Jim O'Grady

Jim O'Grady appears in the following:

NY MTA Says Charging $1 For A New Metrocard Is Not, As One Rider Claims, "Ridiculous!"

Monday, March 04, 2013

Replacing a beat-up Metrocard (left) with a new one (right) now costs a dollar.

(New York, NY - WNYC) This weekend, New York subway and bus riders were hit with their fourth fare hike in five years. That money is collected with every swipe of a Metrocard--a piece of technology that was introduced 20 years ago and becomes more obsolete by the day. Despite the card's slow slide into obsolescence, riders must now pay a dollar surcharge if they lose or discard their card.

That has some straphangers, like Rich and Jean Wasicki, grumbling. Every six weeks, the couple come to New York from Buffalo to visit their son, a student at Fordham University. Each time, they buy a Metrocard and, after using it, throw the card away. When Rick Wasicki was informed that the practice will now cost him a dollar per card, he blurted, "Ridiculous! Absolutely ridiculous."

Wasicki said it's a lot to ask a Buffalo guy to keep track of his New York City Metrocard. But the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority says it costs $10 million a year to produce those cards. Plus, there's the extra cost to cleaning up cards that riders toss on the ground.

Jean Wasicki countered that the NY MTA profits from some of those discarded cards. "Half the time we put dollars, as out-of-towners, on that card that we ultimately don't end up using," she said. "And so those are dollars that the MTA has in its pocket."

Riders do leave about 50 million unredeemed dollars on Metrocards each year. But the NY MTA says that's not extra revenue. It costs the authority the same amount of money to run subway trains on a schedule, whether Wasicki uses all the value on her Metrocard or not.

Naomi Rosenberg commutes by the 1 train to her job at a non-profit serving the homeless. She wondered why New York can't get rid of the Metrocard for something more convenient, like the Transit Card used in Chicago, where her mom lives.

"My mom has a plastic credit card. It's basically connected to her credit card, her transit card," Rosenberg said.

Her mom's transit card draws money directly from her bank account, and refills automatically. "You don't have to keep track of old cards. It's not paper, it's plastic," she added.

The New York plan was to swap out its Metrocard last year for a bank card with a computer chip that would let riders pay their fare. But not enough banks signed up, and the program was scrapped.

The NY MTA is now building its own transit card. The new technology must be ready by 2019, which is around the time the Metrocard turnstiles and vending machines are expected to wear out. In the meantime, the authority expects to collect $20 million a year from the new Metrocard replacement fee, a dollar at a time.

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NY MTA Raises Fares For Fourth Time In Five Years -- What You Need to Know

Friday, March 01, 2013

New York area transit riders will now pay more.

(New York, NY - WNYC) It happens at the stroke of midnight on Saturday: fares go up for riders of subways, buses and express buses in and around New York City, and for drivers who use the NY Metropolitan Authority's eight bridges and tunnels. Fares also jumped for riders of the authority's commuter trains.

It's the fourth time in five years that the MTA has raised fares. The base fare will rise from $2.25 to $2.50, and the pay-per-ride bonus drops from 7 to 5 percent, but kicks in after five dollars instead of the previous ten dollars.

The weekly unlimited ride card goes from $29 to $30, and a monthly pass jumps from $104 to $112.

Riders will also be charged a dollar fee to replace a Metrocard, except if it's damaged or expired. Metrocards can now be refilled again and again with time, dollar value, or both. That means riders can add days to an unlimited card and use the cash on that card to connect to an express bus, the PATH Train or the AirTrain, something that was not possible before.

Long Island Rail Road and MetroNorth riders are also feeling the pinch. The NY MTA says most ticket prices are going up about 8 or 9 percent.

Carol Kharivala, of New Hyde Park, said she only travels to Manhattan once or twice a month. Her senior round-trip ticket went from $10 to $11. Kharivala, who is retired, said the increase won't effect her travel plans, but that the hikes are likely more difficult for daily commuters.

"It does make it more difficult for people that are working because the money they put in the bank is not earning very high interest, and their salaries are not going up, either," she said.

Daily commuter Anthony Fama, also from New Hyde Park, agreed. His monthly fare jumped about $20. "I saw the rate went, if I remember the numbers correctly, from $223 to $242, which is, I guess a little bit more than 8 percent," he said. "Last time I checked, cost of living increase was a lot less than that."

Fama also thinks the hikes are unfair for commuters who don't have any other options. "To take multiple subways or buses, express buses, wouldn't make sense for somebody who puts in more than an eight hour day," he said.

The fare hikes have some commuters thinking about other options.

Chris Barbaria commutes from Atlantic Terminal, Brooklyn, to a carpentry job in Babylon, on Long Island, once a week. He said he's now considering biking the distance, even though the ride would take more than two hours.

"I carry tools and stuff, so it's a long haul, it's about 40 miles out there," he said. "I would certainly ride out, it's just going to add to my commute." Barbaria also said he's surprised by the cost of monthly tickets.

