Sunday, May 05, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
UPDATE May 6: 05 p.m.: See below for a bit more detail on the winners with links.
About 300 software developers spent the weekend together in a large room on the NYU-Polytechnic campus in downtown Brooklyn, all competing for three prizes in an MTA app contest.
Friday, April 12, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) —
Now that the NY MTA has a new chairman in Tom Prendergast, and Local Transport Workers Union 100 has a recently re-elected president in John Samuelsen, the two sides can now sit down hammer out a contract.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) —
New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn gave voters their first detailed glimpse into what her transportation agenda would be if she's elected Mayor. It's like Bloomberg's -- but without the big, bold visions.
Monday, April 01, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) New York is Holland now: the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority is building a wall to keep out the sea along a two-mile stretch of the A subway line on its way to the Rockaway peninsula in Queens. The wall is made of thick steel and runs along the eastern side the tracks on the island of Broad Channel, in the middle of Jamaica Bay.
The $38 million project is the MTA's first big step since Sandy to prevent flooding from future storm surges.
To make sure the wall is strong enough to hold off another flood, workers are pounding each section about 30 feet into the ground. In the end, the wall will rise only seven feet above the rails, two feet above Sandy's height. The MTA thinks that's high enough.
On a recent windy afternoon, Contractor Mitch Levine was watching workers pile drive and weld each section into place. He said the wall is designed to withstand salt water. "This steel is special steel," he said. "It's marine steel, which will stop it from eroding over the course of 100 years."
Keeping the hungry waves at bay
NY MTA program manager Raymond Wong said the wall is supposed to prevent future storm surges from doing what Sandy did in this area, which was rip the embankment right out from under 400 feet of track.
"The tracks were hanging in the air," he said.
For three weeks after Sandy, each tide took another bite from a larger section of the embankment--until the NY MTA rebuilt the shore by dumping tons of stone and concrete next to the tracks. But this stretch of the A train across Jamaica Bay is still not in service. Thousands of riders now cram into crowded shuttle buses and face rush hour commutes that can end after midnight.
The wall will also serve a second purpose: keeping debris off the line. Forty-eight boats came to rest on the tracks after Sandy, along with jet skis, docks and fuel tanks. The clean up alone took three months.
Why a wall?
NY MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said engineers chose a steel wall to protect the A train because, "It could meet strength requirements as well as timing requirements--we wanted to make sure the wall would be in place by May 1." The line is scheduled to return to full service by summer.
Although Jamaica Bay is part of Gateway National Park, Ortiz said the wall didn't need to go through "any type of approval process" because it's within the right-of-way of the tracks, which is controlled by NYC Transit. Ortiz said the NY MTA did consult with the National Park Service and Army Corps of Engineers about the plan.
Bringing the power back
The MTA is taking a much more short term approach to repairing the A train's damaged electrical system. A mile away from Broad Channel, a control house sits in the railyard at the end of the line in Rockaway Park. Inside, Wong showed off rooms stuffed with equipment that looked modern in the 1950s, when it was installed. One panel has thousands of fuses, each with its own hand-lettered tag. Sandy turned these rooms into temporary aquariums.
"Everything was just coated in salt water that undermined the copper," Wong said. "When we came here, this whole thing was a big block of rust."
Electricity is vital to the subway. It powers signals that keep the trains apart, and switches that move those trains down the right track. There's also lighting at stations, public address systems, and power to the third rail to move the trains--the list goes on.
So what is the MTA doing to protect the electrical equipment at low-lying sites from future storms? "We're just trying to get up and running over here," Wong said. "There's really not much you can do."
Wong said, ideally, the MTA will lift the control house 10 feet in the air, rip out the old components and computerize the system. But that's millions of dollars and years away. His goal right now is to get the A train back by summer, however he can.
Click here for more photos of restoration work on the A line.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
UPDATED 4:50 p.m.: Google Maps now publishes real-time data for the NYC subway. Not for all subway lines, but it's another step in the march of technological progress that transit advocates hope will make more people ride the subway, and enjoy the journey more too. Salt Lake City was added to Google Maps today as well.
