Meeting Minutes July 24, 2008


A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12 Noon on July 24, 2008, in the 5th floor Board Room, at MTA Headquarters 347 Madison Avenue, New York City. The following members were present:

Andrew Albert
Trudy L. Mason
Shirley Genn
Edith Prentiss
Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas
Sharon Santa Maria
William K. Guild
Michael Sinansky
Marisol Halpern
Toya Williford
The following members were absent:

Thomas Jost
Burton Strauss
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
Seymour Portes – MTA-NYCT
Deborah Hall-Moore – MTA-NYCT
Matt Sweeney – A.M. New York
Meg Reed Mian – Concerned citizen
Matt Shotkin – Concerned citizen
James O’Shea – Concerned citizen
Phyllis Silvestri – Concerned citizen
Howard Birnbaum – Concerned citizen
Ken Stewart – Concerned citizen
Joseph Garber – Concerned citizen
Linda Black – Concerned citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the July 24, 2008 meeting was approved. The minutes of the June 26, 2008 meeting were approved as amended. A change was requested regarding Ted Kheel’s presentation to the Council. It was noted that the sentence concerning the party who attempted to rescind the covenants preventing the Port Authority from investing in mass transit projects should be amended, as the impetus for rescinding the covenants did not come from the Port Authority.

Chair’s Report
The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.

Mr. Albert noted that there is a problem with the service plan for Select Bus Service and the Bx12 because local Bx12 buses do not go all the way to Inwood except in off hours. He said there is also concern about the location of the offboard payment location for Select Bus Service within the JC Penney store at Bay Plaza. This location is inaccessible when the store is closed and is not obvious to riders when the store is open.

Board Report
Mr. Albert summarized the MTA’s preliminary 2009 financial plan, which includes 8 percent and 5 percent fare hikes over the next 2 years. He said that Executive Director Sander spoke of the rise in energy costs, the downturn of the real estate market, and the resulting decrease in mortgage tax revenues as the drivers of the current financial situation.

Along with fare hikes, Mr. Albert said that layoffs via attrition, an increase in system advertising, a cut in the subsidy to Long Island Bus, which would place more responsibility for funding the system on Nassau County, and increased funding from New York City for student transportation and paratransit services have been proposed as means to balance the budget. Interagency loans of $135 million will be made in 2009 and 2010, to be paid back by 2011 and 2012. MTA management hopes that additional funds can be obtained as a result of the Saving Energy through Public Transportation Act, H.R. 6052, which would provide federal operating assistance for mass transportation. This bill has passed the House but does not have a sponsor in the Senate. The MTA Board is also relying on the Ravitch Commission’s upcoming report for ideas on alleviating current fiscal pressures.

Mr. Albert said the proposed budget is scheduled to be issued in November. In early December, the Ravitch Commission’s report will be released and in late December, the MTA budget will be put to an official vote.

Trudy Mason questioned whether that timeline will allow for enough time to consider the Ravitch Commission’s recommendations, considering it will be released just a few weeks before the final vote on the budget.

Ms. Mason asked why high level MTA officials had accepted salary increases during a time of financial uncertainty and whether this issue was raised at the Board meeting. She suggested that the Council draft a letter stating the raises are misguided and ill-timed, going on record that public sentiment is not favorable. It was also noted that criticism should be included that the housing allowance to such executives as Lee Sander sticks “in the craw” of the riding public. Ms. Mason noted that such a letter might lend the Council added credibility as an advocacy group.

Edith Prentiss stated that hopefully such a letter might impact the MTA’s institutional memory so that when future financial crunches occur, the MTA Board might rethink executive raises proposed at inopportune times. It was voted that such a letter should be composed and sent. Mr. Albert said that is legislation pending in Albany that pertains to the fiduciary responsibility of public authority Board members, and that the Board members are wary of the liability that such a law could create for them. Ms. Mason inquired about the proposed increase in advertising throughout the transit system. Mr. Albert replied that this advertising would consist of “wrapped” trains and buses and possibly “animated” subway tunnel walls similar to those used in Washington, DC and Boston.