"When I was a kid I used to go to school in the city, and my round-trip monthly was $74 from Lynbrook," he said. "I understand now it's over $250 from Lynbrook, which is insane to me."

--with Annmarie Fertoli


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Gov Cuomo Shows No Urgency In Appointing Next Chair Of NY MTA

Friday, February 22, 2013

The front runner in the search for the NY MTA's next chairperson.

(New York, NY - WNYC) Two months have passed since now-mayoral candidate Joe Lhota resigned as chairman and CEO of the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority. So what do we know about his replacement, the man or woman who will face a raft of problems, once that person is chosen by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to lead the nation's largest transit agency?

"Nothing, nada, zip, zero," said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign. "I haven't heard."

Other transportation advocates say the same. At one time, those advocates would have known by now what was happening. That time was September 2011, two months after Lhota's predecessor, Jay Walder, resigned from the NY MTA's top spot. A search committee made up of advocates and governmental veterans was, by the end of those two months, wrapping up interviews for Walder's replacement. The committee recommended Lhota, whom Cuomo named head of the NY MTA in October of 2011. Three months later, the state senate confirmed him in the post.

A mere year later, Lhota was gone--convinced by Republican power brokers to run for mayor, a decision made easier by the high profile he gained from directing the authority's largely sure-footed handling of storm Sandy.

But this time around, there is little urgency in the search for his replacement. The governor has not courted fanfare in announcing the formation of a search committee, as he did before. Instead, a Cuomo official blamed distractions from Sandy and an Albany budget fight for the fact that "there will be no announcement soon" about a new transit chief. Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing would only add that, "The administration continues to actively search for a new chairman."

Former mayoral candidate Freddy Ferrer, who joined the NY MTA board eight months ago, is serving in a caretaker role as interim chairman and CEO. Ferrer has said repeatedly that he has no interest in making his role permanent.

Acting executive director Tom Prendergast, who normally runs the subways and buses, now has the firmest grasp of anyone on day-to-day operations. Some transportation advocates are floating his name as their choice for the next chairman. Mitchell Moss, NYU professor of urban policy and planning, theorized that Prendergast's prowess at keeping the authority running, particularly Prendergast's skillful navigation of a recent snowstorm, is easing the pressure on Cuomo to promptly name a new NY MTA chairman. "Tom is a seasoned professional who is doing such a good job that there may not be the urgency to fill the position," Moss said.

But the NY MTA faces crucial post-Sandy choices about repairing and hardening the transit system, especially as the authority starts to spend nearly $5 billion in federal aid. Joe Lhota vigorously lobbied his fellow Republicans for Sandy aid; without a permanent chair, the NY MTA has lost at least some of that clout.

The void at the top is also felt in the stalled negotiations between the NY MTA and its largest union, TWU Local 100, which has been without a contract for 13 months. The two sides haven't spoken in nearly four months, an unusually long hiatus for a union negotiation.

An apparent moment to make progress  presented itself in mid-December, when the day-to-day emergency of Sandy had subsided and freshly re-elected union president John Samuelsen was freed from campaigning. Instead, Joe Lhota "dropped the bomb," in the words of union spokesman Jim Gannon, by announcing his resignation.

Lhota was then asked at his final board meeting whether his abrupt departure would stall the authority's talks with Samuelsen, with whom Lhota had gone out of his way to cultivate a productive relationship. Lhota downplayed the problem. "There have been talks and there will continue to be talks," he said. Since then, he's been wrong on the second point.

The talks matter because a balanced budget for the authority rests in part on getting the union to agree to either three years of flat pay or pay increases offset by rules concessions that bring increased productivity. Without those three "net-zeroes," the NY MTA's chronically fragile finances would become even more problematic, with cuts in service a possibility. Either way, that's a headache for the next chairperson to sort out, whenever that person arrives.

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Steel Gates, Raised Roadbeds & Dunes: NYC Transpo After Sandy

Friday, February 15, 2013

Sandy flooded the Battery Park Underpass with 15 million gallons of water.

(New York, NY - WYNC) Now that post-Sandy repairs to New York's transportation infrastructure are in full swing, attention is shifting toward hardening the city's bridges, tunnels and roads against future storm surges.

U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came to Manhattan to hand over $250 million to reimburse the city Department of Transportation for repairs it's making to its storm-damaged facilities. LaHood also said $5 billion is on the way to make those same facilities resilient in the face of future storms.

It's unclear how much of that money could come to New York City. But U.S. Senator Charles Schumer gave examples of how it could be spent locally.

"Once they repair the inside of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, they can put, if they choose, steel gates, to prevent another flood," he said. He also talked about raising coastal roads and building dunes to shelter highways from the ocean.

New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who joined LaHood and Schumer, said Sandy caused the city "$900 million worth of  damage to city roads, bridges, our ferry system, signals, signs--an extraordinary amount of damage."

By way of example, she said The Battery Park Underpass at the tip of Lower Manhattan was filled with 15 million gallons of water (see photo). When it comes to reducing that kind of vulnerability to storm damage, Sadik-Khan said her department "has a long way to go."

