Jim O'Grady appears in the following:
Thursday, June 30, 2011
(New York, NY - WNYC) The RFK Bridge, formerly known as the Triborough, is shaped like a "Y" with a very long tail because it connects three boroughs of New York City: Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx. It opened to traffic during the Great Depression--75 years ago this month--and was the first bridge in the city designed exclusively for the automobile.
Now the old girl is feeling her age. Or for gender balance, the old boy has the engineering equivalent of rickets.
On Friday, a 15-year repair job will commence on numerous parts of the bridge: decks, ramps, roadbeds and more. Initial work on the $1 billion project will remove concrete around the Manhattan toll plaza and replace it with rubberized asphalt designed to slow water erosion and give drivers a smoother ride.
After Labor Day, the Harlem River Drive's southbound ramp onto the bridge at 125th Street will be taken down and replaced. The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the bridge, will erect a detour ramp until the new ramp opens at the end of the year.
The RFK Bridge carries an average of 170,000 vehicles per day. It is actually a complex of three long-span bridges, several smaller bridges, a viaduct, parks, administrative offices and 14 miles of approach roads.
Needless to say, drivers should expect lane closures, changes to traffic patterns and late night work crews laboring under lights bright enough to land an alien spaceship. (Should that occur, let Transportation Nation be the first to welcome our merciful overlords.)
Friday, June 24, 2011
The final day of free rides on the new East River Ferry is Friday.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
We'll have an updated version of this post coming soon.
Updates at the bottom for now.
(New York, NY - WNYC) UPDATE APPENDED.
Right now, the collective gaze of the New York transit world is on Albany, where an extended session of the state legislature is frantically winding down. Transit watchers are waiting to learn the fate of a piece of legislation known as the "transit funding lockbox," which advocates say would bring stability to government funding streams that keep the buses, trains and subways running in and around New York City.
The bill passed the state Senate last night and is now in the hands of the state Assembly's Ways and Means Committee. Here's an official description of it, followed by an English translation:
"Prohibits diversion of resources from dedicated funds derived from taxes and fees that support the MTA, the NYC transit authority and their subsidiaries in certain instances."
That's addressed to past, present and future governors of New York. What it's saying, roughly, is no more raiding the NY MTA's budget to plug up state shortfalls.
The authority gets a crucial part of its revenues from a percentage of business and real estate taxes. Since 2009, as the recession reduced that income, the state took away an additional $260 million from those dedicated funds. The lockbox bill is designed to prevent that. Advocates say protecting NY MTA coffers will reduce the likelihood of a repeat of last year's painful fare increases and service cuts.
No wonder Transportation Nation's inbox is filled with emails from interested parties asking questions like: "Lockbox is key today...Anything from Cuomo?" Of course, that's New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who will have the final say on whether the bill becomes law.
And now arrives this bristling email from a worried transit advocate, which we have permission to quote anonymously:
"We’re hearing that Cuomo is blocking the lockbox bill so that he can retain the ability to steal transit funds. (This is the same Cuomo who ran for governor last year on restoring honesty and ethics to government.)"
We've placed a call to the governor's office asking for his view on the bill. Check back for updates.
UPDATE 1. Now this from an advocate with a well-placed source on the legislative side: "Lockbox: sources say it should pass the Assembly tonight!" Still no word from the governor.
UPDATE 2. Michael Whyland, press secretary to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, just called to say he expects the lockbox bill will be voted on tonight and that it will have "broad support." It already has 39 sponsors.
Then he added a ginormous caveat: If "suburban Republicans" use the introduction of the bill as an occasion to launch a debate about a payroll tax that is paid by their constituents in support of the NY MTA, that could be enough to "lay aside" the bill--that is, kill it. Whyland explained that with so much other major legislation awaiting votes on what is expected to be the last day of the session, the lockbox bill could be sacrificed to clear the decks for other priorities, like the gay marriage bill.
Whyland's bottom line: if the introduction of the lockbox bill doesn't spark a gridlock-inducing debate about the NY MTA payroll tax, it'll probably pass. Then comes Cuomo.