The NY MTA had previously released the data on its website, smartphone apps and through publicly available data for other people to use for making apps. Now the two main transit routing websites have both integrated the real time information, so a passenger, or prospective passenger, can see exactly which train is coming when -- not just when it is scheduled to arrive -- and if they happen to have a choice between the two lines with real-time data, they can even compare departure times and choose the line accordingly. Or more conveniently have Google Maps routing functions do the choosing.
That increases trip and trip planning efficiency and just as important, knowing the departure times reliably can also increase perceptions of efficiency, which makes people more likely to choose transit over other modes according to a 2011 study from the University of Chicago, which makes this point with charming academic-ease:
"The provision of real-time transit information might serve as an intervention to break current transit nonusers’ travel habits and in consequence increase the mode share of transit use. Moreover, the results of this study suggest that real-time transit information may be more successful in increasing transit ridership if combined with facilitating programs that enhance commuters’ opportunities to be exposed to such systems before using them."
Like Google Maps. Or HopStop, or other transit routing that can integrate this data.
Google first added real time data in six cities in 2011. Google spokesperson Sierra Lovelace said, as of today, Google transit routing is now in 800 cities. Real-time data is only available in the handful of those where the local transit agencies make the data available, including Boston, Honolulu, San Francisco, London, Madrid, Torino, Italy, and as of today, New York City and Salt Lake City. "While it's not all 800, it is many, and we're always looking to expanded that offering," she said.
Lovelace says there are one billion monthly unique users of Google Maps (including Google Earth and all map services), half of them on smart phones. While Google didn't have a breakdown of the data by city or by feature, there is certain to be a sizable audience that now has access to NYC's real-time data through a platform they already check regularly.
Note the "real departure times" below the times in the screengrab above, as TN reader Steve Vance and Chicago transportation writer, points out, that line is what indicates the difference between real-time and scheduled arrival and departure times.
The NYC subway only releases real-time data on seven of roughly 25 lines (depending on if you count the shuttles and the temporary H train). For now it's only on the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 42nd Street Shuttle lines. The other lines have a different switching system which does not produce real-time data in a way that can be exported. There is no timetable for upgrading the rest of the system.
H/T Second Ave Sagas
Sunday, March 24, 2013
(Mary Harris, WNYC) If you're scared of New York City subway rats, hanging out with Paul Jones is a bad idea. He's the man who manages the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's trash rooms, and he knows where the rats are hiding. He even knows their favorite foods.
"They want the good stuff: the Red Bull, the lattes. They love lattes!" Jones said.
Jones has watched the NY MTA try various tactics to rid itself of rodents. They've hired exterminators. They're putting trash in mint-flavored bags, which are supposed to repel pests. They've even reinforced trash room doors to make it harder for rats to make it to the buffet table.
Now they're trying a new approach. The National Institutes of Health has just given Loretta Mayer, and her company, Senestech, a $1.1 million grant to tempt rats into consuming birth control.
Mayer's product, which is still in development, works in the lab by speeding up menopause in the female rat. She's quick to add that it doesn't affect human fertility because the compound is rapidly metabolized. "It’s just like if you take an aspirin for a headache it'll numb your headache, but if you give an aspirin to your cat it would kill it," she said.
At the moment, she's trying to find the ideal flavor to appeal to the New York subway rat's palate. In Asia, she's flavored her bait with roasted coconut, dried fish, and beer. Here, she's considering lacing the bait with pepperoni oil. It will be mixed into a bright pink smoothie--not solid food--because underground rats can find food easily but are constantly searching for liquid.
Mayer isn't the only scientist chronicling the lives of New York's rats. At Columbia University, Professor Ian Lipkin has been sending teams of researchers into the subways to collect rodent samples. He's trying to discover what kind of germs they're carrying.
"They’re little Typhoid Marys running around excreting all kinds of things that are problematic for humans," Lipkin explained.
