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Jim O'Grady

Jim O'Grady appears in the following:

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

Thursday, January 31, 2013

http://youtu.be/ULIx8QVZbKU

(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.

(New York, NY - WNYC) UPDATED WITH WHITE HOUSE COMMENTS

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

WNYC

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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As NY MTA Chair, Lhota Exhorted: Be A Man!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Jim O'Grady and Joe Lhota (Photo: Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Several months ago, NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member Charles Moerdler was droning on with objections to a change in a meeting schedule. The issue was minor and the room was warm -- one could be forgiven for mentally wandering ... or dozing off.

Moerdler wrapped up; Joe Lhota pounced.

"Chuck, I wish you would reconsider that position since your flawed thinking and the erroneous things you said are scurrilous."

Chins lifted off chests. What was this? Lhota continued.

"The lying to this board has got to stop!"

This was real. Moerdler looked mortified. But he rallied once Lhota had wrapped up his tongue-lashing. Moerdler replied by accusing Lhota of character assassination--remember, this began as a squabble about a meeting schedule--before concluding somewhat oddly, "I will not challenge you."

Lhota said, "Oh, I wish you would. Be a man!"

This was Lhota the politician, the guy who, as long-time deputy mayor to Rudy Giuliani, had an up-close view of power wielded as a blunt instrument. This was Lhota the alpha male making a calculated display not just to smack down Moerdler but to let others know that if you cross Joe Lhota, you could pay a price.

Lhota, who'll resign on Dec. 31, seems to have real feeling for New York City's transit system--he spoke movingly of damage done to it during Sandy. But he's no Jay Walder, his technocratic predecessor. Where Walder was bland, Lhota has been blunt.

Exhibit B would be Lhota's reaction to a court ruling in August that the payroll mobility tax, which accounts for almost 15 percent of the NY MTA budget, violates the state constitution. In response, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a measured statement that took issue with the decision. Lhota, for his part, convened a full-blown press conference at Grand Central Terminal, where he attacked the judge who made the ruling, and the suburban legislators who brought the lawsuit that prompted it, as "flawed as well as erroneous."

Lhota came with a chart to show that the MTA subsidizes the average subway ride by a little more than a dollar while subsidizing the average Long Island Railroad rider by more than 7 dollars. Take that.

Even the way he launched his political career was aggressive. It has to be the first time a public figure to announce his intention to run for mayor only moments after presiding over a fare and toll hike. Asked by a reporter how that combination of events reflected on him, Lhota joked, "It's a profile in courage."

And what of his 357-day legacy as NY MTA chairman? Transportation advocates give him credit for several successes: restoring service quickly after Sandy, cutting overhead at the MTA by hundreds of millions of dollars, and bringing back $30 million in subway and bus service that had been cut in 2010.

Those same advocacy groups expressed grave concerns over the MTA budget, which depends on regular 7.5 percent fare and toll hikes--the next one is coming in 2015--and a capital plan funded by massive borrowing. In a statement, the groups sounded a warning:

"Earlier this year, the MTA borrowed $7 billion to help pay for the last two years – 2013 and 2014 – of its current construction program. The agency already spends $2 billion a year out of its $13 billion annual operating budget to pay off its existing $32 billion in debt. Debt service is projected to go up to $3 billion in future years."

Storm Sandy only made the situation worse. The federal government and insurance should pay for most of the estimated $4.75 billion in damage to the NY MTA's transportation system. But $950 million of infrastructure damage may need to be covered by the authority. Advocates point out, "that will come to $66 million a year in additional debt payments for decades to come."

The other unknown that Lhota leaves is the fate of the contract he's been negotiating with Transport Workers Union Local 100 since January. Lhota has said the biggest challenge to the NY MTA's budget are the fixed and rising costs of workers' pensions and healthcare. That's why he made it a priority to get off to a good start with union chief John Samuelsen, who, in the past, made no secret of despising Jay Walder. But now Lhota is leaving before a contract has been reached.

And that speaks to the issue of stability. Counting interim executives, the NY MTA has had six leaders in six years. A Twitter wag pointed out that Lhota today followed his post-Sandy analysis--"We still have a long way to go to get back to normal"--by essentially saying "See you!"

He's leaving to "explore" a run for mayor of New York. Perhaps his successor will stay longer than a year.

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Breaking: MTA Approves Fare Hike -- and Lhota Officially to Resign This Month

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

MTA head Joe Lhota announcing his "bittersweet"'decision to resign as chairman. (Photo by Jim O'Grady)

(UPDATED) Rare is the meeting of NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority at which the secondary story is a vote to raise fares and tolls. But that was the case on Wednesday morning, when NY MTA chairman Joe Lhota presided over the system's fourth price hike in four years before announcing he'd step down on Dec. 31 to "explore" a run for mayor.

