Home New York City Transit With money tight, has OPTO’s time come?

With money tight, has OPTO’s time come?

by Benjamin Kabak

Throughout the world, major transit systems operate with just one person in charge of each train. In London and Hong Kong, Moscow and Paris, one-person train operation has become the norm. Using CCTVs and modern-day technology, one person is in charge of driving the trains, opening and closing the doors, making announcements and generally overseeing the trains. These systems run smoothly and have realized significant cost savings by cutting out a generally unnecessary employee from every train.

In New York, though, OPTO has had a tortured history defined by tensions between the MTA and the TWU. For years, the MTA has had the capacity to run OPTO routes. The L line has been OPTO-compliant since 2005, and with wider train control booths now in every train, nearly every other line could be converted into a one-person route. Yet, at every turn, it has become a major labor battle.

In 2008, Roger Toussaint nearly agreed to allow the MTA to move ahead with OPTO plans, and as late as May, Transit was moving ahead with OPTO plans. But two events put this off the table. First, the TWU’s rank-and-file nearly revolted. As a TWU Contract Bulletin from last year notes, many union members believed allowing OPTO to be the equivalent of “sell[ing] us all out.” Next, when the MTA and the TWU had to go to arbitration, the MTA withdrew its OPTO proposals. Much ink has been spilled over the “why” of it, but many consider that to be a mistake.

Now, the agency is going to try to eliminate conductors in order to save money. According to Pete Donohue of the Daily News, MTA officials have “quietly” asked transit leaders to reconsider their stance on one-person train operations. Neither the MTA nor the TWU heads commented for the article, but as the agency faces a potential $750 million shortfall, OPTO is clearly an idea whose time has come.

In an oversimplified world, OPTO, if implemented tomorrow and if the agency could fire all of its conductors, would save the authority approximately $170 million. I arrived at that figure by pulling the 2008 salaries from the Public Employees Payroll Database the state has established. The agency employees 3024 conductors, and all but 157 operate trains in revenue service.

That is, of course, not a completely accurate calculation. The MTA would have to pay its train drivers a few dollars more per hour to serve as the lone conductor/driver, and Transit would have to outfit it stations by moving the CCTVs currently in place in the center of platforms to the front of the trains. The one-time costs might be substantial, but the savings would be realized on an annual basis.

Even still, union members would object, and the MTA would probably have to overhaul their work rules. A very thorough comment left by a Transit employee on an August post about OPTO delves into the various problems with the current system and implementing one-person train control. Still, it authority owes it to its customers to try to cut costs via this path.

In the end, OPTO would simply give the MTA more flexibility. It could run shorter trains every ten minutes overnight at nearly cost to the agency as it now runs longer trains every twenty minutes, and this proposal would truly help spread the pain. In an editorial accompanying Donohue’s piece, the Daily News argued that the TWU should either give up its pay hike to save jobs or enjoy its raises while suffering through layoffs. It’s a devil’s choice for union leaders hellbent on saving every single job, but as the MTA sees its precariously financial state decline even further, it might be time once again for a push toward OPTO.

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Ray February 26, 2010 - 4:36 am

Yes it has.

David Robertson February 26, 2010 - 12:19 pm

I have come to a conclusion that Samuelsen & the current leadership at Local 100 are not skilled negotiators [Henry Kissinger] or savvy deal makers [Donald Trump] they are [Mike Tyson] who will walk away from the table empty handed.

I believe Walder has realized or observed that the current leadership is not counter puncher thus he believes he has a soft landing with the current leadership of Local 100 and he will use them as pinata due to they had nothing on the table in the initial bout of salvos [axing of station agents] other than passionate sympathetic pleas and bravados which has no place in business world and they are not in the level of Walder’s Machiavellian ways of doing business.

In race track’s terms – Walder, out of the gate well ahead by a mile and no one is able to catch with him, thus your observation may be accurate.

bob February 26, 2010 - 3:00 pm

Samuelson just won election a month or two ago. Hardly time to judge his skills. In this case I don’t think he has much to work with, except making a public fuss. But the public isn’t too sympathetic to the union either.

