NEW YORK CITY TRANSIT RIDERS COUNCIL
MINUTES OF FEBRUARY 28, 2013
A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12 noon on February 28, 2013, in the 5th floor Board room, MTA headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City. The following members were present:
Andrew Albert Tom Jost
Stuart Goldstein Trudy L. Mason
Christopher Greif Steve Mayo
William K. Guild Edith Prentiss
Marisol Halpern Michael Sinansky
Sharon King Hoge Burton Strauss
The following members were absent:
Jessica Gonzalez Rojas Toya Williford
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
Ted Orosz -NYCT
Evan Bialostozky -NYCT
Darnell Tyson -NYCT
Deborah Hall-Moore -NYCT
Robert Lai -MTA Bus
Norman Silverman -MTA Bus
Matt Shotkin -Concerned citizen
Yvonne Morrow -Concerned citizen
Phyllis Silvestri -Concerned citizen
Brigitta Payne -Concerned citizen
Ann Guild -Concerned citizen
Ken Stewart -Concerned citizen
Michael Higgins -Concerned citizen
Dan Zweig -Concerned citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the February 28, 2013 meeting was approved. The January 24, 2013 minutes were approved with the correction that Chris Greif’s preferred destination for Q trains when they replace the R was not Queensboro Plaza but Queens Plaza or 71st Street and the addition that Adrienne Taub stated at the meeting that a letter responding to Council concerns on the 34th Street SBS was in the consultation process and was expected to be ready to send in the next two workdays.
Michael Sinansky requested that handouts from each meeting be sent to members not in attendance. Bill Henderson said that this is the standard practice and that he would make sure that it was done.
The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.
Ms. Mason commented that much that is contained in NYC Transit’s letter on the 34th Street SBS is false. She stated that bus drivers have been given cameras to record license plates of vehicles improperly stopping in the bus lanes.
Mr. Sinansky said that he was a passenger on an M34 SBS bus this morning and that he spoke to the operator and asked about bus lane enforcement. The operator replied that enforcement is hit and miss and pointed out that he has been provided with a camera onboard and can take pictures of the license plates of drivers violating bus lane regulations, which are sent to authorities for enforcement. The operator found that it was satisfying to be able to do something about bus lane enforcement.
Andrew Albert said that the Board meeting schedule has changed, but the first promised Chairman’s Forum session has not yet been scheduled. Although meetings are now approximately every six weeks, the MTA is issuing monthly performance, ridership, and financial data. Mr. Albert remarked that he is struck by how much ridership has increased, especially on weekends.
Ms. Mason noted that the ridership increase is in part connected to the increase in taxi fares. As a result of rising taxi fares, car services are also raising their rates, making transit a more attractive option.
Andrew Albert also noted that he will be on a panel on rider representation with other transit advocates in Albany on Monday.
Tom Jost commented that there are still issues on Staten Island among Victory Boulevard bus riders. He said that they are still asking for an additional local stop and noted that NYC Transit has agreed to run an additional local bus to fill an identified service gap. There is also the issue that many of the S62 local buses run late relative to their schedules, which means that they miss their scheduled connections with the Staten Island Ferry. He said that access to buses might be improved by placing limited stop bus stops of different routes at different locations, instead of clustering them at the same locations. Norm Silverman of MTA Bus said that he would not comment on the specific situation, but noted that best practices recommend consolidating limited stop bus stops of multiple routes at the same locations to give riders at each stop more opportunities to board a limited stop bus.
Mr. Jost suggested that NYC Transit look closely at the scheduling of the S62 bus to ensure that its arrival times are realistic. He said that he had also raised the issue of the location of the temporary southernmost stop on the uptown M5 bus. Mr. Jost said that this issue was addressed in a letter, but this matter should have been able to be handled by a phone call to NYC Transit. He said that this speaks to the Council’s relationship with NYC Transit, which is often adversarial and disrespectful.
Edith Prentiss commented that a common issue is that while limited stop buses of one route occupy a bus stop, buses of other routes bypass the stop, leaving riders behind. Matt Shotkin added that on the M42 route, taxicabs often park in bus stops and the buses are unable to come to the curb.
Ms. Mason commented that there is a need to respond to NYC Transit’s letter on the M34 Select Bus Service. She volunteered to work with Mr. Albert and Mr. Henderson on creating a response. Ms. Mason said that there are many problems with the SBS routes. For example, at 86th Street both the SBS and regular stops were moved to 88th Street because of Second Avenue Subway construction. The surrounding community complained because the stop was moved north instead of south.
