Meeting Minutes March 26, 2009


A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12 noon on March 26, 2009, 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
Trudy L. Mason
Shirley Genn
Edith Prentiss
Jessica G. Rojas
Burton Strauss, Jr
William K. Guild
Michael Sinansky
Marisol Halpern
Toya Williford
The following members were absent:

Thomas Jost
Sharon King Hoge
Sharon Santa Maria
In addition, the following persons were present:

William Henderson – PCAC Executive Director
Ellyn Shannon – Transportation Planner
Karyl Berger – PCAC Research Associate
John Hoban – NYCT
Deborah Hall-Moore – NYCT
Jesse Moskowitz – Record Mart
Linda Black – DFTA
Alan Flacks – NY County Democratic Committee
Matt Shotkin – Concerned citizen
Ken Stewart – Concerned citizen
Jim O’Shea – Concerned citizen
Lou Sepersky – Concerned citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the March 26, 2009 meeting was approved. The minutes of the February 26, 2009 meeting were approved as amended.

Chair’s Report
Like last month, it has been quite busy since we met in February. I am happy to announce that we have a new member of the Transit Riders Council, Sharon King Hoge, who was recommended for appointment by the NYC Public Advocate’s Office. She unfortunately could not be here today but we do look forward to having her join our ranks.

You may have been seeing a lot of me on television in the last week. I appeared on the WPIX-11 News Closeup program on Sunday morning, for which you were sent a website link, and I followed that up with NY1’s “The Call” program on Monday. I did several broadcast interviews after Board committee and Board meetings this week. Bill Henderson also did an interview on service cuts that aired on NY1 Tuesday, and our comments in MTA Board and committee meetings have also been included in broadcast news stories. I have also been quoted in a number of print stories over the past week.

We have also been making our voice heard in Albany. I went to Albany on February 24, just before our last NYCTRC meeting, and Bill Henderson has been up twice since the Council last met. Unfortunately, the State Senate has not yet moved forward on MTA financing, and the result is the actions that the MTA Board took at its meeting yesterday. I’ll discuss those actions in my Board Report.

On March 17, Bill Henderson met with Governor Paterson as a member of a group of transportation and civic advocates. Much of the meeting concerned additional steps that the Governor could take to move the MTA funding debate forward. Richard Ravitch also spoke at the meeting about his experiences meeting with legislators over the past several months. After the meeting Bill participated in a press conference and availability with the Governor to urge the Legislature to act on MTA funding legislation.

Bill Henderson also sent emails to the 62 State Senators reiterating our position of how important it is to promptly enact a long term solution for MTA funding sources instead of relying upon short-sighted stop gap measures.

As I am sure you have read, the South Ferry 1 line station opened a week ago. Unfortunately, a water main break at the Canal Street 1 line station wreaked havoc on the service just as it was getting started. Please make every effort to visit this station, as it is the first new station to open in the system in the past 20 years.

Last week, Bill Guild, Bill Henderson, Jan Wells and Karyl Berger attended the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council’s annual meeting. Thomas Barrett, the Deputy Secretary of the U. S. Department of Transportation, gave the keynote address. He spoke about the stimulus package and the benefits it would bring to our region. Tim Gilchrist, the Governor’s point man for distributing federal stimulus money also gave a brief overview of the stimulus package and noted that there are many more worthy projects than there is available money.

Ellyn Shannon attended a presentation on the Access to the Region’s Core project in Pomona last week. They mentioned that new access points to the subway from the ARC project have been identified, one of which will be a large entrance on the North West Corner 34th Street and 7th Avenue, where there is currently a Citibank. It may be a good time for members to hear the presentation directly and I think that this project may be a good subject for the next PCAC meeting.

