Meeting Minutes May 26, 2011

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A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12 noon on May 26, 2011 in the 5th Floor Board room at MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City.  The following members were present:

• Andrew Albert
• William K. Guild
• Shirley Genn
• Marisol Halpern
• Stuart Goldstein
• Sharon King Hoge
• Chris Greif
• Trudy L. Mason
• Michael Sinansky

The following members were absent:

• Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas
• Toya Williford
• Thomas Jost
• Edith M. Prentiss
• Burton Strauss, Jr.

In addition, the following persons were present:

• William Henderson  -PCAC Executive Director
• Ellyn Shannon  -PCAC Transportation Planner
• Karyl Berger   -PCAC Research Associate
• Sunil Nair   -MTA
• Deborah Hall-Moore -NYCT
• Jason Chin-Fatt  -NYPIRG Straphangers
• Joshua Lowell  -NYPIRG Straphangers
• Michael Harris  -NYPIRG Straphangers
• Tom Miller   -CBS
• Matt Shotkin   -Concerned citizen
• B.E. Payne   -Concerned citizen
• Yvonne Morrow  -Concerned citizen
• Ken Stewart   -Concerned citizen
• Joseph Garber  -Concerned citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes

The agenda for the May 26, 2011 meeting was approved.  The minutes of the April 28, 2011 meeting were approved as amended.

Chair’s Report

The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.

Trudy Mason commented on the countdown clocks and that it would be beneficial to get information about the lines that serve a station when there are diversions on those lines.  She also questioned why the current time is not displayed on the countdown clocks.

Chris Greif stated that the N train was replacing the 7 to Queensboro Plaza during recent work on the Steinway tunnels.  He asked why NYC Transit had not decided to extend the Q to provide additional service.  Andrew Albert stated that they will be extending the Q on some weekends in the future.

Board Report

Mr. Albert said that the Board had heard a presentation from Amy Linden on the MTA’s New Fare Payment Systems.  She indicated that the MTA is trying to fast-track the transition to new ways of collecting fares because it is costing $ .15 to collect each $1.00 in fares.  The solution that is chosen to modernize fare payment will be implemented across operating agencies and will not be unique to NYC Transit, as was the case with MetroCard. Ms. Linden told the Board that they are expecting to have pilots in operation by end of 2012 and the overall system may be available for use in 2013.

Stuart Goldstein commented on the MTA website.  He noticed that the PCAC information has been removed from the MTA homepage and that the reference for us on the site says only “PCAC”.  He stated that there should be reference to individual councils.

Old Business

Mr. Greif commented that there have been an insufficient number of shuttle buses in cases where buses have replaced trains in the Prospect Park area due to reconstruction work.

Mike Sinansky asked if the Council received any response from Mysore Nagaraja regarding the removal of East Side Access tunnel excavation spoil through Queens by truck, rather than by rail as was previously promised.  Andrew Albert stated that he has tried contacting him numerous times, and received no response from his office.  Mr. Albert said he will try to contact another person with knowledge of this arrangement.

Trudy Mason commented on the letter dealing with countdown clocks that was included in members’ packets.  She said that there is no response in the letter to the question of why the clocks never display one minute until a train’s arrival.  She suggested that this situation be corrected.  She also said that the Council should ask how long it takes from the announcement of a problem to get adjustments reflecting that problem into the system.

Ken Stewart stated that most countdown clock information is visual.  He said that on the Times Square-Grand Central shuttle track numbers are announced for the next train and that this is better for persons with visual disabilities.   He said that where there are multiple trains at a terminal announcements should be made as to identify which train is leaving first.

Mr. Greif commented that the B61 bus can’t take more riders to replace subway service at the Smith/9th Streets station.  Mr. Albert stated that there will be shuttle buses in the future and that he will request a service plan.

Ms. Mason wanted to know if there is an established procedure for complaints made against Council members.  She stated that there should be some sort of policy or procedure if there are complaints about Council members made to the NYCTRC.  Mr. Albert agreed and stated that he will develop a procedure for complaints.  Joseph Garber agreed with Ms. Mason on this and said that a procedure would be useful if false allegations were made against Council members.  Mr. Garber also announced that he will be receiving an award from the Seneca Club later this month and that members of the Council are invited to the awards ceremony.

Ms. Mason moved to nominate the existing NYCTRC officers for election to their current posts for the year beginning with the June meeting.  Bill Henderson stated that the election of officers will take place at June meeting.

Introduction of Sunil Nair, MTA Senior Director, Bus Customer Information Systems, to discuss MTA Bus Time Information System, which is Currently Installed as a Pilot on B63 Buses

Mr. Albert stated that Mr. Nair’s work is very important to the riders.  He added that more information is needed.   Yvonne Morrow noted that the current lack of bus information has forced riders to play “bussian roulette.”

Mr. Nair presented a set of slides, which is on file in the PCAC office, to accompany his discussion of the Bus Time system.  He said that the bus location data that will be generated and transmitted by the system will be available to outside application developers in the future.  There are currently thirty buses being used in the B63 Bus Time pilot, and the pilot has been implemented on time and on budget. Mr. Nair said that he receives two to three pieces of positive feedback from riders each week on the project website.

