Meeting Minutes June 23, 2011

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A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12:00 noon on June 23, 2011, in the 5th floor Board room at MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City.

The following members were present:

• Andrew Albert
• Sharon King Hoge
• Shirley Genn
• Tom Jost
• Stuart Goldstein
• Michael Sinansky
• Christopher Greif
• Trudy L. Mason
• William K. Guild
• Edith Prentiss
• Burton M. Strauss, Jr.
• Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas
• Marisol Halpern
• Toya Williford

In addition, the following persons were present:

• William A. Henderson -PCAC Executive Director
• Jan Wells  -PCAC Associate Director
• Ellyn Shannon  -PCAC Transportation Planner
• Karyl Berger  -PCAC Research Associate
• James Cutolo  -NYCT
• Susannah Harrington -NYCT
• Deborah Hall-Moore -NYCT
• Ms. Guild  -Concerned citizen
• Matt Shotkin  -Concerned citizen
• B.E. Payne  -Concerned citizen
• Georg Haikalis  -Concerned citizen
• Ken Stewart  -Concerned citizen
• Alan Flacks  -Concerned citizen
• Joseph Garber  -Concerned citizen
• Shanni Liang  -Concerned citizen

Approval of Agenda and Minutes

The agenda for the June 23, 2011 meeting was approved with additions of an Executive Session and a New Business item about a NYCTRC member project.  The minutes of the May 26, 2011 meeting were approved.

Chair’s Report

A copy of the Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.

In response to an item discussing a staff visit to the Second Avenue Subway construction zone, Trudy Mason commented that staff should consult members before going to do field work as it could save time.

Board Report

Andrew Albert stated that since June’s MTA committee and Board meetings were scheduled for the following week, there was not much to report.  He said that there are two new MTA Board Members.  Donald Cecil, the Westchester County representative to the Board, has been replaced by Jonathan A. Ballan and Doreen Frasca has been replaced by Fernando Ferrer.  As a result of Ms. Frasca’s departure, there are two new committee chairpersons.  The new committee chairpersons are Mark Lebow for the NYC Transit Committee, which Ms. Frasca previously chaired, and Allen Cappelli for the MTA Bridges and Tunnels Committee, which Mr. Lebow previously chaired.

Old Business

Chris Greif asked if the performance of the B82 bus will be improved by adding more limited stop buses on the route.  Bill Henderson stated that we do not yet know the breakdown between limited and local buses because schedules for the fall have not yet been released.

Ms. Mason has requested a letter be sent stating that all M15 Limited signage should be removed, as M15 Limited service no longer exists.  She also said that the problem of fare disputes on SBS could be lessened if signs on fare machines and shelters informed customers to keep their receipts.

Stuart Goldstein stated that the Council has asked NYC Transit to ensure that MetroCard refund forms and envelopes are available in stations but that his survey of several stations indicates they are not there.  He asked that the Council follow up on this issue.

B.E. Payne stated that there are problems with local bus drivers accepting SBS receipts for passage on the M15 routes.  She said that she has been told that local bus drivers should accept the SBS receipt to allow customers to board.  With some drivers there is no problem with this, but others do not honor the receipts.

Ms. Mason stated that the bus drivers are not the issue, but they are not being given the same information.   Ms. Mason suggested that a letter to be written that states all of the problems with the M15 SBS.  Ms. Mason said that she is available to assist with the letter.

Shirley Genn commented on the B67 and B69 bus routes, which travel along 7th Avenue in Brooklyn and go through Park Slope.  She said that there is always a delay on this line and that it took over a half hour for the next southbound bus to arrive the day before around 7 p.m.  She stated that fewer than the scheduled number of buses are operating in this corridor in either direction.  Ms. Genn also noted that the MetroCard readers in subway turnstiles are not being kept clean.  She said that she pointed out their condition to an agent, who responded to her “Don’t complain to me; send a letter”.  This incident occurred at the Brighton Beach station’s Brighton 7th Street booth on the Q line.

Election of NYCTRC Officers

The Council elected the slate of officers nominated at its May meeting for a one-year term.  The slate consists of the Council’s current officers: Chair- Andrew Albert, Vice Chair – Michael Sinansky, and Executive Committee members – William K. Guild, Marisol Halpern, and Toya Williford.

Executive Session

The Council convened an executive session to discuss a personnel issue.  Alan Flacks asked if there was any action taken by the Council during the executive session.  Andrew Albert stated that there was no action taken.

