A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12:00 noon, November 17, 2011, in the fifth floor Board room, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City. The following members were present:
•Sharon King Hoge
•Burton Strauss, Jr.
The following members were absent:
•Trudy L. Mason
In addition, the following persons were present:
•William Henderson-PCAC Executive Director
•Ellyn Shannon-PCAC Transportation Planner
•Karyl Berger-PCAC Research Associate
•Phyllis Silvestri-Concerned citizen
•Marsha Whitehead-Concerned citizen
•Yvonne Morrow-Concerned citizen
•Matt Shotkin-Concerned Citizen
•Ken Stewart-Concerned Citizen
•Alan Flacks-Concerned Citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the November 17, 2011 meeting was approved. The October 27, 2011 minutes were approved as amended.
The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.
Ellyn Shannon said that for the introduction of the 34th Street Select Bus Service (SBS) there were lots of ambassadors located at Penn Station. There were two fare machines not working, but even so there were no big lines for riders to pay their fares. In contrast, there were big lines to board the buses. She said that that service was fast and that the biggest glitch appeared to be the confusion of riders who wanted to be on the M34 but instead took the M34A and vice versa.
Burt Strauss stated that there are still electronic bus arrival signs on the route; he said that he had traveled on 34th Street and took the M34A because there was no M34 showing on the display board.
Ms. Shannon commented that another trouble spot for the new service is the Holland Tunnel entrance. She said that there is no one stationed there to direct traffic and speed the buses.
Marsha Whitehead stated that she was not able to get a cash reduced fare when using SBS. Chris Greif said that there is a way to get a reduced fare on the coin fare payment machine.
Ken Stewart asked why NYC Transit is using M34 & M34A as names for the service and said that NYC Transit blamed it on fare technology.
Andrew Albert said that there has been a lot of coverage in the press about the plans to take line segments out of service to complete repairs and improvements. He said that he has asked a lot of questions about this plan and that he has told NYC Transit officials that they would have to communicate effectively and let people know that this is a means of reducing weekend service diversions. Mr. Albert said that the plans involve some 24-hour diversions, and some are one-way diversions with back riding to access express service or another line. He said that he asked about coordination with other trains in these situations.
Mike Sinansky commented that he did not see cost and time savings information included in the media accounts of the program. He noted that there needs to be good communication of these savings and a real audit of this program after one or two closures have been completed to determine whether these are the best alternatives.
Mr. Albert stated that the experience of other transit systems has been examined, but the NYC Transit system is one of the few systems where trains operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Steve Mayo asked how NYC Transit made the determination that this plan is a good thing to do and asked whether the plan was presented to the MTA Board. Mr. Albert responded that the Board was not consulted on the plan before it was announced and that in this and a number of other cases policy actions are presented to the Board “for information only”. He said that the consensus among transit advocates on this plan is to wait and see how well it works.
Sharon King Hoge said that this plan could have a major impact on riders who rely on the subway to travel to the airports to make a flight.
Burt Strauss suggested that one source of savings in the plan may be the ability to shut down power to a line. Mr. Albert stated that there is probably not that much savings in the cost of the power. Mr. Strauss noted that removing power from a line would increase worker safety considerably.
Karyl Berger asked if anything has been determined about the use of buses to replace subway services. Mr. Albert said that he has not heard of any arrangements. He said that he has to inquire about the 42nd Street Shuttle, to find out whether it will run all night during the 7 line diversion.
Yvonne Morrow commented that this plan is nothing new and said that there is no E train in Queens from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weekdays for long stretches.
Mr. Stewart asked how the trains get back to their point of origin when service in one direction is shut down. Mr. Albert said that in these cases trains would run on a neighboring express or local track, as is appropriate to the situation.
Mr. Albert discussed the MTA’s proposed 2012 budget. He said that no budget driven service cuts are included in the proposal. The proposal assumes that the MTA will use funding previously set aside for pay-as-you-go capital expenditures to fund debt service, but the MTA has gone to great lengths to emphasize that this change would not impact operating expenditures. Mr. Albert said that he was gratified to find that there were several board members, including Mitch Pally, Allen Cappelli, Ira Greenberg and Jim Blair, who stood with him to ask for service restorations of $20 million. He noted that if the MTA does not restore cuts it will lose customers. The MTA budget needs to be voted on in December, but in all likelihood a new Chairman will not be confirmed until the Senate reconvenes in January.
