Meeting Minutes May 24, 2012





A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12 noon on May 24, 2012 in the 5th Floor Board room at MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City.  The following members were present:
Andrew Albert                       Marisol Halpern
Stuart Goldstein                    Sharon King Hoge
Chris Greif                               Steve Mayo
William K. Guild                    Burton Strauss, Jr.
The following members were absent:
Jessica Gonzalez- Rojas         Edith M. Prentiss
Thomas Jost                        Michael Sinansky
Trudy L. Mason                   Toya Williford

In addition, the following persons were present:
William Henderson  -PCAC Executive Director
Jan Wells -Associate Director
Ellyn Shannon -PCAC Transportation Planner
Karyl Berger -PCAC Research Associate
Angela Bellisio -PCAC Consultant
Shanni Liang -PCAC Consultant
Jeff Rosen -MTA Real Estate Department
Alan Flacks -NY County Democratic committee
Matt Shotkin -Concerned citizen
Yvonne Morrow -Concerned citizen
Anna E. Collins -Concerned citizen
Ken Stewart -Concerned citizen

Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the May 24, 2012 meeting was approved.  The minutes of the April 26, 2012 meeting were approved.

Chair’s Report
The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.  Edith Prentiss said that the issues around the replacement of reduced fare MetroCards are a tempest in a teapot.  She noted that people eligible for reduced fare generally have a Medicare card.

Andrew Albert mentioned that the point of the FIND (Flexible Information and Notice Display) boards in subway cars is to enable NYC Transit to make quick changes to routings and that this capability in not reflected in the response from NYC Transit about the erroneous wheelchair symbol next to the WTC station listing on the FIND boards.

Stuart Goldstein commented that the FIND board programing on F trains does not reflect the G extension.  Mr. Albert responded that NYC Transit President Tom Prendergast has been noncommittal about keeping the G extension.  Bill Henderson commented that it is ridiculous that software can’t be upgraded more quickly.  Mr. Albert suggested a letter on the issue of the extension be sent.

Mr. Albert introduced Shanni Liang, who spent the last year at PCAC as a Hunter Public Service Scholar.  She said that she wanted to thank the staff for their kindness and support.  Her study was to investigate conditions in subways in the Chinese community.  She did lots of field work and developed findings including that translated signage is rare, and if it exists it is poorly translated.  She said that while NYC Transit relies upon Community Boards as a point of contact with local areas, there is not much connection between Community Boards and the Chinese community.  Her recommendations included rehabilitation of the Sea Beach Line and stations at Canal Street, Grant Street, and East Broadway and installation of elevators at the Canal Street and Grand Street stations.

Ms. Prentiss commented on Ms. Liang’s findings on multi-lingual signage.  She stated that this is a major issue for many language groups, and not just the Chinese community.  Ms. Wells responded to this point and noted that NYC Transit has a policy of having no permanent signage in stations in languages other than English.   She said that signs such as those referencing the rules of conduct should be in many languages.

Mr. Goldstein questioned whether the Chinese translations on Ticket Vending Machines accurate.  Ms. Liang responded that they are.

Board Report
Mr. Albert said that East Side Access was a major subject of the May Board and committee meetings.  He said that MTA Chairman Lhota was adamant that a convergence of issues has led to the delays on the project.  Mr. Lhota has stated that there is 80 percent confidence that the MTA’s new completion date of 2019 is correct.  Unfortunately, Mr. Albert reported, three LIRR trains will be cancelled for three weeks in the summer to allow for needed work.  East Side Access will also require a reconfiguration of Jamaica Station which will result in the loss of cross platform transfer and one seat ride opportunities for those traveling to Brooklyn.

Mr. Albert said that when discussion of the fare hike starts it will probably bring with it proposals for service restoration.  He said that another topic that was discussed is the ongoing TWU election process and its impact on negotiations.  There is no incentive for TWU President John Samuelson to make concessions before the union election.

