Home Buses Quick Hits: Bus countdown clocks, mobile ticketing, LIRR strike plans

Quick Hits: Bus countdown clocks, mobile ticketing, LIRR strike plans

by Benjamin Kabak

Let’s play catch-up with a few shorter stories:

Upper East Side votes for bus countdown clocks

It’s no secret that the MTA doesn’t plan to spend money bringing countdown clocks to bus stops. Although BusTime is now available on smartphones and via text message on all bus routes throughout the city, the MTA hasn’t shown a willingness to spend money for countdown clocks or identify which stations deserve such clocks. They have, instead, left these clocks up to everyone else. Businesses could supply them in their windows or politicians could pay for them through discretionary funding.

On the Upper East Side, residents want these clocks, and in a recent round of participatory budgeting sponsored by Council member Ben Kallos, his constituents voted for them. While westbound countdown clocks came in second in the voting, they’ve earned $300,000 for installation, and fifteen signs along the M96, M86, M79 and M66 routes will be installed on the East Side. Additionally, Kallos will spend another $340,000 in discretionary funding to install countdown clocks at downtown M31 stops.

This is how countdown clocks will arrive at bus stations and shelters throughout the city, but it’s a very piecemeal approach. These timers will be available at downtown- or west-bound stops only, and anyone headin east or north won’t enjoy easy access to the information. Maybe, eventually, as participatory budgeting and discretionary funds are doled out throughout the years, we’ll see this technology emerge everywhere, but for now, as other entities take over this project, it will be imperfect at best.

MTA Board votes to explore mobile ticketing

Kicking and screaming, the MTA will soon begin to adopt 21st Century ticketing technology. The MTA Board this week voted to approve the LIRR’s and Metro-North’s first foray into mobile ticketing. The contract is with Masabi, LLC, and it will allow the rail road customers to purchase train tickets on their phones, tablets or mobile devices. Conductors can visually verify digital tickets or use handheld devices to scan and validate tickets much as Amtrak conductors do today. (For background on Masabi, check out this Wall Street Journal article. They already provide mobile ticketing for transit services in London, Boston and San Diego.)

“More convenient ticketing options means a better experience using the train,” said Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti. “We want to make riding the train as easy and convenient as we can. We now offer real-time train status via app, and this next step – tickets via app – promises to be another big step toward increased convenience.”

There is, of course, a catch: It’s likely to be a year before mobile ticketing is available for widespread use. Even though this isn’t a new technology, the MTA seems to be suffering from a case of not-invented-here-itis and must test this thing thoroughly. That year, though, is sooner than the Metrocard’s replacement will be ready. At least it has that going for it.

Bustitution, LIRR strike looms

A few weeks ago, the LIRR’s largest union voted to authorize a strike if it cannot reach an agreement on a new contract with MTA management by the end of July. As rank-and-file TWU members are already speaking out against their 8 percent raises, it’s likely that the LIRR union will push hard for a more generous deal. Thus, the likelihood of a strike — with Nowakowski in charge — looms large, and the MTA must plan for it.

After a contentious discussion in which it seemed as though the MTA Board wouldn’t authorize the move, the Board finally approved issuing an RFP for bus service in the event there is no LIRR service come late July. For a few minutes this week, it appeared as though the MTA Board was content to bury its head in the sand and pretend a strike wasn’t a distinct possibility. Ultimately, though, saner minds prevailed, and the RFP is out there. A strike would be very disruptive to Long Island, but at least the MTA has recognized that substitute bus service can’t materialize overnight. I’ll follow this story as the spring unfolds.

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Brandon May 2, 2014 - 12:05 am

Give them whatever raise they want.

But one person drives the trains from now on, and all ticketing is proof of payment.

Larry Littlefield May 2, 2014 - 7:37 am

They demand disability retirement at age 30 after five years of work.

