NEW YORK CITY TRANSIT RIDERS COUNCIL
MINUTES OF October 2, 2014
A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12 noon on October 2, 2014 in the 9th Floor conference room at MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City.
The following members were present:
Andrew Albert Trudy L. Mason
Stuart Goldstein Scott R. NIcholls
Christopher Greif Edith Prentiss
William K. Guild Michael Sinansky
Marisol Halpern Burton M. Strauss, Jr.
The following member was absent:
Sharon King Hoge
In addition, the following persons were present:
William Henderson -Executive Director
Ellyn Shannon -Associate Director
Karyl Berger -Research Associate
Bradley Brashears -Assistant Transportation Planner
Darryl Irick -MTA Bus
Deborah Hall-Moore -NYCT
Rebecca Harshbarber -NY Post
Anthony Drummond -Brooklyn Borough President’s Office
Phyllis Silvestri -Lindenwood Alliance
Jasmine Melzer -Park Slope Village
Debra Greif -BFSSAC
Dustin Jones -Disabled In Action
Alan Flacks -NY County Democratic Committee
Ken Stewart -Concerned citizen
Matt Shoktin -Concerned citizen
Martin Gangursky -Concerned citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the October 2, 2014 meeting was approved. The minutes of the July 24, 2014 meeting were approved.
The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.
Andrew Albert said that there is talk of extending the retention period for security camera images beyond 30 days, but no final decision has been made.
Mr. Albert presented John Tauranac’s new subway map. Mr. Albert offered to get more copies for all members, and the members generally agreed that they would each like a copy of the map.
Introduction of Darryl Irick, MTA Bus Company President and NYC Transit Senior Vice President – Buses, to Discuss Bus System Issues
Mr. Irick stated that he is very committed to improve bus service and that there are 5700 buses in the fleet, with 4700 on the street during rush hours. At present, MTA Bus Operations is trying to improve service to the customer with new technologies. The biggest element of this effort is the global positioning satellite (GPS) capabilities that have been added to buses, and this system has both customer and internal uses.
Mr. Irick noted that his staff can now manage the bus system from GPS data. At one time, supervisors could only see one bus and kept track of vehicles on a route using booking sheets. Now, systems are being rolled out for supervisors to use GPS data, but this rollout will take time. An immediate benefit of GPS data is that managers can now calculate wait assessment for the system, rather than using a sample of routes.
Trudy Mason stated that Bus Time is great, but that many people are not aware of it. She said that the stop and contact numbers for Bus Time text message are small on bus stop signage and that there should be signage about Bus Time in each bus. Ms. Mason said that she has informed many people, who are thrilled after they start using the service.
Mr. Irick replied that he will look at better marketing of Bus Time. He stated that his vision for the system is that, once stop information has been rolled out in the first two years, the MTA will work toward providing riders information about the time until the next bus.
Edith Prentiss stated that she never received notification about an M5 bus running down St. Nicholas Avenue from the NYC Transit text alert system. Mr. Irick responded that there may have been any one of several reasons for the bus being off route, including operator error.
Andrew Albert asked if Guide-a-Ride schedules at bus stops are being updated. Mr. Irick said that they are being updated and that the MTA did not walk away from the Guide-a-Ride system.
Ms. Prentiss stated that the stop numbers at bus stops are too high for her to read, particularly at night. She said many Guide-a-Rides do not have inserts and thus do not have stop numbers.
Mr. Irick was joined by John Kivlehan and Craig Cipriano.
Mr. Cipriano said that NYC Transit is currently involved with surveying riders about Bus Time. He said that Bus Time is very popular but not too widely used and that the reason for this is the focus of the surveys.
Ms. Prentiss stated that people do not understand that Bus Time information is available through both text messages and web access. She said that there are a number of problems with the system, including missing Guide-a-Ride inserts and stop numbers that are not readable from a wheelchair. She also asked what “one stop” means in text messages. Mr. Cipriano said that “one stop” could mean a bus left a location two stops away and has not yet arrived at its next stop.
Ms. Prentiss asked about the prevalence of broken transponders that send GPS information from buses to main system. Mr. Cipriano said that the contractor must fix broken units in 48 hours and that the reliability of the system is about 97 percent. John Kivlehan added that 3 percent of units had defects, and that 5 percent were recording as not transmitting because of dead spots in cell service last week.
