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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Cuomo Expected To Name Lhota as MTA Head; NYC Taxi Medallion Goes for $1 Million

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Top stories on TN:

Patrick Foye is the new head of the Port Authority of NY and NJ, pending board approval. (Link)

Power, politics, and the Prospect Park West bike lane. (Link)

Millions of Americans drive over structurally deficient bridges every day. (Link)

(Photo: Karly Domb Sadof)

NY Governor Cuomo is expected to name Joe Lhota to head the MTA. (Wall Street Journal)

Amtrak is now making Wi-Fi available on other regional trains besides the Acela -- but with a catch: content filters block some legitimate subjects, like gay rights sites. (Greater Greater Washington)

Senator John McCain's proposed amendment to the transportation spending bill was tabled yesterday. (The Hill)

NYC is taking a closer look at the B110 bus, which is privately operated public bus that asks Jewish women to sit in the back. (NY Times)

Million dollar medallions: two NYC taxi cabs medallions were sold for $1 million apiece, the highest recorded sale since the city’s modern livery system began. (NY Times)

NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg says a lawsuit demanding that taxicabs be wheelchair-accessible is unrealistic and would inconvenience all passengers. (NY Daily News)

Portugal can't afford to finish building a high-speed rail line originally planned to go between Lisbon and Madrid. (Marketplace)

NJ Transit is partnering with Google over a 'tap and pay' system. (Star-Ledger)

One NYC artist tells the story of the Puerto Rican diaspora through a Schwinn bicycle. (NY Daily News)

A team of engineering and seismic experts said a controversial proposal to build Los Angeles's Westside subway extension under Beverly Hills High School is safer than an alternate route. (Los Angeles Times)

Tweet from Howie Wolf, NYC deputy mayor: New Q poll finds strong support for @MikeBloomberg bike policies -- 72% of NYers support bike share, 58% support bike lanes #bikenyc

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Transportation Nation

Cuomo Seems To Be Zeroing In On "Surprising" Choice For Next NY MTA Chair

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Joe Lhota.

(New York, NY) - The committee appointed by New York Governor Cuomo to find the next CEO and chairman of the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority has completed its work. The governor is now mulling a short list with six names on it, culled from eleven candidates interviewed for the job. Sources familiar with the process say the name at the top of the list is Joseph Lhota, executive vice president of Madison Square Garden and former right hand man to Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Lhota served in the Giuliani administration for six years, first as budget director and then as deputy mayor of operations. He also worked as an adviser to Giuliani's presidential campaign in 2007-2008.

Other known finalists are NYC Transit President Thomas Prendergast, who oversees 50,000 subway and bus employees; Nuria Fernandez, senior v.p. at an infrastructure management company and former deputy administrator with the Federal Transit Administration; Karen Rae, deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration and a former commissioner of the New York State Transportation Department; and Daniel Grabauskas, the Mitt Romney-appointed general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority who resigned under pressure from Governor Deval Patrick in 2009.

Lhota is considered the leading candidate by those familiar with the search process. Reaction among transit watchers, none of whom would speak on the record to avoid alienating the possible next chief of the NY MTA, was part puzzlement and part wait-and-see.

"I was a little surprised that Joe Lhota rose to the top of that pool," said an official from a previous mayoral administration. "He understands inter-governmental relations and he understands the politics but he’s more of a political operative than a manager."

Both Cuomo and outgoing MTA chairman Jay Walder have said in the past few weeks that the next chair did not need to have a transit background. “I think it is helpful to have a knowledge of mass transit," Walder said at the NY MTA's September board meeting. "I don’t know that it’s an absolutely essential quality.”

Lhota fits that profile. His resume shows no transportation posts. But he did manage large governmental agencies in the Giuliani administration and ran the city when the mayor was out of town. Since then, he has navigated the executive suites of the Cablevision Systems Corporation and Madison Square Garden. And Lhota has served as a board member at the City University of New York for the past ten years.  Lhota was one of two board members who did not support withholding an honorary degree from playwright Tony Kushner last May.  The vote to table the degree past last spring's commencement was much-criticized and later reversed.

Jonathan Bowles, director of the Center for an Urban Future, a policy think tank, said he didn't know Lhota well enough to comment specifically.  But he said that from a leadership perspective, "It’s important someone be selected who can really make a strong case for transit and can convince legislators that this is so critical to the city’s future and that we’re on the precipice of something bad happening."

Bowles added that the stakes are enormous: "If there’s one thing Governor Cuomo could do now to boost the city’s economy, it’s shore up the transit system."

The precipice on which the NY MTA teeters consists of several difficulties: a 2012-2015 capital construction plan with a $10 billion dollar shortfall; a looming contract negotiation with Transport Workers Union Local 100 that, by all signs, will be acrimonious; a threat from a group of state legislators to cut the dedicated revenue stream that is the regional payroll mobility tax, which last year contributed $1.3 billion to authority coffers. That's about an eighth of the authority's operating budget.

Sources differed on Lhota's ability to rise to those challenges. The NY MTA needs someone "who can handle the union relationships, the crisis of money, and Lhota will get it faster than most people," said one. Another thought the Republican Lhota could help the Democrat Cuomo beat back a Republican-lead push in the state legislature to eliminate the payroll mobility tax.

But a third believed Lhota was the front-runner precisely because he won't speak up too loudly for the needs of mass transit: "He’s gong to be the person who makes the cuts without making any demands on the state budget. He may even then turn around and say to the city, 'It’s all your fault.' He’s going to protect Andrew Cuomo from the hard choices."

Earlier today, the governor said at a press conference: “We’re going to have an announcement on the MTA shortly." He added that the public would know his nomination for the chairmanship within “days.” Cuomo has told members of the search committee that he wants to name that person before Jay Walder decamps from the $350,000 a year post on October 21 to run a private rail and real estate company in Hong Kong.



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Transportation Nation

NY MTA & Transit Union Blame Each Other For Delay In New Subway Service

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Some L trains during rush hour are too crowded to board. (Photo by Runs With Scirssors.)

(New York, NY - WNYC) UPDATED. It's going to take eight months for the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority to add extra weekend service to the crowded L train, which serves Lower Manhattan and fast-growing parts of Brooklyn. The NY MTA and a major transit union are blaming each other for the delay.

MTA spokesman Charles Seaton said it's a complex operation to revise a subway line's schedule and then allow the union the time it needs, by contract, to pick which workers will crew the new trains.

An email he sent describing the process had at least six steps. They included time for the union to"review and comment on the timetables and work program" and time for the authority to "make modifications agreed to with" the union. And that's only two of the steps.

Seaton said a schedule change like the one proposed for the L train can take up to ten months to implement.

Not necessarily, said Jim Gannon, a spokesman for the Transit Workers Union Local 100. He contended the MTA could add weekend trains on the L line right away by declaring it "supplemental service," as it does for major events like the World Series. Workers-on-call could then crew the trains until the formal process is completed and the schedule change made permanent.

The issue is pressing because over the past twelve years, weekend ridership on the L train has grown at three times the rate of the subway system as a whole, making it the fastest growing subway line. That's according to a new MTA study of the L line requested by State Senator Daniel L. Squadron, a Democrat representing parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan.

"I'm glad the MTA heeded my call to increase weekend service on the L," Squadron said in an email. "Of course, weekend service should be improved as quickly as possible. If there's a way to make it happen earlier within the MTA's budget constraints, then let's make it happen."

