A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12 noon on February 26, 2009, in the 5th floor Board room, MTA headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City. The following members were present:
Trudy L. Mason
William K. Guild
Sharon Santa Maria
In addition, the following persons were present:
William Henderson – PCAC Executive Director
Ellyn Shannon – PCAC Transportation Planner
Karyl Berger – PCAC Research Associate
Manzell Blakeley – PCAC Consultant
Jerry Gold – Carter & Burgess
Marsha Desormeaux – MTA-IG
Matt Shotkin – Concerned citizen
Jesse Moskowitz – Concerned citizen
Larry Furlong – Concerned citizen
Ken Stewart – Concerned citizen
Michal Pinto – Concerned citizen
Yvonne Morrow – Concerned citizen
Bob Olmsted – Concerned citizen
Carlos Vallejo – Concerned citizen
Alan Flacks – Concerned citizen
George Haikalis – Concerned citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the February 26, 2009 meeting was approved. The minutes of the January 22, 2009 meeting were approved.
It has been a busy few weeks since we last met. The public hearings concluded earlier this month. I will talk more about this under the Board Report. Thanks to Trudy, Mike, Edith, Marisol and Toya who testified at various hearings on behalf of the Council.
Bill Henderson went to Albany on Tuesday, January 27 and February 24 with a contingent from ESTA, the Empire State Transportation Alliance. Bill reports that the Assembly and Senate members with whom he met understand the urgency of increasing funding for the MTA but there is still a great deal of hesitancy to place tolls on bridges where motorists do not currently pay. Many members are looking for alternatives to the bridge tolls, although each of the alternatives also have their problems. I went to Albany on those same days with a host of MTA Board members and staff. I will discuss this under the Board Report.
Also to support increased funding for the MTA, we sent letters to all the Assembly and Senate members within the five boroughs detailing the how the NYC Transit service cuts would directly affect their districts.
On Thursday, January 29, Karyl Berger attended a hearing of the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions. The focus of the hearing was “to obtain information on the status of the plans and timetable for the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site and surrounding structures”. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver chaired the meeting. He was joined by Assembly members Brodsky, Brennan, Millman, Glick, and Cavanaugh. Chris Ward, Executive Director of the Port Authority, Elliot Sander, Executive Director of the MTA, and developer Larry Silverstein provided testimony. Mr. Sander focused his remarks on the status of the Fulton Street Transit Center and the South Ferry station projects.
As the hearing testimony was by invitation only, we provided a written statement for the record. Our remarks highlighted the need for the State legislature to step up and provide the necessary funding so the MTA does not have to impose the proposed fare increases and service cuts as they will severely impact riders in Lower Manhattan. A copy of the statement was sent to you under separate cover.
On January 29, Bill Henderson attended City Council hearing on NYC Transit Automatic Vehicle Locator (AVL) project. At the hearing Robert Walsh and Sassan Davoodi of the NYC Transit Department of Buses said the system that NYC Transit had been pilot testing did not perform acceptably and that Transit would not move forward with existing contracts for development of the AVL system. NYC Council Committee on Transportation Chairman John Liu expressed frustrations that after almost two decades of discussion and planning the project was essentially back on the drawing board. Mr. Walsh said that the problems with the system had to do with the software required to model the speed and direction of buses and that Transit was assessing its options. After some prodding by Council members, Mr. Walsh agreed to examine the City’s recently developed AVL system to see if it could provide the functionality that Transit is seeking.
Ellyn Shannon and Bill Henderson attended a preview of the MTA’s redesigned website. Ellyn also observed one of several focus groups that were held by the MTA to get feedback on the proposed new design. We’re happy to report that the redesign is a vast improvement over the current MTA website. You may remember that in March of 2007, PCAC staff wrote a 6 page letter to the MTA identifying major problems with its website. The letter identified several design problems such as its visual chaos, navigational difficulty and its frequent lack of consistency. Content issues were also addressed including incorrect, outdated and inadequate information as well as poor tone, which most frequently is a problem on Transit’s website. At that time we asked the MTA to do a comprehensive redesign. This new design has been well received by the PCAC staff and focus groups. It is cleaner, easier to navigate, and offers a very helpful “Current Service Status” section. The MTA is currently tweaking the final design to incorporate some of the recommendations made over the last few weeks. It should be noted that the MTA accomplished the redesign using its own in-house design team, which consists of a mere 2-3 individuals who have worked incredibly hard over the last two years to please the many stakeholders. The new site is expected to be launched within the next two months.
We followed up with Deborah Hall-Moore on NYCT’s response to a letter from Gloria Bletter, who was told by a station agent that a NY State driver’s license and a Medicare supplement insurance card did not constitute valid proof of reduced fare eligibility. Deborah responded to Bill that the fare tariff provides that only an NYC Department of the Aging senior citizen ID card, a Medicare card issued by the Social Security Administration, an Access-A-Ride ID card, or an MTA Reduced-Fare ID card is accepted as valid proof of eligibility. Thus, the agent was acting in accordance with the policy as established by the MTA Board. We sent Ms. Bletter a letter informing her of this response.
