Meeting Minutes March 24, 2011

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A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12 noon on March 24, 2011, in the 5th floor Board room, at MTA headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, between 44th & 45th Streets, New York City.

The following members were present:

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

The following members were absent:

• Thomas Jost
• Jessica G. Rojas

In addition, the following persons were present:

• William Henderson  -PCAC Executive Director
• Jan Wells   -PCAC Associate Director
• Karyl Berger   -PCAC Research Associate
• Chief Raymond Diaz -NYPD Transit Bureau
• Sgt. Billy O’Brien  -NYPD Transit Bureau
• Deborah Hall-Moore -NYCT
• Yvonne Morrow  -Concerned citizen
• Brigitta Payne  -Concerned citizen
• Joseph Garber  -Concerned citizen
• Alan Flacks   -Concerned citizen
• Marsha Whitehead  -Concerned citizen
• Ken Stewart   -Concerned citizen
• Raymond Knowles  -Concerned citizen
• Matt Shotkin   -Concerned citizen

Approval of Agenda and Minutes

The agenda for the March 24, 2011 meeting was approved.  The minutes of the February 24, 2011 meeting were approved as written.

Chair’s Report

The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.

Trudy Mason stated that there are articles in the media referring to the electronic countdown clock signs saying that people like the system, but if the information on the system is not accurate, it can be harmful.  Edith Prentiss stated that the countdown clocks are great if you have options, but if you don’t have options the system and the information that it provides are useless.

Ms. Prentiss stated that she has received a response from NYC Transit to her 190th street elevator operator staffing question.

Andrew Albert said that increased fare evasion enforcement has been in the news and that the Council can ask Chief Diaz about it later in the meeting.

Board Report

Mr. Albert reported that on March 23 the MTA held a Public Hearing at which there was a discussion of more Long Island Bus cuts.  There were over 200 speakers registered, including many representatives from disability and student communities.   Mr. Albert stated that he understands the MTA management’s point that they cannot afford to subsidize Long Island Bus, but people are unhappy with the prospect of losing service.  People in Nassau are very critical of County Executive Mangano over this issue.  Mr. Albert said that there are three private bus companies that are interested in operating the system.    He said that if you look at a map of the Long Island Bus service area, you can see that the proposals affect a large portion of Nassau County.  Able-Ride will be severely affected as well.  He said that the situation is a stand-off for now.

Stuart Goldstein wanted to know whether anyone has suggested extending NYC Transit routes to Long Beach.  Also he wanted to know if we found whether Board approval is need for station name change.   Mr. Henderson stated that we have not found anything to indicate that the MTA Board approval is required for a station name change.

Chris Greif stated he agreed with Mr. Goldstein regarding extending NYC Transit bus service to Long Beach.  He asked whether there were elected officials at the Long Island Bus public hearing.  Mr. Greif stated that Long Island Bus also will be discontinuing a Far Rockaway/Hempstead bus.  He said that the cuts to Long Island Bus service will destroy Queens and that he did not see public notices of the hearing posted in Queens.  Ms. Prentiss stated that she had seen notices of Long Island Bus hearings in Washington Heights buses and on Access-A-Ride vehicles.

Mr. Albert stated that with Norman Seabrook gone from the MTA Board, the duties of the old Safety and Security Committee have been dispersed.  Safety issues will go to the appropriate operating committee, and a new Security Committee chaired by Jay Walder will be created.

Ms. Mason commented that she found out that there is a new division of NYC Transit Security that exists to check Select Bus Service (SBS) payment receipts.  She said that some of the members of this division ride the bus and some are stationed at the bus stop to check receipts.  She said that she would like to know where the money comes from to hire these employees and under what authority the division housing these employees was created.  She would like a letter written to inquire about this.  There seems to be approximately nine inspectors.  Mr. Albert stated that there are only six members of the Eagle Team, which Ms. Mason is describing, who are responsible for fare enforcement in Manhattan.

Ms. Mason stated that people feel that they are being harassed by the SBS fare inspectors.  She said that she has their names and that some of these riders plan to file suit against the MTA.

Mr. Flacks suggested that Council members should not receive lunch at their meetings.  He said that the street furniture contractor Cemusa does what it wants because it has a long term contract with the city to furnish bus shelters and other amenities.  He also stated that he thought there was an agreement that NYC Transit’s maps would come to the NYCTRC for review before printing.  Mr. Albert stated that this is not accurate.