UPDATE 3. Whyland just called to say the bill has passed in the Assembly--statement from Speaker Sheldon Silver soon to come. We've asked Governor Cuomo, again, if he'll sign it. No answer yet.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
(New York, NY - WNYC) New York State seems primed to gain more "complete" streets in the near future. A bill requiring transportation planners to consider pedestrian and bike-friendly features when building and redesigning roads passed in the New York State Assembly last night, after previously passing in the State Senate.
The bill now goes to Governor Cuomo, who is expected to sign it into law.
So-called 'complete streets' include not just space for vehicles but elements like bike lanes, pedestrian islands, countdown crosswalk signals and expanded curbs for people waiting to board a bus. The requirement would apply to roads built with state or federal money.
Nadine Lemmon, legislative advocate for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, is using state statistics to lobby for the Governor's signature. "New York has some of the most dangerous roads in the nation," she said. "Over the last ten years, over 3,000 pedestrians have died on our roads and our research at Tri-State shows that one of the leading causes of these deaths is faulty road design."
Some highway superintendents complained about the cost of adding bike lanes and similar features to road projects. So the bill was changed in a late negotiation to require them in the design phase, while making their implementation optional if they'd put a project over budget. A town or county cannot be sued if it chooses not to install complete street features for budgetary reasons.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Monday, June 20, 2011
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer says New Jersey's transportation loss should be Long Island's gain.
The Senator is supporting a $2.2 billion low-interest loan from the federal government to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The money was originally earmarked for a commuter rail tunnel under the Hudson River that Governor Chris Christie killed in October. Schumer says it should now go to finishing East Side Access, a project connecting Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Station through tunnels beneath the East River. Long Island Railroad is the nation's largest commuter line.
East Side Access is supposed to be done by 2016, but is only funded through the end of the year. The project is designed to speed up trips for about 160,000 riders from Long Island to Manhattan's East Side by as much as 30 to 40 minutes.
More than $5 billion in state and federal funds have already been spent on the new rail connection, one of the largest infrastructure projects in the U.S. But East Side Access is still facing a $2.2 billion shortfall.
The MTA applied for the loan in late April to the Federal Railroad Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Spokesman Aaron Donovan said the authority is "in discussions with the U.S. DOT as part of the application process but we don't have an estimate on when we'll hear back."
U.S. DOT spokeswoman Olivia Alair said "We do not have comment on this today."
Most Long Island Railroad trains cross under Manhattan to arrive at Penn Station on the West Side, adding to congestion at that station and forcing commuters with jobs on the East Side to double back by bus or subway. Schumer said eliminating that bottleneck and adding flexibility to the system will "boost New York as the economic engine of the region."
Friday, June 17, 2011
(New York, NY WNYC) The Amalgamated Transit Union says it has an antidote to the recent plague of deadly long distance bus crashes: pay drivers overtime. The report contends that would limit drivers' hours behind the wheel, reducing the time buses are operated in a state of fatigue, which is the leading cause of accidents.
The report looks at statistics produced by National Traffic Safety Board investigations of 16 fatal bus crashes between June 1998 and January 2008:
Driver related problems were responsible for 60 percent of the fatalities occurring in the crashes investigated, while the condition of the vehicle accounted for only 20 percent of the fatalities. Driver fatigue was responsible for a staggering 36% of the fatalities occurring in the crashes investigated. It was the number one cause of fatal accidents, far above road conditions (2%) and inattention (6%). Other than vehicle condition, the next highest root cause was driver medical condition (18%).
The Virginia State Police believe driver fatigue caused a long distance bus to overturn on I-95 in Virginia on May 31. That accident killed four passengers and injured more than 50 others. It was the sixth major bus crash since the beginning of the year.
Those accidents, and the 25 fatalities they've produced, have prompted federal regulators to call for greater inspection powers of operators in the fast-growing industry. It has also brought renewed attention to the Motorcoach Safety Enhancement Act of 2011, which would require long distance buses to be fitted with seat belts, crush-proof roofs, reinforced windows and anti-roll technology.