Deborah Hall-Moore also followed up on two rider complaints that we sent her – one about TVMs that indicated a failed transaction to the customer, but still charged the customer’s account; and an incident of a bus driver who failed to help a rider who fell when getting off the bus and was knocked unconscious. Both of these complaints came in on our webmail. Also, Jan and Ellyn toured the Chambers St/Nassau station to inspect the renovation work that was completed in 2008. The station seemed in such disrepair that we contacted Seymour Portes to find out what had been done for $30 million. He indicated it was mostly structural and stabilization work. The station has severe water leakage problems. Deborah Hall-Moore got us the condition report on the station done by HDR/Daniel Frankfurt. Jan and Ellyn also toured the Fulton Street Transit Center and found the underground work progressing fairly well. Directional signage was good. The above ground site was active with workmen preparing the foundation for a building. Of course, no one knows what that building will look like or cost.
As a follow-up from Mr. Goodrich’s presentation on the Second Avenue subway project, Mr. Goodrich responded by stating “[w]ith an estimated construction cost of $13.0 billion in 2003 dollars, the Second Avenue Subway would generate significant economic benefits. As a result of direct expenditures, the direct employment from construction activities would be an estimated 22,500 Person-years of employment. (A person-year is the equivalent of one employee working full-time for 1 year.) In addition to employment directly attributable to construction of the proposed project, construction expenditures would generate indirect employment, including Jobs in business establishments providing goods and services to the contractors, as well as in businesses that would provide goods and services to construction workers.”
As you know, over the last few months PCAC staff has been working to identify and understand the many problems that exist at the Times Square station. Ellyn has found that in addition to noise and crowding problems at the station, there is also a tremendous communication problem among, New York City Transit employees the Transit Bureau, and the MTA. To begin addressing the problems, I sent a letter detailing our findings which you will find in your packets. I requested a meeting to be held with the many stakeholders to begin improving the situation at the station.
Please mark your calendars for the March 5 PCAC meeting. Barry Kluger, the MTA Inspector General, will be the guest speaker. Please make every effort to attend this meeting.
Jerry Gold noted that the $13 billion price tag that Mr. Goodrich quoted for the Second Avenue Subway is much higher. He said it is closer to $16 billion and probably won’t be complete until 2020.
Ellyn Shannon briefly described the incident that she was involved in at Times Square station. She noted that the letter to President Roberts was included in the members’ meeting packets
Mr. Albert reported that the MTA Board members are very upset about the budget process and possible outcomes if Albany does not come through with the necessary funding. He noted that the Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, and Rockland County Board members are very much opposed to the proposed payroll tax. The City representatives support the payroll tax but are opposed to the proposed bridge tolls.
Mr. Albert said he was extremely unhappy with the cuts that are being proposed for weekend subway service. He asked President Roberts why these cuts would save money when the cuts are already in place because of General Order work.
Shirley Genn said that earlier that morning when she was at the Avenue N (F line) station, there was a truck sitting under the tracks but there were no workers near the truck. She tried to get into the station but her card did not work and the card displayed ”just used”. She was able to get in because the gate was not locked. She said when she got up to the platform, she found that there was no service and there were eight transit workers just standing around waiting to find out what they were supposed to do. Mr. Albert said he would look into what they were supposed to be doing.
Ms. Prentiss reported that she has heard that the Access-A-Ride fare is still going to go up to twice that of the base transit fare. She also said that at the 175th Street station on the A line, the elevator car floor is not level with the mezzanine when the doors open. She also reported that her MetroCard has been eaten a number of times in the past few weeks by the autogate at 175th Street.
Trudy Mason reported that her MetroCard has been eaten by fare boxes on some buses. It stopped working because it had a big scratch on the magnetic strip. She was surprised that she was not allowed to go to 2 Broadway to pick up her replacement card. She also commented that she was surprised that the Times Square Shuttle does not run after midnight.
Marisol Halpern asked if NYC Transit prioritizes its project according to funding availability. She also asked what the status of the service cuts and fare increases are. Mr. Albert said there would be no service cuts and a smaller percentage fare increase if the Ravitch plan is approved by the State Legislature.
Burt Strauss asked if there had been any consideration of the impact of the payroll tax on nonprofit organizations.
Introduction of Jerome Gold, Program Manager, Carter & Burgess, MTA Independent Engineer to Discuss the MTA Capital Program
Jerry Gold, who works for Carter Burgess, has been the MTA’s Independent Engineering Consultant (IEC) for the last seven years. This position was established in the original Capital Program legislation; the IEC reports directly to the Board with no staff input. He has met regularly with the Chairs of the Capital Program Oversight Committee over the last seven years and would give them private briefings. His duties also included writing reports for CPOC and looking at all capital projects being undertaken by the operating agencies as well as monitoring the mega projects.