A staff member for an elected representative said the MTA called adding L train service outside the formal scheduling process "cost prohibitive." The MTA did not immediately return calls about the the union's call for supplemental service.

Gannon said the burden is on the MTA to provide a timely improvement. "If they wanted to add service on the L line, they could do it," he said. "They’re just being methodical. It seems like they’re pushing the burden of why this takes so long on us."

The Transport Workers Union contract expires in January.  The union has had a deteriorating relationship with MTA leadership over the years.

UPDATE: MTA spokesman Charles Seaton emailed with a new reason for why increased weekend L train service can't occur until June 2012. He said the authority plans to spend the first half of next year removing old track-side signals as part of an automated upgrade of the line's signal system, work that needs to happen on the weekends, when trains run less often.

"Remember, the Canarsie Line [L train] is only a two-track railroad," he writes. "We would not want to promise an increase in weekend service and then have to cut service back every weekend while the removals take place."

That means status quo service for L train riders on the weekend until next summer. More riders take the L on Saturday between 1 and 3 p.m. and after 8 p.m. than do during the week at those same times. Late afternoon on Saturday is also when the Brooklyn-bound L sometimes carries up to 35 percent more passengers than the prescribed maximum load, according to the MTA's report. If you must travel to Bushwick at that time for the latest cryptic public art happening, prepare to be squeezed.


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Transportation Nation

New MTA Web Page Clears Up Information Morass

Friday, September 16, 2011

UPDATED --Just took the MTA's new weekender map, which is now live, for a test ride. Instead of a confusing array of notices, now, if you go on the website, you're treated to a cool graphic with flashing lights that immediately tells you what's up with YOUR subway.

NYC MTA Chief Jay Walder made no bones when he took over the nation's largest transit authority that the old weekend service announcements were completely confusing. You had to scan your way through reams of papers, find your line, check your blackberry to figure what what dates were coming, and stand there scratching your head. While your train passed you by because you were spending so much time figuring it all out. So one of Walder's relatively early acts was to overhaul the signage.

But it turns out the notices are still totally confusing. You still have to scan through reams of paper and to figure out which lines are out on the weekends. (Answer: many. Expect to be disrupted.)

Bewildering Wall of Service Changes at the Spring Street stop of the C/E train.

Now, the MTA is tacitly acknowledging it can do better. Beginning this afternoon, its website, will display a pretty, interactive subway map with flashing feature alerts. Users, the MTA promises, will able to click on stops and lines for more information.

Information on service disruptions is particularly important for weekend users, who, because many are not commuting to work, are more likely to be choosing between transit and other options. Some percentage, if it's too confusing, will just give up and take a car or a cab.

The map (photo at top of post) is based on the old, 1970's Massimo Vignelli subway map -- which hangs in the Museum of Modern Art.

The new map is literally, a work of art.





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Transportation Nation

MTA to Spend Millions on Port Jervis Line Repair

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Flooding and other hurricane damage on the Port Jervis train line. (Photo by NY MTA.)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority is getting ready to invest millions of dollars to repair the Port Jervis train line on the western side of the Hudson River. The authority is paying an engineering firm $500,000 to figure out how to repair damage from Tropical Storm Irene.

That raises the question: why is the authority prepared to spend so much to bring back a relatively lightly used transit option?

About 2,300 riders take the Port Jervis train through Orange County on an average weekday. That's just a small portion of the thousands of riders who used to take the 37 bus lines in New York City that were cut last summer to save money. The B69 and B71 bus lines alone, which served Park Slope and Downtown Brooklyn, carried 2,300 weekday passengers.

MTA spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said the authority has no choice but to make the repairs to the Port Jervis line--and to run 55 buses among eight stations, seven days a week, until the line is fixed. She couldn't put a price tag on the substitute bus service but said it was attracting about half the number of passengers who rode the  train before the hurricane.

The storm washed out 14 miles of track, and Anders said there are no alternative transit options like there are in the five boroughs. "Compared to Brooklyn, Orange County's choices are very limited," she said.

Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign said he's conflicted: Port Jervis's ridership is low, but he agrees Metro North is the only way for many commuters to get to Manhattan. "It's the only means of transport for these people," he said.

Anders she said the engineering firm will come up with a price tag for repairing the track by the end of the month.

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA, Its Debt Downgraded, Shrugs

Friday, September 09, 2011

(New York, NY - WNYC) A bond ratings agency says there's a problem with the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's plan to pay for new construction over the next three years.

Fitch Ratings says the authority won't be getting the extra revenue it needs to pay off the $4.7 billion it wants to borrow to help plug a $10 billion gap in its capital construction program. Result: Fitch, the smallest of the three ratings agencies, is downgrading the authority's debt from "A+" to "A."

Charles Brecher, Director of Research for the Citizens Budget Commission, used a familiar analogy to explain the MTA's difficulty: "You can take on a big mortgage if you've got a big income. The problem here is they're saying we're taking out a bigger mortgage but there's no sign that our income is going up."

Specifically, the MTA's capital plan doesn't show it making enough money from cost-cutting, fare increases and dedicated taxes to back the new debt it says it needs to pay to complete large projects like the Second Avenue subway and keep buses, bridges, trains and subways in a state of good repair.

Fitch's vote of "no confidence" in the capital plan could raise the cost of borrowing for the authority, right when it is poised to seek more loans.

Brecher says more costly borrowing is now a danger for the NY MTA, but it's not automatic. The authority agrees. It said in a statement that it has weathered economic downturns and budget difficulties before, and that it doesn't expect the downgrade to substantially raise its debt payments. "While a downgrade is never welcome news," the statement said, the NY MTA's credit remains "fundamentally secure."

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Transportation Nation

Ratings Agency Downgrades NY MTA, Clouding Financial Picture

Thursday, September 08, 2011

It it weren't enough that the NY MTA faces yawning budget gaps, the loss of its CEO and looming labor negotiations, now Fitch, the smallest of the three main rating agencies, has downgraded the authority's debt, meaning MTA may have to pay more for its debt, worsening its budget woes.

Here's the Fitch press release.  We'll have more soon.

"Fitch Ratings-New York-08 September 2011: Fitch Ratings has assigned an 'A' rating to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New York's (MTA) $99,560,000 transportation revenue variable rate bonds, series 2011B.

At this time, Fitch also downgrades the rating on $14.3 billion in outstanding MTA transportation revenue bonds to 'A' from 'A+'. The downgrade reflects higher than expected near-to-medium term financial pressure.

The Rating Outlook is revised to Stable. Fitch will shortly assign short and long-term credit enhanced ratings on the series 2011B bonds.

--Gross lien on a diverse stream of pledged revenues to meet debt service payments;
--Essentiality of the MTA's transit network to the economy of the New York region;
--Demonstrated ability of the MTA to produce solutions aimed at closing projected budget gaps;
--Need to generate sufficient cash to adequately cover operations of the system despite high debt service coverage ratios (DSCRs) as well as some future leveraging on the transportation revenue credit for capital;
--Increasing annual debt burden;
--Significant funding needs for the large $24 billion 2010-2014 Capital Program;
--Capacity to continue to leverage resources to fund expansion projects while meeting renewal and replacement needs.

--Inability to achieve operating efficiencies and implement other key elements of the cost reduction initiatives and/or maintaining ongoing state of good repair elements of the capital program;
--Significant cost overruns or delays in the capital program's mega-projects that would require additional funding;
--Additional service cuts or deferral of core capital projects that result in deterioration of key transportation services of the system;
--Deterioration or limited growth in dedicated tax subsidies.

