The MTA's map of potential service during the L train closure highlights how increased subway service, buses and ferries will help mitigate the effects of the 18-month shutdown. (Click to enlarge)

The MTA’s map of potential service during the L train closure highlights how increased subway service, buses and ferries will help mitigate the effects of the 18-month shutdown. (Click to enlarge)

No matter how you spin it, the looming L train shutdown is not good news for the city. It’s not something Gov. Andrew Cuomo is going to announce with a press release and a staged media event at the Transit Museum, as he has done in recent months with news of new-look subway cars and renovated stations. Rather, the decision to move forward with an 18-month total shutdown of the L train between Manhattan and Brooklyn, set to begin in January of 2019, is one of the MTA released to The Times on Monday morning and the world at large during its Board committee meetings yesterday. It has sent shockwaves down the BMT Canarsie line and has spurred on more bickering between city officials and Cuomo’s MTA.

Following seven months of public hearings and numerous surveys of riders, Transit President Ronnie Hakim announced the details behind the shutdown on Monday. With nearly 80 percent of L train riders supporting a shorter shutdown over partial service that would be woefully inadequate for three years, the agency will complete close the L train’s Manhattan stations and the tunnel under the East River. Trains will continue to run between Bedford Ave. and Rockaway Parkway at eight-minute headways, providing riders with connections to the 3, A, C, J, Z, M and G trains. The MTA will have to rebuild two tubes that are over 7100 feet long and replace and harden all of the infrastructure within those tubes. A shutdown, Hakim said, is “the least risky way to do a project of this nature and the amount of work that needs to be done.”

As part of the work, the MTA will add more entrances and elevators to the Bedford Ave. station and an accessible entrance to the 1st Ave. stop at Avenue A, thus opening up more of Alphabet City to the L train. It’s small carrot for what will be a year and a half of transit pain, but these are necessary improvements that should bolster commuters for all. The agency has unfortunately dismissed the idea of adding tail tracks at 8th Ave. I’ve written in the past as something that should be on the table. Here’s the MTA’s rationale:

The existing L subway line terminal at 8 Av, which allows for a maximum of 28 trains per hour, is currently not, nor is it projected to be, the capacity constraint on L subway line frequency. Long term ridership forecasts do not show the need for frequency of service beyond what the terminal can already accommodate. Extending the tail tracks, which are tracks just beyond the end lines that can be used for storing and turning around trains, would allow trains to enter the station at higher speeds, but the large cost of constructing such a project would not justify the relatively minor gains in passenger travel time.

As the hammer came down on Monday, the MTA announced some contingencies plans but largely punted on the rest. There are, after all, 29 months for planning before the L shuts down. What we know though is that the MTA will run full-length G trains while increasing service on the G, M, J and Z trains. The agency will provide free transfers between the G at Broadway and the J/M/Z at Lorimer St. and between the L and 3 at Junius/Livonia. As for other mitigation efforts — a bus bridge or increased ferry service — the MTA stated, “A range of additional bus and ferry services are being developed along different portions of the corridor. We plan to work closely with the City and State to develop routes and determine service levels needed to accommodate projected ridership.”

As MTA plans go, this one is well-thought-out and comprehensive with the agency indicating a need and willingness to work with the city. It earned praise from transit advocates and local politicians both for its transparency and community engagement efforts, but that didn’t stop the city from trying to get in a jab at the Governor’s transit agency. In a statement to The Times, Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris threw some unnecessary barbs while ignoring months of outreach:

The L train carries more than 300,000 riders per day and is a vital transit artery for neighborhoods on both sides of the East River. While we recognize the need for the MTA to perform these important repairs and upgrades, we are deeply concerned that it would announce an 18-month shutdown of this critical service without a clear plan or a commitment of resources for mitigating the impact of this closure on hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. Well before this shutdown occurs, New Yorkers deserve clarity from the MTA on how it intends to minimize inconvenience and keep people moving throughout the duration of the construction.

Mayor Bill de Blasio added his two cents later on in the day which included some unnecessary defense as part of his ongoing schoolyard feud with the governor:

First of all, I’ll remind everyone the MTA is run by the State of New York. The amount of time that they have projected — the 18 months — is a very big concern for me and for the City government. We’re going to have some very serious conversations about the MTA, about whether it has to take that long and how it’s going to be handled. I want to make sure there’s a lot of redundancy in place. By the time it happens, one — small but important factors — we’ll have the citywide ferry service in place, so that’ll be helpful, but we’re going to need a lot more than that, obviously. So I want to press the MTA to show us that 300,000 riders really will have good and consistent alternatives. And we’re certainly going to look at what we have to do in terms of the bridge as part of that. We’ll have an answer on that after those discussions with the MTA.

The reality is that it’s incumbent upon the mayor and his Department of Transportation to lead here. The MTA has signaled a very clear intent to work with the city to develop contingency plans, and even though a ferry from Williamsburg is likely one part of that plan, it’s clear that the MTA hopes to run constant buses over the Williamsburg Bridge, a move that requires support and authorization from the city. Additionally, numerous local officials have lined up in support of the 14th St. Peopleway, and for the MTA to realize this call for a transit-only street focusing on buses, bikes and pedestrians, DOT again would have to act. That’s firmly on the Mayor’s shoulders no matter who ultimately runs the MTA. It’s all politics to him though even when the commutes of hundreds of thousands are at stake.

