Wednesday, August 01, 2012
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) For the fourth year in a row, the C train ranked last among New York City's 20 major subway lines. That's according to The Straphangers Campaign, an advocacy group, which says the C performed worst or next to worst on several measures:
Amount of scheduled service
Delays caused by mechanical breakdowns
Subway car cleanliness
OK, we threw in that last one. But the train's rolling-tin-can look is part of what makes it so mockable. The R32 cars used on the line are nearly 50 years old, and have a hard time showing up more often than every ten minutes during peak periods. That's last among lines.
On the bright side, the C plied its route between East New York in Brooklyn and Washington Heights in Manhattan in a way that made it above average in two categories: regularity of service--which means it is infrequent but tends to be on time--and chance of getting a seat during rush hour. That matters because the cars' suspension produces a rocking ride that is better experienced sitting down or on Dramamine.
The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority did commit last year to spending $24 million to spruce up the cars on the line, which are among the oldest in operation in the world. But that was merely to stretch out their use until 2017.
The best-ranked line was the Q train, which Straphangers found to be clean with clear announcements, and least plagued by delays from mechanical breakdowns. It was the Q's first time in the top spot since 2001.
This is the Straphangers' 15th annual report card on the New York City subway system. The group said it's seeing "a positive trend for subway car breakdown rates and announcements," but that trains are getting dirtier. The group concludes: "Future performance will be a challenge given the MTA's tight budget."
To see the report, which includes profiles and comparisons of subway lines, go here.
Wednesday, May 09, 2012
By Jim O'Grady
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.
Wednesday, May 09, 2012
By Jim O'Grady
(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.
Monday, December 19, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
But none of those events, according to subway advocacy group the Straphangers Campaign, was the No. 1 horrible thing that happened to transit this year. What's the worst thing that happened? A pair of maneuvers that make the financial structure of the nation's largest transit system more uncertain.
Here are the full list of best and worst transit events from the Straphangers' Campaign.
The top-10 worst:
10. A tax-free transit benefit may shrink in half next year. The program – which exempts up to $230 of wages used for transit from most taxes – was increased in 2009. The parking benefit is slated to go up to $240, while the transit benefit will fall to $125 unless Congress acts.
9. Passenger assaults on bus drivers and subway workers are up, 20 percent and 16 percent, respectively, this year.
8. Garbage can-less subway stations. As part of a larger initiative to address subway garbage disposal problems, a pilot to remove garbage cans from two stations got a poor response from the public.
7. Tropical Storm Irene. It could have been much worse. In stark contrast to the blizzard of late 2010, the City and MTA performed well here. But many New Yorkers experienced what the loss of transit service meant to the city that never sleeps.
6. Breakdowns increased and ridership decreased on city transit buses. The breakdown rate has worsened more than 11 percent and total ridership is 3 percent, as of September 2011. Reason given: an aging bus fleet and a December 2010 fare hike. The percent of city buses that were 12 years or older more than doubled in the past year.
5. MTA over budget and behind schedule on Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access, say federal officials. The MTA said that ESA and Second Avenue will be done by September 2016 and December 2016, respectively, while the Federal Transit Administration puts their opening dates at April 2018 and February 2018.
4. Aged trains on C line will now remain in service through at least 2017. They will be 53-years old, well past the tenure envisioned upon their gleaming debut during the Johnson Administration in 1964. The reason: shortfalls in capital revenues.
3. MTA proposed to take on $7 billion of debt for capital projects. With little hope of new funds, the MTA is proposing more borrowing to pay for its key rebuilding program. The result: half a billion in added interest payments a year, fueling pressure for higher fares to pay it back.
2. The state legislature voted exemptions to the MTA payroll tax at an unknown cost to its riders.
1. The state swept a net $100 million from dedicated transit operating funds. For the second year in a row, state government diverted money from accounts created to fund mass transit. The cuts add pressure to hike fares and cut service. Legislation to make it harder to raid dedicated transit funds passed both houses of the state legislature, but then was watered down.
10. More countdown clocks appear around the subways. New York City Transit set as a goal to install these highly popular displays at 153 stations on the No. 1 through 6 lines by December 2011. Another 24 are on the L and a simpler version is at 32 stations on lettered lines.
9. Cell phone service comes to six underground subway stations. Not everyone will agree that his is a good step. In a recent Straphangers Campaign opinion poll, riders voted 54 percent to 43 percent that this was a good idea. It’s important to note that riders for years have used cell phones at hundreds of stations above ground.
8. $1 fee on purchase of a MetroCard postponed. Supporters say it would reduce litter. Opponents see it as a fare hike and it’s not popular. The agency will hold off until 2013.
7. MTA adopted the 511 number for one-stop telephone help. Coupled with mta.info, this has the potential of providing better customer assistance at lower cost. But it still needs to be streamlined.