The transportation revenue bonds are primarily secured by operating receipts and operating subsidies, including transit and commuter rail fares and other operating revenues, surplus toll revenues, and certain dedicated tax sources, state and local operating subsidies, and reimbursements.

The downgrade reflects higher than expected near-to-medium term financial pressure stemming from increasing operating costs (projected to moderate in growth in the outer years) and pension obligations and growing annual debt service obligations from expected near-term issuance associated with the capital program. This is exacerbated by the strong likelihood that operating subsides (dedicated tax sources) will not grow as anticipated in the near term leading to wider deficits. The Stable Outlook reflects the authority's institutional focus on monitoring developments and willingness to take corrective action albeit that the options available are fewer in the current environment.

While the MTA forecasts a sizeable surplus of $170 million in 2011 as well as a modest surplus of $4 million in 2012 growing to $125 million in 2013, underlying assumptions related to management's continued ability to implement new cost containment initiatives, growth in operating subsidies (regional dedicated taxes, mortgage taxes and the payroll mobility tax) as well as yields on toll and fare increases are of concern and must still come to fruition. Forecasted deficits of $54 million in 2014 and $178 million in 2015 may be greater than estimated if the underlying assumptions on either the expense or revenue side are not achieved in the near term.

The July financial plan forecasts labor expenses, primarily driven by significant increases in health and welfare costs as well as pension benefits, to grow to $8.3 billion in 2015 from $6.9 billion in 2010 or 3.7 % annually. Similarly, non-labor costs are expected to increase 7.3% annually to $3.7 billion in 2015 from $2.6 billion in 2010. To the extent operating efficiencies including 3 Zeros / Accelerated Zero (wage freezes) and other MTA initiatives come to fruition, growth rates will be lower. Operating subsidies are forecasted to increase to $6.2 billion in 2015 from $4.8 billion in 2010 or 5.24%. Increased fares and tolls are expected to offset some of the growth in operating expenses.

The MTA's July Financial Plan shows improvement from previous financial plans that forecasted larger deficits, and Fitch recognizes management's expense control actions and the demonstrated ability to navigate through the difficult economic environment impacting the greater New York City area and surrounding region. However, it is Fitch's opinion that the MTA will face significant challenges related to meeting the plan over the next several years as significant new debt is issued to finance the $23.8 billion 2010-2014 capital program.

Operating revenues from transit, bus, commuter rail and the bridges and tunnels year-to-date (YTD) through May are tracking close to budget, while total operating expenses are tracking slightly below budget, at around 1.2%. Receipts from dedicated operating subsidies including new state aid, state dedicated taxes and real estate related taxes have been mixed through May. New state aid comprised of the payroll mobility tax (PMT) and MTA Aid (license fee, vehicle registration fee, taxi fee and automobile rental fee) are currently tracking with budgeted estimates, while real estate taxes consisting of the regional mortgage recording tax and New York City urban taxes are tracking around 10% higher, reflecting some rebound in the real estate market. The sustainability of this turnaround is uncertain.

The MTA's 2010-2014 $23.8 billion capital program comprised approximately $18.1 billion in core projects on the existing system and $5.7 billion for expansion projects. As with prior capital programs, long-term debt is expected to finance a significant portion of the 2010-2014 capital program. To the extent that forecasted financial performance is not met, the MTA may be forced to scale back debt financing to fund a portion of the program. The political pressure to keep construction going to support jobs will be a counter-weight. Deferred maintenance or a decrease in system reliability would be potential credit concerns.

The MTA is responsible for North America's largest transit network, serving 2.6 billion riders annually. The authority's network is essential to the economic well-being of the region, handling 80% of all daily trips to Manhattan's business district."

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Transportation Nation

Budgeting By Credit Card: How The NY MTA Got Into Debt And Why It Must Get Out

Thursday, August 25, 2011

(Colby Hamilton -- New York, NY - The Empire) Jay Walder’s resignation as head of the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority last month caught city and state officials totally by surprise. The man that had guided the transit agency through the fiscal crisis fallout by implementing harsh but largely unavoidable cutbacks—fare hikes, and budget gouging—was leaving. He’s taking a gig in Hong Kong that pays three times as much, running a system that is posting sizable profits.

A few days later, Walder and the rest of the MTA board dropped the latest budget numbers on riders. The agency’s five-year capital program—the money pool that pays for big projects like the 2nd Avenue subway line and the 7 train extension, as well as overall maintenance—was underfunded by $9 billion for the final three years. The agency is adding a fare hike in 2015, on top of the scheduled fare increase next year. It also wants to borrow $6.9 billion to help cover these costs.

This is a sorry song that New York straphangers have been listening to for years now. The public response was less of an outrage than an exhausted sigh. Given the perennial state of crises the MTA finds itself in, and the continued financial burdens being passed along to riders, it’s worth remembering the immortal words of David Byrne: “You may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?’”

How DID we get here?

There are many factors that have led to the abysmal fiscal situation of the MTA. Tax receipts vanishing in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis didn’t help. Neither does Albany legislators’ stealing funds from the agency to pay for other things. The agency’s debt obligations alone take 20 cents from every dollar it pulls in.

Likewise, many people could—and should—be held responsible, from elected officials to appointed board members, unions to business leaders. But out of this pool of transit tragedy one person bears a disproportionate responsibility for the current mess the nation’s largest public transit system is in.

That person is former Governor George Pataki.

Understanding how the Pataki administration is culpable for today’s problems requires heading back to the beginning of 1980. To be fair to the Pataki people, the former governor was in many ways just following the trail blazed by his predecessors. For the 20 years prior, the MTA had borrowed to finance its upkeep and improvement, a decision that saved the system. But what started as a fiscal pill to quiet the immediate pain of a system nearing collapse turned into a budget addiction that has torn the agency apart.

For more, go to this story on WNYC's Empire blog and continue reading after subhead, "An Initial Rescue."

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Transportation Nation

Wanted: Someone Brave--Foolhardy?--Enough To Lead the NY MTA

Monday, August 08, 2011

(New York, NY - WNYC) New York Governor Cuomo moments ago announced a search committee (full release at end of post) to find a replacement for outgoing NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Jay Walder, who abruptly announced his resignation last month. On October 21, Walder will forsake what has been America's plummest transit job to become CEO of MTR Corporation, a deep-pocketed private rail company in Hong Kong.

Among those asked to sift resumes and conduct interviews as members of the committee are former Deputy U.S. Transportation Secretary Mortimer Downey,  Former Lt. Governor Richard Ravitch, and MTA watchdogs Gene Russianoff of The Straphangers Campaign and Bob Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association.

The group has a much wider span than Cuomo's transportation transition committee, which had no planners or transit advocates among its membership.

If the past is a guide, Cuomo will choose the next chair of the nation's largest transit system from one of two broad categories: a politically connected ally or campaign donor, like his choice to head the New York Thruway Authority; or a high-profile transportation professional in the mold of Walder and his predecessor, Eliot Sander.

Cuomo has spoken sparingly about transportation policy--his first months in office were marked by other priorities, like tax cuts, an on-time budget, and gay marriage--so it is difficult to divine his leanings on who'll get to helm the NY MTA through the storms ahead. (For a laugh-until-you-cry take on the near-apocalyptic forces arrayed against the authority, read this fake job posting that seeks a "politically savvy transit manager willing to preside over the gradual re-collapse of New York City's transit system...")

