Jim O'Grady appears in the following:
Friday, April 15, 2011
(New York, NY -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) A report by federal investigators says a tour bus that crashed on Interstate 95 in the Bronx last month was speeding at 78 miles per hour shortly before it struck a highway signpost, killing fifteen passengers. The bus was returning to New York on a pre-dawn trip from a Connecticut Casino.
Driver Ophadell Williams said the March 12 accident began when a tractor trailer truck cut him off and struck the bus. But investigators say they found no evidence of an impact between the bus and another vehicle. And sensors on the bus' engine show it was moving at top speed down a southbound lane of the Hutchinson River Parkway only 45 seconds before impact.
Listen to an interview on this with Transportation Nation's Alex Goldmark.
According to the report, the bus swerved to the right off the highway, crossed an eleven-foot wide shoulder and smashed into a three-foot-tall steel guardrail. The bus plowed through the guardrail for 480 feet as it toppled onto its side. The bus' windshield hit the post of a massive highway sign, which sheared the bus in two along the base of the passenger windows almost all the way to the rear. The bus came to rest on top of the crushed guardrail, its wheels in the air, facing the highway.
Friday, April 15, 2011
The budget bus that crashed on I-95 in the Bronx killing 15 passengers last month was speeding at 78 miles per hour moments before the tragic accident, a report by federal investigators revealed.
Monday, April 11, 2011
(New York, NY -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Pedestrians have forty-three new countdown clocks at some of New York City 's most dangerous intersections to tell them how much time there is left to cross the street. When the LED crosswalk signals show a flashing red hand, they also start displaying the dwindling seconds left until vehicles regain the right of way and may zoom past again.
City officials held a press conference announcing the new lights at the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Fulton Street in Brooklyn, where six streets cross.
"Individuals should not have to take their life into their hands when they cross Flatbush Avenue," said City Councilwoman Letitia James, who represents the area. "These countdown clocks will go a long way in improving safety and reducing pedestrian fatalities and cyclist fatalities in the city of New York."
The current crop of clocks is installed at dangerous intersections on major thoroughfares like Queens Boulevard, the Grand Concourse in the Bronx and Hylan Boulevard in Staten Island. Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said at the press conference that a 2010 department study showed "major corridors are two-thirds more deadly for pedestrians” than smaller roads.
Monday, April 11, 2011
(New York, NY -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) When three inter-city buses crashed in the northeast last month, killing 17 people and injuring dozens of others, public officials and many in the booming industry itself said the time had come for reform. The debate is over what kind of regulations to impose on the sprawling industry, which makes 750 million passenger trips a year and accounts for more than 2,000 arrivals and departures every week in New York City.
Among those calling for stricter regulation is James Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board from 1984 to 2001, who in an interview with Transportation Nation criticized long distance bus companies for placing profits over safety, and government for letting it happen.
“We haven’t seen a commitment by the industry or the government," Hall said. "They have treated the people who ride these buses as second-class citizens and given them second class safety.”
He said the 2009 crash of a commuter airline in Buffalo, which killed 50 people, led to tighter regulation of short-hop air carriers; but fatal bus accidents have left bus operators relatively untouched by stricter safety rules.
"I'd like to see the federal government take the responsibility for the safe transportation of citizens on motorcoaches just as seriously as they take the safe transportation of more affluent citizens on commercial aviation," he said.
Hall said he's familiar with the rise and fall of official ire in the months after deadly bus crashes. Federal lawmakers, who have authority over interstate travel, express grave concern. They sometimes even take the next step and author a serious set of recommendations, such as the U.S. Department of Transportation's 2009 Motor Coach Safety Action Plan.That report inspired The Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act, which would've mandated safety upgrades like seat belts, stronger windows and fire suppression equipment on long distance buses.
The American Bus Association, a trade group based in Washington, DC, largely opposed the measure. It estimated the cost of the regulations for new buses at as much as $89,000 per vehicle. A typical new motor coach costs about $500,000. The bill failed.
Association president Peter Pantuso said he supported training bus drivers to a national standard. But he's concerned that mandatory safety features could drive up fares. And low fares are what keep bus operators in business, especially in the burgeoning discount sector.
"The industry is really made up of a lot of very, very small mom and pop companies who operate very safely," he said. "And there are a lot of regulations already in place. It’s a matter of enforcement."
Hall was not satisfied with that sentiment. “I have yet to see the American Bus Association be aggressive on the subject of safety," he said. "They’re aggressive in regard to insuring the profits of their own membership but they need to be just as aggressive in policing their own industry.”
Congress is poised to weigh in with two separate bus safety bills, both of which call for training drivers to a national standard and conducting stricter checks on them. They differ as to how much safety equipment upgrades should be imposed.
And soon the NTSB will release the results of its investigation into the March 12 crash in the Bronx that killed 15 people. The NTSB will also be examining the effectiveness of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the agency charged with regulatory enforcement of the tour bus industry and which has been criticized for lax oversight.
Pantuso said his association is all for rigorous enforcement of existing rules on driver rest and fitness, and inspections of vehicles. But he's wary of over-regulation. He says despite recent crashes, taking a long-distance bus is one of the safest modes of travel in North America--and that should count for something.
Philip White is a bus driver who earns $320 for driving round-trip in two days from New York to Richmond, VA--a five and a half to seven hour trip each way, depending on traffic. He works for Apex Bus, a company based in Manhattan's Chinatown. He recently leaned on the steering wheel in his bus and considered what's at stake when it comes to bus safety.
“Everybody on this bus has a wife or husband and kids," he said. "Or a mother and father at least. It’s not a joke.”
Listen to WNYC FM this morning to hear Hall's remarks.
Saturday, April 09, 2011
In the wake of three recent budget bus crashes in the northeast — killing 17 and injuring dozens of others — officials are now wrangling over what kind of regulations to impose on the sprawling industry, which makes 750 million passenger trips a year and accounts for more than 2,000 arrivals and departures every week in New York City.
Saturday, April 09, 2011
(New York -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New Jersey Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez just sent out a press release announcing federal funds to replace a balky rail bridge that commonly causes delays for Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains. The upgrade is considered crucial to bringing the next generation of high-speed rail to the northeast corridor. A new bridge at the site is also integral to plans for the Gateway Project, a proposed two-track rail tunnel under the Hudson. The release, which contains one of Senator Lautenberg's patented references to unnamed Republican operatives out to thwart him, is below.
Federal Recovery Act Funding Secured for Critical Infrastructure Project
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today announced that New Jersey Transit will be awarded $38.5 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to begin replacing the 100-year old Portal Bridge that crosses the Hackensack River between Kearny and Secaucus. With the funding now being provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), work could begin shortly.
“The Portal Bridge is a major chokepoint for thousands of commuters every day and an obstacle in the way of our efforts to improve regional rail transportation,” stated said Lautenberg, who as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee helped write the Recovery Act. “This federal funding will help replace the bridge so that train riders have a shorter, safer and more reliable commute every day. Replacing the bridge will also prepare our regional infrastructure for new high-speed rail opportunities that will improve the economy and get cars off the road. I am pleased to see the Recovery Act again deliver funding for a New Jersey project that will create jobs and benefit our state. This funding is a good start on a great project and I will continue fighting against Republican attempts to shortchange infrastructure projects like the Portal Bridge.”
Friday, April 08, 2011
Despite calls for reform, many state employees still get "free parking" cards.
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."