Ms. Mason stated that she has observed a rash of “next bus phase” signs at Lexington and 97th Street this morning. There was a bus shown on the Bus Time system, but it displayed a “next bus please” sign. Mr. Kivlehan remarked that if a bus’ “next bus please” sign is on; the bus should fall off of the Bus Time display. Mr. Irick stated that he would validate that this is how the system should work and Mr. Kivlehan said that he would check to make sure that Bus Time system visible to customers is working according to its design.
Ms. Mason commented that there is not always a tailing bus following shortly behind a bus showing “next bus please” signage. Mr. Irick pointed out that there could be gaps because the leading bus that is showing ”next bus please” signage is making up a lot of time.
Ms. Prentiss stated that sending a bus ahead without picking up passengers and having a following bus turn short of the end of its route is a common problem for riders.
Mr. Albert said that he had two questions that members have frequently raised. The first is why buses do not stay at curb when stopped at a red light and the second is why buses do not always go to the curb at stops. Mr. Irick responded that instructions to operators were changed to have them try to stay at the curb while a red light prevents them from moving forward, but the operators still have some discretion to ensure that they can get into the flow of traffic when the light turns green. Ms. Mason said that she has noticed that more operators are staying in the bus stop when they cannot proceed because of a red light, but many edge out of the stop and refuse to allow passengers to board.
Mr. Albert asked whether, when all wheelchair spaces in a bus are occupied, operators may bypass a stop where only a rider in a wheelchair is waiting. Mr. Irick replied that this sometimes occurs, but it depends on the operator, and that he will look into this situation.
Mr. Kivlehan said that as part of new safety initiatives they are making observations of operator behavior and have given out 216 violations in 18 months for failures to curb the bus. He said that there is a program named “Basics” that includes checks on operators. Mr. Irick noted that they will be increasing the number of undercover observations from 1,400 to 14,000 in the next budget.
Ms. Prentiss stated that some bus operators do not know how to load people through rear door lifts, but that operators know to pull the nose of the bus in toward the curb. She said that on the Bx3 route there was a pilot program that had boarding locations painted on the street and that this was wonderful.
Chris Greif commented that operators in Brooklyn are sometimes disrespectful to riders. They use inappropriate language, insult customers and refuse to let people get on the bus even if they are in bus stops. Mr. Irick replied that operators may be under instructions to make drop offs only, but that if they serve a stop, they should allow riders to board if there is space available.
Mike Sinansky said that the Council needs this kind of direct contact with NYC Transit personnel and raised the issue of a lack of bus lane enforcement. He said that he has seen police parking in the lane and limo drivers using the bus lane as a parking place. Mr. Sinansky asked what had happened to the practice of having operators use cameras to enforce bus lane restrictions.
Mr. Cipriano replied that the cameras used by operators are not for bus lane enforcement, but for documenting safety and security issues. He said that a few years ago they conducted a proof of concept study with cameras on board, but they now rely on fixed post cameras managed by NYCDOT for bus lane enforcement. Mr. Irick remarked that he had met with NYCDOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg three times and believes she will be a very strong partner.
Ken Stewart commented that the latest statistics show that there is only 60 percent compliance with the requirement for audible bus announcements and asked what is being done to raise compliance. Mr. Irick said that he is not making excuses, but that the 60 percent number is probably about as high as we have had since the Americans with Disabilities Act became law. He said that ultimately the solution to the problem is to automate the process of making announcements, but he will use the increasing number of undercover observations as a tool to raise compliance.
Ms. Prentiss asked if anyone has ever heard bus operators make announcements when they are in the stop and several members responded that they have heard this. Ms. Prentiss asked why these stop announcements can’t be made through external speakers.
Martin Gangursky said that space on B1 buses is often scarce when Kingsborough Community College students and beachgoers use them and that having more buses would be a solution to this problem. Mr. Kivlehan responded that they are having a lot of problems on the B1 and B49 routes and are working with Kingsborough to coordinate schedules and loads. Among the solutions being evaluated are changes in schedules and a lot of work is going on to develop changes to the routes.
Burt Strauss pointed out that the shelters on Madison Avenue and 3rd Avenue still have maps with the M30 bus, which has not run in four years.
Dustin Jones said that he is speaking for himself and not any organization, but that he loves Bus Time and has not had any issues with the system. He said that the problem that he has is that on low floor buses operators sometimes refuse to operate the ramps manually. Ms. Prentiss said that she has had to operate the ramps herself in similar cases. Mr. Irick stated that he hopes that the RTS and Orion high floor buses will be gone in next three years.
