Home MTA Politics Cuomo pushes MTA technology projects, but future system expansion remains out of sight

Cuomo pushes MTA technology projects, but future system expansion remains out of sight

by Benjamin Kabak

From the Transit Museum yesterday, Gov. Cuomo announced a series of initiatives to bring the MTA into the 21st Century. (Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

Installing wifi at all underground subway stations by the end of the year; bringing mobile ticketing to the LIRR and Metro-North within six months and a form of contactless payment to the subways by 2018; completing B Division countdown clocks by 2018; speeding up station rehabilitation work and overhauling the look and feel of our subway stations — all are noble goals and all were part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s agenda for improving the MTA and attracting more New Yorkers to mass transit. But following a press event high on lofty rhetoric about increasing transit use, the proposal seemed to indicate that the governor doesn’t understand exactly what the city’s pressing transit needs are.

After spending a week criss-crossing the state, announcing a spate of infrastructure projects that will affect New York for the next decade, if not longer, Cuomo found himself Friday morning out of his element. The last stop on his whirlwind tour was the Transit Museum, a perfect monument to best laid plans that often go awry. During Friday’s announcement, Gov. Cuomo played headliner to MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast’s undercard. In a later press gaggle, Cuomo admitted he doesn’t take the subway as often as he used to and explained that he’s “not an expert an international expert on the best transit systems.” He has consultants who are, he noted.

He unequivocally said that mass transit growth is the way forward for downstate New York growth, but he made these statements amidst a monument both to New York City past and to a future that never was. After all, the Transit Museum lives in a 1930s-era subway station that was supposed to be the Brooklyn portal for a Second Ave. Subway still not completed. What better place to try to hold back a flood by sticking a proverbial finger into a dike?

The MTA investments Cuomo and Prendergast announced are badly needed for purposes of modernity and will improve MTA operations. If Cuomo can prod the MTA to complete a series of seemingly stalled technological improvements the MTA has been trying to launch for a decade or more, his program will be judged a success. But as with the Penn Station plans, without an ongoing and far-reaching commitment to expand transit capacity, these subway projects too will look like political lipstick for our proverbial pig.

So what, you may be wondering, of the plans themselves? In addition to state support for the MTA’s five-year, $28 billion capital plan, Cuomo ushered in a series of other improvements. Here they are:

Wi-Fi At All Underground Stations By The End of the Year
The MTA and Transit Wireless have installed service at around half of all underground stations, and the rollout for the other half was supposed to wrap in 2017. Now, that timeline will be accelerated so full underground connectivity will be achieved by the end of this year. Tunnels will not be wired, but riders waiting for their trains will be able to takes calls and connect to the Internet at every underground station.

Mobile Payment and Ticketing Initiatives

Coming Soon: QR codes for your smart phone.

Coming Soon: QR codes for your smart phone.

We’ve heard about the MTA’s Metrocard replacement efforts for years, and while the wheels are spinning, the ball isn’t moving forward. Now, Cuomo and Prendergast say the subways will begin accepting contactless payment system in 2018. Renderings show a QR code-based reader that isn’t exactly a cutting edge technology, and Prendergast later noted to reporters that this reader system may be an interim solution on the way to a full overhaul of the fare payment technology. Until we know more about this plan, I’m not convinced it’s the right approach, let alone a cure-all, to an ongoing problem. Metro-North and the LIRR will offer mobile ticketing by the end of the year — so I assume Cuomo is confident he can solve the labor problems that have been a barrier to implementation on the LIRR.

Countdown Clocks on the B Division
Countdown clocks — and the lack thereof in many stations — took center stage, and Prendergast said the MTA would wrap installation of B Division (that is, the lettered subway lines) countdown clocks by the end of 2018. Cuomo’s subsequent press release hedged on the date and simply said the MTA will “accelerate” installation but didn’t include a timeline. This is a promise from the MTA to continue to do what it has long said it would do but perhaps on a faster timeline maybe.

Other Technological Improvements
Cuomo and Prendergast also announced a laundry list of other proposals focused around “improving the customer experience.” These include USB charging ports on subway cars and new buses, wifi-enabled buses, and additional digital information screens including more On The Go kiosks and Help Point intercoms.

A New Focus on Station Rehabilitation Efforts

The MTA will close these 30 stations at times over the next few years to speed up rehab efforts. (Click to enlarge)

The MTA will close these 30 stations at times over the next few years to speed up rehab efforts. (Click to enlarge)

Finally, in a move that generated a lot of questions, the MTA announced a new approach to station rehabilitation efforts. Instead of stop-and-start weekend work and only partial closures, the MTA, at the request of its contractors, will close stations for concentrated periods of time to speed up the timing and efficiency of station work. Inspired by the Montague Tube work and in conjunction with its contractors, the MTA feels it can be more efficient in this system repair work by closing stations for weeks (or months) at a time rather than suffering through years of weekend diversions. In fact, the agency does this now, but usually only at stations around the edges.

Tom Prendergast discussed this focused effort. “In many cases the customers say its better that for 6-8 weeks, I need to do something different rather than for 42 weeks on weekends and nights our lives are totally disrupted,” he said.

