Meeting Minutes July 26, 2012



A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12 Noon on July 26, 2012, in the 5th floor Board room, at MTA Headquarters 347 Madison Avenue, New York City.  The following members were present:

Andrew Albert                       Thomas Jost
Stuart Goldstein                    Trudy L. Mason
Christopher Greif                  Edith Prentiss
William K. Guild                    Michael Sinansky
Marisol Halpern                    Burt Strauss
Toya Williford

The following members were absent:

Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas     Sharon King Hoge
Steve Mayo

In addition, the following persons were present:

William Henderson              -PCAC Executive Director
Jan Wells                              -PCAC Associate Director
Ellyn Shannon                      -PCAC Transportation Planner
Karyl Cafiero                        -PCAC Research Associate
Angela Bellisio                     -PCAC Outreach Assistant
George Haikalis                   -Institute for Rational Urban Mobility
Roxanne Warren                 -Vision 42
DaShawn Williams              -TWU
Yvonne Morrow                   -Concerned citizen
John Bailey, Jr.                    -Concerned citizen
Ken Stewart                         -Concerned citizen
Alan Flacks                           -Concerned citizen
Ann Guild                              -Concerned citizen

Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the July 26, 2012 meeting was approved.  The minutes of the June 28, 2012 meeting were approved as amended to indicate that Andrew Albert and Michael Sinansky were unanimously elected Chair and Vice Chair, respectively.

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

Mike Sinansky inquired about whether any analysis that justified the restoration of some bus routes was included in the presentation to MTA Board members. He also wanted to know if traffic counts were taken as a part of this process.

Andrew Albert responded that the restoration of routes had much to do with the community reaction to the service cuts.  The routes that were restored primarily served the communities that were the source of the most complaints.

Mr. Sinansky stated that Staten Island received five service restorations, while Queens received six restorations, which in reality amounts to only five actual restorations.  In contrast, Brooklyn is slated to receive 13 service restorations, plus three new bus services.

Edith Prentiss said that her suggestion to Sam Schwartz about projects that should be funded under his FAIR plan is that the MTA should look at all accessible stations and rectify the problems with the platform gaps.

Ms. Prentiss also suggested that the PCAC website questionnaire be revised to provide more options in answering a question about the reason a respondent rides the system.  She also commented on the Chair’s Report item about gaps in service on the Q8 bus and noted that this is an issue at the ends of all long routes.

Chris Greif asked whether the terminal for the S79 SBS could be shifted to the west side of 4th Street in Bay Ridge.

Ms. Prentiss pointed out that when the Bx12 SBS displaced other buses, these buses’ stops were moved to areas with subway grates, and this means that there can be no bus shelters for these stops.  She also stated that there is no need to set aside four spaces for Bx12 SBS buses, but this is what has been done in her area.

Board Report
Mr. Albert presented the Board report.  He said that at the Board meeting a day earlier, MTA Chief Financial Officer Bob Foran had unveiled a budget with many uncertainties.  Mr. Albert stated that weekend ridership on the transit system is exploding and that this is creating new challenges.  He also said that the MTA is seeking a Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan from the Federal Government that would reduce borrowing costs, but that the impact of this loan is not included in the financial plan that was presented.

Mr. Albert noted that some MTA Board members were not in favor of the service restorations, but that many members of the public turned out at the MTA Board meetings and many elected officials are now pushing for restoration of service in their areas.  He said that we don’t know what will happen with the economy and labor settlements, but that he is hopeful that an acceptable settlement will be reached.

Mr. Albert said that more attention is now being paid to fare evasion and that its cost is now estimated to be up to $100 million per year.  He said that he believes that the 3.5 percent rate of fare evasion in the subways cited by NYC Transit is an underestimate. Tom Jost observed that when the NYPD under Commissioner Bratton came into the subway system, the first project was to remove graffiti and fare evaders from the system.  As a result of these efforts, the police found that those who were evading fares were responsible for other crimes in the system.

Mr. Albert noted that there will be public hearings on a proposed fare hike in November and that he hopes there will not be more than one hearing on the same night.  He said that making the G train extension permanent and the new and restored service that has been announced will provide other topics for discussion.  Mr. Albert noted that the MTA is really pushing the component repair program concept and said that Chairman Lhota has specifically indicated that he is looking to receive funds to keep stations maintained.

Old Business
Ms. Prentiss said that when the system received articulated buses, there was a promise that the number of buses wouldn’t be reduced.  One issue with cutting the number of buses is that, even accounting for the larger size of articulated buses, this action reduces the number of wheelchair spaces available on the route, as there are proportionally fewer wheelchair spaces relative to the number of seats in the articulated buses.

Election of Executive Committee
Tom Jost nominated Stuart Goldstein for membership on the NYCTRC Executive Committee.  Toya Williford nominated current members William Guild and Marisol Halpern for another term.  The nominations were seconded.  Chris Greif had been nominated at the previous meeting.  Ballots were distributed and Mr. Goldstein, Mr. Guild, and Ms. Halpern were elected to the NYCTRC Executive Committee for a term ending June 2013.

