Home View from Underground A ‘Welcome Back’ news roundup: Help Point, Showtime, Bus Countdown Clocks

A ‘Welcome Back’ news roundup: Help Point, Showtime, Bus Countdown Clocks

by Benjamin Kabak

Did’ja miss me? Sorry for the prolonged silence. I’ve been out of town for the past 10 days, visiting 12 breweries, kicking back for a bit and, well, getting engaged. It’s been a busy and exciting week and a half.

While I’ve been wrapped up in other things, since it’s summer, the transit news tends to slow down a bit. We know the Fulton St. Transit Center isn’t opening for a few more weeks, but what else have we missed? I’ll run down the big stories below and follow up as appropriate.

Help Point Starts to Spread

You may have noticed over the past few weeks that Help Point intercoms have started to appear in a variety of stations throughout the city. This is part of the MTA’s effort to expand security underground. The intercoms are now up on new platforms and stations across the four boroughs. Still, I have to wonder why this is a separate effort from the Transit Wireless roll-out. Wouldn’t it be more cost effective to speed up the wireless rollout rather than sink money on an entirely separate alert system?

Meanwhile, the MTA’s overall security efforts, which stemmed from the 2001 terrorist attacks, have been pushed back by a year or two. Eventually, the system will be secure, but it may not come before the 15th anniversary of 9/11. Meanwhile, Bill Bratton wants security cameras in every subway car.

Showtime Crackdown Continues

Speaking of Bratton, the NYPD has begun a crackdown of “Showtime!” dance troupes. As you know, I’m not fan of these subway acrobats. Generally, they’re annoying and pushy with the potential to hurt someone. That said, the NYPD is changing these kids with misdemeanors for their routines, and I am deeply ambivalent about it. I believe in the #WarOnShowtime, but misdemeanor arrests seems excessive. Plus, it’s now generally a worse crime to break down on the Q train than it is to kill someone with a car in New York City. That’s troubling to me.

Bus Countdown Clocks Coming Soon….At A Cost

Last week, a bunch of City Council members — but not all — announced an aggregate expenditure of $2.8 million to install bus countdown clocks at stations in their districts. As you’ll recall, the MTA won’t foot the bill for this technology, and advocates have pressured city pols to use discretionary funds for this purpose. It’s a noble effort, but one that leads, as I see it, to two kinds of people: those without countdown clocks and those with countdown clocks.

Considering how many people have smartphones and access to Bus Time via other cellular technology, Crain’s rightfully questioned the expenditure. To what better uses could we put this money? It’s worth a thought.

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John-2 July 8, 2014 - 6:24 am

Welcome back and congratulations on both the engagement and surviving the brewery tour.

I suspect a few years down the line the sight of broken and unrepaired countdown clocks will be a common sight at spots across the city, as the initial plan is funded but not the maintenance, as the Bus Time app makes the clocks’ operation superfluous to most people.

My main question on the security cameras is if the images are to be monitored in real time by the train conductors and if there’s a broken camera in one of the cars, is the MTA liable there if something happens and three’s no recording, and would that be enough to take the train out of service as a result in the future, in order to avoid liability claims?

Larry Littlefield July 8, 2014 - 6:38 am

Since we’re talking 2.8 millions with an M, not billions with a B, the amazing thing is that these City Council members got into the newspaper at all. That’s all this is about.

The real issue is the city and state not providing the billions with a b to the capital plan. Seems that no member of the NYC Council wants to talk about that.

The purpose of this tiny, symbolic expenditure is the equivalent of a vaccine. They are trying to vaccinate themselves against being blamed for the decline of the transit system.

Brandon July 8, 2014 - 9:25 am

Wow, misdemeanor arrests? Talk about the punishment not fitting the crime and a great way to cost kids (or their parents) who probably arent rich a lot of money in legal costs.

Chris C July 8, 2014 - 12:55 pm

Well if the message is ‘don’t do it because you’ll get arrested’ gets out there then they’ll only have themselves to blame if they do do it and then get arrested.

If you don’t want the fine / time / record then don’t commit the crime.

Bolwerk July 8, 2014 - 1:19 pm

Expand that argument to jaywalking, open containers, distributing soda to children, and smoking in public.

Then you might start to grasp how stupid it is. It’s the type of police state antics that belong in Iran or North Korea, not NYC.

stan July 8, 2014 - 1:37 pm

sigh… exaggerate much??

anyway, i will be more than happy to see these people gone from the subway. as time goes on, i seem to see groups that are less and less skilled and more prone to falling and kicking passengers. and there is no way to get away from them. i’ve had a few instances where one has kicked me or fallen on me. i used to think it was cute, but now i’m done with it. good riddance.

