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
Starting Thursday, yellow taxi passengers will find something new in the back of their cabs. It's not a stranger's cell phone. It's a poem.
Walk onto any subway car, especially during a crowded commute, and you're likely to see a bag or two on the floor. Putting a bag down on the ground may lighten the load for a while, but riders may want to think about the hygiene of their bag once it is picked up. It may be toting more than just dirt.
When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo took the stage at Medgar Evars college in Brooklyn on Friday afternoon, he looked like the cat that ate the canary. The largely black student body gave him thrilled applause. One student yelled a soprano “we love you!” as he took questions from reporters. Not so-muted-references to Cuomo for President in 2016 swirled through the room.
It’s been that kind of week for the New York governor, who took several compliments for running a “functional” government – unlike --get it -- the one in Washington. He put together a tax plan that managed simultaneously to cut taxes for everyone while raising taxes for the super-rich. He set up an infrastructure bank to fund sorely-needed construction projects and create jobs. He was able to dole out hurricane relief funds to a besieged state. And – the subject of Friday’s Medgar Evers lovefest – set aside $75 million for “inner-city” job training and placement, a true passion of his.
But there’s one group that, this week, felt left out. For transit advocates under Governor Cuomo, it’s been a season of swallowing lemons.
There were the departures of MTA chief Jay Walder and Port Authority executive director Chris Ward, both seen as transit supporters – and their replacement with Cuomo loyalists Joe Lhota and Pat Foye, neither of whom has a background in public transportation.
There was the introduction of a massive plan to build a new Tappan Zee bridge, with the transit option mysteriously erased at the last minute.
And then: this week, to get his tax bill past the Republicans, the governor had to be willing to throw the MTA payroll tax under a bus, at least partially. Schools and small businesses would no longer have to pay the tax, which plays a vital role in maintaining the transit system.
Instead, there’s a vague assurance in the tax legislation passed this week that “any reductions in transit aid attributable to reductions in the metropolitan commuter transportation mobility tax authorized under article 23 of the tax law shall be offset through alternative sources that will be included in the state budget.”
Governor Cuomo reiterated that assurance Friday: “The state will pay, dollar-for-dollar, whatever amount would have been raised by that tax. So the MTA is held totally harmless -- we’re just shifting the source of those funds from the MTA payroll tax to state funds.”
And the governor said no one should conclude from this that he doesn’t care about transit as much as, say, jobs for inner-city youth. “Obviously the MTA is very important to the region's economy. I’m very excited about my appointee to the MTA, Joseph Lhota -- all reports are he’s doing a great job and this will not cost the MTA one penny.”
But the idea of a broke state government being the guarantor of transit funds has left straphangers advocates uneasy.
Mitchell Moss, the director of the Rudin Center for Transportation at New York University and a member of Cuomo’s search committee that recommended Joe Lhota to head the MTA, has been willing to give Governor Cuomo the benefit of the doubt when it comes to transit. But in an online op-ed in the New York Times, Moss wrote: “Apparently forgotten [in the agreement] are the millions of low-income New Yorkers who, in addition to getting zero in tax cuts, must now rely on a Metropolitan Transit Authority that lost $250 million in tax revenue in exchange for a pledge that the funds will be made up, but for how long and in what form, no one knows.”
Moss continued: “Rather than treating the M.T.A. finances as an urgent problem, it makes them worse to gain support from Long Island and other suburban state legislators.”
At the end of the day, exactly how the funds will be spent won't be clear until there's a 2012 budget. If past is prologue, that, too, will be decided in a last-minute round the clock jumble that will have legislators, and everyone else, trying to figure out what they voted on after the fact.
There was another black-eye for transit advocates this week – the death of an obscure, but to them vitally important, bill – the “lockbox bill”-- that would have made it more difficult for the state legislature to help itself to taxes that otherwise would go to fund public transit. As recently as the year before last, the legislature did just that, contributing to the MTA’s budget woes by taking $150 million that was supposed to go to transit and using it to plug the state’s budget gap.
Both houses of the state legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill that would have made that more difficult to do. But in the final run-up to the tax bill, most of that legislation was crossed out -- literally.