New Business
Mr. Albert stated that on the previous Wednesday, he and Ms. Mason had attended a meeting for the purpose of organizing a campaign to bring back buses in areas where they had been cut.  DeShawn Williams of the Transport Workers Union said that this meeting was with community organizers.  She said that the B64 route was restored due to the efforts of the community Assemblyman Colton.

Ms. Mason said that Assemblyman Colton made a speech at the meeting, but that he didn’t know what the NYCTRC is or how money is raised to provide transit service.  Ms. Prentiss said that in the past the Transport Workers Union has made promises to the disability community in the course of their contract negotiations and that and once there is a contract, they never follow up with the disability community.

Presentation on the Proposed Vision42 Project
Mr. Albert introduced George Haikalis and Roxanne Warren of the Institute for Rational Urban Mobility to discuss their recent study that compared benefits and costs of the Institute’s vision42 plan with the construction of a 10th Avenue station on the 7 subway line.

Mr. Haikalis said that light rail is like a moving walkway and that the trend toward seeking alternatives to the automobile was sparked when Robert Moses wanted to widen 5th Avenue through Washington Square Park and the resulting backlash resulted in the closing of Washington Square Park to vehicular traffic.  Mr. Haikalis said that the reason that light rail is generating public interest is that it makes travel smoother and has higher capacity than other transit modes.  He said that light rail could solve existing problems in the transit network.  For example, private ferry operators currently spend 50 percent of their operating costs on providing buses to get people to the ferries.  He said that light rail could provide a link to the ferry terminals.

Mr. Haikalis said that vision42 had commissioned an economic study by Urbanomics of the relative benefits and costs of building a light rail line on 42nd Street versus building a10th Avenue station on the 7 line extension.  The study includes a mapping of travel time savings for light rail as compared with time savings generated by a 10th Avenue 7 line station, and the result is that the ratio of time saved by light rail versus the that saved by the additional subway station is 3:1.  This time savings translates into economic value in the form of increases in property values.  The study estimated that office property would increase in value by $7.6 billion in comparison with a $2.6 billion increase as a result of constructing a 10th Avenue station on the 7 line.  The study also includes a finding that implementation of the vision42 plan would result in a 35 percent increase in retail sales along the route.

Mr. Haikalis said that the vision42 plan also has some negative impacts, including an increase in delivery costs.  Since delivery points would need to be relocated, the plan would result in an additional $89 million in costs.  The study found, however, that the positive economic benefits of the plan outweigh the negatives and that its implementation could be paid for by a strategy such as tax increment financing.  He noted that the financing of the project would require between $36 and $51 million in annual debt service, but there would be a gain in tax revenues of $55 million per year.

Mr. Albert asked whether the study assumes that the MTA will operate this service.  Mr. Haikalis responded that the plans have been shared with the MTA, and that they would be happy to operate the service if there is adequate funding.

Burt Strauss asked how many passengers the service would be expected to carry.  Mr. Haikalis responded that the ridership would be about 100,000 per day, but that this figure is difficult to estimate.

Mr. Jost said that Mr. Haikalis is doing a disservice to compare the Vision42 project to a 7 line 10th Avenue station.  He said that the project should stand on its own merits and that implying a choice between the projects only serves to make people defensive.  He also said that the presentation had not addressed the impact on traffic crossing 42nd Street.  Ms. Warren said that traffic would flow the same as it does presently as long as the system did not include traffic light prioritization.

Mr. Jost asked if the service would speed travel when compared with buses.  Mr. Haikalis commented that this plan wouldn’t replace the 42nd Street shuttle train, but that buses move slowly and are not as good a passenger experience as light rail.

Ms. Warren noted that the reason that the study was structured as a comparison with the 10th Avenue 7 Line station is that the Real Estate Board of New York is very closely associated with support for a 10th Avenue station and it was hoped that drawing this comparison could interest them in light rail.

Mr. Goldstein asked where the light rail cars would be stored.  Mr. Haikalis replied that there are several options for a yard location, including within the West Side Yard or at the site of the present Quill bus depot on 41st Street.  Ms. Warren added that this corridor might be a good place for catenary-free light rail, which could expand the choices for storage.

Ms. Mason noted that the financing for the plan depends upon taxes, and that Mr. Haikalis has spoken about tax districts.  She asked how, since there hasn’t been funding available for the 10th Avenue 7 Line station, one can expect to get funding for this project.  Mr. Haikalis responded that the benefits for light rail along 42nd Street are significant, but if you don’t build the project, you don’t get them, so the project would provide a net gain that could fund its construction.  Since the benefits of this project would be localized, it makes sense to capture them locally through a mechanism.

Ms. Mason asked how the business improvement districts in the area feel about this plan.  Mr. Haikalis replied that that Dan Biederman, the President of the Bryant Park Corporation and the 34th Street Partnership is on vision42’s advisory committee.  He said that he has not been able to gain a consensus to support the project from the Grand Central Partnership and the Times Square BID.  Mr. Haikalis noted that Peter Kalikow has historically not liked light rail, and he is the Grand Central Partnership Chairman.

