A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12:00 noon on January 26, 2012 in the 5th floor Board Room, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City. The following members were present:
• Andrew Albert
• Trudy L. Mason
• Stuart Goldstein
• Steve Mayo
• William Guild
• Edith Prentiss
• Marisol Halpern
• Michael Sinansky
• Christopher Greif
• Burton M. Strauss, Jr
• Sharon King Hoge
• Toya Williford
The following members were absent:
• Shirley Genn
• Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas
• Thomas Jost
In addition, the following persons were present:
William Henderson -PCAC Executive Director
Jan Wells -PCAC Associate Director
Ellyn Shannon -PCAC Transportation Planner
Karyl Berger -PCAC Research Associate
Angela Bellisio -PCAC Consultant
Shanni Liang -PCAC Consultant
Deborah Hall-Moore -NYCT
Joe Leader -NYCT
Liza DeLuca -NYCT
Jackie Kuhls -NYCT
Allen Flacks -Concerned citizen
Ann Guild -Concerned citizen
Ken Stewart -Concerned citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the January 26, 2012 meeting was approved. The minutes of the December 22, 2011 meeting were approved as amended.
Stuart Goldstein said that he had asked two questions of December guest Cheryl Kennedy. The first was whether there were staff cuts in her office under Jay Walder, to which he did not receive a response. The second question he asked was for her to define the scope of her office, not to give a description of what the office has done. The December minutes will be amended to clarify these questions.
The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.
Ms. Mason asked about the source of the $250 million in state funding that is to be allocated to the MTA to compensate for recent Payroll Mobility Tax changes. She stated that there are many items in the budget that will likely not happen, because specific funding sources have not been identified for them. Mr. Albert said that he will inquire about this.
In reference to the reduction in allowable pre-tax transit commuting benefits, Mr. Albert stated that many systems have commuting costs above $125 per month.
Chris Greif stated that there is a need to check the website to see what is being said about the Q line diversions, as he does not believe that the information on the website accurately reflects the service being provided.
Ms. Prentiss said that the problems being experienced with the closure of the 7 line Court Square station suggest that all work on the new complex should have been completed before the an opening was held for the new station. She said that the shutdown to install ADA elevators is causing riders to blame the people who need the elevators for the shutdown.
Mr. Goldstein wanted to know how long the observation period was to gather data for the seasonal bus service adjustments and when it occurred. Mr. Albert replied that he will cover that topic in the Board Report.
Mr. Albert said that he has asked about the seasonal bus adjustments and believes that adjustments are being made for budgetary reasons. He also stated that he spoke with the head of Operations Planning and asked when the ridership reviews were conducted to determine whether adjustments should be made and how long the routes were monitored. Mr. Albert said that he wanted to know if the ridership counts were taken before or after the June 2010 service reductions, but did not receive a straight answer. Mr. Albert said that MTA Board member Charles Moerdler was very critical of the bus cuts, as was Board member Ferrer. At the MTA January Board meeting Mr. Moerdler asked if the Community Boards were consulted on the latest bus cuts, and he was told that notice had been sent to the Community Boards. Mr. Albert said that he will find out when the notices arrived at his Community Board, but he has concerns that it was only the day before the NYC Transit Committee meeting. Although the bus changes are currently on hold as a result of the questions raised by Board members, MTA Chairman Lhota has said that they will likely be implemented.
Ms. Mason stated that some of the increase in subway ridership is a result of bus service being so poor; therefore people are taking the subway more often. Mr. Albert noted that cutting bus service creates a self-fulfilling prophesy of reduced demand.
Mr. Albert said NYC Transit has started to put service back in the Country Club area of the Bronx through re-routing. The MTA Board’s City members have questioned this system of restoring service and instead want a comprehensive strategy for service restoration.
Ms. Prentiss stated that when the elevators are out at 205th Street, there are announcements suggesting customers take the Bx 12 bus to Fordham. Ms. Prentiss felt this recommendation was ridiculous.