Schumer praised LaHood for delivering the $250 million in repair money less than a month after it's authorization by Congress, which he called "a world record" in the realm of post-disaster relief. He explained that the funds will be used in part to reimburse the city for repairs it has already undertaken.

"The mayor couldn't sit there and wait and say, 'We'll fix the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel when the federal money comes,'" he said. "The city had to lay out enormous sums of money."

Some of the money has been spent on repairing the vents and electrical system of the Battery Park Underpass , fixing flood-damaged parts of the Staten Island Ferry terminals, shoring up bridges, and replacing highway lights and guardrails.

Sadik-Khan said the mayor's office will release a report in May about how to harden the city's infrastructure against future storms, including roads and bridges .


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Port Authority Denies Sandy Damage Will Delay Completion Of World Trade Center Transpo Hub

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Part of the transportation hub under construction at The World Trade Center. (photo courtesy of NY-NJ Port Authority)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Pulses were sent racing today when it was apparently revealed that the World Trade Center transportation hub, already years behind schedule, had suffered another setback because of Sandy.

Cheryl McKissack Daniel, a consultant for the $3.8 billion project, told the New York Times that water damage had significantly pushed back the hub's completion date of 2015.

"And now, after Sandy, that added another year and a half to the whole project," she said. "Everything was flooded — everything was new and flooded. And all of that had to be replaced because it’s all electrical work."

Not so, say spokesmen for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Tishman Construction Corporation, which has a major hand in building the hub. It was designed by star architect Santiago Calatrava.

"The anticipated completion date for the World Trade Center transportation hub remains 2015," said the Port Authority's Anthony Hayes. Tishman spokesman Brendan Ranson-Walsh echoed the sentiment in an emailed statement:

"Ms. McKissack Daniel incorrectly informed The NY Times about the completion date of the WTC Transportation Hub. Per the Port Authority of NY and NJ, which is overseeing the project, the anticipated completion date of the Hub is 2015. No change in date has been announced by the Port Authority."

Hayes said further that no part of construction at the World Trade Center has been delayed by Sandy, even though the site was inundated with millions of gallons of water. "There has been no impact because of Sandy in terms of completion times at the World Trade Center," he said.

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NY MTA Might Re-Open The Old South Ferry Station, Just Don't Ask When

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

NY MTA shows Sandy damage to a control room at South Ferry Station at the southern tip of Manhattan. (photo courtesy of NY MTA)

(New York, NY – WNYC) The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority says it’ll take two to three years and $600 million dollars to completely repair the South Ferry subway station, shuttered since storm Sandy. In the meantime, the authority is looking for ways to partially re-open the station and restore 1 train service to the tip of Manhattan.

 “We can’t have the impacts that people are experiencing today” go on much longer, said MTA executive director Tom Prendergast.

He was referring to the thousands of riders who pour off the Staten Island Ferry each weekday and must now walk several blocks to connect to the 1 train. Before Sandy inundated South Ferry, those riders could catch the 1 train quickly and easily by entering the spacious station and walking down a flight of stairs.

The MTA won’t give a timeline for the station's partial re-opening. That led City Councilman David Greenfield to ask whether Prendergast could provide “a timeline on when you would have a firm timeline?”

Prendergast answered, “No.” But he later said the authority could offer a timeline in "two or three months." Prendergast said he’s ruled out shuttle buses to replace the missing train service because the buses can’t carry enough riders, even when "swinging low," which is transit-speak for full-to-bursting.

He added that the NY MYA is thinking about re-activating the old South Ferry station, a landmark that  was mothballed when the new station got a top-to-bottom rehab and expansion thanks to $545 million in post-9/11 recovery funds. (The new station opened in 2009.) But the old station, with its tightly curved tracks, would need platform extenders and new entrances.

"There's also some equipment that’s now mounted on the platform," said MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg.

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Officials: As Construction Site, World Trade Center Vulnerable To Floods

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

One World Trade Center with 9/11 in the foreground. (photo by melfoody / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) A Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official says a built-out World Trade Center site will be less vulnerable to future storms like Sandy once construction is done by 2020. But the authority hasn't decided what to do in the meantime to protect the site from rising tides.

Construction sites that include open pits, as does the 16-acre World Trade Center site, are vulnerable to flooding. And much of the site is built on landfill where the Hudson River once flowed--and would flow again if not for retaining walls.

But Port Authority executive director Pat Foye wouldn't elaborate on what steps could be taken to protect the site from flooding while under construction, and harden the site once construction is done in an age of climate change and rising sea levels.

"Port Authority people and outside experts are looking at how to make the site more resilient," Foye said. He wouldn't give details about possible mitigation efforts beyond saying, "The review continues."

Foye estimated it will cost $2 billion to repair storm damage to the World Trade Center, along with the rest of the authority's facilities, including airports, bridges and tunnels. Foye said $800 million alone is needed to fix the PATH train system, which only recently returned some of its lines to a pre-Sandy schedule.