Edith Prentiss said that she has concerns about the need for rapid deployment of maintenance personnel to make elevator repairs and the need for better information about available elevators.
Mr. Greif stated that when train lines are out of service, there often is no alternate route provided for people who use wheelchairs. He said that Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz is getting complaints about a lack of information on alternative accessible routes when the 2 and 3 are out of service.
Ms. Hoge asked if the Weekender website supersedes the regular MTA website starting on Friday afternoon. Mr. Henderson responded that it does but that one can access the regular site by clicking through on the main Weekender page. Unfortunately the button to access the regular site isn’t easy to find.
Matt Shotkin wanted to know if fare inspectors are supposed to be on the M15 SBS route. Mr. Albert said that fare inspection is random, so not every bus will be checked.
Ms. Prentiss asked if there will be countdown clocks at Fulton Street for both A and B division trains. Mr. Albert commented that they say that they are getting close to coming up with a B division solution for countdown clocks. He said that they will probably have blended displays of A and B division trains at Fulton Street.
Mr. Greif commented that in the course of his service diversion project surveys in many stations he observed no comprehensive diversion signs in their unpaid areas. Also, there were no block transfers being provided at the South Ferry and Bowling Green stations during the shutdown of 2 and 3 line service.
Ms. Hoge noted that more and more bus operators are not displaying their badges and that they refuse to display them when asked. They tell you to record their bus number instead of the badge number. Mr. Albert stated that he will find out why the rule requiring badges to be visible is not being enforced.
Ms. Prentiss mentioned that Disabled in Action will be asking representatives of the bus division to come to a meeting to speak about their procedures.
Mr. Stewart commented on the wording of announcements. He suggested that the Council could provide some suggestions to NYC Transit.
Mr. Greif commented that when he was recently caught in an outage on the B and Q lines at Prospect Park for 2 hours and that B trains were recently stuck for 45 minutes to an hour. Also, he noted that the former station name “Newkirk Avenue” has been changed to “Newkirk Plaza” on the R160 cars.
Mr. Albert said that perhaps we need to get someone from NYC Transit Rapid Transit Operations to visit an NYCTRC meeting and discuss how operations are handled when there are service disruptions.
Ms. Prentiss described the experience that she had on the past weekend. In the evening in upper Manhattan on the M103 line there were 2 hour waits for the next bus. She said that the bus Command Center used to answer riders questions about delayed service but this information is not available in the MTA’s new customer service system.
Mr. Flacks noted that NYC Transit split the M10 into two routes for the stated purpose of making it more reliable, but the M5 route was is lengthened. He said that they now sometimes turn the M5 buses at Canal Street.
Mr. Albert said that the M5 was extended because the M6 was eliminated.
Mr. Greif commented on 18th Avenue and Church Avenue stations on the F line. He said that there was signage about the F diversion, but there was no information about lines with ADA accessible stations that could be used as alternatives to F service.
Introduction of James Sears, Senior Director, and Mark Mednick, Director, Corporate Communications, to demonstrate with Council members the use of customer interviews for NYCT market research on new communications technology.
Mr. Sears said that the job of market research is to answer the question of what customers think. He said that recently NYC Transit has emphasized customer interviews in their market research because this is a cost effective technique. Interviews will generally cost less than focus groups or surveys.
Mr. Sears distributed copies of a survey on the On the Go kiosk technology to the members. A copy of this form is on file in the PCAC office. He noted that this instrument is an open ended survey form and that these forms are used for the first phase of intercept interviews.
Mr. Sears proceeded to go through the questions on the form.
In response to the question about how riders get service information about the subway. Mr. Jost responded that he uses the internet. Mr. Stewart said that he listens to WCBS radio. Others responded that they use the telephone or subway maps. Mr. Albert said that maps do not give you schedule information, and it was noted that maps could provide other types of information about service.
Mr. Sears said that in conducting the intercept interviews he will position interviewers in the field near an On the Go kiosk to approach potential respondents. He said that they sometimes give an incentive for participation, such as a round trip MetroCard.