Mr. Albert announced that the next FASTRACK project will take place on the 1, 2, and 3 subway lines. Customers on the 3 line on Lenox Avenue will have to use a shuttle bus. He also mentioned that the plan had changed from what had been presented to the MTA Board, since diversions didn’t start in Brooklyn according to the plan presented to the Board.
Mr. Greif said that he was disappointed in the bus service changes proposed for Brooklyn and did not believe that they looked at rush hour ridership in determining bus service reductions. Mr. Albert suggested that Mr. Greif fax a list of the bus service problems he observes to his Assembly Member and State Senator so that they will understand the problems that riders face. Mr. Albert also remarked that consideration should have been given to restoring services before increasing frequency on some lines. He said that he thinks that getting letters out to elected officials may help to change NYC Transit’s policies.
Ms. Mason asked to be updated on the MTA’s negotiations with Transport Workers Union Local 100. Mr. Albert said that the talks are amicable and that Mr. Lhota and Mr. Samuelson talk daily. A settlement is likely to take months. Ms. Mason asked how the talks could be considered amicable when Mr. Samuelson walked out of meeting. William Henderson said that it is very difficult to know the connection between what is presented publicly and what is going on behind closed doors, which is the reason PCAC does not get involved in labor negotiations.
Mr. Albert said that during the MTA Capital Program Oversight Committee meeting there was talk of a “lite” version of Automatic Train Supervision (ATS) for the subways’ B Division. NYC Transit is looking at ways for the B Division to get information of the type that is available for the A Division through ATS. Transit hopes to have a system in place by the end of the year that will indicate how far away an approaching train is and the letter designation of the train.
Ms. Prentiss remarked that north of 168th Street there is only one train line on one track, and yet there are still no announcements.
Mr. Albert stated that, among the items covered in the January Board cycle, there was a procurement to restore historic tiles on the 1 Line.
Ms. Mason commented that the countdown clocks on the 4, 5 and 6 lines were wrong over the past week. Ms. Mason said that on the last Tuesday at 12:15 pm at the 77th St station she just missed a train and while waiting for the next one the countdown clock first read 14 minutes – then 8, then 12 minutes. The clocks sign kept going back and forth, the train finally arrived 10 minutes after she got to the station. When the train got to Grand Central station at 12:31 pm there was an announcement that that train was being held by supervision and the countdown clocks indicated that the next express train would arrive in 8 minutes. As the 6 train was closing its doors four minutes later, there was then an announcement made that the 4 train was coming into the station. At this time the countdown clocks still indicated that the next 4 train would arrive in 8 minutes.
Mr. Albert said that if Ms. Mason would give staff a summary of the circumstances that they will investigate the situation.
Alan Flacks made an objection to being listed as anything other than a representative of the New York County Democratic Committee. He also commented that it took NYC Transit three months to replace a malfunctioning MetroCard.
Introduction of Joe Leader, Vice President and Chief Maintenance Officer, NYC Transit Department of Subways, Jackie Kuhls, Unit Chief, Resource Review, NYC Transit Office of Management and Budget and Liz Deluca , Manager, NYC Transit Department of Subways, to discuss the FASTRACK Pilot Program of Overnight Subway Line Closures
A handout that summarizes the presentation given and was provided to the members at the meeting is on file in the PCAC office.
In response to questions raised in the discussion, Mr. Leader and Ms. Deluca provided the following information:
• Flagging adds two minutes running time to each work zone
• Transit must add the full length of a train in slow speed restrictions for each piece of work within three feet of the platform edge.
• Twenty years ago setting up flags began at 10:00 pm, but now it begins 11:00 pm or midnight, leaving less time for maintenance.
• The 7th Avenue line has twenty minute headways overnight, but there are also work trains and vacuum trains that must be considered. The system’s maintainers must sometimes work with only five minute headways available to do inspections.
• Diagnosing a problem is very difficult to start and stop, especially when a thoughtful inspection process is required.
• Work related delays are 45 percent of all delays in the subway system.
• The program was originally called “Limited Time Segment Closures”; thankfully Corporate Communication came up with the “FASTRACK” name.
• After deciding to implement FASTRACK, the question became where the program would be used. The Manhattan central business district made sense because of the density of service. The 10:00 pm to 5:00 am window was designed to give workers the longest timeframe possible.