Lipkin then puts the risk into perspective: he said he worries more about shaking hands with someone with a bad cough than he does about crossing paths with a subway rat. But he wants to know what the rats are carrying.
"We have every year a whole host of diseases that occur in people--encephalitis, meningitis, respiratory diseases, diarrheal diseases--that are largely unexplained. And one potential mechanism by which people become infected is through exposure, directly or indirectly, to infectious agents that would be carried by rodents," Lipkin said. "We need to know what kind of bugs these animals carry so we can respond more effectively to them."
Back underground, Mayer's research team is gathering results from the initial taste tests. They're encouraged: the rats seem to be enjoying their smoothies.
But Paul Jones has seen exterminators come and go. And even the bluntest of weapons has failed to drive the rats off. He keeps blunt objects in the trash rooms so he can lay a good whack on the aggressive rats.
"We've hit them with shovels and pitchforks - they just flip over and run off. And they don't go away," he says with a sigh. "They're very hard to die."
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Tuesday, March 12, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) Expect delays. That's the message from the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority as it readies to spend $2 billion in federal relief aid to make repairs to the subway after Sandy.
Flooding from the storm coated thousands of electrical components in parts of the system with corrosive salt water. The MTA says riders can expect more frequent interruptions of service as those switches, signals, and other parts are replaced.
Immediately after Sandy, the MTA scrambled to get the subway up and running, sometimes with components that were damaged by flooding but hastily cleaned and pressed back into service. Much of that equipment is functioning with a shortened life span, and will be replaced.
That means a lot of repair work will be happening in the subways over roughly the next two years. MTA executive director Tom Prendergast says the work will cause more line shutdowns, called "outages."
"The problem we're going to have is how do we do that and keep the system running?" he told members of the transit committee at MTA headquarters in Midtown Manhattan on Monday. "We don't want to foolishly spend money; we want to effectively spend that money in a very short period of time. So there are going to be greater outages."
Except for the still-shuttered South Ferry terminal and severed A train link to The Rockaways, the subway was almost entirely back up and running within a month after the late October storm. But Sandy's invisible fingers, in the form of corrosion, can still play havoc with trains.
MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said, "The subways have recorded more than 100 signal failures related to Sandy since service was restored after the storm, plus problems with switches, power cables and other infrastructure. Most of those failures happened in yards, but some were on mainline tracks and led to at least short service disruptions."
Twice last week, signals on the R train failed and briefly disrupted rush hour service. The problem was traced to components degraded by salt water caused by flooding in the Montague Avenue tunnel, which connects Brooklyn to Manhattan beneath New York harbor.
The MTA is in line to receive $8.8 billion in federal Sandy relief aid, which is to be split about evenly between repairs and hardening the system against future storms. Projects funded by the first $2 billion must be completed within two years after their start date. That will cause a flurry of repairs in large swaths of the subway--mostly in Lower Manhattan, the East River tubes, and lines serving waterfront areas of Brooklyn.
The MTA already shuts down or diverts train traffic from parts of the system on nights and weekends to upgrade tracks, signals and switches, and otherwise keep the subway in "a state of good repair." Add to that the new Fastrack program that closes sections of lines overnight for several days in a row, allowing work gangs to fix tracks and clean stations without having to frequently step aside for passing trains. And now comes even more disruptions in the form of post-Sandy repair and mitigation.
There's no word yet on when work will commence or on what lines the extra outages will occur, but straphangers would do well to start bracing themselves. Sandy wounded the subway to a greater extent than the eye can see, and it will take years--and extra breaks in service--to return the system to its pre-storm state.
Monday, March 11, 2013
New York City's subway ridership rose 0.8% in 2012, despite storm Sandy-related shut downs and service disruptions. According to figures released by the NY MTA Monday, some 1.654 billion riders rode the subways in 2012, 13.7 million more trips than in 2011.
Weekend ridership grew by 3 percent, matching the all-time historic high for weekend ridership set in 1946.
Word comes as the American Public Transit Association reports a record 10.5 billion trips on public transit.