Foye said insurance reimbursements and FEMA payments should cover those costs."There will be no material impact on the budget," he said.

Still under construction in Lower Manhattan is One World Trade Center, which carries a price tag of $3.8 billion, making it the world's most expensive new office tower. To offset the costs of the 1,776-foot skyscraper, the authority last year levied higher bridge and tunnel tolls and reduced spending on transportation infrastructure.

One World Trade Center is scheduled to be done by early next year. But some part of the larger World Trade Center site will be under construction, and vulnerable to flooding, for at least the next eight years.

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Grand Central Turns 100

Friday, February 01, 2013

Grand Central Terminal kicks off its centennial celebration today. Share your stories and hear from WNYC reporter Jim O'Grady on-site and Kurt Schlichting, professor of sociology and anthropology at Fairfield University and the author of the book, Grand Central Terminal: Railroads, Engineering, and Architecture in New York City.

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Ed Koch, Former Mayor And Bellicose Voice Of New York, Dies

Friday, February 01, 2013


When Ed Koch became mayor of New York City, he decided that what the city needed was a leader with an active will and gigantic personality. Specifically, his. He died Friday at 88.

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VIDEO + PICS: As Grand Central Bustles, A New Station Is Clawed From The Rock Below

Thursday, January 31, 2013

(New York, NY - WNYC) Michael Horodniceanu, the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's master builder, was sweating as he stood in a cavern blasted from the layers of schist below Grand Central Terminal, which marks its 100th year on Friday. He was considering the question of which, in the end, would be thought of as the bigger job: building the original terminal or the the tunnels that the authority is bringing into a new $8.24 billion station it is constructing beneath the existing one.

"This one," he said. "Because people have been building above ground for a long time. We've been digging for a long time--we have about 6 miles of tunnels just in Manhattan. We've been digging under the most expensive real estate you can find in New York."

What's he and hundreds of sandhogs are creating is a project called East Side Access: 350,000 square feet of track, platforms, escalators and concourses that will, for the first time, connect Long Island Railroad to the East Side of Manhattan. It will double the size of Grand Central Terminal without enlarging its footprint, and it is expected to shave 40 minutes off the commutes of about 160,000 passengers per weekday. Currently, Long Islanders who work on the East Side of Manhattan must travel to Penn Station, on the West Side, and double back.

The project is $2 billion over-budget and its 2019 completion date puts it six years behind schedule--another reason Horodniceanu is sweating.

This is people-intensive work," he said. "We use the best technology but, in the end, it takes people." As he spoke, a worker operated a backhoe that clawed rock from a watery pit. The pit was lit by a high-intensity kleig light, which barely held back the subterranean gloom.

Scene from the massive East Side Access project beneath Grand Central Terminal. (photo by Jim O'Grady)

Every day 750,000 visitors pass through Grand Central Terminal, making it the largest hub for train traffic in the world. Of East Side Access's impact on Grand Central Station, Horodniceanu said, "What we are doing now is we are basically preparing it for the next 100 years. "

On left, Michael Horodniceanu, president of MTA Capital Construction, takes an elevator to an excavation site 160 below Grand Central Terminal. (photo by Jennifer Hsu)

(photo by Jennifer Hsu)

(photo by Jennifer Hsu)

(photo by Jennifer Hsu)

(photo by Jim O'Grady)

(photo by Jim O'Grady)

(photo by Jim O'Grady)

(photo by Jennifer Hsu)
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How Grand Central Terminal Survived the Wrecking Ball - And Lived to 100

Thursday, January 31, 2013

(New York, NY - WNYC) Soon after Grand Central Terminal opened in 1913, it was viewed as an one of the great public spaces in America, an icon of modern travel. By the 1940s, a popular radio drama bearing its name would open with a blast from a locomotive whistle and an announcer crying, "Grand Central Station! As a bullet seeks its target, shining rails in every part of our great country are aimed at Grand Central Station, part of the nation's greatest city."

Thirty years later, developers wanted to take a wrecking ball to Grand Central and replace it with an office tower.

In truth, the place was seedy. That's according to Kent Barwick, a former head of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and a key player in the effort to prevent the destruction of the terminal to make way for an office tower. "It was pretty dusty and the windows were broken," he recalled of Grand Central back then. "It was dark and and littered with advertising everywhere. And there wasn't any retail except for a couple of newsstands that had near-poisonous sandwiches and undrinkable coffee."

(We've done some terrific coverage of Grand Central in the past year:  a tour of the Grand Central clock tour with The Invention of Hugo Cabret author Brian O. Selznick here and a cool behind-the-scenes video of Grand Central's secrets here.)

The Fight Is On

The terminal was owned by the Penn Central Railroad, a company in decline because of America's move to the suburbs and car-dependent travel.  The much vaunted Interstate Highway Bill also spelled death for long-distance rail travel. In 1975, Penn Central was careering into bankruptcy and desperate to squeeze a windfall from its prime Manhattan real estate. So it proposed to do to Grand Central what it had done to Penn Station: sell the development rights to a company that would tear down the Beaux-Arts masterpiece and erect a steel and glass tower.

