, but trains will continue to run throughout the weekend and until at least 2019 as New Jersey Transit avoided a strike on Friday. The union and New Jersey Transit reached a deal late on Friday afternoon, and although Gov. Chris Christie called it a good deal for taxpayers and commuters, we won’t be able to pass judgment for a few days. But trains will run as scheduled, and all those contingency plans that were announced earlier this week will fall by the way side. Until next time.

But while New Jersey is spared some short-term labor pain, New York City has its weekend subway service changes to contend with. As always, these are from the MTA. If anything is wrong, take it up with them, and leave yourself a few extra minutes of travel time as you go about your weekends.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, 1 service is suspended in both directions between 14 St and South Ferry. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service between Chambers St and South Ferry. 2 and 3 trains run local between 34 St-Penn Station and Chambers St.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, 2 trains run local in both directions between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, 3 service operates to/from New Lots Av all weekend, replacing the 4 in Brooklyn.


From 6:30 a.m. to 12 Midnight, Saturday, March 12 and Sunday March 13, 3 trains run local in both directions between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, 4 trains are suspended in both directions between New Lots Av/Crown Hts-Utica Av and Bowling Green. Take the 2 or 3 instead. For service between Borough Hall and Franklin Av, take the 2 or 3 instead.


From 4:30 a.m. Saturday, March 12 to 6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 13, 5 trains are suspended. Take the 2 or 4 and/or free shuttle buses. Free shuttle buses operate between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St, stopping at Baychester Av, Gun Hill Rd, Pelham Pkwy, and Morris Park. For service between E 180 St and 149 St-Grand Concourse, take the 2. For service between 149 St-Grand Concourse and Bowling Green, use the 4.


From 6:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Sunday, March 13, 5 trains are suspended in both directions between E 180 St and Bowling Green. Take the 2 and/or 4. 5 shuttle trains operate between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St. For service between E 180 St and 149 St-Grand Concourse, take the 2. For service between 149 St-Grand Concourse and Bowling Green, use the 4.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from 3 Av-138 St to Hunters Point Av.


From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, March 12, to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, March 13, Hudson Yards-bound 7 trains run express from Mets-Willets Point to Queensboro Plaza.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 12 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, A trains run local in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and 59 St-Columbus Circle.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, A trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, March 13, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, Brooklyn-bound A trains run express from 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.


From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, March 12 and Sunday March 13, C trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech.


From 6:30 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Saturday, March 12 and Sunday March 13, Brooklyn-bound C trains run express from 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, March 13, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, Norwood-205 St bound D trains run express from 36 St to Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, E trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between 21 St-Queensbridge and W 4 St-Wash Sq. Free shuttle buses run between Court Sq-23 St and 21 St-Queensbridge, stopping at Queens Plaza.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 12 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, E trains run local in both directions between Forest Hills-71 Av and 21 St-Queensbridge.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound F trains run express from Smith-9 Sts to Church Av.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 11 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, F trains run local in both directions between Forest Hills-71 Av and 21 St-Queensbridge.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, March 13, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, Astoria-Ditmars Blvd bound N trains run express from 59 St to Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr.


From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, March 12 and Sunday March 13, Forest Hills-71 Av bound R trains run express from 59 St to Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 11 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, March 13, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, March 13 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 14, R trains are suspended in both directions between 59 St and 36 St in Brooklyn. Take the N instead. R trains will run between Bay Ridge-95 St and 59 St.

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Is there light at the end of the dispute over the fate of the Canarsie Tube? (Photo: MTA New York City Transit / Marc A. Hermann)

The MTA’s looming L train shutdown is the bad P.R. problem that won’t go away. It doesn’t really have to be like that, as I wrote in January, but the MTA and neighborhood activists along the L train are engaged in a giant game of transit chicken. So far, it seems, the MTA is losing, and as the agency stalls and stonewalls on calls to release more details regarding the state of the Canarise Tubes, it will only get worse for an agency facing the reality of a shutdown for one of its most popular routes.

As we learned back in early 2015, the extent of the L train work is massive. The MTA has to reconstruct all of the systems inside the Canarise Tube and replace the track bad following a flood that saw 7 million gallons flood the tunnel from Ave. D to the North 7th St. fan plant. The tunnel itself isn’t at risk of collapse, and the agency was able to make temporary repairs to enable train service to run between Brooklyn and Manhattan for some indeterminate length of time. But sooner or later, the tunnel will need repairs.

