Janet Babin

Business, Sustainability, Climate Reporter, WNYC News

Janet Babin appears in the following:

Mets Owners Settle in Madoff-Related Case

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Owners of the New York Mets have eked out a settlement with the trustee responsible for recovering money for victims of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Under the deal, the Mets will pay a $162 million settlement.


Report Shows Flying Can be Deadly for Some Pets

Sunday, March 18, 2012

For 35 pet travelers, 2011 was the year they met their maker.

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Airlines Can be Deadly for Pets: 35 Died in 2011

Friday, March 16, 2012

Dogs, planes (photo by: flickr user derekb)


For 35 pet travelers, 2011 was the end of the line.

More than half of the deceased, 19 pets, flew Delta airlines. All of the deaths happened in the cargo holds of the planes, government documents show.

The pets ranged from dogs and cats to a chinchilla.  It boarded a Delta flight at New York’s JFK Airport last June for the second leg of its journey from St. Louis to Moscow, Russia.  The airline notes that the flight was delayed 44 minutes in St. Louis before departure for New York.

Still, the pet chinchilla appeared fine to the Delta crew at JFK, according to a Live Animal Incident Report.  Without warning, the chinchilla arrived in Moscow deceased.  The airline was forced to ship the pet, without its owner, back to New York, because Russian authorities refused to allow the dead animal into the country.

Other airlines also noted pet deaths last year; five animals died on American Airlines, three on Continental and two perished on United.  The pet injury and death figures are drawn from the January-December 2011 Airline Reports to USDOT of Incidents Involving the Loss, Injury or Death of Animals During Air Transportation.  The lost and deceased pet tallies are included in the U.S. DOT's Air Travel Consumer Report.  The 2011 figures are lower than in 2010, when 39 animals died.  Delta again recorded the most pet deaths, with 16; Continental had six.  Far fewer pets perished in 2009 - about 23 total.  Nine animals died on American Airlines that year.

Delta’s record for pet deaths this January was no better than its record in January of 2011 – it again recorded one pet death for the month.  American Airlines also recorded one death for January.  Monthly 2012 reports can be found here.

The most recent death involved T Bone, a 1 year old Yorkshire Terrier traveling from Frankfurt, Germany to Nashville via Atlanta on January 13, 2012.  In the Incident Report, Delta notes that there were no indications of a problem with the cargo hold being too hot or too cold.  Yet the necropsy indicated the tiny Terrier died from hypoxia, “perhaps associated with seizures, hypoglycemia, or hyperthermia.”

Other Delta victims include Coco, a 9-month old English Bull Dog who traveled from Stuttgart, Germany to Philadelphia via Atlanta.  The puppy was found unresponsive when unloaded in Atlanta, “less than 10 minutes after the aircraft had parked,” according the Delta’s Live Animal Incident Report.

Cats also died on Delta.  Phoebe, an 11-year-old short hair, was traveling with her companion kitty Newman, from Pittsburgh to Phoenix through Atlanta.  The flight was just ten minutes behind schedule, and the airline reported temperatures in the 60s.  But when the flight landed in Atlanta, the ramp crew noticed Phoebe was unresponsive, lying in the back of her crate.  She had passed away.  Newman had to do the final leg of the journey without his buddy.  A necropsy revealed that Phoebe died of chronic heart failure.

Some of the incidents over the years involved older pets, or dogs that are susceptible to breathing problems, like Bull Dogs.  But others involved younger, less at-risk animals.  Like Katie, a 6 year old yellow Labrador Retriever whose last trip was from Pensacola to Atlanta last July.  Her final destination was supposed to be Baltimore.

Katie boarded her first flight with no issues.  Scattered clouds flecked the Pensacola sky.  Temperatures were moderate to warm, about 75 to 80 degrees.  The ground crew reported that Katie made it to Atlanta without incident.  Delta personnel then transported the middle aged Lab via temperature controlled van to await the next leg of her journey to Baltimore.  Katie boarded her second flight.  It was scheduled to leave at 1:50 pm.  But apparently the plane was delayed; the Captain and ground crew “were informed the delay would only be brief,” according to the Incident Report.

But two hours later, the flight still waited in the sweltering Atlanta summer heat for take-off clearance.  At 5:33 pm, the crew got the go-ahead for departure.  Yet somehow, the report stated, the flight was still on the ground at 7:46 pm, delayed an additional two hours.

