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Transportation Nation

Nassau's Private Bus Company to Cut Service

Friday, March 02, 2012

UPDATED Tens of thousands of bus riders in Nassau County, Long Island in New York, are gearing up for changes in the Nassau Inter County Express bus service, known as NICE bus service, some of them unwanted.

Ryan Lynch with the advocacy group Tri-State Transportation Campaign said the service cuts will be a hardship. “Service will be reduced one way or the other, on 60-percent of the entire system.  That means some people may lose entire service on Saturdays or midday service.

When Nassau voted to privatize the service, officials said Veolia would keep the line’s 48 routes, at least to start. Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said at the time efficiency of service might mean “consolidating” routes in the future.

On Jan 1, Long Island Bus will change its name to NICE, and get a new look.

The company running the service, Veolia Transportation, defended the changes, saying it went to great pains to trim only bus service that was least used.

Michael Setzer is the CEO of NICE, part of Veolia.  He said the company eliminated some trips that “are not useful to the public.”  “We’ve spread out the distance between buses on a few routes, but we’ve also made the schedules more consistent with actual traffic conditions, so that buses will be on time, “ said Setzer.

Veolia also said that some of the changes will actually help riders get where they need to go more efficiently.  Two new express routes have been added, one line that goes from Hicksville to Jamaica, the N6, will now run express.  Another bus line that was eliminated a few years ago, that serves Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Center, has been reinstated.

NICE is the Nassau County-owned bus system.  From the 1970s until January of this year, it was operated by the MTA.  The Nassau County Legislature voted unanimously last December to hand over bus service, to Veolia Transportation, to operate the system under a private-public partnership agreement.  So Veolia is the operator, but the county continues to own the assets, like the buses.

The county was $7-million over budget and Veolia agreed to come up with a balanced budget by April of each year.  To do that it is scaling back bus service.

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Transportation Nation

NY City Council Bill Would Up Electric Bike Fine

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

(Photo by Flickr user: Miss Havisham's Tea Party)

New legislation in New York City could make it twice as costly to speed on an electronic bike.  City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin will introduce legislation Wednesday that would double fines for e-bike speeders who travel faster that the citywide 15 mile per hour limit. That would increase penalties from $500 to $1,000.

“My office constantly receives complaints about electric delivery bikes speeding down our crowded streets and sidewalks,” Lappin said. “We need higher fines and better enforcement, which should make pedestrians safer in their own neighborhoods.”

A relatively new mode of transport, e-bikes zipped into New York City’s culture about a year ago and have since become ubiquitous.  While many have safety concerns about e-bikes, anyone who eats take-out probably benefits from their speedy service – the electric bikes have become synonymous with hot, fresh, delivery food.  And many e-bike owners are commercial delivery cyclists that depend on tips for a majority of their income.  The more deliveries they make, the more money they earn.

Andrew Rigie, Executive Vice President with the New York City Chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association, said the increased fines would hurt small businesses and their employees.  “E-bikes allow more deliveries to be conducted in a quicker amount of time, which means the business can make more money, and the delivery cyclists can make more in tips.”  He said the bikes are also more friendly to the environment.

But Councilwoman Lappin said she has tried to engage small businesses in her district.  “I have developed a flyer that we have volunteers and interns take into small businesses and restaurants to talk to them about the rules of the road, with posters in multiple languages,” said Lappin.  She hopes there eventually be a full hearing on her proposal.

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Transportation Nation

MTA Board Member: Overnight Shutdowns Too Broad (And More are On the Way)

Monday, February 27, 2012

The MTA's Fastrack closures inconvenience thousands of passengers. At a monthly NYC MTA Transit Committee meeting Monday, Board member Andrew Albert complained that during the last FastTrack, some Number 3 subway line riders endured interruptions even though crews did no maintenance there. "Why was it necessary to completely suspend the number three line, relegating those passengers on the Upper Lenox line to second class status and have to ride buses?" asked Albert.

In response, New York City Transit Chief Thomas Prendergast said he'd consider changing the program so that lines will be shut down only where the work is being completed.

The MTA said shutting down entire lines for maintenance will save $10-million in labor costs this year, because more work is completed in a shorter amount of time.

Meantime, the shutdowns continue: beginning tonight, portions of the Sixth Avenue Subway line will be shut down from 10 pm to 5 am for the next four consecutive nights, so that repairs and track maintenance can be completed uninterrupted.

