A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12 noon on September 22, 2011 in the 5TH floor Board room at MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City.
The following members were present:
• Andrew Albert
• Trudy L. Mason
• Shirley Genn
• Steve Mayo
• Stuart Goldstein
• Edith Prentiss
• Christopher Greif
• Michael Sinansky
• William K. Guild
• Burton M. Strauss, Jr.
• Marisol Halpern
• Toya Williford
The following members were absent:
• Sharon King Hoge
• Thomas Jost
• Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas
In addition, the following persons were present:
• William Henderson -PCAC Executive Director
• Jan Wells -PCAC Associate director
• Ellyn Shannon -PCAC Transportation Planner
• Karyl Berger -PCAC Research Associate
• Darryl Irick -MTA-NYCT
• Deborah Hall-Moore -MTA-NYCT
• Steven LoBiano -MTA
• Debra Greif -Concerned citizen
• Phyllis Silvestri -Concerned citizen
• Yvonne Morrow -Concerned citizen
• Ann Guild -Concerned citizen
• Ken Stewart -Concerned Citizen
• Matt Shoktin -Concerned citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the September 22, 2011 meeting was approved. The minutes of the July 28, 2011 meeting were approved as amended.
The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.
Christopher Grief discussed the Select Bus Service (SBS) program. He stated that there are still a number of problems with the planning for the Brooklyn SBS, and that the local Community Boards have issues with the plan as presented. In particular, retail businesses and car dealers along the proposed SBS route have voiced objections.
Andrew Albert said that since there was no MTA Board meeting in August and the September committee and Board meetings had not yet taken place, he would not give a Board report in September.
Trudy Mason stated that Ted Orosz’s responses to the Council’s concerns regarding the operation of Select Bus Service are not valid. She said that the signage for the system is unreadable, even if it is present on fare machines and at stops. She noted that the NYCTRC originally asked for large signage and public service announcements on car cards and station signs. In addition, the signs that have been posted in many locations are not readable because of positioning of the fare machines and the lighting around the fare machines.
Andrew Albert stated that it is difficult to locate where to insert MetroCards into the fare machines in low light. Chris Greif also commented that the displays on the fare machines are difficult to see. Ms. Mason added that there should be a sign at 86th Street directing people to SBS stops, as it is a major cross street.
Mr. Albert commented on the Weekender web page that has been introduced by the MTA and includes a version of the Vignelli map that had been used in the 1970’s by NYC Transit. He asked why the MTA would choose to go back to a map design that proved to be a disaster and why the MTA did not initiate an external review process to solicit comments on the new web page.
Ms. Mason stated that the Vignelli map previously used by NYC Transit had no connection to reality and for that reason it was discarded. She said that in her opinion the Vignelli map has been totally discredited. In view of this, she wants to know why this map was used for the Weekender web site.
Mr. Albert stated that he will send a letter to MTA Chairman Walder and will copy President Prendergast and Senior Vice President – Subways Carmen Bianco.
Mr. Albert commented on a recent meeting of the transportation advocacy organization Move New York. He said that there were many political figures there for the meeting and that Move New York is affiliated with Transportation Alternatives. He said that a centerpiece of Move New York’s agenda is a new congestion pricing plan. This plan not only imposes new tolls on free bridges, but reduces other existing tolls. A shortcoming of the proposal is that it did not clearly spell out transit improvements that would be made in New York City’s outer boroughs if it were to be implemented.
Another shortcoming of the plan is that it would not impact the behavior of people entering Manhattan through the Lincoln or Holland Tunnels, as they would pay only the existing tunnel toll to enter Manhattan. On the other hand, people coming over the George Washington Bridge and traveling south of 60th Street would be subject to a congestion charge in addition to the bridge toll. The proposal also does not address vehicles entering Manhattan over the Bronx River bridges. Toya Williford asked whether this plan would address the concerns stated by Assembly Member Brennan at the last PCAC meeting. Mr. Albert answered that it would not.
Mike Sinansky asked whether there was a lockbox for transit funding in this proposal. Mr. Albert stated that he asked that question and sees potential problems as legislators would have the capability to reduce other existing funding to mass transit at the time that the new funding from congestion pricing begins to flow.
Ms. Mason stated that she was to have attended the meeting and that State Senator Krueger is involved in this effort. She also stated that Move New York is headed by Ed Ott, formerly of the New York Central Labor Council. She said that Move New York is not only about congestion pricing and that its leaders are trying to involve other legislators. She said that Assembly Member Brennan could not make this meeting, but would attend future meetings of Move New York. Ms. Mason stated that she will send a prospectus for Move New York to be circulated to the Council. Mr. Albert said that he understands that the Move New York plan also includes service restorations.