First, the money side: starting March 1, New Yorkers will pay  $30 for a weekly Metrocard and $112 for a monthly card. The base fare for buses and subways will rise to $2.50. Riders of commuter rail lines will see an eight to nine percent increase in ticket prices. Tolls on the authority's bridges and tunnels will go up by about the same amount.

The board voted to adopt Lhota's fare and toll hike recommendations. The board also approved Fernando Ferrer, former Bronx Borough President, as the new MTA vice chairman.

According to the MTA, its 2013 budget "assumes small cash balances available at the end of 2013 and 2014 that will be rolled forward to help address deficits in the following years that will nevertheless total more than $330 million by 2016."

Or, as the agency's official twitter account tweeted: "Our Board has adopted a 2013 budget that is fragile and faces risks, but is balanced."

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Post-Sandy Gaps In The NYC Subway Map Remain Stubbornly Unrepaired

Monday, December 17, 2012

Pre-Sandy view from the window of the A train to Rockaway Peninsula. (photo by roboppy / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The New York City subway system still has three large gaps in service due to damage by Sandy. The R train tunnel connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan is not operating, A train service into the Rockaways remains suspended, and the South Ferry station in Lower Manhattan is closed.

NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Kevin Ortiz said the agency is "hoping" to have The R train tunnel, the last of eleven subway tunnels flooded by Sandy, back in business by Friday -- if repairs continue to go well.

The earthen berm supporting the causeway that carries the A train across Jamaica Bay into Rockaway Peninsula has been shored up: water no longer flows through two large breaches opened by the storm. But NYC Transit president Tom Prendergast says the tracks and signals won't be repaired until spring.

In the meantime, rush hour service on the Q53 bus will start a half hour earlier, at 4:30 a.m., to help relieve overcrowding from train commuters in the hard-hit Rockaways who now take the bus along Cross Bay Boulevard as a substitute for the A train.

And Prendergast says the authority is still doing a damage assessment on South Ferry station, which was renovated at a cost of $527 million and re-opened only three and a half years ago. It'll take at least another year before it opens again. The station was flooded floor to ceiling.

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Homeowner Asks 'Where's My Insurance Money?'

Monday, December 17, 2012

WNYC

After weeks of battling insurance companies, including the FEMA-administered National Flood Insurance, Stephen Drimalas' determination is fraying.

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So You've Landed On A Subway Track: 5 Bad Options To Consider

Thursday, December 06, 2012

(photo by Kate Hinds)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Following the death of a man pushed onto the subway tracks at the 49th Street station of the Q/N/R line in Manhattan, many New Yorkers are wondering about their best shot at survival in the unlikely event they wind up on the tracks.

There's basically no good option.  But here are five of the best choices you could make.

1. Try to get back onto the platform. This is obvious. It's also the one piece of advice that a New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman would affirm. Other than that, the authority's standard response is to recommend riders stay away from the platform edge and contact a subway worker if an item is dropped on the track.

2. Moving away from the train could increase the odds of survival – it gives the motorman more time and space to hit the emergency brake and stop the train. And there are ladders and stairs at the ends of platforms. When this option was posed to an NY MTA spokesperson, he countered, "What if you trip?" The implication being that this is why the NY MTA doesn't give advice about escaping the tracks -- something could go wrong and the authority could be blamed for it.

3. Ducking under the platform or lying down on the tracks and fitting under the train, in the style of "Subway Hero" Wesley Autrey, doesn’t always work. Clearance varies from station to station. That's because the New York City subway was built over decades by a mix of private companies and municipal entities, often to differing specifications and designs. What works at an elevated station in the Bronx may not work at an underground station in Manhattan.

4. There may be set-backs in the walls that could provide shelter. Major caveat: A band of diagonal red and white stripes means there isn’t enough space for you and a passing train.

5. Getting to a space in the middle of two tracks, where workers sometimes shelter, entails stepping over the third rail. The “protection board” above the third rail is designed to deflect debris, not hold a person's weight. Don't step on it.

If you find yourself on a platform when someone is down on the tracks and can't help them up, signal the motorman in the approaching train by waving your arms. If you have a flashlight, pull it out and use it.

Station agents on elevated lines have a "kill switch" in their booth, according to a spokesman for TWU Local 100, which represents many New York subway workers. If alerted in time, an agent can use the switch to stop the train by cutting power to the third rail.

Last year, 146 people were struck by New York City subway trains – 47 were killed. In 2010, 146 people were struck and 51 killed. Considering that 1.6 billion people rode the subway last year, these are extremely rare events.

By comparison, in one recent 12-month period,  291 people were killed in traffic in New York.