So we have a plan, and we have a timeline. Now, we need the contingencies. It shouldn’t be hard for various agencies to come together on a plan, and ultimately, the city can see what dedicated transit space can do. The L train shutdown will be ugly and painful and stressful for numerous communities of various backgrounds, but maybe the city and state can make the most of a crisis. Cuomo might not want to own it, and de Blasio may want to politicize it today. But when all is said and done, New York City could just be better off for it by the time mid-2020 rolls around.

Categories : Superstorm Sandy
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A new report urges a comprehensive reworking of the city's bus network.

A new report urges a comprehensive reworking of the city’s bus network.

In 2002, New York City Transit recorded some substantial bus ridership numbers as 762 million people paid to ride the bus. It’s been all downhill since then, as only 650 million people used buses last year. Meanwhile, over the same period of time, New York City’s subway ridership has grown from 1.413 billion rides to 1.762 billion last year, and the population of the city has grown by around five percent. When it comes to buses, something isn’t working.

This isn’t, of course, a new development. A few weeks ago, a NYC DOT report showed how slow travel speeds, among other issues, has led to less reliable and less popular bus service, and we’ve seen how some fairly minor enhancements to bus service — dedicated lanes and pre-board fare payment — can reduce travel times. Now, a coalition of transit advocates and New York City politicians are putting pressure on both the city and MTA to do something to improve bus service and prioritize the bus network.

In a report issued last week called “Turnaround: Fixing New York City’s Buses” [pdf], the Transit Center, Riders Alliance, Straphangers Campaign and Tri-State Transportation Campaign have called for a redesigned bus network with service enhancements and best-in-class infrastructure including pre-board fare payment and dedicated street space. It’s almost revolutionary for New York but standard practice the world over. Full-scale implementation should combat the causes that have depressed bus ridership over the past decade and a half, but it will take a multi-agency effort across city and state agencies to see through.

The decline in bus ridership over the past 14 years highlights the flaws in the city's approach to building a bus network.

The decline in bus ridership over the past 14 years highlights the flaws in the city’s approach to building a bus network.

Tabitha Decker, Transit Center’s NYC Program Director, summed up the recommendations. “Many of New York’s global peers, such as London and Seoul, have turned around bus systems that were in decline, even though these cities have large-scale urban rail too. They have done this by making bus travel fast, frequent, and reliable using tools like smart card based fare payment and the use of real time data to keep buses on schedule.”

The recommendations are broken down into segments. First, the report urges redesigning the bus network for more frequent and efficient service. Today’s bus network is a relic of New York City’s old streetcars, and the routes are often twisting and turning paths that end at borough borders rather than a transit hubs or other popular destinations. The coalition wants to straighten out routes for faster travel times and, as the report states, “rightsize the distance between bus stops. New York is a global outlier in terms of how closely stops are spaced, and on many routes, stops are even closer together than our own standards dictate. Optimizing the number of stops will speed trips for riders.”

The second section focuses on fare payment and boarding. Obviously, a tap-and-go system will significantly reduce boarding times if a pre-board fare payment system for all local buses is too costly. All-door boarding would reduce station dwell times as well. (The Riders Alliance recently issued a different report raising concerns with the MTA’s next-generation fare payment plans that could have ramifications for buses as well.) Continued investment in low-floor buses should improve the boarding process as well, the report noted.

Next, the report urges the MTA to change the way it dispatches and controls buses that are en route to ensure buses arrive on schedule and avoid bus bunching. In addition to dispatching buses on time, the MTA should hold buses en route to improve service. This is a bit of a controversial recommendation as it could lead to delays for passengers during their travels, but the coalition feels a more proactive, headway-based control process should improve service for everyone.

Dedicated lanes and signal prioritization can help speed up the city's notorious slow buses.

Dedicated lanes and signal prioritization can help speed up the city’s notorious slow buses.

Finally, in a recommendation that would overhaul the way buses interact with the streets, the report urges a massive expansion of dedicated lanes, a renewed focus on bus bulbs and boarding islands to “eliminate time spent weaving in and out of traffic,” signal prioritization and queue-jump lanes for buses. These changes would require DOT and the MTA to collaborate and would likely require authorization from Albany as well. It’s politically tricky but not impossible.

And yet, while an expansive coalition of New York City politics voiced their support for these bus turnarounds, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Grand Poobah of New York State politics, in comments to Politico New York, dismissed bus problems with a wave of his hand a complete lack of understanding. “If people in Manhattan are choosing to jump on the subway because the subway is faster, because there’s traffic that a bus has to deal with — that’s not an imprudent choice, right?” Cuomo said.

Cuomo, who thinks a USB charging port on a bus is some form of revolutionary improvement, doesn’t seem to understand the role the bus network could play in New York City, and Ben Fried took it too him in a post on Streetsblog last week. Cuomo’s Manhattan-centric view of travel speeds betrays his belief that traffic is a force of nature that cannot be addressed through rational policies and that buses mirror subways. As Fried writes, “The governor’s theory about people ditching the bus for the train simply doesn’t apply to the vast number of New Yorkers who ride these routes [that cover territory that the subway does not] and would benefit enormously from the recommendations in the Bus Turnaround report.”