As part of this effort, the MTA will tackle 30 stations over the next three-to-five years. Most will be finished by 2018 with a few trickling into 2020. It’s not clear whether these are in addition to the 20 stations identified in the five-year capital plan or encompass those 20 stations that were due for rehab work. In conjunction with this work, the MTA will “revamp the design guidelines for subway stations to improve their look and feel” and implement this new plan at these 30 stations. The plans will include “cleaner, brighter stations [that will] be easier to navigate, with better and more intuitive wayfinding, as well as a modernized look and feel.” Considering these stations are all single- or side-track platforms that aren’t hard to modernize, this philosophy sounds better tailored to overhauling transfer points or big hubs, but a fresh look is a welcome development.

Already, New Yorkers in Astoria and Clinton Hill, to name a few neighborhoods, are worried that station closures will negatively affect their rides, and in part, there is no way around this work. But this should limit disruptions to concentrated time periods, and Prendergast said the MTA is “not just shutting elements of system without worrying about impacts.” Thus, adjacent stations won’t be closed at the same time, and riders may have to use a station a few blocks away than they’d like.

Why I’m Disappointed
Despite these announcements and continued investment in the capital plan, though, I found Friday’s announcements lacking, and if we dive into Cuomo’s words, we find a disconnect between what he’s saying and what he’s doing and investing in. Here are some of Cuomo’s words from his prepared remarks:

“Number one: reliability. Number one: when the trains says it’s coming at 12:07. You know what that means? It means the train has to come at 12:07. Not 12:08, not 12:10, not 12 – 12:07! Its reliability, first. Accessibility, second. Third: the comforts that we expect. I don’t wasn’t to get in a train and feel like a sardine for an hour and a half on the way to work. I don’t want to do that. I want to be able to sit in the seat, I want to be able to listen to my music, I want to be able to make the telephone call, connected to Wi-Fi….

And that is what we are going to do with the MTA, 30 stations put them out all at once, design build whole new station, let people walk in there and say, “Wow, this is the MTA.” This is the train station – amazing. Yes, we can. We do what we need to do at the MTA, it will drive a different New York, it will allow a growth and an expansion that far exceeds anyone’s expectations, because it is the future. The transportation system determines the economic growth of the future. When they designed this system originally, they had 1 million riders, they designed it for 10 million riders. Look at the foresight, we now have to expand on that vision, and it all comes back to the MTA. We are going to do it.”

In the press gaggle after the event, Cuomo expanded on this vision. “The MTA system has to be better than it is today. It has to be more reliable, more comfortable. We want people getting out of cars and into mass transit, and we have to make that as easy as possible,” he said. “We’re not going to grow downstate with people getting into cars and commuting. We’re not going to build more roads and we shouldn’t build more roads” in the New York City area.

These are all noble goals that should be at the forefront of New York City transit and transportation planning, but none of what Cuomo announced on Friday accomplishes these goals. Riders want wifi but riders also want space on the subway and more frequent trains that go to more places. When the MTA wraps work on the Second Ave. Subway this year, its only remaining big-ticket capital project will be East Side Access, a project that does nothing to expand the reach of the subway system. If Cuomo is intent on delivering a reliable system that “allow[s] a growth and an expansion that far exceeds anyone’s expectations,” USB charging stations and countdown clocks won’t bridge that gap. Knowing that my train is 12 minutes away doesn’t make it emptier or faster.

So, yes, the MTA deserves some praise for trying to get out of its own way on technology upgrades, and reenvisioning the station environment is long overdue. (London’s new Design Idiom could be a constructive starting point.) Streamlining station rehabilitations too is praise-worthy, but the lofty rhetoric of improving public transit and increasing modeshare doesn’t align with USB chargers and wifi as the headliners. What we would need is a firm commitment to lowering construction costs to better align with international standards, a firm commitment to future phases of the Second Ave. Subway and a firm commitment to improving outer borough connectivity (such as Triboro RX, a Utica Ave. Subway, a connection to Staten Island or countless other projects that have been suggested and studied over the years).

Additionally, paying for all of these initiatives remains up in the air. Cuomo indicated that the MTA’s capital plan will be funded, in part, via debt, and the agency is sinking further into a debt black hole that will drive up costs borne by riders. It too is an untenable situation that will eventually undermine Cuomo’s rhetoric of increasing ridership and reach.

A few times this week during his New York tour, Cuomo referenced Robert Moses as part of his inspiration. He wants to build and get something done. He wants to be known as a governor who could accomplish things. But his words should give us pause. His philosophy, he said, is based getting things done, with less regard for long-term goals and more for ribbon-cutting. “Did you build a new station? Did you build a new bridge? Did you build a new tunnel?, he said” “That’s how they’re going to judge you.” Turning on wifi a few months earlier than planned is a pleasant surprise, but it sure isn’t a new subway line, more frequent service or all that transformative no matter what the governor says.

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Larry Greenfield January 9, 2016 - 11:41 am

I don’t think we’ll have any major improvements to our subways until we have a new governor and new mayor. The present office-holders have not shown any leadership in finding new funding sources to pay for them. All they do is squabble with one another.

John Halfz January 9, 2016 - 12:36 pm

For commuters who require a transfer, the countdown clocks may save valuable minutes. They’d be even more useful if the clocks included information about nearby bus routes.