Mr. Albert reported that the FASTRACK program has worked well and will save money in the long run.  He said that the Board approved a procurement to improve the vacuum trains and that FASTRACK is spreading to other parts of city where there isn’t parallel subway service, such as the upper A line, the Grand Concourse line, and the Queens Boulevard line.

Ms. Prentiss asked what provisions have been made for maintaining accessibility during FASTRACK service interruptions.  Mr. Albert said that they have looked at this and it was discussed at the Board.

Old Business
Chris Greif asked whether the Council has heard back on some of the questions asked at the Bus Forum.  Ms. Shannon responded that she is sending a summary of the meeting to MTA Bus Operations and remarked that receiving responses to all questions will take some time.

Mr. Albert said that the Council is looking to proceed on the survey of accessible platform boarding locations.  He asked whether Ms. Prentiss could provide some station locations where people can see platforms with accessibility features.  Ms. Prentiss responded that platforms at the 175th and 168th Street stations have examples of raised areas on platforms to facilitate boarding.

Mr. Albert said that the Council will send members an email on the project.

Mr. Goldstein inquired about a question he had previously raised about fare information for MetroCard Vending Machine customers.  Bill Henderson said that he had received some information and had followed up to more fully answer the questions.

Burt Strauss commented about an item in the Bus Forum notes about onboard bus announcements and asked when they will be implemented. Mr. Henderson said that that they will be incorporated in the S79 Select Bus Service (SBS), which will begin in September in Brooklyn and on Staten Island.

Ms. Prentiss noted that SBS has off-board fare payment and asked whether this would be the case on Staten Island.  Mr. Henderson said that the S79 SBS will collect fares on board because of the anticipated smaller numbers of riders boarding at each stop.  The Council discussed the implementation of SBS on Staten Island, and Mr. Albert said that the Council would send a letter stating that standards for SBS should be uniform to prevent rider confusion.

The Council discussed community concerns about the elimination of several stops on 34th Street with the implementation of SBS there.  It was agreed that staff will draft a resolution for Council consideration with regard to restoring 34th Street bus stops.

Introduction of Jeffrey Rosen, Director — MTA Real Estate, to discuss new directions in in NYC Transit Advertising

Mr. Rosen introduced Peter Lyons, noting that some of those present may know Claretha Fennick, who headed the advertising efforts at MTA Real Estate, and said that Mr. Lyons had stepped into Ms. Fennick’s role following her retirement.  Mr. Rosen said that MTA Real Estate generates $200 million per year for the Authority and that more than one half of this is from advertising.

Mr. Rosen said that the MTA receives 65 percent of the receipts from subway advertising, 70 percent of receipts from buses, and 65 percent of receipts from billboards.  He said that a few years ago the management of advertising was split between Titan and CBS Outdoor and that now all advertising is handled through CBS and this arrangement works well.

A contractor is better at selling ads than MTA could be, explained Mr. Rosen, since they are more nimble and flexible than the MTA could be.  Traditionally, subway advertising was based on static ads on vinyl or paper.  This kind of advertising was very labor intensive and involved station posters and car cards.  He said that billboards on MTA property have express statutory exemptions from local zoning, which is an advantage, and the traditional model is to bid out the entire advertising operation to a well- capitalized advertising company, receive a minimum annual guarantee (MAG) for advertising sales, to be backed by a letter of credit to back.  The downside for the company is that the letter of credit appears as debt on public company books.

Mr. Rosen said that in addition to the MAG, the contracts with the advertising companies provide for the MTA to receive a share of gross revenues derived from advertising sales.  This is appropriate for the traditional advertising done in the MTA system, as it involves low capital expenditure, but it may be less well suited to advertising that requires investment in technology.  He noted that people ask why the MTA does not merely increase the number of ads to increase revenues, but because of the workings of supply and demand this could lead to an oversupply of advertising opportunities.  In the current system, a private advertising company determines the optimum supply of opportunities.

