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Jim O'Grady

Jim O'Grady appears in the following:

Sleek New Subway Intercom Kiosks Installed on Trial Basis

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

WNYC

New York City subway riders can now use intercom kiosks at two subway stops to communicate with MTA personnel in emergencies or for information.

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NYC MTA Installs New Subway Emergency Thingies

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

MTA New York City Transit's new Help Point subway communications system (Photo by: NYC MTA.)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) When the NYC Metropolitan Authority balanced its books in part last year by laying off 450 token booth clerks, riders wondered who they'd turn to in an emergency. Today came the authority's second try at answering that question.

Riders can now use intercom kiosks on two subway platforms to talk to NYC MTA staff. The devices are tall, attached to columns and glow blue. Riders can push a red emergency button to speak to the subway's Rail Command Center. Staff there, which works around the clock and includes police officers, can locate the rider by caller ID and dispatch police to the scene.

Speaking on a 6 train platform at 23rd street, NYC MTA Chairman Jay Walder said the devices--called Help Point-- are being tested at two subway stations on the Lexington Avenue line.

"It is the use of technology to make our customers more comfortable and feel more secure in our subway system," he said.

The kiosks also have a green information button connecting riders to the station's token booth clerk. The NYC MTA maintains there is still at least one token booth clerk at each of its 468 stations at all times.

Help Point replaces a previous generation of customer assistance devices that proved problematic. The older devices did not have digital audio, which sometimes made it hard to hear and be heard. They also had an indistinct design that made them blend with their surroundings--few riders knew where they were or what to do with them.

If the Help Point program is successful, the NYC MTA will consider expanding the kiosks to other subway stations, but wouldn't commit to a time line. Walder said it would cost an average of $300,000 per station to install Help Point systemwide. It would take more than 5,000 of the devices to meet the NYC MTA's goal of having one every 150 feet on platforms.

Riders have expressed concern about safety since the MTA laid off the token booth clerks last year.

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US DOT Orders Safety Review After 22 Workers Die in Pipeline Explosions in 2010

Monday, April 04, 2011

This in today:

U.S. TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY RAY LAHOOD ANNOUNCES PIPELINE SAFETY ACTION PLAN

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today launched a national pipeline safety initiative to repair and replace aging pipelines to prevent potentially catastrophic incidents.

Following several fatal pipeline accidents, including one that killed five people in Allentown, PA, Secretary LaHood called upon U.S. pipeline owners and operators to conduct a comprehensive review of their oil and gas pipelines to identify areas of high risk and accelerate critical repair and replacement work. Secretary LaHood also announced federal legislation aimed at strengthening oversight on pipeline safety, as well as plans to convene a Pipeline Safety Forum on April 18th in Washington, DC, to gather state officials, industry leaders, and other pipeline safety stakeholders in order to discuss steps for improving the safety and efficiency of the nation’s pipeline infrastructure.

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“People deserve to know that they can turn on the lights, the heat, or the stove without endangering their families and neighbors,” said Secretary LaHood.  “The safety of the American public is my top priority and I am taking on this critical issue to avoid future tragedies we have seen in Allentown and around the country.”

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NY's Long Island Bus Service Saved... For Now

Sunday, April 03, 2011

(New York, NY -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The New York State Senate announced Friday it had come up with $8.6 million dollars to spare riders of the Long Island Bus drastic cuts in service. The bus line carries 33 million riders per year on routes that connect suburban Nassau County with Queens. The move came after months of high-stakes negotiations between Nassau County, a New York City suburb, and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The authority, which runs the local bus system on behalf of Nassau County, 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 earlier this year to seize control of the county's depleted finances. The MTA said that without the money it would have to cut 27 of 48 bus lines by July, stranding 16,000 out of 100,000 passengers.

Nassau County is one of the richest counties in the nation, but has, over the years, run its finances into the ground.

Then came a public hearing last month,

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Long Island Bus Service Saved -- For Now

Friday, April 01, 2011

WNYC

The New York State Senate announced Friday it had come up $8.6 million dollars to spare riders of the Long Island Bus drastic cuts in service. The move came after months of high-stakes negotiations between the MTA and Nassau County.

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NJ Gov Shames Bridge Commissioners Into Giving Up Free E-Z Pass

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New Hope - Lamberville Toll Bridge over The Delaware River (Photo by: silatix / flckr creative commons)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Pay up.