We have some progress to report regarding our efforts to improve the noise, crowding and communication problems at the Times Square station. Ellyn and I met at the station with Louis Brusati, the NYCT General Superintendent in charge of the Line Manager program. Also with Mr. Brusati was Evelyn Kohler, the #1 Line Manager who is responsible for the mezzanine area near the Times Square shuttle. We discussed many of the issues we included in our letter last month and they said that our letter had been very helpful in bringing the multiple stakeholders for the station together. They also said that as a result of our letter a full time manager, whose sole responsibility would be to oversee the station, would be placed at the station. Last week Ms. Kohler said she would was working to bring that manager into the station sooner rather than later.

NYCT has also met with NYPD Inspector Jason Wilcox to discuss enforcement issues at the station, and NYCT and Music Under New York have also had several discussions to resolve the issues at the station for both the internal and external stakeholders. MUNY reports that they will be touring the station with Louis Brusati shortly.

Ellyn has also spoken with the Civilian Complaint Review Board inspector who is investigating her case involving the Counter Terrorism police incident that took place in January. We are pleased to report that they have now identified the four officers involved and are in the process of interviewing them. Unfortunately, although a camera was within five feet of the incident, the footage was erased before the CCRB had a chance to review it.

Jan Wells and Karyl Berger met with Sonia Jaising from NYC Transit’s Office of ADA compliance to discuss a number of issues about how they conduct their meetings with the public. Karyl will follow-up with a detailed email to them about a number of issues and concerns.

We also investigated two station issues. In the first, we received a complaint that the entrance at the southern end of the Park Place (2, 3) station was locked. Bill Henderson stopped at the station and observed that although this is a full time entrance, it has a gate that may be locked to close the entrance. Bill found the entrance to be open, but the gate was not locked or otherwise secured to the wall in an open position. He also observed some construction work involving excavation that is underway on the opposite side of Park Place and wondered if this work may have made a temporary closure necessary.

The second station issue involved a report that station entrances of the East Broadway (F) station at Strauss Square have green globes, although the entrances are not 24-hour entrances. Bill stopped at this station as well and reports that while the stations are not staffed at all hours, they have high entrance-exit turnstiles (HEETs) and MetroCard Vending Machines and are open at all hours, according to signage on the station entrances.
Trudy Mason reported that she had passed Ellyn’s account of her police incident on to NYPD Chief Raymond Kelly. Ellyn Shannon reported that she has to request a statement that the tapes have been erased by New York City Transit. Edith Prentiss said one of the problems is that it is hard to track complaints not made in writing and suggested that all persons reporting cases orally be given reference numbers.

Mr. Guild noted it should be illegal to erase a tape once an incident has been reported. He said that an attorney would face stiff sanctions if he were to do so.

Board Report
Mr. Albert reported that at last week’s MTA Finance Committee meeting, he offered a proposal that would change the percentage of the bonus on MetroCard purchases and that this would produce $40 to $50 million. This amount would cover some of the cost of maintaining service at current levels, but the proposal did not get much support.

In response to Mr. Strauss’ question as to how much the service cuts are saving, Mr. Albert said it amounts to $256 million annually.

Ms. Mason said that she understands that if anything comes out of Albany, then the fare increase and service reduction actions taken by the MTA Board will have to be revisited. She also indicated there is a possibility of federal operating assistance for transit as part of supplemental stimulus package.

Jessica Rojas’ asked what members of the TRC can be doing to help push toward a resolution of MTA budget issues. The members asked that a blurb about the budget and need for adequate and stable funding from the State legislature be put on our website to suggest that people write to us with their thoughts for staff to forward to Albany.

Toya Williford noted that debt service is what is killing the MTA.

Ms. Mason said from a political perspective, the immediate thing to do is to mobilize constituencies who should be emailing and calling their State representatives about voting on a MTA package. Shirley Genn noted that she put up notices in her building to encourage residents to contact their legislators. Ms. Genn said she even called Carl Kruger’s office to tell him to get on board.

Mike Sinansky wanted to comment on the input from riders’ representatives on the MTA Board. He said that Andrew Albert and Jim Blair made impassioned pleas and that Mr. Albert was the only person to put forth an alternative proposal to address the situation. Mr. Sinansky said Mr. Albert did a good job representing the riders.

Mr. Albert said the Board is looking at everything that could be cut and would not have a negative impact on operations. .