With reference to the MTA’s messages posted in train and subway cars and buses, Mr. Rosen said that the labor cost of posting car cards is absorbed by the advertising concessionaire, but the car card format gives MTA little flexibility on their messages. Marisol Halpern asked whether there is interaction between the MTA and Cemusa with regard to their bus shelter ads.  Mr. Rosen said that there are no formal arrangements, but that there have been some talks about providing real time travel information.

Ms. Prentiss asked who removes and posts advertising materials.  Mr. Rosen stated that this is done by CBS employees. Mr. Albert asked whether there are standards on removal of materials.  Mr. Rosen replied that CBS is making a good faith effort to keep advertising timely and that the real solution is migration to digital advertising.

Mr. Rosen stated that he also wanted to talk about innovations short of a move to digital, including the use of vinyl on walls, and wrapped cars.  He said that wrapped cars were used mostly on shuttle trains because it is hard to keep trainsets together.  Mr. Albert asked whether Mr. Rosen has received comments from low vision groups about the wrapped cars.  Mr. Rosen said that he had not.  Ken Stewart said that in some cases the wrapped cars help him locate the car doors.  Karyl Berger said that the impact of wrapped cars varies, and that the busyness of some wraps makes it hard to see where the ends of cars are located.

Mr. Rosen said that they have started to use L shaped bus ads.  He said that total bus wrapping is too much, but that we worked with the police on L shaped ads, which cover one window on one side.  Mr. Goldstein asked whether MetroCard advertising is a separate operation.  Mr. Rosen responded that it is, but the economics of this kind of advertising aren’t good, because it is difficult to print messages on the cards.  He said that a factory in China does the printing and that the MTA has allowed the contract for an advertising company to handle this medium to lapse.

Mr. Rosen said that there is a continuum between advertising and sponsorship.  A permanent ad is merely a sponsorship by another name.  He said that in terms of naming rights, the MTA does not accept geographically unconnected names; therefore Barclay’s Center is an acceptable station name, but not Coca Cola station.  Mr. Stewart asked whether there is potential for selling subway station exit sponsorships and wondered whether there could be an “ATT stairway”.  Mr. Rosen said that an advertiser can buy an advertising package on a subway stairway and that this could be akin to renaming the stairway.  He also noted that at Columbus Circle there are storefronts where we expect people who are operating businesses above ground to be interested in using this space.  This is also the case at the West 4th Street station mezzanine.

Sharon King Hoge asked why closed station booths weren’t converted to retail.  Mr. Rosen responded that they were not suitable for conversion to this use, but that the MTA is proceeding with a pilot projects to provide amenities, such as the On The Go consoles, in stations.  Mr. Albert asked whether the MTA has placed On The Go consoles in unstaffed areas.  Mr. Rosen replied that the consoles need to be protected.

Mr. Rosen also noted the use of “Brand Cars” in the subways, where a single advertiser has all space in the car, akin to the practice of “station domination.”   He noted that in the Columbus Circle and Bryant Park stations the MTA has used storefronts as a venue for ads to increase the desirability of the space, and noted the innovative advertising in the system for ACICS running shoes, which illustrated a runner’s normal pace.

Mr. Rosen outlined some advantages of digital advertising, including:

Ability to display time of day ads
Ability to display hyper local ads
Ability to do event promotion
Multiple advertisers can mean more income
Advertising can include MTA messages in the mix
Reduced labor costs of digital formats

He also noted some of the challenges facing digital advertising, including:
The vulnerability of displays to the elements, steel dust, heat, power failures and its need for connectivity.  One advantage to station booth sites is that they have power and telephone lines.

The high cost of digital, including greater capital costs. He said that CBS had a negative experience in London where some advertisers moved from static advertising to digital, with no increase in overall spending, with the result that CBS was cannibalizing its own business.
The relationship between the obsolescence of the equipment and the payback period required for it to make financial sense.
Mr. Albert asked whether MTA advertisers are using digital for still or moving images.  Mr. Rosen replied that they are being used for both.  Mr. Albert asked whether too much movement could breed rider resentment of the advertising.  Mr. Rosen said that his preference is for not too much happening at same time.