The MTA can afford this if it eliminates transit service entirely but continues to pay taxes, and since people have no right to public services but have to pay taxes or get thrown in jail, the idea that the MTA can’t afford that level of benefit is a lie.

sonicboy678 May 2, 2014 - 9:31 pm

Pardon? I hope you weren’t serious because I can’t follow what you just said at all.

Nathanael May 4, 2014 - 2:38 am

LIRR workers are demanding retirement on “disability” (without proving disability) at age 30 after 5 years of work.

Larry is giving the worst-case example (retiring on “disability” at 40 after 10 years of work, without proving disability, may be more common) but as far as I can tell, his example has actually happened. The LIRR featherbedding scandals are outrageous.

Scott E May 2, 2014 - 7:12 am

NJ Transit has mobile ticketing, and from what I understand, it’s glitchy. Getting a reliable data connection on the platforms at Penn Station with peak-demand is iffy, and not all the carriers have coverage in the under-river tunnels. It leads to a host of new stories and excuses that conductors must deal with.

SEAN May 2, 2014 - 10:39 am

If that be the case with NJT’s app, is it possible not to check tickets until west of the Hudson tubes? The same can apply to the LIRR & MNR beyond there respective tunnels. Now of course things will change once the data feed problem is resolved.

Steven M. Bellovin May 2, 2014 - 11:10 am

I use the NJ Transit mobile app every day. Yes, it’s all but impossible for me to get a data connection at Penn Station, and this needs to be addressed — free WiFi, anyone? — but in practice, it’s not a problem: I activate the ticket before leaving work. A ticket is good for almost three hours after activation, which is plenty of time even though I have to get my ticket checked twice — once out of New York, and once out of Newark after I change trains.

The MTA really should use the NJ Transit app — it exists, it works, and they wouldn’t have develop something new of their own. Then I could dream of through ticketing for when I go to Citi Field… (I note that PATH uses Metro cards, so the MTA does know how to share. I’m not sure about NJ Transit…)

tacony May 2, 2014 - 12:47 pm

PATH allows use of stored-value MetroCards, but the MTA doesn’t recognize PATH SmartLink or single trip fare cards. Think about who’s doing the sharing here. The MTA is fine with the PA using its farecard technology for the PATH and the JFK AirTrain, but it doesn’t want to incorporate others’ farecard technology into its system.

Bolwerk May 2, 2014 - 1:55 pm

Why should it? Only one medium needs to work on both anyway, and it makes sense to pick the more widely used medium to be used on the less widely used system. Getting ~13 PATH stations on MetroCard is cheaper than getting hundreds of MTA stations on SmartLink.

What they should both do to “share” is respect credit each other’s transfers.

Boris May 2, 2014 - 10:19 am

Did LIRR workers made any mention of the fact that a part of their pension contributions will now be funneled to NYCT wages?

Larry Littlefield May 2, 2014 - 10:44 am

Part of the taxpayer contributions will be redirected.

On the other hand, a large share of the MTA “surplus” for this year was just dropped into the LIRR pension fund.

Information about that pension fund doesn’t seem to be reported anywhere. The Census Bureau doesn’t have it in its compilation of public pension funds. You don’t read much about it in MTA financial documents, unless it is buried somewhere I do not see.

That is the kind of situation that usually leads to injustice, corruption, future selling, etc. Rumor has it that the pension fund is desperately underfunded, with a few decades of disability scams probably not helping.

John Bowman May 2, 2014 - 11:50 am

Several years ago Metro North “upgraded” their tickets from the punched multi-part forms to receipts printed from a belt-mounted printer. Those same machines, which cost I believe over $1MM, were supposed to allow passengers to pay on the train with credit cards. If you look, the machines appear equipped for that. But MTA never finished the implementation because of budget cuts. Accepting credit cards is something that actually would make a difference to people. The fancy receipt printers actually delay the collection of cash and add no value to life on the train. Maybe they could just finish the last ticket “upgrade” before moving on to the next.


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