Two examples: At W. 4th, going towards Brooklyn, is it better to stick with A/C, or is an F arriving downstairs? In the opposite direction, am I better off just riding to Herald Square, or can I count on a train arriving upstairs shortly (or cross-platform at Jay). At rush hour, I always bank on A/C, but if I’m commuting at shoulder time, it’s not insignificant. If I’m going to Willow Place with a small child, should I take the G from Windsor Terrace, knowing that I can catch the B61 at Hoyt, or must I wait for the F and plan to walk?

Over the summer I waited for 28 minutes at 5:30 AM for an A to Broad Channel so I could change to AirTrain at Howard Beach. I barely made my plane. Had I known to expect a wait of that duration, and had I had information about the location of Bay Ridge-bound R trains, I could potentially have taken the R two stops in time to catch the 5:51 to Jamaica. Do I want to pay the LIRR fare? No. Do I want to pay for a cab? No. But either option is preferable to missing a flight that I absolutely must catch.

AG January 11, 2016 - 5:56 pm

Agreed… I’ve had similar experiences.

BruceNY January 9, 2016 - 12:59 pm

I’m baffled by the choice of stations that are slated to be rehabilitated.
57th St. on the F? Why? It’s actually in pretty good condition, and while the platform is very utilitarian in appearance, the 60’s-era mezzanine actually is one of the nicest in the whole system? 23rd on the F/M? Again, why? Just scrub the tiles down with some Comet and you’re good.
On the other hand, what about 149th-Grand Concourse on the 2 & 5? It’s absolutely frightening. And then of course there’s Chambers St. on the BMT–movie producers should scout out this location for the next post-apocalyptic horror movie.

Jedman67 January 11, 2016 - 3:53 pm

It’s easier to meet your quota of “renovating” older stations if you only need to shut down for 6 hours to scrub and repaint.
On the other hand, Woodhaven Blvd is absolutely disgusting on the platform level; with moldy ceilings falling apart, crumbling paint all over the place and a floor so filthy I wouldn’t let a dog eat off it.

On your second comment; if you let movies and TV shows film in the subways in exchange for routine maintenance; you can go a long way towards filling the budget gap.

adirondacker12800 January 11, 2016 - 6:47 pm

No you can’t because they go to Philadelphia or Toronto where it’s cheaper.

Jason January 9, 2016 - 1:44 pm

Northern Boulevard is a bit on the grungy side, but in the end, if all they do is reopen the entrances on the east end of the station, I’ll be happy. Just shove whatever crap they have in there into 65th Street. They built office/storage space on the mezzanine to the point you don’t even recognize what it was before anyway.

Gian January 9, 2016 - 1:56 pm

If they’re doing station renovations, three words: platform edge doors. I realize that this isn’t an inexpensive proposal and will require standardization of door placement, but it isn’t just about safety. In Paris, they’ve found that people “respect” the doors, i.e. they don’t try and hold both sets of doors open, and therefore station dwell times are reduced. In addition, they should proceed with the proposed midlife tech upgrades to the R62 and R68 fleets, including recorded announcements and electronic rollsigns, and upgrading the R142s with FIND displays. I’d much rather know where I am than charge my phone on a train. Also, with these renovations, they should try to monetize more of the station; take London Underground’s ad-splattered walls on deep-level tube platforms for example.

However, if they’re going to invest all of this money, I like a nice station, but they should focus on operational excellence first and foremost. Run more trains on and off peak and strive for a 100% on time rate. Look for where the system could be made more efficient, for example by reducing staffing levels. Most modern metro systems run with a single driver, if any, which brings me to my next point: accelerate the pace of CBTC installation. Retrofit old cars for compatibility, and fit all heavily trafficked trunk lines, including the 6th and 8th Ave IND lines, the East and West Side IRTs, the Queens Blvd line, and the IRT New Lots Ave line. Reduce inefficiencies caused by reverse-branching, inefficient terminals, or restricted passenger flow by building new lines and renovating stations to improve throughput and take full advantage of CBTC. When routes are fully equipped with CBTC, consider running some or eventually all trains without drivers, shifting drivers and conductors to the control center or into customer service at stations, while conductors on LIRR and MNR can be reduced from 5 to 1 onboard, converting them to a more modern proof-of-payment system. That’ll make it less expensive across the board to run more trains.

While improvements to amenities are welcome, they need to be done alongside swift improvements to service quality while expanding the system. I like mobile ticketing, WiFi, and countdown clocks, but the time for real change is now. The time to think big is now. And the time to act is now. If we can control our construction costs and find a steady source of funding, it’s possible.

mister January 9, 2016 - 2:08 pm

Platform edge doors are nice, but they are going to cost a lot of money to implement, and they will drive up operational costs.

When were mid-life tech upgrades announced for the R62/68 fleets? It wasn’t so long ago that there was even consideration of early retirement for the R68 fleet, since there is no current plan to make them CBTC compatible, and once CBTC makes it to 6th or 8th avenue, then all trains on both trunk lines need to be equipped (in order to accommodate re-routes).