Funding capital expenditures for digital advertising is a challenge because the MTA can’t promise a concessionaire a renewal.  Therefore, Mr. Rosen explained, the MTA is using a new business model in which the first use of incremental revenues from digital advertising is used to defray capital costs, then once these costs are covered these revenues are shared.

Mr. Rosen illustrated the new directions in digital advertising by discussing the use of Digital Urban Panels, which are 100 two-sided displays at subway entrances.  These screens are independently addressable, while the first generation of this technology displayed all the same images.  He said that moving video is shown on the non-stair side, with still images on the stairs side.  Mr. Albert asked whether advertisers pick locations for these panels.  Mr. Lyons said that CBS and NYC Transit jointly choose the locations.  Mr. Rosen said that the question is how rapidly you introduce these new forms to manage supply.

Ms. Prentiss said that elevator messages or service information would be a useful feature if it could be added to the panels.  Mr. Strauss asked whether there been objections from community and whether the MTA can put the panels wherever they want.  Mr. Rosen replied that they are exempt from zoning regulations but sensitive to local concerns.

Mr. Stewart said that there are retailers inside the 8th Avenue line station at 42nd Street and asked who sets standard for their behavior.  Mr. Rosen said that in the long run there will be master leasing in stations and that this will give a consistent feel.

Mr. Rosen discussed possible future directions in advertising, including the potential for interactivity using Quick Response codes and other technologies, the use of Google-style advertising sales, in which the prices for advertising are determined by online bidding for ad space at a specific station for a specific length of time.  He said that Google advertising is based on a model that targets messages to individuals, but we can get close to this by selling ads based on station user characteristics.

Ms. Prentiss said that there are accessibility issues in Grand Central Terminal including the spice shop in the marketplace and a pastry store that is not accommodating to those in wheelchairs.

Jan Wells asked whether digital advertising will be handled differently in the Fulton Street Transit Center.  Mr. Rosen replied that there will be fifty screens in the complex and an equal number of NYC Transit’s digital signs.  He said that these are not part of the general advertising contract and that the MTA will not hand these screens over to CBS, in part because the opportunity to market them makes the complex retail master lease opportunity more attractive.

Mr. Guild questioned whether steel dust is still a significant problem for electronic equipment in the subway system.  Mr. Rosen replied that his understanding is that it is, but he acknowledged that he is not an expert on this.

Alan Flacks asked whether he can get an advertising rate chart.  Mr. Rosen said that he could get asking prices for advertising from CBS but that there are typically discounts offered, so the asking prices are not very meaningful.

Matt Shotkin asked whether there are ways to make movie ads in the subways less violent.  Mr. Rosen replied that the MTA is limited by free speech protections of the US Constitution.  Mr. Albert asked what ads the MTA would not accept.  Mr. Rosen said that he recently testified in a case where the MTA declined an ad referring to Muslims as savages.

Old Business
Mr. Henderson read a proposed resolution of appreciation for Shirley Genn’s service on the Council.  It was approved unanimously.
Ms. Prentiss said that at Jay Street on the R platform there is a sign on an I beam that indicates that there is no wheelchair exit at the station, but on the next pole there is a strip map showing that the station is accessible to persons using wheelchairs.  She said that the station booth at the station had no idea of the status of elevators and the nearest accessible station.  She said that this experience happened on the day of the Mott Avenue station ribbon cutting.

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

Respectfully submitted,
William Henderson, Executive Director


New York City Transit Riders Council
Chair’s Report
May 24, 2012

Please mark your calendars for the June 7th PCAC meeting when our guest former NYC Traffic Commissioner Sam Schwartz will join us to discuss his Equitable Transportation Formula Plan for New York City, which calls for a redistribution of tolls and charges.  At the NYCTRC meeting in June, we will hear from Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who will discuss his proposals for improving transit throughout the city.