6. The southbound Cortland Street station on the R line re-opened. There was a grim time after 9/11 that a plywood, handwritten sign on the Cortlandt station in the shadow of the World Trade Center warned train operators, “Do Not Stop Here.”
5. Riders can now track the location of some bus routes by cell phone. “Bus Time” – which allows riders to get information on the location on buses on their cell phones – started on the B63 in February. By year’s end, it comes to all Staten Island bus routes. It’s convenient and encourages people to use buses.
4. MTA launched Weekender site. When you go to mta.info on Friday afternoons through Sunday evening, it becomes the Weekender, with easy-to-understand maps describing what most weekend visitors want to know: how will my commute be affected by transit construction and repair projects
3. Some of the service cuts from last year were restored in 2011. Weekend M50 bus service in midtown was re-instituted, as was the X36/38 express bus from Bay Ridge to Manhattan.
2. Faster bus service arrived on the M34. This year, M34 passengers got to pay their fares before boarding, speeding up service on this notoriously slow route – if there’s good rider education on the new fare system.
1. There was no subway, bus and commuter fare hike after three years-in-a-row of increases. The fare went up in 2008, 2009 and 2010 – but not in 2011. That was good news for cash-strapped riders in a harsh economy. But the MTA already says it needs a higher fare by the end of 2012.
The MTA declined comment.
Thursday, December 01, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
The Straphangers Campaign is out with its annual Pokie Award, and the "winner" is the M50 bus.
Thursday, December 01, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
Every year, the group gives out two awards for poor bus service: the Pokie, for the slowest bus, and the Schleppie, for the least reliable.
The advocacy group said it clocked the M50 -- which runs crosstown between the United Nations on the East Side of Manhattan to Pier 43 on the Hudson River-- at noon at an average speed of only 3.5 miles per hour.
"The bus is just tremendously slow," said Straphangers spokesman Gene Russianoff. "You can push a lawnmower faster across Midtown than it takes the M50 to go from First to Second Avenue."
Russianoff said that though the M 50 is particularly desultory, the city's bus system is plagued by plodding speeds as it makes 2.5 million trips on an average weekday. "That's a lot of people stuck in traffic who deserve quicker trips," he said.
The Straphangers Campaign gave its Schleppie Award to the M 101, 102 and 103 buses on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for arriving in bunches and failing to meet their schedules. He said those lines could move faster if the city protected them from traffic with dedicated lanes and sped up boarding by having passengers pay beforehand at bus stop kiosks--as is the case with Select Bus Service on the 34th Street crosstown route.
The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority agrees, in concept."The past year established Select Bus Service as a game changer in New York, with 20 percent faster bus service now on three routes," said MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz. "We are working with the city to expand the SBS network, bringing faster boarding, dedicated bus lanes and enhanced bus lane enforcement to more and more routes."
The city's bus system has absorbed some blows in recent years. The NY MTA cut 37 bus lines and shut down 570 bus stops as a cost-saving measure in June 2010. And while subway ridership has grown over the past two years, bus ridership is down by nearly two percent.
MTA statistics show that breakdowns on city buses have increased by 12% since last year. And the percentage of city buses that are 12 years or older has more than doubled, from 16% of the bus fleet in 2010 to 35% in 2011.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
Straphangers researchers found both lines to be crowded and prone to delays. While riders pay a base fare of $2.25 to ride the lines, the advocacy group rated their value at 90 cents.
Despite those poor performances, the system as a whole didn't fare too badly in this year's report.
Straphangers said the best of New York's twenty subway lines was the J/Z, which runs from Broad Street in Manhattan to to Jamaica, Queens. The J/Z scored above average in trains arriving at regular intervals, seats available during rush hour and miles between breakdowns.
Subway trains in general were more robust in 2010. They broke down an average of every 270,000 miles--a fifteen percent improvement over 2009. Cleanliness and the quality of car announcements remained high at 95 percent and 87 percent of all trains.
To take one example of best vs. worst from the report, riders on the 6 line could expect a train every two and a half minutes during rush hour; riders on the C waited 9 to 10 minutes throughout the day.
If you're a New Yorker, go here to see how your subway line fared in the report.
Listen to the conversation about the report on the Brian Lehrer Show:
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) In the summery glare of a July morning, transportation advocates drove antique cars to a wooden toll booth they'd set up on the Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge. Among them, in bow tie and straw hat, was former New York City traffic commissioner Sam Schwartz. He eased his roadster to the booth, stopped and pointedly proffered a dime to pay a toll that had been abolished 100 years ago to the day.
They said eliminating the tolls has cost the city $31 billion in inflation-adjusted revenue, part of which could've been used to maintain the Williamsburg Bridge.
"Every one of those steel beams is new," Schwartz said, gesturing toward the bridge, which underwent a top-to-bottom renovation lasting more than a decade and finishing not long ago.
