Meeting Minutes April 24, 2014

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NEW YORK CITY TRANSIT RIDERS COUNCIL

MINUTES OF APRIL 24, 2014

A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12 noon on April 24, 2014 in the 5th floor Board room, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City.  The following members were present:

Andrew Albert                       Trudy L. Mason
Stuart Goldstein                   William K. Guild
Christopher Greif                    Edith Prentiss
Sharon King Hoge              Michael Sinansky
Burton M. Strauss, Jr.

The following members were absent:

Marisol Halpern                    Thomas Jost
Steve Mayo

In addition, the following persons were present:

William A. Henderson            -PCAC Executive Director
Ellyn Shannon                        -PCAC Associate Director
Angela Bellisio                        -PCAC Transportation Planner
Karyl Berger                             -PCAC Research Associate
Bradley Brashears                  -PCAC Research Assistant
Chief Joseph Fox                   -NYPD Transit Bureau
Dep Chief Vincent Coogan  -NYPD Transit Bureau
Dep Insp Thomas Ponella    -NYPD Transit Bureau
Dep Insp Edward O’Brien     -NYPD Transit Bureau
Dep Insp Vincent Giantasio  -NYPD Transit Bureau
Dep Insp Patrick Kerins         -NYPD Transit Bureau
Jim Albert                                 -34th Street Partnership
Louis Baily                               -WEACT
Alan Flacks                              -Democratic County Committee
Ken Stewart                             -Concerned Citizen
Ann Guild                                 -Concerned Citizen
Matt Shotkin                             -Concerned Citizen

Approval of Agenda and Minutes

The agenda for the April 24, 2014 meeting was approved.  The minutes of the March 27, 2014 meeting were approved.

Chair’s Report

The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.

Chair’s Report

Trudy Mason wanted to know how the recent TWU contract settlement can have no impact on fares or service.  William Henderson responded that the settlement will have no immediate impact because it will be paid for with money set aside for future obligations, but that in the long run the funds will have to come from somewhere.

Edith Prentiss asked whether anyone had tracked where affected customers went after the 2010 service cuts.  Andrew Albert responded that the NYC Transit Operations Planning department said that they had looked at where affected customers had gone after the service changes.  Mr. Albert said that several MTA Board members will again be advocating for more service this year.

Chris Greif suggested that more routes in Brooklyn should be restored.  Mr. Albert commented that there is a group of Board members that wants to restore service that was cut and that Transit management wants to implement service increases to reach new markets.

Ms. Prentiss suggested that the NYCTRC try to get someone to talk about the inclined elevators to be installed on the 7 line extension and how they are operated.  Mr. Albert responded that he will try to get someone to speak.

Mr. Albert noted that he sees an endless stream of alerts about problems both at Nostrand Junction and on the E. 180th Street line.  With the number of problems in Brooklyn, it is good that planned work there is being done.

Mr. Greif replied that the Brooklyn track work is needed, but there is no information being released about how ADA passengers will get to their destinations during these service diversions.

Old Business

Bradley Brashears presented recommended changes to service diversion signage that he had developed in his work on the Council project on this issue. He noted that one change that he is recommending is to add the boroughs where service is affected to the signage.  A second recommended change is to add a calendar to tell riders at a glance the dates on which service will be diverted.

Mr. Albert asked the Council members for their feedback.

Stuart Goldstein remarked that the calendar is a good addition, but that using red and green on a service diversion poster may lead to confusion with the lines that typically use those colors.

Edith Prentiss added that these posters should convey information in bold black lettering with sans serif fonts.  She also suggested that the signs should be larger.

Mr. Goldstein said that the colors used at the bottom of the posters are too much and may be distracting.  He said that the decorative lines at the bottom of the posters should be eliminated.

