Meeting Minutes July 28, 2011

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A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12 Noon on July 28, 2011, in the 5th floor Board room, at MTA Headquarters 347 Madison Avenue, New York City. The following members were present:

• Andrew Albert
• Thomas Jost
• Shirley Genn
• Sharon King Hoge
• Stuart Goldstein
• Trudy L. Mason
• Christopher Greif
• Edith Prentiss
• William K. Guild
• Michael Sinansky
• Toya Williford

The following members were absent:

• Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas
• Marisol Halpern
• Burton Strauss

In addition, the following persons were present:

• William Henderson -PCAC Executive Director
• Jan Wells -PCAC Associate Director
• Ellyn Shannon -PCAC Transportation Planner
• Mark Bienstock -NYCT
• Deborah Hall-Moore -NYCT
• Yvonne Morrow -Concerned citizen
• Brigitta Payne -Concerned citizen
• Matt Shotkin -Concerned citizen
• Joe McMahon -Concerned citizen
• Steve Mayo -Concerned citizen
• Ken Stewart -Concerned citizen
• Alan Flacks -Concerned citizen
• Ann Guild -Concerned citizen

Approval of Agenda and Minutes

The agenda for the July 28, 2011 meeting was approved. The minutes of the June 23, 2011 meeting were approved as amended. Chris Greif thanked Bill Henderson and Deborah Morrison in regard to the minutes being understandable. Edith Prentiss stated there was a correction to the minutes that needed to be made concerning her comments on being surprised to see signs announcing a bus shuttle signs and on her feeling that these signs are very confusing. Ms. Prentiss stated that she had forwarded the correction to the PCAC office.

Chair’s Report

The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes. Trudy Mason asked if Council members can receive copies of the MTA budget. Mr. Henderson said that he would locate printed copies of the budget for those who want them.

Board Report

Andrew Albert announced that there is a lot happening now with regard to the MTA, including a possibility that the repeal or amendment of the Payroll Mobility Tax will make it very difficult to operate MTA services. He said that at the MTA Board meeting Gene Russianoff raised the point that NYC Transit riders are paying a higher percentage of cost of operations than riders in any other area in the nation. Mr. Albert said that the MTA is making a large issue of the economic impact of its transportation system.

Mr. Albert reviewed the funding streams going into the MTA’s capital projects. Ms. Mason stated that if we apply for funding for high speed rail, we will be turned down. Mr. Henderson stated that $300 million in high speed rail funding has already been approved for work in the Harold Interlocking area.

Mr. Albert commented that the proposed budget will result in no financially driven service cuts. He stated that nonetheless the budget outlook is very troubling, as the proposed budget lets the City and State off the hook in terms of their support for the MTA. Mr. Albert said that we are seeing people vote with their vehicles as they move to free bridges to avoid tolls. This phenomenon was reported in the Bridges and Tunnels Committee meeting. Ms. Mason asked what area MTA Vice Chairman Andrew Saul is from. Mr. Albert stated that he is from Westchester County.

Michael Sinansky commented on a news clip that he saw where NYC Transit President Tom Prendergast apologized for the cuts to the 1 and 6 subway lines. Mr. Sinansky asked for an explanation of this statement. Mr. Albert said that Mr. Prendergast had said that he should have provided the Board with more and more timely information about a pilot program to reduce the volume of service on these subway lines to reflect seasonal ridership trends. Mr. Albert said that he asked how the counts to establish these trends were done; NYC Transit replied that they use MetroCard data and visual counts. Mr. Albert noted that they can’t rely on MetroCard data for definitive ridership information because of the impact of transfers and stations serving multiple lines

Mr. Albert said that at the NYC Transit Committee there was a presentation on a rerouting of the B25 bus in the DUMBO neighborhood because of the City’s reconfiguration of traffic patterns. The City didn’t give the MTA much notice of the change, but the MTA Board was informed prior to the rerouting taking effect. Mr. Greif commented that Community Board 2 wasn’t notified and the Brooklyn Borough President’s office wasn’t notified of the bike lane changes that led to the rerouting of the B25 line.

Mr. Albert stated that he has also learned that NYC Transit is considering further “light riding” schedules similar to the adjustments that were made on the 1 and 6 lines. Mr. Greif made a comment on the elimination of the B39 and B51 bus lines, stating that the elimination of these lines is stressing the B62 line. Ms. Prentiss stated that disability groups are keeping a count of persons in wheelchairs that are left at curbside because there is not space remaining on the buses. Mr. Greif stated that the inadequacy of space for wheelchairs and ongoing work on the Culver line is also overloading the B62 line.