What the MTA hasn’t done is release a report on the status of the tunnel, and emotions in Williamsburg and eastward are running the gamut from worry to flat-out distrust. Over at Gothamist, Miranda Katz wrote a comprehensive story on the dispute between the MTA and its riders along the L train. She writes of the frustration community members are experiencing. “To date we have sent first requests, second requests, and we’re about to send a third request,” Gerald Esposito, CB 1’s district manager explained this week. “We’ve gotten no answer at all from the MTA, and we’ve CC-ed every single elected official that represents this district…Do you think the courtesy of a reply is out of order here?”

Katz had more from the Community Board:

What the community would really like to know is what plans the MTA is seriously considering to make the Canarsie Tube repairs, and whether those plans will suspend L service between the boroughs for several years. The MTA has said that it is not ready to make that announcement. It has committed to holding public hearings with community stakeholders on the matter, but no dates for those hearings have yet been set.

“We’re not even asking [them] to give us a plan at this point, we just want to know what the problem is,” said CB1 member Martin Needelman. “If there weren’t any problems, they wouldn’t have to do it. So the question is, what information do they have that shows what the problems are?”

…Asked whether such reports or studies exist, and if so, why they haven’t been released to CB1, MTA spokesperson Adam Lisberg said, “The MTA has committed to a public meeting with the affected communities, and we’ll have robust communications with all the elected officials, community groups and others that we want to hear from as we develop our plans.”

CB 1 wants the ability to conduct its own studies or at least evaluate the MTA’s assessments, but those assessments haven’t been forthcoming. Meanwhile, considering the extent of Sandy damage, I have no reason to doubt the MTA’s view of the L train, but the MTA still has to make the case to its constituents that any prolonged shutdown is necessary and unavoidable. The agency hasn’t done that yet, and as L train riders worry that the tunnel will, at of the blue, become unusable, riders are in the dark as to the extent and impact of the damage.

The complaints from CB 1 extend beyond what we’ve seen from the so-called L Train Coalition to date. This isn’t about kicking out an unresponsive MTA rep or proposing building a new tunnel first; this is about open communications between an agency that holds the fate of a few hundred thousand daily commuters in its hands. Right now, they’re failing the neighborhood, and as long as the MTA goes without divulging more details, the less credibility they have.

Categories : Brooklyn
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I know I promised an update on the potential New Jersey Transit strike, but I’m still not convinced service will shut down this weekend. It’s been decades since the last strike, and with region warning of crippling traffic and daily losses of millions of dollars, these things have a way of working themselves out at the last minute. I’ll post an update with the service advisories tomorrow night if the negotiations are not resolved by then. In the meantime, we’ll stay in New York City for today’s post.

A day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the MTA touted their new wifi-enabled buses as a possible cure-all for the city’s declining bus ridership, MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast spoke at a breakfast hosted by the Associate for a Better New York. ABNY is a relatively expansive non-profit that connects New Yorkers from all areas of business, and an MTA breakfast is something of an annual tradition. Usually, the MTA chief gives his version of a stump speech, and that is basically what Prendergast did yesterday. Some of his statements, however, gave me cause for concern. Let’s review the Tweets:

So this is a fairly non-controversial take on the MTA, but it betrays a lot of problems. New York City has planned and is still planning for growth without a proper transit reckoning. The city is trying to rezone for a good number of new units as part of the mayor’s affordable housing plan, but transit considerations are superficial. Developers will be encouraged to fund the equivalent of station rehabilitation efforts to beautify nearby subway stops. Service expansion — which, as any L train rider can tell you, is badly needed — isn’t part of the conversation, and even the One Vanderbilt contributions which are hailed as the paragon of private investment in transit are delivering wider platforms and a new entrances rather than additional service on the Lexington Ave. IRT.

Meanwhile, how many times can we attempt to reinvent the MTA before someone actually has to step in and do it? Just 15 months ago, the MTA Reinvention Commission released its report that didn’t actually reinvent the MTA, and now officials are talking about reinvention again. Any attempt at reinvention should focus around three questions: 1. Why does everything cost so much? 2. How can the MTA lower costs to build at prices competition with international peers? 3. How can the MTA speed up construction and implementation of projects designed to increase current service levels (i.e., signal or automation upgrades rather than megaproject construction)? If those aren’t the primary questions, reinvention is just code for shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.

To be clear, this is essentially saying that ridership growth is happening all the time. Ridership may not be growing at rush hour because, for the most part, it can’t. Sure, we could fit additional passengers in some trains at certain points, but the MTA is closing in on tapping out of rush hour service. The issue now is that subways during off-peak service are nearly as crowded as rush hour trains because the MTA isn’t running trains frequently enough. That’s a more solvable problem than rush hour but one the MTA manipulates away through the load guidelines the agency sets for itself.