New Business

Mr. Albert recommended that a Council project should be undertaken to monitor the effectiveness of general order notices in the subway system.  He said that the project would include evaluating the notices for proper placement and prompt removal of notices.  Mr. Albert said that he is particularly concerned with people being confused as to when the general orders are no longer in effect.

Edith Prentiss said that she was surprised on the past Sunday when she saw that shuttle buses were running along the 1 line to 231st Street.  She said that she noticed a sign for the shuttle bus, but the 1 train was running at this time.  Mr. Albert stated that he observed people waiting for shuttle buses at Chambers Street on Memorial Day when the 1 train was running and shuttle buses were not being provided.

Sharon King Hoge said that when a train is announced as running on express track she is unsure whether it is making express or local stops.  She suggested that on board announcements could include this information.  She also asked that bus maps be posted in stations, since as a result of construction on the subway system; people may need to take an unfamiliar bus.

Mr. Greif commented on the importance of people being able to locate accessible stations.

Ms. Prentiss stated that when there are diversions that affect ADA stations, NYC Transit is good about noting this information on service diversion posters, but these notices often tell customers to call for information, which is impossible with a cellphone from many platforms.

George Haikalis stated his concerns about travel in lower Manhattan with the impending opening of World Trade Center memorial.  He noted that NYC Council member Margaret Chin, who represents the area, suggested that the NYC Transit system be made visitor friendly.  Mr. Haikalis suggested that NYC Transit restore the one day pass as one step in this direction.

Ms. Prentiss stated she believes that the one day pass should be sold, but that restoring it won’t impact use of tourist buses at the 9/11 memorial.  She said that restoration of the one day pass should be promoted as the right thing to do.

Burt Strauss commented that providing change machines could attract more visitors on buses.

Mike Sinansky commented that the presence or absence of the one day pass won’t affect tour buses, agreeing with Ms. Prentiss.  He said that the critical decisions impacting visitor traffic had been made seven years ago and that the Port Authority, Community Board 1 and Elected Officials dropped the ball at that time.

Ms. Mason complimented the Help Point Intercom system that has been installed at the 23rd Street (6) Station.  She stated that having the intercom at the Help Points is wonderful and that it is marvelous to have a live person respond.  She stated that there should be a full implementation of the system and not just the pilot currently in effect at two stations.  She asked if the Council can find out the implementation schedule for the system and suggested that we send a letter to say how good the system is.

Ms. Prentiss disagreed with the assessment of the Help Point System.  She said that there are major ADA-related questions about this technology and there are many issues that need to be resolved.  She asked what about people who don’t speak and noted that you can use the induction loop technology in the Help Points if you have some hearing, but asked what would happen if you are totally deaf.  She further questioned how the system would accommodate blind persons who don’t read Braille.  She noted that these questions were raised several years ago and have not been resolved.

Mr. Albert suggested that someone from NYC Transit should speak about this system at a future meeting.

Mr. Greif asked where the signs are to indicate that the Court Square station is now accessible.  Ms. Prentiss commented that until the accessibility of the station is certified, the signs cannot go up.

Introduction of James Cutolo and Susannah Harrington of NYCT Operation Support to Discuss Posting and Maintenance of General Order Notices in Subway Stations

Mr. Cutolo stated that his office is part of Operations Planning.  At this time he manages 300 traffic checkers, who handle Guide-a-Ride maintenance, data collection, service notices, and 4×5 foot subway maps in stations. He commented that about 8 years ago the scope of traffic checkers’ activities was expanded beyond data collection.  This has reduced attrition in the traffic checker positions, as the work is more interesting.

As a part of the traffic checkers’ duties, they post service diversion notices, which have changed over the years.  Mr. Cutolo said that, while he was MTA Executive Director, Lee Sander was at the subway station at 74thStreet and Roosevelt Avenue and complained that there was no connectivity between departments in terms of information.  Operations Planning was brought in to coordinate the information that was posted.

Mr. Cutolo said that there is special treatment of large diversions, particularly where there are shuttle buses replacing train service.  In this case there are “No Trains at This Station” signs positioned at appropriate locations and ”Shuttle Bus Stop“ signs  posted, which now list the stops that the shuttle bus will be making.  Ms. Prentiss asked if all stops are listed on these signs.  Susannah Harrington stated that listing stations on these signs is a balancing act and that in some cases not all stops can be listed without making the signs difficult to interpret.

Mr. Cutolo stated that the latest signage initiative is “directory” signage that indicates all diversions that will occur on all lines at different times.  With the old service diversion signs, riders knew of particular diversions, but did not have the whole picture.

