Meeting Minutes Nov 20, 2008


A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12:00 noon, November 20, 2008, in the third floor conference room, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City. The following members were present:

Andrew Albert
Thomas Jost
Shirley Genn
Trudy L. Mason
Jessica Lila Gonzalez
Edith Prentiss
William Guild
Michael Sinansky
Marisol Halpern
Burton Strauss, Jr.
The following members were absent:

Sharon Santa Maria
Toya Williford
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
Deborah Hall-Moore – NYCT
Joseph G. Garber – Exec. VP C.P.A.A.A
Linda Black – NYC Department for the Aging
Jesse Moskowitz – Concerned Citizen
Alan Flacks – Concerned Citizen
Matt Shotkin – Concerned Citizen
Ken Stewart – Concerned Citizen
J. O’Shea – Concerned Citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the November 20, 2008 meeting was approved. The October 30, 2008 minutes were approved.

Chair’s Report
In view of the short time since our last meeting and the MTA budget that I’m sure you are anxious to discuss, we’ll have an abbreviated Chair’s Report today.

Last week, the State Comptroller’s office released the fifth in its series of progress reports on the MTA Capital Security Program. The report again found that the work in the Program continues to experience delays and escalations in cost. While security continues to improve, the report notes that only two security improvements have been completed in this calendar year. A copy of the report was given to you today.

As follow-up from last month’s meeting, we sent Lee Sander a letter expressing the Council’s opposition to folded seats on subway cars during rush hour periods. We have not received a response as of today. We also asked our guest at the October meeting, Ron Saporita, for the costs of the risk assessment project and suggested to NYC Transit that the number of posters asking parents to fold strollers when on subway platforms and in trains be increased. To date, we have not received a response to either of these requests.

Please mark your calendars for the PCAC meeting which will be held on December 4. Our guest will be Len DeSimone, President of the MTA Business Service Center, who will give us a report on the progress that he and his team have made in establishing this new unit. We will also discuss the PCAC response to the MTA Budget material that was presented this morning, so it is very important that NYCTRC members attend this meeting and make their concerns heard.

Board Report
Mr. Albert spoke about the list of service reductions that have been proposed as part of the 2009 budget that will be voted on at the December MTA Board meeting.

Edith Prentiss noted that there is an agreement that the MTA would not increase Access-A-Ride fare to 200 percent of the base transit fare, although the ADA permits this level of fares.

Mr. Albert said that NYC Transit has included plans to cut overnight service on low performing bus routes in the proposed 2009 MTA Budget.

Shirley Genn reported that last night at 6 pm at the Avenue N station on the F line, she saw a number of homeless people loitering in the station and there was no station agent present to report them to the police. She said it was a very uncomfortable situation.

In response to Tom Jost’s question as to whether the Ravitch commission recommendations have been released, Mr. Albert said the report of the Commission is due out on December 5.

Trudy Mason said that she has heard that some upcoming capital funding is in jeopardy. She suggested that as soon as the Ravitch Commission’s recommendations are released, the Council should get in contact with the legislators.

Ms. Genn said she does not understand how the MTA can make service cuts when there will be so many people who depend on transit to get around looking for jobs.

Ms. Mason said that the Ravitch Commission will propose some form of congestion pricing and will need to look at the system that is proposed in terms of what the State Legislature and Governor will do. Mr. Albert said tolling the East River bridges will bring in more money than the congestion pricing system that was proposed earlier this year.

Mr. Albert indicated that many MTA Board members have expressed strong opposition to the proposed service cuts. He indicated that some have taken very strong stances against proposals that harm the riders.

Old Business
No Old Business was discussed.

New Business
No New Business was discussed.

Introduction of Steve Feil, NYC Transit Senior Vice President – Department of Subways
Mr. Feil began by describing the career path which got him to his current job at NYC Transit. He began his career in 1976 as a laborer on the Amtrak and has worked at Amtrak, Hudson-Bergen Light Rail and WMATA. He noted that WMATA is a very different operation in that it is a two track system and if there is problem it disrupts service on the entire system.

Mr. Feil said the NYCT system is incredibly complex and often runs in spite of itself. He noted that even though the IRT has signals that are over 75 years old, they still are very much operational.

Mr. Feil said that the Department of Subways has 28,600 employees and anticipates they will lose a couple of hundred people with the service cuts. He said that he wants to reorganize and refocus on service quality in making reductions, rather than blindly cutting positions and costs. He said that cuts to items like training don’t seem to be important in the short term but have sizable impacts for the long term.

Mr. Feil explained that it is important to have constant training for employees who are assigned to the R160 cars because these cars contain so much technology that they are in effect big computers. There are always changes to the programming of the R160 systems and new information about the cars, so those who work with them must be kept current.

Mr. Feil spoke briefly about the General Manager program being implemented in the subways. He said as of Monday, the Lexington Avenue lines will be known as the IRT East and the 7th Avenue and Flushing lines will be known as IRT West. He said there will be shared services components of this new system, such as track and power, but line managers will be responsible for the performance of their lines. He said that he is hopeful a similar B division reorganization will be complete by the middle of 2009.

Mr. Feil said that when the system was designed, headways on the IRT were 25 seconds but now a more typical minimum headway is 1 minute and 25 seconds. He said that the 4 and 5 lines run well until they meet up with other lines. He said he is looking at implementing a zone express service on IRT lines. He sees it running more like a railroad with changes such as some 4 train runs making only two stops north of midtown.