OTP is a metric that doesn’t make a lot of sense for the subway system. For instance, if there is a 15 minute delay on a line, emphasis on OTP is going to encourage dispatchers to have the following trains simply try to make up time so that they can get back on their original schedule. On the other hand, a better strategy might be to have a train ahead of the delay actually hold, putting it behind schedule, in order to make the gap smaller. No one really cares if the train that shows up is the one scheduled to show up. We care about how long the gap is between trains and whether there’s room to board.

When I still worked there, there was talk of accelerated CBTC rollout, but difficulties with scheduling the work hindered the plan to perform the work. A better question is: is there a quicker, cheaper intermediate step that we can install in the meantime which could reduce operational costs? I think the answer is yes.

Jedman67 January 12, 2016 - 9:10 am

When I still worked there, there was talk of accelerated CBTC rollout, but difficulties with scheduling the work hindered the plan to perform the work. A better question is: is there a quicker, cheaper intermediate step that we can install in the meantime which could reduce operational costs? I think the answer is yes.
Ben stated in a previous post that “intermediate steps” was a bad idea for the MTA; you would now have to maintain the “intermediate” system, the old system and the new, final system. Maintenance costs would at least double.
Far better to just do the whole thing at once; although in todays MTA that would take 45 years.

mister January 12, 2016 - 10:53 am

In the case of CBTC, the ‘intermediate step’ I’m talking about could be rolled out for a fraction of the cost, would require no wayside equipment to be installed, would not preclude CBTC installations, and would bring improvements to service on lines where CBTC will not be installed for decades.

AG January 12, 2016 - 5:36 pm

I plan to write the governor just that… Cordially of course

mister January 9, 2016 - 1:57 pm

I’m actually somewhat encouraged by some of these things. Cuomo acknowledging that he is not a transit expert is at least a little bit refreshing. Countdown Clocks and WiFi might not sound like big deals, but knowing whether or not I should take the local that’s arriving or wait for an express is kind of useful. WiFi could eventually be extremely useful to NYCT, since it could communicate with the trains and an announcement could be made on the train of conditions on other lines at transfer points. For example, as a C train leaves Hoyt-Schermerhorn towards Jay St, an announcement about delays on Manhattan bound R trains could help me to stay on the C into Manhattan and take an alternate route instead of the current situation where I don’t find this out until I arrive at the R platform.

But there are some things about this that make me remain concerned. Ideas are great, but how do you fund them? I can propose all the ideas in the world, but if there’s no way to pay for them, they aren’t getting done. Like you mentioned, it seems that debt is the tried and true method for MTA funding. The question is, who will take on this debt? The State, which has far better capacity to absorb the impact of this? The City, which stands to benefit the most from improved transit and rising land values? Or the MTA, which can only recoup the cost through higher fares?

My other question is about these station Rehabs. How extensive will they be? Keep in mind that it wasn’t that long ago that the MTA decided to take a much different approach to station renovations. Now if we’re going back towards full Rehabs, then great. A modern look without exposed conduits running everywhere will be a welcome change. But until we know more about the scope of these projects, and the way to pay for them, we can’t really make a good judgement on this program.

As Ben says in the post, we need someone who attempts to figure out how to drive down construction cost. Granted, the full-shutdown model may do just that by requiring less of the work to be done on premium time. But we need to see what else is happening that drives up the cost of construction at MTA. There are a number of factors, some of which should be obvious to the engineering and construction community. And we also need to find sources of revenue so that MTA is not continually saddled with an increasingly unsustainable debt burden. There seem to be a number of ways that MTA can leverage its existing assets into generating revenue. Until these two fundamental issues are tackled, ideas about how to ‘fix’ the MTA will continue to mortgage the future for the present.

adirondacker12800 January 9, 2016 - 3:14 pm

WiFi could eventually be extremely useful to NYCT, since it could communicate with the trains

No, no, no and no. You don’t want mission critical, life and safety critical, systems to be shared with people trying to make a skype call. That would be trivial to hack.

bigbellymon4 January 9, 2016 - 9:09 pm

Sir, the misson critical, life and safety items your referring to well be placed on separate access point in the tunnels. CBTC equipment and Skype calls will NEVER be placed on the same equipment in the tunnels.

adirondacker12800 January 9, 2016 - 10:08 pm

Different frequencies too. Mister seems to think that, having everybody use the same wifi channels, would be peachy.

bigbellymon4 January 10, 2016 - 2:04 am

Hey did you read his post? NO WHERE, I repeat, NO WHERE, in his comment does he state that. Please read and thoroughly understand before you comment. You’re jumping to an assumption that was not started within the comment. Please stop while your behind.

adirondacker12800 January 10, 2016 - 4:50 am

he said “WiFi could eventually be extremely useful to NYCT, since it could communicate with the trains” If that doesn’t mean everybody sharing everything what does it mean?

mister January 10, 2016 - 7:18 pm

Is this a joke? The rest of the paragraph that you’re quoting gave a clear explanation of what WiFi could be used for. I understand extremely well what WiFi should and should not be used for. I also understand what is presently being built under Transit Wireless’ scope. Spoiler, it’s a far more robust network than simply ‘WiFi’.

adirondacker12800 January 10, 2016 - 7:44 pm

The following paragraphs don’t have anything to with wifi. Or even more broadly telecommunications.
The passenger information infrastructure will have it’s own separate telecom. So that it’s more difficult for random pranksters to hack and so that management can send out information when the trains have stopped running because the life-safety-signal system has stopped working. If it isn’t on it’s own physical network it will be carried on the life-safety as low priority traffic. It won’t have anything to do, other than it happens to be in the same station, with the stuff the public uses.

mister January 11, 2016 - 1:13 pm

I didn’t say anything about the following paragraphs. I said the rest of the paragraph after the lone sentence you quoted.