Mr. Greif commented on the renaming of the Newkirk Avenue subway station to Newkirk Plaza. He said that the Brooklyn Borough President’s office was not informed of this change before it was put into effect. Mr. Albert stated that the MTA Board did not hear of the change before it was made either.
Edith Prentiss said that there has been an explosion in the number of cases of jamming of the card reader on Autogate equipment in the subway system. She related that at the Trump International entrance to the Columbus Circle station she encountered a broken Autogate and was told to use a gate with a swipe reader to access the uptown A train, but that gate was broken as well. She also noted that upon discovering service issues on the subway system she tried to use the M5 bus, but found that there were no buses for 26 minutes.
Mr. Albert discussed the Council’s upcoming service diversion signage project. He said that staff will get the schedule for the next five weeks of General Orders from NYC Transit and that they will be the basis of the Council’s survey.
Introduction of Darryl Irick NYC Transit Senior Vice President – Buses, to discuss the operation of the New York City bus system.
A copy of Mr. Irick’s presentation is on file in the PCAC offices.
Mr. Irick introduced a number of his staff who came with him, including Chief Strategy Officer Craig Cipriano, MTA Bus Operations Planning Vice President Norman Silverman, General Manager of Road Operations Anna Peck, Director of Policy and Analysis Shelly Prettyman and Deputy General Manager Steve LoBiano.
Mr. Irick said that his operation serves 2.7 million riders and makes approximately 59,000 revenue trips per day on weekdays. MTA’s bus operation has depots in every borough, but the system is not managed by borough. Instead, it is split into seven divisions. Across those divisions there is a complex diverse fleet, but the standard 40 foot bus forms the base of the operation. Over time, new bus designs have been added and now the MTA has some low floor buses and a mixture of buses with different propulsion systems, including compressed natural gas, hybrid, and conventional diesel power plants. All diesel fuel that is used is ultra-low sulfur to minimize air pollution.
In addition to the large number of 40-foot coaches, the MTA bus system includes 1,000 over the road commuter coaches and 650 articulated buses for higher volume routes. The age of the fleet is a major concern, with 32 percent of the buses over 12 years old. Mr. Irick noted that twelve years is threshold of beneficial use for a bus, and that once a bus exceeds this age operating costs increase dramatically.
In an effort to keep the overall fleet from aging dramatically, the MTA is planning to purchase a large number of new vehicles. In the years 2011 and 2012, where funding has been identified, the plan is to purchase 923 40-foot coaches, 249 commuter coaches, and 418 articulated buses. In the years 2013 and 2014, where a funding source has not been finalized, the MTA plans to purchase 546 40-foot coaches, 200 commuter coaches, and 328 articulated buses.
Mr. Irick said that his goal is to turn the MTA’s bus operation into a more customer focused organization, which would involve speeding travel times, improving communication, and providing more comfortable and reliable service. He said that a 2010 customer survey showed that between 51and 68 percent of riders were satisfied or very satisfied with elements of the MTA’s bus service. The lowest rated measures were the length of wait and frequency of service. Identifying riders’ problem areas is important because bus ridership has been flat or declining in the past few years.
There is the opportunity to improve service because only buses are moving only 55 percent of the time that they are in service. In view of this, Mr. Irick said that the MTA has undertaken initiatives to improve service reliability and increase speeds. A major initiative is Select Bus Service, which has resulted in 9 and 12 percent ridership increases, respectively, on Bronx and Manhattan routes, combined with decreases in travel time. Additional initiatives include bus cameras, which is currently a proof of concept project, and the new fare payment system, which is to be installed in 2013 and 2014.
There are also initiatives that are not apparent to the rider. In the area of booking, the bus operation currently uses a manual paper system for some dispatching but is in the process of moving to a live digital tracking system. This system is currently implemented for half of road dispatchers in the system and will be fully implemented by the end of the year, except for Staten Island. Staten Island will come later, because the system there will incorporate the Bus Time system into the equipment provided to the road dispatchers, and we are still awaiting the launch of the Bus Time system on Staten Island.