Mr. Albert said that a zone express would reduce service at some stations. Ms. Mason asked how this kind of service could operate when there is already is express service. Mr. Feil said there is a third track on the Jerome line and that it could be used to facilitate zone express service. He said he singled out WMATA’s Orange line when he was in Washington because it was the most difficult to operate. He said they ran zone express service from Vienna to Foggy Bottom station and then operated as a skip stop service. He said they found ways to run “left handed” express service, where trains operate on tracks generally used for travel in the opposite direction. He said this service would be an addition to existing schedule but that some trains would have to be turned short of their current terminus in order for this plan to be revenue and equipment neutral.

Ms. Mason asked if he would have to re-evaluate these plans in light of the proposed service cuts. Mr. Feil said he is concerned that safety will be jeopardized if the cuts are put in place. He said there are some people who can’t be cut because they are needed to make quick responses when there are service problems. He said that NYC Transit must re-evaluate its maintenance philosophy and closely examine the impacts of reducing maintenance. He cited the problems of track fires during the 1970’s and 1980s when they cut track cleaners. Mr. Feil said his philosophy is not to run service if the resources aren’t there.

In response to Marisol Halpern’s question as to what systems are being upgraded, Mr. Feil said that he is working on getting Automatic Train Supervision (ATS) to run properly and working to get Communication Based Train Control (CBTC) up and running on the L line. He also said they are working Automatic Train Operation (ATO).

In response to Jan Wells’ question as to whether there will be cost savings with the reorganization of the IRT, Mr. Feil said that with CBTC, there would be a 10 percent increase in capacity and efficiency.

In response to Mr. Jost’s question as to the role of the Staten Island Railway (SIR) in Mr. Feil’s plans, Mr. Feil said that the SIR is a part of the Department of Subways and part of his overall plans. He said that a new contract for SIR employees is currently being negotiated and that it is critical that labor and management agree on work rule changes that will allow the Railway to operate more efficiently.

Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas noted that she often sees incorrect signage on 7 line trains with regard to whether a train is running local or express. She said that the sound systems on the trains are not adequate to provide this information reliably, and that even when a platform conductor is present, passengers cannot distinguish local and express trains. Mr. Albert explained that a trial of Light Emitting Diode (LED) signs on trains was developed to address this issues and asked Mr. Feil the status of this trial. Mr. Feil said that he would look into this issue and get back to him.

In response to Bill Guild’s question concerning how the performance of trains under Communication Based Train Control (CBTC) compares to a situation where train operators may override signals in a “key-by” system, Mr. Feil explained that CBTC allows operators to come within 30 seconds of the next train. This provides visual contact with the preceding train while still maintaining a margin of safety. Mr. Feil said that CBTC is much more efficient and safe than the key-by system could ever be. He said the R160 cars are being tested on the Rockaway test track and he had debated the merits of CBTC with old timers, but has emphasized that historic speeds could not be achieved because operating characteristics are different now.

He cited Amtrak’s Acela as being marketed as having a top speed of 150 mph, but it could never reach this speed because of the overhead catenary wire is not capable of withstanding these speeds. Improvements to the catenary to maintain constant tension allows operators to increase speed by only 2 miles per hour. He said the big problem is the signal system and the block layout which prevents the safe and efficient operation of the train at speeds above 135 mph. Mr. Feil said that few riders could actually tell the difference between 135 mph and 150 mph and factors other than speed have a greater impact on total travel time.

Ms. Mason reported that this morning on her way to the meeting, she waited for 12 minutes for a train at 86th Street and asked if the changeover to the IRT East organization will positively impact service delivery. Mr. Feil said the 4, 5 and 6 lines are now under a single general manager who has a manager for each of the three lines report to him. He said the idea underlying this structure is to have these managers closer to the day to day issues confronting their lines. He said if there is a problem is with scheduling, the line general manager can address it more quickly than was possible in the previous structure.

In response to Mr. Albert’s question as to whether line managers will be empowered to make changes between local and express service if there is a problem, Mr. Feil said that the line manager can call the Rail Control Center and have the sequence of trains changed.

In response to Marisol Halpern’s question about what happens when stations are shared by more than one line, Mr. Feil said that in stations that serve the 1, 2, 3 and 7 lines the IRT West General Manager is responsible but both the East and West general managers are both responsible if they have services at a station.

Alan Flacks asked when annunciators will be in the stations and asked why only one door on a car is left open at the 8th Avenue station on the L line. Ms. Prentiss said this is a problem for disabled riders who need to board at certain locations. Mr. Feil said that the reason the doors are closed is to either keep the heat or air conditioning in the cars. He asked Mr. Henderson to follow up with him on this issue.

James O’Shea reported that on many station platforms on the Flushing line, there are only two benches and said that with longer wait times between trains, it is important to have more benches.

Ellyn Shannon asked what the chain of communication is when an elevator or escalator is out of order. Mr. Feil said a customer informs the station agent who in turn is supposed to call the maintenance shop at 34th Street/8th Avenue and the shop will deploy repair technicians to the site. He noted that the Lift-Net system can automatically notify the maintenance shop that equipment is out of order. He noted that any outages or problems are the ultimate responsibility of the general manager.

The meeting was adjourned at 2:10 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

Karyl Berger
Research Associate