Ms. Mason agreed about not having colors at the bottom of the poster and said that there should be more white space on the poster, which could be achieved by removing some of the information at the bottom of the poster.  She said that the real problem is with the placement of signs in the system and the large number of different signs that are posted.  Ms. Mason suggested that the report recommend systemwide use of something like the Passenger Information Centers or Customer Information Centers to centralize and organize information.

Mr. Albert said that specific information on service changes affecting a station should be displayed in the station, but there should also be an additional location where information on service changes throughout the system is displayed.

Mr. Goldstein asked whether the report would be recommending that the system summary posters be replaced.  Karyl Berger said that the report will not consider this issue and that these posters will eventually be replaced by electronic information displayed on the On-the-Go kiosks.

Ms. Prentiss pointed out that a major issue arises when service affects accessible stations and persons with disabilities have to use a different station than they normally use.  If people travel using another station, they have to know how to get back to where they came from.  That information is often not provided.

Burt Strauss said that he believes that the use of red for dates on the calendar on which there is no service is useful. Mr. Albert commented that blacked out dates could also be used.  Mr. Strauss noted that the situation where outages affect only part of a day needs some further thought.

Mike Sinansky said that the signage needs to take into account people who do not speak English, and therefore the graphics and calendar are important.

Mr. Albert stated that the signs should say something about the direction of travel in which service is diverted.

Sharon King Hoge said that including on signs the boroughs where service is diverted is important.  She suggested that we look at existing signs and see how they fit into our recommended formats.

Edith Prentiss raised an issue related to the US Open tennis tournament.  She said that while an accessible path from the 7 line to the National Tennis Center is available for the tournament itself, it not opened for practice sessions.  She requested that a letter be sent to NYC Transit, with a copy to the US Tennis Association to ask that accessible entrances from the subway to the tennis center be open for practice sessions.

New Business

Ms. Prentiss said that recently she has been involved in many situations where operators are unwilling to open the flap-style bus ramps manually, although NYC Transit has confirmed that this is one of the duties of bus operators. Mr. Albert commented that he had noticed many cases where operators do not kneel their buses for people who need the stairs to be lowered.

Ms. Mason commented that there is an ongoing problem with Lexington Avenue Line.  She requested that another letter to be sent discussing the ongoing problems on the Lexington Line at all times of day.  She said that earlier that day at 10:00 am the countdown clocks on the platforms changed from an arrival in two minutes then showed a “delay” message; the second train on the board went from 13 to 9 minutes until arrival, then showed a “delay” message.  In these cases, the platforms get very crowded.  Mr. Albert responded that he will contact Joe Leader about this.

Ms. Prentiss pointed out that many depots in her area still use old high floor buses and that there are mechanical issues with many of the lifts on these buses.  Mr. Greif commented that there are similar problems in Brooklyn. The bus operators often will not manually deploy ramps and when they are asked to do so they are very rude and use curse words.  Mr. Albert said that when this happens riders should get the bus number and then report it to NYC Transit.  Ms. Hoge noted that if possible a rider should also get the operator’s badge number.

Ken Stewart suggested that bus numbers should be in Braille somewhere on the bus interior.  Ms. Prentiss noted that bus numbers are sometimes hard to see from inside the bus and said that the NYCTRC should demand that they are visible to riders.

Introduction of Chief Joseph Fox, Commanding Officer, NYPD Transit Bureau, to discuss current directions in policing the subways and NYCTRC issues regarding enforcement of the NYC Transit Rules of Conduct

Mr. Albert introduced Chief Fox and said that the NYPD has done a great job in the subways.  He noted that the Council members have issues that they want to bring to the Chief’s attention.  Chief Fox responded that he had brought individuals with that could answer some of the Council’s questions.

Chief Fox introduced those with him, including the Executive Officer of the NYPD Transit Bureau, Deputy Chief Vinnie Coogan, whom he described as having a strong talent for community relations, as well as policing.  The Chief also introduced Deputy Inspector Thomas Ponella, Borough Commander for Manhattan, Deputy Inspector Ed O’Brien, Commander of the Special Operations unit, Deputy Inspector Vincent Giantasio, Borough Commander for Brooklyn, and Deputy Inspector Patrick Kerins, Borough Commander for Queens and the Bronx.