Ms. Prentiss stated that throughput of buses on the B62 line is not according to published schedules. She said that it takes up to 9 minutes to load a wheelchair, especially when the buses are crowded. She said that the crowding is being worsened by people being pushed off of Access-A-Ride and that Access-A-Ride now frequently provides only feeder service to bus or subway lines or itineraries of accessible transit service near the client’s origin and destination. She said that she would like to correlate the crowding of buses with the routes that Access-A-Ride is providing to clients. Mr. Albert stated that he will try to get a list of the routes that are being used for referrals from Tom Charles.

Mr. Albert concluded his discussion of the proposed MTA Budget. Mr. Greif stated that there is a need to avoid cuts in shuttle bus service provided in connection with capital projects. Tom Jost asked whether NYC Transit typically identifies alternate travel routes for persons with disabilities to use when there are construction-related service diversions. Mr. Albert and Ms. Prentiss both said that this is not the case.

Mr. Sinansky commented on the information provided about planned service changes. He stated that during a recent service diversion there was a message about planned routing changes for the R train. The message, however, did not state where the R was to be rerouted through Manhattan.

Ms. Prentiss commented that buses get rerouted constantly with poor communication to the riders. She said that if someone has a visual disability or is a visitor that person is unlikely to locate the rerouted bus, and that she no longer sees signs posted about parade diversions. Ms. Prentiss suggested that buses be included in the Council’s project on service diversions. Ms. Mason stated that during street fairs, some operators give the routes that they are traveling. She suggested that drivers be required to make these announcements. She also noted that there is a need for better coordination between those responsible for diversions and conductors in the subway system.

Mr. Goldstein stated that there still has not been any modification of R160 subway car strip maps to reflect new G line stops, and that with Culver line work progressing, the strip maps on F trains do not give any information about alternatives routes. All that the rider receives is a notification that the train is an express F train. Mr. Albert suggested that the Council invite someone from NYC Transit to make a presentation at a future meeting about conductors’ messages to riders.

Mr. Jost said that the Council had previously asked NYC Transit to reevaluate express bus cuts on Staten Island lines serving Victory Blvd, but there is still a need for improvement. He said that there have been changes to local buses, such as the S61, which between 6 and 9 a.m. makes only limited stops. At the same time, the S62 bus has been cut back, which makes travel in the corridor between 8 and 9 a.m. difficult. He said that between Eddy Street and Clove Road there are no limited stops, despite there being apartment buildings located in this area, and that there is twenty minute headway between local buses at times. He said that he would write something up on the issue and email it to staff.

Old Business

Ms. Mason spoke about the signage on the SBS. It was agreed that a letter will be sent to Ted Orosz suggesting there be a sign at SBS stops to remind customers that they should hold on to their receipts. Ms. Mason said that this message should be on board buses, perhaps on car cards, as well.

Mr. Stewart stated that he was one of the six people in ADA issue oriented survey group assembled to discuss Help Point Intercoms, which was conducted for NYC Transit by a private marketing company. He suggested that NYCT should hire people who know something about ADA to administer these surveys. Ms. Prentiss asked if there were any hearing impaired people included in the group.

Mr. Greif said that riders on the B54 bus do not know about construction related route changes and that as a result bus operators are receiving threats from customers. He said that the detour includes unsafe turns where operators have to go up on the sidewalk.

Ms. Prentiss stated that on the past Monday night at 42nd Street, there was no sign stating when the last A express train would run. As a result, customers did not know whether or not to move to local side of platform. She said that the ride was very confusing, as the train did not make some local stops and there were no announcements.

Brigitta Payne commented that the cuts that have been made in the bus system are leading to a decline of the system. Mr. Albert noted the Bus Time pilot on the B63 line as a place where the system is being improved. Mr. Henderson stated that this system will be on all Staten Island buses by end of the year. Mr. Albert added that the Smart Card fare collection system will be in effect in Staten Island by the end of the year as well.

New Business

Ms. Payne asked if adding a 72nd Street stop on the M15 Select Bus Service route is a dead issue. Mr. Albert stated that the Council has not been able to make progress on having a 72nd Street stop added.

Mr. Flacks asked if Mr. Albert and Ms. Frasca have been reappointed to the MTA Board. Mr. Albert stated that Ms. Frasca has been replaced, and that he remains a holdover appointment, as his stated term has expired.

Mr. Flacks said that NYC Transit is not taping off platforms when there is no service on them on the Lexington Avenue line. He also said that Select Bus Service customers with unlimited MetroCards are upset that they have to dip their card in a fare collection machine and get a receipt.

Ms. Prentiss stated that with service diversions in many cases no one knows which platform trains serve where there are multiple levels in a station. She said that there is no wheelchair boarding area sign for 59th Street A trains and that customers have to guess where to board. There is a sign at 177th Street, but humps in the platform and car doors don’t line up at the 175th Street end of the station. This is also the case at the 168th Street station, and there is a gap at 168th Street. Mr. Albert stated that the station geography differs, making alignment of doors and platforms difficult. Ms. Prentiss stated that the wheelchair boarding point should be at center of the train, on one side or another of the conductor.

