A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12 noon on February 23, 2012, in the 5th floor Board room, MTA headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City. The following members were present:
•William K. Guild
•Jessica Gonzalez Rojas
The following members were absent:
•Trudy L. Mason
•Sharon King Hoge
In addition, the following persons were present:
•William Henderson-PCAC Executive Director
•Ellyn Shannon-PCAC Transportation Planner
•Karyl Berger-PCAC Research Associate
•Angela Bellisio-PCAC Outreach Assistant
•Shanni Liang-PCAC Consultant
•Chief Joseph Fox-NYPD-Transit Bureau
•Inspector Jason Wilcox-NYPD-Transit Bureau
•Sgt. O’Brien-NYPD-Transit Bureau
•Alan Flacks-Concerned citizen
•Yvonne Morrow-Concerned citizen
•Ann Guild-Concerned citizen
•Kristen Meriwether-Concerned citizen
•Ken Stewart-Concerned citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the February 23, 2012 meeting was approved. The minutes of the January 26, 2012 meeting were approved. Mike Sinansky made a comment that there seems to be a conflict with comments recorded in the minutes about replacing weekend capital work service interruptions with work under the FASTRACK program since the work completed under FASTRACK is almost all inspection and maintenance work.
The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.
Introduction of Chief Joseph Fox of the NYPD Transit Bureau to discuss crime and security issues in the subway and the Bureau’s approach to policing in the subway system
Chief Fox was joined by Inspector Jason Wilcox. He stated that he would be unable to spend as much time at the meeting as originally planned but wanted to come to the meeting out of respect to the Council. He said that any agency that lends its support to the Transit Bureau is deserving of thanks.
Chief Fox stated that reported crimes are reflected in statistics that are readily available, but there are other incidents and problems that they need to hear about that are not reflected in the statistics. Chief Fox stated that he is glad to lead the Transit Bureau and that this unit is full of dedicated young men and women who are there to ensure the safety of the subway system.
Andrew Albert asked Chief Fox if he could be encouraged to push the MTA to install cameras in the help point intercoms when they are deployed in the system. Chief Fox stated that it would not be appropriate for him to comment on MTA policy.
Chris Greif commented on his concerns about the graffiti in the subway system and some people jumping turnstiles. He said that he sometimes sees people in areas where they are not supposed to be. Chief Fox stated that he reviews reports on theft of service all the time and that he takes these violations seriously. He noted that as the small things go, so go the big things in the system. He also asked members that if they know of locations that are particularly bad in terms of fare evasion to please pass this information on to him. Inspector Jason Wilcox commented that there are 10,000 Transit Adjudication Bureau summonses written annually for fare evasion.
Steve Mayo asked a question about what is being done to improve underground to above ground radio communication. Chief Fox said that an improved system is in the process of being implemented and is one of Mayor Bloomberg’s top priorities. He said that it would not be appropriate for him to comment on the system beyond this statement.
Stuart Goldstein said that he had heard that the Transit Bureau has gained personnel, but questioned whether the gains are real and have not been offset by people leaving the Transit Bureau. He also asked what actions were being taken to deal with a perceived increase in deaths by train. Chief Fox stated that he has not seen an increase in deaths and Inspector Wilcox commented there have been no recent homicides that involved individuals being pushed into the path of a train, although there have been incidents that have resulted in injuries. He said that any incidents where people make contact with trains are investigated by Transit Bureau detectives and that the detectives work these cases very hard.
Chief Fox addressed the Transit Bureau’s staffing. He noted that there are 243 new officers from the Police Academy class, that the Bureau’s staffing is right where it should be, and that he is very pleased with the staffing.
Karyl Berger said that she has noticed an increase in panhandling in the subway system. Chief Fox stated that the Bureau needs to know where people are noticing these problems. He said that the Bureau is working hard to reduce quality of life crimes. Inspector Wilcox said that one initiative to address these problems is Operation Moving Violation, where the Transit Bureau placed plainclothes officers on moving trains to catch illegal vendors, panhandlers, and performers. He said that the Bureau will be stepping up this effort as the weather gets warmer.