That's what New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said in a September letter to about 300 state employees who'd been allowed to breeze through tolls for free on seven bridges spanning the Delaware River. The Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, which is an independent entity and didn't have to make the move, nevertheless voted yesterday to abide by the governor's wishes and eliminate free E-Z Pass privileges for non-work related crossings of the bridges.

The change, which the governor's office says will save $32,000 a year, is scheduled to take affect on May 2.

A statement from Christie says the move will also remove a source of populist resentment: “The granting of free passage to authority Commissioners, officers, employees or retirees, simply by virtue of their current or former employment, sends the wrong message to the toll paying public and represents yet another type of abuse common in New Jersey’s ‘shadow government.’"

The bridge commission joins five other state agencies, including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, in dropping the perks. The Port Authority announced in November that it would save $1.5 million a year by pulling free passes from its commissioners, retirees and non-union employees hired after 9/11. The Authority said no one from those three groups will have free passes after 2014, when it plans to move into a rebuilt World Trade Center.

The stricter rules come at a time of budget-tightening and after an outcry in 2008 at the widespread use of free passes at transportation agencies in New Jersey and New York.

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Boosting Driver Pay Would Help Bolster Bus Safety, Says Union Chief

Monday, March 28, 2011

WNYC

One way to improve safety on budget buses is to give drivers better pay, said one union president.

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Union Chief: Want Safer Inter-City Buses? Raise Driver Pay. (Bus Owners Don't Agree.)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Chinatown Bus. (photo by Naomi A. / Flckr Creative Commons.)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Three tour bus accidents in the Northeast this month have left dozens of people injured and seventeen dead. The inevitable calls for reform have followed, along with crackdowns on discount inter-city carriers through spot-checks of their buses.

Bruce Hamilton, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said all of that is appropriate but one measure to raise bus safety has been overlooked: better pay for drivers. His call for a minimum wage for drivers has drawn opposition, however, from a national bus owner trade association that says the industry is thriving because the competitive market, not government intervention, has set rates.

Hamilton says large bus companies like Peter Pan, Greyhound, Bonanza and others have the best safety records because drivers are paid higher wages--and that low pay on the discount lines cause some drivers to cut corners.

"Drivers are paid so low that they end up breaking the rules and they far exceed the maximum number of hours that drivers are allowed to operate," he said. "They become fatigued and they crash the buses."

U.S. Department of Labor stats from 2009 show the mean wage for bus drivers in New York is almost $23 dollars an hour, which comes to a little more than $47,000 dollars a year.

Hamilton says that’s true if you're a unionized driver at one of the larger carriers. He said drivers for the discount carriers, often called Chinatown buses, are paid a lot less.

His case is backed up by Michael Belzer, a professor of economics at Wayne State University who’s been studying the issue for ten years. Belzer has looked at a lot of federal safety data and found that for every 10% increase in driver pay, the probability of a crash is lowered by 40%.

But of course the discount bus industry has mainly been booming because of one thing: cheap tickets. For example, if you take an Amtrak train from New York to Philadelphia, you'll pay anywhere from 50 to $120. Hop on a discount bus and you'll get there for $10. But Belzer says those rock-bottom rates create an economic tension.

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BlackBerry Will Remove Apps That Help Drunk Drivers Evade Police

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

This in from Senator Frank Lautenberg's Office:

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Harry Reid (D-NV), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), and Tom Udall (D-NM) announced that, in response to their request, Research In Motion (RIM), manufacturer of Blackberry smartphones, will remove from their online store applications that help drunk drivers evade police.  Yesterday the senators sent a letter to smartphone companies, including RIM, asking them to remove the dangerous applications or alter them to remove the DUI/DWI checkpoint functionality.

The applications pinpoint police enforcement zones through user-submitted information that connects to GPS data, providing drivers with the ability to evade DUI checkpoints, speed traps, and red light cameras. The applications are free to download from application stores.   The senators lauded RIM’s decision and renewed their call for other smartphone manufactures to follow suit.

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Long Island Bus May Face End of the Line

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

WNYC

The future of the Long Island Bus line is the subject of a public hearing at Hofstra University Wednesday afternoon.

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Safety Problems Widespread on NY's Inter-City Buses

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

One of many discount buses that pick up passengers at the curb. (Photo by Naomi A. / Flckr Creative Commons)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) A review of federal data shows inspectors issued a safety alert for about a third of all inter-city bus companies in New York State in the past month. The alerts are applied when a company rates in the bottom half nationwide of a safety category.