Mr. Albert noted that while Transit President Howard Roberts is very much behind the Line Manager program, the Board is not as enthusiastic about its performance and the supposed operational gains from the program are not obvious.

Mr. Albert spoke briefly about impending service improvements that are scheduled to go into effect on Sunday, July 27th. Overnight 3 line service is being restored to Times Square, added trains will be deployed on the 1, 4, 6 and 7 lines during peak shoulder periods, and the spans of service for the B, M and W lines are being extended to 11pm. Ms. Mason asked that staff forward to her a copy of the service changes on the 4 and 6 lines.

In response to a question about the impact of increased ridership on the MTA financial situation, Mr. Albert replied that while ridership is up, fewer people are driving, which brings down Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority net revenues. These revenues provide financial support to NYC Transit and the commuter railroads, and this decrease can serve to negate any revenue gains from elevated ridership numbers.

In response to Marisol Halpern’s question whether congestion pricing is being reconsidered, Mr. Albert said it may be raised in the Ravitch Commission

Introduction of Seymour Portes, NYC Transit Program Officer – Capital Program Management
A copy of Mr. Portes’ presentation is on file in the PCAC office.

Mr. Portes began his remarks by citing a number of statistics: 222 stations have been addressed since 1982, with more than 100 of them dealt with since 2000. Of the remaining stations, 4 stations are in the construction phase; 46 are in the design phase, 16 are in the planning phase, and 180 stations are scheduled to be addressed in the years after 2009.

Mr. Portes spoke about the work that had been done to bring stations into ADA compliance. He noted that of the required 100 Key stations, improvements to make 67 stations ADA compliant will have been completed by July 2008, which is two years ahead of schedule. He said that there are 16 non-key stations that have also been addressed. He explained that 10 stations are currently in the construction phase, 9 in design, and 16 in the planning stage.

Mr. Portes showed examples of completed station work. He showed slides illustrating work on five stations on the Jerome Avenue line in the Bronx, the 135th Street station, Herald Square, in which twelve escalators were replaced by January 2008, 116th Street, which was not a Key station required to meet ADA accessibility standards but was made ADA-compliant, and Myrtle-Wyckoff.

Mr. Portes also showed examples of stations undergoing rehabilitation work including Columbus Circle, which originally was originally supposed to cost $71.2 million and now is estimated at $90 million. This station is expected to be completed by June 2009. He also showed images of Union Turnpike, which is expected to be completed by July 2008, Church Avenue, 96th Street/Broadway, which is an ADA Key station and is receiving a new head house, and the Jay
Street/Lawrence Street transfer connection.

Mr. Portes discussed some of the stations that are in the design phase including Bleecker Street, including a connection from the uptown 6 line to the B, D, F and V lines, the East 180th Street station, 7 stations on the Brighton Beach line, and Avenue H, which will also receive a new mezzanine.

Mr. Portes reviewed the list of projects that have been delayed:

4 stations on the Sea Beach Line, delayed until 2012; the work on these stations is funded from the current Capital Program.
10 stations on the West End Line, delayed until 2010; these stations will be included in the next Capital Program.
4 stations on the Pelham Line, delayed until 2011; these stations are expected to be included in the next Capital Program.
Smith/9th Street, delayed until 2010; this work has been delayed by the pace of other rehabilitation work and is not waiting for the next Capital Program.
Mr. Portes informed the Council that no underground station work is being delayed and that nine ADA stations are to be included in the next Capital Program, the contracts for seven of which should be awarded in 2010. The list of ADA stations to be included in the next Capital Program will be provided to the Council.

Mr. Portes responded to several questions and comments raised by the Council and the public: On the issue of environmentally friendly design, Mr. Portes stated that all designs attempt to integrate green initiatives.

