Meeting Minutes Sept 24, 2009


A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12 noon on September 24, 2009 in the 5TH Floor Board room at MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City.

The following members were present:

Andrew Albert
Marisol Halpern
Shirley Genn
Sharon King Hoge
Stuart Goldstein
Trudy L. Mason
Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas
Michael Sinansky
William K. Guild
Burton M. Strauss, Jr.
Toya Williford
The following members were absent:

Thomas Jost
Edith Prentiss
Sharon Santa Maria
In addition, the following persons were present:

William Henderson – PCAC Executive Director
Jan Wells – PCAC Associate director
Ellyn Shannon – PCAC Transportation Planner
Robert Cumella – MTA-NYCT
Ben Schmutter – MTA-NYCT
Melissa Farley – MTA-NYCT
Stephen Russo – MTA-TOD
Christopher Greif – Concerned citizen
Yvonne Morrow – Concerned citizen
Alan Flacks – Concerned citizen
Ken Stewart – Concerned citizen
Helen Haddon – Concerned citizen
Jesse Moskowitz – Concerned citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the September 24, 2009 meeting was approved. The minutes of the July 23, 2009 meeting were approved.

Chair’s Report
On September 10, Jay Walder was confirmed by the State Senate as the new MTA Chairman. He will begin work October 5. The PCAC sent Mr. Walder a letter congratulating him on his confirmation and requesting a meeting with him early in his tenure to discuss the PCAC’s and Councils’ priorities. In another change in MTA governance, Vice Chairman David Mack has resigned his seat on the Board.

Yesterday the MTA Board approved the MTA’s 2010-2014 Capital Plan. It will now go to the Capital Program Review Board, which is required to respond to the submission within 90 days. I spoke at the Board meeting in support of several items that are in the Program, including smart card and the bus vehicle locator system, and also expressed the importance of funding the Plan. Bill Henderson also testified at both the Board’s Transit Committee and before the full Board expressing appreciation for the new asset management program that Transit has implemented in order to have a better indication of the condition and state of repair of its assets. As a result of Transit’s efforts all MTA operating agencies will be moving toward Transit’s model. This change was made in response to requests from PCAC staff and reflects our belief that the new model is superior to present assessments of State of Good Repair that often don’t reflect assets’ true condition.

On August 3, I spoke to Dave Evans from Eyewitness News regarding Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to improve public transportation. I was also on the Brian Lehrer show to discuss the Mayor’s free cross-town bus proposal for selected cross-town routes.

For those of you who missed it, we had a great tour of the Culver Viaduct and the Smith-9th Streets station in Brooklyn on August 27th. Through a chance meeting with a local merchant we were shown a badly deteriorated support column behind his store below the Viaduct. The Viaduct is being stabilized and the existing support structure is being wrapped in new skin to prevent further damage. However, this particular column had not been touched and it’s not clear that Transit even had seen it.

Next, the group went on to 4th Avenue-9th Street station, another station with a lot of damage. From there they made their way to the New Utrecht and 20th Avenue stations on the Sea Beach line. Because of their relatively light ridership these stations have had many years of neglect. The approved 2010-2014 program includes nine traditional station rehabilitation projects on the Sea Beach line and the Smith-9th Streets station on the Culver line. These locations were chosen for rehabilitation prior to the completion of the station condition survey; they were reprogrammed from the 2005-2009 program to 2010-2014. Essentially these projects are a legacy of the prior investment strategy. Photos from our trip are on the PCAC website.

Manhattan Community Board #7’s Transportation Committee, of which I am the Chair, passed a resolution on subway station staffing earlier this month. The resolution strongly opposes the removal of station booth agents as anti-customer and anti-passenger safety, jeopardizing the movement of persons with disabilities and others, and strongly urges the MTA to abandon this penny-wise but pound-foolish action. I sent the resolution to Ellyn Shannon, who forwarded it to all community boards with a request that they take similar action.

On September 15, Bill Henderson attended a meeting of the Bus and BRT Working Group, which is a collection of transportation and environmental advocates that is providing feedback to NYC DOT and NYC Transit on their effort to implement Bus Rapid Transit in the City. The group heard a presentation from Joseph Barr of NYC DOT, who met with the NYCTRC several years ago to discuss plans for Bus Rapid Transit. The next route to be implemented will be on First and Second Avenues in Manhattan, to be followed with a route running between Sheepshead Bay and Williamsburg in Brooklyn. The Manhattan route is to begin operating at the end of next summer. These routes will feature a bus lane that is offset from the curb, with parking and loading areas in the curbside lane. This design is expected to avoid some of the issues raised by business owners in the Bronx, where the curbside lane used for Select Bus Service displaced parking and loading space.

Last night, Bill Henderson attended a meeting of the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Manhattan Select Bus Service, which will replace limited stop buses over the M15 bus route. The meeting included an update on the City’s efforts to get state authorization for the use of bus lane enforcement cameras, but mainly focused on reviewing stop locations for the service. Another meeting will be held in November.