Trebor January 9, 2016 - 2:32 pm

The contrast between these proposals and the $22 b. for upstate made me think of this clip:


Nathanael January 9, 2016 - 6:45 pm

I’ve already complained that the $22 billion for upstate is all for roads and bridges.

As I write to the governor’s office, there’s a perfectly good $6 billion high speed rail plan for upstate. So that we could get to and from New York City at reasonable speeds. But no, gotta burn it on roads. We *have* roads.

Duke January 10, 2016 - 4:00 pm

You won’t continue to have roads without properly funding them, though. It isn’t talked about nearly as much because it hasn’t been made a political issue but NYSDOT is also short billions on capital funding. They need money not to build new roads, but to do things like replace bridges that are at the end of their service life.

Otherwise, the roads upstate will fall apart much as the subway down here did in the decades where it wasn’t invested in and an occasional fresh coat of paint was considered satisfactory maintenance.

SEAN January 10, 2016 - 4:22 pm

In Texas, the DOT do to funding issues has virtually given up maintaining a number of secondary & rural roads letting many of them to return to there prepaved form. Several other states are facing similar issues & NY maybe one of them.

adirondacker12800 January 10, 2016 - 4:29 pm

No they won’t because rich people will complain.

Nathanael January 10, 2016 - 8:05 pm

We do have some serious maintenance issues on our rural roads.

This is not what Cuomo is proposing. You can’t spend $22 billion on the low-infrastructure rural roads — it’s basically impossible — it would mean replacing 10000 bridges or something like that.

He’s proposing to burn the money on expressways.

Nathanael January 10, 2016 - 8:12 pm

OK, to be fair, he might be burning some of the money on overbuilt multi-lane “boulevards”.

The thing is, traditional two-lane (one each way) rural roads simply aren’t that expensive to maintain — yes, it’s 1/8 of our property taxes, but repairs aren’t so expensive that they’ll take $22 billion.

We had a bad winter a couple of years ago and the rural counties didn’t have the money for resurfacing after the frost damage. But resurfacing these roads wouldn’t cost *$22 billion*. Even replacing the oldest of the bridges over tiny creeks doesn’t add up to much, a few million each.

He’s obviously planning to spend the money on the overbuilt multi-lane roads and the excessive freeway viaducts. Those can suck up billions easily.

Bolwerk January 10, 2016 - 10:29 pm

Did you see this?


It’s kind of old, but someone posted it on Streetsblog the other day. Fucking unreal chauvinism.

adirondacker12800 January 11, 2016 - 12:41 am

One of the idiots running in the primary in my Congressional district, very earnestly and with a straight face, thought there was a desperate need for Interstate grade highway between Watertown and Plattsburgh.

Tower18 January 11, 2016 - 10:01 am

I’ve driven between Watertown and Plattsburgh before, to get to that part of Ontario without driving through the lake effect zone on I-81. The 2 lane road is nearly empty, passing through hollowed-out town after hollowed-out town.

Driving through that part of the North Country, the primary thought is “why is all this here?” It’s some of the most inhospitable climate, especially nearer to Watertown. The land is unproductive. There are no logistical or geographical advantages in a modern economy, with the exception of malls for Canadians, who are being sucked up by Syracuse anyway.

Bolwerk January 11, 2016 - 1:04 pm

In some cases, the water routes and availability of hydro power were probably favorable to industry and trade. Not sure it’s really counted as North Country, but Watertown itself was once downright prosperous.

Rob January 12, 2016 - 11:46 am

I question why many of those roads upstate were built, or upgraded, in the first place. The sprawl around upstate cities have just hollowed out the center, and left a far bigger infrastructure footprint than necessitated by the population. Plus the transit systems in the center could really use an infusion of funds, as their traditional layouts would allow for relatively efficient bus systems.

More on this at Strong Towns, or this one about Buffalo-Niagara: http://joeplanner.blogspot.com.....-case.html

AG January 12, 2016 - 5:35 pm

Correct – and the foolish thinking that this will jump-start the upstate economy. You can’t build a foundation on public works.

adirondacker12800 January 10, 2016 - 4:27 pm

You can’t get to New York City at reasonable speeds because you can get stuck in traffic as far out as Pennsylvania. Completing I-86 isn’t going to fix that. Hour or so bus ride from Ithaca to the HSR station in Syracuse gets you to New York City in three hours. Gets you to Cleveland and Toronto and Montreal and Boston too. 90 minutes NY-DC means it gets you to Philadelphia and probably Baltimore and DC too. Columbus. Cincinnati. Detroit.

Nathanael January 10, 2016 - 8:07 pm

What Adirondacker said. It doesn’t matter how much money is put into the expressways upstate, you hit a traffic jam around Delaware Water Gap, Milford, Monticello, Kingston, or Poughkeepsie (depending on which route you take).

A fast train from Syracuse is much more useful for connecting us to New York City.