After construction work was completed and the community continued to complain about the lack of bus stops at 86th Street, a local bus stop was returned to Second Avenue at 86th Street, but there was no corresponding restoration of the SBS stop. When NYC Transit was questioned whether all stops would be restored to Second Avenue at 86th Street, they responded that the situation would not change. Community members went to the NYC Department of Transportation with this issue and they said that they are only doing what MTA wanted with regard to these stops. The Council agreed that Ms. Mason could work with Mr. Albert and Mr. Henderson on the response.
With regard to the public hearing scheduled for March 7 on the proposed B84 route, Chris Greif agreed to attend the meeting on behalf of the Council and deliver comments in support of the plan to add the route.
Stuart Goldstein wanted to know why this bus would not loop around the Gateway Center Mall, if it is not possible for the bus to stop within the mall property. He said that rerouting would encourage ridership and proposed that the bus could go further west and loop around the mall property, providing better access to this activity generator. Mr. Goldstein said that the route could be improved by placing stops on the same side of the street as major destinations and questioned why this had not been done.
Ms. Prentiss asked Mr. Goldstein whether the NYC Transit proposal creates a safe route to the mall. Mr. Goldstein responded that riders would have to cross Erskine Street, which is a two lane road. He added that the Council may wish to suggest that the route be extended to serve the park being developed on the decommissioned landfill property across Shore Parkway.
Ms. Prentiss commented that her community is currently in the middle of a FASTRACK closure of the A line and there is no shuttle service provided. She also pointed out that there are no M4 or Broadway bus service in the area after midnight, but that NYC Transit is suggesting riders to people to take the 1 train between 168th and to 207th Streets. As a result, there are no accessible services in the overnight hours. Mr. Albert responded by stating he will raise this issue with NYC Transit and noted that Transit could have temporarily extended buses southward to serve this area. Ms. Prentiss said that the FASTRACK service diversions will end, but there are weekend service changes that will be problematic in the future.
Ms. Mason requested that all members receive copies of Metro North Railroad’s On Track employee publication that contains a history of Grand Central terminal and suggested that members be given the opportunity to take tours of Grand Central Terminal and the East Side Access project.
Dan Zweig wanted to know if the Council could ask for the extension of the M60 route down 96th Street.
Introduction of Ted Orosz, NYCT Director – Long Range Bus Planning, and Robert Lai , MTA Bus Director – Service Design, to discuss plans for improving transit access to LaGuardia Airport
Mr. Orosz said that the project team, which includes NYC Transit, MTA Bus, the City and the Port Authority, has been working for almost two years to improve transit access to LaGuardia Airport. He said that there has been an expansion of traffic at LaGuardia and that transit’s market share for travel to the area airports has increased dramatically. At the JFK Airport, AirTrain was built to link transit riders to the facility. There is no rail option for access to LaGuardia, so the decision was to improve access by using buses.
Mr. Orosz said this study was a fully federally compliant alternatives analysis process that presumed a bus solution. He noted that many bus routes to LaGuardia have existed for years, and that Q72 service has more recently been extended to the Airport. In terms of mode share for travel to the airports, LaGuardia’s transit share is lower than that for JFK or Newark Liberty Airport. At LaGuardia more people are coming to the Airport by taxi or car service.
At the end of this alternatives analysis, the locally preferred alternative was determined to be SBS-style service between connecting services and the airport. To arrive at this conclusion, the project team used a lot of robust modeling to estimate ridership. The study found that the typical LaGuardia user is shifting from a business to a leisure traveler and that most transit ridership to LaGuardia is originating in Midtown Manhattan. In terms of bus riders to the airport, these passengers come from areas that are served by existing airport routes. In particular, large areas of the Bronx are important origins for trips to LaGuardia.
In the course of the study, the project team looked at several travel demand corridors. It was determined that the key areas for study were Astoria, Harlem, the Hub area in the Bronx, Midtown Manhattan and East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Flushing in Queens. Consideration of a direct bus from Midtown Manhattan dropped out of the study because there are already private buses providing this service. Also, this is a slow trip and there is likely not much that can be done to improve it. It was felt that Flushing service could be considered in the longer term, with the potential for increased demand as the Willets Point area develops.
The result of the process was a three part plan
The M60 is to be upgraded to SBS service. Articulated buses are already used on the route, and there is the need for some stop rationalization at LaGuardia Airport, but the existing route would generally be used.
