Meeting Minutes Oct 30, 2008


A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12:00 noon on October 30, 2008 in the 5th floor Board room at 347 Madison Avenue, New York City. The following members were present:

Andrew Albert
Edith Prentiss
Shirley Genn
Sharon Santa Maria
William K. Guild
Michael Sinansky
Marisol Halpern
Burton M. Strauss, Jr.
Trudy L. Mason
Toya Williford
The following members were absent:

Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas
Thomas Jost
In addition, the following persons were present:

William Henderson – PCAC Executive Director
Jan Wells – PCAC Associate Director
Karyl Berger – PCAC Research Associate
Ron Saporita – MTA
Yvonne Morrow – Concerned Citizen
Koert Wehberg – Concerned Citizen
Bruce Zimmen – Concerned Citizen
Jesse Moskowitz – Concerned Citizen
Alan Flacks – Concerned Citizen
Ken Stewart – Concerned Citizen
Linda Black – Concerned Citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the October 30, 2008 meeting was approved. The minutes of the September 25, 2008 meeting were approved as amended.

Chair’s Report
The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.

Shirley Genn asked whether it would make sense to send a letter to Lee Sander about the Council’s opposition to seatless trains. Mr. Albert said he had no problem with sending a letter to him on this topic. Edith Prentiss pointed out that this new initiative may be a problem as the cars that are being used in the pilot are the ones that are at the boarding positions that individuals with disabilities are supposed to use.

Board Report
Mr. Albert noted that the major focus of the Board is on the budget and noted that there is a special meeting of the Finance Committee on November 10. He said that based on conversations he has had with various MTA Board members, they all agree that service cuts should only be instituted as a last resort after other steps have been taken to close the budget gap.

Mr. Albert reported that ridership is at its highest point in 35 years and that service cuts would undermine this growth and have lasting impacts on employees as well.

Trudy Mason reported that a special session of the State Legislature is scheduled for November 18 and noted there is talk that the Ravitch Commission Report may be released before its December 5th deadline.

Mr. Albert noted that the South Ferry station is on track to open in December as announced; however, there will still be diversions due to Port Authority work at the World Trade Center site. The exact nature of these future diversions is still to be determined.

Mr. Albert also discussed the arrangement that had been approved by the MTA Board that would provide free passage on the subways to New Jersey Transit bus riders who are rerouted to the George Washington Bridge bus terminal when the Lincoln Tunnel is inaccessible. He said that, although the MTA would be reimbursed for allowing these bus passengers into the subway system, the issue of increasing the crowding on the system had not been addressed.

The members asked that staff invite MTA Capital Construction Company President Michael Horodniceanu to be the guest at the December meeting.

Introduction of Ronald Saporita, MTA Director – Construction Oversight, to Discuss Risk Assessment Practices
A copy of Mr. Saporita’s presentation is on file in the PCAC office.

His group was created to address quantitative risk assessment of large, complex projects and new technology project reviews. He said they start by gathering everyone who is involved in a particular project to discuss the project strategy, the costs of the project, and things that could go wrong during the course of the project.

In response to Mr. Albert’s question whether any projects have been vetoed since the Construction Oversight group was established, Mr. Saporita said that none have yet been rejected but there have only been a few projects analyzed. The first project that they assessed was the Communication Based Train Control (CBTC) system for the 7 line. He explained that as part of the project the cars were sent to the manufacturer to increase the size of the cabs to accommodate the CBTC equipment. The cars would then be put together as married pairs. He said for a project this complex a standard 5 to 10 percent contingency would not have been appropriate.

Mr. Albert noted that CBTC only allows for an additional two trains per hour. Mr. Saporita said they gave this information to the Board and that staff does not make the decision whether or not to proceed.

Mr. Saporita said that they use qualitative and quantitative methods and develop a range of possible outcomes. His team then assigns probabilities to each of the outcomes. The critical question is what confidence level is to be applied to the estimates.

Mr. Saporita said there are three types of assessment: 1) larger, more complex projects, which receive a review based on quantitative risk assessment, 2) mega project reviews, where following a 30-day period where baseline times and costs are reestablished, a quantitative risk mitigation and opportunity assessment process is conducted to better focus project controls, and 3) assessments of new technology projects.

In response to Ms. Mason’s question whether his team considers risks that they can’t know at the time of the assessment, Mr. Saporita said that in each project considered there are known and unknown risks, and noted that adjustments are made for each type. He cited market conditions as an example of an unknown risk. He said that he has to admit a limit to knowledge and can’t explicitly factor in the entire list of risks that a project may face. He said that an example of a known risk is that contractors are presently having trouble securing performance bonds for projects, and that as a result the number of subcontractors has dropped by 20 percent in the last four years.