Bolwerk July 8, 2014 - 2:28 pm

No, I’m not exaggerating one iota. Arrests stay with you forever. This does not rise to the level of something that should stay with you forever. Draconian fines would suffice, and cost significantly less.

Spendmor Wastemor July 8, 2014 - 3:04 pm

I imagine these will be dismissed if the defendant stays out of trouble for 6 months. Nobody’s going to jail on this, nor should they.

SEAN July 8, 2014 - 4:01 pm

Let me try to translate Bolwerk’s point if it was some how missed. If you try to extend the logic of the NYPD’s stance on showtime & apply it to other low level nucences such as jaywalking, it becomes rediculous. It’s “broken windows” to the extreme.

Bolwerk July 8, 2014 - 4:03 pm

In the mean time, it filters into public records and shows up for every job requiring a background check for the rest of their lives. It’s dumb, poverty-perpetuating policy.

Besides, the cost is dumb even if that problem went away. Arrests cost society money. Fining minimizes the problem just as well, and pays society instead.

Chris C July 8, 2014 - 3:29 pm

It’s not a stupid argument at all.

If you don’t want to get punished then don’t do it. what’s stupid about that.

‘Showtime’ is worse because it’s happening in a confined space with little opportunity to escape from it.

I get fed up of people who break the law and then complain that they got a ticket or taken to court and then fined for something they deliberately chose to do knowing it was against the law.

Bolwerk July 8, 2014 - 4:18 pm

So? Fine it. Punishment so out of proportion with the injury (typically zero in this case) for no incremental benefit is plain stupid. Even low-level arrests cost society hundreds or thousands of dollars for no incremental benefit over an onerous fine, which can reverse that cashflow.

Even authoritarians should agree the arrest policy is stupid on grounds of fiscal conservatism alone.

Quirk July 8, 2014 - 9:14 pm

Thank you Chris C!

I am sure that people that re employed would like a stress-free commute from work. These “showtime” shows ruin everyones evening commute.

Also I may add that there several users here that probably related to said individuals or in fact, do performances themselves. No need to reply to them considering most are high school dropouts.

sonicboy678 July 9, 2014 - 5:52 pm

I’m against the “Showtime!” bull, but I also have to call bull on your claim that most involved are high school dropouts.

Eric F July 8, 2014 - 9:32 am

Congrats! Message to spouse to be: You better like trains!

BoerumBum July 8, 2014 - 9:39 am

Congratulations, Ben!

lawhawk July 8, 2014 - 9:39 am

Mazel tov on the engagement!

R2 July 8, 2014 - 9:48 am

Congratulations indeed!!!

Been pretty slow anyway. Both Help Points and the On The Go kiosks are really being rolled out now. Let’s hope they last!

Jerrold July 8, 2014 - 9:59 am


Jonathan R July 8, 2014 - 9:59 am

Congratulations on the engagement. Are you having the ceremony at the Transit Museum?

AlexB July 8, 2014 - 10:41 am

Congratulations Ben!

alek July 8, 2014 - 11:20 am

Congrats on your engagement!!

Did you hear about the mother whom dumped her baby at Columbus Circle station. Heartless!

SEAN July 8, 2014 - 11:36 am

WOO HOO! Ben, you da man!

As for showtime, the police policy is “broken windows” applied in a unique fashon. Surprised antiterrorism tactics aren’t being employed to curb such dangerous behaveore.

Sarcasm alert.

Chris C July 8, 2014 - 12:57 pm

Congrats Ben.

Hope you and soon to be Mrs SAS are very happy.

Now will the engagement last as long as the construction?

Rob July 8, 2014 - 2:26 pm

Let me add my congrats and best wishes!

Ned July 8, 2014 - 3:44 pm

Congratulations Ben!

Michael July 8, 2014 - 4:02 pm

Just because some people have apps on their cell-phones or electronic devices is no reason to suggest that the installation of bus count-down clocks is a bad idea.