As part of the shutdown, there will be no service on the B, D, F and M lines from West Fourth Street to 57th Street in Manhattan.  D trains will run via the 8th Avenue line between Columbus Avenue and West Fourth Street. In Brooklyn, D trains will operate between Coney Island and 6th street, and via the R line between 36th Street in Brooklyn to Whitehall Street in Lower Manhattan.

F trains will operate via the E line between Roosevelt Avenue in Queens and West Fourth Street in Manhattan, in both directions.  The Q train will be extended from 57th Street in Manhattan to 21st Street Queensbridge in Queens.

Also at Monday's meeting, New York Police Department Transit Bureau Chief Joseph Fox released last year's crime statistics.  Fox told the Board that total major felonies increased 29.5 percent from January 2011 and January 2012.  He said the majority of those increases come from electronic theft crimes, like "iPods and iPhones."

The NYPD reported that there were no murders or rapes on the subway system in either year.

 

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Transportation Nation

New Fears Over Revamped Transportation Bill

Friday, February 24, 2012

(photo by Flickr user: IceNineJon)

A federal transportation bill that threatened to cut billions from mass transit budgets around the country has been scrapped.  But as lawmakers return from a congressional recess, new fears are emerging about what will replace that bill.

Republican leaders say they are revamping  the $260-billion dollar bill after an outcry from colleagues.  The bill included a provision that would have funded public transit with a one time grant, instead of through the federal gasoline tax.

Robert Healy with the American Public Transportation Association spoke with staff members on Capital Hill about the bill on Friday.  He said the Transportation Committee is retooling the bill.  “They are considering continuing the current structure of the Highway Trust Fund as it refers to mass transit, and that’s great, but they’re also considering a shorter term bill,” said Healy.  He worried that the new bill would reduce mass transit funding on an annual basis.  Healy said that could upend many mass transit systems around the nation struggling to maintain service and keep up with repairs.

In New York, the initial legislation would have cut $1- billion dollars from New York's mass transit budget.  Several GOP Congressman, including Bob Turner (NY-09) split with party leadership over the bill, and would not support it.  “There is still a lot of uncertainty about the future of the transportation bill. However, I will not support any bill that does not sufficiently address the unique transportation needs of New York,” said Turner.

Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler (NY-08) has been an outspoken opponent of the  Transportation bill.  He said he’s encouraged by reports that House Republicans have backed off their initial version of the legislation.  But he's still not satisfied that the revamped bill will protect mass transit.  “Even with the proposed fix to transit, I remain concerned about many other aspects of this bill,” said Nadler.

The bill had also called for widely deregulating domestic oil drilling and cut funds for biking and pedestrian infrastructure.  House leaders are expected to formally unveil their new plan after the House returns from a week-long recess.

 

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Transportation Nation

NYC Officials Arrest More for Using Fake Parking Permits

Friday, February 24, 2012

Parking Placard (photo Andrea Bernstein)

New York City's Department of Investigation has charged nine people with displaying fake parking permits at area housing projects. The latest arrests follow five similar arrests made last December.

The alleged scofflaws used computer generated copies of permits to fool authorities. The DOI said the parking permits bore lots of anomalies upon close inspection. They often had different colored backgrounds from the authentic permits, and invalid permit numbers. The agency said it will work to strengthen oversight of public housing parking permits that can cost non-residents up to $650.

But Juan Martinez with Transportation Alternatives estimates that thousands more people with fake permits still use them, and manage to evade authorities. “We cannot arrest ourselves out of this problem,” said Martinez. He said the rise of computer programs like Photoshop and widespread internet availability have made it simple to forge and sell parking permits. “The key is to make it harder to fake a parking permit,” he said.

A bill introduced by New York City Council Member Dan Garodnick would add a bar code to parking placards, making them much harder to fake. The bill was referred to the Transportation Committee, but has been there since last summer.

The nine people arrested Wednesday face misdemeanor charges that carry a penalty of up to one year in prison upon conviction. The nine will be arraigned in Bronx Criminal Court in June.

 

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Transportation Nation

Park Slopers Can Board the Subway Without Crossing Busy Thoroughfare

Thursday, February 23, 2012

 

(photo: NYC MTA)

A Brooklyn, New York subway station house shuttered some four decades ago is open again.

The station at Fourth Avenue between 9th and 10th streets in Park Slope will allow customers on the F and G subway lines to avoid crossing the six-lane avenue to reach their trains, or going in a roundabout way through the R train service entrance to reach the F or G lines.