In response to the report, the MTA noted that it is in the process of implementing some of these upgrades and that the agency has undertaken certain studies regarding specific routes. But overall, the MTA, DOT and city and state officials need to engage in a concerted effort to reroute and redraw bus routes while improving the infrastructure upon which buses rely. If they don’t, ridership will continue to decline, and buses will forever remain stuck with the stigma of being a second-class transportation option.

Categories : Buses
Comments (31)

Hot town, summer in the city. Nothing rings true more than the Lovin’ Spoonful’s lyric right about it. It’s stifling in New York, and I’ve fled to the slightly cooler climes of the Berkshires for the weekend. If you’re stuck in our concrete jungle this weekend, head to the beach. Find some shade. See a movie. Stay cool.

But if you’re going anywhere, pay attention to the service advisories. As always, these are courtesy of the MTA and may change without warning. Check signs; listen to announcements. We’ll talk buses and new fare payment systems next week, and on Monday, expect an update on the status of the Second Ave. Subway. The MTA’s board committee meeting materials for this week’s sessions have a big old gap where the project’s update should be. Is it a sign of delay? Whatever the reason, the MTA is keeping this one tight-lipped this week.


From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, July 23 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, July 24 2 trains operate in two sections: between Flatbush Av-Brooklyn College and E 180 St, then via the 5 to/from Eastchester-Dyre Av, and between E 180 St and Wakefield-241 St. To continue your trip, transfer at E 180 St.


From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, July 23 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, July 24, E 180 St-bound 2 trains run express from Wakefield-241 St to E 180 St.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 22, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 25, 3 trains are suspended in both directions between Crown Hts-Utica Av and New Lots Av. Free shuttle buses operate all weekend, making all station stops. Transfer between trains and shuttle buses at Crown Hts-Utica Av.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 22, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 25, 4 trains run local in both directions between 125 St and Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 22, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 25, 4 trains are suspended in both directions between New Lots Av/Crown Hts-Utica Av and Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall. For service between Manhattan and Brooklyn, take the dnq or r. Transfer between the 46 and nqr at 14 St-Union Sq or Canal St. Transfer between the D, N, Q and R and 2/3 at Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr. For service to/from Wall St and Bowling Green, use the r train. For service to/from Fulton St and between Borough Hall and Franklin Av, take the 2 or 3 instead. For service between Franklin Av and Crown Hts-Utica Av, take the 3 instead. For service between Crown Hts-Utica Av and New Lots Av, take free shuttle buses.


From 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, July 23 and from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Sunday, July 24, 5trains are suspended in both directions between Bowling Green and Grand Central-42 St. For stations between Grand Central-42 St and Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall, take the 4 or 6. Transfer between 5 and 46 trains at Grand Central-42 St. For service to Fulton St, Wall St, and Bowling Green, use nearby rstations at Cortlandt St, Rector St, or Whitehall St. Transfer between 4/6 and R trains at Canal St, or transfer between 5 and r trains at 59 St-Lexington Av. As a reminder, 4 service is suspended in both directions between Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall and New Lots Av all weekend.


From 3:45 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Saturday, July 23, and from 9:45 p.m. Saturday, July, 23 to 9:30 a.m. Sunday, July 24, 5 shuttle trains are suspended in both directions between E 180 St and 149 St-Grand Concourse. Take the 2 instead.


From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, July 23 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, July 24, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from Parkchester to Pelham Bay Park. For service to Castle Hill Av, Zerega Av, Westchester Sq, Middletown Rd, and Buhre Av, take the Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 to Pelham Bay Park and transfer to a Brooklyn Bridge-bound 6. From these stations, take a Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall bound 6 to Parkchester and transfer to a Pelham Bay Park-bound 6.


From 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, July 23 and from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Sunday, July 24, 6 trains run every 16 minutes between Pelham Bay Park and 3 Av-138 St.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 22, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 25, A trains are rerouted via the F in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech. To/from Spring St, Canal St, and Chambers St, take the e instead via transfer at W 4 St. To/from Fulton St, take the j instead via transfer at Delancey-Essex Sts f station. Or, use the E at nearby World Trade Center station; transfer between trains at W 4 St-Wash Sq. To/from High St, use the nearby York St F station.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 22, to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, July 24, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 25, downtown A trains run express from 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 23, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 25, A trains are suspended in both directions between Lefferts Blvd and Rockaway Blvd. Free shuttle buses operate between Rockaway Blvd and Lefferts Blvd, stopping at 104 St and 111 St.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 23, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 25, A trains run local in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and 59 St-Columbus Circle.


From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday July 23, and Sunday July 24, C trains are rerouted on the F line in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech.


From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday July 23, and Sunday July 24, downtown C trains run express 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 22, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 25, E trains are rerouted via the F line in both directions between 21 St-Queensbridge and W 4-St Wash Sq.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 23, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 25, E trains run local in both directions in Queens.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 23, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 25, F trains run local in both directions between 21 St-Queensbridge and Forest Hills-71 Av.


From 5:45 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday July 23, and Sunday July 24, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound N trains run express from Astoria Blvd to Queensboro Plaza.


From 6:30 a.m. to 12 midnight, Saturday July 23, and Sunday July 24, Rockaway Park Shuttle service is replaced by a service.