Ms. Mason asked if conditions in the passageway at 59th Street have been evaluated. She also asked if bike lanes will be affected by Select Bus Service on 1st Avenue near the United Nations and said that she would like to see in writing how bike lanes and SBS will impact each other.

Mr. Stewart commented that at the 55th Street end of the 57th Street QNR station he fell over someone sitting on the station stairway. He said that there should be a public service announcement on this issue.

Introduction of Mark Bienstock, Program Manager, Systems and Security, NYC Transit Capital Program Management to Discuss the Operation of the Countdown Clock System and the Content and Format of Information Displayed on the System

Mr. Bienstock said that there are 161 stations outfitted with countdown clocks, with 137 stations on the A division currently in service. The target is for 155 A division stations to be outfitted, and 8 more will be added by this September. The ten stations on the White Plains Road line will be in service by December 2011. He said that the White Plains Road stations are in “dark” territory for the Automatic Train Supervision (ATS) system. The trains serving this part of the system will have to be entered into the system manually at the Rail Control Center while we wait for an ATS upgrade. He said that on the B Division NYC Transit will be doing a series of pilot studies and that riders may get different kinds of information on different lines.

Mr. Bienstock said that on the 7 line west of 111th Street there are five stations that provide countdown clock information using programmed logic controllers and that this system will be expanded eastward to Queensboro Plaza. When Communication Based Train Control is installed on 7 Line, there will be countdown clocks all along this line.

Mr. Albert said that it seems to be a disparity between Eastside IRT and Westside IRT lines in terms of the information that is displayed.

Mr. Bienstock stated that there was a conscious decision made not to have mezzanine signs display times of one minute or less until train arrival. He said that there may be some platform signs mimicking the mezzanine signs at some locations.

Ms. Mason commented on a problem at the 77th Street station and said that there is no mezzanine there. She said that lately the countdown clocks have not been working and that she has never seen a countdown clock indicate one minute until train arrival at 77th Street. Ms. Mason also said that countdown clocks have been placed at ends of platforms where they are inconvenient to riders.

Mr. Bienstock stated that the standard is to have a sign on the unpaid side of the turnstiles telling the status of service. He stated that he did not know about the situation at 77th Street and will have to look into the issue of countdown clocks not displaying one minute until a train’s arrival.

Mr. Jost asked about the MTA’s policy for the location of countdown clocks at street level. Mr. Bienstock stated that anyone can provide comments on countdown clocks to NYC Transit through the countdown clocks section of the MTA website. He said that generally NYC Transit does not put countdown clocks at street level. Mr. Jost asked why they do not. Mr. Bienstock stated that there are many reasons for this, such as exposure to the elements. He said that the clocks are very vulnerable when they are outside of the system. The clocks may be placed at street level at some stations if they can be positioned in a protected area. Mr. Bienstock stated that there are Station Advisory Information Display (SAID) screens in six stations, and the information on them is also available through a World Wide Web application, so riders can get more detailed system information remotely.

Sharon King Hoge asked the cost of the signs. She also commented that at the 59th Street station it’s good to know about arrivals on both platforms, but this location has signs with only 2 lines. Mr. Bienstock stated that when there are two platforms and signs with two lines the system maintains information about the next train to arrive on the top line of the sign, and the second line cycles through the subsequent trains that will arrive. Ms. Wells asked the location of SAID displays at Penn Station. Mr. Bienstock stated that they are located at the entrance to the LIRR concourse. Ms. Wells noted that they are not at the entrance to New Jersey Transit (NJT), although many NJT riders continue their trip on the subway.

Ms. Prentiss asked whether information about elevators can be put on signs. Also she commented that the A Line signs do not distinguish work trains from revenue trains. Mr. Bienstock said that at some stations the system has been shut down due to excessive heat in the communications rooms. NYC Transit is presently working on ways to reduce the temperature and restore the signs. At a minimum when the weather cools down, he noted, the signs will be turned back on.

Ms. Mason made a suggestion that paper signs with explanations be posted where the countdown clocks have been shut down because of excessive heat.

Mr. Greif commented on the different colors on the countdown clocks that are used in Brooklyn. He stated that there is a need to recalibrate the clocks because the trains don’t seem to be coming in as announced. He also wanted to know if information about out of service trains could be put on clocks. Mr. Bienstock stated that this information cannot be provided on the B Division and that this situation has to be handled this through dedicated announcers.

Mr. Stewart commented on the announcements made at Columbus Circle for the A, B, C, and D trains, noting that the announcement for the next express train typically says that the train is one station away. He said that at this location one station can be pretty far away. Mrs. Bienstock stated that the announcers use a shorter distance as their standard for the “one station” terminology and tailor their announcements to match the typical distance to the next station in the system, rather than the actual next station on these lines.