The NYC MTA says more than 11,000 people use the station on a typical weekday.

The renovation is part of the a broader rehabilitation project called the Culver Viaduct.

When the station was closed in the 1970's, Park Slope was considered a slum -- "blighted" as was the mot du jour.

The station house looks quite a bit different from what it looked like back in the 1970s. The transformation includes new lights, floors, repainted walls, and new turnstiles.

Additional restorations at the station house yet to be done include plans to restore all four entrance globes, store front windows and the installation of a public address system on station platforms.  The historic archways, now covered up, will also be restored.

The Brooklyn Borough President, Marty Markowitz, kicked in $2 million towards the restoration.

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Transportation Nation

Transit Tax Break Buried in Partisan Debate

Saturday, February 18, 2012

(photo: Joe Shlabotnik)

Commuters had high hopes that Congress would restore the full federal transit tax benefit, cut late last year, as part of the massive payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits bill passed today. But it didn’t happen.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) said all tax extenders were excluded as part of the compromise on the payroll tax cut deal, including the mass transit benefit and others. "The college tuition tax credit, and many other credits" were cut, Schumer said.

The credit allows commuters to deduct $125 of their transit costs from their pre-tax pay check. But the credit use to be worth $230. That amount was sunset out at the end of last year. And Congress has been unable to reach agreement on increasing the transit benefit.

Dan Neuburger with Wage Works Commuter Services said transit advocates will keep trying to find a way to restore the entire amount of the credit. "We're hopeful that Congress will do the right thing and increase the benefit cap, so commuters aren't discouraged from public transit in favor of driving their car to work."

He said the reduction of the benefit is essentially a tax increase. "It’s especially hard on commuters in urban areas, like New York, " Neuburger said. The monthly pass to ride the Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit or Metro-North Railroad, exceeds the $125 benefit.

The next chance Congress will have to restore the full tax break for commuters could come when the U.S. House resumes work on the Transportation Bill after next week’s congressional recess.

Senator Schumer is hopeful he the tax credit can be restored. "We successfully attached the commuter mass transit benefit to the Highway Bill and are hopeful we will be able to get it passed," Schumer said.

But that might not be successful either - the transportation bill is currently the subject of a partisan debate.

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Transportation Nation

NY MTA Chief Apologizes for Rat Comments

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

(photo by: laverrue)

NY MTA Chief Joe Lhota is apologizing for comments he made about Harlem lawmaker Bill Perkins.  But Lhota remains against a bill from Senator Perkins, that would ban eating in the subway.

The proposed law would fine people who eat in the subway up to 250-dollars.  Lhota said in the New York Times that as a legislator, “Perkins does nothing but talk and talk and talk, and he does nothing.”

In a statement, the M-T-A chief apologized to Perkins and called him an excellent legislator.  Lhota also said he shares Perkins commitment to addressing the problem of rats on the subway.

But in the article, Lhota also linked the rat problem to minority children.  Lhota said Perkins bill “severely hurts and impacts minority communities. I don’t want to deny the kid the only time that day he’s going to get food,” Lhota said in the New York Times.

Senator Perkins called Lhota’s remarks “odd and offensive.”  “I hope his apology extends to recognizing that this is not a race issue, but a quality of life issue,” said Perkins.  Still, the Senator said he respects Lhota for apologizing and looks forward to working with him.

In a story last week, Transportation Nation reported that rats in the subway are far less dangerous than once thought.

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Transportation Nation

New York Senate Votes to Restore a Tax Break for Transit Riders

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

(photo by: harry_nl)

The State Senate has voted to restore a monthly $240-dollar pre-tax credit for mass transit users -- at least for the state portion of commuters' tax bills.

The state benefit was tied to a similar federal one that was cut last year after federal lawmakers failed to extend it before an end of year deadline.  That benefit allowed commuters to deduct up to $230 dollars each month from their federal taxes to offset mass transit or parking costs.  But because Congress didn’t act on the federal tax break, the state one got cut too.

The Senate legislation would restore the benefit on the state level.  It would also uncouple the tax credit from the federal legislation.  If the bill passes in the State Assembly, the commuter credit would be restored to 2011 levels and adjusted annually for cost of living increases, regardless of whether Congress authorizes additional extensions at the federal level.