The system was shut for two days around storm Sandy. Eight tunnels flooded, and many lines from Brooklyn to Manhattan were shut for a week. The system is still not completely restored.
Wednesday, March 06, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) New York area transit has received a double setback, both having to do with Storm Sandy and what's needed to recover from it: money.
Thanks to the sequester, the U.S. Department of Transportation will be disbursing five percent less in Sandy disaster relief to transit systems damaged by the storm. That means 545 million fewer dollars for the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority; the PATH Train, which connects northern New Jersey to Lower Manhattan; and transit agencies in six northeastern states battered by the storm.
The NY MTA officially learned of the funding reduction in a letter sent Tuesday from the president of the Federal Transit Administration to the authority's acting executive director, Tom Prendergast.
"Dear Tom," the letter began. "I have regrettable news..."
The letter went on to say that "due to inaction by Congress" -- meaning the failed federal budget talks -- there would be less money to recover from Sandy, "the single greatest transit disaster in the history of our nation."
Millions Less For Mitigation
The cut won't be felt right away because the first $2 billion in aid, out of nearly $10.4 billion, is in the pipeline. The NY MTA's first grant was $200 million "for repair and restoration of the East River tunnels; the South Ferry/Whitehall station; the Rockaway line; rail yards, maintenance shops, and other facilities; and heavy rail cars."
The PATH Train, which is operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, received $142 million "to set up alternative commuter service; repair electric substations and signal infrastructure; replace and repair rolling stock; and repair maintenance facilities."
Future grants were supposed to be used, in part, to protect transportation assets and systems from future disasters. But the letter goes on to say that the cut will curtail those efforts: "FTA will now be required to reduce these investments by the full $545 million mandated by the sequester."
The feds say that the reduced pile of Sandy recovery money means priority will given to reimbursing transit agencies for "activities like the dewatering of tunnels [see photo above], the re-establishment of rail service ... and the replacement of destroyed buses."
Also Affected: A Troubled Megaproject
A spokesman for the NY MTA said the reduction in funds won't affect progress on mega-projects like the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access, which will bring the Long Island Rail Road into Grand Central Terminal.
"East Side Access and Second Avenue Subway will keep rolling along," the spokesperson said.
But at what cost? In the case of East Side Access, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli gave a detailed answer on Wednesday, which constitutes transit setback number two. He said in a report that the cost of the project had nearly doubled from an original estimate of $4.3 billion to the current price tag of $8.25 billion. The completion date has also been pushed back ten years to 2019.
These semi-appalling facts are generally known. Less well known is the report's conclusion that the NY MTA's current estimates for the East Side Access timetable and final price tag "do not take into account the impact of Superstorm Sandy."
The storm did little to no damage to the project's eight miles of tunnels. But DiNapoli said it diverted NY MTA resources, which resulted in a construction delay at a key railyard in Queens, costing $20 million. The comptroller added, "Within the next three months, the MTA expects to determine whether the delay will have an impact on the overall project schedule."
In other words, there's a chance that East Side Access could be more than ten years late. A spokesman for the NY MTA declined to comment.
Monday, March 04, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(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.
Friday, March 01, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(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
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Beginning Sunday, monthly MetroCards will cost $110, single fares will cost $2.75, and each new MetroCard you buy will cost you $1. Long Island Railroad, Metro-North, express bus and MTA bridge tolls also rise.
The fare hikes have been planned since 2009, and were confirmed last summer. They were adopted on December 19, the same day Joe Lhota announced he was leaving the MTA to run for Mayor.
Here are the details, from the MTA.
New York City Subway, Buses in New York City, Staten Island Railway & Access-A-Ride
New fare rates for subways, buses, Staten Island Railway (SIR) and Access-A-Ride will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, March 3.
The base fare for subways, local buses, SIR and Access-A-Ride is rising to $2.50 from $2.25; the base fare for express buses is rising to $6.00 from $5.50. The pay-per-ride bonus discount will be reduced to 5% from 7%, but will now be available for adding as little as $5 onto a MetroCard, down from $10 previously. A Single Ride Ticket purchased from MetroCard Vending Machines is rising to $2.75 from $2.50.
