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Transportation Nation

Advocates: Thanks, NY MTA, For Restoring Some Bus / Train / Subway Cuts. Now Where's The Rest?

Friday, July 20, 2012

G, thanks, MTA for restoring some service. But where's the rest? (photo by bitchcakesny / Flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Want to know what transit advocates think of the news that the New York MTA is expanding and restoring bus and subway service? We at TN collected the responses and fed them into the Scrambletron 5000, a machine that transforms numerous opinions into a single collective sentiment. (Stick with us on this one.) Here's what came back:

"Thanks, NY MTA, for restoring a third of the service you cut two years ago. But we still we want the other stuff back."*

Most responses from NY metropolitan area transit-watchers began with praise, like this line from the The Working Families Party, which had agitated by online petition for making a temporary extension of the G train permanent:

"We're very excited that the MTA made the right decision."

That means, yes, the G train will retain the five extra stops that take it deeper into brownstone Brooklyn. And the NY MTA's announcement brought more bounty: five new bus routes serving neighborhoods with sharp population growth, including the Far West Side of Manhattan and the Brooklyn side of the East River between Greenpoint and Williamsburg; 25 bus lines' service will be restored or extended; enhanced off-peak service on some Metro-North and Long Island Railroad lines.

About those upgrades, City Council Speaker and likely mayoral candidate Christine Quinn said, "I applaud [NY MTA Chairman Joe] Lhota for his plan to restore critical service and urge the [NY MTA] Board to approve the proposal without delay."  (The board is scheduled to vote on the plan next Wednesday.)

She further lavished praised on a new bus line serving the "Tech Triangle" between NYU's planned tech campus in Downtown Brooklyn, the burgeoning hive of internet start-ups in nearby DUMBO and, next to that, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, home to Steiner Movie Studios. She also applauded increased bus service to "underserved" Red Hook, a Brooklyn waterfront neighborhood with no subway.

She then raised the specter of the "devastating" 2010 service cuts that the NY MTA enacted to plug a hole blown in its budget by the recession. Those cuts saved the NY MTA about $90 million a year. The proposed service restoration, which rolls back the cuts by a third, will cost $29.5 million--that's out of the $6.4 billion the authority takes in annually from subway, bus and train fares, and tolls on its bridges and tunnels. So relatively little is being spent to generate a fair amount of goodwill.

But Quinn, echoing several advocates, pointedly called for the changes to be a "first step toward restoring full service."

Another reason the NY MTA can afford to increase service now is the seven percent fare hike scheduled for 2013, which is expected to generate $450 million a year for the agency. Chairman Lhota knows upcoming public hearings about the hike will bring heat down on the authority, so he's creating some goodwill now--in part by postponing a planned fare hike from January 2013 to March. He acknowledged that political reality at a press conference yesterday: "It's really hard to go into a period of time where you're talking about a fare increase when you're reducing service or you're not increasing service."

Tri-State Transportation Campaign, in its statement, described the MTA's p.r. problem: "Unfortunately, next year’s looming fare increases cast a shadow over the good news."

Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign pointed out another rider-unfriendly aspect of the 2010 cuts: allowing more crowded subway lines. Russianoff reminded the public and the press that the new package of service changes "leaves in place less generous 'loading guidelines... that allow more standees and less service on subway lines."

And City Councilman Brad Lander--who lobbied for, and got, more buses to Red Hook--immediately started calling on the MTA to restore the B71 bus, a line that the MTA has decided to leave in mothballs, at least for now.

That's a sampling of reaction. Stay tuned for more.

*Quote generated not by an actual person but the Scrambletron 5000, a made-up thing.

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Transportation Nation

The Single Switch Routing 1/3 of All LIRR Trains, Down for a Month

Monday, July 09, 2012

Long Island Railroad train barrels through a crossing. (photo by ynkefan1 / flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) About 5,000 riders on Long Island Railroad will see their evening rush hour train either cut or delayed for as long as a month starting Monday.

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the LIRR,  is taking a single switch in Queens out of service so it can dig the next length of the East Side Access Tunnel — a project designed to bring LIRR trains to Grand Central Terminal by August 2019.

Switch 813 regulates 1/3 of all eastbound train traffic as it passes through a massive switching yard called The Harold Interlocking.

The switch can't be operated while a giant boring machine is tunneling beneath it. With only two tracks remaining to handle the evening rush, train traffic must be juggled.

The NY MTA said riders can expect the following changes:

  • The 4:52 PM train from Penn Station to Babylon will be canceled.
  • The 5:20 PM train from Penn Station to Long Beach will be canceled.
  • The 5:40 PM train from Penn Station to Seaford will be canceled.