All well and good, says the ATU report, but none of those measures directly address the issue of driver fatigue:
Hours of service regulations that have been in existence for decades are routinely ignored, especially by fly-by-night, non-union bus companies. The state police in general do not perform random checks of passenger buses the way they do on cargo-hauling trucks because of the dissatisfaction expressed by passengers when their bus gets pulled out of commission and no replacement vehicle arrives for hours. Moreover, even if police actively
seek out so-called discount bus carriers, there are not nearly enough law enforcement officers to even begin the process of ridding the highways of unsafe buses.
America Bus Association spokesman Dan Ronan disagreed with union's conclusion that bus company owners should give up their federal exemption from having to pay drivers overtime.
"This exemption has been around since the 1930s and we’ve had this series of accidents in the last month or so but we’ve gone 80 years without a rash of accidents," he said. "So if overtime pay were an issue, you would’ve thought we’d have had this level of accidents all the time, not just in the last couple of weeks here."
He said operators who pay substandard wages are not going to obey a law requiring overtime pay.
"The real question is how we get those guys off the road and reward the bus companies that are doing a good job, that are out there paying the drivers a decent wage, making sure their logbooks are up to date, that they’re driving safe equipment, all the things that make up a good bus company," he said.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
(New York, NY - WNYC) Long distance buses have been crashing and killing passengers with an unwholesome regularity since the beginning of the year: 25 dead and many more injured in six major accidents. And now the U.S. Department of Transportation is showing signs of moving into active crackdown mode.
The news arrived over the weekend with U.S. DOT press releases announcing the immediate shutdown of two bus companies for safety violations. Combined with an identical action against another carrier a few days before, that made for a four-day score of Government Regulators 3, Rogue Operators 0.
Before then, it had been rare for the U.S. DOT to go beyond punishing individual drivers and impounding single buses to banishing an entire bus company from operation.
The Department has stepped up field inspections. During the first two weeks of May, its inspectors carried out 3,000 surprise safety checks that ended up taking 127 drivers and 315 buses off the road.
The department has also been arguing for greater powers, such as the ability to levy a $25,000 fine for a safety violation, up from $2,000, and to conduct inspections at rest stops, not just at the beginning or end of a route.
Anne Ferro, head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is part of U.S. DOT, made those very requests at a Congressional hearing on bus safety on Monday. The problem is most of Ferro's proposals require the passage of federal laws, a process that moves as swiftly as holiday traffic in Midtown Manhattan.
Ferro's agency has also just shown what could be done by aggressively enforcing existing rules.
In shutting down those three bus companies, FMCSA inspectors invoked their power to declare an operator an "imminent hazard," defined as a commercial carrier whose practices "substantially increase the likelihood of serious injury or death if not discontinued immediately." An example would be Haines Tours, the Michigan carrier that packed customers into cargo bins at the bottom of its buses.
Inspectors declared the company an imminent hazard and immediately pulled it off the road. The same fate befell United Tours of North Carolina for using unqualified drivers, as it did to CT Motor Coach, a previously suspended bus company that apparently "reincarnated" as JT’s Travel & Charter after being put out of service for repeated violations.
On May 31, the FMCSA was in the process of taking action against Sky Express when a bus in Virginia swerved and flipped, killing four passengers and injuring more than 50 others.
State police in Virginia believe the driver of the bus fell asleep at the wheel. According to FMCSA records, Sky Express scored in the bottom 15% nationally for "fatigued driving"--and was virtually worst for "driver fitness."
That dismal safety record, compiled over the previous two years, had caught the attention of the FMCSA. In April, inspectors showed up at the carrier's offices and conducted a thorough "safety compliance review."
Sky Express flunked it. Yet the company was permitted by law to take 45 days to appeal the finding, which it did. Then Sky Express asked for, and was granted, a ten-day extension to appeal. It was during that ten-day period that its bus crashed in Virginia.
The next day, Transportation Nation asked a U.S. DOT official, "Why wasn't the company put out of service before [the] crash?" The official replied in an email: "Currently FMCSA does not have the authority to shut down a carrier without an in-depth on-site investigation."
Eight days later, the agency found that authority and declared JCT Motor Coach an imminent hazard and immediately shut it down.