But Grand Central, unlike Penn Station, was landmarked.

The owners sued in state supreme court, claiming the new landmark law was unconstitutional. The railroad won, and moved to demolish Grand Central. The preservationists scrambled.

Barwick and his colleagues at The Municipal Arts Society called a hasty press conference in the terminal at Oyster Bar. Barwick's boss, Brendan Gill spoke first. "If we can't save a building like this, what can we do?" he asked.

The preservationists knew they were fighting to save not only the building but the landmarks law itself. And they knew from press descriptions of them as "a troop of well-known New Yorkers" that some of their opponents were painting them as elitists who wished to suspend New York in amber. Former consumer affairs commissioner Bess Meyerson spoke next, and addressed the issue.

"It's not really a question of change," she said. "If any city understands change, it's our city. But I think it's high time that we ask that very important question, 'Change for what?'"

Cause célèbre

The next speaker was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, whose presence transformed preservation from a stuffy to a glamorous pursuit. "I think if there is a great effort, even if it's at the eleventh hour, you can succeed and I know that's what we'll do," she said.

The New York Times prominently featured her in its coverage the following day, noting her "eleoquence," as well as her "two-piece tan dress adorned with heavy long gold chain." The effort to save Grand Central was, from that moment, a national issue.

Barwick recalled that Onassis also wrote a letter to Mayor Abe Beame, and that the letter began, "'Dear Abe, How President Kennedy loved Grand Central Terminal.'"  Barwick laughingly added that, "I don't know, and I don't need to know, whether President Kennedy had ever expressed himself on that subject."

Not long after, Beame told the city's lawyers to appeal the state supreme court's decision, an appeal the city won. The case then moved, in 1978, to the U.S. Supreme Court.Penn Central again argued it should be able to do what it wanted with its property. New York's lawyers said the city had the right to regulate land use through the landmarks law.

The verdict

The justices sided with the city. Grand Central Terminal was saved and, in the early 90s, underwent a restoration that brought back its luster. Penn Central Railroad eventually became Metro-North, which last year saw near-record ridership of 83 million passengers.

Barwick said that today, the city can't imagine being without Grand Central Terminal. "You see New Yorkers all the time, staking a claim in that building, pointing up to that cerulean sky and saying, 'Hey. this belongs to us,'" he said.

Grand Central Terminal turns 100 years old tomorrow.

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NY MTA Outlines How It Will And Won't Act To Prevent Subway Deaths

Monday, January 28, 2013

(Click image for a clearer view. Courtesy NY MTA)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority is investigating ways to improve safety on the subway weeks after two passengers were pushed to their deaths in separate incidents.

Ruled in: public information campaigns and emergency assistance kiosks on platforms. Ruled out:  slowing down trains. Worth exploring: experimenting with platform doors at one station on the L line, and "intrusion technology" that would sound an alarm when a person was on the tracks.

The Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents a majority of New York transit workers, has been pushing the idea of slowing train operators from 30 mph to 10 mph when entering stations, giving operators more time and space to react to someone down on the tracks. But NY MTA acting executive director Tom Prendergast said computer modeling had shown the move would slow service by 20 to 30 percent while creating "unintended safety impacts" like dangerously overcrowded platforms as riders waited longer to be served by fewer trains.

And while the authority did not reject the idea of sliding glass doors on subway platforms, it is approaching the idea extremely cautiously.

On the one hand, the NY MTA said that it plans to conduct a pilot program in the “next few years” that would add platform doors to an undetermined station on the L line, which links Brooklyn and Manhattan. On the other hand, it laid out a long list of reasons against installing platforms doors throughout the system. Those reasons included curved platforms, the historic landmark status of some of the system's 468 stations, non-standardized train lengths and door placements, and a final price tag of more than $1 billion. The NY MTA also said the doors would require "substantial electrical upgrades" to stations before they could be installed.

As for steps that the authority can take immediately, it's ramping up a public information campaign by delivering safety messages via poster, brochure, website, increased station announcements and a variety of digital screens that passengers encounter as they travel through the system--from electronic billboards at station entrances to Metrocard machines.

A message on the back of some Metrocards reads, "Drop Something? Leave it! NEVER go down onto the tracks, for any reason." Another says, "Don't become a statistic. 141 people were struck by subway trains in 2012, 55 were killed."

The authority also said it's going to accelerate the installation of Help Points at throughout the system to let riders notify the NY MTA directly that there's a dangerous situation. The Help Points are installed at only two stations, but the agency says it will add the machines to 27 stations this year and 26 next year.

The authority is also looking into putting sensors on subway tracks to sound an alarm when someone is down there. Prendergast said the NY MTA had issued a Request for Proposals inviting companies to bid on creating, installing and operating the so-called "intrusion technology."

Fifty-five people died last year after they were pushed, fell or jumped onto the tracks. Over past 12 years, an average of 135 people were hit by subway trains annually, resulting in 44 deaths, 36 of them suicides.


