Meeting Minutes Sept 25, 2008


A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12 noon on September 25, 2008 in the 5TH Floor Board room at MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City.

The following members were present:

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

Marisol Halpern
Thomas Jost
In addition, the following persons were present:

William Henderson – PCAC Executive Director
Jan Wells – PCAC Associate Director
Ellyn Shannon – PCAC Transportation Planner
Lt. Brendan Kelly – NYCT Transit Bureau
Deborah Hall-Moore – NYCT
Alan Flacks – Concerned citizen
Meg Reed Mian – Concerned citizen
Ken Stewart – Concerned citizen
Joseph Garber – Concerned citizen
Jesse Moskowitz – Concerned citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the September 25, 2008 meeting was approved. The minutes of the July 24, 2008 meeting were approved as amended.

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

Mr. Henderson said that he would email the Ravitch Commission testimony to the NYCTRC members.

Board Report
Mr. Albert described how NYC Transit is going to package the figures for on time performance differently than it has been done in the past several years.

Toya Williford said this doesn’t really tell much since she noted that the A trains very often run local on weekends because of General Order work.

Edith Prentiss asked if the Council could obtain schedules for the A train when it runs on the C line. Mr. Henderson said schedules do exist but they are not published. Trudy Mason questioned why this schedule is not available.

Mr. Albert reported that NYC Transit has ordered two new kinds of buses for testing as well as a hybrid model for normal service. Ellyn Shannon asked if they will have GPS-enabled automatic announcements. Mr. Albert said that this is a budget issue and noted that 162 hybrid buses have been ordered with an option for 850 buses.

Ms. Prentiss said that one problem with the double decker buses is a lack of wheelchair space.

Ken Stewart noted his opposition to the use of hybrid buses as they are dangerous to pedestrians because they are so quiet. He said that they need to install some kind of sound mechanism to alert people that a bus is coming to the stop.

Ms. Mason noted that double decker buses are difficult for people with disabilities and people with young children. She said buses need to have more wheelchair space.

Mr. Albert reported that there is talk of major service cuts going forward. He said that Gary Dellaverson asked for the development of budget options for three scenarios: 1) no additional sources of support available to the MTA and no service cuts, 2) no additional sources of support available to the MTA and service cuts, and 3) additional sources of support available to the MTA and no service cuts.

Mr. Albert also noted that the list of agencies that had received EzPass transponders allowing free passage over MTA facilities had been released and that about 50 or 60 of the organizations listed surprised him. In response to Alan Flacks’ question as to whether the MTA can run a deficit, Bill Henderson said the law dictates that the MTA is required to adopt a budget that makes the Authority self-supporting.

Mr. Albert said the MTA will set the fares to the Metro-North Yankee Stadium station. He said there will also be “Via” fares for Harlem and New Haven line riders who travel on those lines to reach Yankee Stadium. MTA Board member Mitch Pally would like to see Via fares used for travel to CitiField on Long Island Rail Road as well.

Mr. Albert noted that there will also be Metro-North shuttle service from Grand Central Terminal to Yankee Stadium. He noted that he had also brought up the need for a new station entrance at the 161st Street (4) station that has been created by the new Yankee Stadium location.

Ms. Mason asked whether the Council should go on record that CityTicket should be available for travel on the LIRR to CitiField.

Mr. Albert also reported that the option to provide for a10th Avenue station on the 7 line that was provided in the 7 line extension project contract has expired.

New Business
Mike Sinansky said he was astounded to hear that neither the MTA and the Long Island Rail Road nor the MTA Inspector General had raised the issue of high rates of disability payments to retired LIRR employees.

In response to William Guild’s question whether NYC Transit employees are covered by Social Security, Mr. Albert and Mr. Henderson confirmed that Transit is subject to Social Security.

Ms. Shannon noted that Helena Williams would like for the LIRR to be covered under both the Taylor Act and Social Security system.

It was agreed that staff would inquire what the MTA has done about abuses in the Railroad Retirement disability system and whether they have made referrals to the Inspector General.

Mr. Albert also said that he had received a briefing on the major accident that recently occurred on the Los Angeles Metrolink system. He said that such an accident probably could not happen here because of the systems that are used on the MTA’s commuter railroads. He said that the Metrolink train operator went through four red signal lights.

Ms. Mason reported that she, Bill Guild, and Edith Prentiss went on a tour of the Hudson Bergen light rail line the previous weekend and that she is now thinking differently about the feasibility of light rail.

Edith said she wanted to comment about the space given to the Google Transit service on the MTA website. She said that the Google service has major limitations, including a lack of information about accessible trips on the system and she objects to the MTA promoting this service given its flaws. She said that she would like the NYCTRC to make a statement that the MTA is wrong in promoting Google Transit.

Burt Strauss noted that 34th Street traffic is running very well as a result of traffic management measures implemented by the NYPD for the United Nations General Assembly Session.

