Gene Russianoff

Transportation Nation

This Bus Is Slower Than a Lava Flow

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The M79, an actual motor vehicle that zooms across Manhattan at about half the speed of flowing lava, just won this year's Pokey award. 
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Transportation Nation

The M50 is Slowest Bus In New York: You Can Walk Faster

Thursday, December 01, 2011

(New York, NY - WNYC) The Straphangers Campaign is out with its annual Pokie Award, and the "winner" is the M50 bus.

Every year, the group gives out two awards for poor bus service: the Pokie, for the slowest bus, and the Schleppie, for the least reliable.

The advocacy group said it clocked the M50 -- which runs crosstown between the United Nations on the East Side of Manhattan to Pier 43 on the Hudson River-- at noon at an average speed of only 3.5 miles per hour.

"The bus is just tremendously slow," said Straphangers spokesman Gene Russianoff. "You can push a lawnmower faster across Midtown than it takes the M50 to go from First to Second Avenue."

Russianoff said that though the M 50 is particularly desultory, the city's bus system is plagued by plodding speeds as it makes 2.5 million trips on an average weekday. "That's a lot of people stuck in traffic who deserve quicker trips," he said.

The Straphangers Campaign gave its Schleppie Award to the M 101, 102 and 103 buses on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for arriving in bunches and failing to meet their schedules. He said those lines could move faster if the city protected them from traffic with dedicated lanes and sped up boarding by having passengers pay beforehand at bus stop kiosks--as is the case with Select Bus Service on the 34th Street crosstown route.

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority agrees, in concept."The past year established Select Bus Service as a game changer in New York, with 20 percent faster bus service now on three routes," said MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz. "We are working with the city to expand the SBS network, bringing faster boarding, dedicated bus lanes and enhanced bus lane enforcement to more and more routes."

The city's bus system has absorbed some blows in recent years. The NY MTA cut 37 bus lines and shut down 570 bus stops as a cost-saving measure in June 2010. And while subway ridership has grown over the past two years, bus ridership is down by nearly two percent.

MTA statistics show that breakdowns on city buses have increased by 12% since last year. And the percentage of city buses that are 12 years or older has more than doubled, from 16% of the bus fleet in 2010 to 35% in 2011.


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Trying to Plug Big Budget Gap, MTA Asks City to Pay for 2nd Avenue Subway

Saturday, July 30, 2011


The MTA said the city pay should pay it half a billion dollars for building the Second Avenue Subway since, the authority claims, the city stands to gain a big boost in tax revenues as property values go up around the subway after its planned opening in 2016.

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA, Desperate To Plug Big Budget Gap, Asks City To Pay For 2nd Ave Subway

Friday, July 29, 2011

The 8.5 mile length of a fully constructed Second Avenue Subway. Phase 1, now under construction, will go from E 96th to E 63rd Streets.

(New York, NY - WNYC) The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority says the city should pay it half a billion dollars for building the Second Avenue Subway. It's only fair, the NY MTA reasons, when the city stands to gain a big boost in tax revenues as property values go up around the subway after its planned opening in 2016.

The proposal is one of nine different sources of funding the authority is counting on to plug a $9 billion gap in its $13.5 billion capital construction plan covering 2012-2015.

But Mayor Michael Bloomberg sounded unconvinced when asked on his weekly radio show about the NY MTA's idea for revenue-sharing. "Let me check," the mayor said sardonically. "I'll call our finance director and see if taxes came in yesterday."

Bloomberg said he preferred having the authority plug its budget gap with new revenue, like tolls on the East River Bridges. But that idea was most recently defeated by the New York State legislature in 2009. "We should find some ways to raise money for the MTA," the mayor added. "Something that would encourage people to take mass transit so there'd be more fare payers."

But NY MTA Chief Financial Officer Robert Foran said Albany "has no appetite for new dedicated taxes or fees."

As a result, the bulk of the NY MTA's strategy for funding the capital construction plan is to float new bonds worth $4.7 billion and obtain a low-interest federal loan for $2.2 billion. The plan has not pleased transit watchers.

The Citizens Budget Commission, a watchdog group, said it was "better than doing nothing to meet the essential infrastructure needs of mass transit. But it has a critical flaw – it proposes to borrow billions without presenting a corresponding plan for new revenues to match the increased long-run debt service burden."

Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign told WNYC that it's likely the borrowed money, plus interest, will be obtained down the road from the fare box. "I have sympathy for the MTA because it's not getting help from Albany or City Hall," he said. "But then it's turning to the riders and saying, 'Well, we'll see how this goes. There's a good chance your fares going to balloon down the road.'"

The NY MTA's capital construction plan will run out of money at the end of the year. Should the authority's funding plan not yield the billions expected of it, work on mega-projects like the Second Avenue Subway and a tunnel bringing Long Island Railroad trains into Grand Central Terminal could start to slow down by next year and, eventually, grind to a halt.

That doesn't even take into account the budgetary havoc to be wrought should some state lawmakers come through on their threat to eliminate the payroll mobility tax, which is expected to yield $1.2 billion for the NY MTA in 2012 alone. On Monday, Foran told a briefing for reporters on the budget that, "if we lose that tax, we have a big hole that we can't overcome."

And another thing. Balancing the NY MTA's budget also depends on saving $1.2 billion by convincing labor unions to agree to work three years in a row, beginning next year, without pay raises. John Samuelson, president of the 38,000 members of the Transport Workers Union, has said he’ll fight such a deal.

