NEW YORK CITY TRANSIT RIDERS COUNCIL
MINUTES OF FEBRUARY 27, 2014
A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12 noon on February 27, 2014, in the 5th floor Board room, MTA headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City. The following members were present:
Andrew Albert Sharon King Hoge
Stuart Goldstein Trudy L. Mason
Christopher Greif Edith Prentiss
William K. Guild Michael Sinansky
Marisol Halpern Burton Strauss
The following members were absent:
In addition, the following persons were present:
William Henderson -PCAC Executive Director
Ellyn Shannon -PCAC Associate Director
Angela Bellisio -PCAC Transportation Planner
Bradley Brashears -PCAC Research Assistant
John Gaul -NYCT
Sheila Webb-Halpern -NYCT
Rebecca Harshbener -NY Post
Brigitta Payne -Concerned citizen
Ann Guild -Concerned citizen
Ken Stewart -Concerned citizen
Richard Schulman -Concerned citizen
Matt Shotkin -Concerned citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the February 27, 2014 meeting was approved. The January 23, 2014 minutes were approved. Mike Sinansky provided a clarification to Borough President Brewer’s remarks on page 6 of the January minutes. He said that the Borough President had stated that tour buses would drop off and leave the World Trade Center area, but in fact the tour buses that bring visitors to the World Trade Center drop off their passengers but do not leave the area.
Mr. Sinansky said that tour buses are parking and idling on public streets, taking up space bus stops, in front of hydrants, and in other places where layovers are not permitted. Mr. Sinansky noted that there have been discussions of building a facility or buying an existing facility to store the buses but this did not occur. A suggestion has also been made to have the buses go to a holding area in New Jersey, but this plan has not yet been adopted. In summary, the buses are not leaving the area and while they are there they are violating idling and parking regulations. Mr. Sinansky stated that he has called the NYC Department of Environmental Protection to enforce the idling regulations, but that they have taken six hours to send a representative to the scene.
Trudy Mason asked whether a letter on communications was written and whether anyone had looked into who is responsible for clearing snow from bus stops and sidewalks walks near subways. William Henderson replied that the presentation at today’s meeting would address concerns about communication during service disruptions and that the NYC Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) is responsible for clearing snow at bus stops and areas near subways and works with the NYC Department of Sanitation (NYCDOS) to have temporary workers physically clear the snow. He said that NYC Transit is responsible for clearing subway station steps and an area 3 feet from the steps, but that past that point the responsibility for snow clearing lies with the City or with private property owners. Ms. Mason asked for the Council to find out how NYC Transit coordinates with NYCDOT and NYCDOS to ensure that slippery walks near stations are addressed.
Chris Greif said that he had success working with his Community Board on an issue involving a non- MTA bus that had been stopping in and blocking a NYC Transit bus stop. He said that as a result of the complaint, the City made the non-MTA bus move from the stop.
A copy of the Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.
Andrew Albert asked whether the On the Go kiosks provide accessible routings. Mr. Greif replied that the kiosks can provide an accessible route and that the trip directions that they provide are good.
Ms. Mason asked whether including neighborhood maps in the On the Go system was considered, as neighborhood maps have been removed from 77th Street and other stations. Ellyn Shannon noted that NYCDOT is in the process of preparing neighborhood maps and that they could potentially be used in On the Go. She said that she will inquire about this.
Ms. Mason congratulated Mr. Greif for his accomplishments in his efforts to improve the B44 and B44 SBS.
Edith Prentiss said that when bus stops are blocked by snow she is unable to reach the Guide a Ride signs at bus stops to locate the code for the stop on BusTime.
Mr. Albert announced that Metro-North has a new President, Joseph Giulietti, and that Jerry Page is now the MTA General Counsel. He said that the major topic of discussion at the February MTA Board meetings was the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge toll rebate plan. Almost every Board Member spoke on this proposal. Mr. Albert noted that the toll to Staten Island is higher than other crossings, but questioned the precedent of State funds being used only for toll relief.