Below: a subway platform safety public service video from the MTA.

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"I was right!" Combatants Clash Over Subway Trivia At NY Transit Museum (AUDIO)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Contestants drink beer and prepare to do battle at The New York Transit Museum's firs annual subway trivia night. (Photo by Jim O'Grady)

New York subway buffs are male and female, young and old, and come from many backgrounds. What unites them is their quest to prove they know more about the transit system than you do. And now there's a gladiatorial forum for that: The New York Transit Museum's Subway Trivia Night.

About 170 contestants formed into teams and jammed around tables in a low-ceilinged room to grapple with 60 questions posed by quizmasters Stuart Post and Chris Kelley. The museum is housed underground in the former Court Street subway stop in Downtown Brooklyn. The space has no internet connection so the trivia buffs were forced to rely on an antique information device: the human brain.

Post gave the first question: "What shape was cut out of the very last version of the New York City subway token?"

Contestant Jen Petey polled her teammates. Two suggested the "Y" in NYC. She overruled them and wrote "pentagon" on the team's answer sheet.

Post said, "The shape cut out of the last token is ... [dramatic pause] ... a pentagon."

Petey banged her hand on the table. "I was right!"

Trains and train systems have long drawn devotees. The most rabid are called "foamers" because they figuratively foam at the mouth while displaying their mastery of the arcane. This crowd was gentler, less foamer than nerd.

The answer that got the loudest response was to the question, "Whose office do you reach when you call 212-594-SKIN?

Answer: Dr. Jonathan Zizmor, famous for decades of graphic ads that promise to cure all manner of disgusting dermatological disturbance.

In the end, first prize went to a team named, The Takers of Pelham 1-2-3, a play on the title of the movie. They got 54 1/2  out of 60 questions right, beating out teams with like Whole Lhota Love, My Fare Lady, and No se apoye contra la puerta (Don't lean against the door.)

The Transit Museum declared the event a success and promised a rematch in 2014. Nerds, you have twelve months to get ready. (Click here to see more photos of the event.)

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Death On The Tracks: Its Human Cost & The Labor Fight It Has Provoked

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

NYC subway train operator Ed Goetzl, an 11-year vet, has been at the controls for a pair of 12-9s, transit shorthand for someone hit by a train.

(New York, NY - WNYC) A spate of deaths on the subway tracks has led to a confrontation between the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the union representing train operators. The two sides disagree about how to reduce the number of deaths, which take a serious toll on the train operators who witness them while piloting their trains.

Train operator Ed Goetzl has had two 12-9s -- transit shorthand for hitting someone with a train. In both cases, a woman tried to commit suicide by lying on the tracks. One lived, the other did not. He says he took no more than five days off to recover, and claims that's because he didn't blame himself for the incidents.

"See, I didn't kill them," Goeztl said. "They committed suicide and I was the instrument of their suicide. That's how I look at it."

On average, three people a week are hit by subway trains and one dies. Sometimes these incidents come in clumps. Right now, we're in a clump.

Twelve people have been hit by subway trains in the three weeks since a woman pushed Sunando Sen in front of a 7 train in Queens on December 27th. Sen died, and the woman has been charged with second degree murder.

The Transport Workers Union says each death leaves a train operator prone to nightmares, trauma and the impulse to withdraw from others. After a 12-9, operators get three days off at full pay. They can also take unpaid or disability leave for up to a year. It usually takes them three to six months to return to the job.

This week, the union distributed a flyer and sent a sharp letter to MTA management. The union wants the MTA to order trains approaching stations to slow down from 30 miles per hour to 10 miles per hour to give operators more time to brake if there's a person on the tracks.

The authority doesn't like the idea. Spokesman Adam Lisberg says operators who slow trains without permission are taking part in an illegal job action that could get them suspended. It would also lead to fewer trains running per hour at some times, and potentially to overcrowding on platforms, a danger in an of itself.

Ed Goetzl disapproves: "What's really offensive is management's concept that this is about a work slow down rather than what it's really about, which is the safety of the riding public." And of train operators.

Psychologist Howard Rombom has been treating train operators for 15 years. He says motormen react in many different ways after 12-9s, but that all of them are deeply affected. At his office in Great Neck, where hundreds of traumatized train operators have sat in a chair and looked out the window at the waters of Manhasset Bay, he talks about how a 12-9 can shake up the strongest-seeming train operator.

"I remember one worker, he was a big guy, the kind of guy you wouldn't think would get upset by a situation just by virtue of the physical presence," Rombom said. "He was involved with a 12-9 episode where he hit someone coming into the station. Someone jumped in front of the train -- smiled, waved and jumped."

The operator stopped the train and calmly went through the required procedures: he found the body, did interviews with the police and MTA supervisors and submitted to a drug test. His wife and children were supportive. But as time went by, his mind kept replaying the scene. He couldn't concentrate or sleep at night and had trouble connecting to the people around him.

"He felt sort of out of it, socially separate from everybody else. He said, 'I just don't feel like myself. I want to be alone,'" Rombom said.

