NEW YORK CITY TRANSIT RIDERS COUNCIL
MINUTES OF DECEMBER 19, 2013
A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12:00 noon on December 19, 2013 in the 5th Floor Board Room at 347 Madison Avenue, New York City.
The following members were present:
Andrew Albert Thomas Jost
Stuart Goldstein Sharon King Hoge
Christopher Greif Trudy Mason
William K. Guild Edith Prentiss
Marisol Halpern Michael Sinansky
Burton M. Strauss, Jr.
The following member was absent:
In addition, the following persons were present:
William Henderson -PCAC Executive Director
Ellyn Shannon -PCAC Associate Director
Karyl Berger -PCAC Research Associate
Angela Bellisio -PCAC Transportation planner
Bradley Brashears -PCAC Research Assistant
Wynton Habersham -NYCT
Deborah Hall-Moore -NYCT
Mark Epstein -LIRRCC
Michelle Winfield -Bellevue Hosp. Comm. Adv. Bd.
Ira Gartner -Concerned citizen
Elizabeth Klabel -Concerned citizen
Matt Shotkin -Concerned citizen
Alan Flacks -NY County Democratic Comm
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the December 19, 2013 meeting was approved. The minutes of the November 21, 2013 meeting were approved.
The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.
Trudy Mason requested that the council write a letter or issue a statement noting the lack of a 10th Avenue station in the 7 subway line extension.
Andrew Albert commented that overall the 7 line extension is a wonderful addition to the system. He said that it will be the genesis of a new neighborhood and will support the continuing development of the City, but there are already many new residents in and coming to the area. Because of the lack of a 10th Avenue station these new residents will not be served by the 7 line. Mr. Albert noted that the 7 line extension was built to allow the 10th Avenue station to be added at a later date and said that the NYCTRC hopes that the new Mayor and his administration will find a way to finance adding the 10th Avenue station to the line.
Thomas Jost said that the funding mechanism that underwrote the 7 line Extension may not have worked to provide sufficient funds for the 10th Avenue station. Mr. Albert replied that even if this were the case, other funding should have been used because of the importance of the station. Michael Sinansky pointed out that that the NYCTRC has been pressing for the 10th Avenue station since the inception of the project and has spoken out on the removal of the station from the project.
Ellyn Shannon noted that the MTA is giving credit to the Bronx Borough President on the renewal of the 149th Street station. She said that their comments on the history of the improvements should have referred to the NYCTRC’s station condition survey that brought attention to the issue.
Chris Greif suggested that the installation of an elevator should have been included in the improvements to the 149th Street station. Mr. Albert responded that the improvements were done through component programs and that elevator installation is too extensive to be done through these programs.
Ms. Mason asked if the MTA Real Estate Department could be reminded about the unused space at the near the J and Z lines at the Chambers Street station. This space would be a good location for commercial uses such as the pop-up retail facilities that have opened in the subway system in 2013. Ms. Mason also asked that she receive a copy of all the meeting notices that the PCAC receives.
Ms. Mason discussed the Transportation of Tomorrow forum held the previous day, which featured a presentation of the Pratt Center for Community Development’s report on Bus Rapid Transit. She said that she spoke to a number of people at the forum and received a lot of horror stories about Select Bus Service.
Mr. Sinansky commented that he found it interesting that the routes proposed in the Pratt Center study are very similar to what has been proposed before. He said that he did not see these routes as truly addressing the needs of transit starved neighborhoods. Ms. Mason noted that the people who served on the panel for the forum had their own issues that they wanted to highlight. She said that very few of the panelists spoke about the Pratt Center proposal except Public Advocate-elect Letitia James.
Mr. Albert gave the Board Report. He said that the Board passed a budget for the MTA, but that it did not include additional service enhancements. He said that there were many people in the public speaking session who talked about the B37 bus and the need to restore the original northern end of its route. Mr. Albert said that restoring a truncated B37 route would create a situation similar to the M104 bus, where removing part of the route has depressed ridership.
Mr. Albert commented that it is good news that the MTA is moving ahead with limited property condemnations along the Sea Beach Line. These actions will give NYC Transit the access that they need to restore this line.
While the service restoration fund proposed by Board Members Cappelli and Pally was not included in the budget, Chairman Prendergast made a commitment to look at the MTA’s finances in June and consider whether the Authority is able to add new service, as was done in 2013.
Mr. Albert said that following its December 1 derailment, Metro-North Railroad has reached out to the injured passengers and their families and is doing what is possible given the situation. He said that Metro-North has installed speed control at the accident site and is working to install it at other vulnerable areas. In addition, the Railroad will be putting alerters into cab cars in their rolling stock that is not in the process of being retired by the end of 2014.