Among those cited were two of three companies whose buses have crashed in the Northeast in the last month. The third company also had a problematic record.

World Wide Travel, the operator whose bus skidded into a pole in the Bronx and killed fifteen people, has an safety alert for Fatigued Driving. The company, which runs buses labeled "World Wide Tours," also rated in the bottom half of all bus operators for vehicle maintenance.

Super Luxury Tours had a crash in New Jersey last week that killed two. It has three alerts: for Fatigued Driving, Driver Fitness and Unsafe Driving--where it scores in the bottom one percent nationwide.

Queens-based Big Boy Coach saw 23 of its passengers injured on Monday when one of its buses tipped over on a New Hampshire highway. Inspectors found its drivers to be unfit at nearly three times the national average. It has no alerts as of now because it's a small company and hasn't been inspected enough to determine whether it warrants them.

Large carriers like Greyhound, Peter Pan, Bolt Bus and Megabus have no alerts and show relatively high safety ratings. Popular Boston-based carrier Fung Wah, on the other hand, has three alerts for Fatigued Driving, Driver Fitness and Vehicle Maintenance.

The U.S. Department of Transportation rates carriers in seven safety categories based on roadside inspections of drivers and vehicles, infractions like speeding and crash data.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer is asking the New York state commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles to conduct a full audit of all drivers licenses of tour bus drivers, saying that an earlier audit would've prevented the fatal crash in the Bronx.

Sixteen out of 26 coach buses stopped in Manhattan by Governor Cuomo's stepped-up enforcement effort were pulled out of service last weekend  for vehicle or driver violations or both. At checkpoints outside the city, violations were found in 25 of 138 coach buses stopped. The unannounced inspections by state Department of Transportation investigators and local police were made Friday night through Sunday.

Mayor Bloomberg said that though scores of inter-city buses operate out of New York, local government is not charged with overseeing them. "It' federal and state regulations that deal with them," he said. "Clearly somebody should have stopped--if we were able to predict the future--the bus driver in the terrible accident that killed fifteen people. Whether any regulation would've stopped it, I just don't know. It's not something the city does."

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Planes Carry Exodus from Japan to JFK Airport

Friday, March 18, 2011

Passengers arriving at JFK Airport Friday on Japan Airlines Flight 006 from Tokyo.

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Travelers from Japan trickled into New York City airports this week in the wake of the devastating earthquake, tsunami and worsening conditions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. At JFK Airport, each arrived with a story.

Stephen Ossorio, 21, landed from Tokyo Friday morning — one week after the devastating 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Originally from Brooklyn, Ossorio was studying business at Temple University in Tokyo for the past two years. He said he enjoyed his life in Japan, but the more he heard conflicting reports from Japanese authorities about spread of radiation from the plant, the less he trusted them. Full story over at WNYC.org.

As the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant remains dangerously unstable, the growing exodus of foreigners from Japan has begun arriving at JFK Airport, each with a story. Stephen Ossorio, 21, arrived at JFK airport from Tokyo this morning--one week after that devastating 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Originally from Brookyn, Ossorio has been studying business at Temple University in Tokyo for the past two years. He said he enjoyed his life in Japan to the same degree that he normally loathes flying--a lot. He'd had no plans to leave that country any time soon.

But the more he heard conflicting reports from Japanese authorities about spread of radiation from the plant, the less he trusted them.

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As Travelers Trickle Into New York, A Glimpse at Life in Japan

Friday, March 18, 2011

WNYC

Travelers from Japan trickled into New York City airports this week in the wake of the devastating earthquake, tsunami and worsening conditions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. At JFK Airport, each arrived with a story.

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Driver in Deadly Bronx Bus Crash Has Driving Privileges Suspended

Thursday, March 17, 2011

WNYC

The driver of the long distance bus involved in a deadly crash last weekend lied on applications for his driver's license, according to the governor's office.

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Subway Worker Charged With Faking Signal Reports

Thursday, March 17, 2011

WNYC

A Metropolitan Transit Authority employee is being charged with falsifying inspection reports on the No. 7 subway line, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.