On September 17, Karyl Berger went to Washington, D.C to meet with members of the Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) Riders Advisory Council. MARC is a commuter rail service for the Baltimore/Washington area as well as a portion of West Virginia. The group, which has a dozen active members, was formed back in 2006 as a response to the Maryland Transit Administration’s attempt to close four rural stations on two of the MARC lines. Since then, the Council has been trying to re-evaluate their mission and where they want to go as a group. Over the last few months, they have been meeting with various “sister” organizations throughout the country (Amtrak’s CAC, VRE’s rider’s council, etc) to get an idea of what organizational structure has worked for them. Currently they meet on a monthly basis and do all the work themselves. It was very informative and interesting to hear about the issues they are dealing with even with the organization having no money.

Last Friday, September 18th, Jan Wells took several people from the MTA TOD (transit-oriented development) group to Rahway, New Jersey to see how the town has worked with NJ TRANSIT to foster development around the train station.

Trudy Mason reported that she contacted Community Board 8 and they will pass a resolution stating their disapproval of the removal of Station Customer Assistants (SCAs) from the subway system. She said she spoke to a SCA at 34th Street who is being moved to the Coney Island area. The SCA told her that because the program is being dismantled through attrition, he has to be moved

Yvonne Morrow’s asked what the lane arrangement for Select Bus Service (SBS) on 1st and 2nd Avenues would be. Bill Henderson said that the right curb lane would contain parking, loading, and local bus stops and the second lane in from the right curb would be a bus lane.

Mike Sinansky noted that the dedicated bus lanes on the eastbound side of 34th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues are a joke. He said that he saw five yellow cabs using these lanes in a one minute period, while there was a traffic enforcement agent at the corner. He said between 1st and 2nd Avenues in front of a deli there were two private and one city vehicle stopped in the bus lane. One of the private cars had a driver in it and the city car was parked there by a traffic enforcement agent who went into the deli. Mr. Sinansky suggested that we write a letter about the lack of enforcement of bus lane regulations to the NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner, NYC Transit, and NYPD traffic enforcement officials.

Trudy Mason noted that BRT on 2nd Avenue will be a joke as long as the Second Avenue Subway construction is going on. She noted that there are only two traffic lanes in some places along 2nd Avenue where construction is underway. She noted that she was on a bus that broke down, and so there was only one traffic lane available for travel.

Board Report
Mr. Albert said that he agreed with two of the three suggested operational changes put forth by the line general managers and presented to the Board. He said that the changes on the 7 and 6 lines are understandable but that the announcements on the 6 line informing riders of the new service pattern are terrible. He said people are putting their heads over the center track and looking north because they are expecting they are expecting the downtown express on that track. This is a hazard because trains are running in the opposite direction. Mr. Albert said the change to the 1 line service is another matter because it is solving an operational problem by disadvantaging riders above 137th Street.

Jessica Rojas said the 7 line plan seemed good to her.

Stuart Goldstein said he saw a newspaper article about the changes over the weekend. He said the article stated that the reduction of 1 trains north of 137th Street was from 18 to 14 per hour. Mr. Albert said NYCT has argued that there are now 16 trains per hour actually operating, but that number is better than 14.

Marisol Halpern said the problem is that there are no posters to announce service changes made as a result of pilot programs.

Alan Flacks asked if Andrew Albert knew about how to automatically refill a Smartcard. Mr. Henderson said that a number of refill options are possible, and that the answer will depend on the design of the Smartcard program.

Christopher Greif said that the 1 line below 96th Street has a lot of demand and that the pilot program on this line would disturb the 2 and 3 lines. Mr. Henderson explained that the pilot is not in effect in the hours when the 2 line is running on the local track.

New Business
No New business was discussed.

Old Business
No Old business was discussed.

Introduction of Robert Cumella, NYCT Deputy Chief – Capital Planning and Budget, to discuss subway condition assessment and programming for station renewal work.
A copy of Mr. Cumella’s presentation is on file in the PCAC office.

Mr. Cumella said he believes there will be progress made in improving conditions in the subways. He said the Twenty Year Needs Assessment process is the basis for the Capital Program process. He said that assessment of conditions has progressed from a static report to a continuing living exercise. He said that instead of being used to compile a single report, condition information will be updated on an on-going basis as data are collected.

Mr. Cumella said that there are two important categories that address returning system assets to a state of good repair in this Capital Program: signals and IRT stations. He said that Transit has been stating that we have spent money on signals and as a result have raised the proportion of the signal system in a state of good repair from 67 to 81 percent, but now we will have to spend more than we have spent in the past on signals. He said the same is true for stations in that we have gone from 48 to 68 percent of station assets in a state of good repair. Conditions in the stations have gotten better, but Transit is now reassessing the remaining problems in the stations, even in places where renovation work has already been done.

Mr. Albert commented that the prior process allowed for a determination that an asset is in a state of good repair if only some of the examples of the asset are deficient. Mr. Cumella said the prior system was not a capital based assessment, but that in the past this was not a big problem because everything needed work. He said that those who were planning capital projects knew the worst of the worst assets and directed resources appropriately.