The MTA is making progress on installing Positive Train Control on the commuter railroads at an estimated cost of $1 billion. The system can be installed in phases, but installation will not be totally finished by 2015 deadline, and the “dark territory” that has no signalization still has to be addressed.
Mr. Greif said that the B37 bus will be restored but that he has heard both April and June dates for the restoration. Mr. Albert said that he will get the correct information about the restoration date.
Edith Prentiss said that she was very uncomfortable with the Americans with Disabilities Act being termed an unfunded mandate in the discussion of Positive Train Control. She commented that Transit should be available for all and that no one at the federal level mandates that anyone should get transit service. Ms. Prentiss further noted that the 168th Street station was originally designed with elevators.
Mr. Albert reported that the organizational culture at Metro-North was a subject of discussion at the Board meetings. He also noted that the response to the derailment includes a requirement that a second crew member be present at places where trains are required to reduce speed. In addition, in 2014 the MTA Board will be going back to 11 scheduled meetings a year.
Mr. Greif discussed the rollout of B44 Select Bus Service, noting that some elected officials are saying that local bus service on the B44 route needs to be improved. He also said that he has heard that there is an 8:1 ratio of SBS to local buses in the corridor and has been told that students are not able to get on local buses because of crowding. Mr. Albert responded that he will meet with the Brooklyn Borough President next year and discuss these issues. Ms. Mason suggested that Mr. Greif contact Letitia Jones about the issue and said that elected officials concerns about SBS have fallen on deaf ears at NYC Transit.
Ms. Prentiss noted that dispatchers are telling bus operators not to curb their buses when there has recently been snowfall, even if the stop is clear of snow. Ms. Prentiss said that on her northbound bus at 183rd Street on the previous Sunday at 5:00pm, the operator did not pull the bus to the curb and that three operators said their “bosses at 135th” were telling them not to curb their buses. She also asked why NYC Transit is running old buses with rear lifts in bad weather, especially on weekends when there are fewer buses being used. She said that this practice is common on the Bx7 route. Mr. Greif added that he has observed this practice on the B1, B3, B5 and Ulmer Park Depot buses.
Ms. Shannon discussed the upcoming the NYCTRC member project. Mr. Albert said that this project will examine all aspects of General Order service diversions.
Ms. Prentiss commented that the council knows where the problems are and what is missing from the service diversion signs. She said that there are a lot of nuances to be considered in studying this issue.
Mr. Jost asked whether it is possible to get information from NYC Transit prior to the week of study, and particularly whether we could get diversion signage in advance. Ms. Shannon agreed that having the signage in advance would be valuable for the project.
Ms. Mason stated that one thing that must be studied is internal communication in scheduled service diversions. Ms. Shannon responded that this is in the scope of the project.
Mr. Sinansky asked whether the directions for the surveys could be sent in advance. Ms. Shannon said that they could.
Sharon King Hoge pointed out that it might be better for surveyors on the project to go to unfamiliar places, where they would be in the same situation as ordinary riders.
Ms. Mason requested that the Council recommend the NYC Transit tariff be changed to provide that free fares for children will be based on age. Michelle Winfield said that this change is justified because the current threshold, 44 inches, is the height of a 4 ½ year old child. She said that Medicaid reimbursement for transportation costs is based on age and no reimbursement is provided for children less than 6 years of age.
Mr. Albert asked whether Ms. Winfield had copies of the relevant tariff provisions. She said that she did not have the language with her, but Rob Marino from NYC Transit told her that she should request a change to the tariff. She requested NYCTRC’s support on this issue.
Mr. Jost commented that one sticking point may be the means of establishing the age of the child and asked whether the NYC Department of Health could help with this. Ms. Winfield responded that the MTA’s commuter railroads use age as their criterion for free or reduced fares for children. Ms. Shannon noted that parents may have difficulty remembering a child’s height, but age is easier.
Ms. Mason suggested that the NYCTRC should advocate for a change in the tariff. Mr. Albert asked for any objections, and hearing none said that the council will send a letter requesting this change after consulting the text of the tariff. In response to a suggestion that the letter be sent to NYC Transit, Stuart Goldstein said that it should be sent to MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast. Deborah Hall-Moore confirmed that this letter be sent to Tom Prendergast, rather than Carmen Bianco, as the tariff change would be a Board issue.