The 30-day unlimited-ride MetroCard will cost $112, up from $104. The 7-day unlimited-ride MetroCard will cost $30, up from $29. The 7-day express bus plus MetroCard will cost $55, up from $50. Unlimited-ride MetroCards purchased on March 2 or earlier must be activated by Sunday, March 10, to obtain full value. Those activated after that date will allow travel through April 9 for 30-day cards and March 17 for 7-day cards. Any remaining time will be refunded on a pro-rated basis.
A $1 fee will be charged for each new MetroCard purchased at a MetroCard Vending Machine or station booth. At commuter rail stations, the $1 card fee will be applied to MetroCards providing bus and/or subway travel only; the $1 fee will not be applied to Joint Rail MetroCards providing subway, bus and commuter rail service. Customers can avoid this fee by keeping their MetroCard and refilling it at any vending machine or station booth. MetroCards now can be refilled with any combination of unlimited-ride time and/or pay-per-ride dollars. Customers turning in an expired or damaged card will be provided a new card at no charge. There are also exemptions for those who buy cards at out-of-system merchants or participate in the EasyPayXpress program or a pre-tax benefit program.
More information about fares on subways, buses and SIR can be found here: http://mta.info/nyct/fare/NewFares.htm
Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad
New fares will go into effect on the LIRR and Metro-North on Friday, March 1, for monthly, one-way, round-trip, and 10-trip ticket holders. For those using weekly tickets, which are always valid from Saturday through the following Friday, new fares take effect on Saturday, March 2.
On average, most commuter rail tickets will increase between 8.2% and 9.3%, depending on ticket type and distance traveled. The discounted CityTicket fare for one-way weekend travel within New York City will rise to $4.00 from $3.75, starting March 2.
More information about fares on the Long Island Rail Road can be found here:
More information about fares on Metro-North Railroad can be found here:
MTA Bridges and Tunnels
New toll rates on the seven bridges and two tunnels that are operated and maintained by the MTA will go into effect at 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 3. At most crossings, tolls are rising to $5.33 from $4.80 for E-ZPass customers and to $7.50 from $6.50 for cash customers.
For more details about ways to save on tolls, please see the attached press release.
Friday, February 22, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(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.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(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.
Wednesday, February 06, 2013
From the Department of Small but Useful Changes:
The MTA's got a new interactive map, though it's so basic you can't believe they didn't have it already. At the MTA.info site, the subway map is now "interactive," meaning you can move it around and zoom in on parts of it, for "easier viewing of fine grain details," as the MTA put it in a press release. Which also makes it easier to view on a tablet or smart phone. Before, there was just a static PDF.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(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.
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. "
Thursday, January 31, 2013
The Brooklyn Nets may have been humbled by the Miami Heat Wednesday night, but their transit stop has never been better.
The NY MTA says Long Island Railroad ridership surged 334 percent since the Barclay's Center arena opened last fall, with an average of 3300 suburbanites taking the commuter rail to the arena each event night.
The night the Nets hosted the Knicks, 4852 riders arrived by LIRR, and 5377 riders departed, a record.
The arena was built with the highest ratio of seats to parking spaces in the country (about 19,000 seats, 500 spaces) in part to encourage transit usage (nine subway lines go directly to Barclays Center, 2 more nearby, plus the LIRR).
Other data compiled by TN of subway ridership also confirms game night surges.
Neighborhood groups predicted the arena would cause car traffic snarls, and a high demand for on-street parking, but so far, traffic on game nights hasn't met those predictions.
However, the arena's developers, Forest City Ratner, have yet to construct more than a dozen high-rises above and near the arena, slated to created the densest census track in the nation.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(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.
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
By Jim O'Grady
(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."