• Additional planning work was also required to insure that parallel lines didn’t have General Orders scheduled that would affect service on these lines.
• The payoff of the FASTRACK program in terms of time is fewer delays in regular service because of maintenance work and track fires.
• On an average night, there were 65 tasks piggy backed in the Lexington line FASTRACK general order with a maximum of 900 workers on the track. They were able to do a much more thorough job of track cleaning, including removing 20,000 pounds of debris. At the next FASTRACK there would be a light cleaning and power washes.
• There is an expectation that the number of failures will be reduced by having this work done.
• The work in FASTRACK is coordinated with the Component Maintenance Program
• The program was able to get maintenance workers through stations much quicker, completing 1 ½ station tracks per night versus. 3 to 4 nights per track
• The project team is not yet able to estimate the number of weekend diversions avoided as a result of FASTRACK.
• The project team would like to have some history with FASTRACK before calculating the program’s impact on reliability.
• They will also look into estimating any lost revenue as a result of the program.
• NYC Transit will work to improve maintenance scheduling for each FASTRACK general order.
• Transit had a large number of people in the field assisting customers in the first FASTRACK trial and may cut back on staffing on the Lexington line in any subsequent closures due to a lack of need for this assistance.
• On 7th Avenue, Transit will continue to have a lot of assistance on the line during FASTRACK closures.
• Additional service was added yet there was not more demand on the Grand Central-Times Square Shuttle. They will try more advertising of the additional service next time, but may cut the additional service if it is not used.
• The project team will look at increasing bus service in other shutdowns.
• The project team will examine the ADA issues related to the shutdowns and have customer assistance personnel informed on the issues.
• Most weekday GO’s are for maintenance and inspection, while weekend work is mainly capital. There is a lot of capital work to do on weekends and maintenance can’t be readily shifted to the weekends. It is hard to relate what is accomplished in FASTRACK to work done on weekends, because of the expanded time needed for weekend capital work.
• Work on some stations was not completed in the first FASTRACK shutdown.
• For 2013, Transit is looking at potential FASTRACK projects in Bronx stations and looking at whether 2, 3, or 4 outages would be needed.
• Mainly workers involved in maintenance of way were used for the FASTRACK effort and these individuals were scheduled to work during the FASTRACK hours and paid mostly straight time.
• When stations are closed, some station agents are reassigned to the platforms to assist in helping passengers, but some agents are left in their booths, because the cost to remove cash from the booths for the overnight period would have been prohibitive.
• Whether the FASTRACK program has improved maintenance, reducing the need for some capital investments, will be evaluated.
• NYC Transit has a backlog of maintenance projects due to years of deferred maintenance, higher ridership, and changes in procedures. A plan was developed to address the ability to get necessary work done. It is clear that Transit needs to find some ways to change its procedures to get work done.
• Transit contacted the Times Square BID to inform them of the FASTRACK project in the district.
• Transit looks at ADA stations that are impacted to insure that elevator access is maintained through any FASTRACK work.
Ms. Hoge asked what the plan was to provide service to the new Convention Center that is proposed for Queens. Mr. Albert said he will find out. Ms. Hoge also said that she had heard recently about lawsuits filed by people with on behalf of relatives killed on subway tracks. Mr. Albert stated that most of these suits go nowhere.
Ms. Prentiss expressed concern regarding the number of buses that pass by stops when another bus is in the stop. Also many buses do not curb. Additionally, buses layover in bus stops preventing other buses from getting in the stop. There are situations when buses bypass stops, but riders catch them. She also noted that the Washington Heights community is very concerned about the George Washington Bridge bus station redevelopment.
Ms. Prentiss noted that at 179th Street, Broadway, and 178th Street, there are buses laying over. Many buses are being moved to the George Washington Bridge Station and six routes terminate there. The question is what will happen to these buses when construction takes over this area. She said that the community has been told that the layover buses won’t be moved, and the M4 bus stop will be moved to a place between 178th and 179th Streets where a temporary waiting room will be built. This is where the NJ Transit buses currently pick up wheelchairs.