Senator Charles Fuschillo, Chairman of the Senate’s Transportation Committee, sponsored the bill.  “With Washington’s lack of action, New York State should do what it can to restore these state tax savings and put money back in the pockets of hard-working commuters.  I’m pleased the Senate has passed this legislation and I urge the Assembly to do the same,” said Senator Fuschillo.

It now goes to the State Assembly.

On a federal level, the transit tax deduction may be re-introduced as part of negotiations over the payroll tax cut.

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Transportation Nation

Two More Ex-Governors Say Port Authority Has Long History of Problems

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

An iron worker atop One World Trade Center (photo by Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Two more Governors are speaking out against last week's audit of the Port Authority.

Former Governor Elliot Spitzer was Governor from June 2007 until March 2008. He says the latest Port Authority audit by Navigant Consulting was unfair to his successor Governor David Paterson and Paterson's pick to lead the Port Authority, Executive Director Chris Ward.

That audit sharply criticized the Port Authority, and, by implication, Ward, who led the bi-state agency until this fall. But Spitzer says Ward himself cut through a thick knot of problems.

"Chris cut through a great deal of it with deadlines that were imposed upon him, some legitimately, some for political purposes -- and got things moving The effort now to revisit and repaint that picture is unfair to Chris and inaccurate," Spitzer said in a telephone interview.

Spitzer's remarks back of those of his successor, David Paterson, who said in an interview that cost overruns at the Port Authority were in part driven by demands by New Jersey that every expenditure on the World Trade Center be matched by a similar layout across the Hudson.

Spitzer said Ward got the stalled project moving. He says Ward deserves credit for the on time completion of the Memorial that was the focal point for the global commemoration of the tenth anniversary.

Spitzer also said the Port Authority has become a fundamentally political organization.

"Inevitably over time organizations like that become dominated by politics, not substance. The Port has not escaped that," says Spitzer. "Overlay on top of that the reality of two states balancing and juggling competing political needs and you have clear opportunities for waste and outright corruption."

 

Former Democratic New Jersey Governor Dick Codey, who is now a state senator, is also backing his former cohorts accounts that the Port Authority has long been beset with problems.

Codey said during his tenure from 2004 until the beginning of 2006 he was frustrated by the lack of progress at Ground Zero. He said from his first-hand experience overseeing the agency it's bi-state nature slowed progress and drove up costs.

" I mean obviously it took way too long to get that done and that is the problem when you have a bi-state agency; one wants to do it their way, the other wants it their own way.

"The thing I was frustrated at was the lack of progress dealing with the World Trade Center site," Codey said in an interview. " You got to compromise and sometimes that compromise takes a very long time, and the money you thought it would take to rebuild just escalates."

Codey says the governors of both states, including himself, were too quick to let the Port Authority carry the huge cost of rebuilding the site. "I think if there is any criticism to be laid at any Governor is that we were not vigilant in going after Federal money because is really a monument to our country as opposed to New Jersey or New York. It was not new Jersey or new York that were hit that day. It was America, clearly."

Both Codey and Spitzer say that any meaningful reform of the Port Authority has to include ending what has become the standard practice of the Governors from both states appointing campaign contributors to the powerful Port Authority Board of Commissioners. They oversee the agency that generates more than $4 billion dollars in revenue annually and employs almost 7,000 people.

"Part of the problem is that we want people that are non-partisan and who are professionals and clearly we have gotten away from that," says Codey. " There is no question about it. People that are on these authorities are big donors. Whether that be on my Democratic side or on the Republican side. So I think both parties need to take a hit on this. "

Both former Governors say the Port Authority, originally established to facilitate the development of the region's Port and transportation infrastructure, has to get back to its core mission. Forays into so called "economic development projects" are examples of a diversion from that mission.

"Well you would think that Port Authority is running the bridges and tunnels and that would be it," says Codey."These economic things that came about maybe 15 years or so, why? I don't understand. You are supposed to be doing the infrastructure that binds us together. And yet we have gone away from that. Economic development is really the federal government and the state's role."

After signing off on controversial toll and fare hikes Governors Christie and Cuomo called for a first of its kind internal audit of the bi-state agency that was first created in 1921. The audit found that the agency had more than doubled its debt from $9 billion to $21 billion in just ten years while boosting the compensation for its own workforce by 19 percent over the last five.