Mr. Irick said that he also wants to improve communication with the riders. He said that there are four stages at which the rider may benefit from communication: planning a trip, embarking on a trip, waiting at a stop or shelter in the course of a journey, and riding on a bus. Improvements that will advance communication at these points include the revision of the website, implementation of text message systems, new apps for mobile devices, on-bus audio service announcements and the implementation of the BusTime system. This system will be in place on Staten Island by 2012 and on all buses by 2013.
Mr. Sinansky stated that one thing that the Council has found very disruptive is special events that interfere with bus operations. The MS Bike Tour in October is scheduled for 8:00 to 10:30 a.m. and during this time the NYPD will be closing down the West Side Highway. Last year, there were only 200 to 300 participants, rather than planned 5,000. The event was essentially over by 8:45 a.m. and the streets were opened by the NYPD, but despite this there was no bus service all day. Mr. Sinansky asked that Mr. Irick and his staff be more proactive in support of riders in meetings with DOT and special event planners.
Mr. Irick stated that the last 8 to 9 months they have established new working relationship with DOT and acknowledged that his operation should be more agile in dealing with special events.
Anna Peck stated that they have someone on ground at all times during special events of this size. In addition, there is someone in attendance at all meetings to discuss these events along with NYC Transit Community Affairs personnel.
Ms. Mason stated that if Mr. Irick has not read the memos that the Council has sent about its issues with bus service, he should look at them. She said that Select Bus Service is a disaster and that she spends half of her time at the SBS stops instructing people what to do. She said that the fact that 2nd Avenue was chosen for the Manhattan SBS shows that there is no communication between MTA Capital Construction Company and the people planning SBS.
Mr. Irick stated that he would be more than happy to meet with Ms. Mason to discuss the issues that she is raising.
Ms. Mason noted that some people do not know how to use the SBS fare machines and are being pulled off buses. She said that there is a need for large signs that tell riders to hold on to their SBS fare receipts.
Mr. Albert said that the fare machines in Manhattan are different than those installed on the Bx12 route and stated that they should be consistent. Shelly Prettyman said that new fare machines that have been installed this summer along Fordham Road for the Bx12 SBS route and that NYC Transit will soon turn on fare machines along 34th Street in Manhattan. She said that they are now including new software on the fare machines that will send an alarm if a machine malfunctions. Anna Peck stated new decals are being installed on the existing fare machines and that the new decals are designed to be more durable than those currently in use.
Stuart Goldstein asked what is being done about operator and passenger safety. Mr. Irick stated that the bus cameras are most effective tool that is available and that there are 420 buses being equipped with cameras. The strategy that is being followed involves outfitting buses in high crime areas with cameras, and he noted that the MTA is committed to this strategy. In addition to bus cameras as a general strategy, the MTA is also looking at barriers to separate operators from passengers. Mr. Irick said that he doesn’t believe that barriers are a be all and end all. He noted that many assaults occur when an operator tries to secure fare payment, and that for their safety operators should only state the fare and remind passengers of the obligation to pay.
Ms. Prentiss stated that in the past the MTA has not spoken to the disability community before it has committed to buy orders of more than 30 buses. She asked who is responsible for compliance with regulations protecting persons with disabilities with regard to digital applications. She also said that in her experience dispatchers are not in position to manage the flow of buses and often and turn buses before they get to Washington Heights, leaving riders no way to get there. Ms. Prentiss also noted that on Madison Avenue there are lots of buses, but often only one bus enters a stop and the others bypass the stop. She said that some routes, such as the M5, are too long to effectively serve customers.
Mr. Irick responded that there are four bus vendors with whom the MTA is currently dealing. He said that Henry Sullivan will reach out to Ms. Prentiss within a month to get her comments on seating configuration in new buses.
Marisol Halpern stated that she likes the Bx12 SBS service, but has some issues with security and safety. She asked how NYC Transit coordinates with the NYPD before incidents occur. Mr. Irick stated that they rely on customer and operator participation in heading off incidents. He said that the bus operation also works closely with the MTA Security forces headed by Vinnie DeMarino. They recently caught a perpetrator who seems to be responsible for lots of pick pocketing incidents on the buses.
Mr. Albert stated that one of the reasons for bus ridership dropping is the June 27, 2010 service cuts. These cuts decimated bus service in some areas of the City. Mr. Albert said that the MTA shouldn’t be changing bus service unless there is a clear understanding of the cuts’ impacts.
Mr. Greif noted that when Access-a-Ride users board buses with personal care assistants, some operators are disrespectful and do not comply with the regulations that provide for personal care assistants to ride without paying a fare.