Categories : Service Advisories
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Open gangways and wider doors are part of the new design plan for the R-211s.

Open gangways and wider doors are part of the new design plan for the R-211s.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has a funny relationship with the MTA. When the agency has good news that’s bound to grab headlines — such as fancy renderings of the next generation of rolling stock — he’s front and center with a press conference at the Transit Museum, his new favorite spot. When the news is bad, it’s everyone else’s responsibility to get the word out. That is, of course, his prerogative as the state’s chief executive, but that dynamic was on display again on Monday during Cuomo’s unveiling of the new designs.

The event was a sudden one, announced early on Monday morning during a period of the summer usually devoid of transit news. And once we drill down on the news, the developments came via the renderings rather than the initiatives. The announcement, a welcome one to be sure, served as a follow-up to both previous Cuomo news and long-standing MTA initiatives. Yet, for all of my skepticism, Cuomo deserves some credit as he’s pushing the MTA to move faster than the agency is used to moving, and riders should benefit.

Monday’s press conference focused around Cuomo’s plan to close 31 stations for speedier renovation work and the MTA’s plan to bring open gangway rolling stock to the New York City subway. The news isn’t new, but the renderings are. And they admittedly look good.

A new color scheme, brighter LED lights and a return of the properly-hued route designation bullets are a part of Antenna's design for the new subway cars.

A new color scheme, brighter LED lights and a return of the properly-hued route designation bullets are a part of Antenna’s design for the new subway cars.

These projects are part of the $27 billion five-year capital plan on which Cuomo finally focused earlier this year, and he’s taking his valedictory lap while the going is good. “New York deserves a world-class transportation network, worthy of its role as the heartbeat of the 21st century economy,” he said. “The MTA design team developed a bold and visionary reimagining of the quintessential commuter experience, incorporating best practices from global transit systems, and focusing on our core mission to renew, enhance and expand. We are going to do more than renovate; we are bringing subway stations to a higher standard than ever before, and the new vision for subway cars will increase capacity and reduce overcrowding and delays.”

That last element is key. At a time when upgrading the signal system to accommodate more trains will take years or decades, changing the design of the New York City subway cars to bring it in line with international standards can improve capacity by around 8-10 percent without much additional expense. After all, rolling stock replacement is part of the MTA’s regular investment cycle, and adding open gangways represents a negligible cost in excess of the money spent on a new cars.

Monday’s announcement came couched in some interesting language. The MTA has the option to add “up to 750” cars with open gangways, but the plans are still as they were a few months ago. As part of the upcoming R-211 contract, the agency is going to order a 10-car pilot to test open gangways. If this test is successful, the agency can order an additional 740 cars with open gangways. This was the plan in January, and it remains the plan now. But the bidding will start soon as Cuomo puts pressure on the agency to speed up the procurement process. Still, it’s my understanding the first open gangways won’t arrive for 40 months or so, and if the contract is awarded before the end of the year, it’ll still be 2020 before the prototypes arrive.

Cuomo deserves praise for moving this process along, but the MTA has been working on this for years. It’s an important distinction to make. Meanwhile, in addition to open gangways, the cars will come with improved grab bars and doorways that are 58 inches wide instead of 50 inches. The colors incorporate the state’s blue and gold motif and align with the buses Cuomo has been pushing. Flip seats (that likely will always remain down), dynamic video screens and USB charging ports (always) are features of the new cars as well. The properly-hued subway bullets are making their triumphant return as well, a welcome part of the new design. If anything, now, the New York City subways will be aligned with international design standards, and the renderings produced by Antenna, the company behind the WMATA’ss 7000 series rolling stock and the LinkNYC kiosks, did a great job.

The design-build subway stations will include numerous upgrades to enhance the passenger experience.

The design-build subway stations will include numerous upgrades to enhance the passenger experience.

Meanwhile, we have a better idea of the new station design as well. As part of the MTA’s effort to speed up work, the agency is implementing a design-build process at 31 stations that were, not coincidentally, up for renovation. The new look includes better lighting and wayfinding, countdown clocks (somehow on the B division), new floor materials and, of course, USB charging ports. Everything in 2016 must have USB charging ports. The first three stations to get this treatment are Prospect Ave., Bay Ridge Ave. and 53rd St. along the BMT’s 4th Ave. line and work should begin either by the end of the year or early in 2017. As the renderings show, it’s a modern look for the MTA’s subway stations which are brighter and seemingly friendlier.

Redesigned station entrances will feature dynamic screens that provide updated subway service status messages.

Redesigned station entrances will feature dynamic screens that provide updated subway service status messages.

This is all good news and should be accepted as good news. It’s easy to focus on the MTA’s big picture problems, but at the same time, constant investment in the state of good repair of the infrastructure involves well designed rolling stock and technologically advanced stations. The open gangways help with capacity and delays caused by crowded trains; the stations create a more welcoming environment. The MTA needs to continue to grow and invest in the long-term less sexy projects that will truly expand transit, but if Cuomo wants to focus on the MTA, let’s let him.