Chief Fox he suggested that NYCTRC members might want to see the Transit Bureau’s headquarters.  Mr. Albert replied that Transit Bureau headquarters would make a good field trip for the members. Chief Fox also suggested that the members might want to see the work that has been done to secure One World Trade Center or view a K-9 demonstration.

Chief Fox said that Deputy Inspector O’Brien’s units include an anti-terror squad of 100 officers, deployed either in uniform or plain clothes, who are highly trained and able to respond to multiple situations.  Also in the Special Operations unit is the Transit K9 Unit, which consists of 35 dogs and their handlers.  Unlike other K-9 units, these dogs are on patrol constantly and are trained to work in the subway environment.  There is also a MetroCard task force that conducts operations against “swipers” and CAGE, which is the Transit Bureau’s gang unit.  The Transit Bureau also has a vandals unit and a homeless outreach unit.  The officers in homeless outreach are very caring people who try to find a balance in their work and work with MTA Connections and multiple city agencies.  The Chief noted that this work can be difficult as some homeless individuals are “shelter resistant.”  The Transit Bureau also includes a bus conditions unit, which does some enforcement but mostly works with street level precincts that are primarily responsible for enforcement.

Chief Fox noted that in 2010 we saw a rise in crime in the subways, that major felonies rose by 16 percent in 2011, and that due to cellphone thefts 2012 saw a further 6 percent increase.  Since then, changing tactics have begun to have an impact, with major felonies down 6 percent in 2013 and the crime rates still dropping in 2014.  Presently there are 6.1 major crimes per day, which is far down from the experience over the past few years.

Mr. Sinansky commented that he has noticed a program at Grand Central Terminal station in the main station booth area where NYPD officers conduct bag searches and are located in a place at the bottom of the escalators where they cannot be seen from the top of the escalator.  He asked whether this is being done elsewhere.  Chief Fox responded that the location used at Grand Central is very good but that these operations are moved around from station to station on different days and at different times in an effort to keep people guessing about where the officers will be. He said that the NYPD also has operations in place to monitor those who avoid screening.

Mr. Greif said that the Brooklyn Transit Bureau officers do a great job. He said that he is seeing lots of dancers on board trains, especially on the N, Q, and R lines. Mr. Greif also said that when the Q train terminates at Times Square, there has been a problem with homeless people refusing to get off the train. Chief Fox responded that this is not only a police issue, and Commissioner Bratton is bringing other resources into addressing the needs of homeless individuals.

Deputy Inspector O’Brien stated that since January a total of 32 dancers have been arrested and that because enforcement has been effective the performers are beginning to play a cat and mouse game with the Transit Bureau.

Mr. Albert noted that even an unamplified group without dancers can cause problems, as at Times Square where the 1, 2 and 3 platform had a capella group performing.  The crowd gathered there made it very difficult to get through.

Deputy Inspector Ponella commented that performers are allowed to be on the platforms, but when there is a problem, officers issue summons or advise the performers to move.  Unless there is a serious problem, this advice is not an enforceable order.  He also commented on break dancers, noting that there have been 60 arrests of these performers this year and that the Transit Bureau seizes money collected during illegal performances to discourage the groups. He said that giving money to illegal performers only encourages them to come back.

Mr. Strauss asked what penalty is assessed when people are arrested.  Deputy Inspector Ponella said that he had sat down with representatives of the District Attorney’s office and that now they understand the severity of the problem.  Performers in subway cars are charged with reckless endangerment if they are swinging around and the money that they have collected is confiscated.  He said that the in-car dancers sometimes get locked up, but are generally released quickly.

