Meeting Minutes May 28, 2009


A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12 noon on May 28, 2009 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
Trudy L. Mason
Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas
Sharon Santa Maria
William K. Guild
Michael Sinansky
Marisol Halpern
Burton Strauss, Jr.
Toya Williford
The following members were absent:

Thomas Jost
Edith M. Prentiss
In addition, the following persons were present:

William Henderson – PCAC Executive Director
Jan Wells – PCAC Associate Director
Ellyn Shannon – PCAC Transportation Planner
Karyl Berger – PCAC Research Associate
Howard Sackel – Access to the Region’s Core Project
George Haikalis – IRUM
Alan Flacks – NY County Democratic Committee
Jim Raleigh – RRWG
Yvonne Morrow – Concerned citizen
Meg Reed Mian – Concerned citizen
Ken Stewart – Concerned citizen
James O’Shea – Concerned citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the May 28, 2009 meeting was approved. The minutes of the April 30, 2009 meeting were approved.

Chair’s Report
It has been another eventful month at the MTA. Lee Sander’s last day as MTA Executive Director was last Friday, May 22. Yesterday the MTA Board approved Helena Williams as the interim Executive Director, effective until a new Chairman and Chief Executive Office is nominated by the Governor and confirmed by the State Senate.

Please make a note of the change in day and date of the June PCAC meeting. It will be held on Tuesday, June 2 in the 5th floor Board Room at MTA Headquarters. The meeting will start promptly at 11:45 am to ensure that our guest, Richard Ravitch has sufficient time for his remarks. Please make every effort to attend this important meeting.

We’ll hear more on this at the PCAC meeting, but I want to note the changes in the status of the PCAC that were included in the recent MTA financing legislation passed in Albany. There are two main provisions of great interest to the PCAC. First, with this legislation the PCAC is officially established in State Law, and the members of the Riders Councils are officially named as members of the PCAC. Second, the legislation establishes in the MTA an Office of Legislative and Community Input. This office is to communicate information and receive comments, concerns, and recommendations from members of two entities, the State Legislature and the PCAC. This is a major step forward in having the PCAC recognized as the point of contact between riders and the MTA.

In some of the media interviews that Mr. Sander gave last week, he highlighted the issue of implementing smart cards as the next generation of fare media, succeeding the MetroCard. He noted that this new technology could be rolled out at MTA as early as 2011. We have for many years called for the MTA to move forward with this new technology, and the PCAC’s 2004 research report focused on this topic. While this is a positive development, the final shape of such a system is not entirely clear. Some of Mr. Sander’s comments seemed to envision a proprietary system similar to EzPass, while other comments that Deputy Executive Director Linda Kleinbaum indicated more interest in an open system that makes use of existing financial industry standards. Notably, Metro in Washington, DC, which has an existing proprietary system, is currently in the process of seeking proposals to add credit and debit card payment options for their fares and parking charges.

You may have seen a recent MTA innovation on the street already. The MTA and Titan Outdoor Advertising are testing LED advertising screens on the sides of buses that can change with the buses’ location. They are currently being used on the M79 route. I have serious misgivings about this new technology from a safety standpoint, but given the drop in advertising revenue flowing to companies managing advertising sales on MTA facilities, this system is being tested at a particularly opportune time.

Under separate cover you were sent information about planning for Phase ll of Bus Rapid Transit service. As you know, particularly if you were on our field trip last August, one Select Bus Service line is currently in providing Bus Rapid Transit service in the Bronx, with other Phase I lines planned for Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island. The New York City Department of Transportation in cooperation with New York City Transit is holding visioning sessions to begin developing other potential BRT routes. I would strongly suggest that you try and attend at least one of these meetings as input from the public is critical.

On May 13 Bill Henderson attended a City Council hearing on the provisions of the Mayor’s Budget that apply to New York City Transit. Among the issues discussed were school transportation funding and the difficulties that Transit has had with technology projects. Of particular concern is the system security work that is to be completed by Lockheed Martin, which is currently suing the MTA to void its contract. Little new ground was broken at this hearing, though.

Also under separate cover, you were sent a letter from Connie Crawford, our guest at last month’s meeting, regarding the number of security cameras that have installed in subway stations throughout the system.
Karyl Berger noted that due to some political haggling, the community meeting to discuss Brooklyn’s proposed B44 BRT route has been delayed for the moment. She noted that Brooklyn Borough President is not in favor of the route, and there is strong opposition from the Orthodox Jewish community as they will lose some parking spaces.

Board Report
Andrew Albert explained that is unclear how the fifty cent taxi fee imposed in the recently approved MTA financing legislation will be collected. He also reported that all the direct service cuts in the MTA’s Additional Actions for Budget Balance had been rescinded, and he made sure that the M6 cut was also restored. He noted that the station agent and ticket collector positions had not been restored. Mr. Albert believes that this action was not well thought out and that the absence of personnel in subway stations will lead to increased fare evasion, crime and vandalism.