Ken Stewart stated that Transit has invited the disability community to examine buses on several occasions. He said that pavement colors and textures should be used to show the locations of SBS fare machines. He also said that hybrid vehicles are too quiet and will cause pedestrians/motorist conflict. Mr. Irick stated that hybrid buses have been retrofitted to have an acceleration profile that is similar to diesels and that the MTA is working on sound issue.
Burt Strauss stated that buses too often do not pull to the curb at bus stops. Mr. Irick said that sometimes this is by design, but is sometimes due to discourteous operators. If there is a vehicle in the bus stop, the system is for the bus to pull parallel to the curb and kneel because pulling in at an angle to the curb creates blind spots for the operator. Ms. Mason said that when a bus is stopped in a stop but has edged away from the curb some operators will not allow passengers to board, and this is very frustrating to riders. Mr. Irick said that there is no clear policy on this situation, but acknowledged that he should reiterate that operators should consider the need to be courteous.
Debra Greif said that this failure to allow passengers to board also happens in Brooklyn. In addition, she said that some operators ignore identification showing passengers have a disability and are rude. She said that she attended the Brooklyn SBS meeting. Mr. Irick stated that riders should report incidents with operators and should get the operator’s badge number or at least the bus number to identify the operator in question.
The meeting was adjourned at 2:00 p.m.
New York City Transit Riders Council
September 22, 2011
I want to officially welcome Steve Mayo to the NYCTRC. He was recommended for his seat on the NYCTRC by the Mayor and appointed by the Governor last month. With Steve’s appointment, the last of our vacancies is filled, and we are thrilled to have him with us and look forward to his participation on the Council. While we had introductions earlier this month at the PCAC meeting, I’d like to have our members and staff go around the table and briefly give your name, community, and the public official who recommended you to serve on the Council. After the introduction, I’d ask Steve to tell us anything that he would like us to know about himself.
This past Monday, I was part of a panel involving the Move NY campaign, which has been established to promote the use of congestion pricing in New York City. There were a number of exciting ideas shared with those attending, which included several of our State Legislators. (Elaborate as you wish)
We received a response to our July letter to Ted Orosz on the subject of riders being confused about the need to retain their fare receipts on the M15 Select Bus Service route. A copy of the letter is included in your packet today. The letter in large part defended NYC Transit’s existing signage, which we have questioned, but admitted that decals on the fare machines have worn or peeled off. The letter also stated that our suggestion that the video displays on the SBS fare machine be used to remind riders to keep their receipts is unworkable as it would require costly reprograming of the machines.
NYC Transit recently held public meetings on Select Bus Service in Brooklyn and bus improvements on Staten Island. Bill Henderson and Chris Greif attended the Staten Island meeting last Thursday and Karyl Berger and Chris Greif attended the Brooklyn meeting this past Tuesday. Select Bus Service is scheduled to replace B44 limited service in November 2012, and the Staten Island improvements, which grew out of the SBS effort but are not a full implementation of the program, are expected to be implemented in 2012 or 2013.
NYC Transit has been busy introducing new technology into the system since our last meeting. On Monday of this week, Transit unveiled On the Go, a 47-inch touch screen device that allows subway users to retrieve information about their trip, use the MTA’s Trip Planner Plus app, view real-time service and elevator and escalator status information, and see neighborhood maps. The device can also be used to locate shopping and dining venues and major attractions and displays NY1 headlines and the current time and weather. The screen is split in two, with one half dedicated to advertising, which is expected to cover installation expenses and generate additional revenue. The first On the Go device was installed at the Bowling Green station, but as part of an initial pilot program devices will also be installed at Penn Station, Grand Central Terminal, Atlantic Avenue, and Jackson Heights/Roosevelt Avenue. A brochure about the On the Go system is in your packet this morning.
Last Friday, Transit rolled out a new webpage, The Weekender, which will be the default MTA homepage from Friday afternoon to early Monday morning. The webpage features a guide to service diversions based on an updated version of the Vignelli subway map that was used by the NYC Transit in the 1970’s. In its digital format, the map is interactive and searchable by line, borough, and station and indicates stations where there are diversions by making them blink. Clicking on the blinking dot indicating the station yields a description of the potential problem.
Finally, this week we received another sobering assessment of the MTA’s finances from the State Comptroller’s Office. Areas of concern raised in the Office’s report on their financial outlook for the MTA include the size of the debt burden proposed for the MTA, the possibility of major operating budget gaps in 2013 and 2014, and the MTA’s reliance on funding from economically sensitive taxes. A copy of the report is in your packets today.