Home Public Transit Policy Quick Hits: 2nd Ave. Subway vs. Star Wars; ferry concerns; new commuter benefits law

Quick Hits: 2nd Ave. Subway vs. Star Wars; ferry concerns; new commuter benefits law

by Benjamin Kabak

Some pre-Christmas quick hits for you. I’ll post the service advisories Friday but expect a quiet end of the week. Subways and buses are operating on a normal weekday schedule for Christmas Eve and on a regular weekend schedule for Christmas Day.

Second Ave. Subway Phase 1 vs. Star Wars Episode VIII

As the credits rolled on the end of The Force Awakens, and audiences everywhere were left wondering about … Well, I can’t say without spoiling the movie, and I don’t want to do that yet. The curious among us will just have to wait until May 26, 2017 to find out how our heroes’ journeys continue. That date, as you may realize, is five months after the MTA has promised to open the Second Ave. Subway, but that date is in doubt. The feds have long predicted the MTA would miss their self-imposed deadline, and we recently learned of moderate risks of delays that could plague the project over the next 12 months.

Recently, I posed a question regarding this very matter to my Twitter followers, and, well, they’re not too confident in the MTA’s ability to deliver on time. As you can see from the results, an overwhelming majority of a representative sample of people who follow me on Twitter think Star Wars — which is set to open five months after the Second Ave. Subway should — will arrive first. That’s an understandable, if damning, indictment of the MTA’s project management abilities. The race is on.

Council members skeptical over new ferry service

As part of a $55 million effort to present a flawed solution to something that’s not really a problem, the mayor has pushed a five-borough ferry plan that’s supposed to take off in 2017. With fares set at $2.75 (and with no free transfer between the boats and the subways or buses) and routes that are far-flung and serve few of the people who truly need better access to the transit system, I’ve been skeptical of this plan for years. It takes resources away from higher-capacity solutions and seems designed to avoid NIMBY complaints regarding street space allocation. I’m not the only one wary of this plan, and now, a bunch of City Council members have expressed their concerns. These representatives are worried the ferry system won’t include regularly scheduled service frequent enough to be a success. That’s only half of a valid critique, but they’re probably right. I still believe the $55 million would be better spent on, say, significant upgrades in bus service. The money would go much further.

New commuter benefits law

Finally, a new commuter benefits law goes into effect on January 1, and New York City residents can save up to $443 a year on pre-tax transit spending. That’s the equivalent of nearly four months of free unlimited ride Metrocards. Gotham Gazette recently published a comprehensive explainer analyzing the new law and its effects on New York City residents and employers. According to the law’s proponents, nearly half a million people will now be eligible for transit benefits, and I’d urge everyone who can to take advantage of it. It’s a great way to save on transit costs. (This law is a big win for the Riders Alliance, and in federal news, Congress finally upped the level of pre-tax contributions eligible for transit spending to $255 a month, putting this savings on par with their parking subsidies.)

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Herb Lehman December 23, 2015 - 2:18 pm

The Second Avenue Subway-Star Wars survey made me chuckle. I doubt many people would be surprised if Episodes 8 AND 9 come out before the Second Avenue Subway wraps. Not to mention the inevitable post-series sequels and reboots that might beat the first Q train to 96th Street.

Eric Brasure December 23, 2015 - 9:43 pm

Speaking of new subway extensions, I am back east for the holidays and finally got to see Hudson Yards. Nice station, but so insanely overbuilt it’s not even funny.

Jerrold December 23, 2015 - 10:48 pm

Wait, did you mean a normal WEEKDAY schedule?

Stephen December 24, 2015 - 7:28 am

If the info on this link at the MTA is correct, then, yes, you too are correct. Weekday schedule.


mister December 24, 2015 - 12:02 am

The point about the ferries is something you’ve been saying that I have agreed with for a long time. The money could be spent on a lot of things that are needed that will benefit a lot more people. Investing in ADA at stations with closed entrances is much better allocation of these resources.

Beebo December 24, 2015 - 7:56 am

Certainly the remaining 2 Star Wars episodes will beat the “T”.