Ms. Shannon asked if there are any plans to add countdown clocks to the Grand Central/Times Square Shuttle. Mr. Bienstock stated that there are plans to install clocks and they should be in service by the end of the year. Mr. Jost asked whether the shuttle will have standard countdown clocks or will tell riders on which track the next train will arrive. Mr. Bienstock said he will have to inquire about that.

Ms. Prentiss commented on the lack of track announcements during the off peak period for the shuttle, noting that it seems as though the presence of a system removes from consideration the people who can’t see it. She said that the countdown clocks are constant but the announcements are not. Mr. Bienstock stated that the announcements are automated, so they should work all the time.

Ms. Hoge suggested that track announcements would be a good feature at the Main Street, Flushing station. Mr. Albert suggested that this would also be useful at the Pelham Bay Park station. Mr. Bienstock stated that all multi-track terminals should have “next trains” signs. He said that at Stillwell Avenue, NYC Transit is installing display boards to list scheduled departure times, lines, and departing track and that there will be audio announcements there as well.

Matt Shotkin asked the percentage of clocks that have audio capability and reported that at the 59th Street station there was a malfunctioning clock that he later saw a workman remove. He asked whether this clock been eliminated. Mr. Bienstock stated that fewer than twelve clocks have only audio capability and that he did not know about the 59th Street clock.

Ms. Hoge asked the main topics about which riders are contacting NYC Transit through the MTA website. Mr. Bienstock stated that station specific questions and general comments about the system are the main topics. He said that most of the comments are positive, but there is some negative feedback.

Stuart Goldstein asked if any thought has been given to how to deal with rider confusion over sequence numbers on the countdown clocks and asked what problems the system has faced other than heat. Mr. Bienstock stated that they have removed sequence numbers from the countdown clocks at some locations and will remove them from all countdown clocks as new software is installed. He also commented on the other problems seen with the system, including vandalism, a few mechanical failures, and some software problems. He said that the other problems that have been encountered are relatively minor.

Mr. Greif asked what happens when trains are rerouted at the Stillwell Avenue station. Mr. Bienstock replied that dispatchers have small display screens that allow them to enter changes into the system.

Adjournment

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 28, 2011

As most of you know Chairman Jay Walder has announced his resignation and will be assuming the position of CEO at MTR in Hong Kong. His last day is slated to be October 21st. While there are certainly some critics of his tenure, he did set the MTA on a new course in terms of increased transparency through the use of the internet and of innovation through the use of technology in operations. Unfortunately, Mr. Walder’s watch included fare increases and cuts in service due to a financial shortfall that was not of his making. His departure will not only leave a void in leadership, but it creates uncertainty and apprehension both inside and outside the organization, as the question remains: Who will take on the enormous financial challenges that face the MTA? To date, there has been speculation about candidates to replace Jay Walder, but no concrete indication of what Governor Cuomo intends to do. If a successor is not in place when Chairman Walder’s departs, an interim leader will be installed until a new Chairman is named by the Governor and confirmed by the State Senate.

I’ll discuss it further in the Board Report, but yesterday the MTA released its July Financial Plan, including a preliminary budget for 2012. You should have received materials and links to materials on the Plan by email yesterday. The budget itself makes few changes from the status quo and follows the patterns established by this year’s budget. The more controversial part of the Plan is how it provides for the funding of the MTA Capital Program.

This past Tuesday Bill Henderson met along with other transit advocates with staff from State Comptroller DiNapoli’s office. The staff made a short presentation on the overall structure of the State debt and the New York State’s spending on transportation programs and projects. They noted that the shifts in State spending from bond proceeds away from transportation and toward expenses not connected with a tangible asset, together with statutory borrowing limits is putting great pressure on funding transportation infrastructure.

The meeting provided some valuable perspective on the decisions reflected in the MTA’s proposed Capital Plan financing system, but the Comptroller’s staff displayed great reluctance to issue opinions on the wisdom of the MTA’s capital funding plans, except for analyses of the legal sufficiency of materials and the process involved in issuing of bonds. As an example, they declined to identify a level at which debt service would be an unacceptably high percentage of the MTA’s operating budget.

The PCAC has released its annual performance review for 2010. You were sent a copy by email and the review is also available on our website. If you need a hard copy please let the staff know. The report is the result of an in-depth look at all aspects of NYC Transit. Included in the report is a “Watch List for 2011” which identifies areas in which we expect to see progress. We will use the watch list in our evaluation of the performance of the MTA at the end of this year.

Also provided to you today is the new PCAC flyer holder, which we will use for informational outreach purposes, as well as the 2010 PCAC Annual Report, which has just been printed. The annual report is also available on our website, but we had some paper copies produced for use in outreach.

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