Meeting Minutes Feb 25, 2010


A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12 noon on February 25, 2010, in the 5th floor Board room, MTA headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City.  The following members were present:

• Andrew Albert
• Sharon King Hoge
• Shirley Genn
• Trudy L. Mason
• Stuart Goldstein
• Sharon Santa Maria
• Jessica Lila Gonzalez
• Michael Sinansky
• William K. Guild
• Burton Strauss
• Toya Williford

The following members were absent:

• Marisol Halpern
• Thomas Jost
• Edith Prentiss

In addition, the following persons were present:

• William Henderson  -PCAC Executive Director
• Ellyn Shannon  -PCAC Transportation Planner
• Karyl Berger   -PCAC Research Associate
• Ashley Emerole  -PCAC Outreach Assistant
• Larry Gould   -NYCT
• Deborah Hall-Moore -NYCT
• Heather Haddon  -AM NY
• Yvonne Morrow  -Concerned citizen
• Christopher Greif  -Concerned citizen
• Bob Olmsted   -Concerned citizen
• Ken Stewart   -Concerned citizen
• Alan Flacks   -Concerned citizen
• Matt Shotkin   -Concerned citizen

Approval of Agenda and Minutes

The agenda for the February 25, 2010 meeting was approved. The minutes of the January 28, 2010 meeting were approved as amended.

Chair’s Report

The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.
Mr. Albert suggested that if Mr. Sinansky feels the Q44 is a good choice for an SBS route, then the Council should send a letter to advocate for this alternative.

Board Report

Mr. Albert expressed outrage about the additional cuts of 500 positions in the ranks of booth agents, as it is an assault on the public’s safety.  He noted that Mike Chubak had told him that by now people would be able to buzz in using an intercom to reach a full time station agent from a secondary entrance.  Mr. Albert stated that this is currently impossible as the necessary wiring has not been installed at many stations.

Shirley Genn confirmed the inadequacy of the station agent coverage by discussing conditions at the Avenue M end of the Avenue N station on the F line.  She said that she will obtain the badge number of the station agent who told her that she could not let her into the station when the Avenue M end turnstile failed to work and told her that she would have to walk the length of the station to try another turnstile.

Trudy Mason discussed Jay Walder’s appearance on “Inside City Hall”, which she recorded on her DVR.  In her opinion, she found it appalling to hear Mr. Walder suggest that customers with issues or safety concerns at stations without station agents either use call boxes or seek out “cleaners” or Station Customer Assistants.  Ms. Mason suggested the Council go on record regarding Mr. Walder’s comments.  Mr. Albert agreed.

Sharon Santa Maria reported that when she asked a station cleaner to pick up a pile of garbage that was on a platform, he simply barked “when I get to it”.

Mike Sinansky suggested a lack of coordination within the MTA is its biggest issue.  He quoted from an AM NY (2/25/10) article where the NYC Transit spokesman said that the lack of station agents has not resulted in increased fare evasion, which conflicts with a comment made by the NYPD a paragraph earlier stating that there has been a 17 percent increase in fare evasion arrests.

Stuart Goldstein posed the question of whether unstaffed entrances could be connected to the command center located in Long Island City.  Mr. Albert mentioned that is a highly unlikely strategy, considering the fact that security camera images are not even reviewed in real time and the recordings of the images are destroyed a month later.

According to Mr. Albert, the Fulton Street Transit Center construction will result in a 7-month shutdown of weekend A and C service at the Broadway/Nassau station.  He expressed concern that free transfers between the A/C lines and other lines at the Fulton Street station could be lost, although he noted that NYC Transit has some options to preserve free transfers. Toya Williford expressed her concern about the re-routing that would be necessary for riders and how to inform them of the changes.

Ms. Mason mentioned that on “60 Minutes” last Sunday, there was a piece on the World Trade Center rebuilding project and the embarrassment that it has become.  The program spoke about the Fulton Street Transit Center in the same context, as this specific project has been substantially reduced in scope. She pointed out the irrelevance of timetables with regard to these projects, as 7 months can really mean 17 months.

Mr. Albert also mentioned the possible 3 month disruption in 1 line service, due to the Port Authority’s work on the WTC PATH terminal.

Mr. Albert announced some changes to the MTA Board committee structure.  The Capital Construction, Real Estate, and Planning Committee will be dissolved and issues it now considers will be incorporated into specific operating agency committees depending on the issue to be addressed.   The LIRR portion of the Long Island Committee and the Metro-North Committee will meet jointly as one committee with two co-chairs.  He noted that a separate Bus Committee will be established.

Ms. Mason questioned who will now be handling 2nd Avenue Subway project.  Mr. Albert said that he is unsure, but suggested that it will be the NYC Transit Committee.

Mr. Albert said it is a horrible idea to hold multiple service reduction hearings on a single night, as the Board members won’t have the chance to be at more of the hearings.  Karyl Berger noted that Marisol Halpern had not yet confirmed that she will represent that Council at the Bronx hearing next week and that another member may need to represent the NYCTRC at this hearing.