SBS service would be provided from the Bronx. This would not occur in 2013 and would wait until 2014. The route would serve Fordham Road and Webster Avenue, cross the RFK-Triborough Bridge, and from there follow the existing M60 route.
A new MTA Bus Company service would be established from stops at the Woodside/61st Street and the 74th Street/Roosevelt Avenue stations, and after serving these locations would continue express to LaGuardia Airport on the BQE and Grand Central Parkway. The new route would be known as the Q70 Limited.
Robert Lai stated that it was decided to provide service from Jackson Heights because there is existing well-used service to the Airport in this area, but that it is not optimal because it operates over residential streets. These buses mainly serve the local community, but, even so, the Q33 has the second highest airport ridership of all buses serving LaGuardia. This creates a number of issues that concern the community, including that non-airport passengers do not like the interaction with airport passengers and their luggage. The concept of the Q70 service plan is to separate the Q33 from the Airport and use the new Q70 service to provide access to the airport. This route has only two off-airport stops, then buses travel to the Airport without making further stops. The Q70 would operate 24 hours, 7 days a week and serve Terminals B, C, and D.
Mr. Albert wanted know what the headways would be for this service. Mr. Lai responded that it would be no worse than 15 minutes in the bulk of the day and that shortening the Q33 would also give this route some needed recovery time. He said that this proposal is a major service change and as such is subject to a public hearing requirement. The estimated travel time to the Airport is 35 minutes from Midtown, including a subway ride, and the 74th Street-Broadway, Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue and Woodside/61st Street stations are all ADA accessible. The travel time from Penn Station to LaGuardia via the LIRR to Woodside is also 35 minutes. Total travel time from Long Island ranges from 50 to 115 minutes, with the longer figure being from Ronkonkoma.
Mr. Goldstein wanted to know if there is much Long Island resident ridership on existing buses. Mr. Orosz responded that there are very few riders, but noted that there is presently no bus connection for LIRR riders at Woodside. Mr. Goldstein asked whether there is survey data that would shed light on potential ridership for the proposed Q70 service. Mr. Lai replied that no surveying had been done.
Mr. Orosz said that in terms of converting the M60 to better serve the Airport, if NYC Transit implemented only off-board fare collection they would have problems. For this reason, the plan for the new M60 service includes a number of elements, such as adding bus lanes and optimizing stop locations. He said that NYC Transit is seeking to make the M60 an SBS in fact as well as in name. There are 30,000 people boarding and alighting buses on 125th Street and bus travel there is very slow. The buses serving 125th Street are stopped 60 percent of the time, much more that the average bus. During the afternoon peak period their average speed is 2.7 miles per hour.
Mr. Orosz said that people think of the M60 as an airport bus, but only 11 percent of trips made on it are to LaGuardia Airport. Among the improvements that are being considered are offset bus lanes. The NYC Department of Transportation is working to resolve vehicle/pedestrian conflicts in the corridor and looking at restricting left turns. As a part of the study the project team conducted merchant surveys, where merchants replied that people in the business area often come by car and stay 5-30 minutes. The team also conducted a sidewalk survey of people in the area that had 752 respondents. Most people surveyed on 125th Street were found to be from Uptown Manhattan and the Bronx, many of them from the immediate area. One third of people interviewed were shopping. The interviews were conducted along 125th Street between Madison and St. Nicholas Avenues. Ms. Mason asked whether developers with plans in the area were interviewed, to which Mr. Orosz responded they were not.
Sharon King Hoge asked whether there was consideration given to using a neighboring street for bus service to avoid congestion on 125th Street. Mr. Orosz replied that they wanted to use 125th Street because that is where the people are.
Mr. Orosz remarked that only about 10 percent of the people in this area come by car, and this percentage is approximately the same for those who are in the area to shop. Merchants estimate that 14 percent of their customers come to the area in a private vehicle, which is higher than the sidewalk survey findings, but this is not as great of an overestimate as merchants often make.
The stops that are being considered for the new M60 service include 2nd Avenue, Lexington Avenue, Madison/Park Avenues, Lenox Avenue, St. Nicholas/8th Avenues, and Amsterdam Avenue. The project team does not want to extend the route to 96th Street because of several factors, including cost, the negative performance effects of extending an already long route, and the difficulty that would be created in trying to find layover space near a new terminal. Mr. Orosz said that models used in the project show that passengers on the West Side will primarily take the subway to Lenox/125th to transfer to the airport bus.