Jessica Rojas said that there seems to be some confusion about the legality of eating and drinking on trains. Inspector Wilcox responded that enforcement of the regulations governing eating and drinking depends greatly on context and that much of what the Transit Bureau does is instructional. Often all that is required is to inform riders of the rules, but when their behavior becomes offensive, officers can enforce the regulations by issuing a summons.
Ellyn Shannon asked what the thinking is in the Transit Bureau about crowding on platforms when service is suspended. Chief Fox said that when service is disrupted the Bureau is trying to make the right call on a case by case basis. Sometimes the Bureau will ask for NYC Transit to take action to deal with the issue. Inspector Wilcox commented that Transit Bureau officers also respond to requests for assistance from NYC Transit. He said that officers are trained in ways of shutting down access to stations when crowding becomes too great. Once officers are alerted to these problems, they are good at dealing with them.
Mr. Albert asked Chief Fox if he would comment on performers in the subway. Inspector Wilcox said that the Transit Bureau encourages all performers to get into the Music Under New York (MUNY) program. He also noted that even if the performers aren’t in the MUNY program they have a right to perform. Whether they are permitted to perform in a specific context is an issue of time and place. He said that we especially don’t want performers on crowded platforms but want to protect their right to perform as long as it’s safe to do so.
Inspector Wilcox said that the Bureau’s enforcement of sound regulations has changed from being based on a decibel level to being based on the specific situation. He said that they use an unnecessary noise standard and take into account the time of day and level of ambient noise. This kind of enforcement does not require use of a sound meter. If officers find performers’ sound levels to be excessive, they may ask performers to unplug their amplifiers or move to another location to reduce their impact. He noted that the steel drum players located on the 1-2-3 line platform at Times Square are an example of what he does not want, as they block the platform and create unreasonable noise.
Ken Stewart asked if the Bureau keeps track of all enforcement actions. Inspector Wilcox replied that they keep records of summonses, but not of less formal actions that do not result in a summons. He explained that in general performers are very compliant when officers ask them to make changes; they only want a place to play.
Alan Flacks commented on the issue of eating and drinking on platforms. He stated that the previous Transit Bureau Chiefs have had different perspectives on the importance of enforcement of rules on this topic. Chief Fox stated that he cannot speak for what former Chiefs have said, but that enforcement is about striking a balance and that the Bureau has to rely on the judgment of patrol officers.
Due to his other commitments, Chief Fox left the meeting at this point.
Matt Shotkin commented on his concerns with dangers in the subway system, such as those posed by an individual who was arrested for possessing illegal guns after being caught evading the fare. He said that he is also concerned with the reduced number of bag checkpoints in the subways. Inspector Wilcox responded that the subway system is very large and that the Bureau has to manage its resources.
Mr. Albert commented that mirrors installed to allow people in the stations to see around corners are not being maintained.
Mike Sinansky said that he is hearing all kinds of statistics on fare beating. The removal of station booths has been raised as a contributing factor in increased fare evasion. Mr. Sinansky said that prior to NYC Transit removing the booths, was there a program for monitoring fare evasion that involved booth clerks estimating the number of fare beaters and that he wondered how this assessment is being done where the booths have been removed. Inspector Wilcox said that the Transit Bureau monitors all stations in the system. Mr. Sinansky asked if there were any special efforts being made. Inspector Wilcox replied that they are aware of the changes within the subway system and the Transit Bureau’s commanders do take these changes into account. He stated that the Bureau is always interested in hearing reports of fare evasion so that it can follow up on the trouble spots. Yvonne Morrow commented that her guess is that if fare evasion losses were too great, NYC Transit would put up high wheel fare gates.