The four PM Peak trains with adjusted schedules include:

  • The 5:36 PM train from Penn Station to Babylon, which will depart Penn Station one minute later (at 5:37 PM) and arrive Babylon two minutes later at 6:42 PM.
  • The 5:55 PM train from Penn Station to Long Beach will arrive at Long Beach one minute later at 6:52 PM.
  • The 5:59 PM train from Penn Station to Babylon will arrive at Babylon five minutes later at 7:04 PM.
  • The 6:44 PM train from Babylon to Patchogue will operate two minutes later, departing Babylon at 6:46 PM and arriving Patchogue at 7:16 PM as a result of its connecting train from Penn Station (the 5:37 PM) arriving two minutes later at Babylon.

The NY MTA has been alerting riders to the changes through an alert on its website, fliers posted at stations and dropped on trains seats, and email alerts to the 30,000 customers who subscribe to them.

Those efforts weren't enough for the Long Island Railroad Commuters Council, which urged the LIRR to post workers in stations and on platforms during the first days of the schedule changes.

LIRR spokesman Sal Arena said that will now happen. "Railroad president Joe Calderone said to The Riders Council, 'You're right. Let's do it.'" Arena said riders confused by the changes can expect to see LIRR workers in reflective vests at Penn Station in Manhattan, Jamaica Station in Queens and Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn.

For more on East Side Access, go here.

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Transportation Nation

Subway Mosaic, Best Public Art in America?

Monday, July 02, 2012

"Brooklyn Seeds" by Jason Middlebrook Depicts Floral Themed Mosaic

Deep into Brooklyn, NY just before Neck Road, an artistic treasure sits hidden from the New Yorkers zipping past on the Q train to Coney Island. The 2011 addition to the Avenue U Station, a giant glass and ceramic tile mosaic climbing up the station wall called "Brooklyn Seeds," has been crowned one of the best public art projects in America, according to this announcement from the NY MTA.

Each year the Americans for the Arts Conference conveys the recognition outstanding works in a variety of media. Subway tiles are getting their due this year with Jason Middlebrook's "Seeds" represent the resilient flora of the concrete jungle.

NY MTA: "The plants are based on wildflowers that grow in unlikely places in urban neighborhoods, through cracks in the sidewalks, and in alleys and along walls. The artwork expresses the beauty where nature and city intersect."

Here are a few more pics. Send us pics of your favorite transit art, especially if you think you're city has something worthy of "best" status.




All photos courtesy of the MTA. More here.

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Transportation Nation

Red Hook, Brooklyn, A Transit Cul De Sac, Gets Real Time Bus Info

Friday, June 29, 2012

The B61 bus now has Bus Time, a technology that lets riders know the location of their ride.

(New York, NY - WNYC) Service on the sole bus route serving Red Hook, Brooklyn, may be erratic and over-crowded during peak hours,  but riders can now use a smartphone to figure out where their bus is dawdling on the neighborhood's waterfront grid.

Or maybe it's approaching. To find out, riders can fire up the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Bus Time technology.

Red Hook is subway-less, surrounded by New York harbor on three sides and cut off from the rest of Brooklyn by the Gowanus Expressway as it approaches the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.

The program fits out buses with GPS units. That allows riders to check the Web or send a text to find the location of the nearest bus.

It's already in place borough-wide in Staten Island, on the M34 Select Bus Service in Manhattan, and was originally piloted on the B63 in Brooklyn in early 2011.The MTA says every line in the city will have it by the end of next year.

Red Hook residents have long complained of living in a transit semi-desert. It got worse last year, when the  MTA cut costs by eliminating three bus lines serving Red Hook and nearby neighborhoods. Some residents adapted by making the long walk to the subway stop at Smith and 9th Streets in Carroll Gardens. But with that stop now undergoing a year-long renovation, many Red Hook commuters have had no choice but to use the problem-plagued B61.

City Councilman Brad Lander and Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez, both vocal about beefing up Red Hook's bus service, say they're pleased by Bus Time's arrival. “Bus Time will help Red Hook residents with their commute by providing real time information on buses’ locations,” Velázquez said.

Lander similarly praised it, then reminded the authority that further improvements are needed on the line.  "I look forward to taking further steps to making the line a great bus for the neighborhoods it serves.”

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Transportation Nation

Don't Expect Cooling On NYC Subway Platforms -- Especially During a Heatwave

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Safety bumps on a platform's edge look like proverbial fried eggs on a hot day in the subway. (Photo by Susan NYC / flickr)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Every summer, as the heat builds and the atmosphere in the subway acquires the texture of a hound dog's mouth, straphangers wonder why stations aren't air conditioned. If train cars are reliably cooled, the thinking goes, why can't something be done to cool customers while they wait for them?

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's answer: "Unfortunately, air conditioning of subway stations is not feasible due to the open nature of their construction and the impossibility of cooling an infinite space." Spokeswoman Marjorie Anders explained that the system is open, in part, to cool it: the movement of trains pushes hot air from the tunnels out through vents in city sidewalks.

The exception is Grand Central Terminal, which has air conditioning in The Main Concourse, an enormous central space through which 75,000 to 100,000 passengers pass daily. Anders said seven huge cooling towers on the terminal's roof work in tandem with dozens of temperature sensors to cool the hall. She said that's easier to accomplish at the start of summer because "the building isn’t heat-soaked yet. The concrete, limestone and marble are still cool to the touch."