Grrrumpy Miner February 26, 2010 - 5:24 am

OK….say if Samuelson goes ahead and says Yes we will forego the raises,than who’s to say Walder won’t lay off any workers.Sure he can save 300 mil if we gave up the raises,but figures he can save 50 mil more by continuing course and speed with the layoffs.If/When the economy goes back on track and say the MTA acquires a surplus in the next year or so and the new contract is due,who’s to say that we won’t get low balled where the rich get richer and the average joe gets screwed (As Usual).We do work pretty damn hard down here and most New Yorkers do not think we deserve to breathe the same air that they do.When does the NYC Transit worker get the credit and respect that we deserve?

AK February 26, 2010 - 9:38 am

Honestly, I’m not sure what you mean by credit and respect. Can you explain those terms? If you mean credit/respect in terms of wages/benefits/pensions, you get more credit/respect than most working people. If you mean credit/respect from the public in terms of the public revering you as it does firefighters/cops, I’d say that is probably unwarranted given the nature of their jobs.

Second, I don’t understand what you mean by “rich get richer and the average joe gets screwed” with an MTA surplus. Do you mean that the “managerial” class will pad its salaries and not rehire “blue” collar labor? They would be pilloried for doing so in the press. Moreover, an MTA surplus would hold down fares, which affect millions of “average joes.”

My folks experience as public school teachers taught me that “public” workers have a very unique rappaport with the community. On the one hand, they are working class people like the majority of us. On the other hand, their salaries/benefits are inextricably linked with tax revenues…

VLM February 26, 2010 - 9:41 am

When does the NYC Transit worker get the credit and respect that we deserve?

When they don’t wave the fact that they’re getting substantial raises over three years at a time when the economy is terrible and the MTA is nearly broke. It’s pretty egregious and shocking if you ask me. I’m not getting a raise nor do I expect one any time soon, and because, in part, of those raises, my commute is going to worse come July. Do you see why the New Yorkers aren’t so willing to give transit workers credit and respect right now?

Kid Twist February 26, 2010 - 9:53 am

How about when they remember that they serve the public, not the other way around. All this talk about credit and respect amounts to a bunch of playground posturing.

You do your job and what you get in a return is a nice salary plus raises, benefits and a retirement package that exceeds anything available to most of the people who pay your wages. Plus civil service AND union protection.

I think instead, the members of Local 100 need to start showing some respect to the rest of us.

bob February 26, 2010 - 2:54 pm

The salary and benefits are not as great as you think. It’s not bad but the vacation is pretty much the same as most working people, the medical is no different than the private sector (and getting worse, just like the private sector). Doing the math on the numbers in the article gives an annual rate of $56,000/yr. That’s not bad, but it’s not going to make anyone rich. There are no bonuses, no merit raises. You can make good overtime, and the pension is better than you find in the private sector – but the benefit isn’t indexed for inflation.

In return you work a lot of nights, weekends and holidays until you build up seniority. You have to go around yards and tunnels that are dirty and dangerous – 3rd rail is live, one slip will kill you. If you call in sick they often send someone to your home to check if it’s real. Your subject to random drug testing – understandable for safety reasons, but many people find it demeaning. When the weather is bad, like today, TA policy is that every employee is essential and if you don’t get to work you will be subject to discipline. And it’s not uncommon for some members of the public to yell, spit, curse, and even physically assault you. I know one conductor who had someone with a machete take a swing at him. Fortunately the blade missed.

I don’t say it’s a horrible job, but it has it’s negatives. Anyone who thinks it’s a really good deal should certainly take the next civil service test, and not just sit around complaining.

BX Rider February 26, 2010 - 5:20 pm

Work pretty hard? Then why am I always waiting at Bedford Park Boulevard for a shift change while the train operator takes his/her sweet time to walk down the train platform. TWU workers need to face the reality that they can’t keep getting raises and give up next to nothing in contracts. One of the reasons it is SO expensive to live in this state is because of the ridiculous wages for jobs that require little skill and the contracts that accompany them. Yes the jobs are necessary to get people around, but lets not pretend that the job requires this kind of pay.

In addition the booth positions need to go. Sleeping, reading, and talking on the phone are 99.99% of what I see happening in those booths. That is a complete waste of money!

Nesta February 26, 2010 - 8:51 pm

Those waits that you are complaining about at bedford park blvd are scheduled because the crews switch there. That is a terminal and you must wait until the shceduled leaving time.

I am not in the twu but I am informed unlike you and they have given back more than any other union in this state over the last 10 years and have gotten back the least. The NYPD for the first time a few years ago had give backs and they were all returned a few years later with fat raises!