Years ago the MTA published time schedules for each of the subway routes available in folded printed “take-ones” at plenty of the subway stations. Some folks online did argue that with the published schedules, why would there be a need to have electronic count-down clocks? Now some folks are asking why should electronic bus count-down clocks be installed as widely as possible?

a) The electronic count-down clocks do not simply and only provide the time of the next bus, but hopefully messages about the condition and nature of the service! There are times when scheduled buses are cancelled or re-routed, and there is a need to alert the riders to the changed conditions or the “real time” situation. Published schedules can not do that, and plenty of times the MTA is not fast enough with printed posted notices.

b) Simple, not every one has a cell-phone containing apps capable of providing the bus information, or are tech-savvy enough to use the texting feature to get the bus information. The texting feature becomes useful for bus routes where a person has stored the “bus stop number”, but it is not as helpful for bus routes a rider is not familiar with.

c) Plenty of people do not have cell phones! In some places having a cell phone or using a cell phone is prohibited. (Many schools ban their students from having or using cell phones, and often those schools or teachers have to collect the cell phones from students.)

d) While plenty of bus stops have the posted bus schedules – anyone who has traveled by bus for extensive periods knows that those posted schedules are often “merely suggestions”, rather than the actual state of the bus service.

e) There are plenty of bus stops where the posted bus route signage has been damaged, leaving the bus stop number un-readable. During the late evenings when it is dark those posted schedules are often difficult to read.

f) The installation of electronic bus stop countdown clocks in some neighborhoods and not in other neighborhoods can create a situation of “unfairness” in the provision of a transit service.

g) As transit fans should “we” really promote the idea of providing LESS USEFUL INFORMATION to the regular everyday transit riders, who help make our “hobby” possible?

h) In places where there are very long waits for bus service, having a real-time count-down clock is an indicator that service is actually being provided. Before the bus time system was made operational, plenty of riders after waiting a long time at a bus stop begin to question whether a bus will actually arrive. Often such riders will seek alternative transit (walk or their own cars) rather than waste any more time waiting for a bus, that may never ever show up. This hurts transit in the long run – as it loses ridership, creating a catch-22 cycle of less service. The real-time count-down clock is a message that one’s small corner of the world has not been forgotten – an important message to send out.

Just my thoughts.

eo July 8, 2014 - 7:32 pm

You make some great points, but I fail to see why the trade-off is worth it. Sure there are people without cell phones and sure more information is better, but is the number of people without cell phones or the usefulness of the information worth the $2.8M?

I would prefer to see money invested in state of good repair and new tunnels (or ELs). Sure, clocks are nice, but generations before us did OK without them and given that we do not have the money to keep the system in good repair, it seems to me that investing in the clocks is like buying a 40 inch TV for the house while the roof is leaking.

On the other side, politics being politics, it is clear that these $2.8M would have never gone to the capital projects that matter — they are money for the politicians to squander as they see fit …

And before I go, congratulations Ben !

Michael July 9, 2014 - 12:18 pm

The money that is being talked about are City Council “member-items’ monies that individual City Council members can give to various groups, institutions or projects in their districts. In the past sometimes those member items have been criticized for being handed out for “questionable” purposes, groups or activities.

In this case, the provision of bus count-down clocks is clearly a public purpose with a public benefit. When compared to some of the previous uses of member items – that have gained headlines – this kind of spending should not cause a public row over the money. Even on this forum there was criticism of such funding for studies for ferries in places that do not seem to need it, and other activities. In that light – the funding the bus count-down clocks should not raise any feathers, but somehow it does.

The provision of larger amounts of direct city funding for subway transit and repairs is a very good topic. A topic to bring up with the mayor (he proposes the city budget), and for the City Council as a whole to vote on. In addition the funding for the MTA by state legislature is a good topic, bring it up with the governor. In the distant past funding for the MTA came from the city, the state and the MTA’s own fund raising activities. Now the both the city and state provide little direct funding for the MTA, leaving the MTA to raise its funding almost alone, while taking on unfunded obligations from the city and state.

City Council member items in the over all budget scheme are really small amounts of money. In that light – the provision of bus count-down clocks is a “good”, or a “plus”. Would it be “better” if the MTA had a planned project to provide the count-down clocks – YES. Is the MTA going to “turn-down” the help because they might rather spend the money in a way that the public might not easily see?

To me at least the bus count-down clocks belong in the “good” column of things for several reasons. Could the provision be “better” – sure – but I’m not going to be “critical.” While being “critical” seems like a birth-right of every New Yorker, and there are so many things to be critical of, one has pick and choose.

Ben – again, congratulations on the engagement! Will the cake be made in the form of a subway train? (LOL – Smile – Ha, Ha!)


Andrew July 8, 2014 - 8:19 pm


Juan Carlos Gómez July 8, 2014 - 9:46 pm

Congratulations! Love your blog, been reading it for years. To many happy and healthy years of marriage!


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