Ms. Mason reported that on March 12 around 6:00 p.m. at the 77th Street station, there was a countdown clock malfunction when service was suspended.  The countdown clock sign at the station indicated that a train was coming in either six, three, or two minutes, with no apparent reason for changes between arrival times.  While the sign displayed inaccurate information, five announcements were made to let customers know that the 7 train was not running and that riders should transfer to the R train at 59th Street to travel to Queens.  It was finally announced that downtown 6 train was not running and riders were told that they would have to take alternate service, but apparently the station booth clerk who was on duty was not told.  The clerk did not know of the suspension until told by a customer and received official word of the problem only through calling the Control Center, as he couldn’t hear the announcements that were being made.     The clerk then gave out block tickets to allow riders to continue their trips, but riders could not use the block tickets to reenter the other side of the station due to the removal of agents from the station booth.  Ms. Mason said that as a result people were storming the buses that stop at the station.

Ms. Mason said that there is no communication between the Control Center, token booth and bus drivers when there is a problem.  She stated that she was at the station for 13 minutes, and that there were many people there before she arrived.  She said that she spoke to NYC Transit President Tom Prendergast, and he admitted that there is a breakdown of the system.  She wants to know what is being done about the countdown clocks.  Mr. Albert also feels communications should be connected to security via radio.

Mr. Albert stated he asked Carmen Bianco about the clocks.  Mr. Bianco stated that they are aware of the glitches in the system and are working on resolving them.  Mr. Albert said that he agrees with MTA Chairman Walder that the perfect should not be enemy of the good in this case and that the announcement about 7 trains not running was justified.

Ms. Mason again asked what NYC Transit is doing to remedy this situation.

Old Business

Mr. Goldstein stated that the R160 signs were modified to reflect some changes on the F trains, but not all of them.  Mr. Albert stated that he will report this situation again.

Mr. Stewart stated that at a Community Board 4 meeting he heard a report about the Eagle Team that checks riders’ receipts on the SBS buses.  He said that he had experienced a situation where the team held a bus for approximately 10 minutes.  He stated that at the Community Board 4 meeting a question was asked whether passengers’ receipts be checked while buses are in motion.  Mr. Henderson stated he was told that receipts are checked only when the bus is stopped and that he was told this is done for safety.

Mr. Stewart stated that NYC Transit is looking for Bus shelter locations for the M16 along 8th and 9th Avenues for the time when off board fare payment is implemented on 34th Street.  NYCT believes that the M16 stops should be separate from stops for other buses, but the Community Board wants them together.

Matt Shotkin mentioned the behavior and attitudes of SBS bus operators.  He said that some are courteous to customers and some are not.

Mr. Greif stated there are lots of passengers on Q train shuttle buses traveling between Prospect Park and Downtown Brooklyn.  He said that they were packed all three weekends that he had observed them.  Mr. Greif said that he hopes the shuttle buses are not removed and riders directed to alternative scheduled service instead.  Mr. Albert stated that NYC Transit is likely to provide shuttle buses in this location.  Ms. Prentiss stated that just because there is alternate service available, it doesn’t mean that the service is accessible.  She also noted that people take shuttle buses for free as a replacement for scheduled service and said that a rider should be able to get a free transfer on shuttle bus, but be required to pay with MetroCard, and then not be charged on the subway.

New Business

Mr. Goldstein stated that on the F train at 23 Street southbound, slightly after midnight, there were signs informing riders that there is no service, but the platform was filled with people because the area was not taped off.   Also, there was no booth agent present to inform riders of the change.  As a result, people stood on the platform waiting for a train that would never come that night.

Mr. Albert mentioned that he will follow up on the installation of cameras at locations where agents have been removed from token booths.

Introduction of Raymond Diaz, Chief and Sgt. Billy O’Brien, NYPD Transit

Chief Diaz distributed an NYPD Transit Bureau organization chart and crime statistics for January and February.  He stated that the Transit Bureau is working to make conditions in the subways better and that subway crime is down 42 percent over the last 5 years.  He said that the most prevalent of the of seven major “index” crimes is grand larceny.  Sergeant O’Brien stated that a crime may be considered grand larceny if it involves an item over $1,000 in value and that it also includes the theft of credit cards.  He said that the Transit Bureau is particularly concerned with phone and chain snatchings in the system.