JP February 26, 2010 - 7:36 am

Thanks for the link Ben, that is a great perspective to keep in mind. Seems OPTO is not such a simple solution. The operators would seem to need way more than access to the door buttons and a couple of monitors, but a systemic overhaul of how the trains are operated in order for one person to effectively perform the basic functions of the job- and there are some functions which it seems simply can’t be done by one person effectively at all.

Matt Singleton February 26, 2010 - 8:17 am

Ben – good points in this article. I would actually double your estimates of $170MM/yr to $340MM/year because the fully loaded cost of an employee is usually about double the salary (including healthcare, benefits, pensions, and all other costs required to have an employee on the job full time). With 26 Subway routes, that would equal about $13MM/line of savings in the first year. Also – this may not include overtime which is the most expensive pay.

It seems that converting the platforms and trains to be OPTO compliant may be the most cost effective solution (vs. CBTC), but I can’t see that happening quickly enough to have an impact on the MTA’s current fiscal issues. And the investment would seem almost duplicative with the investment in CBTC underway….

However, if you look at the cost of CBTC, these types of savings don’t add up. For example one of the simplest lines (the flushing line) will cost $585MM to convert to CBTC, so you would only recoup those costs in 45 years if salaries stayed flat (~20 years if salaries rise with inflation). The $900MM queens boulevard CBTC conversion would make the case even harder to justify.

I really want CBTC to be a cost effective improvement, but it’s more likely about adding capacity than saving money from what I can tell. And that’s OK – i just wish it were both!

Benjamin Kabak February 26, 2010 - 11:01 am

The costs of implementing OPTO are far less than CBTC though, right? So wouldn’t it make more sense to get halfway there for less money?

Matt Singleton February 26, 2010 - 1:57 pm

Well, according to the transit employee who posted in August, it seems like retrofitting might not even address all the concerns adaquately, and could leave the MTA open for some pretty hefty liabilities and or logistical issues. To execute OPTO effectively, it seems to me like there’s no choice but to complete CBTC installation on all lines. Since CBTC will need to be done anyway to enhance capacity, we can view the OPTO benefit as a cost mitigator rather than a self-funding tool for CBTC. It also doesn’t seem like it’s worth retrofitting old trains and platforms with temporary technologies to achieve OPTO while CBTC will replace this in a few years. The capital budget is already set aside for CBTC, why allocate more funds towards achieving the same goals?

I’m fairly anti-union and pro-efficiency (I won’t hesitate to admit that), but it just doesn’t seem like OPTO is a good idea for safety and train timeliness/operation without CBTC. Without question the L line should have OPTO right now, and as soon as other lines receive CBTC, they should be moved to OPTO as well.

In an ideal world, the MTA should have filed for bankruptcy so they could break union contracts and achieve more labor flexibility to hire and fire as cycles like this come about and especially to get rid of unproductive employees – which they seem to have a problem doing now. I do think there is a lot of excess labor in the organization currently – just not in the forms of conductors or train operators on non-CBTC lines. Walder is on the right track with layoffs, but unfortunately bankruptcy is likely not an option because there will be a huge political backlash.

Alon Levy February 26, 2010 - 11:18 pm

There are subway lines that run OPTO and even ATO without CBTC: for example, the Moscow Metro is entirely OPTO, and has no train communication – the only thing letting each train’s operator know how far away the train ahead is is the “time since last train arrived” clocks at each station. The L used to run OPTO without CBTC, and in the 1950s the 42nd Street Shuttle ran automatically without CBTC. In none of the above cases is there any safety hazard.

I’m pretty sure that the world standard is OPTO without CBTC; it certainly is on Japanese and German mainline trains, and I believe that most subways in the world don’t have CBTC, either.

If the MTA looks for ways to make OPTO work, it will find them. If it looks for ways to make it not work, it will find them too. It’s all a question of whether it’s interested in minimizing or maximizing costs.

Matt Singleton February 28, 2010 - 7:38 am

I just don’t think implementing OPTO without CBTC is worth the investment if CBTC will be going live on many lines over the next 1-5 years. The initial investment and retrofitting would be a waste and woudl take valuable resources away from CBTC and other projects. AND CBTC has the added benefit of increased capacity and decreased human error….

Alon Levy March 2, 2010 - 3:50 am

Right, but CBTC is only going live on the IRT. The majority of the system won’t get it for a while, which makes standalone OPTO a good investment.