Ms. Anders spoke by phone from an office at the NY MTA's Midtown headquarters that had been darkened, she claimed, to save energy. She said that though The Main Concourse is air-conditioned, the gigantic underground train shed at Grand Central Terminal, which holds 123 tracks and 46 platforms, is not.

Ushers keep doors between the terminal and the platforms closed when trains aren’t actively boarding or unloading. And conductors on the trains only open one door per car when a train is in Grand Central.

The NY MTA is also coping with the heat wave by reducing the speed of subway trains and reducing electrical usage by shutting down several substations that supply power to the system's third rails. That means subways are moving a little bit slower.

The authority says it cuts back on power during heat waves between noon and 6 pm at the request of the New York State Power Authority.

On subway lines, passengers may notice reduced elevator and escalator service, to conserve energy. Some contracts with energy providers require the NY MTA to reduce power consumption during heat waves.

The authority will also be running trains at reduced speed on Metro-North's New Haven Line, which is powered by overhead catenary wires that droop in extreme heat. "Trains are slowed so that pantographs – arm-like apparatus on the roof of the trains that draw the power from the catenary - do not get ensnared in catenary wires," a spokesman said.

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Transportation Nation

Report: Transit Fares High and Rising? Blame Bailed-Out Banks

Thursday, June 07, 2012

(New York, NY - WNYC) A transit union says in a report that one cause of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority's recent fare hikes and service cuts has been hiding in plain sight: financial arrangements called interest rate swaps. Those are deals the authority made with banks on 10 percent of its $33 billion of debt —deals that have gone against the authority and in favor of the banks.

The deals were made between 1995 and 2007, when banks agreed to cover the fluctuating interest rates on some of the authority's bonds. In exchange, the NY MTA said it would pay the banks a fixed rate, plus a small premium. That agreement would've protected the authority if rates had jumped up. But the Amalgamated Transit Union says the NY MTA has taken a net loss on the deals since the economy crashed in 2008 and interest rates fell to sustained, historic lows.

The union says the authority is now losing almost $114 million a year ― and could continue to lose money on the deals for the next 20 to 30 years.

NY MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg disputed the union's calculations, saying the swaps brought predictability to the authority's budget, which needs to be balanced each year. "To compare transactions we entered into years ago, compared to what you can get in risky variable rate debt right now is either irresponsible or deliberately misleading," he said. "They are simply wrong."

He contended that the swaps allowed the authority to save $248 million. The report says that was true until 2007, when the arrangement allowed the NY MTA to pay off its debt at nearly a full point below interest rates that were relatively high. But that was before the economy tanked. Since then, the authority has lost money on the deal.

The report looked at 12 transit agencies or local governments that entered into interest rate swaps. The report's authors insisted in a conference call that, though the deals may have made sense when they were struck, these 12 agencies ― which includes the NY MTA and NJ Transit ― are now bleeding at least a half a billion dollars a year from the budgets of governments and transit authorities around the United States.

James Parrott, an economist with the Fiscal Policy Institute, called on agencies like the NY MTA to seek concessions from the banks, many of which received massive taxpayer bailouts.

He said he doesn't understand why the NY MTA isn't treating its bankers like any other business partners. “The MTA went to all of its vendors from 2008 to 2010 and got concessions from them to reduce the price of contracts," he said. "The only business they didn’t go to is the banks. Why?”

Parrott also noted that the NY MTA is about to go to market to sell billions in new bonds to refinance its capital construction program. "They could say to the banks, ‘If you’re unwilling to renegotiate these credit swaps, we’re not so sure you’re going to get a piece of these bonds,'” he said.

Lisberg called the idea unrealistic. "We need these major banks to provide financing for us," he said. "We’re constantly in the debt markets, it’s how we and every other large government organization works. If we’re buying equipment to use over 30 years, it makes sense to pay for it over 30 years."

In 2010, the NY MTA plugged a budget gap by laying off 1,000 workers and eliminating 750 positions. It also enacted some of the deepest subway and bus service cuts in decades. Riders absorbed a 7.5 percent fare increase in 2011, and further 7.5 percent increases are scheduled in 2013 and 2015.

The banks that hold interest rates swaps with the NY MTA are JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, UBS, AIG, Morgan Stanley, BNP Paribas and Ambac.

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Transportation Nation

VIDEO: Atop NYC Bridges, Baby Falcons Thrive in Homes with Great Views

Monday, June 04, 2012

(New York, NY - WNYC) Peregrines prefer peaks. In New York City, that means the flat tops of tall  bridges. Once again, it's time to cinch up the safety harness, scale a few feats of infrastructure and count hatchlings.

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority, always casting about for ways to improve its perennially embattled image, has in recent years embraced and promoted its role as Haven of Hatcheries. The authority has allowed the city Department of Protection to build shelters for raptors atop its bridges, and to let city conservationists go into them once a year and band the newborn birds they find. The shelters are no-frills affairs with guano-speckled roofs. And the banding, according to Chris Nadareski, the conservationist in the video, doesn't hurt the birds--though it must be said, those chicks don't seem pleased.