That’s a doozy of statement to make in public, and it’s certainly one at which I cringed yesterday. Much like a new paint job and USB charging ports, a nice station with cell service but a long wait for a train is putting lipstick on a pig, and it’s certainly not the approach officials should be promoting in public, even if in jest. But this seems to be where the MTA has settled these days. They can’t adequately address the service constraints without billions of dollars and years of disruptive construction so we get modern amenities designed to distract us from a system that can’t keep pace with ridership. That’s a big, big red flag. Where do we go next?

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Two Millennials tout the advantages of USB ports and wifi on local buses. (Photo via Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office)

Two Millennials tout the advantages of USB ports and wifi on local buses. (Photo via Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office)

Over the past few years, the phrase “lipstick on a pig” has been bandied about so many times that it’s nearly lost all meaning, but now and then, it’s still an appropriate way to describe a laughably feeble attempt to do something. Today, that something is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s push to improve bus service or make New York City buses more attractive to Millennials or all riders or someone by slapping some new colors on the outside of the bus and adding wifi service and USB charging ports on the inside. Without a commitment to improving bus service, whether through more frequent service, better routing, pre-board fare payments or dedicated lanes, this is the very definition of putting lipstick on an exceedingly slow and unreliable pig.

The MTA’s bus ridership issues have been pronounced over the past few years. Even as subway ridership has shown historic growth, bus ridership — spurred in part by deep service cuts in 2010 that were never reversed — has declined for much of the past decade. Even last year, as the subways saw rush hour expand and ridership hit 6 million on over 40 weekdays, local bus ridership declined by 2.5 percent, and if this trend continues through 2016, ridership on the MTA’s local bus routes could dip below 2 million per weekday.

Over the years, the MTA has wondered internally and publicly why this trend is a downward one. When BusTime, the MTA’s real-time bus tracking application launched, the agency hoped access to information would drive ridership up. After all, an informed ridership should be one that better exploits the system. Rather, ridership has decreased. Maybe informed riders who realize the next bus is 20 minutes away simply choose to walk or take a cab instead of waiting as they used to.

Gov. Cuomo praised the MTA's new three-door articulated buses for their "European flair" and "Ferrari-like" design. The New Flyer-produced vehicles will hit city streets beginning next month.

Gov. Cuomo praised the MTA’s new three-door articulated buses for their “European flair” and “Ferrari-like” design. The New Flyer-produced vehicles will hit city streets beginning next month.

Now the latest efforts at making buses a sexy and attractive option involve elements that do nothing to get at the core of the problem. Following his State of the State tour that involved a mention of state-of-the-art buses, Cuomo, with MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast at his side, unveiled the details. The 2042 new buses, some of which will begin arriving next month, include a new look and feel and feature USB charging ports and on-board wifi. In describing these new buses, the governor said they have “European flair” with an “almost Ferrari-like look,” which led many to wonder if Cuomo has ever set eyes on a Ferrari.

In discussing these upgrades, Prendergast stressed how the MTA is trying to appeal to Millennial riders who, he claims, expect these amenities from buses. “As more and more millennials enter the system and use it daily, these are expectations, not desires on their part,” he said. “Many of the young people using our system today grew up with a smartphone in one hand and a tablet in the other.”

According to MTA estimates, adding USB ports and Wifi service to new buses will cost around $5000 per bus or around $10.2 million overall. For an agency currently working through a $28 billion capital plan, $10 million is pocket change, but $10 million is also enough to restore or expand a significant number of bus lines. And therein lies the rub.

It’s true that these upgrades, by themselves, are not totally useless. In particular, new buses will also have information screens (at an even higher cost of $15,000 per bus) that will show next-stop information, available transfers, weather and, I assume, some advertising. Plus, for those who have long bus rides, wifi and charging stations may be useful features.

But they cannot be the only improvements made to the bus network if the MTA is serious about making buses better. Millennials, just like the septuagenarians who ride the buses, simply want better service first and amenities second. They want buses that are faster than walking and reliable enough to show up regularly and on time. They want buses that move smoother through congested streets and a stop a little less often than ever other block. That’s how the MTA could build a bus network to attract more riders. Wifi, to a certain degree, and USB charging ports are simply elements of window dressing for a redesigned decal stuck on the outside of city buses, none of which all that European or Ferrari-like. It is the quintessential lipstick for a rather slow pig, and that pesky funding question hovers above all of Cuomo’s hollow initiatives.