In response to Sharon Santa-Maria’s comment that tile at the Pacific Street station needs replacement, Mr. Portes stated that his division has not specifically looked at the Pacific Street station but has addressed necessary tile replacement work throughout the Atlantic Avenue complex.

In response to Ms. Santa-Maria’s comments about the poor condition of the Chambers Street station on the J, M, and Z lines, Mr. Portes acknowledged that this station has not received much attention in the past but informed the Council that his division is doing a lot of work at that station, including the replacement of staircases and painting.

In response to the question of whether the Stations Division staff coordinates with the Maintenance Division staff when rehabilitation work is being designed, Mr. Portes answered that, since 1995, maintenance considerations have been incorporated into the station rehabilitation designs.

Ken Stewart questioned the accessibility components of station rehabilitation work, especially at the Stillwell Avenue station, as he noted that this station is not accessible for those with sensory impairments due to the poor placement of handrails and low-hanging signage.

Mr. Sinansky noted that the Roosevelt Island station is one of the most recently constructed stations and has severe leaks. He also inquired as to what could be done to better protect stations against water intrusion. Mr. Portes replied that the rising water table in some sections of the City makes water intrusion a significant issue for the subway system. One option is to work more closely with utility companies and to hold them responsible when their utility repair work damages a station’s waterproofing. Mr. Albert also added that, for new construction, innovations such as the water shield method being employed in Europe might be considered.

James O’Shea expressed concern about the rehabilitation work at the 40th Street Station on the 7 line in Sunnyside, Queens. He said that tiles have had to be replaced twice within 6 months due to water damage and that the joints in the new canopy’s gutter are not sealed, allowing water to leak down the walls. Mr. Portes replied that he will talk to the Line Manager about this problem.

Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas asked which design standards are used for rehabilitation projects. She said if their designs conform to state and city building codes, some of the issues that have been raised would not have occurred.

Ms. Mason reported that rats have moved into the newly rehabilitated 77th Street 6 line station on the Upper East Side. She asked what kind of rodent and insect controls are incorporated into rehabilitation work. She also commented that with water leaks come sizable water bugs. It was also reported to Mr. Portes that there are vertical grade fluctuations in the platform floor tile work that is being done at this station. Mr. Portes replied that resurfacing is done in sections. He said that the northbound platform was found to have an uneven surface and the contractor was instructed to correct this condition.

Old Business
Joseph Garber noted he had sent a number of complaints about bus operations to NYC Transit Vice President – Buses Joseph Smith and to the Bus Customer Relations Center and had never received a response. It was requested that the Council pass on these criticisms on his behalf.

Mr. Garber also reported that there has been an increase in graffiti throughout the system. He said that the NYPD and NYCT need to rethink their graffiti management practices, including cleaning and documentation. He also said that people are using the bottoms of the pillars along the elevated J/M/Z lines as garbage bins.

New Business
Matt Shotkin asked if the 42nd Street Shuttle service could be extended past midnight and commented that those trains should have the new colored seats. Various Council members replied that 42nd Street Shuttle service and 7 line service are redundant late at night and it is not necessary to run so much service between the two stations.

Ms. Prentiss commented that many of the first generation of elevators are reaching the end of their useful life and that this is a significant issue affecting long-term ADA compliance. She stated that if the system were made accessible, the extremely expensive Access-a-Ride program could be reduced substantially. Also the MTA needs to recognize that there are many aspects of accessibility to consider, beyond those that apply to wheelchair users.

Ms. Prentiss reported that the A line has been running older trains recently, consisting of R38 cars, and that the longitudinal seating configuration of these cars is problematic for wheelchair users as there is no real place to stay without blocking the doors. These older cars have a 6” vertical difference between the car and the platform, which makes it difficult to enter and exit the car. She said it is very noticeable on the uptown platform at 42nd Street. Mr. Albert said he would look into this issue.