This year's total of newborn falcons on three bridges operated by the MTA: seven. Their wide-eyed adorableness on a scale of 1 to 10: 10. Interesting stat: when diving for prey, peregrines can exceed 200 miles per hour, making them the fastest birds in the world. It also puts them in sync with the city's unofficial motto: "Move swiftly or starve. "

New York City is home to more than 20 pairs of peregrine falcons. Two of the newest ones are called Lief and Skye, which are names you can soon expect to be attached to Brooklyn tots. The birds were nearly wiped out in the 1960s because of pesticides and remain on the New York State endangered list. But, thanks in part to the MTA's hospitality, it is increasingly common to see a raptor in search of a fish wheeling in the sky above the harbor. Hence the video's closing invitation+ warning:

"Look for the peregrine falcons...but not while you're driving."


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Transportation Nation

NY to Offer $2000 Award to Witnesses of Assaults on Transit Workers

Monday, May 21, 2012

New York will begin offering up to $2000 to witnesses of assaults on NY MTA employees.

Some 48 employees have been assaulted on the job this year, compared to 40 in the same period last year.

Assaults on transit workers have become a key issue for the Transport Workers Union, still negotiating a new contract with the MTA. The old contract expired January 15th.   World of the new program, called "Transit Watch," came via press release from New York's Governor, Andrew Cuomo.

This is the second move in less than a month to combat assaults on transit workers.  The first was a ban on drinking on certain Long Island Railroad trains.

"This is a big win for transit workers, who face physical assaults, verbal abuse and threats every day on the job, and who have long felt that transit assaults are given a low priority," said TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen in the press release.

According to the release, "Transit Watch is funded by the MTA. Witnesses with information about assaults on MTA New York City Transit personnel can call the NYPD’s Crimestoppers program at 800-577-TIPS (800-577-8477), which assigns callers an anonymous ID number so they do not have to give their names. Rewards of up to $2,000 are paid for information leading to the arrest and indictment of the perpetrator."

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Transportation Nation

Staten Island To Get Faster Bus Service

Monday, May 21, 2012

Staten Island's "Select Bus Service" won't have off-board payment (photo by Kate Hinds)

Staten Island will be the third borough in New York City to get so-called "Select Bus Service."  The service, the S79,  will connect the Staten Island Mall and the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn.  The MTA expects the service to reduce travel times by 20%.

Some 8,900 passengers travel that route daily, according to the MTA, compared to 52,000 along First and Second Avenues in Manhattan and 45,000 along the route of the Bx 12 in the Bronx, New York's first SBS, which has been running since 2008.

SBS is a BRT-like service, though without some of the features that characterize BRT systems around the globe, like physically-segregated lanes and subway-like stations.

However it does incorporate designated lanes, signal priority, and fewer stops.  The Staten Island buses will not have off-board payment, a feature that has irked some Manhattanites unaccustomed to paying before they get on the bus.

Along the busier routes, paying off-board is a big time-saver, the city DOT has said.  But in Staten Island, the route is so lightly traveled -- or "highly dispersed," as the MTA calls it, that the authority has concluded it wouldn't make much of a difference.  Walker Hook, the CEO of the Innstitute for Transportation Development Policy, which sets up and provides technical advice for  BRT systems worldwide, called that assumption "reasonable."

The S79 will only run as a select bus, with local passengers being served by the S78 and S59.

The service will start in September.

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Transportation Nation

MTA Fastrack To Expand To Beyond Manhattan

Monday, May 14, 2012

NY MTA workers repairing subway track during a Fastrack service shutdown. (MTA Photos/flickr)

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Fast Track program, which shuts down large portions of subway lines entirely overnight, isn't just for Manhattan any more. Outer borough riders who take the subway late at night will see the pilot program expanded--possibly to their chagrin.

Each Fastrack shutdown lasts Monday to Friday, from 10 at night until 5 in the morning. The program, started in January, allows crews to work for seven straight hours on long stretches of track without stopping to let trains pass by. But that means late night riders have to scramble to find a shuttle bus or trek to another subway to get to where they want to go. The NY MTA website warns they should expect to add about 20 minutes to each trip.

The NY MTA explains the need for the program this way: "Fastrack is a safer and more efficient way to maintain and clean New York City's sprawling subway — a system that never closes...800 MTA employees are able to inspect signals, replace rails and cross ties, scrape track floors, clean stations and paint areas that are not reachable during normal train operation."

Originally, the shutdowns were only supposed to take place in Manhattan, and only this year, for a total of 16 weeks of inconvenience. But already the NY MTA has declared it a success because of how much maintenance is getting done. And now spokesman Kevin Ortiz says Fast Track will continue into next year, when it will expand to lines in the outer boroughs and possibly the N, Q and R trains along Broadway in Manhattan.