Monday, June 13, 2011
(New York, NY - WNYC) Federal legislators and regulators talked tough today at a Congressional hearing on strengthening bus safety. Anne S. Ferro, Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, took the occasion to make a pitch for greater power to crack down on the fast-expanding long distance bus industry. But first, she delivered some chilling stats related to the recent spate of bus crashes.
"This year has been the worst period in recent history for motorcoach safety with six crashes resulting in 25 deaths and numerous injuries," she said.
Her statement came after a weekend during which her agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, declared three bus companies "imminent safety hazards" and shut them down.
One of those companies, Haines Tour in Michigan, was caught carrying passengers in cargo holds at the bottom of their buses. Another, United Tours in North Carolina, was using unqualified drivers.
New enforcement measures proposed by Ferro at the hearing included inspecting every long distance bus at least once a year, doing surprise safety stops while buses are en route and raising the fee for a company to obtain an operating license from DOT. Right now it's 300 hundred dollars -- 50 dollars less than it costs a street vendor to sell hot dogs in Washington, DC. Ferro said she'd also like to see the fine for a bus safety violation raised from $2,000 to $25,000.
Representatives from the long distance bus companies who participated in the hearing gave their wary consent to the proposals. "I can support it if it's reasonable," said Mr. Victor S. Parra, president of the trade group United Motorcoach Association. "You have to remember that these companies create jobs and are good for the economy. You don't want to over-regulate them."
Friday, June 10, 2011
Nassau County executive Edward Mangano said Long Island Bus will be privatized by the end of the year.
He announced at a Friday press conference that Veolia Transportation submitted the winning bid to take over the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's 48 bus lines, which carry an average of 100,000 daily riders.
Long Island Bus is one of the country's largest suburban bus lines; it connects suburban Nassau County with Queens.
The county and Veolia must still negotiate a contract. Mangano says he expects Veolia to run all of the bus line's current routes for $106 million--$8 million less per year than the NY MTA. Veolia will only be allowed to cut routes as a last resort.
The authority told county officials last year they needed to pitch in $17 million more per year for the bus operation, raising the yearly contribution by Nassau County to $26 million. That would’ve put the county in line with nearby Suffolk and Westchester counties, which respectively pay $24 million and $30 million per year for similar services from the MTA.
Nassau officials said they couldn’t afford it, especially after a state oversight board stepped in last year to seize control of the county’s depleted finances.
A press release from Mangano's office announcing the deal ripped the NY MTA as "a bloated bureaucracy."
The MTA, in a prepared statement, didn't respond to the criticism. "We look forward to working with the County and Veolia to assist in the transition and transfer of service at the end of the year," it said.
Thursday, June 09, 2011
(New York, NY - WNYC) The U.S. Department of Transportation says it has caught a long-distance bus company operating illegally after being shut down for safety violations. Regulators say Georgia-based JCT Motor Coach, previously taken out of service after two egregiously failed inspections, has resumed operation as JT's Travel & Charter.
The department declared the carrier "an imminent hazard to public safety" and ordered it to immediately cease its transportation services.
The practice is known in the industry as "reincarnation." A company can re-emerge from regulatory extinction simply by changing its name and address, repainting its fleet and hitting the street again.
U.S. DOT announced last week that it was investigating the Sky Express Bus Company for possibly reincarnating as a carrier called 108 Bus, even though regulators put it out of service on May 31, the day one of its buses crashed on I-95 in Virginia, killing four people and injuring more than 50 others. A spokesperson for Sky Express denied that it had taken a different name and continued to operate.
JCT Motorcoach had an exceptionally bad safety record, according to U.S. DOT, which listed some of the company's violations: "falsifying vehicle maintenance records, failing to ensure its vehicles were regularly inspected, repaired and maintained, using drivers with positive drug and alcohol testing results, using medically unqualified drivers and failing to comply with federal hours-of-service requirements for drivers."
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a department of U.S. DOT, is charged with enforcing bus safety. An administration official said inspectors pulled over a JCT Motorcoach bus last year and found so many maintenance problems that inspectors followed up with a visit to the business. That second inspection revealed a host of other problems. The carrier was then placed out of service.