Ms. Mason said that the bus stop on the southeast corner of 50th Street and 6th Avenue had been moved and that the diversion sign is very small, has very small print, and is placed in the middle of the block.

Mr. Sinansky said that because of the Iranian delegation to the United Nations being at the Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park City access is disrupted severely and that there are no signs announcing bus diversions. He said that there had been route changes for the M9 and M20 buses and that bus stops had been changed, but adequate notices were not posted. Mr. Sinansky stated that the posting of diversion notices must be improved.

Ms. Prentiss said the situation is similar when the President is at the Waldorf-Astoria. She said that the only way of knowing that there is a bus diversion is the barricades blocking bus stops.

Jessie Moskowitz, the owner of a music store in the Times Square subway station, said that the Music Under New York musicians are a problem for his business. He said that he has talked with MTA Deputy Executive Director Chris Boylan, but that Mr. Boylan has stated that the location next to Mr. Moskowitz’s store is a prime Music Under New York venue and that the MTA would not give it up. Ellyn Shannon said that she would investigate the situation.

Old Business
Ms. Prentiss stated that there is a problem with buses running out of service and passing crowds of passengers, and that there is a similar problem in relation to trains bypassing crowded stations. She said that she would like to have this issue put on the agenda for discussion at a future meeting. Mr. Guild said that the trains are executing what is known as a battery run, in which trains skip stops to restore a more even spacing of trains.

Introduction of Lieutenant Brendan Kelly, NYPD Transit Bureau – Manhattan, to Discuss Enforcement of Sound Level and Other Regulations Governing Subway Station Performers
Lieutenant Kelly said that the Transit Bureau’s enforcement efforts regarding noise in the transit system are based upon the NYC Administrative Code. He said there are unreasonable noise level provisions in the Code. If one is unable to hear announcements or recorded comments, the Police Department addresses the problem. The police do not use a decibel level meter but use a common sense approach by asking the performers to lower their sound levels. In response to Mr. Albert’s question as to the number of officers who are assigned to noise enforcement, Lieutenant Kelly said that all of the officers in the Transit Bureau are responsible for noise enforcement.

Mr. Albert asked if a performer is blocking movement of traffic on a platform is an issue. Lieutenant Kelly said that it is and that the issue of blocking movement is primarily a question of context. Mr. Albert asked whether there are different standards for rush and non-rush hours. Lieutenant Kelly said that permissible behavior may be different in rush hours and that there is no amplification permitted on the platforms. Ms. Prentiss said that she sees amplifiers on platforms all the time and that when she approached a police officer about amplification used by a performer on the platform, the officer said that there was no problem and that he was enjoying the music.

Toya Williford asked how she could register a complaint about noise in the subway system. Lieutenant Kelly said that she could tell a police officer or transit personnel about her complaint. Ms. Williford asked how she could follow up on a complaint. Lieutenant Kelly said that his practice was to take immediate action on a complaint. If sound levels are inappropriate, he said that he would tell performers to either reduce the sound level or receive a summons. He said that officers can also take a part of a performer’s sound equipment to render it inoperable.

Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas asked where Music Under New York musicians are permitted to play. Lieutenant Kelly said that there is a list of 25 preferred locations where Music Under New York performances are authorized, but that even Music Under New York performers are required to comply with noise regulations.

Mr. Sinansky asked whether it is legal for musicians to perform on board trains. Lieutenant Kelly said that performers are not permitted on trains. Mr. Albert asked what would happen if on board musicians were observed by a police officer. Lieutenant Kelly said that this would be a must arrest situation. Shirley Genn stated that at the 34th Street (B, D, F, V, N, Q, R, W) station there is music on the mezzanines; she asked whether musicians may play on the platforms. Lieutenant Kelly said that musicians could play in either area without amplification. Ms. Genn said that some musicians overwhelm the station’s sound system.

Ms. Mason said that in some locations, such as the passageways between 5th and 6th Avenues at 42nd Street where drummers perform, the sound produced by performers is very loud even without amplification. She asked whether anything can be done about the sound levels in these cases. Lieutenant Kelly said that the problem is that people are affected by the sound for only a few minutes and unless there are numerous complaints an officer will not be sent to the location. Ms. Mason asked whether there is a number that she can call to report problems with a lack of response to complaints. Lieutenant Kelly gave his telephone number: 212-258-2869.

Ms. Prentiss asked whether emergency response buttons could be used to report noise problems. Lieutenant Kelly said that this might be effective in some locations.

Ken Stewart said that at the 59th Street/Lexington Avenue station a train arrived and departed without him knowing and that on an 8th Avenue platform sound levels prevented him from hearing whether a train was a C or E train. He said that he had to physically stop a drum group so that he would be able to hear announcements. He said that the problem is that some performers are good and that the only proper standard would be no performers on the platform.

Mr. Albert said that some platform performers are unobtrusive and not disruptive.