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Transportation Nation

New York Republicans May Defect on Transportation Bill

Friday, February 10, 2012

(photo by: Flickr user: See-ming Lee)

Three New York City Republicans are expressing reservations about their party's transportation bill.

The legislation would stop funding mass transit through a federal gasoline tax for the first time in about three decades.  Instead it would provide mass transit with a $40-billion dollar one time grant.

But exactly where the money for that grant would come from is unclear, leading to a host of denunciations from Congressional Democrats, editorial boards,  and US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, himself a Republican, who dubbed the legislation "the worst transportation bill" in decades.  The opponents say the bill could cost the New York area $1 billion in lost funds.

Congressman Bob Turner (NY-09), who won a narrow special election to succeed Congressman Anthony Wiener earlier this year,  could vote against his party’s bill.  Turner said in a statement he's concerned about how transportation funds will be allocated.  Turner said "it’s imperative that the necessary funding mechanism"  be in place to maintain and improve the transportation needs of the nation’s largest metropolitan population center.   “I will not support any bill that does not allow New York City to sufficiently meet those needs," Turner said.

A spokeswoman for Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm  (NY-13) said the Congressman is still reviewing the bill but "has concerns about it," and is working to amend it.  She did not mention the specific issues Grimm had with the legislation.

A spokesman for Hudson Valley Republican Nan Hayworth also express doubts about the bill in its current form.

And Congressman Jerrold Nadler says he has bi-partisan support for an amendment that would restore mass transit's funding stream. He says he'll introduce the amendment Monday.

Proponents of the legislation say drivers should not subsidize mass transit.  But opponents of the bill said it would drastically reduce the amount of funds available for subway, bus and train riders.

MTA Chairman Joe Lhota, a Republican, said projects like the Second Avenue subway and the Fulton Street Transit Center would be in jeopardy if the bill moves forward in its current form.  The Senate is developing a competing version of the bill.

The Transportation bill puts many area Republican lawmakers between a rock and an hard place:   over 50 percent of the region's commuters use transit to get to work, but  their party leadership is pushing another way.

Republicans Leonard Lance (NJ-07), Scott Garrett (NJ-05), Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11), and Chris Smith (NJ-04) failed to return calls and emails seeking comment.

In New York, Chris Gibson (NY-20), and Pete King (NY-03) also did not respond to requests for comment.

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Transportation Nation

Watch Out Lovers: 7th Avenue Subway Line Shuts Down Overnights Week of February 13th

Friday, February 10, 2012

(photo by: ElvertBarnes)

Overnight subway service on a large part of New York’s City’s Seventh Avenue Subway line will be suspended beginning Monday, February 13 through Thursday, Feb 17th.  The MTA will stop service on the 1,2, and 3 lines from 10 pm to 5 am between 34th Street Penn Station and Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, in both directions.  The number 1 train service will be halted between 34th Street-Penn Station and South Ferry.

It’s part of the next phase of the MTA’s so-called “Fastrack’ program.  The authority says crews can fix subways faster when service stops completely, because they don't have to watch out for train traffic.

During the planned suspension, service will operate between 34th Street-Penn Station and East 180th Street.  It will then be rerouted via the 5 train, between East 180th and Dyre Avenue.

Customers should note that 5 train service will operate all night in Manhattan and to/from Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn.  5 service will be rerouted via the 2 between East 180th Street and 241st Street.

Additionally, while 3 service will be completely suspended from 10 pm to 5 am, the MTA will provide free shuttle buses to and from 3 stations at 148th, 145th and 135th Streets.

4 trains will operate local in Brooklyn and extend to New Lots Avenue.  And the 42nd Street S shuttle will operate through the night.

The authority said customers should plan to transfer to other lines at these key transfer points:  Times Square-42nd Street A,C,E,N,Q,R,S,7, Atlantic Avenue-Pacific Street DNQR45, and 59th Street-Columbus Circle A,C,and D.

Last month, the MTA implemented the first ever Fastrack program with an overnight shut down of large parts of the 4, 5 and 6 subway lines.  The authority says crews were able to complete 300 tasks during the four-night outage, work that would normally have taken weeks or even months to complete.

After the IRT suspension, the next overnight closures will be on parts of the Sixth Avenue B,D, and F lines, February 27 to March 2.

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Transportation Nation

Back of the Bus, Documentary on Transit and Civil Rights, To Air This Weekend

Friday, February 10, 2012

Back of the Bus

 

Fifty-six-year-old Carolyn McMillan considers herself lucky. To get to work, she can drive to the Home Depot parking lot on Jonesboro road in Clayton County Georgia, then take a bus to her clerical job in downtown Atlanta.