As for the ferries, obviously, someone’s seeing this as something that might spark the imagination of tourists. Like Venice’s boat taxis. Of course the things don’t go anywhere where a tourist might like to go, but nevermind that.

Money that can be better spent sending an elevated line to LaGuardia. And oh! further out into the unserved/underserved areas of Queens. Lots of those…

Phantom December 24, 2015 - 11:27 am

I actually don’t support the idea of forcing NY employers to offer the commuting pre tax benefit. This just adds to the endless requirements on employers doing business in NY.

The ferry plan will be an underused, expensive disaster. It’s not needed. A lot of the routes make no sense at all.

Roger December 24, 2015 - 9:04 pm

If you want a place “friendly to business”, go to Hong Kong where the market is as free as humanly possible and you are forced to do tons of overtimes to keep your job.

There is not a lot of real, productive innovation going on in today’s economy. Most low hanging fruits have already been picked. The current tech boom is just a transfer of wealth from the manufacturers to the Silicon Valley and venture capitals. Online advertising gimmicks like spying on your browsing habits using cookies, “browser fingerprints” and ultrasound waves could create the next start-up billionaire, but as a society we can’t rely on these dirty tricks to feed more bellies, to lower the med bills, or to alleviate the college debt crisis.

So despite the lies from the Federal Reserve, today’s economy is a zero sum game. Friendly to business means a nightmare to the employees. Which side are you on, the 1% or 99%?

Alon Levy December 24, 2015 - 9:33 pm

I’m not familiar with Hong Kong’s working hours culture.

I’m somewhat familiar with Singapore’s, by which I mean I’ve read papers by Paulin Tay Straughan on the subject. (She studies birth rates, and argues that the long working hours are one of the two main reasons Singaporeans have so few children.) Per Straughan, the issue is not about worker vs. employer bargaining power, but rather a business culture that isn’t good at evaluating employee productivity. As a result, the system of evaluation, which determines who gets raises and promotions, is biased toward employees who show a lot of face time and work long hours, even if they’re not productive.

TomSchmidt December 25, 2015 - 12:34 am

Do you have a link to those papers, Alon? This strikes me as fundamentally true, but it’s not just in Singapore. So much of our supposedly Taylorized workPlace is just bean counting and clock watching. It’s literally killing or ending Singapore. Wow.

Alon Levy December 25, 2015 - 6:43 pm

Not the original source, but:


Eric December 27, 2015 - 7:06 am

Singapore will be OK. Even though they have just 0.8 births per couple, they get enough immigrants of similar Chinese culture that they will always have enough workers.

Larger countries with the same work culture (Japan, South Korea?) will not be OK.

Alon Levy December 27, 2015 - 4:28 pm

First, 1.3, not 0.8. Still lower than the rest of high-income East Asia, and the working hours are longer.

Second, the Chinese-Singaporeans do not find the Chinese immigrants as similar as you find them. There’s a lot of popular objection to the government’s immigration policy, which features nativist elements, but no “Chinese okay, Burmese ew” racism.

Chris C December 25, 2015 - 6:20 am

Dd you not read the part in the link where it says this also saves employers money – something like $100 a year because it reduces THEIR tax liabilities?

Any marginal costs in extra payroll admin will soon be offset by that.

Phantom December 25, 2015 - 9:43 am

It is one more admin hassle shifted to small business in a city and state that has an endless number of them already

adirondacker12800 December 25, 2015 - 12:26 pm

People, sane ones any way, don’t do payroll with comptometers and tax tables anymore. The payroll clerk, even if that is the accounts payable/recievable clerk and the boos, spends 30 seconds reading the form, puts it into a computer and it automagically happens until the employee fills out another form.

JAzumah December 28, 2015 - 11:59 am

Another confirmation that I am insane…

Quinn December 29, 2015 - 9:37 pm

I go to Hunter College and I’m wondering whether I’ll graduate first or the first phase will open. I’m hoping December ’16 as well.

hrm January 9, 2016 - 12:39 am

Who did the MTA get to direct the 2nd Avenue subway line? Disney got Rian Johnson for Episode VIII.


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