He said that his team members understand there are unknown risks. The MTA dealt with the concept of unknown risk in the 2008-2013 Capital Program through the creation of a market reserve fund. This tool is a reserve of funds set aside for addressing unanticipated problems in any project in the Program. It differs from a contingency in that it is not tied to a single project.

Shirley Genn noted that if the process is so fragmented it makes no sense. Mr. Saporita said that on the Flushing line CBTC project, his team did analysis based on knowledge gathered from the Canarsie Line project. He said that the relevant question in the analysis is what the alternative situation will be if the project is not completed and not necessarily what the present situation is. For example, CBTC on the Flushing line may lead to only a two train per hour increase over the current throughput, but the future signal improvements that will be required on the line would mean more signals, more and smaller blocks, and lower throughput. In this case the benefit over the alternative of not implementing CBTC is more than two trains per hour. He said the decision to proceed was made by NYC Transit and Lee Sander. Once that decision was made, it is the Office of Construction Oversight’s function and the function of the risk based assessment system to bring the approved project to completion as efficiently as possible.

Mr. Saporita said that his office has finished a Culver Viaduct project risk assessment and is now working on analyzing projects on the West End line, which consists of stations south of 9th Avenue. He said that they have finished an assessment on the A/C line mezzanine at Fulton Street and that its results will be presented at the next month’s Capital Program Oversight Committee meeting. He said they are currently involved in performing assessments of the Second Avenue Subway project.

Mr. Saporita said they have finished the SONET and PA/CIS project assessments; his team is beginning its assessment of the ATM/B project.

Mr. Saporita further explained the structure of risk assessment projects. He said they use an integrated cost/schedule risk model. The starting points are ranges of time and cost for individual elements of the project. He said that in risk assessments there are estimates of time needed for completion and cost for various components and that they are expressed in terms of ranges rather than fixed values. Using a Monte Carlo random number simulation, a set of different risk scenarios are developed and a curve of probability and cost or time for the base scenario, which assumes all goes according to plan, for each risk scenario are built. The curves are then added together to yield a curve of probability and cost or time for the base scenario with all risks taken into account. The 10 or 20 percent of the curve representing the least favorable outcomes is then excluded, leaving a range of expected cost or time in which decision makers can have 90 or 80 percent confidence, respectively.

Mr. Saporita said the proper contingency amount for a project is the difference between the conservative estimate of base costs or time and the upper limit of cost or time at a specified confidence level. He noted that the choice of a confidence level is a policy decision.

Ms. Genn asked how it is possible to hold contractors to the proposed schedules and cost estimates they have submitted. Mr. Saporita said that contracts contain cost breakdowns and that liquidated damage provisions are used to penalize contractors who do not meet the time requirements specified in the contract.

Ms. Mason asked how much it costs to run this operation and whether an assessment has been performed of the risk of eliminating risk assessment. Ms. Mason suggested that staff ask for cost breakdown on the Risk Assessment Office. Mr. Saporita explained that for projects that are federally funded, a risk assessment is required; further, this process is now considered “best practices” in the industry.

Mike Sinansky said that he understands how they can make some assumptions about factors that can impact the cost and duration of the project. He asked how complex projects like the Fulton Street Transit Center that involve many different agencies can reasonably be assessed. He asked how risk assessment can account for all the different issues in such a case. Mr. Saporita said they have not addressed the entire project at Fulton Street Transit Center, but noted that the political institutions and funding issues are factored into the model. He noted that in assessments of the West End and Culver line projects, they have looked at the risk of not being able to get City permits to perform work over parks as part of the assessment.

In response to Marisol Halpern’s question as to whether mitigation measures are reported as part of the risk analysis, Mr. Saporita said they are, and if mitigation measures are necessary they do not conduct a new analysis but rather update their previous work to reflect the changes.

Mr. Sinansky said that he assumes that there are critical path diagrams created for the projects that risk analysis addresses. Mr. Saporita said that critical path diagrams do exist and that they are used to create a schedule by adding to the timeframes specified in the critical path documents.

In response to Ken Stewart’s question about the identities of the user groups that Mr. Saporita referred to, Mr. Saporita cited the Department of Subways and the Department of Buses within NYC Transit as two of those groups and explained that they are all part of the process. For the purposes of risk analysis, the users are considered to be the operators of the project that is being analyzed.

Old Business
Trudy Mason reported that she had spoken to a number of people who claimed they did not know about the press conference held to release the PCAC report on accessibility until after the press conference occurred. She said the first time she heard about the report was at the September PCAC meeting.