Those new beams on the Williamsburg Bridge replaced old ones that had become so corroded by the 1980s, the city closed the bridge down. At the same time, the Manhattan Bridge was shaky enough that trains were prevented from crossing it. On the Brooklyn Bridge, a cable snapped and killed a tourist.
It was only then that the city paid for repairs to all of the East River Bridges.
Schwartz says if bridge tolls hadn't been discontinued by Mayor William Gaynor in 1911, who thought the dime payment was too much of a burden, the city would have had enough money for bridge maintenance and major infrastructure projects like the Second Avenue subway.
East River Bridge tolls met their most recent defeat in 2009, when then Lt. Governor Richard Ravitch proposed a bailout plan for the financially strapped NY MTA that included East River bridge tolls and a tax on employers in the suburban counties surrounding New York. Ravitch argued that it makes no sense that some East River's crossings collect tolls--like the Midtown Tunnel and the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge (formerly the Triborough Bridge)--while the Queensboro, Willamsburg, Brooklyn, and Manhattan Bridges do not.
But his plan met stiff opposition in the then-Democratically-controlled State Senate. Rather than bailing out the MTA, senators argued that the MTA was too wasteful to justify a bridge toll hike. In the end, the legislature rejected Ravitch's toll proposal, much as it rejected congestion-pricing a year earlier. Elected officials, like Mayor Gaynor a century before them, saw no reason to burden drivers.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has shown little predilection to support additional fees for drivers (check out his remarks against congestion pricing during the campaign) and the Republican State Senate hasn't either. The see as their constituency men like the driver of a dark blue late-model American car, who was in too much of a hurry to give his name as he waited for the light to turn and cross the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn. Through his rolled-down window, he said: "No, no, no, no. No tolls. None. None whatsoever."
He was feet away from the vintage automobiles and advocates demonstrating for a return of the tolls. But on policy, as befits the divide between drivers and transit riders, he was miles apart.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
Transportation advocates drove antique cars to a wooden toll booth they had set up on the Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge Tuesday morning — lamenting the loss of East River tolls that some groups say has cost the city $31 billion in inflation-adjusted revenue.
Friday, July 08, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
A gleaming silver subway train streaked with early morning light ...
...to a puddle of apparently toxic scum on a platform at a Canal Street station. The two photos (including the top, winning entry, and nine other finalists, culled from 314 hopefuls) were sent in as part of a photo contest sponsored by New York City advocacy groups Straphangers Campaign and Transportation Alternatives.
One photo confirmed Susan Sontag's observation in On Photography that our image-saturated world puts us in "chronic voyeuristic relation" to others, like this tender young couple:
And with those who are ready to pose:
Then again, living in a city means coming across strangers having a personal moment in public. And sometimes that person is us. Should that moment involve some kind of danger underground, here's hoping your life-line is better equipped than this one:
The contest proved that to see weird or even lovely stuff on a commute, all you need do is look around. Then whip out a camera-phone, assuming there's room enough on platform or train to raise the arms and shoot.
The two winners each received a 30-day unlimited MetroCard, that they might spend more time in the phantasmagoria that is the city's transportation system.
Thursday, May 05, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New York's subway cars are getting dirtier, according to a transit riders advocacy group.
The latest Shmutz Survey conducted by the Straphangers Campaign found only 47 percent of subway cars were clean when researchers rode the trains over two months last fall compared with 51 percent the year before. (Schmutz is a Yiddish word for icky dirt and is part of the lingua franca in New York City.)
The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subway, is fighting back much more aggressively than it has in previous years: it disputes the findings and questions the report's methodology.
Monday, March 07, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The perennially strapped New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority is exploring new ways to boost annual ad revenue, including selling wall space in the tunnels between subway stations. Spokesman Aaron Donovan said the authority has already solicited bids from companies to manage the new account. "Anywhere there’s a dark tunnel, you could do it," he said.
Surfaces in subway tunnels have been marketed by other transit agencies, like the NY-NJ PATH train and Boston's T system. But this would be a first for the MTA in New York.
It's part of the authority's push to wring more money out of advertising after two flat years of sales. The NYC MTA earned $109 million during the recession years of 2009 and 2010, down from a high of $118 million in 2008. But the MTA is projecting a comeback in 2011 with sales of $120 million.
The tunnel ads would show a string of varied images that, when viewed from a passing train, would move like a flip book. A similar effect is visible in a subway artwork called Masstransiscope between the Manhattan Bridge and the DeKalb Avenue station in Brooklyn. As the D train glides by an unused station at Myrtle Avenue, painted images flash behind vertical slits and appear to morph and writhe. (A video of it can be seen here or at the end of this article.)