Categories : Buses
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“How does this make sense?” That is the question Assembly Member Jim Brennan, the chair of the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, asked when faced with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s smoke-and-mirrors approach to MTA funding during a recent hearing. His has hardly been the only incredulous voice throwing all levels of shade toward Cuomo’s proposal, and as we sit in Month 15 of a stand-off over funding for the MTA’s capital plans, planning for work to be performed under the current five-year program has slowed to a crawl.

The problem began back in October when Cuomo announced a funding agreement covering the MTA’s capital funding gap. Along with coercing the city to give $2.5 billion to the plan, Cuomo promised around $8 billion of additional state funding, but he was ambiguously vague about the source of the money. A noted motorist, Cuomo has never tried to use his political capital to push through any congestion pricing plan or Sam Schwartz’s tolling plan, and transit advocates and economists were concerned Cuomo would force the MTA to fund the capital plan through debt. The $8 billion, in other words, wasn’t really there at all, and the state would simply enable more MTA borrowing.

That is essentially what’s happened but worse. In his budget release [pdf], The state’s additional contributions beyond an initial grant of $1 billion would, as Cuomo noted, be available to the MTA only “after MTA capital resources planned for the capital program…have been exhausted,” and the state anticipated fulfilling its funding pledges for the 2015-2019 capital program by 2025-2026. For those keeping score at home, 2025 is supposed to be the launch year for the MTA’s second five-year program after the one currently under endless review.

With the measure also increasing the MTA’s debt ceiling to $55 billion for capital expenditures from 1992-2019, it’s clear that the governor wasn’t too interested in ponying up the billions in a way that would prevent future pressure on the MTA’s operating costs in the form of ever-increasing debt service obligations. Thus, his October promise was anything but a promise and simply consisted of debt, debt, and more debt. The capital program, meanwhile, still hasn’t been approved, and the MTA can’t spend money on needed projects yet.

No one watching the watchers is too happy about Cuomo’s proposal. Brennan pushed MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast a few weeks ago on sources for the money, but Prendergast’s lack of concrete answers pushed the legislators toward pointed criticism. “At some point,” Brennan said, “it would be nice to see a proposal from this person who’s the elected leader of the state.”

Senator Marty Golden was similar skeptical. “I have no idea how we can actually do a capital program and actually approve a capital program with language that it’ll be there when you need it. Corporate America would laugh at this. Any country would be surprised with this type of approach in funding.”

Advocates have written pleading op-eds urging the Governor to right this wrong, and the New York City Independent Budget Office has thrown up some serious red flags as well [pdf]. In a report released late last week, the IBO warned that both the city and state are likely to delay their actual contributions until the MTA exhausts its borrowing capabilities and then delays repayment until 2025-2026. This, in turn, could affect access to federal funding, delay budgetary considerations until after the next rounds of state and city elections and jeopardize actual contributions to the 2020-2024 plan, if not that plan in its entirety (which, by the way, is when I would expect to see the bulk of Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway receiving funding).

The state and city have continued to push back on this narrative by claiming their budgetary contributions are “iron clad,” but it’s hard to take Cuomo or Mayor Bill de Blasio as their words. They have hardly been transit boosters before, and the budgetary shenanigans are just another way to stick it to New York City’s transit riders without tackling the larger issues of mobility and capital funding. It’s the same old song and dance, and 15 months after the capital program was due to start, we are still no closer to a real solution.

Categories : MTA Economics
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The MTA is working to “fast-track” Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway, the norther extension shown here in blue.

With Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway set to wrap later this year, in an ideal world, Phase 2 would be well under way now. The original proposal for the line contemplated a far more compressed construction schedule with work on multiple phases at the same time. There is no reason, for instance, other than money, why Phases 2 and 3 can’t begin concurrently. Yet, here we are, near the end of Phase 1, and the most exciting news is word that the MTA is going to follow through with its promises to “fast track” Phase 2.

The latest development came on Friday, but first let’s recap. When the MTA unveiled the 2015-2019 capital plan, the proposal included $1.5 billion for Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway with the promise that actual construction would begin toward the end of the five years. Then, late last year, thanks to delays in approval, the MTA chopped $1 billion from the SAS proposal, and New Yorkers were upset. The MTA later promised to accelerate Phase 2 if possible.

Meanwhile, the MTA’s five-year capital plan still remains unfunded thanks in large part to smoke-and-mirrors accounting on the part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (more on that issue later this week), but the MTA is forging ahead with Phase 2 acceleration efforts. On Friday, the agency released two procurement documents that will usher in design and engineering work for Phase 2 [pdf] as well as operations for a community center for Harlem segment of this new subway line [pdf]. Much of the work will involve refreshing the environmental impact statement and planning and finalizing design options for subsequent bids. It’s all fairly modest as work goes but a very necessary first step in moving forward.