Around that time, the crew finally got instructions to return the plane to the gate.  When ground handlers opened the cargo bin door, there was Katie, non-responsive inside her kennel.  Katie’s necropsy report is still pending according to the report, even though her death happened almost 8 months ago.

After Katie died, Delta apparently took action.  The airline stated in the report that it will try to ensure the crew is notified if there’s a pet in the cargo section of the plane when flights are delayed.  “As a result of the animal’s death, our Load Center will pull another Load Manifest in order to determine if an animal exists on a delayed aircraft,” stated the Delta report.

Some of the Animal Incident Reports indicate pets injured themselves during flights, desperate to break free of their crates.  Rides in cargo holds can be grueling, with extreme temperature swings.

In March 2011, a Chihuahua traveling Delta Airlines between Atlanta and Buffalo lost three lower incisor crown teeth chewing the handle and front corner of its crate.  Last January a Golden Retriever reportedly chewed and then tried to swallow the zip ties that secured its kennel door during a flight.  The ties ended up lodged in its throat – a vet anesthetized the dog and managed to remove the obstruction.  Both dogs survived their ordeals.

The airline Incident Reports are required since passage of a federal law, the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act.

A necropsy isn’t always in the mix.  In Coco’s case, the puppy, one was performed.  It found that Coco, due to stress, “regurgitated food consumed prior to transportation which aspirated into the trachea and lungs,” stated the report.  Essentially, the puppy choked.  The vet also noticed “indications of a preexisting respiratory infection which was still inflamed,” according to the report.

TN reached out to Delta Airlines, sending emails and making several calls, but there's been no response as yet.  Airlines can make substantial ancillary revenue in part from pet transportation fees.   According to recent figures, TN reported that Delta earned the most revenue of any reporting airline from ancillary sources like pet transport fees, in the third quarter of 2011.  To see the additional Miscellaneous Operating Revenue data, go to BTS Schedule P-1.2.

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Senate Restores Commuter Tax Break

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mass transit users are one step closer to getting a pre-tax transit benefit restored.


Senate Moves on Transit Tax Deduction

Monday, March 12, 2012

US Senate (photo by flickr user samuel.bowman)

After a few months of reduced tax credits for all the money they spend getting to and from work, commuters may finally be getting a break.  The U-S Senate is expected restore commuter transit benefit worth more than $2,000 annually when it votes on the Transportation bill this week.

Until this year, subway, bus and train riders were able to deduct up to $230-dollars from their pre-tax paychecks to pay their monthly transit bill.  The tax credit was administered through an employer benefit program.  But that benefit cap dropped to $125-dollars as of January 1st after Congress let it lapse after year-end gridlock.

The Senate tried to restore the benefit last month [February] as part of a payroll tax bill, but all amendments in that bill were dropped as part of a deal to get bipartisan support for it from both parties.

Now Senate leaders have embedded the tax credit directly into the Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill – it is not an amendment.

The legislation would extend the commuter tax credit through the end of this year.  It would also increase the credit by $10, to $240.  That would give it parity with the existing tax benefit that drivers get each month to offset expenses.  Commuter advocates complained that the lower $125-dollar cap was actually a tax increase on commuters, especially in areas with relative high transit costs for commuting, like suburban New York, New Jersey, Washington, and San Francisco.

In New York,  the minimum monthly pass for all three of the region’s commuter rail systems costs more than the lower, $125-dollars benefit.

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) expects the transportation bill will move forward.  “It’s our hope to have this passed by Wednesday at the latest, and now we’re putting a full court press on our colleagues in the House to pass this crucial legislation as well,” he said.  Many New York area House Republicans broke with their party over the last version of the Highway bill, because it excluded dedicated funding for public transit.  After several unsuccessful tries to pass its own bill, the House, led by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), is now expected take up the Senate bill, instead of crafting a version of its own.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he would lobby House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), who is visiting New York City.  Bloomberg said he wants some help getting a tax credit for commuters. “You know the highway bill helps you if you drive but it doesn't help mass transit and we're very dependent on that,” said Bloomberg.


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A Wider Panama Canal Could Lead to a NY Boom, But City May Not Be Ready

Friday, March 09, 2012

Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal (photo by: flickr user Ryan Healy)

The narrowest piece of Central America could hold the key to millions of dollars worth of additional business for the East Coast shipping industry.  A new channel being built in the Panama Canal will allow wider ships to squeeze through the isthmus in about two years’ time.

The supersize freighters will reduce shipping costs, making it cheaper to move goods originating from Asia to the East Coast, instead of the West Coast, for the first time.  That's expected to bring more ships, more cargo and more jobs to the region.