Ms. Mason brought up her desire to testify at the Manhattan meeting regarding the Second Avenue Subway.  She asked if she could say she was a member of the NYCTRC.  Mr. Albert said it is fine for her to testify, but she must simply clarify that she is not speaking on behalf of the Council.

Mr. Albert mentioned that NYCT President Prendergast is keeping the Line General Manager program in place and that NYC Transit is embarking on a new station renovation program.  He also noted that Transit’s service diversion notice pilot program begins soon.  Sharon King Hoge asked that there be greater clarification of information on the service notices, especially to inform riders if a train is running on the entire route or just a partial segment.  She said that it is sometimes necessary to consult a system map to interpret the information on the service notices.

Old Business

Ms. Mason said she was very upset that she was publicly berated by Mr. Jost via e-mail regarding the last Council meeting.  She would like to discuss the lack of communication between the SBS M15 project and 2nd Avenue subway construction, which is horrendous.  She said that the construction on the Upper East Side shows a lack of communication and coordination between NYC Transit and NYCDOT.  She noted that she has been asking that Joe Smith be present at a Council meeting to discuss the issue, but the fact remains he did not come in November or December.

She said that two weeks before the meeting in January, Bill Henderson informed her of the speakers and she was unhappy to learn that Ted Orosz, who is a planning person, would be present and Joe Smith would not.  Ms. Mason also felt she was not given the courtesy of questioning the guests who were in attendance at the meeting.  She made a motion to request that the Council compose a letter stating their disapproval that Joe Smith was not present and asserting that 2nd Avenue has become a “life and death situation.”   In addition the letter would include a request that all the people in day to day charge of the building of the 2nd Avenue Subway and SBS attend a NYCTRC meeting.  Ms. Mason’s motion did not receive a second.

Mr. Goldstein requested confirmation of the significant role DOT plays in the future of 2nd Avenue projects, including the SBS route.

Alan Flacks briefly discussed the 168th/Broadway station exit closure, which he stated is disgraceful since there are hospital workers who work late shifts and have to walk 2 avenue blocks to reach a train.

Mr. Goldstein returned to Ms. Mason’s point and mentioned that it feels as though there are still unanswered questions regarding the neighborhood where construction for the 2nd Avenue subway construction is being done and suggested a letter be sent to the MTA Chair who will forward it to the right people.  He put forth a motion to have staff send a letter requesting a response to our questions to President Prendergast that were unanswered by the SBS presentation.  The letter will be sent to Mr. Prendergast, with copies to Michael Horodniceanu, Joe Smith, and Janette Sadik-Khan.   This motion was approved.

Mr. Albert also suggested a letter from the Council be sent to Chairman Walder regarding the Council’s outrage at the future closure of station booths.

Chris Greif posed his concerns over the Sea Beach lines and Ms. Berger suggested he provide staff with a list in order to accommodate the speaker.

Introduction of Larry Gould, NYC Transit Senior Director –Operations Planning to Discuss the General Order Planning Process

Mr. Gould discussed the MTA Capital Program and the service diversion process, which he said is first a question of access needs.  Access to tracks ultimately has to do with the design of a project in terms of the number of tracks needed for work.  He noted that cost and time efficiencies can occur when projects are sharing track access, as when the A train was shut down between 168th Street and 207th Street for an extended period of time to allow for tunnel and structure work.  However shared track access is inefficient when one project is finished on schedule and the other one requires construction time beyond the original plan.

Mr. Gould explained that if support service cost, including the cost of additional buses, work trains, and flagging, gets too high, the actual construction cost can become a minority of the total project cost.  He said the goal is to try to keep support service costs below 50 percent of the overall cost of the project.

Mr. Gould explained that once project design and costs are established, a week by week layout is done to establish how work on the project will be completed.  He said they try to plan a year ahead of schedule to ensure that commuters will have alternate travel paths each time they travel.  Currently they are planning 8 months ahead of construction.  There is constant rearranging of work based on needs and priorities up to the 7 week point.  He said a diversion package is offered for comment at 7 weeks and the needs of all parties must be met in terms of scheduling, equipment, and planning.  At the 5 week point the package is sent for formal approval.  He noted that on average there are 70 diversions approved in a week.  Implementation of the project begins with the writing of a General Order, or legal wording of instructions given to operating personnel.  He said that given the changeable weather, diversion plan changes can happen because snow and cold weather make yard conditions very unsafe and can lead to frozen brakes. He said weather can negate months of planning for a diversion to the point that the diversion is delayed.

In response to Mr. Albert’s question whether there are efforts made to avoid affecting the same area repetitively,  Mr. Gould replied that scheduling work in the same area can actually make informing the public easier so they get used to the diversion.

Mr. Gould explained there is a new emphasis on productivity as often more time is spent setting up and taking down construction in the typical 5 hour construction window from midnight to 5 a.m. than doing actual work at a site.  There has recently been a shift to start work at 10 p.m. to create a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. window, but this is complicated especially if the work being done is track work.    Proposals to expand the track work closures, up to even 24 hour closures, are generally impossible to accomplish due to extremely high ridership levels.