Andrew March 2, 2010 - 7:13 am

The IRT? CBTC is currently only in place (and not yet complete) on the L. Its next stop is the 7. Then I think comes Queens Boulevard. The mainline IRT is quite a ways off – the existing signal system isn’t in need of replacement yet.

I’m not sure why CBTC and OPTO are being linked at all. They don’t really have anything to do with each other, except that the train operator’s responsibilities are reduced with ATO.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines February 26, 2010 - 9:01 am

[…] Ben Kabak Looks at Pros and Cons of One-Operator Trains […]

Kid Twist February 26, 2010 - 9:59 am

When the subway opened, there was a conductor between every two cars. Eventually, the IRT figured out how to operate the doors automatically instead of manually and the number of conductors was cut to one. The world did not end.

The reality is, we can’t keep paying these kinds of salary and benefit costs for folks who are basically doormen. They don’t even have to make announcements anymore, most of the time.

Russell Warshay February 26, 2010 - 10:50 am

OPTO’s time came decades ago. Instead of facing reality, we’ve paid dearly for this featherbedding. Were it not for the obsolete position of subway conductor, the MTA’s finances would be in much better shape.

nycpat February 26, 2010 - 10:58 am

You would have to hire more TSSs to deal with sick customers, door problems etc., also they would have to respond every time a train goes Brakes In Emergency. As the rules stand now the train operator has to go to the road bed to investigate, leaving a train with no crew seems a surefire way to insure a panic. There would need to be more on call crews[MOW or Signals ?] to repair the monitors when they are vadalized, etc.
I don’t think the savings will be as much as you hope for. After a few incidents of panics, assaulted Train Operators, stalled trains etc, they will have to put C/Rs back on rush hour trains.
I’m a T/O and as far as credit and respect, I would just appreciate being left alone. Unfortunately paying $2 gives people the idea that they are entitled to heep anger, scorn and contempt at me.

Benjamin Kabak February 26, 2010 - 11:00 am

I don’t buy it. Is that what the experiences are in Paris? Moscow? Tokyo? Numerous other systems have managed to implement OPTO without a mass revolt from customers. In my opinion, that’s a labor argument designed to make people who don’t know better afraid of something that won’t impact them nearly as much as you say while the union can protest technology that unfortunately eliminates jobs.

nycpat February 26, 2010 - 11:30 am

Remember the fire in the PATH station. The customers kicked out the windows because the T/O and C/R left the train w/out an announcement. I have heard passengers SCREAM when making an announcement about a track fire well ahead of us.
Trains sometimes have to go out of service. How does one person do this during rush hour, say on the N at 59 Lex.

Benjamin Kabak February 26, 2010 - 11:36 am

Same question: How does it work without customer revolt in other major cities? You’re picking the exceptions here, and you’re not telling me how other cities with extensive systems manage to pull off OPTO.

I’m sympathetic to the job loss. I know no one wants to lose their jobs, but the MTA should have an honest discussion about OPTO that isn’t clouded by these overblown concerns.

Russell Warshay February 26, 2010 - 11:42 am

“I’m sympathetic to the job loss.”

I think that most of us who favor OPTO are. The TWU should face reality and negotiate for a relatively painless transition.

Also, TWU members should realize that their union will be stronger if it is only composed of essential labor.

nycpat February 26, 2010 - 12:09 pm

I agree about essential labor. The TWU would be much stronger if it was limited to operational and technical workers. In a pinch even the bus drivers could be replaced by the national guard, but the subways is the reason TWU has any benefits at all.

Aaron February 26, 2010 - 3:18 pm

The National Guard? Sorry, but this is starting to sound a bit like Fascist Spain here. I understand that the MTA has problems, but as I’ve noted in previous posts, much of the labor problems can be traced to the fact that the MTA has such poor relations with the TWU. That problem can be put on both the MTA and the TWU, but seriously, the National Guard? That’s not the kind of country we live in. I don’t want us to take on European labor models, with strikes occurring at the drop of a hat, but I also value the fact that workers here have rights.

nycpat February 27, 2010 - 1:41 am

My point is TWU members only make a decent living because it’s impossible to replace the subway workers without serious economic consequences for New York City. If they could pull a PATCO I’m sure they would.

nycpat February 27, 2010 - 1:43 am

Just to be clear I’m talking about PATCO the union.