In response to the question about the purpose of the On the Go kiosk, Ms. Prentiss suggested that it is to reduce the number of personnel in the subway system. Mr. Sinansky said that its purpose is to provide service information. Tom Jost said another purpose of the kiosk is to provide neighborhood information. Mr. Henderson noted that the kiosk also has advertising, which would provide a source of revenue. Mr. Stewart said that the kiosk only partially conforms to the ADA. Ms. Prentiss agreed that the kiosk only partially accommodates persons with disabilities.
Mr. Sears asked whether those present have used the kiosk, to which most of those present answered that they had. Mr. Greif said that he had used the kiosk to provide directions to others. Mr. Sears asked whether those present realized that the kiosk had a touch screen and all who responded said that they did.
In response to the question about the ease of use of the kiosk, Mr. Sinansky said that he had witnessed some confusion between the kiosk and ticket vending machines. He said he found that users need to press fully on the typewriter buttons in Trip Planner to get letters to register on the screen. He also said that he had pressed the button to request bus information from Trip Planner but got subway directions instead and questioned why this happened. Ms. Prentiss stated that this seems to be a problem with Trip Planner rather than the kiosk, as she has heard similar complaints.
Mr. Sinansky commented on the elevator and escalator information available on the kiosk. He said that based on the information supplied by the kiosk most elevators and escalators seem that they are being returned to service on Saturday and questioned why this is the case. Mr. Sears said that he did not know.
Mr. Sinansky asked whether there is a way of providing hand sanitizer at the kiosks, in view of their use by large numbers of persons.
Mr. Jost said that he observed people trying to use the kiosks to surf the web and that some people are having trouble scrolling pages on the kiosk screen.
In response to the question about whether the kiosk user was able to get information he or she wanted, Ms. Prentiss responded that she tried to get information about the next accessible station, but was unable to identify the next station with an elevator using the kiosk, so she gave up on her search.
Mr. Jost asked about the problem noted by Ms. Prentiss that wheelchair users face at the with Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street complex. Ms. Prentiss said that there is an issue with narrow clearances in some parts of the complex. There used to be lots of information disseminated about this issue, but not so much information has been disseminated recently. As a result, new customers who use a wheelchair would not know about this problem.
Mr. Sears asked for opinions on the appearance of the kiosk. One person said that the kiosk is cute. Mr. Stewart asked whether the kiosk is obvious to a rider traveling through the station and whether the kiosk makes any sounds. Mr. Sears said that there is no sound component to the kiosk at present.
In response to the question about the feel of the kiosk, Ms. Prentiss said that it is substantial.
Mr. Sears asked whether the kiosk makes users feel confident, and if yes, why and if not, why not. Most of the members answered yes, but there were two “no” responses. Mr. Albert said that the kiosk makes riders feel more confident because information is power. Ms. Prentiss stated that you have to trust that the information given is correct to feel empowered. Mr. Jost stated that the kiosk did not have new technology and that similar applications could be found on most mobile phones; thus the kiosk is not a game changer.
Mr. Sears asked whether members noticed the advertisements on the kiosk. The members generally responded that they did. Mr. Sears asked for comments about the advertisements. Mr. Albert stated that the advertisements are distracting.
Mr. Sears asked whether members had any suggestions of other information that should be shown on the kiosk. Mr. Jost said that at locations like South Ferry where people shift transportation modes, it would be useful to have information on other transportation systems included on the kiosk. He said that it would also be useful to have information on local points of interest, and that this capability might get more tourists on the subway system. Ms. Prentiss said that she believes that this information is included on the kiosk under key destinations.
Mr. Albert asked if Mr. Sears knows what default display is for the kiosk. Mr. Sears replied that in some locations the initial screen changes the morning to the afternoon hours. He said that at Atlantic Terminal the morning default screen is NYC Transit information, while in the afternoon it is LIRR information.
Mr. Sears asked for suggestions on other locations for the kiosks. Ms. Prentiss and Mr. Greif suggested that they should be placed at intermodal centers and stations that are heavily used by persons with disabilities. Mr. Sinansky suggested that in Grand Central Terminal there should be freestanding units positioned near the information booth.