Mr. Greif asked whether the vehicles will be ADA compliant.  Mr. Haikalis said that they would.  Mr. Greif asked what would be done to deal with the congestion at the Lincoln Tunnel, and Mr. Haikalis replied that solutions are possible, but their nature depends on what you want to serve, pedestrians or cars. He said that people want open space and this plan provides it.

Alan Flacks suggested that advisory board contain more merchants.  Mr. Haikalis commented that he would like to increase their representation.  Mr. Flacks asked what impact snow would have on the system.  Mr. Haikalis said that the system can operate in winter weather and noted that light rail works in many places with snow, including New Jersey.

Presentation on Data Visualization
Ellyn Shannon presented an introduction to the work that she has been doing on data visualization.  She said that it is difficult for elected officials and transportation advocates to get their arms around the 1,000 pages of data that the MTA releases monthly in its Board materials, let alone other information on the system that is available.  She said that to make recommendations on the solution to this data overload, one has to get a handle on the state of data at the MTA’s operating agencies.

Ms. Shannon said that the scale of the data maintained by the agencies is a major challenge.  NYC Transit alone has 75 databases to maintain information about its operation.  She said that PCAC staff members are working to gain an understanding of the data resources at the commuter railroads.

Ms. Shannon illustrated the issues associated with understanding data through showing a series of visualizations created with Roambi applications.

Ms. Shannon said that the current volume of data that is being generated is only the beginning.  Smart card and new technologies such as bus tracking systems will produce mega data, and NYC Transit and the other operating agencies will have problems dealing with this volume of information.  She said that if data are accessible, the operating agencies and their stakeholders will be able to have a much more honest discussion about the data and the underlying operation.

Ms. Prentiss stated that visualization would be a great tool for use at the Community Board level.

The meeting was adjourned at 2:10 p.m.

Respectfully Submitted,
William Henderson
Executive Director



New York City Transit Riders Council
Chair’s Report
July 26, 2012

We are ready to start our Council member project on subway platform boarding humps.  Following this meeting, I ask that all members who are available stay with us to receive a brief orientation to the project and what we will be looking for in the stations.   In the orientation, we will be traveling to a nearby accessible subway station to get a firsthand look at boarding humps.  Edith Prentiss will fill us in on the humps and some of the issues with them, and we’ll walk through completing a survey to get members comfortable with the process.  It’s the members’ responsibility to do the survey work on this project, and we want all of our members to play a part in this important report.

Of course the big news of the past week is the package of service restorations and improvements that was released last week and presented in the MTA Board committee meetings on Monday.  I’ll discuss the restorations in greater detail in my Board report, but the package that was presented reversed or provided alternative service for many of the worst service cuts that took place in June 2010.  Unfortunately, the package did not reverse changes in loading guidelines, which are leading to packed cars and longer waits on weekend subway trips.  A copy of the list of service restorations and improvements is in your packets today.

We’ve been approved for our field trip to the Rail Control Center.  This is a members-only event, as NYC Transit is understandably very cautious about access to the building and will allow members and staff only on this tour.  The Rail Control Center directly controls all A division trains in the subway and is a very impressive facility.  Members should make every effort to come on the tour.  The tour will take place on our regularly scheduled meeting date, August 23, although this will not be an official meeting and no business will be conducted.  We will be meeting at 10:15 am for a 10:30 tour, and staff will be in touch with members to collect a list of attendees and to provide them with the meeting place.

Since the June PCAC meeting, both Bill Henderson and I have heard other presentations from Sam Schwartz on his FAIR plan.  He has made some small refinements to the plan since he presented to the PCAC, but the element that needs further work is a list of the projects that would be funded from the revenue generated by the plan.  As you may recall, the Councils have been asked to discuss the plan and the specific places that revenue from it could be used to benefit the MTA system.  We will discuss this further in the business portion of our meeting.

In the business portion of the meeting today we will also be electing at-large members to our Executive Committee.  If there are three nominees for the three available seats, we will vote by show of hands as we often do.  If there are more than three nominees, the vote will be by paper ballot that is provided to you.

Since we won’t have an official meeting next month, I want to remind you to mark your calendars for the September 6 PCAC meeting.  It will be a lively meeting, as we’ll be discussing our position on the upcoming fare increases and our guest will be MTA Chief Financial Officer Robert Foran.  Mr. Foran will outline for us the preliminary 2013 MTA budget that was released at Wednesday’s Board meeting and respond to our questions.

Finally, everyone should have received a questionnaire about the PCAC website in a recent email.  Staff would greatly appreciate your filling it out within the next week so we can get started on the redesign of the website.  If you don’t want to do it electronically, see Jan and she will give you a paper copy to fill out.

We’ll now move into our “Where are they now” part of the meeting to review responses to communications that we have had with the MTA, NYC Transit, the City, and other officials.