But transit watchers have noted with interest that the governor, in putting together his search committee, has reached out beyond government officials and other usual suspects.

The new chairperson will face a bewildering array of challenges as soon as he or she slides into the $350,000 a year position. The 2012-2015 capital construction plan has a $9 billion dollar shortfall; a crucial labor negotiation looms with the Transit Workers Union, which has already declared that the authority's plan to win a three-year contract with no wage increases is dead-on-arrival; and yet another fare increase is scheduled for next year--and two years after that. In addition, a faction of the state legislature is on the warpath against a mobility tax instituted in 2009 to shore up the NY MTA budget. The authority's chief financial officer has warned that repealing the tax, as Senate Republicans are angling to do, will collapse the NY MTA's already shaky fiscal stability.

"Jay Walder made great strides," said one transit advocate. "He improved the credibility of the MTA with the public and the state legislature. He found more cost efficiencies than in many years. But he's still winning over the public. That’s not something that’s going to be done in two years after thirty years of disappointing and infuriating the public."

And it will soon no longer be his headache, but someone else's.

Here's the full press release from Governor Cuomo:


Committee will assist with search for new MTA chairman

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the creation of an MTA Search Advisory Committee that will assist in recommending and evaluating candidates for the next chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

"This committee will help conduct a national and international search to find and recommend the most talented candidates for the next chairman of the MTA," Governor Cuomo said. "I am committed to appointing a new chairman who will put straphangers first and who will continue to reform the MTA by reducing costs and waste, while improving efficiency and service."

The advisory committee is comprised of leading public transportation experts and management professionals in the public and private sectors. An executive search and recruitment firm, Krauthamer & Associates, has been engaged to assist in the process. The Governor's appointment of an MTA chairman is subject to Senate confirmation.

Mortimer Downey, former Deputy Secretary of U.S. Department of Transportation, said, "This committee will assist with a comprehensive review and evaluation process of top-tier professionals to be considered for next chairman of the MTA. With tight budget pressures and hard decisions ahead, the new chairman must ensure the MTA provides quality service while meeting tough fiscal demands. Governor Cuomo's strong commitment to the MTA is reflected in this committee's membership of experienced civic leaders and public transportation experts."

Gene Russianoff, Senior Attorney of the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, said, "The next chairman and CEO of the MTA will shape transportation policies in the New York metropolitan region for millions of daily riders, and I congratulate the Governor for putting together a great panel to seek the best possible candidates."

Robert Yaro, President of the Regional Plan Association, said, "Governor Cuomo has charged this committee with assisting in the selection of a new chairman for the MTA and over the next months we will help evaluate and review top public transportation professionals from across the nation. I commend the Governor for assembling this committee to assist with finding a new chairman, and I look forward to continuing to work together to revitalize our state's public transportation system."

Members of the Committee include:

Vincent Alvarez, President, New York City Central Labor Council
Mr. Alvarez is President of the New York City Central Labor Council, an organization that represents more than one million union members. Mr. Alvarez is the council's first Hispanic and first full-time president. He previously served as deputy legislative director of the New York State A.F.L-C.I.O, and was former Chief of Staff at the Council.

Lillian Borrone, Board Chair, Eno Transportation Foundation
Ms. Borrone currently chairs the Eno Transportation Foundation, a nonprofit organization that partners with government agencies, professional and private organizations to improve the mobility, safety and sustainability of transportation systems. Ms. Borrone previously served as the Assistant Executive Director of the Port Authority of NY and NJ, and also held positions as the Director of the Port Commerce Department and Director of Management and Budget.

Stanley Brezenoff, President and CEO, Continuum Health Partners
Mr. Brezenoff currently serves as the President and CEO of Continuum Health Partners, a hospital system that includes Beth Israel Medical Center, St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, Long Island College Hospital and The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. Previously, he served as the Executive Director of the Port Authority of NY and NJ, and was the former Deputy Mayor of Operations, as well as the First Deputy Mayor of New York City, during the Koch administration.

Mary Ann Crotty, Former Director of State Operations
Ms. Crotty is the former Deputy Secretary for Transportation and former Director of State Operations under Governor Mario Cuomo.

Beverly Dolinsky, Former Executive Director, Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee
Ms. Dolinsky formerly served as the Executive Director Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA for 25 years. Ms. Dolinksy also was the first riders' representative on the MTA board, a non-voting seat that was established in 1995, where she served for 8 years.

Mortimer Downey, Former Deputy Secretary, US Department of Transportation
Mr. Downey formerly served as the Deputy Secretary at US Department of Transportation during the Clinton Administration. He is currently Secretary of the Eno Transportation Foundation and a Senior Advisor for Parsons Brinckerhoff. He began his career at the Port Authority of NY and NJ, where he held various positions. Mr. Downey has also served as the Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer of the New York MTA.

Fernando Ferrer, Board Member, MTA
Mr. Ferrer formerly served as Bronx Borough President from 1987 to 2001. Upon leaving this post, he ran for mayor of New York in both 2001 and 2005. He is the former director of the Drum Hill Institute, and is a current co-chairman of Mercury Public Affairs.

Howard Glaser, Director of State Operations

Sidney Holmes, Partner, Winston Strawn LLP
Mr. Holmes is a corporate partner at Winston Strawn LLP, and has served as bond counsel, underwriter's counsel, and bank counsel in virtually every type of municipal bond financing throughout the United States and its territories. In May 2008, Mr. Holmes was appointed by New York Governor David Paterson to serve as a commissioner of the Port Authority of NY and NJ. Mr. Holmes is also a commissioner of the New York State Insurance Fund and is a board member of the New York Urban League, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation.

Denis Hughes, President, New York State AFL-CIO
Mr. Hughes is the current president of the 2.5 million-member New York State AFL-CIO. He first became a union member at the age of 16 when he joined the Retail Clerks Union, and later joined the AFL-CIO as Political Director and Assistant to the President. He was first elected as President in 1999, and was subsequently re-elected to three consecutive terms. Mr. Hughes has also served as Commissioner of the New York State Insurance Fund, and was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

William Longhi, President & CEO, Orange and Rockland Utilities, Inc.
Mr. Longhi has been the President and Chief Executive Officer of Orange and Rockland Utilities, Inc. since February 2009. Previously, he served as Senior Vice President of Central Operations at Con Edison Company of New York. Since joining Con Edison in 1976, Mr. Longhi has held a variety of positions throughout the company, including Vice President of Operations at O&R in 2000 and 2001.

Mitchell Moss, Director, Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management
Prior to his appointment as Director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, Mr. Moss was the Director of NYU's Taub Urban Research Center, where he directed research projects for the National Science Foundation, Charles Revson Foundation, U.S. Department of Commerce, New York State Economic Development Corporation, and leading private corporations. Professor Moss has been on the faculty of NYU since 1973.

Richard Ravitch, Former Lieutenant Governor of New York
Mr. Ravitch is a veteran public servant, having worked in both federal and state government for decades. In the late 1960s, Ravitch left his family's construction firm to join President Lyndon Johnson's administration. Under President Johnson, Ravitch served as a member of the United States Commission on Urban Problems and was elected president of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council. Later, under Governor Hugh Carey, Mr. Ravitch served as chairman of the New York State Urban Development Corporation, rescuing the agency from near-bankruptcy. Mr. Ravitch went onto become chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. In 2008, Governor Paterson tapped him to chair a commission charged with restoring the MTA to sound financial footing and he subsequently served as Lieutenant Governor. Currently Mr. Ravitch is a partner at New York based law firm Ravitch, Rice & Co.