Several Board members have tried to allocate funding for service enhancements, but although this plan would lower tolls in the spring, service enhancements won’t even be considered until July. Former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch spoke against the rebate, citing uncertain financial needs for labor contracts and massive capital needs. Despite these issues, the plan passed but will only be implemented if the State appropriates funding for their share of the toll relief.
Mr. Greif asked Mr. Albert about the service enhancements that are likely to be considered in July. Mr. Albert said that he would listen to suggestions on improvements, but the possible service improvements include S66 weekend travel, restoration of the full M104 route, and extending the weekend J train to Fulton Street. Mr. Greif mentioned the restoring the B71 and bringing the B37 back to Court Street as possible improvements. Mr. Albert said he would look into these possible restorations. Ms. Prentiss suggested looking at restoring B51 service. Mr. Albert stated that restoration of the B51 is on many lists of potential service enhancements.
Ms. Mason noted that the M104 changes have done the most harm to people, as for many riders they eliminate the only one seat ride from the east to the west side of Manhattan. Ms. Prentiss said that the 2010 bus service reductions in Harlem hurt many people with disabilities.
Mr. Albert said that SBS is coming to the 125th Street corridor. He said that this route’s approval came after a contentious process, and that some of the criticism of the SBS for issues like not serving every stop on the existing M60 line was unfair.
Ms. Prentiss stated that one of the problems that will face 125th Street SBS riders is the City’s practice of allowing street vendors in the corridor. She said that the street vendors will make it difficult to get to the ticket machines. Mr. Albert said that he asked NYC Transit whether riders will be able to use SBS receipts to board local 125th Street buses and did not really get an answer.
Mr. Albert commented that if any Council member has not completed a survey assignment for the General Order project, he or she should speak with Bradley Brashears.
Ms. Prentiss stated that with the recent snow, there has been an increase in buses not curbing and being told by supervision that they should not curb. She also said that buses are skipping stops to get back on schedule and the individuals hired by the City are doing a poor job shoveling around stations. The paths that they are clearing are often only one foot in width, which is useless to those using wheelchairs. In addition, the pedestrian ramps at the stations are not being cleared of snow.
Mr. Greif stated that when the M train is extended to 57th Street and 6th Avenue because of work on the subway system, this delays the F train.
Ms. Mason thanked to Sharon King Hoge for her efforts on the Lexington Avenue Line’s 59th Street station. The countdown clocks now show both local and express trains, which is useful to riders in deciding which platform to use. Ms. Mason said she is asking that the same thing be done on the uptown side of the 86th Street station. She said she is unsure whether both express and local trains are shown on countdown clocks on the downtown side. Ms. Mason also requested that another letter be sent about increasing the font size for the “Keep Your Ticket” notice on SBS ticket machines. Mr. Albert responded that a letter will be sent.
Ken Stewart noted that Mr. Henderson provided him with a copy of rules governing performers on subway platforms. Mr. Albert stated that he has asked about ways of managing crowds caused by performers. Ms. Prentiss said that she has spoken with musicians who perform in the subway and they often believe that if they are a part of the Music Under New York program and have a banner from the program they can perform anywhere. She said that many of these musicians are performing on platforms and not stopping when announcements are being made.
Ms. Mason said that she attended City and State’s “State of the City” presentation. She noted that there was a great deal of discussion about access to LaGuardia Airport and that are still many issues that need to be resolved to provide better transit access to the airport.
Introduction of John Gaul, Vice President and Chief Officer of Service Delivery, Rail Operation Support, to discuss actions taken to reduce rider impact during service disruptions, in particular Lexington Line Service problems on January 15
Mr. Gaul said that he appreciated the opportunity to discuss the issues raised by the service disruption on January 15. He briefly described the situation, stating that on January 15 an extremely disruptive incident involving the signal system occurred on the Lexington Avenue Line at the height of the afternoon rush and impacted an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 passengers. He said that the impact of the incident was worsened by a debris fire at 96th Street. This incident affected both local and express service.