Ms. Prentiss said that she has been kicked in the head by a dancer.  She asked where she should have reported this, as in upper Manhattan she hardly sees any officers.  She noted that there are people sleeping on early morning trains and said that when she complained about amplifiers on platform at the 42nd Street/Times Square station, an NYPD officer responded to her “so what, it’s music”.

Mr. Ponella replied that he does not believe that this is a general attitude of his officers.  He said in this case, Ms. Prentiss could have asked for a supervisor and recorded the officer’s badge umber and name.  He stated that the NYPD is very active at Times Square and that the officer’s response was not acceptable.

Karyl Berger asked whether amplification is allowed on station mezzanines.  She pointed out that sometimes you cannot hear announcements at the Atlantic Avenue station.  This is a busy station and there are police around.  It was noted that amplification is not prohibited there, as on the platforms, but riders must be able to hear announcements.

Mr. Albert asked the guests to address the issue of identity theft.  Deputy Chief. Coogan said that the MTA has seen “skimmer” devices installed to collect credit card information at several stations on the LIRR and once in Lower Manhattan.  Officers have been alerted to look for these devices and the NYPD will be training officers on the subject.  He said that the NYPD is trying to get the MTA to install cameras facing the MetroCard Vending Machines to catch people tampering with fare machines and selling swipes.

Ms. Berger asked what happens to “swipers” selling entry to the subway system.  Deputy Inspector O’Brien said that the NYPD charges them with misdemeanors and in most cases they receive a penalty of time served. He noted that if people would not buy swipes, this problem would be reduced.

Mr. Albert stated that NYC Transit once had sirens at slam exit gates and that this was not effective.  He said that he would like to see cameras there and perhaps a way of restricting the use of slam gates to emergencies.  Deputy Chief Coogan commented that the slam gate issue is a continuing problem, but that the NYPD is always in favor of additional cameras.  While the cost of these units is falling, it is still an issue.  Mr. Albert asked what riders can do when they see swipers.  Deputy Chief Coogan said that they should approach an NYPD officer or call 911.

Mr. Stewart commented that performers on the platform are a problem for him.  He said that that the rules of conduct need to be revised and that the police and performers need to be educated about the problems that performances cause.  He also said that there needs to be some guidance about the best performance locations.

Ms. Prentiss suggested that musicians be restricted from wheelchair waiting areas, as they can make boarding difficult or impossible.  Deputy Chief Coogan responded that he has met with the MTA legal department about these issues and that the NYPD would like the MTA to change rules to restrict performers on platforms.  Mr. Albert agreed that the rules need revision, pointing out that a drummer can be as loud as amplified music from another instrument.

Ms. Hoge mentioned that at Jamaica and Howard Beach, where there are connections to AirTrain, people are asking riders to give them their unlimited ride MetroCards.  Deputy Inspector Kerins said that this it is not illegal, but riders feel intimidated by people asking them for cards they will no longer be using.

Mr. Greif pointed out that he sees a lot of police activity messages on the NYCT alerts.  He said there is also an increase in homeless individuals on the E train.  Deputy Chief Coogan responded that a report of police activity is often due to someone hit by a train. Deputy Inspector O’Brien said that his homeless unit conducted an operation to offer services to homeless persons on the E train.  In this operation, NYC Transit provides cleaners to move people off the trains at the terminal and the MTA Connections staff members approach these persons to inform them of available services. They plan to expand this operation to the G line soon.

Matt Shotkin asked about bikes.  Mr. Coogan stated that there is no rule against bringing a bicycle on the subway.

Alan Flacks said that in many stations, people use slam gates improperly.  Mr. Flacks also asked whether Chief Fox spoke about Stop and Frisk, to which the answer was no.  Deputy Chief Coogan commented that the rules have not changed with regard to Stop and Frisk and that it is a tool that the police can use.

Adjournment

The meeting was adjourned at 2:00 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

 

William Henderson

Executive Director

 

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