Jasmine Melzer spoke on behalf of the Park Slope Village aging in place group and said that in Park Slope there are no express buses, although many of the subway stations are not usable for older persons. She said that Assembly member James Brennan will be asking for express buses in the area because some subway stops have 70 steps to reach the platform and asked what has happened to the blue lights on SBS.
Mr. Irick explained that the blue lights were removed from the SBS vehicles because they are contrary to State law. He said that they are looking at improved destination signs and other things that will better identify SBS vehicles.
Debra Greif said that the B49 and B1 buses had ended their routes short of the last stop, although they were carrying passengers, and said that both of these routes should go to the last stop.
Ms. Prentiss remarked that there is a problem with stops serving multiple buses. When buses are in the stop, other routes may stop in traffic lanes or continue past the stop without picking up passengers. Mr. Kivlehan commented that passing the stop when other buses are in the stop is not permitted.
Ms. Prentiss also noted that operators also do not understand the danger pose to wheelchairs when they stop in the street. This adds to the slope of the ramp, although this problem can be reduced if operators would kneel their buses.
Phyllis Silvestri stated that riders are not being notified about bus changes and that she was only informed of the Gateway Mall routes’ changes only because she saw a sign on an express bus. She also suggested that there should be more publicity about bus service and asked why there is a good amount of Saturday service on the QM15 but no service on Sundays. Ms. Silvestri also suggested that, when the A train does not go to its Queens terminal because of work on the system, riders should be directed to places they can get scheduled bus service instead of using shuttles.
Ms. Mason wanted to know who determines the positioning of bus shelters in relation to stops. She pointed out the shelters are often too far away from the places where buses actually stop. Mr. Cipriano stated that the NYCDOT manages the Cemusa contract to provide bus shelters, but NYC Transit can work with NYCDOT to resolve problems with the stops.
Ms. Prentiss stated that she agrees that shelters are placed in the wrong position especially where stops have been relocated. She said that buses laying over in stops are also a problem and that where stops have been relocated under elevated subway tracks operators have refused to let her off at some stops.
Mr. Kivlehan pointed out that the more specific information he receives about a problem the better. He said that if he receives specific information, he can take action within 24 hours.
Mr. Albert discussed the MTA’s proposed Capital Program and noted that two Board members were not thrilled with it because projects benefitting their home areas were not included. He said that there was a discussion about doing something additional for the West of Hudson region, but in the end Allen Cappelli of Staten Island voted against approving the plan. Board member Charles Moerdler said that candidates for public office should be asked their opinions about the Capital Program. Mr. Albert said that there are lots of good things in the proposed Capital Program, including the end of the MetroCard system.
Mr. Sinansky stated that he has questions regarding funding the Capital Program, as news reports say that only $16 billion of the proposal is funded and asked for an explanation of the accounting behind this. Mr. Albert and Bill Henderson addressed the funding that is available and the gap between identified funding and expenditures. Mr. Sinansky said that it would be appropriated to write to the Governor and Mayor asking them to reduce the funding gap. Ms. Prentiss said that these letters should also go to the Assembly and Senate.
Ms. Mason said that in 1982 bonds were issued against the security of fares collected. She also noted that an additional $203 million of federal funding to build East Side Access was presented to MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu in an event held at the vest pocket park built by the project at 59th Street.
Ms. Greif noted that the B83 bus has been rerouted and the staff of the Brooklyn Developmental Center is upset with the changes.
Ms. Prentiss stated that because it has not been certified, the Fulton Center elevators do not appear in the official list of elevators and escalators or on the electronic elevator and escalator status system. She said that it is hard to get to the elevators at the Fulton Center and there is a need for wayfinding assistance there.
Alan Flacks asked what will happen to riders without credit or debit cards when MetroCard is replaced. Mr. Albert said the MTA will issue a card for those who do not have or choose not to use credit or debit cards.
Mr. Greif stated that he was not notified about recent meetings on Select Bus Service.
Ms. Prentiss said that her Community Board is not getting much information about bus changes having to do with George Washington Bridge bus terminal reconstruction. She said the Port Authority hasn’t given much information and NYC Transit has not been particularly forthcoming.
Ms. Melzer asked how long it will take to add seniors to signage on priority seating. Mr. Albert said that he can ask for production of car cards asking riders to give seats to seniors.
Mr. Greif asked for an update on the reconstruction of the South Ferry station. Mr. Henderson said that it will be two years at the least before the station is reconstructed.
Ms. Sylvestri mentioned an article in the Daily News on fraud involving free MetroCards given to Access-A-Ride users. She noted that she sees fare evasion on local and express buses.
The meeting was adjourned at 2:10 p.m.