Foran said the NY MTA is doing its part by finding $2 billion in savings through cost-cutting measures like revamping an employee health plan, consolidating 34 data centers into three and eliminating 3,000 agency cell phones. He said funding must be found because the NY MTA's capital projects create 25 percent of all construction jobs in the metropolitan area, and are crucial to improving New York's subway and bus system.

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Transportation Nation

NYC MTA: Our Website Maxed Out at 500,000 Users in This Blizzard

Thursday, January 27, 2011

(New York, NY -- Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  The NYC MTA says some 500,000 people tried to access its site this morning, causing some users to be blocked from the site, Spokesman Jeremy Soffin says that's nearly double the amount -- 270,000 -- that tried to access the site at any one instant during the infamous blizzard of 2010.  Soffin says the MTA is in the course of "dramatically increasing"  the site's capacity, and is hiring a contractor for a site overhaul.  In the meantime, he says, the transit authority is planning "an interim bump-up" in capacity within the month.

Soffin says the site is a "victim of its own success," as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and several media outlets, including WNYC, referred users to the site, which has come to be seen as a source of relatively reliable information.

As the site got more and more users this morning, it downshifted from one that has enticing, colorful graphics to a plain text site posting service alerts.

Those alerts were aggressively circulated to the MTA's media list, with frequent updates on where subways were not running, and, in the cases of buses, when they were returned to service after a midnight suspension.

Many commuters who spoke with WNYC said their commutes were slow..but possible.   In one case, a train was diverted to Coney Island terminal overnight, and dozens of passengers were stranded there, but Soffin said it was preferable to be in a terminal than stuck on the tracks, and it meant the morning commute wasn't impeded by stranded trains on the tracks, as happened in the December storm.

Gene Russianoff, a frequent transit gadfly -- who was able to access the site between 7 and 9 am  -- offered a "Congrats!" to the authority on his twitter feed for "much useful travel info on MTA website."

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Transportation Nation

New York U.S. Senator Schumer Touts Transit in New Ad

Friday, October 01, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) It's not often you see U.S. Senators touting aid to transit in television ads. Creating jobs? Yes. Helping constituents?  Sure. Indeed, many U.S. Senators aren't particular fans of mass transit -- if they're behind rail funding at all, it tends to be about more glamorous projects, like high speed rail. So it caught my attention when I saw this ad, for Democratic U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, who is running is running against a virtual unknown, Hudson Valley businessman Jay Townsend.

The ad is referring to the transitcheck program, which allows transit users to pay up to $230 a month pre-tax for transit commuting expenses.   Before the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act passed, motorists could deduct $230 for parking, but transit users only $120, providing an obvious incentive to drive, particularly for suburban commuters whose monthly costs can be well over $120.   With Schumer's support, according to Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers' Campaign, the transit benefit was equalized, but that will expire on December 31 of this year.   Schumer, says Russianoff, is working on a fix.   "It's unusual for transit to be an issue in any election," Russianoff says, "but this cuts taxes for suburbanites, and they know it."   The ad pretty prominently features local commuter trains: the Long Island Railroad and Metro North.

It says something about the prevalence of transit users in the New York area that supporting transit can be a potent political issue -- some fifty percent of NY commuters use transit, and that includes the further suburbs. The Brookings Institution has found that only San Franciscans have nearly that level (about a quarter of area residents commute by transit) -- and everyone else, much less.

But Russianoff is happy -- and in the many years I've covered this issue,  he hasn't always been ready to praise Schumer.

This time he told me: "I'm Gene Russianoff, and I approve this message."

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Transportation Nation

No More "Fun" at the NYC MTA

Monday, July 26, 2010

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) The one-day "fun passes" were there at the beginning.   Instead of the single-fare ride of $1.50, the "fun cards" cost $4, and were available only in tourist locations.    But an outcry ensued, and the fun-cards were sold everywhere, along with the popular $63-a-month unlimited cards, (now $87, soon to approach $100).   Those cards, as Second Avenue Sagas and others have pointed out, revolutionized transit.

Used to be we put a token in the turnstile everytime we wanted to ride (there were no transfers from bus to subway, or vice-versa.) Then came the metrocard, just a fancy blue-and-yellow piece of plastic which did the same thing, essentially, as the token, but didn't feel as good in your hand.   The MTA resisted offering unlimited rides cards, saying they would be too costly.  But shamed by Jim Dwyer, then at the New York Daily News, who exposed the MTA's secret surplus, and Gene Russianoff, then, as now, at the Straphangers Campaign, the MTA (pushed by Republican Governor George Pataki, getting ready to seek re-election) caved, and offered unlimited ride cards.

As it happened, ridership boomed. The MTA did well. Subway trains were on the upswing,  Crime went down, stations got spiffy new makeovers.  But government funding was drying up, congestion pricing tanked, bridge tolls didn't pass muster with the legislature, the real estate market collapsed.   Borrowing that had masked government cuts spurred a big rise in debt service.  Transit funding in New York City, and everywhere, entered a long, dark, endless tunnel.

The MTA faced an $800 million deficit, more than the budgets of most U.S. transit systems.

This week, it was leaked that the MTA will likely limit it's unlimited ride cards to 90 rides a month, when it unveils it's fare hike plans Wednesday.  Also gone, as WNYC's Matthew Schuerman reports, the one day unlimited ride pass, now $7.

At the MTA, the fun is over.

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