Fast Track continues this week with the suspension of the B,D,F and M lines between 57th and West 4th Streets, starting Monday night

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Transportation Nation

Report: Signal Problems Cause Most Delays in NYC Subway

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Side view of an old school NYC subway signal. (Photo by mementosis / Flckr creative commons)

(New York, NY - WNYC) More than a third of all long subway delays are caused signal problems, according to an analysis  of 3,000 text alerts sent by the NY MTA last year by the Straphangers Campaign.

The report tallied "significant incidents that often generated subway delays" of 8 minutes or more and found signal problems caused 36 percent of such delays, followed by mechanical problems at 31 percent. Rail and track problems caused a combined 19 percent of long delays.

Straphangers spokesman Gene Russianoff said he's not surprised, given what he saw of the signals at one location. "The MTA took us on a tour of the West 4th Street Station, where 7 lines and hundreds of thousands of riders go through every day and we went to the dispatcher's office where the signals are kept and they were built in 1932 and looked like the controls on the deck of His Royal Majesty's ship, the Titanic," he said.

The report only looked at delays in the control of the MTA and not incidents such as police actions and sick passengers. The lines with the most delays were the 2 and 5 trains, which each had 8 percent of total delays. The line with the fewest delays was the G, which connects Brooklyn and Queens and is the only line that does not go into Manhattan.

Manhattan had the most delays at 43 percent. The Bronx had the fewest with 11 percent.

The MTA said it is upgrading signals, tracks and subway cars as part of its capital construction program. The authority launched its free text alert system in November 2008; it has more than 76,000 subscribers.

The Straphangers Campaign is a public interest research group that advocates for improvements in mass transit.

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Transportation Nation

Tunnel Linking Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Terminal Could Be Delayed (Again) - UPDATED

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

(New York, NY - WNYC) Long Island Railroad riders might not see service to Grand Central Terminal on the East Side of Manhattan until 2019, a year later than expected.

Joe Lhota, chairman of the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority, told business leaders on Long Island that the tunnel project has bogged down beneath a railyard in Sunnyside, Queens, where contaminated soil and an unexpected abundance of underground brooks and springs have slowed digging. He said the authority has brought in tunneling experts from Europe to help solve the problems.

The project, called East Side Access, will bring Long Island Railroad trains beneath the East River to Grand Central Terminal. Now, all LIRR trains go to Penn Station, on Manhattan's West Side.

Lhota called East Side Access the first major expansion of the LIRR in 100 years. He said that, on completion, it would shave about 40 minutes off commuting time for Long Islanders who work on the East Side of Manhattan and would increase capacity of the railroad by 41 percent.

“There are 800,000 people per day that go through Penn Station,” Lhota said, according to Long Island Business News. “And 60 percent of those are Long Island Rail Road riders. East Side Access should relieve a lot of that burden.”

The project, which was originally scheduled for completion in 2015, has been delayed several times. (The NY MTA's website still lists an obsolete end date of 2016.)

NY MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg later walked back Lhota's remarks. He said, "Chairman Joe Lhota did say this morning that a very preliminary study that he saw has a risk of the deadline going into 2019. We’re in the process of re-evaluating the deadline on East Side Access and will report to the board on it at the end of May."

Lisberg said NY MTA engineers are looking at "several different types of studies" to determine whether to stick with or push back the current 2018 deadline. "It’s complex tech stuff and the experts don’t always agree," he said.

The NY MTA has said previous delays were caused in part by conflicts with Amtrak, which is also working on construction projects at the Sunnyside Railyards in Queens, slowing digging for East Side Access. Lisberg said those problems have been solved. "In January, at one of our meetings, there was discussion of problems with scheduling work in coordination with Amtrak," he said." Now we’re very well coordinated."

And now comes this statement from the MTA press office:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is reevaluating the risks in the construction schedule for the East Side Access project, and plans to present its findings to the Capital Program Oversight Committee later this month. One preliminary analysis of risk factors has indicated the completion date may move to 2019, as East Side Access construction intensifies in the busiest passenger rail yard and the largest passenger rail interchange in the nation.

 The analysis is not complete, and the MTA is identifying ways to mitigate those risk factors to allow the project to be completed as early as possible. The MTA continues to work with its partners at the Federal Transit Administration to update the East Side Access funding agreement to reflect the new schedule.

Amtrak and the MTA are working closely together on East Side Access and improvements to the East River tunnels and the Harold Interlocking to accommodate the roughly 500,000 passengers who rely on 1,200 train movements through the region each day. Senior executives at Amtrak, the MTA and NJ Transit regularly meet to coordinate construction activities and do everything possible to keep work moving forward.

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Chief Lhota: 'Yes' To Extending 7 Train Extension, 'No' To Free Ferry Transfers

Friday, April 27, 2012

Construction proceeds on the 7 subway train extension under the Far West Side of Manhattan. (NY MTA photo)

(New York, NY - WNYC) NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Joe Lhota told planners at a Midtown conference that the first project on his "wish list" is extending the Number 7 subway train down 11th Avenue to 23rd Street.