Mr. Gold highlighted several of the mega projects:
South Ferry – Mr. Gold reported that had been great urgency to open the station before Christmas, but said this would have been a disaster as it was not completely finished at that time. He said the walls were still being tiled, and the canopies had not been put in place. Mr. Albert asked who was at fault for this delay. Mr. Gold said this station was a Design/Build project for its structural elements but that Transit did the design of finishes and the equipment needed to fit out the station.
He explained that there are significant leaks in the station, resulting from poor construction quality, poor specifications, and poor supervision. He said the contractor requested even more money for increased supervision. Contractor also asked for more money for grouting work and the newly installed switch machines were left
sitting in water and will need to be re-conditioned. He said the station may open April 1, even though it would be substantially complete by May. The beneficial use of the signal system has been declared, but this should not have been done because it is now necessary to have a signal operator in the tower but the operator will not be doing anything in terms of train operations until the new station opens, which will cost more money. In response to Tom Jost’s question as to what was the rush to complete the job, Mr. Gold responded that he did not know why the MTA felt that they had to open the new station so quickly.
Mr. Gold said the work on the station began in February, 2005.
In response to Karyl Berger’s question as to what guarantee there is that the grouting will work, Mr. Gold said that this is a concern of NYCT and that they want an engineered solution. He indicated that many stations in other transit systems are water tight because of the use of better technology. He said a bigger problem is that the signal personnel can’t currently communicate with each other because the SONET system wasn’t installed as originally planned and the T-1 communications line that was to replace it hasn’t yet been installed. Mr. Gold said that the construction manager for NYCT was at fault for these shortcomings, but that there is no accountability. The manager just goes on to the next job.
Carter Burgess did oversight work on this project and generally visits the construction site one day per week. He noted that the MTA Capital Construction Company (CCC) has an inspector on site at all times and CCC is responsible for management of the site.
Mike Sinansky asked Mr. Gold whether he is responsible for determining the cause of construction problems, such as delays in completing projects and cost overruns, and fixing responsibility for these delays and overruns. Mr. Gold said his firm does not get involved in these issues and has at times been told to remove any references to responsibility for claims from its reports.
Mr. Gold declared that Siemens had done a very poor job on the PA/CIS and SONET projects as well as on Automatic Vehicle Locator (AVL) project. He reported Siemens sold its AVL unit to Continental AG, which labored mightily to cure the problems, but could not and ended up being defaulted by NYC Transit. Siemens has never been defaulted, and Siemens has never submitted schedules as required by their contract. Mr. Gold said that he believes that NYCT has fair competence technically, but poor competence in the area of contract management. The MTA performed a risk based assessment exercise with a 90 percent confidence level on the SONET system project and as a result NYCT has set May as the completion date. Carter and Burgess initially agreed, but it looks now that completion will be in September because Siemens is not performing as agreed. NYC Transit seems to be incapable of making Siemens perform according to the contract. President Roberts has told his people that they must make Siemens perform as specified in the contract.
Tom Jost asked why NYCT can’t make Siemens perform and wondered if it because they have too much work or too little pay. Mr. Gold responded that private sector engineers make $100,000 per year for approximately 2000 hours of work. Transit engineers make $75,000 per year for 1600 hours, but the benefits are substantially better at Transit than in the private sector. The difference between public and private jobs is that the public sector is very risk averse and there is much less concern about efficiency.
Fulton Street Transit Center – Mr. Gold said that currently there is no work being done above ground, and that the only element that is completed is the foundation for the Transit Center. Mr. Gold indicated that the Corbin building needs to be underpinned. This work was removed from the project but now it is being put back in the project as an amendment to a construction contract. He said they are now evaluating alternative designs but that these designs violate prohibitions against using federal dollars for the buildout of commercial space and are also not in conformance with the project’s Environmental Impact Statement. He said that people want to use federal stimulus money for the project but the timing of this work may not allow stimulus funds to be used. He said Carter Burgess has done a study of what the costs would be for the completion of the Transit Center.
Mr. Gold said the R, W, and E connector is still included in the specifications for Fulton Street Transit Center work, but its completion awaits action by the Port Authority.
7 Line West – Mr. Gold said this project is moving along nicely, but this assessment does not address how to fund the project. Mr. Albert expressed disgust that the intermediate station at 10th Avenue is no longer a part of the project. Mr. Gold said that there were grand ambitions but not the engineering, construction, or financial capacity to realize them in the construction of this project.