Mr. Cumella cited power as an interesting case. He said power has gone from a 95 to 63 percent of assets considered to be in a state of good repair because there are currently a lot of needs that were not captured by the previous evaluation.

Mr. Cumella said that 600 buses will be exceeding the age standard that determines their useful life, so 600 buses are going into the Capital Program.

Mr. Cumella said they need to gather lots of information on stations and know there is a lot of work to do on the stations. The previous system of determining whether assets are in a state of good repair allowed a station to be renovated and then put aside for the next 35 years. Basing assessments on actual conditions means that, with the new system, there is a several billion dollar difference in the estimated cost of getting Transit’s assets to a state of good repair.

Mr. Cumella said that using the component approach will reduce the cost of reaching a state of good repair by $2 to 3 Billion, but nothing can be done without adequate funding.

Mr. Cumella said that under the old system, they would address a station by completely rehabilitating it. He said the goal to rehabilitate all stations by 2019 was unobtainable. The completion date was moved to 2024 in the last Capital Program, but the work was not adequately funded. He said that Transit said stations would be rehabilitated every 35 years and that they established station design guidelines. He said that Transit knows well how to rebuild a station from all this experience.

Mr. Cumella acknowledged that the program has moved at such a slow pace that the stations that were rehabilitated early on now require extensive work. He noted that station rehabs now cost two times more than they did in the 2000 to 2004 Capital Program and three times more than they did in the 1992-1995 program. He said the elevated stations do not cost quite as much as the stations below ground.

Mr. Cumella cited 23rd Street on the Lexington Avenue 6 line as an example of station rehabilitation projects that are more elaborate than previous efforts but less durable. He said the newly rehabilitated Myrtle Avenue station on the L line was much simpler and used standard designs and materials.

Mr. Cumella explained that rehabilitated stations often deteriorate because of failing components. He cited the example of vent structures that create water leaks along the track wall.

Mr. Cumella said they started the component study in 2007 and their consultant employed teams of eight to ten people to do the condition surveys. He said the strength of the data base is the ability to combine subjective input from a number of sources.

In response to Andrew Albert’s question as to whether the survey is being changed based on the lesson learned from the 181st Street incident, Mr. Cumella said the survey will tell NYC Transit which stations to look at more closely, and where issues are identified there will be a second phase of investigation. He said that Transit needs to get to this point. Mr. Cumella said the consultant study is the initial input into a dynamic database.

Sharon King Hoge asked how this system will impact liability for incidents in the stations. Mr. Cumella said it would be negligence whether Transit knew of a dangerous condition and failed to repair it or did not know of the condition, but said he is not a lawyer. He said the hope is that there will be fewer incidents creating liability.

In response to Jessica Rojas’ question about when does something rise to an emergency level, Mr. Cumella said addressing emergencies has nothing to do with the capital improvement process. He said emergencies are now strictly handled by the Maintenance Department. Assets in the survey that received 5’s, the lowest grade for condition, received immediate attention and did not have to wait for the capital planning process. He said there are no surveys being done now but additional surveys will be done on a five year cycle.

Mr. Cumella said there are documents that say there are anywhere between 11,000 and 14,000 components, but that the larger number is a measure of design units. He said there are really more components within the system. He explained that a stair or a platform edge is counted as one component. He said they are looking at stations like the Scheduled Maintenance System (SMS) looks at subway cars. The components that they consider are defined in terms of buildable units. He said that they use a 1 to 5 rating system, with 1 the best and 5 the worst conditions. At this point, they are dealing with assets that receive 3, 3.5, 4, and 4.5 ratings. The threshold for a state of good repair is a 3 rating. He said spot defects are noted, but often a certain percentage of defective units are required to downgrade an asset.

Mr. Cumella said the goal is to get the job done, and even if there is not adequate funding to address all deficiencies, it is important to make progress. He said they want to address all the components with over a 3 rating in the next 15 years and address the assets with ratings of 4 or higher in the next five years. He said it may be that some of the 4’s are not really that bad in condition, but there will be other 4’s found. The process of renewal is being compartmentalized.

Mr. Cumella said the new approach is that the condition survey feeds into determining stations that will be rehabilitated, station renewals that will be done and component campaigns that will be undertaken. He said that they need to have eyes and ears out in the system all the time and that there needs to be a systematic way to report defects and get them into the system.

In response to Mr. Sinansky’s question as to what is the impact on those components with a rating of 4 or worse if the $10 billion shortfall in the Capital Program is not funded, Mr. Cumella said that funding probably won’t have an impact on the ability to address the 4s in isolation, but to gain efficiencies, Transit may have to package the work on the 4s intelligently with work on other lower priority needs. This level of funding shortfall means that Transit would have to put off the 3s and 3.5s, and this would affect the ability to create these packages.

The meeting was adjourned at 2:10 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Karyl Berger
Research Associate