“I’m just barely making it,” McMillan says. “Because I have to put gas in the car. I’m just barely making it.” Not too long ago, McMillan could take a local bus before switching to the Atlanta system, or MARTA. But Clayton County isn’t part of MARTA, and  the year before last,  Clayton eliminated all bus service. Today it stretches south of Atlanta in an endless string of fried chicken joints, tattoo parlors, check-cashing stores and used car lots.

In the 1970s, when Clayton County voted not to become a part of MARTA, it was then a mostly white, rural place. Now, as more affluent whites flock to downtown Atlanta, Clayton County is mostly black.

“Transportation in Atlanta has always been mired in race and racism,” says Robert Bullard, director of the Environmental Justice Center at Clark Atlanta University. When Atlanta began building its commuter rail system in the 1970s, white communities like Clayton County wanted no part of it.

“Public Transit was equated with black people and poor people and crime and poverty. And when the Metropolitan Atlanta Transportation Authority was created MARTA, it was a running joke that MARTA” – he spells it out – M-A-R-T-A – “stood for moving Africans rapidly through Atlanta.”

“It’s transportation apartheid,” he says.

Back of the Bus Airs:  Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 9PM on 820 AM and Monday, February 13, 2012 at 8PM on 93.9 FM, 820 FM, and NJPR

To read more, and for photos, a timeline, or to download the documentary, click here.

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Transportation Nation

Photo: The Ugliest Rat

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Rat in New York City (photo by Michael Spivack)

There is a winner in the Transport Workers Union's “Ugliest Rat” photo competition.  Native New Yorker Michael Spivack clicked the prize picture at New York City’s 7th Avenue station on53rd Street.

Transport Workers Union Local 100 launched the contest last September in an effort to pressure the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to hire more clean up workers.

But curator Robert Voss with the American Museum of Natural History said rats will be with us forever, and are not as dangerous as once thought.  “They don't carry serious diseases, unlike the black rat, which used to occur in New York City but no longer does.  So, there's not a huge health issue,” said Voss.  Today’s subway rats are the same species as pet rats.  “People don’t like rats largely because of prejudice,” Voss added.  But he said rats could chew through electrical wiring and cause problems.

Contest winner Michael Spivack will receive a monthly MetroCard as a prize.  It will be presented near the very subway platform where he snapped the rat shot.

The union’s prize is well timed:  it’s in the middle of contract talks with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

To see more photos and videos of rats in the subway, go here.

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Transportation Nation

House Bill Could Cut $1.7 Billion in NYC Transit Funds

Monday, February 06, 2012

New York area lawmakers gather at Grand Central Terminal

UPDATED WITH HOUSE REPUBLICAN RESPONSE: There's more alarm about last week's House vote to change the way public transportation is funded.  A group of New York area lawmakers and transportation officials is  worried that the Republican sponsored bill would slash $1.7 billion dollars from New York State coffers.

The group painted a doomsday scenario, in which major projects, including the Second Avenue Subway, could be halted in their tracks, where service could deteriorate and fares would head skyward.

“Over time if you don't repair the system, if we don't get the money necessary to do the repairs and renovations of the system, it will raise fares,” said Joe Lhota, Chair of the NY MTA.

Lhota is the brand-new chief of the NY MTA, but it's relatively rare for an MTA chief to speak out on politics.  Lhota is a Republican, who was a Deputy Mayor to Rudy Giuliani.

He was joined by Deocratic  Reps. Joe Crowley (NY-7), Charlie Rangel (NY-15), Jerrold Nadler (NY-8), Carolyn Maloney (NY-14), at a press conference Monday morning at New York City's Grand Central Terminal.

The group said the proposed legislation would adversely affect urban and suburban commuters across the country.

The proposed Republican bill would eliminate the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, signed into law by President Ronald Regan in 1983.  That legislation created a dedicated funding source for public transportation through a Federal tax on gasoline.  The proposed bill would change that structure.

A spokesman for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Justin Harclerode, responded: "Republicans are not anti-transit, but we do recognize that the Highway Trust Fund is paid for by highways users, and cities and local governments must look at developing a similar user fee system for transit users." (full statement at end of post)

 “This [new] bill would keep the gasoline tax revenues for highways, but eliminate it for mass transit,” said New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who represents parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn.  “So we would no longer have a reliable source of funding, you’d have to go and beg Congress every year for appropriations and who knows how that would turn out,” Nadler added.