As a closing note, it was interesting to hear the Governor speak about his renewed emphasis on transit. He told one story about his family. ““My daughters were home for the weekend,” he said. “They came up to Westchester, and I got the lecture about the MTA.” Trains were too crowded, and they wanted dad, who’s in charge of the MTA, to do something about it. But there’s another side to this as well, as Dana Rubinstein related. When pressed on the renewed focus on transit investment, he responded with a tautology. There is a new emphasis on the MTA “because there is a new emphasis on the MTA.” And that’s where we are right now.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced some design changes and upgrades for the subway this morning. I’ll have the details in a full post tonight, but to wet your whistle, an early glimpse at the renderings. Enjoy.

A new color scheme, brighter LED lights and a return of the properly-hued route designation bullets are a part of Antenna's design for the new subway cars.

A new color scheme, brighter LED lights and a return of the properly-hued route designation bullets are a part of Antenna’s design for the new subway cars.

Flip seats will allow for my car capacity at peak hours.

Flip seats will allow for my car capacity at peak hours.

Open gangways and wider doors are part of the new design plan for the R-211s.

Open gangways and wider doors are part of the new design plan for the R-211s.

Categories : Rolling Stock
Comments (55)

Transit analysts and advocates have engaged recently in an interesting, if wonky, battle over the state of the MTA’s finances. Taken as a whole, these arguments lead to the conclusion the MTA is both over- and under-funded. It doesn’t have enough money but can’t spend the copious billions it does have efficiently or quickly enough to warrant giving it more. It is stuck between a proverbial rock and a hard place.

On the one hand, the MTA has access to around $30 billion in capital funding (though the dollars will materialize through debt service and other questionable financial practices), and on the other hand, $30 billion at the MTA’s current spending levels and efficiencies isn’t enough for the agency to do everything that needs doing. Two recent articles underscore these tensions, but the fix remains elusive.

The first comes from The Post. Former MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow had some unkind words for his one-time ally Gov. Andrew Cuomo over MTA financing:

“It’s not right. Cuomo is wrong. He’s nickled an dimed the MTA on the capital program,” Kalikow told The Post, in rare criticism of the governor from a former MTA chair. He said while Albany has promised $8.3 billion toward in the $27 billion five-year capital plan, the state has handed over less than two billion dollars of the promised funds so far. “They have not funded it properly,” Kalikow said. “If you get Prendergast the money needed, he could do the job.”

It’s not quite clear how much Kalikow wants, but there is a sentiment that the MTA needs more than $30 billion to keep things running smoothly. One problem with that argument is that the MTA’s spending practices are woefully inefficient, and cost control is something I’ve covered extensively in the past. The other is that it isn’t clear if the MTA can spend more than what it has. After a while, there are only so many qualified contractors in New York City who can do the work the MTA funds. But the former point is more important than the latter. Should the MTA get more money before it improves its spending practices?

The second article is even wonkier. Here’s The Wall Street Journal on how recent accounting changes have exposed the MTA’s long-term pension obligations:

New accounting rules are shining a light on more than $7 billion in pension liabilities facing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. While the disclosures won’t force the MTA to raise tolls or cut service, they quantify the authority’s tab for commitments to pay retirees, and some critics detect a mounting potential burden on riders and taxpayers. “I would hope there would be some sticker shock” with the pension-cost reporting, said Charles Brecher, director of research at the Citizens Budget Commission, a civic group based in Manhattan. “You want to inform people about the cost of these promises.”

The MTA pays steeper costs for employee pensions and other retirement benefits than its peers in London and Paris, Moody’s Investors Service analysts said in March report. For each ride, the MTA paid $3.06 in overall personnel costs in 2014, compared with $1.05 for Paris and 75 cents for London, according to the report. Nearly $1 of every MTA ride goes to health care, pension and retirement costs…

the MTA’s labor-related costs could reduce its budget flexibility and compete with capital improvements, the Moody’s report noted. An MTA spokeswoman said the market understands the authority’s cost structure “and still rates our bonds highly.” A downgrade in the MTA’s bond ratings could increase its borrowing costs…The relatively high cost of the MTA’s pension liabilities could increase pressure to raise fares and tolls or cut service. “If you have some downturn in your revenues, those are expenses you can’t cut so all the cuts have to come out what’s left of your budget,” said Marcia Van Wagner, a Moody’s analyst.

The MTA’s pension costs have been a long-standing issue that few people like to take up because of the explosive nature of issue. In the article, TWU President John Samuelsen defends the MTA’s pensions for its drivers as part of a “dignified retirement.” He doesn’t address how workers pad their pensions through overtime in their final years or how employers across the nation outside of the public sector have essentially eliminated pensions entirely. Rather, he offers us this defense of the job: “They,” he said of financial analysts, “would pee themselves if they had to drive a bus up Utica Avenue for an eight-hour shift.” It’s part of a straw-man argument that cuts both ways.

The MTA’s pension obligations are a part of a broader conversation about how the MTA spends its money. The pension dollars will eventually come out of fare revenue, and the fares will go up to support pensions. Meanwhile, the capital dollars — which should fund more than they do — are bandied about by politicians as part of a game. The MTA can’t spend the money it has wisely and can’t access the dollars it needs properly. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Categories : MTA Economics
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Next week, I’ll tackle the MTA’s new fare payment plans and a familiar name entering with a familiar technology. It certainly would be something if, after all these years, the MTA ends up adopting this technology, but that’s a conversation for next week.