Bill Rudin, Chairman, Association for a Better NY
In addition to serving as the Chair of the Association for a Better NY, Mr. Rudin is currently the President of Rudin Management Company, Inc. He also serves as Chairman of the Board for the Battery Conservancy and as a member of the Boards of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Real Estate Board of New York and New York University.

Gene Russianoff, Senior Attorney, NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign
Mr. Russianoff is senior attorney and chief spokesman for the Straphangers Campaign for NYPIRG, a Manhattan-based public transportation advocacy group that focuses mainly on subway and bus services run by New York City Transit. Mr. Russianoff has worked for NYPIRG since his graduation from Harvard Law School in 1978.

Desmond Ryan, Executive Director, Association for a Better Long Island
Mr. Ryan is the Executive Director at ALBI. Previously, Mr. Ryan worked at Grumman Aerospace where he worked in public affairs issues in both Washington, D.C. and Albany. He has also served as Director of Government Affairs at the Long Island Association, and worked in the Office of the New York State Assembly Speaker in the 1980s where he focused on legislative issues affecting the Long Island region.

Thomas Schwarz, President, SUNY Purchase
Mr. Schwarz has served as President of SUNY Purchase since 2003. He is a retired partner from Skadden, Arps, Meagher and Flom, which he originally joined in 1969. At Skadden, he was National Practice Leader of the Litigation Department and the founding partner of the firm's Committee on Diversity. Mr. Schwarz served as mayor of the village of Ocean Beach in Suffolk County from 1978 to 1987 and was Special Counsel to the New York State Commission on Government Integrity 1987-1991. He also served as acting president of Hamilton College in 1999.

Rodney Slater, Partner, Patton Boggs
Mr. Slater is a partner at Patton Boggs. Previously, Mr. Slater served as Secretary of the US Department of Transportation during the Clinton Administration. He also served as director of the Federal Highway Administration. He is also a partner at James Lee Witt Associates and currently serves on the board of directors of Africare and The Dance Theater of Harlem. He is the chair of the Board of Trustees of United Way and serves on the corporate boards of Delta Air Lines and Verizon.

Robert Steel, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development

Robert K. Steel is currently the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development. He is responsible for the city's five-borough economic development strategy and job-creation efforts, and spearheads major development projects city-wide. Deputy Mayor Steel oversees various agencies including the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Department of City Planning, Department of Small Business Services, NYC Economic Development Corporation and NYC & Company. Previously, Mr. Steel was the President and CEO of Wachovia. He also formerly served as Under Secretary for Domestic Finance at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Prior to entering government service, Mr. Steel spent nearly three decades at Goldman Sachs, where he became co-head of the U.S. Equities Division and Vice Chairman of the firm.

Robert Yaro, President, Regional Plan Association

Mr. Yaro is currently President of Regional Plan Association, the nation's oldest independent metropolitan policy, research, and advocacy group. Mr. Yaro also co-chairs the Empire State Transportation Alliance and the Friends of Moynihan Station, and is Vice President of the Forum for Urban Design.

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Transportation Nation

Connecticut's Aging Rail Technology Is Causing Breakdowns From Both Heat and Cold

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

New Haven Line train.

(New York, NY - WNYC) Performance on a major New York commuter rail line during last week's heat wave was a tale of the two states it serves. Outdated technology in Connecticut led to multiple train breakdowns and stranded passengers on the New Haven Line, which connects that state to Grand Central Terminal in Midtown Manhattan. One train stalled between stations when overhead power lines sagged and tangled, leaving passengers sweltering and stuck for almost an hour.

All the while, trains on New York tracks ran smoothly.

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority says that's because New York State invested early last decade in a new overhead power system that automatically takes up the slack when wires start drooping in the heat. New York also bought new train cars that held up fairly well during the Northeast's bitter and blizzardy winter of 2010-2011.

MTA spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said Connecticut did neither, and paid for it during both seasons.

The authority was forced to curtail service on the New Haven line by 10 percent in January when the old trains broke down faster than Connecticut's cramped work yards could repair them. But Metro-North's Harlem Line, which runs newer trains purchased by New York in 2000, didn't have those problems.

Similarly, New York invested in overhauling its overhead power system for trains in the last decade. Towers that hold up the wires now have counterweights that lower and tighten the wires when they sag. Connecticut has no such system. Last week, the NY MTA tried to prevent the overhead lines from tangling by ordering trains on its lines to slow from a normal cruising speed of 70 m.p.h. to 50 m.p.h. It worked in New York but not Connecticut.

Ms. Anders said the overhead wires provide electrical current by making contact with a four-foot wide metal bar on the top of a train. Last Friday's high temperature of 104 degrees caused the overhead wires in Connecticut to sag so much that they slipped off the side of the metal bar on some trains and tangled, cutting off power and halting those trains.

"It goes without saying that antique fleet and an antique infrastructure and power system is not going to perform well in any temperature or weather extremes, whether it's snow or heat," she said.

Connecticut has been trying to catch up. Governor Dannel Malloy agreed to spend $400 million dollars on new overhead wires and $750 million dollars on new train cars better suited to the cold weather. The new cars have started arriving but the new overhead power system won't be done until 2016.

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Transportation Nation

With Apple Store and Shake Shack, Upscale Retail Gaining a Foothold at Grand Central Terminal

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Shake Shack restaurant will be coming to this spot in the Dining Concourse at Grand Central Terminal.

(New York, NY - WNYC) Apple and Shake Shack have gotten preliminary approval to set up shop in Grand Central Terminal. The relatively upscale retailers continue the terminal's decades-long march from dingy transit crossroads to a combination of train station, ornately restored public space and glitzy retail mall.

The Apple store would occupy 2,300 square feet of a mezzanine in the Main Hall. It would not have glass walls but keep the mezzanine's open design.

The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Finance Committee approved the new tenants this afternoon. If the board votes in favor of the deal on Wednesday, Apple would sign a ten year lease starting at $800,000 dollars a year and escalating to more than a $1 million a year. The move is part of the authority's drive to wring more income from its real estate holdings.

The MTA paid $5 million dollars to buy out Metrazur, the restaurant that previously held the spot. That caused some unease with New York City Transit Riders Council member Andrew Albert.

"You could probably replace every existing tenant in Grand Central with national chains because they have the ability to pay more," he said to the MTA's Director of Real Estate, Jeff Rosen. "Is that the direction we are going?"

Rosen said the MTA was committed to keep a mix of business at the terminal. He named several stores that operated only at the terminal or oa handful of other locations, including a spice shop and florist.

Shake Shack would be in the center of the lower level Dining Concourse. Its lease would be for ten years and range from $435,000 to $567,000 a year. The restaurant is known for its long lines so the MTA has already designated an area for people to stand and wait: an up-sloping ramp near the Oyster Bar restaurant.

Further unease, of a sort, was felt by board member Pat Foye, who represents Long Island. He noted that as Grand Central Terminal gets fancier, Penn Station stays the same, which he darkly referred to as "the cheeseburger gap." Foye wanted to know why the cuisine for sale at Penn Station, which serves passengers from the Long Island Railroad, was limited to simple foods like pizza and cheeseburgers while visitors to Grand Central can nosh on fresh salmon and endive salad before ascending a marble staircase to peruse iPads and Macbooks.