Ms. Hoge asked whether the Astoria Boulevard subway stop can be made more accessible for travelers and what provisions are being made for luggage storage on buses. Mr. Orosz responded that there is a project that has been planned to add elevators at Astoria Boulevard and that there will be luggage racks on the buses. The challenge will be getting riders to use them. He also noted that using 3-door buses on the route and off-board fare payment will speed loading.
Mr. Orosz said that the project team is meeting with the City, the Port Authority, and the MTA Marketing department to develop a unified framework for marketing the new system.
Mr. Sinansky remarked that it is nice to see that Queens will get SBS but noted that when the new system was being explored a link to Flushing was included. He asked why the Flushing link is initially being ruled out. Mr. Sinansky also asked whether the Q70 service will impact service to Astoria and the link between subway and buses at Astoria Boulevard. Mr. Orosz responded that some people may choose the Q70 service, but there will still be considerable demand for travel involving a transfer at Astoria Boulevard.
Ms. Prentiss stated that although 14 percent of customers may come to shop on 125th Street by private cars, she believes a greater proportion of them leave by car, because bus service in the corridor is terrible. She said that having an offset bus lane will force people have to cross a lane to board buses stopped in the bus lane. Mr. Orosz replied that the bus stops will still be at the curb. Ms. Prentiss said that because of misuse of the stops, buses presently can’t use the curb and are forced to board passengers from a traffic lane.
Ms. Mason asked what NYC Transit intends to do to correct existing problems with signage and a lack of customer ambassadors on SBS routes before the new SBS service is established. She asked whether customer ambassadors could be placed at some stops during major holiday periods and at the start of a new school year. Mr. Orosz stated that they cannot commit to provide customer ambassadors in perpetuity, but that they will station the ambassadors at stops temporarily when the service is launched. He said that they always look at the specific situation in each implementation of Select Bus Service. Mr. Orosz added that NYC Transit learns something each time an SBS project is implemented and will apply these lessons in the new routes.
Dan Zweig noted that the changes in stops that have been made to date on the M60 route have noticeably improved flow of bus service. He asked whether the project team has looked into methods for increasing bus speeds across the Triborough Bridge and when riders will have information on bus arrivals available on mobile phones.
Mr. Orosz responded that the analysis the project team conducted suggests that the major problem in reducing travel time is the time spent getting to the Triborough Bridge. He said that the BusTime system is coming to Manhattan late this summer, but that this system only tells riders where buses are on the system. He said that one valuable feature that could be added to the system is a function to tell riders how long it will take them to access the airport from their current location. This could be done using the data collected on previous trips to develop an estimate. He said that the project team did not receive a positive response from MTA Bridges and Tunnels on their initial exploration of ways to improve bus performance in westbound morning rush hour traffic.
Mr. Greif asked if there will be any special transfers implemented for Q70 limited. Mr. Lai stated that this service will be a standard limited stop route with regular on board fare collection. He said that MTA Bus anticipates implementing this service in September 2013.
Mr. Sinansky commented that while he was riding the 34th Street SBS, he observed Eagle Team members giving four people tickets for failing to present a fare receipt. He said that they did not appear to be people who were unaware of the SBS procedures, but persons who were in their 20’s who were more focused on cellphones than on paying their fares. He said that the riders on this trip who are seniors complied with the off-board fare payment system.
Mr. Albert asked if the M60 SBS have traffic signal priority. Mr. Orosz responded that it will not be installed initially, but that there are places where traffic signal priority would help. Mr. Albert asked if the proposed limitations on left turns had yet gone to NYCDOT and the local Community Boards. Mr. Orosz responded that NYCDOT led the effort to restrict left turns, and the proposal had been presented to the Community Boards and had not proved to be controversial.
The meeting was adjourned at 2:10 p.m.
Follow-Up Items for February 23, 2012
Response to NYC Transit letter on 34th Street SBS – Letter under review
Inconvenient temporary first uptown stop locations for M5 and M20 buses – Raised issue with NYC Transit. Temporary first uptown stop has been shifted to last downtown stop. NYC Transit installed new signage to advise customers of location change.
S62 schedule issues – Staff has requested NYC Transit review S62 schedules and actual running times.
Council support for B84 route – Letter of support and testimony delivered at March 7 public hearing.
MNR OnTrack issue on Grand Central Terminal requested for members — Copies distributed at March 7 PCAC meeting.
Tour of East Side Access and Grand Central Terminal requested for members – Tour has been approved and date and time are being set. Planning for GCT tour in process.