Friday, January 04, 2013
New York City will get more buses. Starting Sunday, the NY MTA is increasing the frequency or extending the routes of 17 bus lines. Another four routes will grow later in the month. (Scroll down for the full list.)
It's the first major expansion of transit service in the city since 2010 when a budget deficit led the agency to slash bus routes, and comes at a time when many other cities are cutting funding for buses and subways -- Kansas City has turned to asking citizens to donate online.
Later in the year, the MTA will add six totally new bus lines, mostly to connect booming residential neighborhoods. One line will connect Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Long Island City, another will roll between Chelsea, Hell's Kitchen and the far West Village.
This weekend's expansion in New York restores many of the 2010 cuts, but not all -- the B51, which we profiled -- for example, remains out of service. That bus drew just 900 riders a day compared to a system average of 13,000, resulting in a loss of several dollars per rider.
The MTA says the restorations are based on demographic data and ridership need. These are not new routes, but several of the old ones are getting longer, mainly to serve growing hot spots like an Ikea in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and the Bronx Terminal Market, a big box shopping center in the South Bronx. ,“These enhancements were all a result of listening to our customers and keeping close watch on changing travel trends," New York City Transit President Thomas F. Prendergast said in a statement.
This weekend's expansions will affect about 50,000 riders each day.
The move will be paid for, in part, by a recently approved fare increase, and comes on the heels of $5 billion in damages from Sandy. The MTA has said it will not put the bill for storm repairs on riders, but will ask for federal and state funding.
Sunday, January 6, 2013 Service Restorations and Enhancements:
Bx13 New Extension from East 161st Street to Bronx Terminal Market (149th Street and River Avenue)
Bx34 Restore daytime weekend service
B4 Restore full-time service to Knapp Street/Voorhies Ave via Neptune Avenue, Sheepshead Bay Road, Emmons Ave/Shore Parkway
B24 Restore weekend service
B39 Restore daytime service between Williamsburg and Manhattan’s Lower East Side
B48 Restore extension from Atlantic Avenue to Prospect Park (BQ) Station
B57 Extend route from Carroll Gardens to Red Hook (Ikea) via Court Street, Lorraine Street and Otsego Street
B64 Restore extension from Cropsey Avenue to Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue (DFNQ) Station via Harway Avenue
B69 Restore weekend service
M1 Restore weekend service from 106th Street to 8th Street
M9 Extend north terminal from 23rd Street to 29th Street via 1st and 2nd Avenues and extend south terminal from City Hall to Battery Park City via Warren Street/Murray Street and West Street
M21 Restore weekend service
Q24 Restore extension from Broadway Junction to Bushwick Avenue via Broadway
Q27 Provide new overnight service from Horace Harding Expressway to Cambria Heights via Springfield Blvd
Q30* Provide new branch to Queensborough Community College
Q36 Extend alternate trips from Jamaica Avenue to Little Neck via Little Neck Parkway (This restores weekday service along route of previous Q79 route.)
Q42* Restore midday service from Jamaica Center to St. Albans via Archer Avenue
On Sunday, January 20, we will implement the following service restorations and enhancements:
S76 Restore weekend service
S93* Extend route from entrance to College of Staten Island into campus area
X1 Add overnight express bus service from Eltingville to Manhattan via Hylan Blvd
X17 Extend route to Tottenville middays
*The Q30 and Q42 are weekday only, so they are being introduced on Monday, January 7. The S93 is also weekdays only, so it will be introduced on Tuesday, January 22.
In addition, NYC Transit is continuing to work with communities in order to develop new services to address transit needs in growing and changing neighborhoods. The following new services are planned for implementation later in 2013:
- New route, Bx46, which would operate between the South Bronx and western Hunts Point to be implemented in April 2013
- New service connecting Downtown Brooklyn, DUMBO, Vinegar Hill and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
- New Williamsburg-Greenpoint-Long Island City service
- New service between East New York (New Lots Avenue 3 station) and Spring Creek
- New north-south far Westside Manhattan route to serve the West Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen.
- Select Bus Service on the Bx41 route along Webster Avenue