Ms. Shannon asked if Operations Planning received feedback from customer service personnel to determine the impact of signs on questions that are asked.  Ms. Harrington stated that they need to do more market research.  She commented that they assign people to travel through the system and look for people reading and observing signs to gauge their reaction to the signs.  The major objective is to find out whether riders are confused by the signage.

Karyl Berger asked when the directory signs are posted. Mr. Cutolo stated that there are 45 traffic checkers assigned to signage who visit all stations to put up, take down, and refresh signage.  Stations are divided into 37 zones, and each zone has approximately 13 stations.  Each traffic checker is responsible for a given zone, including distributing “take one” flyers.  In a normal week, starting on Monday, all directory signs are in place from the prior week.  Directory signage that shows weekend diversions is taken down on Monday.  On Tuesday, the traffic checkers work on column signs, which are smaller signs with directions pertaining to the specific location in which they are posted.  Also, in September 2010 the traffic checkers started an initiative involving posting street level signage that informs riders of service changes affecting particular stations.  This function is very challenging because of the number of station entrances.  This work is done on Tuesday and Thursday.   On Wednesday, the traffic checkers begin to post weekend directory signage and this posting is completed by Thursday.  If there are changes to a service diversion listed on the directory sign, a supplemental, or “change” sign is put up.

Ms. Hoge asked whether, if a Council member notices that a sign is outdated, taking down the outdated signs is illegal.   Mr. Cutolo stated that they frown on outdated signs remaining up, but asked the Council members to please not take them down as this action might influence others to remove signage.

Mr. Goldstein asked if all checkers assigned to signage work the same hours.  Mr. Cutolo stated that all of them work from Monday to Friday, but that they work staggered hours to be available for last minute diversions.

Shanni Liang asked whether Operations Planning is responsible for posting signs in other languages, who does the translating of signs into languages other than English, and how the languages to be used is decided.  Mr. Cutolo responded that Operations Planning is responsible for posting signs in languages other than English.  They rely on the Government and Community Relations department to determine which languages other than English should be used on the signs.  Ms. Harrington stated that a consultant does the language translation.  Ms. Liang commented that she has noticed many grammatical mistakes in Chinese language signage.  Ms. Harrington said that errors in grammar were also noticed in Spanish signs.  She said that they are working with the Marketing Department to determine options for a consultant to perform the translations.

Ms. Prentiss asked why there are no Spanish language signs in Washington Heights.  She also noted that when diversions continue over many weeks, the shuttle bus signs are left up, which makes riders believe that the shuttle bus is running when it is not.   Mr. Cutolo stated that they don’t have the personnel to take down signs if a diversion ends on weekends.  He also discussed issues with staffing.   This is a part-time job for many workers, but staffing is a challenge.  The weather is also a big factor as high humidity and cold weather make the signs come down.  He said that there are times when his staff members do not report for work at the last minute.   Geography also plays a part, as it is hard to get to all locations where notices need to be posted in all stations.  As an illustration of the size of the job, Mr. Cutolo stated that they use 12 miles of tape a week to post notices.

Ms. Hoge asked whether the work rules for Station Agents could be changed to make them responsible for signs, and requested the email address and telephone number where Mr. Cutolo can be contacted.  Ms. Hoge also wanted to know whether remodeled stations could include a dedicated space for service notices.  Ms. Harrington stated that the directory sign has a dedicated spot and that they want to make sure frames are included in all renovated stations.  As for the column signs, frames have been tested in the past to provide a set location for service notices on columns, but they have not proved to be durable.  Mr. Cutolo also noted that the directory sign is displayed on many express train platforms in freestanding frames, and he provided contact information where members could report problems. He said that the 24/7 telephone number to report problems is the traffic checking and control desk at 1-800-834-1173 and that callers have to let those answering the phone know that they are leaving a message about a signage issue.

Ms. Shannon asked if Operations Planning has thought about using technology to convey service diversion information.  Ms. Harrington stated that the Station Advisory Information Display screens that have recently been installed in stations are being used in a pilot test and that this use may be expanded.

Mr. Greif commented that in recent Q diversions at the Prospect Park station there wasn’t any notice of where local and express shuttle buses were located.  He said that there also is a need to better address diversion for ADA stations.