Mr. Albert reported that Metro-North’s new Yankee Stadium station opened up a week ago and it will definitely reduce the number of people that drive to the games. He said that unfortunately Transit users will have a longer walk to and from the train station than they would have had with the old stadium.

Mr. Albert reported that there are new hybrid buses on the street that have the old style pull cord for riders to request that the driver make a stop. The pull cords have been reinstated because the yellow strips used to request stops frequently broke and were hard to repair and replace. He said that the low floor articulated buses that are now being tested should run more efficiently because they have three doors, which will make exiting quicker.

Mr. Albert reported that the rebuilding of the Culver Viaduct project will get underway in July, and he is very pleased that the G line will be extended to Church Avenue for the duration of the project. Shirley Genn said that she believes that work has begun because service on the F train has been very slow. He also reported that 5 line trains will go through to Flatbush Avenue/Brooklyn College during the midday period.

Mr. Albert reported that an MTA Board committee was established to eliminate duplication within the organization. It is informally known as the Cut Committee.

Mr. Albert said there have been numerous complaints about the service diversion notices, in that NYC Transit does not appear to be running the service that is advertised on the posters. Mr. Albert said that under New Business he would like to talk about a project that involves looking at the service diversion notices.

New Business
Shirley Genn said the subways are mobbed and there are problems getting off the trains. She said there is a new police officer on duty at the Avenue N station, but he generally stands inside on the street level of the station and not on the platform. He is there during the day but not at night. She said there needs to be a police officer at the Avenue M end of the Avenue N station and at the Bay Parkway station at night because they are both very desolate areas. She also said there needs to be someone to help parents and caregivers with strollers and to provide assistance. Mr. Albert said staff will send a letter to ask for additional police coverage at night at the Avenue N and Bay Parkway stations on the F line.

Sharon Santa Maria noted that the HEETs are very difficult to push.

George Haikalis noted that many of these concerns are directly related to the fare collection system and said this is good time to consider a fare-free system.

Ken Stewart suggested that Manhattan-bound 7 line trains that reach the 5th Avenue station should not pull out from the station only to wait in the tunnel. Instead they should wait at the station if both tracks at Times Square are occupied and they cannot proceed to Times Square.

Alan Flacks noted that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has slowed airplane departures so that a flight will be expected to arrive at its destination when there is a guaranteed landing slot.

Shirley Genn noted there may be a pattern with bus driver problems. She suggested that the Council look at supervisors and what routes they are responsible for.

Mr. Flacks said he was not pleased with the response he got from Bill Henderson about the fact that he was asked to show specific types of proof of age to receive a reduced fare. Ms. Mason said there are reasons why certain forms of identification are not acceptable. Yvonne Morrow said that there is concern that a Medicare card can be stolen and result in identity theft issues.

Council Project on Service Diversion Notices
Mr. Albert would like to look at whether the information on service diversion notices is consistent with what is actually happening with the service and whether the posters are removed in a timely manner.

Sharon Hoge King said that when she came to Jamaica on the AirTrain from Kennedy Airport the other day, there was no poster announcing that there was a service diversion on the E train at Jamaica Center.

Nomination of MYCTRC Officers
The members unanimously nominated the existing slate of officers to serve for the next year. The election will take place at the June 25, 2009 meeting. The nominees are: Andrew Albert – Chair; Michael J. Sinansky – Vice Chair; Marisol Halpern, William K. Guild and Toya Williford – Executive Committee.

Old Business
No Old Business was discussed.

Introduction of Howard Sackel, Deputy Project Chief – Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) Project
A copy of Mr. Sackel’s presentation is on file in the PCAC office.

Mr. Sackel said he had been with the MTA’s independent engineering consultant for six years and most recently worked as a consultant with Mysore Nagaraja.

Mr. Sackel gave a brief overview of the history of the project. He said in the early years, Penn Station was dominated by long distance train service but now is dominated by service geared towards commuters. He said there are presently two tunnels, with one for inbound and one for outbound service. Currently 20 New Jersey Transit trains and 3 Amtrak trains come in to Penn Station at the peak hour; He said that 25 trains per hour is the practical capacity. Mr. Sackel said New Jersey Transit ridership has grown from 10 million in 1975 to 46 million in 2008 and is expected to double in the next twenty years.

Mr. Sackel said the funding for the project is coming from a variety of places. The Port Authority has committed to provide $3 billion. The New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund, Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Management funding and NJ Turnpike funding will account for $2.75 billion of the cost. Three billion dollars will come from the Federal government, with $125 million to be received from the Stimulus package and $200 million committed for next year.

Mr. Sackel spoke about the project’s final design and said the ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) process is pending with New York City. He said they will finish the final design in July. He said they have met with and made presentations to Community Boards 4 and 5 as well as the Manhattan Borough President’s Council, which approved the project. He said the City process is necessary to build a station. He said that the ARC team had to get the zoning regulations changed for the project because they required parking accommodations.

Mr. Sackel said that on June 8, construction on the ARC project will begin with a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of its Route 1 and 9 underpass. He said the tunnel contract will be awarded at the end of this year. He said service will commence in 2017.