If you’re looking for some weekend reading, the city named Adam Giambrone the head of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, and New York Magazine published quite the profile. Giambrone, as city officials assured me, is certainly an expert in planning streetcars, but he carries with him some scandal-plagued years in Toronto. He also doesn’t seem quite familiar with New York City and will be thrown into the fire of a tempestuous project that many are eying skeptically for a variety of reasons.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of weekend service changes to go around. As always, these come to me from the MTA and may change without notice. Check signs; listen to announcements; stay out of the heat.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 18, 1 trains are suspended in both directions between 14 St and South Ferry. Free shuttle buses provide alternate service between Chambers St and South Ferry. Transfer between 1 and 2/3 trains at Times Sq-42 St or 14 St. Transfer between 2/3 trains and shuttle buses at Chambers St.


From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, July 16 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, July 17 2 trains operate in two sections: between Flatbush Av-Brooklyn College and E 180 St, then via the 5 to/from Eastchester-Dyre Av, and between E 180 St and Wakefield-241 St. To continue your trip, transfer at E 180 St.


From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, July 16 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, July 17, E 180 St-bound 2 trains run express from Wakefield-241 St to E 180 St.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 18, 2 trains run local in both directions between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 18, 3 service operates to/from New Lots Av, replacing the 4 in Brooklyn.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 18, 3 trains run local in both directions between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 18, 4 trains run local in both directions between 125 St and Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 18, 4 trains are suspended in both directions between New Lots Av/Crown Hts-Utica Av and Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall. For service between Manhattan and Brooklyn, take the D, N, Q or R. Transfer between the 4/6 and N/Q/R at 14 St-Union Sq or Canal St. Transfer between the D/N/Q/R and 2/3 at Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr. For service to/from Wall St and Bowling Green, use the R train. For service to/from Fulton St and between Borough Hall and Franklin Av, take the 2 or 3 instead. For service between Franklin Av and New Lots Av, take the 3 instead, running all weekend.


From 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, July 16 and from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Sunday, July 17, 5 trains are suspended in both directions between Bowling Green and Grand Central-42 St. For stations between Grand Central-42 St and Brooklyn Bridge- City Hall, take the 4 or 6. Transfer between 5 and 4/6 trains at Grand Central-42 St. For service to Fulton St, Wall St, and Bowling Green, use nearby R stations at Cortlandt St, Rector St, or Whitehall St. Transfer between 4/6 and R trains at Canal St, or transfer between 5 and R trains at 59 St-Lexington Av. As a reminder, 4 service is suspended in both directions between Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall and New Lots Av all weekend, until 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 18.


From 3:45 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Saturday, July 16, and from 9:45 p.m. Saturday, July, 16 to 9:30 a.m. Sunday, July 17, 5 shuttle trains are suspended in both directions between E 180 St and 149 St-Grand Concourse. Take the 2 instead.


From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, July 16 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, July 17, Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 trains run express from Parkchester to Pelham Bay Park. For service to Castle Hill Av, Zerega Av, Westchester Sq, Middletown Rd, and Buhre Av, take the Pelham Bay Park-bound 6 to Pelham Bay Park and transfer to a Brooklyn Bridge-bound 6. From these stations, take a Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall bound 6 to Parkchester and transfer to a Pelham Bay Park-bound 6.


From 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, July 16 and from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Sunday, July 17, 6 trains run every 16 minutes between Pelham Bay Park and 3 Av-138 St.


From 3:45 a.m. Saturday, July 16 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, July 17, Main St-bound 7 trains run express from 74 St-Broadway to Mets-Willets Point.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 18, A trains are suspended in both directions between 168 St and Inwood-207 St. a service operates between 168 St and Far Rockaway/Lefferts Blvd. Free shuttle buses operate along two routes:

  • On Broadway, between 168 St and 207 St, making stops at 175 St, 181 St, 190 St, and Dyckman St.
  • On Fort Washington Av, between 168 St and 190 St, making stops at 175 St and 181 St. Transfer between trains and buses at 168 St.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 18, A trains are rerouted via the F in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech. To/from Spring St, Canal St, and Chambers St, take the e instead via transfer at W 4 St. To/from Fulton St, take the J instead via transfer at Delancey-Essex Sts F station. Or, use the E at nearby World Trade Center station; transfer between trains at W 4 St-Wash Sq. To/from High St, use the nearby York St F station.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 15, to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, July 17, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, July 17 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 18, downtown A trains run express from 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 16, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 18, A trains run local in both directions between 168 St and 145 St.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 16, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 18, A trains run local in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and 59 St-Columbus Circle.


From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday July 16, and Sunday July 17, C trains are suspended in both directions between 145 St and 168 St. Take the a instead.


From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday July 16, and Sunday July 17, downtown C trains run express 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.


From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday July 16, and Sunday July 17, C trains are rerouted on the F line in both directions between W 4 St-Wash Sq and Jay St-MetroTech.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 16, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 18, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound D trains stop at 23 St and 14 St.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 16, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 18, E trains run local in both directions between Queens Plaza and Forest Hills-71 Av.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 18, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound F trains run express from Jay St-MetroTech to 4 Av-9St.