Andrew Thompson January 9, 2016 - 5:04 pm

QR codes? Slow, unreliable, and I have to open a special app presumably?

Did they miss the whole secure wallet on my phone and NFC communication completely?

You cannot tell me that it makes sense to open up every turnstile in the system and install a QR reader and then go back and do NFC years later. Insanity!

Culper January 9, 2016 - 5:28 pm

I don’t think they missed that. Expanding mobile ticketing app they’ll have on RRs to accommodate transferring customers in short term and then building on that with NFC, mobile wallets, contactless bankcards, etc. That was what they said. If they do it right, same equipment on turnstiles can be used. Readers that do QRCode and NFC are in market now.

Duke January 10, 2016 - 3:52 pm

I’d also be concerned with the potential of people being able to generate pirated QR codes for free rides. You know someone is going to try, and if it proves easy to do and get away with, others will follow.

The system can be designed to not make this easy, but that would require the MTA have it designed competently.

Of course, there are bigger problems: not everyone has a smartphone, and those of us that do don’t necessarily want to be caught predictably using them in a predictable location where miscreants can snatch them. The MTA is right to say “do not display cellphones or other electronic devices”, they are contradicting themselves if they then ask people to do so at turnstiles.

adirondacker12800 January 10, 2016 - 4:06 pm

One of the virtues of contactless is that you don’t have to take out the smartcard or smartphone. Just bring it close enough to the reader. Through your pocket or bag.

SEAN January 10, 2016 - 4:42 pm

Good points from both of you – contactless payment should eliminate many if not all of the issues noted above. Transit systems around the globe & in the US have proven that time & again.

It defies logic why NYC doesn’t have one & it should include the railroads as well as suburban transit as http://www.clippercard.com & http://www.prestocard.ca already do.

Roger January 10, 2016 - 1:25 am

I don’t see anything wrong with MetroCard except that it is too soft and prone to bending

Something like DC’s Smartrip is a good idea.

And please give us a way to pay for the subway anonymously in the future. Not everybody is banked, and NYC is probably the most cash dependent city in the US. Also, I certainty don’t want NSA or data brokers to track my trips…

victor January 10, 2016 - 3:32 pm

Try getting on a bus with 10 other people. Dipping the metrocard is much slower than a contactless card.

SEAN January 10, 2016 - 4:46 pm

Try it in Connecticut with there passes – it’s even worse – I know first hand.

Brooklynite January 10, 2016 - 4:57 pm

I haven’t tried CT’s passes, but contactless cards aren’t exactly a new technology. London has used it to great success, and I believe our neighbor, PATH, has as well.

SEAN January 10, 2016 - 9:10 pm

In most of Connecticut, the busses use a pass that is identical to the Metrocard, but use a slightly different reader that will stamp dates of validation once activated.

CTransit is in the process of replacing the current fareboxes with ones that will have tap targets for a smartcard that will be rolling out this year.

pete January 11, 2016 - 10:23 am

CT Transit uses GFI TRIM cards. The cheap transit agencies sell weekly and monthly passes on paper cards (CapMetro), the better ones (Lynx) use semi rigid plastic like Metrocard. The problem with GFI TRIM is there is only 1 spool of blank cards in the farebox, and these will invariably be the cheapest paper cards intended for use as “1 bus transfer” and thrown away. Some GFI TRIM boxes, have TWO ways to put in your card. They have a “dip” slot that can print on the back of your card, and a “swipe” slot like Metrocard in subway. Unless you are activating a pass (print ink on back of start time), the TA wants you to SWIPE the card like a metrocard in the subway. After 4 days my pass started to give read errors from one too many pushes through the swipe, I never again used the swipe slot, and only dipped from then on CapMetro, even if the drivers told me I am doing it wrong (the farebox doesn’t refuse to do a transaction if I use the dip slot instead of the swipe slot).

Eric January 10, 2016 - 4:45 am

I actually think this plan is pretty good. Unified payment, wifi, countdown clocks are all things that *should* be cheap and simple, but the MTA for unknown reasons has got indefinitely stuck on. If Cuomo can actually force the MTA to implement them quickly, so much the better. As for system capacity, I understand where Cuomo is coming from. The $22 billion he plans to spend on upstate roads will buy actual roads, while the $10+ billion already spent on East Side Access has bought absolutely nothing. Until the MTA can figure out how to complete major capital projects in a professional manner, it’s easy to understand why politicians won’t send money their way.

mister January 10, 2016 - 7:29 pm

It’s telling that you say that $10 billion on East Side Access has brought ‘nothing’ (even though there is a real, tangible expansion of east river crossing capacity coming from this project), but the $22 Billion that’s going to come out of thin air will buy ‘actual roads’. Neither ESA or the roads are usable yet, but ESA is chugging towards a completion, while we don’t even know what these road projects are, and none will likely expand capacity.

SEAN January 10, 2016 - 8:55 pm

Classic case of “if I cant see it, then it must not be important.” Nothing could be further from the truth as ESA brings tremendous value regardless of it’s flaws, costs & it’s execution. We can debate this every day until the bovines come home.

Transit fans & bloggers alike need to remember that & not lose perspective.

Eric January 11, 2016 - 4:29 am

The $10 billion for ESA has already been spent, but its completion date is receding by about one year per year. At this pace it will never be finished.