"It's something that I think would make sense because if you look at the demographics of the West Side, we shouldn't just make one stop," he told reporters after taking part in a workshop at the Regional Plan Association's annual assembly, which was held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

Lhota said, "It's important to have plans, to have a wish list." But he cautioned there was no active push to send the 7 train from Times Square past its planned terminus at W 34th Street. "I'm not sure it can be done," he said. "I'm not sure about how close you can get to the Hudson River."

The $2.1 billion extension is scheduled to be done by December 2013 at a cost of $2.1 billion. It's being built in conjunction with a massive development of the Hudson Yards immediately to the south.

NYC Mayor Michael  Bloomberg has also been thinking about boosting the capacity of New York's transportation system.

Appearing Friday as a guest on WOR Radio's John Gambling Show, he said "it'd be great" to offer free transfers to the city's private ferries with a Metrocard. "It's all one big thing in these days of technology," the mayor said. "You could use one card and then revenue could be divided up" between the ferry operators and the NY MTA.

Lhota liked the idea of allowing ferry passengers to pay by Metrocard, noting that several non-NY MTA transit operators in the region already do that, from the PATH Train to New Jersey and a newly privatized bus system on Long Island. But he wasn't keen on the idea of making the transfer free and sharing fares. "The NY MTA is in no position to share its revenue with the ferries," he said.

The NY MTA is perennially cash-strapped and only recently received funding from the state for the last three years of a five-year capital plan.

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Transportation Nation

Transport Workers Union Objects To NY MTA Real Estate Deal

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Rendering of NYU's planned Center for Urban Science and Progress, which would replace the old MTA headquarters in downtown Brooklyn.

(New York, NY - WNYC) The Transport Workers Union Local 100 is criticizing the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's decision to take $50 million from New York University to clear out of 370 Jay Street in downtown Brooklyn and make way for a new school of applied science. Union president John Samuelson said the authority should instead renovate the largely empty building and move its offices there from 2 Broadway in Manhattan.

Samuelson spoke during the public comments session of the NY MTA's monthly board meeting. He said the authority could save the $63 million a year it pays in rent to the owners of 2 Broadway, a building the authority renovated ten years ago in a massive boondoggle, by moving its offices into the largely empty Brooklyn building it owns.

"Tens of millions of dollars in rider-generated funds are going to the owners of 2 Broadway every year, which is truly money thrown away," Samuelson said.

He suggested that money spent on rent could be applied to reverse the $53 million a year in service cuts enacted by the NY MTA in 2010 as a cost-saving measure.

The 14-story building at 370 Jay Street has sat largely empty since the New York City Transit Authority moved its offices into Manhattan. Since then, the NY MTA has been paying the city a dollar a year to hold onto the property because its 14th floor holds telecommunications equipment the authority needs to run the subway. The NY MTA will use some of the money it gets from the NYU deal to move that equipment into the Jay Street-Metrotech subway station below the building.

An NY MTA spokesman dismissed Samuelson's criticisms, saying 370 Jay Street wouldn't provide enough office space and would cost $186 million to fix up and move into. "Shifting folks from 2 Broadway to 370 Jay Street would not be an economic benefit," he said.

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Transportation Nation

Former NY Governor David Paterson Joins MTA Board

Monday, April 23, 2012

Former Governor David Paterson with Governor Andrew Cuomo (right) (Photo: Governor Cuomo's flickr stream)

New York's former Governor, David Paterson, has been nominated by his successor, Andrew Cuomo, to serve on the board of New York's MTA.

As Governor, Paterson presided over some of the deepest cuts the MTA had to sustain in generations -- but he also vociferously stumped for East River bridge tolls to fund transit. Those tolls foundered when they arrived at the state legislature, and a patched-up plan left MTA finances in a continually precarious position.

Paterson also appointed Jay Walder, a respected transportation professional, to run the MTA.

"I applaud Governor Andrew Cuomo's nomination of former Governor David Paterson to the Board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority," said Joseph Lhota, the current head of the MTA, in a statement. "I have known the former Governor for 35 years and look forward to the opportunity to work with him again. He has long shared the Governor's commitment to our mission of providing safe, efficient and effective transportation to more than 8.5 million riders every day.

"Once confirmed by the Senate, former Governor Paterson will bring a unique and practical perspective, particularly with respect to issues affecting minority communities and disabled New Yorkers. I look forward to former Governor Paterson bringing to our board deliberations the charm, wit and compassion he has shown throughout his public life.”

Transit activists were also pleased with the appointment. “With another planned fare hike looming in January 2013, Paterson’s experience as a governor and state senator will prove critical to working with Albany lawmakers to find new funding for our transit system, sparing overburdened New Yorkers yet another fare hike,” said Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives, in a statement.

Paterson, the former Lt. Governor. was elevated to Governor when his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, resigned after it emerged he had consorted with prostitutes.