In announcing this new work, the MTA reiterated its commitment to Phase 2 and projected awarding these contracts over the summer. “Our goal is to fast-track Phase 2 to every extent possible, and if these efforts to speed up the project timetable are successful, the MTA will amend our Capital Program and seek additional funds to begin heavy construction sooner,” MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast, echoing comments he made earlier in the week in Albany. “With the opening of first phase of the Second Avenue Subway planned for the end of this year, we are taking steps to ensure a seamless transition to the next phase of work ahead.”

I’m glad to see the MTA’s commitment to this important section of the plan survive. The plan calls for new stations at East 106th and 116th Sts. and 2nd Ave. along with a curve west to a connection with the Lexington Ave. IRT at 125th St. and tail tracks to 129th St. that could one day serve the Bronx. It’s perhaps the most vital part of the Second Ave. Subway, but it’s still a long way off.

The MTA doesn’t, as I mentioned, have an approved capital plan yet, and the agency doesn’t have the money to spend on these awards yet. They’re also still the same agency that has trouble meeting deadlines and builds projects that are exponentially more expensive than similar work the world over. If this phase is going to cost $5.5-$6 billion, as MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu predicted in November, we have bigger problems to worry about than whether construction will begin in early 2019 or early 2020.

But either way, this project will lumber forward, and perhaps, we’ll have half of the Second Ave. Subway before the 100th anniversary of the original proposal to build a subway underneath that part of the East Side.

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As an administrative note, the system I’ve used for years to send out emails of new Second Ave. Sagas posts at around 7 a.m. Eastern time every morning stopped working about a week ago, and I can’t figure out why. It’s an old Google product that isn’t supported these days, and the time has come from me to migrate to something more reliable. I’ll tackle that project over the weekend, and everyone wondering where my emails have gone should see a familiar sight in their inbox on Monday morning. For those who don’t get the emails, I’ll provide a link when the new system is ready to go.

Meanwhile, the weekend service advisories…


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, 1 service is suspended in both directions between 14 St and South Ferry. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service between Chambers St and South Ferry. 23 trains run local between 34 St-Penn Station and Chambers St.


From 9:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday, March 5 and Sunday, March 6, the last stop for some 1 trains headed towards Van Cortlandt Park-242 St is 137 St. To continue you trip, transfer at 137 St.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, Downtown 1 trains run express from Van Cortlandt Park-242 St to 215 St.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, March 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, 2 trains run local in both directions between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.


From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, March 5 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, March 6, 2 service operates in two sections:

  • Between Flatbush Av-Brooklyn College and E 180 St, and via the 5 to/from Eastchester-Dyre Av
  • Between E 180 St and Wakefield-241 St. To continue your trip, transfer at E 180 St.


From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, March 5 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, March 6, E 180 St-bound 2 trains run express from Wakefield-241 St to E 180 St.


From 6:30 a.m. to 12 Midnight, Saturday, March 5 and Sunday March 6, 3 trains run local in both directions between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.


From 3:45 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Saturday, March 5, and from 9:45 p.m. Saturday, March 5 to 9:30 a.m. Sunday, March 6, 5 Shuttle service is replaced by 2 trains between Eastchester-Dyre Ave and E 180 St.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from 3 Av-138 St to Hunters Point Av.


From 5:45 a.m. to 12 Noon Saturday, March 5, and Sunday, March 6, Flushing-Main St bound 7 trains run express from 74 St-Broadway to Mets-Willets Point.


From 12:01 p.m. to 11:59 p.m. Saturday, March 5, and Sunday, March 6, Flushing-Main St-bound 7 trains run express from Queensboro Plaza to Mets-Willets Point.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, A trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, A trains run local in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and 59 St-Columbus Circle.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 4 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, March 6, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, March 6 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, Brooklyn-bound A trains run express from 125 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, Manhattan-bound A trains skip 104 St.


From 6:30 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. Saturday, March 5 to Sunday March 6, Brooklyn-bound C trains Brooklyn-bound C trains run express from 125 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.


From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, March 5 to Sunday March 6, C trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, Norwood-205 St bound D trains skip 14 St and 23 St.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, March 4 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, E trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between 21 St-Queensbridge and W 4 St-Wash Sq. Free shuttle buses run between Court Sq-23 St and 21 St-Queensbridge, stopping at Queens Plaza.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, E trains run local in both directions between Forest Hills-71 Av and 21 St-Queensbridge.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 5 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, March 7, F trains run local in both directions between Forest Hills-71 Av and 21 St-Queensbridge.

Categories : Service Advisories
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