Ship at NYCT, Staten Island (photo by Kent Nickerson)

Port operators already supported 270-thousand jobs in 2010, and contributed more than $37-billion dollars in business income, according to a study from the New York Shipping Association.

Staten Island Cargo Yard (photo by Kent Nickerson)


Bob Silverman, industrial supply chain analyst with Jones Lang LaSalle said the larger freighters will set up a battle for the Midwest market.  Imagine a jagged line that runs north to south through the United States. Silverman calls it the line of demarcation.

“It’s the point at which the costs are equal to receive a container on the West Coast and ship it to that point, versus receiving that container on the East and shipping it,” said Silverman.  And after the Panama Canal has its new locks, that line is expected to shift further west -- favorign the east coast ports.

Eastern ports are giddy with the possiblity of more business.  It could also mean more jobs for truck drivers and other workers who move cargo from one point to another.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is preparing for all the new customers, along with many other eastern seaboard ports.  Dredging projects are underway to deepen harbors to accommodate these larger freighters.  Still, Rick Larrabee, Port Commerce Director for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is cautious.

“There are lots of theories about whether this is a game changer,” said Larrabee.  The cost of gas and rail will also be a factor in which coast has the competitive edge.  “We believe more cargo will come here and the Panama Canal will become more efficient and consumers will benefit,” he said.

But the ships will have to be able to fit into eastern shipping channels, something they can’t do now.

“Right now ports on the East Coast, except for Norfolk, can’t handle those ships because their harbors aren’t deep enough,” said Bib Silverman, the Jones Lang LaSalle analyst.  The dredging projects will help with that.  But the Port of New York and New Jersey has one additional problem:  the big ships won’t fit underneath the Bayonne Bridge, that connects New Jersey to Staten Island.

A project to raise the Bayonne Bridge has been approved by the Port Authority’s Board of Directors.  But it will cost an estimated $1 billion.  And, it won’t be done until 2016, two years after the bigger ships are already sailing through the Panama Canal.  “For those first two years, the Port of New York and New Jersey will not be able to accept the biggest ships, so it will give the Southern ports a bit of a jump,” said Silverman.

Bayonne Bridge (photo by Kent Nickerson)

Port Commerce Director Rick Larrabee admits the Port “is playing a little bit of catch up here.”  It may be because the Port had hoped to save money.  “To be very honest with you, the first thing we thought was, don’t fix the bridge, fix the ships,” said Larrabee.  The cost of modification could have been made up in two or three trips.  But the shipping companies didn’t buy it.  “Most of the lines said you need to fix the bridge…we’re not interested in fixing our ships.  And, eventually, we got that,” Larrabee said.

But Larrabee is not convinced the Port is poised to get all that much new business from the massive freighters anyway.  “The West Coast ports will not sit by and watch, they’ll compete for the business,” he said.  He added that even without the Canal expansion, business is booming in New York area ports.  "We've doubled our cargo capacity since 1992, and we expect to double it again in the next twenty years," said Larrabee.

New York Container Terminal, NYCT, is one of the Port Authority’s 70 tenants along the Port of New York and New Jersey.  It among about half a dozen big ports in the region that stand to gain if more shipping business materializes after the Canal is widened.

Jim Devine is President and CEO of NYCT.  He said the Bayonne Bridge raising is not as critical to his company as to other port companies along the New York harbor.  “We have a terminal that’s outside the bridge, a global terminal, and we’re preparing to handle the larger ships there now, with more cranes and a deeper dock,” said Devine.

Ship Gets Unloaded at NYCT (photo by Kent Nickerson)

But the company’s Director of Marine Operations, Joseph Cordero, sees the Bayonne Bridge issue a little differently.  “It’s got to happen,” said Cordero.  “If it doesn’t happen, it will cut off this port and it will cut off all of New Jersey from handling that kind of commerce.”  Cordero added that the two year gap is a very serious gap and has to be closed one way or the other, even if it means doing away with the Bayonne Bridge.  Otherwise, his longshoremen will lose out.

Crane Operators Unload Ship at NYCT (photo by: Kent Nickerson)


Larrabee said the Bayonne Bridge project will move forward. “I’m confident we’ll get this done in a reasonable amount of time, so long as we stay on the current time line,” said Larrabee.

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MTA Fare Hikes Won't Pay for Better Service

Tuesday, March 06, 2012


The MTA told New York City Council’s Transportation Committee Tuesday that its proposed fare hike next year will bring in about $400 million, and none of it will likely be spent on service enhancements. The MTA plans a 7.5 percent increase in fares and tolls next year and again in 2015.