Chief Diaz said that the biggest problem is snatching of high end phones.  Phones are being snatched before subway doors close, and the thief then jumps off the train and escapes.  He said that Transit Bureau officers look for people running through the system as this is an indication that they may have done something unlawful.  The Chief said that another category of criminal includes the “lush workers”, who are criminals who target passengers who are sleeping or drunk.  He said that these individuals commit their crimes after a train pulls into the last station and this is where a wallet or pocketbook is taken from a sleeping or drunk passenger.  He noted that this group of criminals tends to be older, but that these thefts account for 15 percent of the total of grand larcenies.

Chief Diaz commented on NYPD many crime prevention activities.  He said that there are officers assigned to trains with a mission to inform customers on how to avoid crimes in the subway system.  He noted that the problem area in the system are certain parts of Brooklyn, among them the East New York to Canarsie area, which is designated District 33.  There have been successes in these areas, as Brooklyn was the Borough with the greatest decline in crime in the past few years.  The Chief noted that the highest number of crimes occur in the period from Noon to 8:00 p.m., when ridership is high.  He said that the Transit Bureau pays a great deal of attention to schools and that the Bureau has assigned school officers.

Chief Diaz stated that subway crime makes up 2 percent of total crime citywide.  He said that last year in the subways there were 48,000 arrests, 28,000 for fare evasion, and 68,000 fare evasion summonses issued.  Not everyone is given a summons, however, as people stopped for fare evasion are checked against Police Department records.  If they are wanted, repeat offenders, or have ignored previous summons they are arrested.  The Transit Bureau has encountered 1,200 parolees in the system.  Chief Diaz said that people may be prohibited from using the subway system while on parole and that pictures of individuals with these restrictions are distributed to officers.  He said that the individuals banned from the subway are those persons who have consistently committed crimes in subways.  If individuals who have been banned are found to be in the subways, they can be arrested on the basis of the violation of conditions of parole.

Ms. Berger asked about the Transit Bureau’s treatment of panhandling in the system, and whether the NYPD still has the “arrest bus.”  Chief Diaz said that the Department does have a bus for use in processing individuals who have been arrested and that they use it in special operations, but do not use it otherwise.  He said that in the subway system, panhandling is always a violation, as is peddling.

Ms. Berger asked if Transit Bureau gets involved with the homeless.  Chief Diaz said that they have transported 3,000 individuals to shelters in 2010 and 1700 so far this year. He said that homeless service groups deal most closely with homeless persons and that the Transit Bureau works with MTA Connections and Bowery Residents Committee.  He said that homelessness is a very difficult problem.

Mr. Greif commented that he is starting to see graffiti in system on the Brighton Line at the stations that he most frequently uses, Avenue U and Neck Road.  Chief Diaz stated in regard to graffiti, they take photographs and put them in a database to match tags with the styles of known violators, which may allow them to make multiple arrests of individuals for graffiti.  He said that they have found that many of the most recent graffiti painters are from other countries and encouraged the public to call in any violation.

Ms. Halpern asked about the status of the communication system with respect to communication between the surface and subway levels.   Chief Diaz stated that the big problem is that there are currently two radio systems, one below and one above ground.   He said that they are getting close to having a single system.  Ms. Halpern also asked what happens if an individual being sought by the Police emerges from the subway system to the surface.   Chief Diaz stated that they have a number of communication channels and that there is generally good coordination.

Ms. Prentiss made statement that she never saw officers north of the 155th Street station on the C line.  She asked if statistics can be broken down by district and wondered if there are any arrests made north of this station.  Chief Diaz commented that District 3, which encompasses this area, had 2,100 fare evasion arrest and 4,300 summons in 2010.  Ms. Prentiss commented on a problem that she sees at the south end of the 181th Street station on the A line.  She said that there are turnstiles at this location but no staffed booth and consequently a great deal of fare evasion.  Chief Diaz stated that there were only two index crimes in that station last year and 22 arrests there last year.