Old Business
Ken Stewart asked if the NYCTRC could work on getting NYC Transit to install exit signs that include the street on which the exit opens, any cross streets, and appropriate compass directions, such as “southeast corner.” He said people get disoriented at places where there is more than one exit and no other information about what is outside. He also said it is helpful to list a building or other landmark on the exit sign to specify the location.

Ms. Genn asked that staff send a letter to Howard Roberts to thank him for the work done by Janet Lanphier to get the stairway reopened that had been under construction at the Avenue M end of the Avenue N station on the F line. Bill Henderson said staff would send a letter on this issue.

Mr. Albert announced that he had reported to NYC Transit the issue at Union Square that Alan Flacks told him about.

New Business
No New Business was discussed.

Introduction of John Hoban, NYC Transit – 7 Line General Manager
Mr. Hoban noted the 7 line is known as the International Line because of the amazingly rich and diverse population that uses it, and noted it is also the fourth longest transit route in the country. He said only Washington, Boston and Chicago have longer lines.

Mr. Hoban reported that the line carries 450,000 riders on a daily basis and they run service at all hours with very close headways. Mr. Hoban said that there are 21 stations on the line.

Mr. Hoban said the electronic signs on the outside of the cars were introduced in response to the results of the Rider Report Card. He said after riding lots of trains and hearing what people were saying, his team determined that the most important piece of information to them was whether a train was a local or an express. He noted that the train’s PA system is not the most effective way of communicating this information. Mr. Hoban said a simple thing like passengers holding the train’s doors open because they don’t know which train it is can cause delays along the entire line. It was clear that something had to be done to distinguish the express from the local trains on the 7 line.

He said it took a year from the identification of the problem to being able to deploy the solution. There are green circle lights to designate the local trains and red diamond lights on the express trains. They have put “take ones” in stations and car cards on the trains that explain the signs. He said door holding delays have been substantially reduced. He said in January 2008 there were 1,500 delays, and in January 2009 there were 556 door holding delays. He said they are doing a full analysis of delays, because 556 delays in a month break down to 25 per day, and this level is unacceptable.

Mr. Hoban said his two main goals are to provide transportation and information to the riders. He said he has talked to his staff about providing more with less and has emphasized that service quality gives support to getting more resources. He said a key aspect of the Line General Manager program is the creation of teams and use of the matrix organization for overarching responsibilities. He said that in the past there would be people working together on a line but representing different divisions of NYC Transit. He explained that now with this new system, he has people reporting to him who have expertise in a range of areas. Mr. Hoban said he is accountable for any problems that occur on the line.

In response to Karyl Berger’s question about the fields of expertise of his people, Mr. Hoban related a situation that occurred last summer. He said that some trains were appearing to occupy two signal blocks. This situation occurred due to a short in the insulated joints between the blocks and that the question was who had responsibility for resolving this problem, the track department or the signals group. This disagreement caused about 70 delays without a resolution of the problem. He said they instituted an emergency General Order and found that the rails had become magnetized because of a negative return condition, causing the steel dust to bridge the gap between rail sections. He said that they fixed the problem by cleaning the joints and eliminating the negative return condition. Mr. Hoban said there is now much more attention to detail and they are hoping to see the line’s grade improve with the next report card results.

Ms. Prentiss reported that the elevators and intercoms on the elevators are a big problem throughout the 7 line. She said she sees a lot of people who use hand trucks to transport big boxes and pallets and use the elevators and the swing gates to access the trains. She also said that station intercoms do not work on a consistent basis. Ms. Prentiss said it is important that management recognize that these problems exist.

Mr. Hoban acknowledged that elevators and escalators are the bane of his existence. He said the escalators at Flushing/Main Street are the only models of their design in the whole world. These particular units have hundreds of very small parts and it is hard to obtain them. Mr. Hoban noted that he does not control the maintenance of elevators and escalators so he is not able to directly respond to the issues raised by Ms. Prentiss.