Proposed NY MTA hikes won't Pay for Service Upgrades

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

(Getty Images)

The NY MTA told New York City Council’s Transportation Committee today that its proposed fare hike next year will bring in about $400 million, and none of it will likely be spent on service enhancements.  The MTA plans a 7.5% increase in fares and tolls next year and again in 2015.

Transportation Committee Chairman James Vacca asked if a toll hike could be avoided, given the fragile economy, but MTA officials could see no way around it.  MTA Director of Government Affairs Hilary Ring told committee members the increases would generate about $900 million in new revenue.

But the MTA's increases in pension and healthcare costs are projected to be about $810 million.  “So essentially the fare and toll increases, it is almost dollar for dollar being eaten up by our increases in pension and retiree healthcare costs,” said Ring.

Chairman Vacca said if gas prices keep rising, more people will want to ride the city’s vast network of subways and buses, but might not be able to afford the higher fare.  “We just went through severe bus cuts, our trains are packed….the riding public has a right to ask,” said Vacca.

Ring pointed out that the fare hikes don’t stand by themselves.  He hoped the public, and the Committee, would consider that toll and fare increases are just one component of the MTA's budget plan.  "The increases are combined with the billion dollars the MTA has cut in recurring expenses from budget," said Ring.  He added that the $12 billion budget also assumes three years of net zero increases in labor costs.

The MTA also expects to collect $250 million in revenue from sales of some of its buildings, but that money is not expected for several more years.  The NYC transit system serves 8.5 million riders every day, and is one of the few urban transit systems that remains open 24/7, according to the MTA.

The MTA’s preliminary budget is expected in July, and public hearings on the fare and toll increases are likely to be held in the fall.

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Nassau's Private Bus Co. to Cut Service

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Bus riders in Nassau County, Long Island, are gearing up for some unwanted changes in the Nassau Inter County Express bus service, known as NICE.

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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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Penalties Could Double for Riders Speeding on Electric Bikes

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

New legislation set to be introduced Wednesday could make it twice as costly to speed on an electronic bike in New York City.

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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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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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MTA Set for Fastrack Work as Some Board Members Question Usage

Monday, February 27, 2012

As part of the next installment of the MTA's Fastrack program, portions of the Sixth Avenue Subway line will be shut down from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. for the next four consecutive nights starting February 27, so that repairs and track maintenance can be completed uninterrupted. 

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House Plans to Revamp the Transportation Bill

Friday, February 24, 2012

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.

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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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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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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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Transit Officials Offer New Reason to Oppose HR7: Bond Ratings

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

(Photo (cc) by Flickr user quinn.anya)

Public transit officials are using the congressional recess to regroup in their battle against a Republican-backed House transportation bill. And the new voices joining the choir of transit-focused opposition to HR7 are bringing new lines of argument against the legislation.

On Wednesday, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), rallied seven public transit officials from across the country, including heads of transit agencies in New York City, Washington D.C., Seattle, Chicago, Columbus, Ohio and Philadelphia.

The most vocal opposition to the bill has been in defense of transit funding. As written HR7 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 one time grant that would need to be approved by Congress each year to be extended.

The transit agency heads pointed out, that wasn't the only funding problem the bill would cause. The bill would also make it more difficult to obtain future bond issues for planned projects.

SEPTA General Manager Joseph Casey told reporters on the conference call that HR7 would make it harder for Philadelphia to secure bonds for future projects.  The city's transit system uses the federal funds to finance major construction projects, like issuing bonds to purchase rail cars, something San Francisco is now considering with a price tag in the billions of dollars.

Of Philadelphia's project, Casey said, "I've already been told by the bonding agency that the rating on those bonds will be reduced from A1 to a BBB."  Casey said two point reduction would dramatically increase the cost to carry the current bonds, as well as to issue new bonds for future projects.

Opponents of the House transportation bill also fear the it would introduce great uncertainty into the public transit system funding process, because there would be no automatic annual appropriation.

The bill's author, Representative John Mica (R-Fla), maintains that opposition to the bill is based on the fact that there fewer earmarks for pet projects than there were in past transportation funding bills. He added that dedicating all of the gas tax to highways and roads is a preferable way to ensure their maintenance, while states can still choose to fund transit as they wish.  Proponents said that the highway tax should not pay the bill for mass transit.

Congress is expected to take up the bill some time next week, after it returns from recess.

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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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