Paterson, who is legally blind, had previously been a State Senator from Harlem. As Governor, Paterson became embroiled in his own scandals, involving an accusation of domestic violence against one of his top aides, and a possible cover-up. Paterson chose not to run for re-election, and now hosts his own radio show.

Paterson will replace Nancy Shevell, a GOP fundraiser and trucking executive, who resigned after marrying former Beatle Paul McCarthy.


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Transportation Nation

THE ACTUAL STORY -- The MTA Removes Countdown Clocks on the Crosstown Line

Monday, April 09, 2012

Staten Island bus rider Regina Esposito uses Bus Time.

We were fooled. The MTA has had real time bus information on the M 34 since 2010.  So when we wrote, per the MTA's  press release, that Manhattan's M-34 is the latest bus route to get Bustime, the MTA's real time bus information system, that wasn't accurate.

What's new is that as of this week the MTA will have a new operating system, which means its countdown clocks won't work.  From the customer perspective the only difference is there won't be LED's at the bus stops saying when the next buses are coming, which seems like a net loss to the customers.

Our sharp-eyed colleague, editor Matthew Schuerman, caught the double-speak.

MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said the authority didn't mean to mislead. "The system that was in place before was proprietary technology," Lisberg said. "It would have cost more.  We want to do it in the cheapest way possible."

@NYCTSubwayScoop tweeted at us: "That was a pilot system run by Clever Devices.  MTA Bus Time is a open source platform and we're not beholden to a vendor," adding in a second tweet: "the displays were the property of the vendor, not NYC Transit."

Let us say, we get that.  We've been close followers of Bustime.  But when we read the press release -- it led us to believe that a new service was arriving on 34th street.

Transportation Nation apologizes to our readers for letting this one get by us. (We weren't the only ones -- New York 1, ABC Local were among the other media outlets who were confused.)

Bustime has helped riders in Staten Island and Brooklyn navigate the transit system.

It allows users to check where buses are on their desktops, or to text a stop code to the MTA at 511123, and receive a text back saying how many stops away the buses are.

The service allows users who are shopping or at work to check the arrival time of the next buses without being at the top.

Bustime has been on the B-63 bus in Brooklyn for over a year, and in Staten Island for several months.   The Bronx is scheduled to get Bustime later this year, with Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan to be phased in.

The American Public Transportation Association has linked real time transportation information to increased transit use.

For a list of stop codes go to

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Transportation Nation

Post 9/11 Security Upgrade To NYC Transit Lags

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

(New York, NY - WNYC) A new report says the first phase of the NY MTA's security upgrade after 9/11 won't be done for another two years, and that the cost keeps rising.

NY State comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says more than 3,000 cameras are already in place at transit hubs and in bridges and tunnels. What's missing is the authority's ability to monitor some of them, and to communicate efficiently with the police and fire departments.  Another problem is communications rooms in the subway have been prone to overheat.

The work was supposed to be done in 2008 but a new report by the comptroller is pushing that date back to 2014. (Only last year, the comptroller said Phase 1 would be finished this year.) The final budget is expected to be $882 million dollars--nearly $300 million more than originally estimated.

It's costing more than expected to get seven command centers up and running. And the price could rise another $150 million if the NY MTA loses a court fight with Lockheed Martin, the project's original contractor. The authority says the company reneged on its contract; Lockheed Martin says the NY MTA didn't give it enough access to tunnels and other locations to get the work done.

The NY MTA says steady progress on its security upgrade has been made and that they've finished reinforcing 17 bridges, tunnels and train stations against terrorist explosions.

"We agree with the Comptroller's assessment that the system is more secure and the public better protected as a result of the security investments that we have made," said MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan. "The report's conclusion is that the biggest obstacle going forward is funding, and we don't disagree."

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Transportation Nation

Authorities Looking Into Fatal Accident at 7 Line Construction Site

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Site of the Crane Collapse (Photo: Brian Zumhagen/ WNYC)

(New York, NY -- Brian Zumhagen, WNYC) Authorities on Wednesday were focusing on what caused a construction boom crane to crash to the ground at a Manhattan work site Tuesday evening, killing one construction worker and seriously injuring another.

Michael Simmermeyer, 30, of Burlington, N.J. was pronounced dead following Tuesday's accident at the No. 7 subway line extension construction site. One other person was hospitalized in serious condition and three people were treated for minor injuries.

According to the MTA, "a Manitowoc 4100 crane owned and operated by Yonkers Contracting Company Inc., collapsed striking a worker below.  The worker, employed by subcontractor J & E Industries LLC succumbed to his injuries.  Another worker, employed by Yonkers Contracting Company Inc., suffered a leg injury."

The MTA says  all work on the construction site has been suspended until further notice. The NYC Department of Buildings -- which regulates cranes --  as well as OSHA personnel, NYPD and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office are on site today.

The MTA it has ordered the inspection of all cranes at all MTA Capital Construction work sites.

Simmermeyer worked at the site with his father, his co-workers said.

"Both great guys to work with and hang out with. It's just horrible," said Joe Travers, an ironworker from the Rockaways. Simmermeyer was "one of the nicest guys I've ever worked with," he said.