Aaron February 26, 2010 - 3:13 pm

How does it work? You’re the blog author here :). Tell us about it. I’m curious too, because I found that comment you linked to be rather convincing.

Benjamin Kabak February 26, 2010 - 3:22 pm

You’re misinterpreting the question. I’m not asking the mechanics of it. I’m challenging nycpat’s statement that it won’t work for the reasons listened. If it can work in other cities, it can work here.

Aaron February 26, 2010 - 7:32 pm

I know, but honestly, that might be a good subject for a future post if you’re up for looking into it. I know LA Metro is OPTO, but LA Metro has no curved platforms and has a pretty substantial CCTV operation, and also has the benefit of being built in 1980s on. What new technology makes it feasible, what will address the problems raised by the comment you linked to? If you’re into looking into it, I’d certainly appreciate it (all that free time law students have ^_^).

Alon Levy February 27, 2010 - 4:29 am

The London Underground, Berlin U-Bahn, and Paris Métro are even older than NYCT. The Tokyo subway and Moscow Metro are only slightly younger.

nycpat February 27, 2010 - 11:19 am

They all received substantial postwar rebuilding.

Alon Levy February 28, 2010 - 1:30 am

Some did, some didn’t. The U-Bahn was neglected for decades, just like NYCT: the West German government believed cars were the way of the future and not transit, and chunks of the network were in East German territory and could not possibly receive due care. The London Underground built the Victoria Line, but otherwise didn’t do much for the existing system. RATP was more interested in building the RER than in modernizing the Métro.

Tokyo and Moscow both built a lot of lines postwar, but they also have prewar lines that are doing just fine with OPTO.

Russell Warshay February 26, 2010 - 11:38 am

“Remember the fire in the PATH station. The customers kicked out the windows because the T/O and C/R left the train w/out an announcement.”

Sounds like the crew was not needed if they were not going to do their job. A ZPTO PATH train, with excellent supporting communications technologies, would have been better.

nycpat February 26, 2010 - 12:13 pm

Just because they didn’t do their job correctly doesn’t mean they’re not needed. Other than an airport shuttle or theme park monorail I would not ride on a ZPTO train.

Benjamin Kabak February 26, 2010 - 12:19 pm

Don’t ride the Paris Metro’s Line 14 then! It’s a fully automated, 5.6-mile line that serves over 60 million riders a year.

nycpat February 26, 2010 - 1:11 pm

Paris Metro workers strike frequently, do the not? One day strikes.

Kai B February 26, 2010 - 1:30 pm

Workers in Europe strike a lot in general. What does that have to do with the feasibility or safety of OPTO/ZPTO?

Alon Levy February 26, 2010 - 11:26 pm

French workers strike all the time, regardless of labor issues. It’s not even a European thing – Germany, Netherlands, and Scandinavia have much healthier business/labor relations.

If you don’t like Paris as an example, then consider the other driverless lines of the world: Singapore’s Northeast and Circle Lines, Hong Kong’s Disneyland Line, Nuremberg’s U3, Barcelona’s line 9, the entire Copenhagen Metro and Vancouver Skytrain.

nycpat February 27, 2010 - 1:32 am

Do people casually throw garbage on the tracks and vandalize in those cities? Maybe they clean up and repair when they shut down at night.

Alon Levy February 27, 2010 - 4:35 am

The Copenhagen Metro doesn’t shut down at night.

And vandalism doesn’t make trains unsafe; it makes them unpleasant. People throw trash when there’s lax enforcement and no cleaning.

I’m sick of New Yorkers’ belief that theirs is the only city in the world that’s old and has legacy infrastructure and crime, and never has any reason to learn from other cities. You guys aren’t this special, and every time you ignore what the rest of the world can teach you, you lose out.

Kai B February 27, 2010 - 9:21 am

Vandalism is quite popular in Europe. In many cities I would say they’ve even got a less of a hand on it than in New York City. And nightly shutdowns are becoming less and less common. Most large cities’ subways now run 24 hours from Friday to Sunday, and Copenhagen’s now runs 24/7 entirely (ATO appears to work quite well for single track operation for construction purposes).

AlexB February 26, 2010 - 6:07 pm

Paris’ line 14 is also state of the art, unlike the NYC subway.