Ms. Mason asked whatever happened to Passenger Information Centers in the stations. She said that at Brooklyn Bridge, the PIC was moved to the Foley Square entrance.
The meeting was adjourned at 2:00 pm.
Senior Transportation Planner
New York City Transit Riders Council
January 26, 2012
I want to start off by wishing all of you a Happy New Year and welcoming you back for another year of work on behalf of customers who use the subway and bus network.
In early January, Joseph Lhota, who had already been named as Executive Director, was confirmed by the NY State Senate as Chairman of the MTA on January 9. Mr. Lhota will be the guest speaker at our next PCAC meeting on March 1.
One of those early signs is the Governor’s proposed budget for the year beginning April 1, 2012. For the first time in several years, this budget does not contain funding cuts for the MTA, which will be useful in stabilizing a precarious situation. While late in 2011 amendments to the Payroll Mobility Tax (PMT) were passed that reduce the MTA’s income from this source by $250 Million per year, the proposed budget includes funding to make the MTA whole from State general revenues. While it may be argued that a state appropriation is less secure than a dedicated tax, the Governor has at least made the first step toward fulfilling a commitment to hold the MTA harmless that he and legislative leaders made when the PMT amendments were enacted.
The news for commuters at the federal level isn’t as promising. Increased limits on pre-tax transit benefits equal to those available for commuter parking, which were enacted in 2009 and renewed for 2011 at the eleventh hour in 2010 were allowed to expire at the end of the year when Congress refused to consider extending most tax breaks. As a result, commuters who could previously pay for up to $230 per month in public transportation commuting expenses with pre-tax dollars can now exclude only $125 per month from their taxable income to pay for commuting expenses.
Most NYC Transit riders’ commuting costs fall below even the reduced limit, but a number of our riders, including express bus riders and those who use more than one transit system, are potentially affected by this change. The PCAC and Council Chairs wrote to legislators to urge passage of an extension, but our voices were not heeded. There is an effort underway in Washington to restore the higher pre-tax transit benefit limits in concert legislation extending the payroll tax cut. At the State level with an extension of lower payroll tax rates. There have also been bills introduced at the State level to equalize pre tax benefits for transit and parking in New York State’s tax code, even if the higher federal limits are not restored.
After our discussion of confusion surrounding the M34 Select Bus Service at our December meeting, we sent a letter to NYC Transit calling on them to deploy “Ambassadors” during periods where there are many people unfamiliar with SBS attempting to ride the system. We have not yet received a reply.
We’ve also looked into gaps in service on the B83 bus line that Chris Greif reported. The response that we received from Transit indicated that supervision could not substantiate that there were service gaps at the day and time that we reported them. We replied that the problem is continuing and that on the day of the response there had once again been half-hour gaps in service. We will continue to seek an explanation for and resolution to the service gaps.
As promised, NYC Transit launched the BusTime information system on Staten Island on January 11; members were sent a copy of the announcement by email. The system seems to be operating well and has received an overwhelmingly positive public reaction. Transit has also announced that the Bronx will be the next borough to get the BusTime system and that it will be in place on Bronx buses by the end of this year.
There is a lot of work planned in the subway system this winter and spring, and in your packets today are notices of several major service diversions that will affect riders on the 7 line. You may have heard in the media that Jimmy Van Bramer, the Councilman representing the Long Island City area, has been concerned about these service diversions and has offered to fund shuttle bus service to replace 7 trains when the Steinway Tunnels are shut down. Although these diversions will inconvenience a number of riders, I don’t believe that shuttle buses funded through Council member item money are the answer here.
Also in your packets is a letter from NYC Transit discussing spring schedule adjustments. I’ll discuss this further during my Board Report, but the service cuts contained in this package of adjustments are very troubling.
Finally, we would like to welcome our new outreach assistant, Angela Bellisio, who is in her second year at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers. Her area of concentration is transportation planning. Prior to joining PCAC she spent seven months interning at the Bronx Borough Office of NYC Department of City Planning. Angela lives in Brooklyn.