Ken Stewart reported that on July 22 he attended a session designed to elicit feedback from disabled customers regarding appropriate platform materials. It was deemed a successful effort at reaching out to the disabled community.

Attendees were able to communicate recommendations concerning lighting, signage and other areas of concern. On July 16th, he attended a focus group addressing accessibility in Willets Point, and he reported that on July 15th Access-a-Ride held a productive meeting regarding complaint handling.

Shirley Genn informed the Council of an incident at Atlantic Avenue station. When she arrived at the station at about midnight, there was an ill man on the ground being tended to by a couple of his friends. She spoke to a police officer who called for emergency assistance, but assistance did not arrive until almost 1:00 a.m. The EMTs who came did not use a gurney to take the man out of the station. She got the man’s name and address from one of his friends and called the Mayor’s Office on Saturday to report this incident. The person to whom she spoke said that she should wait until Monday to speak to the State Department of Health. This person then said that she was forbidden to take any additional information on this matter. Ms. Genn said that she will forward the ill man’s information to the Council for follow-up.

The meeting was adjourned at 2:03 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Karyl Berger

Research Associate

Chair’s Report
As I’m sure you have seen in today’s papers and other news outlets, there is a lot to say about the MTA’s proposed 2009 financial plan. I’ll get into the details in my Board Report, but the Council should be very active in the discussions that will lead to a final budget in December.

The MTA announced this week that New York City Transit customers will finally be able to receive service disruption alerts by email and text message. While commuter rail customers have been able to register to receive emailed alerts for some time, Transit riders can now only rely upon the alerts posted on the MTA website for updated service information. With this change, however, Transit riders will be able to receive updated information in a way similar to Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North customers, starting this September.

NYC Transit’s Select Bus Service (SBS), on which we have received several presentations, was implemented in the Bronx on Sunday June 29. This service includes a number of innovations, such as off-board fare payment with receipts for proof of payment, similar to the system being used on New Jersey Transit’s Hudson-Bergen Light Rail. I have been on the system and, while there are some bugs to be worked out such as locating fare payment machines in areas that are not accessible during some hours of operation, the service has been generally well received and holds promise to improve bus travel. We are considering a Council trip to ride SBS so that we can all experience it first hand.

On Friday, July 8, I went on a stations tour with newly appointed MTA Board member Doreen Frasca, Hilary Ring, MTA Director – Government Affairs, and
Lois Tendler, NYC Transit Senior Director – Government and Community Affairs We went to a number of stations that were originally part of the 2005-2009 Capital Program but have been proposed to be eliminated or deferred. At yesterday’s MTA Board meeting, changes to the Capital Program were approved that moved these recommendations to the MTA Capital Program Review Board for approval. As you may know, some of the deferred projects could not have moved forward because factors other than funding. I suggested that a distinction be made between projects deferred for financial reasons and projects that are delayed because of other conditions. Our guest today, Seymour Portes, will discuss the station rehabilitation program and how these deferrals will impact the program.

On Monday, July 22, Ellyn attended a press conference held by City Council Member and Congressional candidate Michael McMahon who called on New York’s Senate delegation to support an important transportation bill that overwhelmingly passed in the House of Representatives but unfortunately has no sponsor yet in the Senate. The Saving Energy through Public Transportation Act of 2008 (H.R. 6052) would help struggling transit agencies through an appropriation of $1.7 billion in operating aid for fiscal years 2008 and 2009. The aid would cover expenses incurred by agencies that expand service or reduce fares, and would represent the first major federal aid for transit operations in years (only areas with under 50,000 residents are currently eligible for federal operating assistance). The Empire State Transportation Alliance (of which the PCAC is a member) has sent letters in support of the bill to NY Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton. A quote from me was included in the press release.

I have a final draft of the stations condition survey report and we will be releasing the report next week. We will contact you when we have finalized the date and time for the release.