On June 12, the MTA will hold a public hearing on New York City Transit’s proposal to provide Access-A-Ride customers with MetroCards with photos, essentially similar to Reduced- Fare MetroCards, to allow them to take a limited number of free trips on the transit system each day.  These cards would eventually be provided to all persons qualified to use Access-A-Ride, and customers could continue to use Access-A-Ride without limitation by paying the base transit fare.  One point of concern is that there would be a replacement fee of up to $20 for lost cards.  You have a copy of the meeting notice in your packets today, and we can discuss this issue under New Business.

On another MetroCard issue, staff has been receiving a large number of calls and emails about the backlog in replacements for lost and stolen reduced fare MetroCards.  There has also been press coverage of this problem.  We raised the issue with NYC Transit and received a response that Transit is aware and concerned about the current backlog in MetroCard claims processing and is using overtime and other methods to catch up.  The response cited the MTA-mandated budget driven personnel reductions as one of the reasons for the backlog.

We were also told that the status of a claim can be checked by calling (718) 330-1234 and that riders qualified for reduced-fare status can show proof of eligibility to a bus operator or at a station booth to use the system at the reduced fare.  Unfortunately, personnel reductions have also reduced the number of staffed station booths, and it can be extremely inconvenient for qualified riders without a reduced fare card to use the system at the lower fare.  In addition, we have been asked to help get the word out that riders should treat their reduced fare MetroCards like cash.  This is good advice, as repeated lost cards contribute to the backlog, but the time that it is taking to receive a replacement card is simply unacceptable.

We received a response to a report from Edith Prentiss that the on-board station display boards in the R160 cars on the E line are showing a wheelchair icon at the World Trade Center station, indicating that it is ADA accessible.  This station, of course, has not been accessible for some time, since the Port Authority removed an elevator serving the subway and PATH station from service as a part of its ongoing construction.  The response stated that NYC Transit is aware of the problem, but it will be several months before this error is corrected.  The wheelchair symbol was to have been removed by a contractor through a software upgrade following the closure of the elevator, but the contractor failed to do this.   As a result, the issue will be addressed in the next R160 software upgrade that is now in preparation.

We asked NYC Transit about the breakdown between local and SBS buses on the M15 route.  NYC Transit responded that, counted at 14th Street, on weekdays there are 127 northbound and 130 southbound local bus trips, for a total of 257.  At this location there are 170 SBS weekday trips in each direction, for a total of 340, which amounts to approximately 31 percent more SBS than local trips.  We did not get a detailed response on the methods used to allocate trips between SBS and local, but Transit noted that the weekday ridership on SBS buses is about 40,000, while the weekday ridership on local M15 buses is 21,000, slightly more than half the SBS ridership figure.

We also asked about the changes in the number of trips and travel times on the M34 and M34A buses since the change to SBS operation on 34th Street.  We have not yet received a formal reply, but NYC Transit has noted that the shift to SBS on 34th Street has resulted in a 10 percent travel time reduction.  Transit also noted that they have added 24 trips on weekdays and Saturdays and 12 trips on Sundays at no additional cost to the MTA, since buses can make more trips in the same amount of time.

A number of riders and organizations have raised issues about the elimination of bus stops on 34th Street as a result of SBS, as no local service remains.  Community Board 5 passed a resolution calling for the restoration of Lexington and Madison Avenue stops, and others have called for returning the M34A to local service.  We can discuss our position on this under old business.

I mentioned at last month’s meeting that Shirley Genn was intending to resign from the Council.  She has now done so and has moved upstate to be with her son and his family.  Under new business we will consider a resolution to express our thanks to her for her long service on the Council.

This will be the last meeting for our Public Service Scholar from Hunter College, Shanni Liang, as she has completed her degree.  Shanni had a very interesting year with us in during which she completed a report on subway conditions and NYC Transit’s communication within the City’s Chinese communities, as well as assisting with the work of the PCAC and Councils.  You have a copy of the executive summary of her report in your packet today.  I’d like to turn the floor over to Shanni so that she can say a few words about her project and her experiences working with us this past year.