Mr. Hoban said that President Roberts’ plan was to break down escalator and elevator matrix responsibilities by geography, but this plan could not be implemented because of financial limitations. He said that the intercom problems that Ms. Prentiss raised were likely because the intercoms are not being answered. Mr. Hoban said the movement of large freight is sometimes an MTA Real Estate issue, as it could be going to the tenants in the station.

Mr. Albert noted that the freight may be too heavy for the elevators in the stations. Ms. Prentiss said the weight of some of the items has impacted the reliability of the elevators. Mr. Hoban said that this issue is something they will look at closely.

Ms. Rojas said she is a 7 line rider and is generally very happy with the service. She thinks that the woman making announcements at Grand Central is fabulous. Mr. Hoban said he has not been able to have her there five days a week because of budget cuts.

Mr. Hoban said they spent $1.6 million to upgrade car signs and that this work was done by the end of January. He said they found a few glitches. One problem is that staff persons who are not everyday workers on 7 line aren’t attuned to the requirement of changing signs at the end of a run. He said arriving crews are in charge of making sure signs for trains in the terminal are correct and that it simply takes a flip of a switch to change the signs.

In response to Burt Strauss’ question as to the difference in running time between the express and local trains, Mr. Hoban said that the difference is anywhere from four to six minutes.

In response to Ellyn Shannon’s question of the ways that knowledge that has been gained on this line can be used when the Line General Manager program is implemented on other lines, especially as they are not self-contained like the 7 line, Mr. Hoban said there are some lessons that will translate well on other lines. An example of this is what they have learned about dealing with the multicultural nature of the line. He said that they put out a call for volunteers to make announcements in various languages during a General Order and it worked well.

Ms. Berger commented that during the pilot for the Line General Manager program on the 7 line, an extraordinary amount of resources was given to the line. In response to Ms. Berger’s question as to how cleaning has changed now that some of the resources are no longer available, Mr. Hoban indicated that during the pilot, there were cleaners on every shift at every station. There was also a smaller span of control for managers. Mr. Hoban said he has been able to keep a number of the cleaning staff, although many of the supervisor positions have been eliminated. He said during this initial period, the workers were able to develop close relationships and create a sense of teamwork.

Mr. Hoban said he has spent a lot of time talking to the cleaners and emphasized to them how important it is that their job be done well. He told them that they would either have a positive or an adverse effect on a large number of people depending on how well they cleaned the station. He told a story about an employee who flipped an incorrect switch and halted service on the 7 line until they figured out what had happened. She was disciplined but not removed from her position, and this was a lesson for everyone about the importance of doing the job right.

Mr. Sinansky noted that ever since the escalators were installed at Main Street they have not worked properly. Mr. Hoban said that there are very few escalator manufacturers who will do business with the MTA. He said there had been code changes to require auxiliary brakes, which these units had, but the code changes were problematic. The code was changed again to remove the auxiliary brake requirement, and as a result these escalators are the only ones with this feature. He said there has been one escalator out of service now for 143 days. The reason for this is that a part is in the process of being fabricated and NYC Transit is buying a number of them to ensure a stock of these replacement parts.

In response to Mr. Sinansky’s question of how involved Mr. Hoban is with the scheduling of General Order construction work on the 7 line, Mr. Hoban said he has piggybacked work on several projects as well as coordinated with other projects. He said that much could be accomplished even when the main project justifying a General Order cannot proceed, and that they need more service outages than have been scheduled. Mr. Hoban said that work has been deferred because of community concerns about service diversions, but with a two-track railroad there is no way to accommodate demand with one track shut down.

Ken Stewart said he has been trying to get route identification information put at the end of announcements made on the trains, because boarding passengers currently can’t get on the train in time to hear this information. He also asked if conductors could be given a script to announce on which side the doors will open. Mr. Hoban said he rides trains and monitors the announcements. He indicated that he has no control over the content of announcement messages which are spelled out in the “Blue Book.” The content of the messages is the responsibility of the Chief Transportation Officer.

The meeting was adjourned at 2:15 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Karyl Berger
Research Associate