Chris Greif said that at some locations officers do a great job on fare evasion, but fare evasion is a persistent problem at other locations. He also asked that Transit Bureau officers ensure that ADA elevators are not blocked by crowds, such as they sometimes are at the 14th Street N, Q, and R station. Inspector Wilcox said that he will bring this issue to the attention of Transit District 4.
Mr. Albert stated that he is concerned with the ease of evading bag checks at subway stations. Inspector Wilcox stated that the Bureau works hard at setting up bag checks and inspects bags based on a random selection process.
Ms. Shannon asked about cameras in the stations, how long recordings are kept, and whether they are watched. Inspector Wilcox stated that many cameras save a digital record of the images that they capture. He said that in the 34th and 42nd Street stations we have digital cameras with capabilities for both recording and monitoring in real time. There are several hundred cameras in these stations, and the personnel monitoring them do not watch one camera’s images continuously but bounce around from camera to camera.
Inspector Wilcox said that the digital recording system used by these cameras allows the Bureau to keep images for a substantial amount of time and that they have made many arrests from the information stored in these recordings, but the cameras are also used in real time to monitor conditions. He said that they have used the cameras as a source of information that they could provide to task force officers in order to direct their movements. Last year was the first full year for this system. Ms. Shannon said that there has been a great improvement in the Times Square complex over the last two years. Inspector Wilcox stated that two years ago he created the Times Square initiative. This effort brings officers from many commands and districts into the complex, and that sometimes canine officers are involved as well. He said that this is a big commitment of resources.
Mr. Sinansky noted that the MTA has implemented SBS in several street corridors over the last few years and asked whether enforcement of bus lane regulations is the responsibility of Department of Transportation or the NYPD. Inspector Wilcox replied that the Transit Bureau is not responsible for enforcement, but local precincts are given the responsibility of enforcing bus lane regulations.
Mr. Flacks said that in the past former Transit Bureau Chief Diaz had stated that the Bureau had 2600 officers and asked whether the recent addition of 243 officers means that the Bureau now has approximately 2800 officers. Inspector Wilcox stated he will have to get back to the Council with the precise number of officers. He said that the new officers are all working in the subway system.
William Henderson asked what steps riders can take to avoid being a victim. Inspector Wilcox said riders should not keep electronic devices out while riding, especially when they are by the car doors, and should stay alert to their surroundings and ride with others. The Bureau has crime prevention material that it has distributed to riders in the system. He said that he has been in the Manhattan Transit Bureau almost six years and has found the subways to be a very complex system.
Mr. Albert asked if the Transit Bureau’s borough commanders meet regularly. Inspector Wilcox stated that there are meetings between the commanders and Chief Fox and other communication among the borough commanders. He said that those in the Bureau are constantly sharing electronic information. They transmit wanted posters electronically, and this is useful because many young officers are very visually oriented. He said that if we get photos out to officers in the field, we are going to get the guy pictured. Inspector Wilcox noted that the Bureau also tries to get pictures out to the news media and that he has hopes that two more subway stations will go have cameras that can be monitored in real time this year.
Inspector Wilcox gave the group his email address: [email protected]
Mr. Sinansky stated that he recently rode the 34th Street Select Bus Service (SBS) and found that the off –board ticketing had a positive impact, but that bus lane enforcement is lacking and this slows the buses. Mr. Sinansky said that a letter should be written to the NYC Transportation Commissioner to remind her of the need to enforce bus lane regulations.
Mr. Greif stated that there is a problem with the Eagle Team’s interpretation of rules governing Personal Care Attendants on the SBS.
Mr. Shotkin said that surveys had been distributed on SBS routes just a day ago.
Mr. Greif commented that he attended the 4th Avenue/9th Street station house opening that morning and that there will be stores in the reopened station. One of the problems that may increase as a result of the new facility may be a rise in fare evasion. Mr. Greif asked why NYC Transit had not used High Entry-Exit Turnstiles (HEETs) in this station.