He said that the ARC project will increase the capacity for crossings from New Jersey into Penn Station to 48 trains per hour and there will be less conflict with Amtrak as trains traveling through the ARC tunnels will be using a brand new station. He said commuters on five lines that now have to transfer at Secaucus will be able to have a one seat ride. He said that additional service will be added to the North Jersey Coast and Raritan lines and that service will be increased on the Northeast Corridor with the use of bi-level coaches. These arrangements will reduce the daily number of car trips by about 22,000.

In response to Mike Sinansky’s question as to why trains are so far away from existing facilities, Mr. Sackel said they did not want to disturb existing utility infrastructure and transportation systems. He said they had to maintain some distance in order to go deep and still keep the grade at or below the maximum over which trains can operate.

In response to Jan Wells’ question about the status of the Portal Bridge, Mr. Sackel said that Amtrak has not identified a funding source for the Portal Bridge project, but noted that New Jersey Transit has money and plans to move forward on building a second bridge even if Amtrak does not have the money to do their work. He said Amtrak would use its existing bridge as long as it is in good repair.

Mr. Sackel said that the ARC project would include a new upper level center platform at Secaucus. He said they will add additional entrances to subway mezzanines. He said that the station will be 80 feet deep at the mezzanines and that there will be three major banks of escalators from the station to the subways

In response to Karyl Berger’s question as to the size of the new station’s platforms, Mr. Sackel said the platforms are 29 to 30 feet wide and can accommodate 11 bi-level coaches and one locomotive.

Mr. Sackel said there will be 2 ADA elevators at each Avenue.

Ken Stewart asked about the timetable for the design of the station and expressed hope that there would be more color contrast in it than exists at the new South Ferry subway station. Mr. Sackel said they have not even started to look at finishes.

Mr. Sackel briefly described the interconnections that will exist with the subway. He said that there will be five public entrances and that the project will move the subway entrances out of the sidewalks and place them within building envelopes. He said that at the southeast corner of 8th Avenue they will rebuild the subway entrance and place it and the NJ Transit entrances within buildings and that the ADA elevators will remain in the same place. Mr. Sackel noted there will be a new connector to the LIRR concourse. He said that the 8th Avenue entrance will be moved around the corner and that the main entrance will be on 7th Avenue where the Citibank is currently located. This entrance will complement the LIRR headhouse.

Mr. Sackel indicated that there will be a triple stair on the northwest corner at Broadway and 6th Avenue. The escalators on the southwest side and fare gates will be moved at Herald Square.

Mr. Sackel said they are considering the possibility of reopening the Gimbels passageway and there will be a back door into the passageway.

Mr. Sackel said the station will be designed to Amtrak standards and Amtrak would be able to use the station in an emergency and during off peak hours. There are no commitments yet for Amtrak to use the station. He said there is a study underway to look at bringing the ARC tracks over to the East Side.

In response to Ken Stewart’s question whether there would be any retail space in the new station, Mr. Sackel said that there would be a limited amount of space including room for newsstands and flower stands.

In response to Mr. Strauss’ question as to when the tunnel boring machine will be used, Mr. Sackel said that it will enter service in 18 months and will be used from 2011 to 2012. He said the station excavation will begin in 2011.

Mr. Sackel said the only open cut work that will take place in the New York side of the project will be on the entrances at 34th Street.

In response to Mr. O’Shea’s question as to whether there will be space available at Sunnyside Yards with the new tunnel, Mr. Sackel said there would not be as there will still be the same number of trains going to the yard.

In response to Jan Wells’ question as to the depth of the Bergenline station, Mr. Sackel said it is 300 feet deep compared to 150 feet to the mezzanine of the new station.

In response to Andrew Albert’s question as to the estimated cost to extend the tracks over to Grand Central Terminal, Mr. Sackel said that this would cost several billion dollars but the current project is within 15 feet of East Side Access in terms of elevation. The LIRR tunnels are 19’6” in diameter versus 24’6” for New Jersey Transit.

In response to Mr. Albert’s question about security issues, Mr. Sackel said many precautions have been put in place including ventilation systems, emergency power to escalators, and emergency generators in fan plants at 35th Street.

Mr. Sackel said the platform can be cleared in 3 to 4 minutes and then it would take about another three minutes to get everyone up to the surface.

Mr. Sackel briefly described what the emergency evacuation plan is if there is a smoke condition on the lower level and noted it will be nothing like Penn Station. He said there will be a place of safe refuge on the mezzanine level and that this level will have positive air pressure to prevent infiltration of smoke. The escalators will also have positive air pressure as well as baffles to prevent smoke from entering. Current standards provide that the platform must be tenable 150 feet from an incident and the station will meet those standards. Fans in the station will dissipate up smoke in four minutes.

Ms. Wells noted that at South Ferry there is safe place for wheelchair users to go in case of an emergency. Mr. Sackel said these places of refuge will be provided at the ends of all platforms.

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

Respectfully submitted,

Karyl Berger
Research Associate