MTA Chairman Lhota also warned that the proposed bill could halt construction at some of New York City’s biggest transit upgrade projects, called mega-projects.  They include expansion of the Second Avenue subway line, and the East Side Access project that would connect Long Island Rail Road’s Main and Port Washington lines in Queens to a new LIRR terminal beneath the existing Grand Central Terminal.

Also at risk, said Lhota, is the Fulton Transit Center project.  That upgrade is working to build a new station at the corner of Fulton Street and Broadway, and improve connections to six existing Lower Manhattan subway stations, one of them at the World Trade Center site.

“If this bill goes forward, we’ll have to make some serious decisions because of the lack of funding, what will continue, what will move forward and at what pace,”  said Chairman Lhota.  “It will also affect track work and renovations,” he added.

House Republicans are expected to bring the legislation to the floor some time next week.  A separate Senate version of the bill is expected to be introduced later this week.

Statement from Justin Harclerode, spokesman for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee:

The Republican five-year transportation bill provides guaranteed funding for transit.  

In terms of the bigger picture, the Highway Trust Fund is funded by a user fee of 18.4 cents per gallon of gas that all highway users pay at the pump.  Republicans are not anti-transit, but we do recognize that the Highway Trust Fund is paid for by highways users, and cities and local governments must look at developing a similar user fee system for transit users.

This bill gives more flexibility to states to fund their most critical transportation needs, and under this bill states can also use the funds authorized under the highway program for transit systems if they so choose.

Because of the struggling economy, changing driving patterns and more fuel efficient vehicles, the Highway Trust Fund is in repeated danger of running dry.  The Republican bill stabilizes the Trust Fund for the next five years, ensures states have the ability to fund their most critical transportation needs, and also guarantees transit funding.  Democrats have yet to propose a long-term funding solution for transportation, and the Senate’s proposal bankrupts the Trust Fund in less than two years.  This bill stabilizes transportation funding for five years and allows Congress the time to determine how best to address our transportation needs for the future.

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Transportation Nation

More Cell Phones on NYC Subway

Friday, February 03, 2012

(Photo (cc) by Flickr user Ed Yourdon)

MTA officials are moving forward with plans to make cell phone service available at more subway stations.  The next two will be Times Square and Rockefeller Center.  Transit Wireless, the company creating the subway cell phone network, says engineering work has begun on both projects, and construction will begin in the spring, with service available by late July or early August 2012.

After those stations are cell phone accessible, Transit Wireless says 5 or 6 stations a month will be added after that.  In all, 30 stations will get cell phone service this year.  Cell service was first introduced at stations on the Seventh and Eighth Avenues at 14th street, and 23rd Street on the C and E lines.

While it would follow that broader cell phone service could lead to noisier subway cars, a spokesman for Transit Wireless says new data show that might not be the case.  Only a quarter of underground cell phone users actually use their devices to talk on the subway.  Most – 75% - use their phones for texting and data, like reading online.

Cell phones are becoming increasingly common in subways systems nationwide.

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Transportation Nation

MTA Announces App Contest Winners

Thursday, February 02, 2012

MTA App Winners (NY MTA photo)

A company that created an app to find transit directions that can be used in subway tunnels won the NY MTA's competition for the best Smartphone software app for riders

Embark NYC, can help NYC subway riders plan trips, see schedules for their particular route, and use an interactive map of the subway system.

David Hodge and Ian Leighton of Embark worked with two others to create the free application.  “It even works underground, while you’re in the subway,” said Hodge.

The second prize was awarded to Free NYC Subway Locator, created by Jordan Hill of Flatiron Factory.  His app lets users find the nearest subway stop to wherever they are.  But it only works on the iPhone.  Still, Hill said it took months to complete. “I’ll spend next summer developing the Subway Locator for the Android,” joked Hill.

The contest also featured winners voted on by the public.  The top spot for the popular choice award went to CityMaps, and app developed by Christopher Winfield.  It combines real-time information about local businesses with subway information about how to reach them.