Karyl Berger asked how the decision was made to use the B63 route for the pilot.  Mr. Nair stated that there were several reasons including that the technology penetration of the population varies widely along the route, ranging from technically savvy individuals to those who use little communication technology, and that there is great ethnic diversity in the area through which the B63 route travels.

Mr. Nair said that they expect a great deal of value to be added to the system by external application developers; he said that whenever the MTA opens up access to data, there are new applications written to make use of it.  He gave several examples, including an interactive phone application that uses cellphone signals to collect data on subway movements and the system developed by Next Bus to predict arrival times for the next bus on a route.  Mr. Nair stated that the Bus Time system is making use of the same equipment that will be installed for the new fare payment systems that the MTA will be using.

Mr. Nair said that, along with the system providing better information for the customer, NYC Transit Operations Planning will use data collected from the system to find strategies to reduce wait times, and Road Operations staff will use the system to reduce bus bunching by working with drivers to take action to eliminate gaps in service.

Ms. Mason asked why NYC Transit could not use skip stop operation to resolve uneven spacing of buses. Mr. Nair stated that he did not know what corrective steps will be taken with regards to uneven spacing, but stressed that managers will know where the buses are so they can take appropriate action.

Mr. Nair said that the Bus Time pilot could be accessed in several ways.  It is available through a web browser, and individuals using the Bus Time map can pan, zoom and search by all kinds of parameters, including stop number and street name.  If the system is accessed through a smart or internet enabled phone, it will require little memory.  The system can also be accessed through text message, where users will text a bus stop identification number to the system and it will return a set of approaching buses.  Some users with smart phones can use a Quick Response, or QR, code that will be placed at bus stops in order to get information from the system.
Mr. Nair stated that there will also be access to the system through video monitors placed in store windows near bus stops.  At the moment there are five locations with video monitors that have been established near the B63 route.  This concept was borrowed from the Chicago Transit Authority.  For the pilot, the MTA is paying those hosting the monitors $25 per month, but when the system is rolled out the MTA sees the monitors as an amenity that a merchant will provide without compensation to attract customers.

Mr. Albert asked if there have been numbers developed to show increases of ridership along the B63 since the system has been in operation.  Mr. Nair stated that they are getting the numbers, but noted that there was increased ridership on the M34 bus following the installation of a bus arrival time pilot.

Mr. Nair said that the project plans for the future involve planning for success and engaging all stakeholders.  In 2011 the MTA will deploy bus customer information systems on all Staten Island routes, including express buses.  The system will be rolled out to all buses citywide in 2012 and 2013.

Sharon King Hoge asked if the Council can implore the MTA to roll out the system on crosstown buses as soon as possible.  Mr. Nair stated that he didn’t yet know the deployment plan.  He said that he hopes to learn a lot on Staten Island as it has a very complex bus system.  Ms. Hoge stated that another priority area should be airport buses.

Juanita Payne stressed that non-interactive access should be included in the plan for the system.  She said that not all customers have smartphones and that some cellphones do not have the features needed to access the system.  She also noted that consideration should be given to temporary bus stops, as currently information about detours is difficult to obtain and temporary bus stops may be in place for a year or more, such as those established on 2nd Avenue because of subway construction.

Mr. Sinansky asked if the tall buildings in Manhattan would impact this system as they did with the previous bus automated vehicle locator system.  Mr. Nair stated no, as the current system uses a combination of GPS technology and dead reckoning.  He said that in 99 percent of cases, dead reckoning works very well.

Mr. Goldstein wanted to know who the technology or device vendor is for the pilot.  Mr. Nair stated that Veriphone provides the equipment and Open Plans provides the software for the pilot.  A request for proposals will be issued for the full system.  Mr. Goldstein also asked what the cost per vehicle is.  Mr. Nair stated that the cost will be $6,000 to $8,000 per vehicle, with the cost shared with the new fare payment system.  He said that there have been no major problems with the system, but only a few cases of broken equipment.  It is unclear who broke the equipment.

Ellyn Shannon asked when dead reckoning came into the equation for bus information systems.  Mr. Nair stated that within the last one and one half years dead reckoning technology has become commercial and usable for the system.

Ms. Mason asked has any thought been given to putting screens in bus shelters.  Ms. Hoge stated that this could be combined with advertising as a means of financially supporting the installation and operation.  Mr. Nair stated that he is in early talks with Cemusa regarding what will be done with the bus shelters.  He said that they have already taken subway arrival information and fed it into their own system.  Also, the MTA could develop a system of its own to display bus location information.  Ms. Mason asked if the MTA can put something on bus shelters to display this information.  Mr. Nair stated that a durable screen would be costly, requiring approximately $14,000 to $18,000 to install.  The MTA would also need Cemusa’s permission to install anything on the bus shelters.  He stated that there are lots of possibilities.

Mr. Greif asked what the next Borough is where Bus Time will be implemented after Staten Island.   Mr. Nair stated that he did not know at this time.

Matt Shotkin asked for a definition of wait time analysis.  Mr. Nair stated that this is the process of checking archived data to find the average wait time at given locations and trying to get rid of bottlenecks.