Chief Diaz commented on stations that have entrances without agents.  He said that at these stations individuals jam MetroCard vending machines so that they will not work and sell swipes to riders seeking to enter the system.  When a machine becomes jammed, within 45 minutes a work order is sent from the machine for its repair.  Now the Transit Bureau gets a real time report on the work orders that are issued when MetroCard vending machines can’t reboot themselves.  He said that if there are multiple malfunctions of machines at a single entrance area, then in all likelihood there is someone jamming the machines.  These reports provide the Transit Bureau with information that they can use to make arrests.  The Chief noted that the Transit Bureau also makes many arrests of people entering the subway system with illegally obtained keys.

Mr. Goldstein asked the status of cameras at Sheepshead Bay, because he has seen fare evasion on buses and would like to know what is being done.  Chief Diaz stated that there are over 500 cameras that the NYPD can watch live at Times Square, Grand Central Terminal, Union Square, and Penn Station.  They use restricted duty, and not full duty officers, to watch these monitors.  Chief Diaz said that this is a very successful program, and that the Transit Bureau also uses images from use non-networked cameras in investigations.

Chief Diaz said that with respect to buses the Transit Bureau has a small unit, with one Sergeant and six officers, to work on problem locations for buses.  He said that often people, mainly students, get on the bus by using the back door but have either unlimited MetroCards or school passes and don’t think they are doing anything wrong because they will later swipe their cards at a subway station.  The problem with this is that these customers are not being counted as being on the bus.

Mr. Greif asked whether there are Transit Bureau officers working on violence on the trains.  He said that there are many cases of students jumping and acting inappropriately on the trains.  Chief Diaz stated that he has officers in the “Safe Passage” program to address school crime.  Mr. Greif asked could there be more officers at DeKalb Avenue Station for Bay Ridge bound trains.  He said that crowds in the subway station make it difficult for people to exit elevators.

Mr. Stewart asked what procedures are followed for dealing with platform musicians.  He said that platform musicians create a hazard because announcements cannot be heard, even when they perform unamplified.  Chief Diaz stated that if there is no violation, nothing is done and that musicians are permitted to play on the platform but may not be amplified.  He said that officers will step in if there is an unreasonable level of noise.

Yvette Morrow asked if anything can be done to stop slam gate alarms.  Chief Diaz stated that he is aware that people have problems exiting some stations during rush hours and understands why the slam gates are being used improperly.  He noted that in the Brooklyn College area, parrots living in the area of the subway station now mimic emergency gate sounds.

Alan Flacks asked if the Transit Bureau enforces petty regulations and whether they use decoys.  Chief Diaz stated that the Bureau uses enforcement of minor violations to engage people who may be involved in more serious crime and that they do use decoys.  With regard to minor violations, the Transit Bureau works with homeless service groups and does joint operations with them to get homeless individuals into a better environment and for them to avoid violating Transit’s rules of conduct.

Chief Diaz commented on how aggressively the Transit Bureau deals with issues of counterterrorism.  He said that they now have 33 dogs assigned to the Transit Bureau’s Canine Unit.  Of these 33 dogs, there are 2 dogs that are able to detect a vapor from a dangerous substance.

Ms. Williford asked a question in reference to the organization chart that the Chief distributed.  She wanted to know why there are vacancies in the Brooklyn Command.  Chief Diaz stated that some of these titles were places where additional Captains were assigned and they are not filled if no one is available.

Mr. Garber asked if the Bureau has ever considered a community council for Transit.  He also asked whether surface transit should be dealt with by the Transit Bureau and noted that he also has a problem hearing announcements because of musicians in the stations.  Chief Diaz stated that surface transportation enforcement is more involved with keeping bus lanes clear and more appropriately handled in a way similar to other traffic enforcement, but that these officers do not have much involvement with enforcement of fare evasion rules on the buses.

Mr. Shotkin asked what is being done about musicians who play on trains.  Chief Diaz stated that performances on a train are a violation of the Rules of Conduct.

Ms. Berger stated that the “See Something, Say Something” campaign has been successful, but asked where a person should call.  Chief Diaz stated that in case of an emergency the public should call 911 or go to a station agent.  In non-emergency situations one can go to station booth, call a Transit District Commander, or call 311.  In these cases, a person can send an email message to the commander using the format: commanders 1st name <dot> commander’s last name @ NYPD.org.

Mr. Sinansky asked what enforcement efforts are being pursued with the bus lanes.  Chief Diaz stated that this is handled by Traffic officers, but he knows that they have been active.