Ms. Mason said that Assemblyman Micah Kellner had introduced legislation to establish a Disabled Riders Council like that of the PCAC. In response to Ms. Genn’s question as to whether the PCAC discussed the Kellner legislation, Bill Guild said it was only discussed at the PCAC Executive Committee.

Ken Stewart said he was very disappointed with the presentation on noise issues made by Lieutenant Kelly at the September meeting. Mr. Albert said he was disappointed in elements of the presentation such as the response to Jesse Moscowitz’s problem with noise near his music store in the Times Square station.

Edith Prentiss reported that she and Karyl Berger a week earlier attended a meeting of Howard Roberts’ Kitchen Cabinet of riders with disabilities. Noise was one issue that was raised. She said she has heard a single guitar with an amplifier that was incredibly loud on the platform at the Bowling Green station. The sound was so loud that she could not hear announcements.

Ms. Prentiss also suggested that the Council send a letter to NYC Transit to ask that they have a marketing effort about fact that people with strollers should fold them when standing on a subway platform.

Mr. Albert said the Council has to keep on NYC Transit about creating generic General Order posters that do not adequately describe the purpose of work being performed in the subway system.

It was noted that at the last NYCTRC meeting Jesse Moskowitz said that he wanted to defend Lieutenant Kelly as he thinks that the Lieutenant is very sympathetic to the concerns raised by the Council. Mr. Albert said it is important to have someone from the Music Under New York program come to a Council meeting.

New Business
No new business was discussed.

The meeting was adjourned at 2:15 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

Karyl Berger

Research Associate

Chair’s Report
Earlier this month, the MTA unveiled its first subway train with its exterior wrapped with advertising. The train is in service on Track 1 on the Grand Central-Times Square shuttle, where the interiors of trains have regularly been wrapped for the past several years. The wrapping job is done well and does not obscure windows or car markings, and in the current financial climate the MTA needs to maximize its advertising revenue, but this Council has long had concerns about this form of advertising. The use of subway car wraps must be monitored to ensure that it does not affect the quality of service. If you have not already seen the wrapped cars, please take a few minutes to visit the shuttle train within the next two days to see them, as the wrapped train is scheduled to run only for the month of October.

Under separate cover you were sent a copy of the response we received from President Roberts regarding the initiative to remove seats from trains as a way to address overcrowding. Transit seems determined to press forward with this initiative, but several Council members have questioned its wisdom and I cannot support it.

Two weeks ago, Bill, Ellyn and I participated in a Transportation 4 America press conference calling on the presidential candidates to implement a five-point plan for economic prosperity through transportation. Community and business leaders in 10 different cities joined similar efforts to support adequate and responsible funding for transportation on the heels of the Wall Street bailout and hours before the final Presidential debate.

Last week, the PCAC released its 2008 report, Welcome Aboard: Accessibility at the MTA. Reporters from the Daily News and NY1 attended the press conference and to date NY1, am New York and Newsday have written supportive articles about the report. The report was also discussed in the Second Avenue Sagas transit blog.

Also last week, Bill Henderson attended a meeting of the Friends of Moynihan Station meeting. This project has received new life with Governor Paterson’s recent announcement of his interest in its successful completion. The current direction of the project emphasizes its transportation function, which the PCAC has always supported.

New wrinkles in the project include a proposal to expand the current Penn Station southward by adding three or four additional tracks, the involvement of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in the project, and the possible shifting of current Penn Station users with the completion of NJ TRANSIT’s new station under 34th Street and the LIRR’s East Side Access project under Grand Central. While the project does not directly involve NYC Transit, we need to monitor of its progress due to the impacts that it could have on subway and bus service in the vicinity of Penn Station.

We’re continuing to participate in the Stakeholder Advisory Committee for the Coordinated Public Transit-Human Services Transportation Plan that NYMTC is producing with the assistance of several consultants. Bill Henderson is representing us at these meetings. Presently, an inventory of existing resources and conditions has been completed and the consulting firm NelsonNygaard Associates will be conducting focus groups to refine their needs assessment. The Stakeholder Advisory Committee is scheduled meet again in January 2009.

This morning, Jan and Ellyn returned from Rail-Volution 2008, which is a conference focusing on interrelationships between transit and the communities that it serves. They will make a more complete presentation at a later date, but Jan may wish to say a few words today about her experiences.

Please make note that our next meeting is on November 20 because of the Thanksgiving holiday. We have scheduled NYC Transit Subways Senior Vice President Steve Feil as our guest, so we hope that everyone is able to attend.