Mr. Goldstein asked if there will still be dispatchers on the B63 route and whether they will eventually be eliminated.  Mr. Nair said that there are currently dispatchers on the route and he did not know whether they would be eliminated at some time in the future.  Mr. Goldstein also asked whether the system includes vehicle diagnostics or speed.  Mr. Nair stated that the system definitely does not include vehicle diagnostics.  The equipment for this system is designed to address fare payment and bus location.  Mr. Goldstein asked whether the equipment has a warranty. Mr. Nair stated that it has a 4 year warranty and that the MTA may extend the length of the warranty at an additional cost.

Mr. Greif wanted to know whether information about events or service diversions be included.  Mr. Nair stated it cannot be included in the pilot, but later versions of the system will incorporate the capability to override normal system operations and display other messages.

Karyl Berger asked if there are numerous vendors for this equipment.  Mr. Nair stated that they are making sure that there are a variety of qualified suppliers.  They now have two qualified vendors, as well as one selected vendor for Staten Island.  The pieces of equipment used in the system are off the shelf, plug and play systems.

Ms. Mason asked if current request for proposals was issued only for Staten Island, or if it is for the entire city.  Mr. Nair stated that the current request for proposals is for Staten Island and the Boroughs that will be done in the future.  The approach is to identify one supplier for the upcoming project and qualify others for possible use in a future stage.  A chosen supplier could be selected for the system on Staten Island, but the MTA would then go back into the pool of qualified firms to select a vendor for the next stage.

Mr. Goldstein asked about the wireless network that will be used and the charges that will be incurred.  Mr. Nair stated that there will be charges for wireless access and that for Staten Island they would be using existing state wireless contracts, at a cost of $40.00 per month for each unit.  For the remainder of the system, Mr. Nair said that he is talking with the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DOITT) about competing to supply wireless communication services for the second and later stages of the project.

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
May 26, 2011

Please mark your calendars for next Thursday’s PCAC meeting; our guest will be Jeff Rosen, MTA Director Real Estate who will discuss the MTA’s plans to streamline its real estate holdings, starting with changes in office space.

We have several members absent today, including Burt Strauss, who is recovering from a fractured and sprained ankle.  Also, Edith Prentiss, who had been hospitalized in the past month, is home recovering and will not be with us today.

I was very distressed to learn that Governor Cuomo has not renominated MTA Board Member Doreen Frasca for another term.  Ms. Frasca has been a conscientious and hardworking member of the Board and Chair of the Transit Committee who never loses sight of the impact of her decisions on the riders.  In addition, she has specific expertise in the field of public finance, as in her professional life she provides financial advice to the owners and operators of airport facilities.  There are few on the Board who come close to her in terms of understanding the credit markets, and in this time when decisions about debt are so critical to the future of the MTA, replacing Doreen Frasca on the Board represents a major loss to the organization.

We received a letter from NYC Transit in reply to the letter that Bill Henderson sent about the countdown clocks’ display of inaccurate information during unplanned service diversions.  The letter stated that the operator of the PA/CIS system has been instructed to suspend countdown clocks that would display inaccurate information during service diversions, and instead make live announcements in the affected stations.  The operators of the Automated Train Supervision (ATS) system have also been instructed to enter information about unplanned service changes into the system so that information about the trains affected by these changes will be available through the countdown clocks.  A copy of the letter is included in your packet today.

Last month I reported on a press conference on delays on the 7 line organized by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, in which we were also involved.  This past weekend NYC Transit closed the Steinway tunnel for maintenance to remedy some of the conditions that cause these delays.  This morning we received a report that two of the six track circuits most in need of repair were completely rewired and are working as designed.  In addition, over 1,000 track plates were installed, and over 700 feet of track was cleaned by vacuum train.  Over 3,800 debris bags of muck and silt that was in the tunnel due to water intrusion were bagged and removed. The tunnel will also be closed on the weekends of June 25-26 and July 30-31 to complete other needed work.

Bill Henderson was a guest of the Brooklyn Borough President’s Advisory Committee on Disability Issues.  He spoke with the Committee members about recent changes to Access-A-Ride and some of the issues that affect paratransit service.  Committee members are very concerned about the disproportionate impact of last year’s bus cuts on persons with disabilities, and a lawsuit that has been filed by South Brooklyn Legal Services on behalf of several affected transit users who have disabilities was also discussed.

Speaking of Brooklyn, the Culver Viaduct project is entering a new phase where F and G trains will be back on their normal northbound local track, except at the Smith-9th Streets station, which is closed for rehabilitation until March 2012.  South of the station all service will be normal until November 2011, although there will be a weekend service diversion on September 17 and 18.  A letter outlining the upcoming scheduled work and diversions is in your packets today.

Last week staff members Ellyn and Jan attended the Transportation Research Board’s 4th International Transportation Systems Performance Measurement Conference where they presented the findings from our Minutes Matter research report that was released in January.  They are available to answer any questions you might have about the conference.

As part of our outreach efforts, please note that our informational handout is now available.  Also, there are four new stories posted on the PCAC website, so make sure that you check them out.

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