Mr. Rosen said the authority was looking into whether retail could be improved at Penn Station.

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Transportation Nation

Walder's Time As NY MTA Chief Marked By Accomplishments, Unfinished Business

Friday, July 22, 2011

(New York, NY - WNYC) NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Jay Walder has been poached by a private rail company only two years into his six-year term. His plans to improve the lot of the 11 million weekday riders who depend on the authority’s vast array of subways and buses, rail lines, bridges and tunnels will remain incomplete.

The sudden departure comes as many important developments hang in the balance--from completion of mega-projects like the Second Avenue subway to an impending contract negotiation with a major transit union.

With the exception of the Transport Workers Union, who issued a statement yesterday essentially saying "good riddance," the emerging consensus is that Walder was the right man to lead the authority through troubled times.

In a press release on Walder's move, the advocacy group Tri-State Transportation Campaign summed up the feelings of many in New York's government, business, transit and non-profit worlds: "His departure comes at an inopportune time."

The reason is twofold. In general, planners, advocates and business leaders liked the job Walder was doing--NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg called him "a first-rate leader with big ideas." But many have also been wondering how Walder was planning to pull off the feat of convincing NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature to plug a $9 billion hole in the authority's capital construction and maintenance program.

That particular showdown is set for the fall. Walder will either avoid it or confront it as a lame duck with an October 21 departure date. Either way, his replacement will need to get quickly up to speed. The five-year capital program runs out of money at the end of the year.

Walder gets good grades because he largely accomplished the mandate he'd received on his appointment by former Governor David Paterson: balance the NY MTA's budget, which was $800 million in the red. And he did that without the extra funding the Paterson administration had sought from bridge tolls.

Walder did it by making draconian service cuts last year, especially to bus lines in the outer boroughs, and raising fares by 7.5 percent. Fares are set go up again next year by the same percentage. While riders felt the pain of those measures, transit watchers and business leaders gave Walder generally high marks for imposing fiscal discipline.

Not everyone approved.

Walder angered Transport Workers Union Local 100 in advance of an upcoming contract negotiation when he said labor had not "played an active part" in helping the MTA face its budget crisis. About the departing transit chief, TWU 100 had this to say on Thursday:

"[Walder] leaves New York City transit in worse shape than when he arrived less than two years ago. We will urge the Governor to appoint a new Chair who will view his workers as allies not the enemy, and a person who fully grasps the magnitude of the contribution of the public transportation system to the economic vitality of New York.”

But others praised Walder for taking once unthinkable steps, like slashing the authority's administrative payroll. As Tri-State put it: "He helped restore the agency's credibility and changed the way it does business, finding billions of dollars in savings during his tenure."

Walder arrived from his previous job as managing director of London Transport with a reputation for innovation and a willingness to tackle big projects. He told WNYC during his first days on the job that, "I would love to bring some of the innovation of London to New York." In particular, he said he'd like to see countdown clocks and "a simpler fare-paying system."

Today, countdown clocks are up and running in 161 subway stations, with 18 more expected to get them by the end of the year. But simpler fare-paying--turnstiles that open with the wave of a debit card--is still in the pilot stage. The most optimistic roll-out date for a successor to the Metrocard is 2015.

Walder also introduced real-time bus tracking projects and oversaw two redesigns of the NY MTA website--riders can now check the service status of a subway, rail or bus line from a more user-friendly NY MTA homepage. And he made available much of the authority's long-secret data to software developers, who've started churning out mobile apps that do things like show commuter line schedules or help riders choose the subway car that will get them closest to their station exit.

In leaving the NY MTA for MTR, Walder will be jumping from the world's largest public transit system to a private rail company, albeit one that made a reported net profit of $937 million in 2009. As he readies his exit, we'll excerpt the musings of Benjamin Kabak, the voice of a savvy transit blog called Second Avenue Sagas:

"As the news sinks in...I can’t help but feel as though Walder is leaving before the job is done....Walder was the best and most knowledgeable MTA head during the past few decades, and his departure is clearly a blow to the MTA and those fighting for better transit in the New York City area."



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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Chief Jay Walder, Head of Nation's Largest Transit System, Abruptly Resigns

Thursday, July 21, 2011

MTA Chairman Jay Walder meets the press (file)

Full article here.

Jay Walder's tenure, evaluated, here.

From the NYC MTA:

MTA Chairman and CEO Jay H. Walder

Announces Resignation

Brought Stability and Customer Improvements During Economic Crisis

Accepts Position as CEO of MTR Corp. in Hong Kong

Jay H. Walder today informed Governor Cuomo of his intention to resign his position as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority effective as of the close of business on October 21st, 2011.  Mr. Walder will be joining the MTR Corporation in Hong Kong as Chief Executive Officer and a member of the Board of Directors. The MTR is a publicly-traded company that operates rail services in Asia and Europe, and is involved in a wide range of business activities, including consulting and property development.

(Letter of resignation here. )

“I want to thank Governors Cuomo and former Governor Paterson for the honor of serving the people of New York State,” Walder said.  “The MTA’s transportation system is the foundation of the metropolitan region and we are fortunate to have thousands of dedicated men and women who work so hard to provide these critically important transportation services to millions of people each and every day.  I believe that we have accomplished quite a lot in a short period, with the support of two Governors, the Mayor, a hard-working Board and many others.”


Walder joined the MTA in October 2009, and in less than two years led an unprecedented overhaul of how the MTA operates, bringing fiscal stability and advancing a series of projects that are improving the daily experience of the MTA’s 8.5 million riders.


Under the banner of “Making Every Dollar Count,” Walder introduced efficiency measures that are expected to yield $3.8 billion in cumulative savings by 2014.  The effort focused on streamlining the MTA’s seven companies, consolidating functions and eliminating redundancies.  In the face of a fiscal crisis, contracts were renegotiated with suppliers, healthcare arrangements were rebid and administrative costs were reduced across the board.


At the same time, Walder drove a customer service agenda that showed customers a new vision for 21st century transit service even as costs were reduced.  Countdown clocks were activated at more than 150 stations, security cameras were brought online, a new user-friendly web site was introduced, an all-electronic tolling pilot was launched and new smart card technology was tested and is moving forward for the entire transportation system.  The introduction of Select Bus Service on the busiest bus route in the country – along with bus-lane enforcement cameras – demonstrated the promise of the MTA’s bus system. Real-time bus information debuted in Brooklyn and will reach Staten Island by the end of the year.


“In challenging times, we brought stability and credibility to the MTA by making every dollar count, by delivering long overdue improvements and by refusing to settle for business as usual,” Walder said.


Mr. Walder assumes his position as Chief Executive Officer of MTR on January 1st, 2012.  He will become both a Member of the Executive Directorate and a Member of the Board of Directors.  To ensure a smooth transition, Mr. Walder will be appointed as CEO Designate on November 1st, 2011.


“This is an exciting opportunity for me to lead a publicly-traded, multi-national corporation with a broad set of business activities,” Walder said. “The MTR Corp. is widely recognized for its world-leading rail systems and the innovative property developments that are built around stations.”