Kai B February 26, 2010 - 1:30 pm

ZPTO works quite well these days in other cities:

nycpat February 27, 2010 - 1:28 am

What happens when there is a track fire or the 3rd rail is arcing? Iguess a zpto puts the tarin on top of it.

Alon Levy February 27, 2010 - 4:37 am

Well, what happened when the shuttle had a track fire? Nothing big. There was a fire that reached the shuttle tracks at Times Square, people evacuated, and later on the usual suspects decided it was all the fault of ATO. In reality was that the fire didn’t even start at the shuttle tracks, but there’s no telling that to the 1930s nostalgics.

Kai B February 27, 2010 - 9:13 am

Automation has changed since 1960.

nycpat February 27, 2010 - 11:40 am

Only track 4 was automated, the track that runs during rush hours. An electrical fire started in the dispatchers office at Grand Central, quickly spreading to the wooden platform and the train on tk 3. The M/M arriving arriving on tk 1 quickly reversed out of Grand Central saving lives and equipment. The fire destroyed the platforms and the trains on tracks 3 and 4. 42nd street was closed while it was repaved and the structural steel beams were replaced.

Russell Warshay March 1, 2010 - 12:25 pm

Platform edge doors would greatly mitigate the frequency of track fires.

Kid Twist February 26, 2010 - 1:05 pm

If the problem is security, then we don’t need conductors, we need cops.

Larry Littlefield February 26, 2010 - 12:11 pm

I can’t see the union agreeing to OPTO. Unions always screw the newbie, but eliminating conductors mean job losses for workers with seniority.

What it might accept, if it chooses to be reasonable, is phasing in OPTO without layoffs, as no new conductors are hired and existing ones retire, become train operators, maintenance workers or station agents.

That and some fare increases migh bring the subway closer to 100 percent cost coverage in the long run. The help will be more limited in the short run.

Alon Levy February 26, 2010 - 11:29 pm

You could also go about it the other way: use the surplus labor to operate more trains, or act as fare inspectors on a proof of payment system for buses. Both would simply reassign existing workers to do jobs that make the system better, which would then get more ridership and revenue.

Matt Singleton February 28, 2010 - 7:36 am

I dont think that adding more trains would generate more revenue. More people wouldn’t ride the subway just because there is extra capacity. Commutes will just be more efficient.

Scott E February 26, 2010 - 12:53 pm

Much of the opposition to OPTO seems to revolve around trust of technology. When ATM bank machines came out, there was some reluctance too — what if it doesn’t give me the right amount of money? what if I can’t understand it? what if it takes my card? Eventually, the public grew to trust these machines, and the machines themselves became virtually fail-proof.

I can see the need for a person on the train to assist in an evacuation. But many other functions can be done by one person, or perhaps by people located remotely. If cameras and monitors can help an operator open and close doors in a 10-car train, why can’t they help someone in an office do the same thing? That person can make non-standard announcements (This “F” train will be rerouted along the “E” track), too. The only time an OPTO person will need to make an announcement is in a breakdown.

If we keep using the argument that the infrastructure doesn’t support it, or that it won’t pay for itself until X number of years, it never will come to be. Invest in the future now, and the 2030 MTA Financial Crisis might be averted.

David Robertson February 26, 2010 - 1:25 pm

Tellers embraced the ATM, they happen to stock the ATM with bank notes, receipts rolls etc – now the tellers instructs you to go the ATM for accurate account information – it is obvious – it is a matter of time, when – will the technology eliminate human being and budget wise would be enticing to Walder – due to the technology does not call in sick, take vacation, or need health insurance neither pension.

If Local 100 were bright and embrace the technology like the tellers – they maybe ahead of the game – how can you convince Mike Tyson?

nycpat February 28, 2010 - 8:58 pm

When beat cops were replaced with radio dispatched patrol cars crime went up. OPTO will probably have some benefits for the MTA’s bottom line but instittuted by just firing all the C/Rs will not lead to the savings some on this board have projected. Without hiring more TSSs or having platform C/Rs at certain locations I don’t see how they can maintain the current Trains Per Hour rate.

Alon Levy March 1, 2010 - 12:22 am

“I don’t see” isn’t an argument. You should look into how many platform C/Rs other cities’ transit systems use – the number is always zero.

nycpat March 1, 2010 - 1:18 am

My experience as a T/O and C/R leads me to doubt that, say, the current 32 TPH on the 6 line can be maintained if it were OPTO. Doesn’t Tokyo use platform conductors?