Adjournment

The meeting was adjourned at 2:00 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,
Deborah Morrison
Administrative Assistant

 

New York City Transit Riders Council
Chair’s Report – March 24, 2011

As I’m sure you may have read in the news, the City has scaled back its concept for a 34th Street transitway.  The initial concepts included plans for converting much of the roadway into bus lanes and pedestrian space and preventing vehicles other than buses from using 34th Street to travel across Manhattan.  After considerable community opposition, the City is now pursuing concepts incorporating much more conventional bus lanes and delivery and pick up spaces.  Changes to bus service on 34th Street are proceeding at full speed, however, and by this summer 34th Street MTA local buses will be using off board fare payment similar to the system used for Select Bus Service. On March 14 Ellyn attended the public meeting on the changes to 34th Street, but there promises to be much more public discussion before the final design is chosen.

NYC Transit is also moving along with a project similar to the bus arrival information system along 34th Street, which has been partially turned off for a recent upgrade.  While the 34th Street system is a proprietary technology from an outside vendor, Clever Devices, the new system is being developed in house at the MTA and makes use of equipment that will be installed for the new fare system on buses.  The pilot test of the new system is being conducted on the B63 bus running between Downtown Brooklyn and Bay Ridge and is accessible through the internet and by text message.  In addition, the MTA is working to place LCD display screens with bus location information in the windows of businesses near bus stops.  The pilot has been successful and Chairman Walder has committed to rolling out the system on all Staten Island buses by the end of the year, with other boroughs following by 2013.

At the last NYCTRC meeting, Burt Strauss asked about the continued presence of bus information for the M30 route, which has been discontinued, at its former stops on East 72nd Street. PCAC staff contacted NYC Transit about this issue and has been told that Operation Planning staff has been instructed to check the route for any inaccurate materials and that NYC Transit will ensure the removal of  M30 maps and schedules in Guide-A-Ride boxes.  Removing any M30 information from bus shelters, however, is the responsibility of Cemusa, which holds the City contract to provide bus shelters.  Transit has informed Cemusa of the changes, but does not have direct control over the removal of M30 materials from the shelters.

The renaming of subway stations is also continuing.  You may have seen posters announcing the change of the 23rd Street-Ely Avenue station to “Court Square-23rd Street.  It’s now been announced that when the transfer between the 7 and G trains is opened, the 7 line stop at 45th Road-Court House Square will also be renamed “Court Square” and the G Station will lose its “Long Island City” designation and be known as “Court Square.”  The entire complex will be known as “Court Square-23rd Street.”  Unfortunately, a definite new completion date for the transfer, which was to be finished in February, has not been given, despite the name changes.

Edith Prentiss asked that staff follow up on an issue related to the 190th St. A line elevators that was raised at a town hall meeting as well as Community Board 12 traffic and transportation committee meetings.  She said there has been community concern that late at night there has been no elevator operator at the 190th Street A train subway station elevators that transport riders from the train to Fort Washington Avenue.  Edith said that she has been told that when the elevator operator is absent from work, NYC Transit is no longer authorizing overtime hours for vacancy coverage. She also noted that it seems that there is no longer provision for rotating meal break coverage and asked if there been a change in staffing policies for elevator operators.

Deborah Hall-Moore said that, according to the Stations department, there has been no change in policy and that there is still meal break coverage as well as coverage during absences.  The only uncovered time away for the operators should be bathroom breaks, and those should be brief.  Ms. Hall-Moore said that the best thing for Edith and others to do going forward is to document specific instances when an operator is not available so that the absences can be investigated.  If Karyl receives documented complaints, she will make sure that they get to the individual at NYC Transit who works on Washington Heights issues and forward the response to the persons making the complaints.

We just today received a response to our letter on loud musicians on subway platforms and the need to enforce existing rules to protect the safety of riders.  The response came from Arts for Transit director Sandra Bloodworth and did not break any new ground.  A copy of our letter and the response is in your packets today.  We also sent a copy of this letter to Chief Raymond Diaz, who is our guest today and is integral to the enforcement of rules for musicians in the subways.  Also in your packet is a copy of the NYPD Transit Bureau’s most recent report on major crimes and arrests, summonses and ejections in the subway.  This report mirrors this year’s news reports of increases in some categories of crime in the subway.

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