The man needed months of therapy, sleep medication and conversations with his fellow operators before he felt better, Rombom says. Then one day, he was ready to drive a train again.

Such recoveries are usually private affairs. But the spate of recent highly publicized deaths has spurred the union to collective action. In the end, train deaths are rare--an average of 50 out of 1.6 billion riders per year. The MTA says that number is tragically high, but not high enough to slow the entire system down.

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NYC Subway Drivers At Odds With Management Over Reducing Train Deaths

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady) Leaders of the NYC subway's largest union are urging members who drive trains to enter stations at 10 mph, considerably slower than normal operating procedure, to allow more time to brake and avoid hitting a rider on the tracks.

(See flyer above, which uses NY MTA parlance in referring to subway deaths as 12-9s.)

The NY MTA, for its part, is characterizing the slower driving as an illegal job action that places the union, TWU Local 100, in danger of losing its right to collect dues from its members automatically. An authority spokesman also said a driver "could lose up to two days' pay" each time he follows the union's prompt to slow his train down when entering a station.

The union, in a letter to NYC Transit president Tom Prendergast, said slowing to 10 m.p.h. is necessary because the authority's effort to reduce subway deaths "by posting signs encouraging riders to stand back from the edge of the platform has not had an measurable effect on subway deaths."

The union is also recommending that the authority install customer-activated safety warning lights on subway platforms, add power cut-off switches to station booths and launch a public competition to improve platform safety.

Members of the union's train operator division will be meeting Wednesday to discuss those measures, and the NY MTA's reaction to them, which union spokesman Jim Gannon called, "very negative and threatening."

More soon.

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Some NYC Riders Can Now Use Phones For Real-Time Subway Arrival Times

Friday, December 28, 2012

Want to know when the numbered subway lines will arrive? There's an app for that.

(New York, WNYC) New York's straphangers can now use an iPhone or iPad to find out when their train is arriving on seven subway lines.

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's new Subway Time app works like a countdown clock by using a train's location to predict its arrival at stations. That's more accurate than going by train schedules, which are routinely disrupted.

"Whether you're leaving your apartment or you're standing on the corner or you're just walking here through Grand Central Terminal, you'd be able to look at it on your iPad or on your iPhone and be able to see when the next train is coming," said Joe Lhota, the outgoing MTA chairman.

Subway Time covers the 156 stations of the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 lines, along with the 42nd Street Shuttle. A spokesman for the MTA says the app's coverage will be extended to the L train in the next six to 12 months, and that developers are working on a version for Android phones.

NYC Transit Authority president Tom Prendergast said riders using the rest of the subway system will have to wait for a similar service. He explained that the "lettered lines" use signaling technology that "remains little changed since a time before computers, microprocessors, wireless telephones or handheld electronic devices.” He said the system works to prevent collisions "but it cannot offer us a digital feed.”

The MTA has long-term plans to upgrade those lines. But that will depend on money from future capital budgets. It cost $228 million over 11 years to modernize the "numbered lines."

Subway Time is free, for now. But Lhota said the NY MTA would solicit paid advertisements once the app was out of its testing phase.

Members of the design team behind the Subway Time app in Grand Central Terminal. (Photo courtesy of MTA New York City/Marc Hermann)

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Port Strike Averted... for 30 Days

Friday, December 28, 2012

Container ship at Port Newark, NJ. (photo by joevare / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) A federal mediator has announced that dockworkers at East and Gulf Coast ports will not go on strike this Saturday, as threatened. The International Longshoremen’s Association and United States Maritime Alliance have agreed to extend their contract negotiations for an additional 30 days.

A strike, which had the potential to cost hundreds of millions of dollars in lost wages and economic activity,  seemed likely after talks between the two sides broke down on December 18.

At issue was a wage structure that includes royalties to union workers based on cargo weight. There is now an agreement in principle on wages, with more bargaining needed to seal the deal.

The National Retail Federation said it welcomed the news while striking a note of caution in a statement: "We continue to urge both parties to remain at the negotiating table until a long-term contract agreement is finalized." The New York Shipping Association agreed, saying, it "is looking forward to getting to the table to begin serious bargaining on the local agreement and to start the process of change.”

Below is a statement on the agreement by Director George H. Cohen of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — “I am extremely pleased to announce that the parties have reached the agreements set forth below as a result of a mediation session conducted by myself and my colleague Scot Beckenbaugh, Deputy Director for Mediation Services, on Thursday, December 27, 2012:

“The container royalty payment issue has been agreed upon in principle by the parties, subject to achieving an overall collective bargaining agreement. The parties have further agreed to an additional extension of 30 days (i.e., until midnight, January 28, 2013) during which time the parties shall negotiate all remaining outstanding Master Agreement issues, including those relating to New York and New Jersey.  The negotiation schedule shall be set by the FMCS after consultation with the parties.”