Second Avenue Subway – Mr. Gold said there are delays in moving on to the next set of contracts. The project has been reevaluated by MTA Capital Construction Company, along with the East Side Access and 7 Line West projects. This reevaluation amounts to revisiting the 30 day review that was undertaken last year. The problem is that the work done during the 90 day period of this reevaluation was not monitored. When the 30 day review was done, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) stated in the Full Funding Grant Agreement presented to MTA that the 2013 completion date for the project is not realistic. The FTA wanted six months added to the project schedule. MTA Capital Construction agreed to add the 6 months to the project schedule and to call it “float” time, available for unforeseen delays. In the first year, the “float” time was gone.
Carter Burgess set an estimated completion date of June 30, 2015 for the project. This date is a compromise. Mr. Gold said that he believes that a completion date of 2016 is more realistic, but that completion by this date will come only at increased cost. Mr. Albert said that there is a danger that East Side Access will open before the Second Avenue Subway and overtax the current subway system. Mr. Gold said that the two projects are running neck and neck toward completion.
In response to Marisol Halpern’s question whether the MTA has learned anything from its experience with construction, Mr. Gold said they talk a lot about lessons learned. He said former President Mysore Nagaraja got ISO 9000 certification for the MTA Capital Construction Company. He said the project manager does not generally keep any meeting minutes as required by ISO. In response to Ms. Halpern’s question as to whether the projects are audited, Mr. Gold said they are but questioned the independence of the auditors. Mr. Gold stated that despite its poor performance, Siemens has never received an “unsatisfactory” rating.
Ms. Mason said that if the MTA is paying for oversight, she does not understand what Carter Burgess is doing for the money that it is paid. Mr. Gold said he reports to the Board but said that Carter Burgess can’t directly make the operating agencies do anything. He has no implementation function, just the bully pulpit and the ears of the committee chairs. He explained that the committee chairs can always go to the MTA agency presidents if they are concerned about an issue.
In response to Karyl Berger’s question as to how to preserve the institutional memory that Carter Burgess has developed after it departs, Mr. Gold explained that the new firm that will act as the IEC, McKissick-Delcan, has already began to shadow Carter Burgess in the course of its work in order to build continuity. He said that he has emphasized to the McKissick-Delcan personnel that they work for the MTA Board.
In response to Ellyn Shannon’s question whether Mr. Gold would make any legislative recommendations, Mr. Gold said he did not know but said that a year ago, Senators Skelos and Flanagan had asked him to testify about the MTA Capital Construction Company and the issue of cost overruns. The Board directed him to tell the Senators the truth, but the meetings were ultimately cancelled.
Mr. Gold said that when he came on board in 2002, he did a full cost estimate for East Side Access. At that time it was a $6 billion job. The opening of this project has since been pushed back to 2016. He said that a major question is whether the project will attract the 24,000 passengers per hour during the rush period that the LIRR projected in the EIS prepared for the project. He said the live/work paradigm in society is changing and that this may affect the demand for this project. He also pointed to the Hudson Yards development, which has projected a population of 600,000 but currently has no sewage treatment capacity available to handle this number of people.
In response to Marisol Halpern’s question as to whether Mr. Gold’s recommendations are part of the official record, Mr. Gold said they are contained in the Capital Program Oversight Committee agenda books.
In response to Ken Stewart’s question as to whether Mr. Gold has made any observations about the design process and made the comment that many changes that can accommodate the disability community end up being cost neutral, Mr. Gold said problems related to accessibility should be caught early but indicated that Arts for Transit is looking at colors to ensure that they do not present problems for persons with low vision. He said that NYC Transit should be able to pick up problems with lighting and that the problem here could be a sloppy design review process.
Mr. Gold said that for NYC Transit meeting milestones equals performance, but sometimes this results in rushing though the milestones to achieve better performance ratings. He said that this indicates the need for better performance measurement metrics.
In response to George Haikalis’ question whether the mega projects should be shut down, Mr. Gold said the question that should be asked is whether all of the projects should be completed at the same time and indicated that he feels that the federal funding system may play a role in those decisions. He said if the feds say that there is not sufficient capacity to complete all projects simultaneously, then some projects may be shut down.
In response to Jesse Moskowitz’s question as to why the contractors are permitted to leave a job before the site is leak-free, Mr. Gold said that often the leaks come from other causes than the contractors’ poor performance, such as broken pipes above the subway, and the contractor can not be held responsible for leaks due to these causes.
Ms. Prentiss noted that she would still like to see more posters instructing riders to fold baby carriages before entering subway cars. She said that she was unable to enter a car at 1 p.m. recently due to unfolded strollers.
Alan Flacks said that one entrance to the 59th Street BMT station is closed at night and that it provides only an through an exit only high wheel turnstile. Mr. Albert said that he would look into the matter.
Ms. Prentiss said that at the East Broadway station, there is an entrance with green light globes that is not open 24 hours per day.
The meeting was adjourned at 2:15 p.m.