A call to JCT Motorcoach late Thursday was answered by a woman who gave her name as Ala. She said she didn't work for the company "but I spend a lot of time around it." Asked about the U.S. DOT charges against JCT Motorcoach, she said, "Nobody's doing anything illegal."
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
(New York, NY - WNYC) A New Yorker is killed every 35 hours in a traffic crash, according to a new report.That's more than are killed by guns.
Domestically, that's not a bad record. New York has fewer road fatalities per capita than any other large U.S. city, according to the city DOT. But in European cities, like Paris and Berlin, the fatality rate is one half of New York's.
The report by the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives and the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy is pushing for a goal of zero traffic fatalities.
Transportation Alternatives Spokesman Michael Murphy says it's time to catch up with European cities. "For us to pat ourselves on the back to have reduced traffic fatalities as much as we have is to say that those remaining hundred to three hundred people a year who are dying is acceptable," he said. "It's absolutely not." New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan frequently tout New York's diminishing traffic fatality rate as a sign of success of their street redesign initiatives.
The Transportation Alternatives/DMI report says most of those killed in accidents are pedestrians, and the majority of deaths are caused by speeding cars on wide roadways like Queens Boulevard. A separate study, by Tri-State Transportation Campaign, says senior citizens are most at risk.
DOT spokesman Seth Solomonow told Transportation Nation that the city has already launched anti-speeding campaigns, added countdown signals to hundreds of intersections and re-engineered streets to make them safer for children and seniors. "You’d have to be living under a rock not to know that safety is the most important priority for this agency," he said. "We will not stop in our efforts until we make our streets safe for all New Yorkers."
Transportation Alternatives and the DOT do agree on what to do next. Both favor street calming measures like curb extensions, pedestrian islands, and bike lanes. Here's the DOT's pedestrian safety plan.
That doesn't mean it's going to happen. Those measures have been criticized by some elected officials for impeding vehicular traffic, and some critics say pedestrian islands and other calming measures can block emergency vehicles.
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
New York has fewer road fatalities per capita than any other large U.S. city, according to the city DOT. But in European cities, like Paris and London, the fatality rate is one half of New York's.
Monday, June 06, 2011
The Sky Express Bus Company was shut down by the U.S. government last week after one of its buses turned over on a Virginia highway, killing four people and injuring more than 50 others. Transportation Nation’s Jim O’Grady says that Sky Express may have defied the Feds' orders and continued to operate its buses under a different name. This is a common problem called "reincarnation." Bus companies are shutdown and reopen under a new name, selling the same routes and simply repainting the buses.
Sunday, June 05, 2011
The U.S. Department of Transportation has ordered the Sky Express Bus Company to cease and desist after it said the budget bus operator continued to run its business under another name in defiance of a government-ordered shutdown last week.
Sunday, June 05, 2011
(New York -- WNYC) The U.S. Department of Transportation has ordered the Sky Express Bus Company to "cease and desist" from continuing to run its business under another name in defiance of a government-ordered shutdown last week. The department is also seeking the records of three websites that have sold tickets for Sky Express in the past, and may have continued to do so after the company "reincarnated" by painting its buses another color and adopting other names, including 108 Bus and I-95 Coach.
On Tuesday, a Sky Express Bus swerved and flipped off I-95 near Richmond, VA, killing four women and injuring 53 others. Federal regulators put the company out of service later the same day--a move the U.S. DOT could've made three days earlier if it hadn't granted the company an extra ten days to appeal a poor safety rating.
But Sky Express apparently kept going under different guises, even after the deadly crash and an order from the feds to stop operations. Regulators appear to believe that the company changed its name to 108 Bus and I-95 Coach--and possibly others--to sell tickets as usual through travel sites like GoToBus.com, TakeTours.com and 2001Bus.com. The U.S. DOT has subpoenaed records from each of those websites about their bus company clients.
UPDATE:Jimmy Chen founder and owner of Ivy Media, which runs both GoToBus.com and TakeTours, but not 2001Bus, said "TakeTours.com has never sold any Sky Express bus tickets." And that no company he owns has sold any tickets for Sky Express since May 31.