The MTR operates commuter rail in Hong Kong and intercity rail services from Hong Kong to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong in China. The MTR is also building new rail lines in Hong Kong and China.   In addition, the MTR operates rail systems in London, Stockholm and Melbourne and provides rail consultancy services in Asia, Australia, the Middle East and Europe.  Beyond its transportation services, the MTR is involved in a wide range of business activities, including a successful property development business that creates fully integrated commercial and residential communities around stations. It has completed developments at 27 rail stations with nearly 75,000 housing units constructed and operates more than 18 million square feet of commercial space. MTR shares have been traded on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange since October 2000.   The corporation announced total revenue of $3.8 billion in 2010 with $1.1 billion of underlying profit.



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Transportation Nation

Reconstructed Fulton Transit Center, Partly Damaged on 9/11, Starts Opening

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Looking up from below-ground through the frame of partially built oculus tower at the Fulton Transit Center. (Photo by Stephen Nessen / WNYC.)

(New York, NY - WNYC) At one time it was hoped that the $1.4 billion expansion and reconstruction of the Fulton Street Transit Center, partly damaged in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, would be done by the tenth anniversary of that day. That won't happen. But steady progress is being made on the much-delayed project, including the scheduled opening in the next two months of a new entrance and restoration of service to a closed portion of the Cortlandt Street station next to Ground Zero.

The sprawling underground complex is Lower Manhattan's primary transit crossroads. It has long been known as a good place to connect to different subway lines--if you can figure out how to do it. The center is a multi-leveled labyrinth connecting previously private subway systems not built to be compatible. A primary thrust of the project is to detangle it.

Workers prepare stairways for new tiles. (Photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

To show how that was going, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority invited a WNYC reporter to don a hard hat and take an escorted look at the busy underground construction site.

It's an organized mess.

Shadowy caverns contain patches of muck and puddles that workers wearing reflective vests splash through. Cement mixers turn lazily as heavy metal blasts from a boombox.

Parts of the complex are impressive. The new Dey Street underpass will connect the center's main entrance building, which is a block south of City Hall Park, with the World Trade Center. It's a huge tunnel that the MTA says will be lined with digital screens showing train information, ads and artwork. That's a big change from what the Fulton Street station has always been: dark, cramped and crowded.

New tile work under construction. (Photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

The grandest element is a fifty-foot glass tower over the main entrance that is to be topped by an oculus--a set of prisms to deflect natural light down to some of the subway platforms. The MTA seriously considered scrapping the tower in 2008 when the project went over budget. Then along came the federal stimulus and the tower was restored.

It was weirdly pleasing to stand two stories the street level on a future subway platform and look up through the steel framework of a tapered tower and see, above the high top of a construction crane, clouds scudding against blue sky.

When the center is all done and linked up with a station for the PATH Train to New Jersey under the World Trade Center--some time in 2016--visitors will be able to walk underground from the Winter Garden on the edge of the Hudson River to the William Street subway stop, about six blocks from South Street Seaport on the East River. That's about three-quarters of a mile.

The PATH Train to NJ is this way. (Photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Riders will have access to eleven subway lines, same as before. But the MTA says the warren of poorly lit passageways will be more open and straightforward. There should be less crowding and more space for the 300,000 people they expect to move through the Fulton Street Transit Center every weekday. That'll be a good day for downtown Manhattan, where 85 percent of all trips are made by mass transit, many of them using the center.

The project, begun in 2004, has been notorious for delays. Michael Horodniceanu, president of capital construction for the MTA, said part of the problem was the complexity of a task like building new station space under and around the 123 year-old Corbin Building, a nine-story landmark made of brick that will be incorporated into the main entrance. Horodniceanu said the Corbin Building's foundation had to be disassembled and rebuilt without using heavy machinery.

"It was done the old-fashioned way with a  pick and shovel," he said. "People went down 30, 40 feet with buckets pulling out stuff. Then we filled it with concrete."

Old brick work uncovered during renovations beneath the Corbin Building on Broadway. (Photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

And he said management of the project was flawed at the start. The MTA looked for a company to do every part of the enormous renovation on tight deadlines. Only one company bid and, when it got the job, soon started falling behind. Horodniceanu said when he came into his position in 2008, he broke the project up into parts, set what he called "realistic" deadlines and attracted multiple bidders.

Now the project seems on track. The MTA's part of it should be done by 2014.

To see more photos in a vivid slideshow of the project, go to WNYC.

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Transportation Nation

NY Transit Museum Seeks Artifacts To Mark Grand Central Terminal's 100th Birthday

Monday, July 11, 2011

(Photo by: MightyBoyBrian / Flickr creative commons)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Grand Central Terminal's 100th birthday is eighteen months away. But The New York Transit Museum is putting the word out now that it's looking for memorabilia to mark the event.

NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokeswoman Marjorie Anders says the museum has many artifacts from New York's bus and subway systems but relatively few from Grand Central Terminal and its trains. That's because old lines like Conrail and Penn Central are either defunct or have been merged into Metro-North.

"The stuff that we're interested in displaying is from an era that's gone," she said. "It's from railroads that no longer exist."

Anders says the museum is seeking anything from a conductor's cap to a baggage cart. But it's especially interested in remnants from the middle of last century, when train travel was more elegant. In those days, Grand Central Terminal had rocking chairs in its ladies rooms and potted palms in its waiting areas. And passengers arriving on The 2oth Century Limited from Los Angeles stepped off the train onto a red carpet.

Anders says current and former workers who may have helped themselves to old railroad items will be forgiven--as long as they loan or donate them to the exhibit.

That includes Harry Kelly, who has worked at Grand Central for 38 years. In the 1970s and 80s, he updated arrival times on the terminal's sign boards using information sent to him from a dispatcher via telautograph machine. The dispatcher wrote with a pen that sent a signal through a telephone line and moved a pen across a sheet of paper in Kelly's office--like an early fax machine.

Then came computers to do that job. Kelly recalls that after that, a supervisor called him in and said, "Harry, do me a favor. Get rid of these old telautographs." Kelly tossed out about thirty of the devices before it hit him: "I'm not a big collector but this was something that I used for many, many years. So I held onto one."

Kelly will be loaning the salvaged machine to the exhibit.

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Transportation Nation

Neither NY MTA Nor NYC Eager To Pay For Trans-Hudson Power Cable

Friday, July 01, 2011

Schematic for a new power cable to New York City. (Photo by Hudson Transmission Partners)

(New York, NY - WNYC) The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the City of New York--the two largest energy users in the Northeast--are balking at a request by the New York Power Authority for help in building an $850 million transmission cable under the Hudson River.

The transit agency, for one, doesn't think the payments are worth it.

The Power Authority asked the MTA to invest $64 million dollars to get the cable up and running. But, according to MTA documents, the agency determined it would probably never get that money back. That's because the Power Authority would have to break even on the project before reimbursing its governmental customers. And the officials even doubted the Power Authority's claim that the cable will lower the MTA's energy costs.

The MTA board tabled the matter in May. A spokesman says there are no plans to raise it again.

The Power Authority also asked New York City for an investment. But budget director Mark Page has said those talks have been at a standstill since April.

The Power Authority is a state agency that acquires energy for large governmental customers like the city, the MTA, the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey, and the New York City Housing Authority. It has asked the last two agencies to invest in the cable as well; no word on whether they've agreed.

The authority can't compel these government customers to pay out for the cable over 20 years, as it has asked of the MTA. Even so, it insists that negotiations to do just that are continuing. An authority spokesman said construction of the cable has officially begun, but would not say whether the project would be halted if the MTA and the others don't pony up the money.