“The original legislation would have made it more difficult for the Governor to unilaterally divert MTA dedicated transit funds,” said a statement issued group of a dozen labor, transit, and good government groups. The legislation passed this week “does not constrain future raids on transit funds,” the statement continued.
There was another source of concern this week – an infrastructure fund being established under the bill would accelerate state funding of big capital projects – and leverage private funds. It’s been a dream of President Barack Obama to establish such a fund, and now Cuomo has one.
But both the press release and the legislation said it would fund roads, bridges, water tunnels, canals, dams, flood control efforts, even parks. But not transit. That left planners like Robert Yaro of the Regional Plan Association befuddled.
On Friday, Governor Cuomo said both the MTA and the Port Authority would be eligible for the funds, and that details would be revealed in his State of the State address in January.
But still, there’s a wariness that this Governor cares more about muscle cars than a muscular transit system.
Part of the unease is fueled by the rapidity with which the bill this week was presented. On Tuesday, the Governor issued a press release with the broad outlines of the agreement, but details were sketchy.
Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign says he worked all week to get details, but few were forthcoming. “The process was opaque, the 180 degree opposite of transparent," he said. "I spent the better part of the week calling the administration and I didn’t hear back.” Those details he did get were misleading, he says, though he says that could be because the agreement changed after they were relayed to him. For example, he was told the MTA provisions would sunset – that’s not the case. He was told the exemptions wouldn’t include public schools – but they do.
(The same thing happened to us – the Governor’s office initially assured us the $250 million hole to the MTA budget would be plugged by a dedicated stream from the $1.9 billion reaped by the tax on the super-rich – but when the bill was finally presented -- minutes before it was voted on -- there was no such provision.)
Russianoff also says he was asked not to issue a statement on the lock box because a compromise was being brokered -- but when the language finally emerged, he was “disappointed.”
“This is my experience in Albany,” Russianoff said, of hastily-crafted legislation. “It’s too early, and it’s too early. And then it’s too late.”
(New York, NY -- Jim O'Grady) The M42 bus is the winner of the 9th Annual Pokey Award, given to the slowest bus in New York City. The Schleppie Award for the city’s least reliable bus goes to the Bx41.
The advocacy group Straphangers Campaign says the M42 clocked in at 3.6 miles an hour at noon on a weekday. That’s not much faster than a young person walking. The M42 is the first bus to win back-to-back Pokeys. It moves almost 13,000 riders on an average weekday along 42nd Street.
The Bx41 bus connects the North Bronx to the South Bronx. It ran bunched or with large gaps between buses almost a quarter of the time.
Straphangers spokesman Gene Russianoff wore a tuxedo and red bow tie this morning while presiding over a mock award ceremony in Midtown to present a golden snail statue to the MTA...but the MTA didn't show.
“I don’t think they would deny the basic truth," he said. "That is, buses are slow and should be made faster. They point the finger at traffic, which we do, too. But I think these days they're more hopeful that things can be done about it.”
Russianoff praised the new Bx12 Select Bus, which ran almost 25% faster than buses without a dedicated lane.
Poverty is on the rise across the country, but it's worse in the suburbs, where (since 2000) there's a 37.4% increase. Rise in cities: 16.7%. "Future poverty increases will be partly determined by...government policy decisions promoting job growth, affordable housing and transportation." (AP via New York Times)
The new Straphangers Campaign State of the Subways report says that overall, New York's subways have improved (New York Daily News). Especially compared to 25 years ago, when "17 percent of trains were mislabeled with the wrong line number or letter." All aboard the mystery train! (WNYC)
The implementation of New York's "bikes in buildings" law is proving...challenging for some. (AM NY)
Ford is working with the New York Power Authority to prepare New Yorkers for electric vehicles. (Automotive World)
U.S., Japanese airlines win antitrust immunity for cooperating on pricing and routes (Bloomberg). Meanwhile, in other antitrust news, a company that provides ferryboat service to Mackinac Island (MI) is suing the local government and another ferry provider, saying that the latter two have conspired to create a monopoly. (Detroit Free Press)
The Seat Not Taken: John Edgar Wideman's op-ed on race and seating on the Acela. "Unless the car is nearly full, color will determine, even if it doesn’t exactly clarify, why 9 times out of 10 people will shun a free seat if it means sitting beside me." (New York Times)