Donovan said most ideas for non-traditional ad placement come from advertisers themselves. In recent years, the MTA has permitted video on the outside of buses and ads that wrap entire train cars, like the 6 train that became a long rolling ad for Target last fall, when the company opened a store in Harlem -- which is served by the 6.
Then there is a program called "station domination," in which a single company plasters ads on multiple surfaces--columns, stairwells, turnstiles--throughout a subway station. Ads at Union Square Station have even been projected onto floors and walls. And now, perhaps inevitably, the MTA website displays ads for free credit checks and the Crate & Barrel wedding registry.
Gene Russianoff of The Straphangers Campaign, a transit advocacy group, says he's of two minds about the spread of ads not only in the subway and on buses but on billboards outside stations and the exterior of commuter trains. (The New York City Department of Transportation gets the money from ads on bus shelters.)
"My view is informed by the very tough times we’re in and the pressure the MTA is under to make money," Russianoff said. But he said he draws the line at selling naming rights to stations--like the agreement by Barclays Bank to pay the MTA $200,000 over 20 years to puts its name on the Atlantic Avenue station in Downtown Brooklyn. "That's making a public space private and subordinating the public’s right to know where it’s going," Russianoff objected.
Still, the MTA faces pressure to cut costs and pump up sources of non-tax revenue.
The authority has an agreement with CBS Outdoor, a media-buying company, for the company to sell at least $580 million in ads on the subway from 2006 to 2016 and $346.5 million in ads on Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road commuter lines from 2010 to 2016. The MTA is also in the midst of a 10-year contract with Van Wagner, another media-buying firm, to sell at least $58 million in billboard ads on transit authority property. In December, ad space became available on five pages of the MTA's website. Donovan said that initiative has earned $10,000 over three months.
What is the most lucrative spot for ads in the region's transit system?
The answer is not temporary tattoos on the foreheads of train conductors. At least not yet. It's the Times Square Shuttle, with its packed cars and constant turnover of passengers. If an advertiser has an idea for a new kind of ad, like a train wrap or video, it's likely to be tried out on the shuttle. So be warned that in the future, if you're riding that train and decide to take a rest from all the ads by looking out the window...you could see more ads.
Click here to see the subway tunnel artwork Masstransiscope. Be sure to click "Launch Movie" to see it in action.
Tuesday, February 01, 2011
By Kate Hinds
From the NYC MTA:
"We understand that the State’s fiscal crisis requires sacrifice from every area funded by the State, including the MTA. Because the MTA has already taken unprecedented measures to reduce costs, finding an additional $100 million in 2011 will be very painful, especially with sizable deficits still projected for 2012 and 2014. As we continue cost-cutting, further reductions become harder and harder to achieve.
"But we must fill this gap, and we will fill it without resorting to fare and toll increases or service cuts, because our riders have already been hit with these painful measures over the past year. Instead, we will work to find additional cost-savings through efficiencies and improved productivity throughout our company. We are hopeful that this year we can work with our labor unions to find productivity improvements that protect jobs even as we reduce costs.
"Making these cuts will be painful, but we can only spend as much money as we have. Given the financial pressures facing the State, local governments, and every New Yorker, our only choice is to manage the MTA so that every dollar counts."
And the Straphangers Campaign sends this along:
"Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposed state budget has mostly good news for New York City-area transit riders in these tough economic times.
"It's true that the 2011-2012 State budget proposed to diverts a net of $100 million from funds originally passed for and dedicated to the MTA. In the view of the Straphangers Campaign and many other groups, those funds should be used to meet transit needs.
"However, the MTA says it will not have to turn to service cuts or fare increases to make up the shortfall. That's very welcome after an unprecedented three years in a row of higher fares – as well as last year's service cuts, the worst in memory.
"The MTA says that it will have to take "painful" actions. The Straphangers Campaign and other groups will monitor the agency's response closely to see that the transit system has adequate resources to provide safe, reliable, well-maintained, secure and clean service."
More analysis on the way.
Monday, September 13, 2010
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Seems like New Yorkers have hardly gotten over the jolt of dozens of bus line cuts, service reductions, and more crowded and dirtier trains, but here it is already. Tonight the NYC MTA begins hearings on a round of proposed fare hikes that would both raise and limit the use of "unlimited" cards and make other unsavory upward adjustments.
But a coalition of groups is trying to shift the focus from the MTA to the State Legislature.
"Unless the State Legislature makes funding the transit system a real priority," the groups (Straphangers, TriState Transportation Campaign, Transportation Alternatives, and the Pratt Center) say in a statement "subway and bus riders will continue to face a world of hurt – from soaring fares to cuts in service to more unreliable trains and buses to a crumbling system."
The groups also want MTA Chair Jay Walder to release the authority's underlying data on usage of the various MTA discounts -- a test for the historically secretive agency which has pledged a new era of transparency.