Mr. Gould outlined some of the constraints in planning this kind of work, including:

1) The limited funding available in the capital plan and the need to maximize productivity.
2) The capacity of the service that is being run.  Usage of the system is often so great that there is no optimal time to complete a construction project, and further limits are imposed by additional safety precautions that were put in place after the two track workers were killed two years ago.  These actions have resulted in slower trains due to flagging regulations for workers.  He explained that an express track is typically signaled for high speed, with signals further apart.  This means, however, that trains must move more slowly due to construction, which in turn reduces capacity.  All of this may mean that work can’t be done at some times due to high ridership, especially on a Saturday afternoon.
3) Customer information needs to provide the same message regardless of the medium used to convey the information.  The information has to physically be in stations, but it is important to catch the rider before they leave for the station through the website, tweets, email messages and other outlets, and all of the sources must be consistent.  Transit is now trying to do less on the fly and plan as far ahead with communicating information.
4) On time performance and throughput must be maintained at an acceptable level.   He said an effort is being made to measure these factors during construction to determine of how closely service operates to the actual schedule.
5) Crew and equipment availability and the need for full coordination between available crew and project needs.  Mr. Gould noted that recently, thanks to Joe Smith, the limit on the number of available substitute buses has been removed so at times there are 700-800 additional buses supplementing the subway system.  For example, the F in Brooklyn needs 60 to 70 buses per hour simply to replace subway service during work on the Culver Viaduct.
6) A renewed emphasis on non-capital maintenance. Mr. Gould explained that beyond the capital clients, maintenance crews are an important piece of the puzzle as they now descend on tracks at the same time to perform multiple tasks.  Although this results in full track closures, the level of efficiency is greater.
7) The importance of ensuring that diversions do not occur during major public events, especially parades.
8)  A new focus on an array of external clients such as PANYNJ, who will need to shutdown lines through the WTC site to shift the load of an elevated box from its current supports to the structure that will support it in the future.  He said an effort is made to avoid treating the Port Authority as a special client because that would prevent NYCT from completing other necessary work.
9) The need to write more detailed schedules because of the requirements of ATS.
In response to Mr. Albert’s question why 1 line closures are not identified as being due to work being done by PANYNJ, Mr. Gould said perhaps they will be in the future.

Mr. Gould explained that scheduling needs to be done with absolute precision to ensure proper signal operation. He said operating managers and line general managers need to be aware of customers.  For example, at the West 4th Street station, there are severe communication limitations, and it is impossible to have four diversions happening at once because not only would it be confusing for customers, but the technology cannot accommodate all of the changes simultaneously.

In response to Burt Strauss’ question as to who actually does the construction work that necessitates the diversion and how reliable these people are, Mr. Gould informed the Council that a lot of the work is done in house, but that contractors take part in most jobs.  In some cases projects extend beyond their scheduled date, leading to further delays, so the standard contingency plan is to add 1 to 2 work periods to the schedule and to restore service early if the project is completed ahead of schedule.  In the winter, a more generous schedule is provided.

In response to Mr. Albert’s question about the costs associated when the project runs late-such as when a project that should be finished by 5 a.m. runs to 6 a.m., Mr. Gould replied that crews are instructed to finish by 4:20 a.m. ensuring significant leeway.  He mentioned that night work hours (12-5 a.m.) is an extremely inefficient use of capital money due to the limited work that actually gets done.

In response to Sharon King Hoge’s question whether bus service is coordinated with the subway diversions, Mr. Gould suggested that while it usually is, the plan is that if a line is closed there will be a bus route running at a frequency sufficient to absorb the typical number of subway customers.

In response to Mr. Sinansky’s question about the relative level of efficiency of weekend service work, Mr. Gould said that weekends provide 52 possible work hours, while a week of weekdays only has 25 allowable work hours, often only late at night.

Ms. Mason requested additional signage at high volume stations, mentioning her experience at Lexington Av./59th St. where the yellow tape was broken and it was not clear that customers should not use the 4/5 line.  Mr. Gould informed the Council that additional efforts are being made to increase the frequency of refreshing tape and they are seeking better technology as barriers to the platform edge.  Ken Stewart mentioned they should use ADA compliant barriers such as a 4 inch black and white stripped tape.  Mr. Gould appreciated the suggestion and will see if a company manufactures such a product.
In response to Ms. Hoge, who asked who is in charge of putting up the tape, Mr. Gould said it is the Line General Manager staff and it should be refreshed frequently by Operations Planning traffic checking staff.

Mr. Greif mentioned there is a need for clearer signage at the Stillwell Avenue station and wondered about the future Atlantic Avenue closures and changes.  Mr. Gould reported that beginning that weekend, there will be better signage at Stillwell Avenue. and that while Atlantic Avenue will never experience 24/7 line closures, there will be outages once construction begins on the Atlantic Yards project.

In response to Alan Flacks’ question as to Mr. Gould’s responsibilities, Mr. Gould said he is a planner and he works with planners and not engineers.  Mr. Gould said that it is impossible to run a 2 minute headway when track work is being done, because it really has to be 4 minute timing due to express track signal spacing and capacity issues.  He said that there is service change signage put up in priority order when inclement weather occurs.


The meeting was adjourned at 2:15 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Karyl Berger
Research Associate