The $22 billion has not yet been spent, so of course nothing has been built. But history shows that roads are typically built (except perhaps for massive interchanges and bridges) without the delays and cost overruns that characterize MTA projects.

mister January 11, 2016 - 1:19 pm

First of all, excluding the big ticket road projects from scrutiny (like bridges and interchanges) is unfair, because you’re comparing them to big ticket transit projects.

Second, this is Not true.

Jeff January 10, 2016 - 8:36 am

I like that the governor has political capital and is using it to promote transit interests, but at one point he’s going to need to get his hands dirty and use that capital on some real change. I don’t think he feels transportation is a worthwhile course for that, unfortunately.

Ray January 10, 2016 - 9:50 am

The governor has the priorities straight given our current situation. We don’t know how to develop underground infrastructre cost efficiently. Why would he step forward with more boondoggles.

So, let’s finish what we’ve started below: East Side Access, SAS1 and our share of Gateway. Then work above ground to construct a new trunk line for LIRR, the additional MN stations in the Bronx. Renew and improve the subway by completing signal modernization and passenger info systems, update fare collection, rehab stations, finish the replacement of the subway fleet.

Do all of this while also launching airport redevelopment, expansion of AirTrain, expanding Javits, building $22B of roads up state, finishing Tappan Zee and redeveloping Penn Station. That’s a big punch list.

The state has to reimagine how subways are constructed here. There is some black hole that sucks up billions of dollars not required anywhere else. Until that’s fixed, the governor and taxpayers shouldn’t waste their time dreaming of additional shovels in the ground.

VLM January 10, 2016 - 1:44 pm

If you don’t plan the next project while the current ones wrap, nothing will ever get done. SAS Phase 1 is effectively done and there has been no start to the planning process for Phase 2. That’s absolutely inexcusable and something Cuomo, if he knew what he were doing, should be addressing, not USB charging stations in subway stops.

Brooklynite January 10, 2016 - 4:33 pm

Exactly. Lots of momentum was lost when the people working on Phase I were allowed to disperse instead of continuing work on the other phases. Hell, if the TBMs had kept going they would have gotten to Staten Island by now.

SEAN January 10, 2016 - 4:55 pm

Anything in Staten Island worth spending political capitol on?

Intentional misspelling there.

Brooklynite January 10, 2016 - 5:55 pm

With the addition of a rail tunnel, SI would become the greatest opportunity to add (affordable) housing seen in a generation. As regular NYers continue to be priced out of their apartments, I’m surprised this hasn’t been mentioned yet.

mister January 10, 2016 - 7:32 pm

^This is an excellent point. If we’re going to see any real, tangible improvement in rental prices, barring a huge market crash or some serious upzoning in Queens and Brooklyn, Staten Island is the place to build. There’s a large segment of the population that doesn’t qualify for ‘affordable housing’, but has been priced out of market rate housing.

Eric January 11, 2016 - 4:36 am

There you have it, you mentioned the solution to the housing crunch. Brooklyn has virtually unlimited subway capacity to Manhattan. Upzone Brooklyn (or better yet eliminate zoning height limits altogether), and there will be enough cheap housing for everyone. Everyone will benefit, and the city/MTA will need to invest nothing. This could be done tomorrow (though it would take a decade or so for enough housing to be built).

Eric January 11, 2016 - 4:42 am

One subway line to Staten Island won’t support a lot of upzoning. Nine existing subway lines to Brooklyn, most of them well below capacity, will support a lot more.

mister January 11, 2016 - 2:02 pm

One subway tunnel to Staten Island will support much more upzoning than many roads built upstate.

Eric January 11, 2016 - 2:50 pm

I agree. You can fight that battle with Cuomo (good luck winning it), and at the same time, NYC can choose to upzone Brooklyn.

Brooklynite January 11, 2016 - 8:37 pm

Existing Brooklyn-Manhattan crossings:
Manhattan Bridge South
Manhattan Bridge North
Williamsburg Bridge

Of these, only Montague and Rutgers are half-full or less. Montague could run 30tph if all trains through 60th St were sent via Whitehall, but it’s far from clear that there’s sufficient demand for Lower Manhattan service regardless of Brooklyn’s population. Rutgers capacity is constrained by the merge with the M north of 2nd Av, which is quite unlikely to be eliminated anytime soon. The Manhattan Bridge tracks have space, but Gold St junction would need to be de-interlined to use this efficiently and avoid major train traffic.

With much higher operational discipline, MTA could coax significantly more capacity out of all its tunnels. Doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon though.

mister January 10, 2016 - 7:34 pm

IF the problem is that we can’t build underground infrastructure efficiently, then the solution is not to avoid building it. True leadership is fixing the problems, not dodging them.

Old New Yorker January 10, 2016 - 3:31 pm

Closing stations should make Marc Mednick happy…he wants everyone on bicycles anyway…

VLM January 10, 2016 - 4:54 pm

Good lord. Enough about Mednick. Did he run over your dog? Fire you? He doesn’t have nearly the power you think he does to set any policy at NYCT these days.

Brooklynite January 10, 2016 - 4:55 pm

I feel like I missed something. Who is Marc Mednick? Google only suggests a few doctors.

