Jim O'Grady appears in the following:
Friday, April 08, 2011
(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Many state employees still get "free parking" cards.
When New York State Inspector General Ellen Biben announced yesterday that the state's police parking placard policy was so slipshod it "invited abuse," she immediately followed with two numbers meant to convey an air of stern reform. She said the number of police placards had been cut from 1,730 to 261--an 84 percent reduction. But that doesn't mean the total number of placards has been cut by that much.
Many users have been shifted to "official business" placards, which are more restrictive than police placards that say "this vehicle is on official police business." The "official business" placards allow users to park in commercial zones, spots near some government offices and, let's be honest, where they can get away with it. Though the total number of placards has been reduced by ten percent, there are still nearly 2,000 of them in circulation.
The state has 3,500 placards at its disposal, according to the Office of Court Administration, which has in the past overseen production of the placards for reasons lost to history. Biben said the executive branch had previously issued 2,210 of them. After the inspector general's review of users, there are now a total of 1,993 placards in circulation. Officials say that number is necessary because state employees, such as food inspectors, need the placards to drive to multiple locations to do their jobs.
Giving out a mere 217 more placards would get the state back to its pre-crackdown number, though most of them would be "official business" rather than police placards.
Advocates like Transportation Alternatives have called for big reductions in the use of parking placards, because they say, easy parking encourages people to drive more -- at a time when governors and mayors are encouraging people to use transit, bike, walk, or carpool to relieve congestion and reduce carbon emissions. After a brouhaha a couple of years ago about the loose distribution of placards to New York City employees, Mayor Bloomberg said he'd reduce the number from 140,000 to something less than half of that.
Biben said the real innovation is that each new state-issued placard has an ID number tying it to the user's license plate number.That should reduce the practice of passing them around. Each placard also shows the name of the agency for whom the bearer works. For example, a restaurant inspector's placard would say "Board of Health."
The new placards have a one-year expiration date, which presumably means an annual review of whether the user really needs it to do his job. And a government employee must now apply for a placard--which was not the case before, when the privilege was handed out to friends and family of the politically connected. Employees must now also sign an agreement saying they will only use it on government business. If a worker gets caught using a placard on personal business or in violation of other guidelines, he or she could face civil and criminal penalties.
The Governor's Director of State Operations Howard Glaser, who was at the press conference with Biben, said he's counting on the public to report misuse of the privilege, though he didn't say how besides calling the inspector general's office. When asked if he'd list placard bearers online by agency and job title, he said he'd "look into it."
Transportation Alternatives says the best way to insure proper use of the placards would be to stamp each one with a bar code that could be scanned by traffic enforcement agents.
Friday, April 08, 2011
(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Governor Cuomo's Director of State Operations Howard Glaser said that from now on the state will use a new method to distribute parking placards to its employees. The old way, he said, was to hand them out "like candy" to friends and family of the politically connected. The new way, he said, will be to keep track of every employee who has one and how he or she is using it.
The changes come after an investigation by New York State Inspector General Ellen Biben found widespread distribution of police parking placards to government employees who had no police business to conduct.
"It was a system that had no clear guidelines governing the appropriate uses of the placards, which made enforcement of the abuses nearly impossible," Biben said. "Quite simply, it was a system that invited abuse."
She said a crackdown on the distribution of police parking placards to state employees has reduced their number by eighty-four percent. But thanks to a new "official business" type of placard, which more than 1,000 employees have qualified for, the overall number of state parking placards has dropped by only ten percent.
Glaser said the real advance is that every state parking placard now has an ID that can be tracked back to its user, making it easier to report and investigate misuses of the privilege.
Government workers must now be approved by the state police or the Governor's Office of Public Safety before they can get a parking placard. Applicants must also sign an agreement saying they will only use the placard on government business. If a government worker is found to be misusing a placard, he could face both civil and criminal penalties.
Glaser said the ID number on every placard will empower the public to turn in suspected placard abusers. "What you will be able to do is to look at the number on a placard and if you believe that the parking is inappropriate, that can be reported to local law enforcement or to the state police," he said. A report can also be made through the complaint page on the Inspector General's website.
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
New York City subway riders can now use intercom kiosks at two subway stops to communicate with MTA personnel in emergencies or for information.
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
(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.
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.
“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.”
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,
Friday, April 01, 2011
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.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
(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.
Monday, March 28, 2011
One way to improve safety on budget buses is to give drivers better pay, said one union president.
Monday, March 28, 2011
(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.
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.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
The future of the Long Island Bus line is the subject of a public hearing at Hofstra University Wednesday afternoon.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
(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."
Friday, March 18, 2011
(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.
Friday, March 18, 2011
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.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
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.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
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.
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.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
(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.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
(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.