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Jim O'Grady

Jim O'Grady appears in the following:

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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U.S. Sect'y LaHood Says Cars Should Play Smaller Role In Next Gen of Transportation

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ray LaHood at the 2011 Natonal Bike Summit (photo by Chris Eichler/League of American Bicyclists)

(Washington, DC - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told a conference of bicycle advocates in Washington, DC, that President Obama’s national transportation plan will continue to de-emphasize private vehicles. LaHood has faced opposition from some governors over spending on high speed rail and support for biking and walking paths. But he said those priorities come from “his boss," the president, and the transportation budget that the president has put before Congress.

Ray LaHood's blog post on the speech is here.

“It’s about the next generation of transportation," he said of Obama's agenda. "It’s about high speed rail. It’s about streetcars. It’s about transit. It’s about livable and sustainable communities where you can live in a community and you don’t have to own a car.”

LaHood didn't jump up on a table, as he did in a fit of enthusiasm at last year's League of American Bicyclists' National Bike Summit, but he scaled some rhetorical heights in showering praise around the room.

He began by calling New York Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik Kahn "a quite extraordinary lady" for re-engineering part of the city's streetscape to allow more room for buses, bikes and pedestrians. "She has really put New York on the map when it comes to making New York a liveable, sustainable community," he said. "And you can live in New York and not own a motor vehicle. So Janette, thank you for your leadership."

His remarks come as Sadik-Khan has faced noisy protests from some quarters for making life less convenient for some motorists.

LaHood also defended President Obama's high speed rail initiative, even though Florida Governor Rick Scott last week became the latest governor to turn down federal transportation funds for a high speed rail project--in his case, $2.4 billion.

"There's a lot more governors that have accepted money," LaHood said to reporters in a hallway of the Grand Hyatt Hotel after speaking to a ballroom full of bicycling enthusiasts. "Only three governors have turned back money. I've got people lined up out my door ready to take the more than $2 billion that's coming back from Florida."

He said the Obama administration has already spent $11 billion on high speed rail and is proposing in the current budget to spend $50 billion more. "There's a lot of enthusiasm for high speed rail in America," he concluded.

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MTA Anti-Terror Efforts Have Been Slow And Costly, Says Comptroller

Monday, March 07, 2011

WNYC

New York’s mass transit system remains "inherently vulnerable" to terrorist attacks, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli charges in a new report.

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NY State Comptroller: MTA Late, Over-Budget on Anti-Terror Projects

Monday, March 07, 2011

Security monitors in the Essex St station on the J/M/Z subway lines. (Photo by Amy Groark - Flckr / Creative Commons)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says in a new report that New York's mass transit system remains "inherently vulnerable" to terrorist attacks.  The report criticizes the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority for falling behind and going over-budget on projects to reinforce bridges, tunnels and train stations--and add electronic surveillance and ventilation systems to the subway.

DiNapoli said the work is four years behind schedule and 44% over-budget, with an expected final price tab of $851 million dollars. He also pointed out that the authority had planned to have the first phase of its security upgrades completed by 2008; that date has now been pushed back to 2012.

The report did credit the NYC MTA for picking up the pace of construction over the past two years. For example, the authority says it has added 1,400 security cameras in the past year alone, with 600 feeding directly into the New York Police Department’s command center.

NYC MTA's response to the report said, "We have increased the number of security personnel, hardened our system, and work remains on track to complete remaining projects within the current budget."

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NY'S MTA Looking to Sell Ads in Subway Tunnels

Monday, March 07, 2011

Old School subway ad with the legendary Dr. Zizmor. (flckr crative commons / jonkeegan)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The perennially strapped New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority is exploring new ways to boost annual ad revenue, including selling wall space in the tunnels between subway stations. Spokesman Aaron Donovan said the authority has already solicited bids from companies to manage the new account. "Anywhere there’s a dark tunnel, you could do it," he said.

Surfaces in subway tunnels have been marketed by other transit agencies, like the NY-NJ PATH train and  Boston's T system. But this would be a first for the MTA in New York.

It's part of the authority's push to wring more money out of advertising after two flat years of sales. The NYC MTA earned $109 million during the recession years of 2009 and 2010, down from a high of $118 million in 2008. But the MTA is projecting a comeback in 2011 with sales of $120 million.