The 14-mile cable, which would carry 660 megawatts from New Jersey to Midtown Manhattan, is scheduled for completion in 2013. It will be the first time the city is connected to energy sources west of the Hudson River.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: False Alarms Plague NY MTA Elevators, NJ Transit Increases Security, and Mimes To Promote Quiet Cars On Boston T

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Florida Governor Rick Scott sent his top transportation adviser to Central Florida to warn local officials that they'll be on the hook if SunRail fails. (St. Petersburg Times)

The monitoring systems on New York MTA elevators are plagued by false alarms. (New York Daily News)

São Paolo, Brazil, is building an 11-mile long monorail to link its airport to its subway system -- but it may not be completed in time for the 2014 World Cup. (Smart Planet)

A rendering of São Paulo's future monorail line

The Miami Herald asks officials not to penalize riders because of the scandal at Miami-Dade Transit.

According to a recent poll, NJ governor Christie's support is dropping among voters because of decisions like canceling the ARC tunnel and flying in a state helicopter to attend his son's baseball game. (Bloomberg)

NJ Transit is increasing security and developing an intelligence unit with the FBI. (AP via the Star-Ledger)

A key House Democrat says privatizing Amtrak would drain railroad workers' pensions. (The Hill)

A former GM vice chair will be on the Brian Lehrer Show later on this morning to talk about his view of car manufacturing -- more quality, less focus on stock price. (WNYC)

More on Boston's "quiet car" program, including the revelation that the MBTA will be using mimes to promote it. (WBUR)

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Transportation Nation

[UPDATED] NY Legislature Passes Transit Lock Box Bill

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Weather-worn logo on the side of a subway train. (Photo by: Jim O'Grady)

We'll have an updated version of this post coming soon.

Updates at the bottom for now.


Right now, the collective gaze of the New York transit world is on Albany, where an extended session of the state legislature is frantically winding down. Transit watchers are waiting to learn the fate of a piece of legislation known as the "transit funding lockbox," which advocates say would bring stability to government funding streams that keep the buses, trains and subways running in and around New York City.

The bill passed the state Senate last night and is now in the hands of the state Assembly's Ways and Means Committee. Here's an official description of it, followed by an English translation:

"Prohibits diversion of resources from dedicated funds derived from taxes and fees that support the MTA, the NYC transit authority and their subsidiaries in certain instances."

That's addressed to past, present and future governors of New York. What it's saying, roughly, is no more raiding the NY MTA's budget to plug up state shortfalls.

The authority gets a crucial part of its revenues from a percentage of business and real estate taxes. Since 2009, as the recession reduced that income, the state took away an additional $260 million from those dedicated funds. The lockbox bill is designed to prevent that. Advocates say protecting NY MTA coffers will reduce the likelihood of a repeat of last year's painful fare increases and service cuts.

No wonder Transportation Nation's inbox is filled with emails from interested parties asking questions like: "Lockbox is key today...Anything from Cuomo?" Of course, that's New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who will have the final say on whether the bill becomes law.

And now arrives this bristling email from a worried transit advocate, which we have permission to quote anonymously:

"We’re hearing that Cuomo is blocking the lockbox bill so that he can retain the ability to steal transit funds. (This is the same Cuomo who ran for governor last year on restoring honesty and ethics to government.)"

We've placed a call to the governor's office asking for his view on the bill. Check back for updates.

UPDATE 1. Now this from an advocate with a well-placed source on the legislative side: "Lockbox: sources say it should pass the Assembly tonight!" Still no word from the governor.

UPDATE 2. Michael Whyland, press secretary to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, just called to say he expects the lockbox bill will be voted on tonight and that it will have "broad support." It already has 39 sponsors.

Then he added a ginormous caveat: If "suburban Republicans" use the introduction of the bill as an occasion to launch a debate about a payroll tax that is paid by their constituents in support of the NY MTA, that could be enough to "lay aside" the bill--that is, kill it. Whyland explained that with so much other major legislation awaiting votes on what is expected to be the last day of the session, the lockbox bill could be sacrificed to clear the decks for other priorities, like the gay marriage bill.

Whyland's bottom line: if the introduction of the lockbox bill doesn't spark a gridlock-inducing debate about the NY MTA payroll tax, it'll probably pass. Then comes Cuomo.

UPDATE 3. Whyland just called to say the bill has passed in the Assembly--statement from Speaker Sheldon Silver soon to come. We've asked Governor Cuomo, again, if he'll sign it. No answer yet.

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Transportation Nation

Schumer: Use ARC Tunnel $ To Finish Digging Rail Tunnel Under East River

Monday, June 20, 2011

East Side Access would bring Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Station through a tunnel under the East River at 63rd Street and then beneath Park Avenue.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer says New Jersey's transportation loss should be Long Island's gain.

The Senator is supporting a $2.2 billion low-interest loan from the federal government to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The money was originally earmarked for a commuter rail tunnel under the Hudson River that Governor Chris Christie killed in October. Schumer says it should now go to finishing East Side Access, a project connecting Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Station through tunnels beneath the East River. Long Island Railroad is the nation's largest commuter line.

East Side Access is supposed to be done by 2016, but is only funded through the end of the year. The project is designed to speed up trips for about 160,000 riders from Long Island to Manhattan's East Side by as much as 30 to 40 minutes.

More than $5 billion in state and federal funds have already been spent on the new rail connection, one of the largest infrastructure projects in the U.S. But East Side Access is still facing a $2.2 billion shortfall.

The MTA applied for the loan in late April to the Federal Railroad Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Spokesman Aaron Donovan said the authority is "in discussions with the U.S. DOT as part of the application process but we don't have an estimate on when we'll hear back."

U.S. DOT spokeswoman Olivia Alair said "We do not have comment on this today."

Most Long Island Railroad trains cross under Manhattan to arrive at Penn Station on the West Side, adding to congestion at that station and forcing commuters with jobs on the East Side to double back by bus or subway. Schumer said eliminating that bottleneck and adding flexibility to the system will "boost New York as the economic engine of the region."


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Transportation Nation

Long Island Bus, Nation's Largest Suburban Bus Line, To Privatize

Friday, June 10, 2011

Nassau County executive Edward Mangano said Long Island Bus will be privatized by the end of the year.

He announced at a Friday press conference that Veolia Transportation submitted the winning bid to take over the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority's 48 bus lines, which carry an average of 100,000 daily riders.

Long Island Bus is one of the country's largest suburban bus lines; it connects suburban Nassau County with Queens.

The county and Veolia must still negotiate a contract. Mangano says he expects Veolia to run all of the bus line's current routes for $106 million--$8 million less per year than the NY MTA. Veolia will only be allowed to cut routes as a last resort.

The authority told county officials last year they needed to pitch in $17 million more per year for the bus operation, raising the yearly contribution by Nassau County to $26 million. That would’ve put the county in line with nearby Suffolk and Westchester counties, which respectively pay $24 million and $30 million per year for similar services from the MTA.

Nassau officials said they couldn’t afford it, especially after a state oversight board stepped in last year to seize control of the county’s depleted finances.

A press release from Mangano's office announcing the deal ripped the NY MTA as "a bloated bureaucracy."

The MTA, in a prepared statement, didn't respond to the criticism. "We look forward to working with the County and Veolia to assist in the transition and transfer of service at the end of the year," it said.

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