Ms. Prentiss noted that she witnesses many cases every day on buses where parents don’t pay for children who are over the height limit for free travel. She said that will be another case where the bus operator will have to enforce a rule and that this will result in more arguments between operators and passengers.
Ms. Prentiss also mentioned that she spent 20 minutes trying to find an elevator serving the 2 and 3 lines at the Fulton Street station. She said that at the entrance she used at Fulton and William Streets there is no signage in general and no signs indicating accessibility, in addition to no directions to entrances without steps.
Introduction of Wynton Habersham, Chief Electrical Officer, NYC Transit Department of Subways, to discuss signal systems in the NYC subways and advances in signaling technology
Mr. Habersham led the NYCTRC through a presentation on signaling technology, which is on file in the PCAC office.
Mr. Habersham said that the track circuit is the most important part of the signal system. It operates when a train produces a short in a circuit containing a relay. This energizes the relay and activates wayside signals indicating the presence of a train ahead.
Mr. Habersham noted that high throughput requires a very dense signal system. At more than 26 trains per hour, many signals are required. Alternatively, a Communication Based Train Control (CBTC) system, which does not use fixed blocks, can be installed. CBTC has all of the functionality of a fixed block system, but also has additional features.
There was an interesting difference between IRT and BMT divisions and the IND division, Mr. Habersham noted. There was a fifteen year construction period for the first two divisions, but the construction period was six years for the IND division. Consequently, all of the IND signals are reaching the end of their useful life at one time. There is a program to replace signals, but it has fallen behind its goal of 16 miles of replacements per year in recent years. As a result, the priority in the signals portion of the Capital Program is currently focused on replacing IND equipment.
Mr. Habersham noted that relays take a lot of effort to keep them in working order, but they are such an old technology that manufacturers do not support them and NYC Transit has to rebuild the relays. Because much of the signal system is no longer manufactured, NYC Transit salvages old equipment when it is replaced. Track circuit relays are replaced at least every ten years, but there are large differences in the intensity of use that various lines see, so NYC Transit is looking at a reliability-centered maintenance model to take account of these differences.
One of the more striking features of CBTC is that trains using this signal system can operate themselves. Currently, NYC Transit assigns an operator to trains under automatic operation and this individual has to push an alerter button every 15 seconds to prevent the train from stopping. A major issue with CBTC is ensuring that different systems are interoperable, and the contract for the 7 line that was approved by the MTA Board the previous day is a major step forward.
Mr. Sinansky asked whether the CBTC system is wireless. Mr. Habersham said that it is and there is redundancy built into the system to keep it working in case of outages. Mr. Sinansky asked whether the recent outages seen on the L line are related to the CBTC system. Mr. Habersham responded that some outages are related to the system, but theft of copper power supply cable has been a particular problem. He said that there have been some failures of the automatic train control system on the line, and recently there was a failure of the radio network that was related to squirrels’ fondness for fiber optic cable.
Burt Strauss asked whether increased flooding risks would have implications for CBTC. Mr. Habersham replied that there is less wayside equipment to remove before storms with CBTC, so the system would be less vulnerable and easier to preserve.
Ms. Prentiss asked whether CBTC will lead to the loss of conductors on trains and whether technology can compensate for reduced crews. Mr. Habersham said that other transit operators have used onboard closed circuit video to provide a better view of the train to operators, but it is true that one benefit of CBTC is that it makes one person operation possible. Ms. Prentiss said that this would make the system more dangerous, as the existence of a monitor does not mean that an operator will look at it.
Mr. Greif asked about the causes of two recent major signal outages. Mr. Habersham said that an outage on the Canarsie line was caused by cable damage and that an outage on the Flushing line was caused by a frozen air line. He said that there are long term plans for installing CBTC on subway lines in South Brooklyn, but they are far in the future.
Ms. Mason asked whether signals can indicate that train doors should be held open in stations. Mr. Habersham responded that deciding how long to hold doors is a function of train scheduling and management, and not the signal system. He noted that holding trains in the station, even for a short time, can cause major operational problems. These decisions are made by the Rail Control Center.
Ida Gartner asked whether the existing block system is left in place when CBTC is installed and the identities of the suppliers of the CBTC system. Mr. Habersham pointed out that CBTC is an overlay on the fixed block system, but the remaining signals are there to run work and other trains that are not equipped to use CBTC, as well as serving as a backup for failures to the CBTC system. The CBTC suppliers are Siemens, Talos, and Alstom.
Ms. Gartner asked the status of B division countdown clocks. Mr. Habersham said that they are coming, but are more difficult to make operational on the B division.
The meeting was adjourned at 2:00 PM.
William Henderson, Executive Director