The tunnel ads would show a string of varied images that, when viewed from a passing train, would move like a flip book. A similar effect is visible in a subway artwork called Masstransiscope between the Manhattan Bridge and the DeKalb Avenue station in Brooklyn. As the D train glides by an unused station at Myrtle Avenue, painted images flash behind vertical slits and appear to morph and writhe. (A video of it can be seen here or at the end of this article.)

Donovan said most ideas for non-traditional ad placement come from advertisers themselves. In recent years, the MTA has permitted video on the outside of buses and ads that wrap entire train cars, like the 6 train that became a long rolling ad for Target last fall, when the company opened a store in Harlem -- which is served by the 6.

Then there is a program called "station domination," in which a single company plasters ads on multiple surfaces--columns, stairwells, turnstiles--throughout a subway station. Ads at Union Square Station have even been projected onto floors and walls. And now, perhaps inevitably, the MTA website displays ads for free credit checks and the Crate & Barrel wedding registry.

Gene Russianoff of The Straphangers Campaign, a transit advocacy group, says he's of two minds about the spread of ads not only in the subway and on buses but on billboards outside stations and the exterior of commuter trains. (The New York City Department of Transportation gets the money from ads on bus shelters.)

"My view is informed by the very tough times we’re in and the pressure the MTA is under to make money," Russianoff said. But he said he draws the line at selling naming rights to stations--like the agreement by Barclays Bank to pay the MTA $200,000 over 20 years to puts its name on the Atlantic Avenue station in Downtown Brooklyn. "That's making a public space private and subordinating the public’s right to know where it’s going," Russianoff objected.

Still, the MTA faces pressure to cut costs and pump up sources of non-tax revenue.

The authority has an agreement with CBS Outdoor, a media-buying company, for the company to sell at least $580 million in ads on the subway from 2006 to 2016 and $346.5 million in ads on Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road commuter lines from 2010 to 2016. The MTA is also in the midst of a 10-year contract with Van Wagner, another media-buying firm, to sell at least $58 million in billboard ads on transit authority property. In December, ad space became available on five pages of the MTA's website. Donovan said that initiative has earned $10,000 over three months.

What is the most lucrative spot for ads in the region's transit system?

The answer is not temporary tattoos on the foreheads of train conductors. At least not yet. It's the Times Square Shuttle, with its packed cars and constant turnover of passengers. If an advertiser has an idea for a new kind of ad, like a train wrap or video, it's likely to be tried out on the shuttle. So be warned that in the future, if you're riding that train and decide to take a rest from all the ads by looking out the window...you could see more ads.

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Click here to see the subway tunnel artwork Masstransiscope. Be sure to click "Launch Movie" to see it in action.

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MTA Looks to Sell Ads in Subway Tunnels

Sunday, March 06, 2011

WNYC

The cash-strapped MTA is exploring new ways to boost annual ad revenue, including selling wall space in the tunnels between subway stations.

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More Tussles To Come Over 34th Street Redesign in Manhattan

Thursday, March 03, 2011

34th Street in Manhattan. (Flckr creative commons / Photo by: 商店也很多的34街,和第五大道交叉的地方就是帝國大廈。)

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Critics of the New York City Department of Transportation's plan to redesign 34th Street won a round yesterday when the city nixed a plan to replace car traffic in the corridor with bus lanes and a pedestrian island.

The plan had called for higher curbs, special bus lanes and bus ticket kiosks on the block between 5th and 6th Avenues. Some business owners said the redesign would've tied up traffic, and made it harder for drivers to shop and for businesses to receive deliveries.

Macy's was among the concerned. Senior vice president Ed Goldberg said he worried the changes to the streetscape would have made it harder to steer giant cartoon balloons up Broadway on Thanksgiving.

"Obviously anything that we do that is an obstruction, be it sidewalk or street, is of concern to us," he said." It's about our one big magic day of the year during the parade."

But others had looked forward to the city's plan to make one block of 34th Street free of cars. Several small store owners said they favored the move because a pedestrian island would've brought more shoppers on foot and made it easier to cross the street in the middle of the block.

Clothing store manager Rossana Rosado said pedestrians needed more space to move around. "There's always a traffic jam out there," she said. "It's impossible for people to get across the street, even, because there isn't a place for pedestrians to cross."

The city's Department of Transportation will present a revised plan for the 34th Street corridor at a public meeting on March 14.

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