Alon Levy March 1, 2010 - 2:58 am

Tokyo has pushers, whose job is different from that of conductors.

And the 6 has 21 tph peak, not 32. I’m aware of only one metro system that consistently has more than 30 tph, the strictly-OPTO Moscow Metro. Tokyo Metro maintains 33 tph on one line, again with OPTO, but it has shorter trains on that line.

Andrew March 1, 2010 - 9:44 pm

The 6 doesn’t run 32 TPH!

nycpat March 1, 2010 - 9:55 pm

My bad.

Marc Shepherd February 26, 2010 - 3:07 pm

Just remember this: in the history of the world, there has never been a labor-saving device that a labor union favored. If it were up to organized labor, you’d still have to call an operator to make a long-distance call. There is no such thing as an efficiency they would support, if it means fewer of their people employed.

Duke87 February 26, 2010 - 3:14 pm

We should have had OPTO years ago. Problem is, the union doesn’t want to have their jobs cut (hey, I wouldn’t either if I was one of them!) and so you get that luddite pull…

It should also be recognized, however, that OPTO is a step towards something more. The real future is having all the trains and switches in the system controlled remotely by a computer in a central command center that’s staffed just by dispatchers and technicians. Said dispatchers could make special announcements directly to trains when necessary.
We’re nowhere near being there yet, though. One thing at a time…

bob February 26, 2010 - 3:20 pm

Two minor other points. I don’t think the short train issue (at nights) is really OPTO related. The TA stopped doing that well over a decade ago, I think they just didn’t like the bother of cutting and combining trains every night and morning. Short trains at night save money on wear and power, but you need some additional train operators for hostling the stuff around as you cut and combine. I don’t know if the current agreements allow for short train OPTO on other lines. Also with the higher ridership at nights shorter trains would get crowded. Higher headways reduce the amount of maintenance you get done at night. And that does matter over the long run.

Also your estimate of the number of conductors that could be cut is a bit high. The flaggers for construction work (necessary for safety) and that give directions on the platform during major diversions are conductors, and yes, many of them are classified as Road C/R, even if that’s not what they are doing right now. Off the top of my head I’m going to guess 200 positions. But as another comment pointed out benefits savings are additional to the salary you quoted. I’ve heard benefits are 50-75%, not 100%, of salary, but it is significant, regardless.

AlexB February 26, 2010 - 6:23 pm

The L can run without anyone at all, so I think OPTO is perfect for the line (as discussed.) It is kinda nice to have someone on a train if something goes wrong. If you are going to spend $300 million on a state of the art signaling system, you should get something out of it besides count down clocks.

I don’t see why the discussion is revolving around respect or what the unions will stand for or how much the public likes or doesn’t like them. You employ someone because they offer a useful service. If that service can be duplicated with a machine and will save you $170 million a year, why not? It sucks for the guys getting laid off, but it’s just stupid to pay someone to do an unnecessary job.

Nesta February 26, 2010 - 8:53 pm

The point of the MTA spending the ridiculous amount of money for cbtc on the L was to add 1 rush hour train so they can say it adds capacity. It is really a joke.

Scott E February 26, 2010 - 10:17 pm

It was also an experiment – an opportunity to work the bugs out. Better off trying CBTC on the L before trying it on the 6, where a glitch would impact so many more riders.

Rhywun February 27, 2010 - 11:36 pm

I thought the point was saving the taxpayers tons of dough. Silly me.

Andrew March 1, 2010 - 9:46 pm

Not all trains are running in CBTC yet. Service can’t be increased until that happens.

The MTA Roundup — Feb 26 | NYCTracks February 26, 2010 - 7:28 pm

[…] New York joins London, Hong Kong, Moscow and Paris! ‘One-person train operation’ is one way the MTA will cut some costs, Second Ave. Sagas reports. […]

Lake Blonde February 28, 2010 - 11:10 am

I am an airline pilot and earn half what an MTA bus driver does. To pay a human being to open and close the doors on a train is laughable. I’m surprised the TWU doesn’t have elevator operators (oops they do) making six figures. This is one union that deserves to have its clock cleaned.

Alon Levy March 1, 2010 - 12:22 am

Aren’t airline pilots unionized as well? Or do you work for JetBlue?


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