He also said that no new bus company has signed up with his sites that run on the same routes as Sky Express did. The only other company that does, is I95Coach, which has been around for "several months." As for the idea that I95Coach might be the same as Sky Express, Chen finds that far fetched because he's witnessed the two companies get in a price war that dropped some long distance fares to half what they are back up to now. "It's a no brainer, I don't have to check the ownership... That wouldn't happen if they were the same company," he says.
Circumstantially at least, Sky Express Bus and I-95 Coach seem quite similar. For example, the Ticket Policy page for Sky Express is essentially the same as that of the Ticket Policy page for I-95 Coach. The two companies have a roster of routes that is nearly identical and their pick up and drop-off spots in Manhattan's Chinatown are a short block away from each other.
I-95 Coach is presumably a new company because no record of it could be found in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration database.
Such apparent acts of business "reincarnation" are difficult to track, and have long been recognized as a problem in the discount bus industry, including a report from the GAO in 2009. The U.S. DOT said the information that led to Friday's subpoena came from its own investigation. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the legal move showed his seriousness about cracking down on the industry. “We are relentlessly targeting unsafe and illegal bus companies,” he said.
Calls to the Sky Express office in New York on Sunday were not answered. [UPDATE 6/6/2011: a lawyer retained by the company would not comment on the record]
Friday, June 03, 2011
Straphangers now have a new station complex at Court Square in Queens that links the No. 7, G, M and E trains.
Thursday, June 02, 2011
(New York, NY - WNYC) Governor Andrew Cuomo is tapping real estate and banking mogul Howard Milstein to be chairman of the New York State Thruway Authority, an unpaid position. The Governor says Milstein, who has no previous experience in running a transportation agency, was tapped for his business acumen.
Milstein has been a generous contributor to the governor's re-election campaign.
In the past, governors have frequently appointed campaign contributors and fundraisers to run state authorities or serve on authority boards.
While running for Governor last year, Cuomo had promised to end "business as usual" in Albany and reform the state capital's notoriously porous ethical practices. Indeed, Cuomo is believed to be hammering out a deal right now to close some of the loopholes.
Milstein made 42 contributions in the last five years to candidates from both parties, according to state records. The largest were two $25,000 contributions to Andrew Cuomo's 2014 campaign.
The governor routinely announces his political appointments with a press release. But he nominated Milstein earlier this month with no public notice. The Buffalo News first reported the nomination.
If confirmed by the New York State Senate, Milstein will preside over the authority's nearly billion dollar annual budget, which is used to operate thruways, bridges and canals.
Milstein is president and CEO of Emigrant Savings Bank. Forbes magazine estimated his family wealth in 2010 at $3.8 billion.
Thursday, June 02, 2011
The federal government shut down the Sky Express bus company indefinitely following a crash on Tuesday which killed four passengers and injured 50. The bus, traveling from Raleigh, North Carolina to New York City, was one of three major crashes involving discount, long-distance bus companies in the Northeast in May alone.
Wednesday, June 01, 2011
(New York, NY - WNYC) The long distance bus company involved in a fatal crash in Virginia on Tuesday could've been put out of service three days earlier. The company, Sky Express, remained on the road after federal regulators gave it extra time to appeal a poor safety rating.
Over the past two years, the Sky Express Bus Company racked up dozens of safety violations, some for drivers who worked too many hours or used drugs or alcohol on the job.
On April 12, the U.S. Department of Transportation rated the company "unsatisfactory." That was enough to shut it down.
Sky Express appealed its rating to the department. Soon after, DOT issued an "initial denial"--a strong indication that the appeal would be rejected. Sky Express should've been out of options, and out of business, last Saturday--three days before a company driver on his way from Raleigh to New York fell asleep at the wheel and flipped his bus on a highway, killing four people and injuring more than 50 others.
Instead DOT extended Sky Express's appeal by ten days, allowing it carry on with business as usual. On Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he would direct the department to end its practice of extending appeals for operators found to be unsafe.