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Pothole-Filling Truck Video is YouTube Sub-Sensation

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority  has taken to You Tube--land of lip-syncing teens and musical cats--to tell New Yorkers it's filling potholes as fast as it can. The authority has recently drawn attention to a video it produced and posted that profiles one of its two heavy-duty Road Patcher trucks.

MTA Bridges & Tunnels spokesman Charles Passarella stands near what looks to be an entrance to the Whitestone Bridge in either the Bronx or Queens and explains how the truck fills small-to-medium-sized potholes by spraying crushed rock and liquid tar through a nozzle. The material is different from the hot asphalt that human crews use to patch larger holes.

"The truck is controlled with a remote-controlled joystick," he says. "And basically, what it does, it performs the same function as the hot asphalt except you don't have the guys out on the roadway."

Everything works smoothly in the one-minute video, which has more than a thousand views and four "likes," before a deep-voiced narrator intones "This team can fill in over one hundred potholes a day, keeping roads smooth and drivers safe."

New Yorkers probably need reassurance after a winter that saw nearly 47 inches of snow and eight inches of rain fall on the city. MTA Bridges and Tunnels says it has filled "more than 4,000 of the pesky craters" since mid-March.

The New York City Department of Transportation, which also fills potholes, doesn't seem to have posted a video about its efforts but it does maintain a website called The Daily Pothole on which it keeps a tally of road repairs.

NYC DOT spokesman Seth Solomonow said the agency also uses Road Patcher trucks but that they work a little slower than a human crew. If there's a pothole-filling version of the legendary laborer John Henry, he has not yet been bested by a machine.

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The Art He Left Behind

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

(Photo by Jeremiah Cox )

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The NYC MTA Arts for Transit Program, which cultures up the subways, just announced the passing of artist Ellsworth Rashied Ausby, whose “Space Odyssey” graces my local station, the Marcy Ave stop of the J / Z. When the late sun hits the glass right, part of the platform gets kaleidoscopic skin.

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NYC Transpo Department's New 34th Street Design Wins Business, Local Plaudits

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How a new design would divide up parking, buses and vehicular traffic on parts of 34th Street (Graphic by NYC Dept of Transportation)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Last night at a public meeting in Midtown Manhattan, the New York City DOT unveiled a new design for 34th street. Major parts of the old plan were scrapped. There will be no wide pedestrian walkway on what was to have been a carless stretch of 34th Street between Herald Square at Sixth Avenue and the Empire State Building at Fifth Avenue, in an area that lacks as DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has mildly put it "quality public space."

Also gone from the plan are bus lanes protected from traffic by concrete barriers. Instead the bus lanes will be marked with terra cotta paint, as on Select Bus Service lanes along First and Second Avenues. And two-way traffic will remain along the corridor, allowing vehicles to move in both directions toward approaches to the Lincoln and Midtown tunnels at either end of 34th Street.

Urban planners, who did not want to speak for attribution, lamented the death of what transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan once called "the the only true bus rapid transit plan" on the boards for New York, with physically segregated plans.  The plan had been modeled on successful bus rapid transit systems in cities like Bogota, Columbia, and Ghanzhou, China.  In those cities, cars cannot wander into the bus lanes, as they frequently do in New York, making buses far more speedy than cars.  The plan for 34th street, planners say, would have provided a true "subway-on-wheels" experience river-to- river in midtown, connecting Bellevue hospital, the Empire State Building, Penn Station, and the Javits Convention Center.

But major businesses had complained the previous plan had too little space for pick-ups and drop-offs. The new plan has 300 loading zones, a seven-fold increase.

“This is good," Dan Biederman of the 34th Street Partnership said of the plan. "The property owners who were most upset before—Macy's, Vornado and the Empire State Building—were all either happy or not quite ready to endorse it but thinking this is a much better plan.”

Christine Berthet, co-chair of Community Board 6 transportation committee, said the city's attention to public feedback had produced a better design.

“I think this is the one which has the most interaction, where they seem to be listening the most,” she said.

More public meetings about the 34th Street design are scheduled for March 30th and 31st.

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Tragic Bus Crash Raises Questions of Safety

Monday, March 14, 2011

WNYC

Two days after a bus crash left 15 passengers dead, questions are being raised about how a lack of safety regulations on small bus carriers may have contributed to tragedy on Interstate 95.

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City Transportation Commissioner Champions Urban Bike Networks

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

WNYC

New York City's transportation commissioner isn't backing down from her full-throated support of more bike lanes and amenities for pedestrians.

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