One of the honorable mention apps, called Art by Subway NYC, lets iPhone or iPad users discover commissioned artworks within the subway system.  Another one, Annadale Apps links iPhone users with the Staten Island Ferry and Staten Island Railway schedules so that they become one seamless entity. All forty-two new apps can be found on the website http://mtaappquest.com/

Winners received anywhere from $5-thousand to $500-dollars, and get to keep their intellectual property.  They were fêted at a ceremony at Grand Central Terminal.  But MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota  said: “It’s pretty clear who the real winners are: all of us—the riding public—the 8.5 million people who use our system every single day and now have more tools to make those trips easier and more rewarding,” said Lhota.

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Controversy as MTA and TWU Resume Contract Talks

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York City’s Transport Workers Union are back at the bargaining table for the first time in about two weeks. But already, there's controversy.

The New York Post, citing anonymous sources, reported that the MTA had caved in to costly union demands. The paper said the agency would give subway operators three paid days off when they hit someone. Current policy only gives workers time off if a person is killed by a subway car.

But MTA chairman Joseph Lhota said that article is patently false. “The MTA has agreed to nothing,” said Lhota. He went on to accuse the newspaper of “damaging” the negotiation process. Lhota made the comments in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, at a press conference announcing new subway apps.

The Union’s been working without a contract since January 15th. Key areas of contention between the two sides are wages and healthcare costs.

Transport Workers Union Local 100 President John Samuelsen halted talks two weeks ago, after accusing the MTA of negotiating in the media. The MTA then charged the union of doing the same.

Still, Lhota is hopeful. “John Samuelson and I have had very constructive discussions and I look forward to continuing negotiations with John,” said Lhota.

The MTA is pushing the union to accept a five year contract with no wage increases for the first three years; the union is vying for cost of living wage increases each year and a shorter, three year contract.

Officials on both sides say there's no threat of a transit strike at this time.

The last transit strike was in December of 2005 and lasted 3 days.  TWU Local 100 represents about 34,000 workers.

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Transportation Nation

Contract Talks Resume Between MTA and Transit Union

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

TWU Local 100 president John Samuelsen and NY MTA executive director Joe Lhota before start of contract talks. (Photo by Jim O'Grady)

Talks resume Thursday between New York City’s Transport Workers Union and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It is the first time the two sides will have met since contract talks collapsed late last month.

Both sides return to the bargaining table with little animosity, according to a source close to the union. But the calm comes after theatrical fallout. At a press conference a few weeks ago, TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen accused the MTA of negotiating in the media.

The MTA fired back that it was the union talking to the press.

The top sticking points remain. The MTA wants a five-year agreement with the union, with no wage increase for the first three years, followed by 2 percent across-the-board wage increases in subsequent years. The union wants a three-year contract, with cost of living increases each year.

Additionally, the MTA is proposing increases in health care contributions for workers. It's also asked for a host of rule changes, such as whether the MTA will be able to combine train conductor and operator jobs.

According to one union official, negotiations are expected to drag on for several weeks. There's currently no threat of a strike like the one that stalled public transit for three days in December 2005.

The MTA's contract with TWU Local 100 expired on January 15.

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Transportation Nation

Princeton Professor: Patronage Hires Under Christie at Port Authority Outpace Previous Governors

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)

A Princeton professor emeritus and author of a book on the Port Authority says Governor Chris Christie's hiring recommendations at the Port Authority far outpace his predecessor's patronage hires.  Jameson Doig, author of "Empire on the Hudson," is speaking up after the Bergen Record published  the names of some 50 employees, from executives to a toll collector, who were hired on Christie's reommendation, most of whom have ties to the Republican party officials or their campaigns.

"Whereas Christie might have 50 people, the other Governors might have four or five," Doig said in a phone interview from New Hampshire, where he also teaches at Dartmouth college.

Christie is defending the hirings. "I make no apologies about trying to put some people in place who are going to understand what the view of this administration is and execute …in a way that’s consistent with my policies,” he said at a news conference Monday.

Christie's spokesman didn't respond to Doig's criticisms.

Shawn Boburg, one of the Bergen Record reporters who broke the story, said the hirings "cut against the grain" for Christie, who made his bones as a prosecutor crusading against corruption.  (You can listen to an interview with Boburg here. )

The report says among those hired were an actor, a gourmet food broker, and the author of a self-help book by a Port Authority executive.  The salaries total $4 million.

Christie says, under his watch, overall headcount has dropped at the bi-state transportation authority.

The Port Authority is not subject to the same disclosure laws as New Jersey state agencies, and has not released the resumes of the 50 employees.

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