Ms. Harrington stated that financial issues are impacting alternative service during diversions, and noted that the 4 train will be diverted on the weekend after next without J shuttle service to compensate for its absence because of budget cuts.  Mr. Cutolo commented that with looming capital funding problems NYC Transit is trying to cut back on shuttles.  He said that another change is that Transit is segmenting shuttles to save money.  Shuttles between Jay and Church Streets in Brooklyn may be split to allow the number of buses to be cut on the southern part of the route.  This saves money but is less convenient for riders.

Ms. Berger wanted to know if Operations Planning is involved in posting temporary routing signs for buses.  Mr. Cutolo stated that he is not involved with that function.  He also noted that one of their aims in creating the new signage was to eliminate clutter.

Mr. Sinansky asked if the telephone number on directory signs is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  He stated that he recently called the number and was referred to the internet by an automated message.  Ms. Prentiss stated the number that is posted is answered at all times. Ms. Prentiss also commented on the height of the service diversion notice postings.  Posting these notices at eye level for a standing person of average height can be an issue for shorter people or those in wheelchairs.  Mr. Cutolo stated that existing frames are positioned 6” above ground level.  He said that they have to use the measurements of the frames to determine the size and location of the signs.  He said the decisions that have been made on the frames in turn impacts the height of the information that is posted.  Ms. Harrington responded that she can look at the column signs and see if their height can be changed.

Alan Flacks responded to George Haikalis’ earlier comment on one day passes, noting that the revenue gained from one day cards revenue won’t make a difference in a larger scheme of things.  He said that there are backups at station booths at tourist areas and that at 96th Street queues of people block pathways in the station while they are waiting for station agents or MetroCard Vending Machines.

Ms. Genn commented on someone had a reduced fare card that was damaged.  This person was told to call it in and report it and also that there is a 6 week waiting period for replacement.

Joseph Garber noted that NYPD Transit Bureau Chief Diaz is retiring and that former Transit Bureau Chief Hall is also retiring. He said that at the Marcy Avenue station entrance J2 many people are beating the fare.

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
June 23, 2011

In your packet today is a list of bus and subway schedule revisions that NYC Transit will implement in September and December.  The schedule changes reflect a mixture of service increases and decreases, but they do promise to add some much needed service to a number of routes that have been operating substantially over NYC Transit’s bus loading guidelines. The bus changes are scheduled to take effect in September.  The subway change, which will add one round trip on the L train to the end of the morning rush hour period, will take effect in December.

On June 14, Bill Henderson traveled to Albany with an Empire State Transportation Alliance delegation.  The purpose of the visit was to speak with legislators about the lack of funding for the MTA Capital Program beyond the end of this year and the importance of completing the current 2010-2014 Capital Program.  As you know, the Capital Program faces a funding gap of $10 billion or more between 2012 and 2014.  The legislators and staffers were supportive of providing the means to fund the Program, but did not have firm ideas about how to pay for the final three years of the Program.  There was some interest in exploring the use of bridge tolls or similar charges on drivers entering Manhattan but also some interest in the MTA financing a substantial part of the gap through additional borrowing.  We must be alert to the possibility of more borrowing as increasing debt only puts more pressure on the MTA to raise fares and reduce service.

PCAC has been selected to receive a Hunter College Public Service Scholar intern, Ms. Shanni Liang, for the 2011– 2012 academic year (September to May) for 20 hours per week. This program, which features exceptional junior and senior undergraduates, is a competitive program for both scholars and agencies.  We have applied in the past but we have not been selected until this year.  Ms. Liang lives in Brooklyn and travels from Bay Parkway on the N line.   She will be preparing a report on the service and station facilities in her Asian community, as well as assisting with other projects that we will be doing throughout the year.

Karyl, Ellyn and Jan took a field trip to the business area along 2nd Avenue that has been impacted by the subway construction.  They patronized one of the restaurants for lunch and then walked along the affected store fronts, taking pictures of the congestion and construction equipment, etc.  They were going to take the SBS to return to the office but the street traffic was so backed up that they returned using the Lexington Ave. subway.  It was clear that the construction is a major challenge for the neighborhood, but a necessary reality for increased capacity.  Pictures will go up on the web shortly.

While on the subject of field trips, we’re once again interested in continuing our recent practice of conducting a field trip for our members in August.  We’ve taken these opportunities to tour facilities where we wouldn’t normally have access, such as the Rail Control Center and Coronal Maintenance Facility, and also to take a closer look of elements of the system, including the Culver line and Bus Rapid Transit operations in the Bronx.  We need to finalize our plans within the next few weeks, so if there are transit facilities that you would like to visit, please let me or Bill Henderson know.

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