From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 16, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 18, F trains run local in both directions between 21 St-Queensbridge and Forest Hills-71 Av.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 15 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 18, G trains are suspended in both directions between Church Av and Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts. A and F trains provide alternate service. G trains will operate in two sections between Long Island City-Court Sq and Bedford-Nostrand Avs, and between Bedford-Nostrand Avs and Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts, every 20 minutes. To continue your trip, transfer at Bedford-Nostrand Avs.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 15, to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 18, L trains are suspended in both directions between Canarsie-Rockaway Pkwy and Myrtle-Wyckoff Avs. Free local shuttle buses provide alternate service between Rockaway Pkwy and Myrtle-Wyckoff Avs, stopping at East 105 St, New Lots Av, Livonia Av, Sutter Av, Atlantic Av, Broadway Junction, Bushwick Av-Aberdeen St, Wilson Av, and Halsey St. Free express shuttle buses serve Canarsie-Rockaway Pkwy, Broadway Junction, and Myrtle-Wyckoff Avs only, days and evenings. Transfer between free shuttle buses and L trains at Myrtle-Wyckoff Avs. For service to/from Manhattan, consider the A/C or J trains via transfer between trains and buses at Broadway Junction.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 15 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 18, Astoria-Ditmars Blvd bound N trains are rerouted via the D line from Coney Island-Stillwell Av to 36 St.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 15 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, July 17, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, July 17 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 18, 36 St-bound N trains will stop at 53 St and 45 St.

Categories : Service Advisories
Comments (2)
These Ferrari-like buses won't do much to increase ridership if the MTA doesn't run them frequently or fast enough, a new study shows.

These Ferrari-like buses won’t do much to increase ridership if the MTA doesn’t run them frequently or fast enough, a new study shows.

Over the past few months, it has been exhaustingly frustrating listening to Gov. Andrew Cuomo talk about transit. As I explored late last week, he has latched onto vaporware ideas and thinks he’s investing in smart and rational transit expansion programs. His ideas — AirTrains that go the wrong way, buses he termed “Ferrari-like” with ceiling-mounted USB ports, e-tickets that should been implemented years ago — don’t move the ball forward.

But, in the words of LeVar Burton, you don’t have to take my word for it. A study issued this week by the Transit Center called Who’s On Board [pdf] highlighted the factors that drive people to use transit, and these flashy benefits that Cuomo has been pushing rank dead last. Out of a series of 12 service improvements, wifi and power outlets finished behind the field while service frequency and travel time led the pack. Other leading factors, especially with regards to buses, included countdown clocks, one-seat rides, low fares, and seat availability.

“There’s no magic bullet for transit, but there are some simple rules,” Steven Higashide, the report’s lead researcher, said. “Make it easy for people to walk to transit, put it close to important destinations, and make transit frequent, fast, and reliable. Frequent transit networks in walkable neighborhoods reduce reliance on cars, spark economic growth, and create vibrant urban places.”

The report also served to validate other assumptions regarding transit riders. Higashide and the Transit Center team found that most transit riders walk from to transit, thus highlighting the need to locate stations in busy and walkable areas with safe access routes. More importantly for New York, the report highlights how transit users, particularly those who own cars or have access to other means of transit, are far more sensitive to quality. For years, transit planners and analysts have relied on the idea of a “captive rider” who uses transit because there is no other choice. But the report has found that those who live and/or work near higher quality transit — reliable trains, frequent buses – use transit whether they own cars or not. “When transit becomes functionally useless,” the report notes, “there are very few people who will continue to use it; agencies can take no one for granted.”

Is New York’s current focus wrong then? Highlighting Gov. Cuomo’s promise of Ferrari-like buses, the report states, “Our findings call into question the fad among transit agencies touting free Wi-Fi for customers who don’t care strongly for it.” Instead of focusing on gimmicks, transit investment should focus around more frequent service and faster travel, whether through dedicated lanes or otherwise. The orders from the governor then seem backwards. Slapping a new decal on a city bus and adding amenities that don’t get riders to their destinations faster is about branding that most see through; improving travel times by investing in more routes and prioritizing road space accordingly is a bigger political lift but with a greater pay-off at the end.

Ultimately, New York seems to be spinnings it proverbial wheels, but it’s not clearly who’s listening. And with ridership holding steady on subways and ticking downward on buses these days, it seems that the MTA is a living example of the Transit Center’s findings. Potential riders seek out transit that is of good quality, and declining service, whether through longer waits or slower speeds or disappearing routes, lead those commuters to seek other means. No number of USB ports will ever reverse that trend.

Comments (26)
One table highlights the simple improvements that could speed up city buses outside of the slow SBS planning process.

One table highlights the simple improvements that could speed up city buses outside of the slow SBS planning process.

As far as bus improvement efforts go, I’ve long maintained that the city’s and MTA’s Select Bus Service is something of a charade. It has so far taken these planners four or five years to identify a route, plan the service, hold the requisite community meetings, bid out the work, build the infrastructure and launch service along what is essentially a glorified express bus line. This isn’t Bus Rapid Transit with fully dedicated rights of way and constant service; this is New York’s “we have to please everyone all the time but especially drivers” middle-of-the-road stumbling toward transit upgrades.

From an assessment perspective, one of the frustrating elements has been the sheer lack of data made public about the success (or perhaps the failures) of the Select Bus Service routes. Are these improvements decreasing travel time while increasing ridership? If rides are faster, why? What is the effect of an SBS route on parallel local bus routes? Recently, in a report on the B44, some of these questions were answered, and the results highlight two simple reasons why buses are faster. We’ll get to those in a minute.