Mr. Albert commented that there is not as much capacity with the HEETS as with conventional turnstiles, so in a high volume station they are not as good of a choice. Mr. Greif stated that the Council’s next project should be restoring bus service over the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges.
The meeting was adjourned at 1:50 p.m.
New York City Transit Riders Council
February 23, 2012
At our last meeting, our guests discussed the FASTRACK program, which involves overnight shutdowns of subway lines to perform necessary maintenance tasks and had been implemented once on the 4, 5 and 6 lines. A FASTRACK shutdown of the 1, 2 and 3 lines between 34th Street and South Ferry or Atlantic Avenue was put into effect in the overnight hours between February 13 and 17. As with the Lexington Line FASTRACK, NYC Transit was able to compile a sizable list of tasks accomplished in the shutdown, and there have been few reported problems with the program. FASTRACK overnight closures will be implemented on the B, D, and F lines from February 27 to March 2 and on the A, C, and E lines from 59th Street-Columbus Circle to Jay Street-MetroTech from March 12 to 16. Information on the upcoming closure is in your packet today.
Although the initial news about FASTRACK has been positive, we continue to press NYC Transit to undertake a systematic study of the program and its costs and benefits and to make the analysis public. Until such a study is done, the jury is still out on the value of FASTRACK. If any of the members have received feedback about FASTRACK, please share it with me and the staff.
Early this month, a proposal to end the longstanding practice of funding federal transit assistance from the Transportation Trust Fund was incorporated into the version of the federal transportation bill being considered by the House of Representatives. This proposal was rapidly condemned by a wide range of organizations and their leaders, including MTA Chairman Lhota. The PCAC sent a letter to the members of the MTA region’s Congressional delegation, urging them to oppose changes to a funding formula that has been working well for thirty years. A copy of the letter is in your packets. Currently, the House bill has been split into three pieces to be debated and voted upon separately and is stalled. The current transportation authorization runs out March 31 and action is necessary to keep funds flowing, however, so it’s possible that we haven’t seen the last of this ill-considered proposal.
At the State level, it’s critical that the Capital Program Review Board approves the revised MTA Capital Program and that the State Legislature approves an increase in the MTA’s bond limit that will allow the MTA to carry out the Capital Program. The current approved Capital Program does not provide for the final three years of projects, and unless changes are approved in the State’s budget process, the MTA’s ability to perform capital work may be affected. Although increased borrowing is not positive, it is the only viable option for funding the last three years of this Capital Program. A number of Assembly Members, led by James Brennan who spoke last fall at our PCAC meeting, are supporting prompt action on this front, and a letter that they sent to Speaker Silver is included in your packet today.
We received a letter from NYC Transit Vice President – System Safety Cheryl Kennedy responding to questions raised by members of the Council at our December meeting. Ms. Kennedy addressed Transit’s process for addressing maintenance needs in publicly and privately owned passageways in the subway system and included with the letter a copy of the bulletin outlining criteria for ranking station defects. She also stated that the issues that Edith Prentiss raised regarding the 242nd Street station are being addressed. A copy of this letter is in your packet today.
This morning, NYCDOT released a project analysis report for the 34th Street SBS project. The report is similar to an environmental review document, but since the federal government has granted the project a categorical exclusion from environmental review, it is not part of a formal environmental review. The report is a good reference for the project and is available through the City’s website at www.nyc.gov/brt.
Please make every effort to attend next week’s PCAC meeting as MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota will be our guest speaker. Please plan to arrive for the meeting by 11:45 am to get settled, as the meeting will begin promptly at noon. The PCAC will approve its agenda and the December meeting minutes, and then move directly into Mr. Lhota’s presentation, as he will have to leave us by 1:00 pm due to other commitments. We will have some time for questions from PCAC members, but we should remember that Mr. Lhota does not deal directly with operational issues, and that questions addressing the workings of the bus and subway systems are better addressed to NYC Transit officials with direct responsibility for them.