Worker Chazz Brown, one of about 50 ironworkers sent home Wednesday from their day shift, said danger is part of the job.

"It's tragic," he said. "Nobody wants to lose a life on a job site. We come here, we expect to be secure. But it's always stuff flying over our head. All you got to do is just look up, and once it's passed, you just get back to work."

The crane was set up on the second of three levels on the construction site on Manhattan's West Side, city officials said. The FDNY said the boom came apart in two pieces - one 80 feet long and the other 40 feet long.

The NYPD said that the investigation would be jointly conducted by the Department of Buildings and police.

Jack Sullivan, deputy chief for the FDNY EMS, said it was possible one of the workers had been struck by the crane's boom. The crane operator and someone who worked with him were among those who were injured.

He described the removal of the workers from the construction site, about 60 feet below street level, as "extremely dangerous."

"We had construction material that wasn't stable," he said.

Dozens of first responders came to the accident site.

Standing on a sidewalk, one construction laborer collapsed in tears into the arms of another worker. A laborer could be heard saying: "I can't take it."

Thomas Rushkin, a retired city police officer and private investigator, said he was on his way home when he saw emergency vehicles heading over and got a glance at the pieces of the crane.

"The arm is broken in half," he said, adding that it appeared that one part of the crane was on a level below the street.

Another witness, Kennon Murphy, of Charlotte, N.C., said he was on his way to the nearby Javits Convention Center when he heard "a big boom." He said of the crane: "We noticed it was down."

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority released a statement saying they plan to work with all proper authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident.

"On behalf of the entire MTA, we pray for the recovery of the workers injured as a result of this tragic accident," the statement said.

The MTA says the cumulative lost time injury rate for the No. 7 Extension project overall is 1.6 and is 1.3 for Site J, which is below the Bureau of Labor Statistics national standard for heavy and civil construction of 2.2.In May 2008, a construction crane collapsed on Manhattan's East Side, killing the crane operator and a fellow worker. The crane's owner is currently on trial for manslaughter.

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA's BusTime Off To Fast Start

Friday, March 23, 2012

Staten Island bus rider Regina Esposito uses Bus Time. (Photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The old saying is true: “Build a system for mobile devices that allows Staten Islanders to find out when their bus will arrive, and they will come.”

OK, that’s not an old saying. But it turns out to be true. The NY MTA’s BusTime system has been up and running in Staten Island for barely two months and already an estimated 10 percent of all bus riders use it every weekday. The service lets riders use a mobile device to text or scan a bus stop code and receive a message with their bus’s location.

“Having that information on the phone just revolutionizes the experience of riding the bus,” said Josh Robin, a project director with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which has had its own version of the program since 2009. “You can look on the screen and see the bus moving toward you instead of peering down the road, hoping to see the lights and LED sign of a bus.”

Staten Island is the first of the city’s five boroughs to receive BusTime, which, according to transportation analysts, is off to a flying start.

“I think it is a smashing success to have 10% of the riders using it within a year of opening the service,” said Dr. Kari Watkins, a civil engineering professor at Georgia Tech who studied real-time bus arrival information in Seattle. She said it has taken two and a half years for that city’s version of BusTime, called OneBusAway, to be used by 20 percent of its riders.

The success of BusTime has not come overnight. The NY MTA struggled for years to come up with a GPS system powerful enough to accurately track its buses while they plied their routes. Robin, who observed the MTA’s era of GPS trial and error, said he’s encourage by the outcome. “To think of all the fits and starts that MTA had in getting the GPS out there, this 10 percent rate is really impressive.”

NY MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said the authority plans to introduce BusTime to the Bronx and a borough-to-be-named-later by the end of this year. He said the entire city should be covered by the end of 2013.

Donovan said it’s too soon to tell if BusTime has led to an increase in ridership in Staten Island. He did say that usage of the system in in the borough has grown at a faster rate than it did for a pilot program on the B63 bus in Brooklyn. “We are pleased with the growth rate and we expect that it will grow further as more people become familiar with it and tell their friends,” he said.

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Says There's No Decision on G Train Extension

Friday, March 09, 2012

When the NY MTA began a massive construction project in Brooklyn, disrupting service for riders in Park Slope and Windsor Terrace, it sweetened the pot by extending G train service deeper into Brooklyn, connecting those neighborhoods to Fort Greene and Williamsburg.

According to an MTA podcast from 2009 "As a result of extending the G, it’s estimated that on a typical weekday, 8,700 riders will save an average of three minutes. The G will operate to Church Ave through 2013, the scheduled completion date for the Culver Viaduct project."

But the when the Working Families Party started circulating a petition  this week (prompting many alarmed emails to Transportation Nation), the MTA appeared to have a change of heart.

"We have made no decision on the G line extension which was put into place to facilitate the Culver Viaduct rehabilitation work," spokesman Charles Seaton said in an email. "We will do an assessment toward the end of the year and then make a decision prior to completion of the work—about a year and a half from now."


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