Rob January 12, 2016 - 11:52 am

Wasn’t easy finding “Mednick” in a Google search.

Brooklynite January 10, 2016 - 4:10 pm

Essentially, all of these proposals are putting lipstick on the pig. They don’t address the actual issues: infrequent service, both peak and off-peak, inefficient operations and maintenance practices that lower capacity, and the obscene cost of MTA doing absolutely anything.

Am I the only one who suspects this series of announcements is nothing more than a huge game of politics, which may or may not have something to do with Bharara’s corruption investigation?

mister January 10, 2016 - 7:36 pm

He’s a politician, of course the announcement is a huge game of politics.

I agree that off-peak frequencies are less than ideal. Where in the system would you say that peak frequencies fall short?

Brooklynite January 11, 2016 - 12:01 am

Basically every place where trains are overcrowded during the peak are not running as much service as they could/should be. The 6, for instance, runs less than 25tph during the peak hour. By comparison, some European systems have managed 40tph using block signals just like we have. There are a whole host of reasons for such inefficiencies, but many of them are bureaucratic and most of the rest inexpensive.

And regarding Cuomo, this seems worse than usual. It’s not every day that a politician midway through his second term randomly decides to go on a weeklong tour of the state proposing billions in new infrastructure spending.

Walt Gekko January 11, 2016 - 1:07 am

This sounds like Cuomo looking to assure re-election in 2018 ahead of a possible Presidential run in 2020 (if the GOP wins this year) or ’24, These projects likely make Cuomo look good four years from now to people outside New York and the northeast.

Jedman67 January 12, 2016 - 9:22 am

The biggest problem with transit improvements is the sheer cost of doing anything is far higher than doing nothing (which is still expensive). Making a brooklyn elevated station ADA accesible with a new elevator cost $9 BILLION* (*Maybe the MTA should buy a few Powerball tickets??) Chambers St PATH cost nearly $5 Billion.
What would be a tremendous investment in the future of rail capacity would be for Coumo and DeBlasio to sift through all the wasteful expenditures of the MTA and DOT. Restructuring Unions is a political landmine; it needs to be done or costs will continue to rise.

Komanoff January 10, 2016 - 9:30 pm

Ben — Fine post. In your penultimate graf you said “Cuomo indicated that the MTA’s capital plan will be funded, in part, via debt.” Can you elaborate? Thanks.

Tim January 11, 2016 - 10:23 am

What’s the big hullaballoo about WiFi about anyways? If it’s anything like the current setup at Airports, it’s not going to be free, you’ll have to pay to use it. The usage rates are going to be low, unless you can expense the wifi access charges.

Benjamin Kabak January 11, 2016 - 10:55 am

Though I agree with you that the hullabaloo is overstated, free wifi is already in place at more than half of the underground stations, and it’s already free with no plans to change that.

Bronx Resident January 11, 2016 - 3:53 pm

Since no one else mentioned…

Glass wind screens and canopies (plus heat lamps and fans) for the elevated lines.

All weather enclosed bus stops (plus heat and A/C).

It’s cold out there.

Bolwerk January 11, 2016 - 6:53 pm

Preferable to frequent service so you aren’t waiting long?

Bronx Resident January 11, 2016 - 8:16 pm

No, but it shouldn’t be either/or.

Cold, iced (snowed) over platforms are not indicative of a world class mass transportation system.

It’s not even equitable considering the demographics of many if not most neighborhoods surrounding the elevated lines.

Bolwerk January 13, 2016 - 10:42 am

Most cities in the world with mature rapid transit have peripheral stations at or above grade. Underground tunneling is justified by urban density and infrastructure, not local demographics. Many of these are in climates with cold winters.

And instead of installing heated stations on bus lines, it would seem more useful to me to actually move more people by introducing BRT features or upgrading to light rail.

Bronx Resident January 15, 2016 - 2:14 pm

Agreed that it makes more economic sense to build at-grade or elevated outside the city’s core in many if not most cities.

However, modifications like glass wind screens and canopies with heat lamps and fans are not exactly outrageous request. This implemention could make a world of a difference in a city where delays are poor weather and inevitable.

The same goes for all weather bus stops. A simple all around enclosure for the winter plus poor weather and appropriate shade for the summer would encourage people to take nass transportation and reduce rider greif. Even existing stations could be modified with additional canopy cover and somewhat enclosed wait areas.

Eric January 13, 2016 - 3:25 am

I would go for this at subway stops, particularly busy ones like Queensboro Plaza. But for bus stops which only have a handful of people waiting, it’s excessive, and I’m unaware of any transit agency worldwide which does it.

Bronx Resident January 15, 2016 - 2:22 pm

Existing bus shelters should at least receive modifications to increase canopy coverage. The current design is poor considering wind gusts. Extend the canopy and create another vertical glass wall with entry space opposite street.

From above:

| ___|

I wonder how much it would cost to install heat lamps and fans at bus stations? Even if only heavy useage stations, this would make a difference to a whole lot of New Yorkers. The worst part of the commute is typically waiting in extreme weather conditions.

Bronx Resident January 15, 2016 - 2:24 pm

And yes the new stops do have glass extending from the open section that is away from the street, but I suggest additional coverage.

Just ideas here.


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