When the incident occurred, the Rail Control Center initially responded by moving trains safely into stations. The Control Center also began to coordinate with the NYPD and the NYC Transit Department of Buses and customer communications personnel.
Signal maintenance personnel were able to restore the function of the signal system about an hour after the failure, but in terms of service the damage had already been done. The specific element of the system that failed was a programmable logic controller in the signal system. In general, there is tremendous redundancy in these systems but there was not a backup in this incident. As a result, there was on January 15 a single point failure that brought down the signal system. Mr. Gaul said that NYC Transit is looking for a fix for this particular issue and is conducting a six-month study to identify any other places where there is potential for a single point failure.
Mr. Gaul said that the analysis of the incident included four critiques. One of these was centered on customer communications and found that there were problems in this area. He said that in the past there have been prior similar problems with the signal system, but in these cases redundancy built into the system worked and disruptions were minimal. Because of this history the initial customer messaging assured riders that NYC Transit would be able to restore service quickly and as a result misled riders about the impact of the incident.
NYC Transit’s internal response to the incident was also reviewed. This analysis found that it took about an hour for signal technicians to get to the scene and about 11 minutes for them to reset the system. Mr. Gaul said that this finding has been reviewed in great detail in the Maintenance of Way Department and at the Rail Control Center, focusing on better ways of providing transportation for emergency responders. He also noted that because of the importance of the Lexington Avenue Line to the system, NYC Transit has identified a need to establish fixed point assignments of maintenance of way personnel to the Lexington Avenue Line so that their response time to incidents on the Line will be reduced.
The analysis of the event also looked at coordination with the New York City Fire Department (FDNY). It found that the FDNY initially requested that third rail power be shut down to allow their crews to safely enter the tracks to deal with the debris fire. The Rail Control Center (RCC) complied with this request, but controllers took the time to make sure trains were moved to stations, since the debris fire was not a serious emergency. When there was a delay in shutting down third rail power, FDNY personnel took it upon themselves to shut down power using an emergency alarm box, which ultimately delayed the restoration of service. As a result, a recommendation has been made that FDNY station a representative in the Rail Control Center, similar to the NYPD’s practice.
NYC Transit also critiqued the Rail Control Center handling of the incident. This analysis found that the Superintendent in charge at the time of the incident was too involved in managing the incident, rather than concentrating on managing the process. NYC Transit has reviewed this finding with RCC management.
Ms. Mason asked Mr. Gaul whether Transit had interviewed any customers. Mr. Gaul stated that they had not in this case, but they have done so in other incidents. Ms. Mason wanted to know why customers were not interviewed. Mr. Gaul said that they would take her viewpoint under advisements.
Ms. Mason commented that there are bus routes operating parallel to the Lexington Avenue Line and there were almost riots on the streets during the incident. She said that bus operators did not know about the service suspension. Mr. Gaul responded that when the Department of Subways knew that this was more than a momentary problem, they contacted the Department of Buses. He stated that in evaluating the incident it is necessary to keep in mind that there is no way that buses can begin to replace the busiest rapid transit line in the nation. He stated that the approach in dealing with this situation would be to monitor the loading of buses through dispatching supervision to the site, as there are a very limited number of buses that could be sent to supplement the service. Ms. Mason replied that she has asked many people in bus supervision about the incident and they indicated that they found it difficult to get information during the incident.
Stuart Goldstein asked whether Department of Buses personnel are stationed at the RCC. Mr. Gaul replied that they are not, but that the Control Center has a hotline to the Department of Buses and that their personnel are very responsive to the Department of Subways. He said that the Department of Buses was notified at 5:00, shortly after the start of the incident. Mr. Goldstein asked whether a study has been conducted on how word of the service suspension got out through the Department of Buses. Mr. Gaul said that his department had not studied this, as informing field personnel is the responsibility of the Department of Buses. Ms. Mason said that a follow-up study should be done addressing the flow of information through the Department of Buses.