The B44 was one of those long-drawn out SBS routes. It debuted in late 2013 along Brooklyn’s third busiest bus corridor, and it’s a success story in a vacuum. According to the report [pdf], travel times have decreased by 15-31 percent depending upon the time of day and ridership is up 10 percent. Traffic crashes are down as well. Meanwhile, ridership has decreased on the local buses by only four percent, suggesting that the SBS route is a net gain. We don’t know how overall local travel times are affected by the shift in service though so it’s tough to analyze the overall impact.

Officials were pleased. “The B44 SBS along Nostrand Avenue is a tremendous success story, among the biggest successes in the eight years that DOT and MTA have coordinated Select Bus Service,“ DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said.

But this is a lot of back-slapping for two simple infrastructure improvements. Overall, SBS B44 travel times have decreased by an average of 17 minutes, end-to-end, but times in motion haven’t changed. Buses move for around 37 minutes out of every hour, but instead of sitting at stations for nearly 26 minutes and stuck in traffic for 20, buses are stopped at stations for 15 minutes and stuck in traffic for only 12 minutes. Why? Pre-board fare payment, dedicated bus lanes and signal prioritization. It’s not exactly a secret combination, and improving bus service is as simple as that.

DOT and the MTA have made better bus service into a big deal and something that warrants special consideration during the planning process and special treatment after. It involves branded buses, painted lines and special infrastructure. But it shouldn’t. It should just involve the recognition that buses shouldn’t be subject to the whims of surface traffic through busy corridors and that our fare payment system is horrendously antiquated and inappropriate for city buses. If DOT and the MTA wanted to, they could improve bus service tomorrow by significant amounts simply by giving buses their own lanes, and the fare payment problems should be a part of whatever comes along to replace the Metrocard.

For all the handwringing about declining bus ridership and the need to expand transit access, the answers are right in front of our collective faces. That DOT and the MTA haven’t been aggressively pushing these measures is a stain on their records that deserves a closer look. Improvements and faster travel times don’t need to come through such a torturous process.

Categories : Buses
Comments (25)
Are concerns over gentrification enough to oppose the BQX?

Are concerns over gentrification enough to oppose the BQX?

As the summer heat descends upon New York City, transit news often slows down. It’s an annual tradition, one exacerbated this year by the looming Second Ave. Subway opening and a fall budget proposal that will reinforce another looming MTA fare hike, set to arrive in 2017. But in certain corners of the city, a debate over a transit proposal and its effects on neighborhoods has emerged. In a way, it’s a debate over the future of the city, and it’s a proxy for anti-development forces. But at the same time, it raises some uncomfortable questions regarding transit, gentrification and displacement.

This issue has arisen in the so-called visioning sessions New York City has held on the mayor’s Brooklyn-Queens Streetcar proposal. During multiple sessions, attendees have expressed concerns that the streetcar will speed up gentrification and displace long-time residents. Thus, the plan, these opponents say, should be discarded in the name of affordability.

Both Gothamist and amNY have explored these arguments, and for the sake of fairness, I have to note that those at these sessions have raised more compelling arguments against the streetcar, including the lack of subway connections, its location in a flood-prone area, and the overall concern with the viability of the route. It may not do what a transit line should do — that is, connect people with where they are with where they want to go — and concerns that the streetcar is a giveaway for developers and waterfront tourists rings true.

But I wanted to look at the idea that transit improvements should be opposed because they lead to gentrification. The underlying philosophy here is that areas are home to lower income residents because they are inaccessible. Accessibility increases demand, and an increase an demand means an increase in rent. Thus, to maintain a neighborhood’s “character” and avoid the forces of gentrification, areas must be kept relatively inaccessible (or, at least, accessible only by bus, which exists with the perception that the bus is for poor people only).

This doesn’t work for me. On a citywide basis, one of the challenges to affordability is transit, and it’s been one of my concerns with the mayor’s affordable housing plan. This plan simply does not have a transit component. The mayor can talk about prettying up some subway stations in East New York, but that doesn’t do a thing to decrease travel times and increase mobility. (Whether the BQX itself does that is up for debate, but on a general level, that’s what transit improvements should do.)

But opposing transit upgrades because they may lead to displacement seems to suggest that we cannot solve accessibility and affordability as improving accessibility decreases affordability. Over the years, studies have shown that transit access will be a factor in increased rents and gentrification, but transit access isn’t the only factor. It is, then, possible and necessary to implement zoning and housing policies that can tamp down on the upward pressures transit access exerts on the affordability of a neighborhood and stave off displacement. And that’s what we need to see here. If the city is going to push a streetcar funded by real estate developers who are keen on realizing property value increases, the plan must come with some anti-displacement policies that will keep neighborhoods in tact.

I don’t know where the Brooklyn-Queens Connector plan will go from here. Mayor de Blasio has had other issues on his plate in recent months, and the EDC has been forging ahead quietly. It’s not a route that many transit planners embrace even as certain advocacy groups have lined up behind it. But oppose it on its merits and not on a trumped-up charge that transit upgrades can’t occur in un-gentrified areas because of displacement. The end result of that argument leads to a dead end for increased transit usage, improved mobility and better opportunities for everyone.

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