“Given that negotiations will be continuing and consistent with the Agency’s commitment of confidentiality to the parties, FMCS shall not disclose the substance of the container royalty payment agreement. What I can report is that the agreement on this important subject represents a major positive step toward achieving an overall collective bargaining agreement. While some significant issues remain in contention, I am cautiously optimistic that they can be resolved in the upcoming 30-day extension period.”

“On behalf of our Agency, I want to thank the parties, especially ILA President Harold Daggett and USMX Chairman & CEO James Capo, for their ongoing adherence to the collective bargaining process, which has enabled them to avoid the imminent deadline for a work stoppage that could have economically disruptive nationwide implications.”
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Shippers, Dockworkers Making Last-Ditch Attempt To Avoid Massive Port Strike

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Port of Howland Hook in Staten Island, NY.


The White House is urging dockworkers and shipping companies to reach agreement on a contract extension for East Coast and Gulf Coast dockworkers whose existing pact expires this week.

Obama spokesman Matt Lehrich said Thursday the White House is monitoring the situation closely and urges the parties to "continue their work at the negotiating table to get a deal done as quickly as possible."

Earlier this week, a federal mediator called a meeting of the International Longshoreman's Association (ILA) and an alliance of shipping concerns in an eleventh-hour effort to avert a commercially crippling East and Gulf Coast port strike on December 29.

Director George Cohen of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service said the parties have agreed to attend, but gave no information beyond that "due to the sensitive nature of the negotiations."

Dockworkers from Massachusetts to Texas are threatening to walk off the job if an agreement isn't reached by Saturday at midnight, when their contract extension expires.

Talks between the two sides broke down December 18. “We at New York Shipping Association are certainly disappointed that the USMX – ILA negotiations are apparently coming to an abrupt end," said association president Joseph Curto.

The New York-New Jersey ports handled $208 billion of cargo last year, most on the East Coast.

But in what may be a sign that negotiations are gearing up to resume, "no comment" was the uniform word from all sides in the dispute: the New York Shipping Association, USMX (a consortium of 24 container carriers and every major marine terminal operator and port associations on the East and Gulf Coasts) and the ILA, which represents 14,500 workers at more than a dozen ports extending south from Boston and handling 95 percent of all containerized shipments from Maine to Texas, about 110 million tons' worth.

The Associated Press reports that issues including wages are unresolved, but the key sticking point is container royalties, which are payments to union workers based on cargo weight.

Port operators and shipping companies, represented by the Marine Alliance, want to cap the royalties at last year's levels. They say the royalties have morphed into a huge expense unrelated to their original purpose and amount to a bonus averaging $15,500 a year for East Coast workers already earning more than $50 an hour.

The longshoremen's union says the payments are an important supplemental wage, not a bonus.

USMX, on its website, gives several examples of the economic devastation that could result from a strike, including these numbers related to the Port of New York and New Jersey:

  • Employs more ILA members than any of the 13 other East and Gulf Coast ports, the union’s 3,250 members would lose $7.5 million a week in wages alone.
  • A strike at the port, the largest on the East Coast, could also put at risk the nearly 171,000 jobs directly related to its operations.
  • A shutdown would result in $100 million in lost revenue a month for railroads, truckers and other port-related transportation industries that handle more than 250,000 containers per month.

The National Retail Federation wrote to President Obama last week and asked him to use "all means necessary" to head off a strike. “A strike of any kind at ports along the East and Gulf Coast could prove devastating for the U.S. economy,” said Matthew Shaw, the group's president and CEO.

Earlier this month, an eight-day strike shut down the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. That strike was resolved only after a federal mediator was brought in.

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The Jazz Age Rise And Scandalous Fall Of The Santa Claus Association

Monday, December 24, 2012


A hundred years ago, when a child in America wrote a note to Santa Claus, it wound up in the "dead letters" room at the post office, never to be delivered. That changed in 1913, when an enterprising New Yorker named John Gluck founded The Santa Claus Association, a charity that matched children's wishes to donors.

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MTA Fare Changes

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Jim O'Grady, transportation reporter for WNYC and Transportation Nation, talks about the transit fare and toll increases approved by the MTA board on Wednesday.

Summary of Changes Starting March 1:

  • The base fare for buses and subways will rise to $2.50
  • New Yorkers will pay $30 for a weekly Metrocard
  • Monthly card is now $112, up from $104
  • Riders of commuter rail lines Metro North and LIRR will see an 8-9% increase in ticket prices 
  • Tolls on the authority’s bridges and tunnels will go up by about the same amount. Details:
  • Cash tolls on the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, Throgs Neck Bridge, Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, Bronx-Whitestone Bridge and Robert F. Kennedy Bridge will rise by a dollar to $7.50. E-ZPass users will pay $5.33, up from $4.80
  • Toll for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge will be reduced for Staten Island residents. Those with a valid resident E-ZPass who plan who make one or two westbound trips per month per account, will be charged $6.36 per trip. Those who make three or more trips per month will be charged $6.00 a trip. For non-residents, tolls will be $10.66 for E-ZPass users, and $15 for cash users.
  • Express bus fares will rise by 50 cents, to $6

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