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The Subway Pushing and the Post Cover

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

"DOOMED" read yesterday's controversial New York Post coverTom McGeveran, editor of Capital New York who writes about the NYC tabloid wars, discusses the Post's decision to publish the photo of the pushed man. And Jim O'Grady, transportation reporter for WNYC, explains what we know about subway safety.

Do you have a reaction to the Post photograph? Got a question about subway safety? Call 212-433-9692 or post here.

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What to Keep in Mind If You Get Stuck on the Subway Tracks

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Following the death of a man pushed onto the subway tracks, many New Yorkers are wondering what their best shot at survival in the unlikely event they wind up on the tracks.

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Tolls Rise On NY-NJ Port Authority Crossings Despite AAA Lawsuit

Friday, November 30, 2012

Drivers at Hudson River crossings will be forking over more money to toll takers like this one. (photo by Danny Guy / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Tolls on Port Authority bridges and tunnels are going up this weekend. Starting 3 am on Sunday, cash tolls will rise by a dollar to $13 at the George Washington Bridge, Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, and the three bridges connecting Staten Island to New Jersey.

Off peak E-ZPass rates for cars will increase 75 cents to $8.25. Peak rates will go from $9.50 to $10.25

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey last raised tolls in September, 2011, and plans to raise them again next December. The authority says it needs the money to rebuild the World Trade Center, increase security at its facilities and make repairs like replacing the cables on the George Washington Bridge.

The Automobile Association of America (AAA), remains devoted to rolling back the hikes through a federal lawsuit that argues too much of the Port Authority's budget goes to projects that don't benefit motorists, like the $11 billion cost of rebuilding the World Trade Center.

AAA further claims everyone gets hurt when a trucker paying cash during rush hour has to fork over $75 to cross the George Washington Bridge, because the cost gets passed on to consumers. The association says drivers shoulder an unfair share of the cost of transportation through tolls, a gas tax and various fees. The lawsuit is ongoing.

In September, the ort Authority raised the PATH train fare by a quarter, to $2.25 per trip. The authority plans three more raises of a quarter between now and 2015. Some riders can't take the PATH train no matter how much they're willing to pay: service to and from Hoboken has been down since Sandy.

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NY MTA Takes On Major Debt Rather Than Raise Tolls & Fares To Pay For Sandy

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

NY MTA Chairman Joe Lhota.

(New York, NY - WNYC) The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority held a board meeting Wednesday -- its first after Sandy -- and the main topic was how to solve a conundrum: filling the $5 billion hole that the storm blew in the agency's budget while simultaneously rebuilding New York's damaged transportation system.

NY MTA Chairman Joe Lhota seemed determined to assure the public that the agency, at the very least, had a plan. He began by saying revenue will not be raised by additional increases to planned toll and fare hikes in 2013 and 2015.

"The burden of Sandy will not be upon our riders," he said. "I have an enormous amount of confidence in our federal government that we will receive a substantial amount of money to get us back to the condition of functionality we had the day before the storm."

He said he didn't expect to see service cutbacks--though he didn't rule them out--and that he'd stick to a pledge to add or restore $29 million in subway and bus service.

Lhota said he is expecting FEMA and insurance to pick up 75 percent of the $5 billion tab. And he's hoping FEMA will boosts its reimbursement up to 95 percent. But the MTA can't count on that. As of now, the authority is on the hook for $950 million, which it needs right away to rebuild.

They'll get it by issuing $950 million in bonds. Lhota said the move will add $125 million to the authority's debt burden over the next three years. The best Lhota could say about where the money would come from is "cost-cutting measures" that are "unidentified at this time."

The MTA is paying $2 billion dollars in debt service this year. By 2018, debt service is expected to gobble up 20 percent of the authority's revenue. That's before figuring in the nearly $1 billion in debt that it voted to add Wednesday.

Lhota said the budget setback would not stop the authority's megaprojects, which are funded by its capital program. The Second Avenue subway, the East Side Access tunnel between Long Island and Grand Central Terminal, and the 7 train extension are essentially funded and nearing completion. Sandy delayed their construction but didn't flood them.

Today's decision to bring on more debt raised an alarm with Gene Russianoff of the New York Straphangers Campaign, an advocacy group. "Funding these needs by MTA bonds will increase pressure on fares through increased debt service - and it sets a troubling precedent for the funding of the next five-year capital program starting in 2015," he said in a statement.

Lhota added that all of the $5 billion will be spent on restoring transit to its pre-Sandy state. (Repairing the South Ferry Station alone is projected to cost $600 million.) None of the funds will be used to harden the system against future storms. That's going to take a whole other pile of money that hasn't been located yet.

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