Mr. Albert asked Mr. Gaul what he would suggest that the Department of Buses do in this case. Mr. Gaul stated that the Bus Control Center is responsible for communicating with road control and that its supervisors are responsible for taking appropriate action.
Mr. Goldstein suggested that there is a need for a feedback loop to monitor information that is given to the Department of Buses. Mr. Gaul stated that there are links between Subways and Buses, but that he is responsible for Subways.
Ms. Mason requested that Mr. Gaul let the Council know what happened in terms of communications between Subways and Buses. She said that she saw nothing in the review indicating that the reaction of the Department of Buses to the news of the service suspension was being taken into consideration.
Mr. Goldstein asked how booth clerks would know what advice to give riders and whether the electronic signage would be affected by this kind of problem. Mr. Gaul responded that booth clerks are part of the Department of Subways and receive information through their chain of command.
Ms. Prentiss asked what happens for people who need access to elevators when the power goes out. Mr. Gaul stated that throughout this incident there was station and elevator power. Ms. Prentiss pointed out that if her train were brought to a station without an elevator, would she have to wait for service to resume before she could leave the subway system.
Marisol Halpern asked whether there is testing or auditing of the system to ensure that it is working and that the cut over to redundant systems works. Mr. Gaul replied that the system is inspected periodically, but the lack of redundancy was a function of the design of the system that led to a single point of failure.
Ms. Halpern asked whether there is a connection between NYC Transit and the NYC Office of Emergency Management (OEM). Mr. Gaul responded that they have a close relationship with OEM and have direct communication with OEM in emergency situations. He said that when incidents last hours or days, NYC Transit coordinates with OEM.
Ms. Mason stated that the station booth clerk at 77th Street downtown knew nothing about the incident and tried to call for more information but could not get through. She said that there was no indication on the street that trains were not moving and that the disruption lasted for longer than the hour that Mr. Gaul had cited. Ms. Mason also said that she asked a police officer about the situation and he did not know what was going on. Mr. Gaul responded that the disruption in service lasted longer than the hour needed to reset the signal system because of residual delays on the system.
Ms. Mason stated that she would like to follow up further reviews of the incident. She also said that the countdown clocks and automated announcements were giving contradictory information during the incident. Ms. Mason said that she wanted to know what protocols were not followed. Mr. Gaul said he will look into the inconsistency between automated announcements and countdown clocks. He noted that the PA/CIS system was working and was announcing a suspension of service and telling customers to use alternate means of transportation. He stated that communication protocol that was not followed involved the message not being changed for external listeners when it became clear that service would be suspended for some time, but that Transit did make changes to message disseminated over the PA/CIS system.
Mr. Albert said that in these situations the station booth clerks are important. He asked whether their communication system was operational during the incident. Mr. Gaul replied that it was and that they would have received an updated message.
Ms. Shannon mentioned that Mr. Gaul had referred to holding table top exercises to improve response to similar service problems. She questioned how big an exercise would have to be to cover everything involved in these situations. Mr. Gaul responded that the tabletop he referred to was focused on the relationship of the Department of Subways with Corporate Communications and that the size of the tabletop exercise would depend on the scope of the issues to be addressed.
Mr. Greif said that this past Sunday between 1:00 and 2:00 pm at 125th Street on the Lexington Avenue Line he encountered a problem. The countdown clocks at the station kept shifting the arrival times displayed, as though they were disconnected from information on train movements. Mr. Gaul said that he would look into the situation.
Ken Stewart asked if trains could be turned around when similar incidents occur. Mr. Gaul said that Transit has limited crossovers in the vicinity of the January 15 incident and that it would be difficult to turn Lexington Avenue Line trains between the Bowling Green and 149th Street stations.
Burt Strauss noted that it seemed like it would be a priority to communicate with the police about the situation. Mr. Gaul said that NYC Transit had communicated with the NYPD during the incident and that the NYPD provided crowd control at hotspots.
The meeting was adjourned at 2:10 p.m.