Ms. Prentiss suggested that there should be a unit at each entrance to the platforms and tracks in commuter rail terminals and that others should be in locations where people stand and wait for trains. Mr. Jost suggested that units be placed in the Staten Island side terminal of the Staten Island Ferry. He said that units should also be at area airports, including JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark. Mr. Albert suggested that a unit be placed in the Airtrain Terminal in Jamaica.
Mr. Sears asked for other comments. Mr. Mayo said that in using the kiosk in Penn Station he felt like people were watching what he was doing and that the person standing behind him could easily see what was on the screen at all times. He noted that this might present a problem for someone looking for travel information to a specific destination.
Ms. Shannon stated that PCAC staff used to be invited to observe focus groups conducted for market research purposes and were asked to provide input based on what they had seen. She asked how many intercept survey projects Mr. Sears’ office conducts. Mr. Sears stated that they do market research projects all the time, but they are moving toward using intercept surveys. He stated that he will touch base with Mr. Henderson on consulting with the PCAC with regard to surveys.
Ms. Whitehead suggested that NYC Transit could use of telephone or internet survey.
Mr. Albert asked if there could be surveys administered on the On the Go kiosks. Mr. Sears said that this could be a possibility depending on the questions to be asked.
The meeting was adjourned at 2:10 pm.
New York City Transit Riders Council
November 17, 2011
I’m sure many of you have read about NYC Transit’s proposal this week to radically change the way that lines are taken out of service for maintenance and capital work. As this was announced at the MTA Board Transit Committee meeting, I’ll cover it in my Board report, but I’m sure we’ll want to discuss it in the business portion of our meeting as well.
34th Street SBS service was inaugurated this past Sunday. As you know, this service replaces both the local M34 bus as well as the M16 bus that had previously served the 34th Street corridor. This differs from the Bronx and Manhattan SBS corridors, where traditional local service continues to be available. As a part of the change, buses traveling the former M16 route have been designated as “M34A.”
In response to an email that Karyl sent to Ted Orosz regarding the use of ambassadors on this route for only two weeks, Deborah Hall Moore wrote back and noted that agency resources for this type of outreach initiative are quite constrained. Despite these limitations, NYC Transit is setting aside 500 tours of ambassador time, with Transit employees functioning outside of their normal paid positions, to support this effort. If it becomes apparent that more ambassador time is needed, Ms. Hall-Moore noted that they will do more, but for now, the schedule is for two weeks only. She also stated that NYC Transit is training 34th Street Partnership staff to provide information on SBS, and they will be out there permanently, as will NYC Transit’s Eagle Team. If any Transit Riders Council staff or members are interested in serving as ambassadors to support this effort, NYC Transit will be happy to provide the requisite training. As a regular rider of the M16 during the am peak, Ellyn rode the service on Wednesday and will relate her observations to the Council.
Speaking of SBS, NYC Transit and NYCDOT have just issued a one-year progress report on the M15 SBS service. We’ve emailed a PDF copy to members, and the report is also available on the NYCDOT website that can be accessed through www.nyc.gov. The report is full of facts and figures and is a good reference on the specifics of the project.
You may be interested in checking out the New York Transit Museum’s latest exhibit: ElectriCity: Powering New York’s Subways and Rails. The exhibit was designed by the Liberty Science Center and opened October 29th at the Museum’s main location in Downtown Brooklyn and will run through Friday, December 30. The goal of the exhibit is to illustrate how electricity powers the subway system and has something for everyone, from historic power control equipment, photographs through the years, and architectural and engineering drawings to hands-on activities that will interest even young children.
Last night Bill Henderson attended a meeting for Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander’s Participatory Budget Process. You may have read about this process in which four New York City Council Members will allow residents of their districts to directly decide to spend a total of $6 million in discretionary funding. Bill served as a resource to the committee working to narrow potential transit projects to be selected for funding. Unfortunately, many of the projects initially proposed, such as elevators, cost more than the available funding, illustrating the financial constraints that make capital improvements in the NYC Transit system so difficult.
Please mark your calendars for the quarterly PCAC meeting which is scheduled for December 1 at noon in this room. Our guest will be Nicole Gelinas, who is the Searle Freedom Trust Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of many articles, columns, and op-ed pieces on the MTA and its agencies. Her work often appears in the New York Post and she is certain to bring an interesting perspective on the MTA and its operations. Staff is compiling some of her recent writings and will forward it to members prior to the meeting.