Ms. Prentiss said that she thought that the Music Under New York program limited who could play in the subways, but this does not seem to be the case. Lieutenant Kelly said that the 1st Amendment has been interpreted to provide that anyone can perform in the subway system. Ms. Prentiss said that bands on platforms are an issue with the limited space available. She also said that she has issues with the donation boxes that performers set out. Lieutenant Kelly said that setting out a box for donations is legal, and that a performer may legally sell compact disks of his or her performances.

Ms. Mason said that dancers are a real problem, both on trains and in stations. Lieutenant Kelly said that he has arrested some dancers ten times, but that these performances bring in so much money, the performers risk arrest to return. Ms. Mason asked whether the performers arrested receive a penalty when they are brought to court. Lieutenant Kelly said that the penalty is generally time served. He said that he will collect and voucher performers’ equipment and money, as it at least forces the performers to come to the NYPD to retrieve their property. He said that these offenses are violations and do not rise to the level of misdemeanors.

Mr. Stewart asked what data are kept on noise complaints. Lieutenant Kelly said that data are maintained only on 911 calls. If a complaint is made in person, it is not entered into the data system. Lieutenant Kelly said that 311 is the proper number for complaints and that there is a terminal in each Transit Bureau district to receive complaints placed through 311.

Alan Flacks said that there should be mandatory arrest for sound level regulation violators and asked whether these violations are a matter for criminal courts. Lieutenant Kelly said that they are.

Mr. Henderson asked whether the NYPD Transit Bureau relies upon the sound regulations contained in the NYC Transit Rules of Conduct to control unreasonable noise. Lieutenant Kelly said that the Bureau does not use the Rules of Conduct for noise enforcement.

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

Respectfully submitted,

Karyl Berger

Research Associate

Chair’s Report
While we didn’t have a formal meeting in August, we did have an active month. On August 6, the NYCTRC released its report on station conditions, entitled Unwelcome Mats, at the 149th-Grand Concourse station in the Bronx, a station through which nearly 40,000 riders travel daily. The station is in horrendous condition but is not included in any future MTA Capital Programs. This station has also been identified as a critical element of an economic development area and is an important gateway to the Bronx.

We received some wonderful press from the event with nine newspaper articles. The New York Times article on the report received 89 comments; radio coverage included CBS 880 and WNYC. I did interviews with NY1, ABC and NBC local News. I also had a very nice email from MTA Board member Doreen Frasca,
who is interested in discussing our recommendations further.

In lieu of our regular meeting last month, on August 28 a number of the Council members and staff took a tour of the Select Bus Service (SBS), which had been initiated in the Bronx and upper Manhattan on Sunday June 29. This service includes a number of innovations, such as off-board fare payment with receipts for proof of payment, similar to the system being used on New Jersey Transit’s Hudson-Bergen Light Rail. For the tour, members and staff took a Metro-North train to the Fordham station, where we boarded an SBS bus to Inwood. On this trip, members were able to get a sense of how SBS works and also some of its shortcomings, including a lack of instructions in Spanish.

Over the last two weeks, members and staff have attended the hearings that have been held by the Ravitch Commission. The last of three hearings was held yesterday evening. As you may know, the Ravitch Commission is headed by former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch and was appointed by Governor Paterson to make recommendations on funding MTA operating and capital needs over the next ten years. Bill Henderson testified on behalf of the PCAC at the hearing at the NYU Kimmel Center on Monday September 15. Our testimony at this session focused on the impact of the MTA’s $27 billion debt burden on the Authority’s finances.

Also, members and staff have participated in the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council’s public workshops on their 2010-2035 Regional Transportation Plan. These meetings have been held to solicit comments from the public on the preliminary work that has been done. The plan will include as its foundation projects the Access to the Region’s Core rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey, the LIRR East Side Access project, the 7 line extension, and the Second Avenue Subway. Public comments for this phase of the planning process are being received through October 31, and the PCAC will submit a statement outlining our priorities.

Following up on an email that I had sent, Bill Henderson sent a letter to NYC Transit President Roberts expressing the Council’s opposition to subway cars with seats that can be folded away, thus forcing all riders to stand. Based on conversations that I had with a majority of the members, it is clear that the overwhelming sense of the Council is that having subway cars without seats is unacceptable and that President Roberts should reconsider his plan to test them in a pilot program. It has long been the Council’s position that the solution to overcrowding is more service rather than packing riders tighter into subways and buses.

Earlier this month, we received a response to a letter that Bill Henderson wrote in May asking NYC Transit President to include the NYCTRC in the process of developing the next generation of fare collection technology. Bill cited the integral role of the Council in implementing MetroCard and noted that the Council could provide valuable feedback and assistance as NYC Transit evaluates options for new fare media. President Roberts wrote that NYC Transit is close to entering a second phase of its smart card pilot, and will reach out to NYCTRC as it moves into the development of a new system.

Finally, I want to highlight the report from the State Comptroller’s office that you have been given today. This is a very useful concise summary of MTA finances, and I suggest that you take a close look at it and keep it handy as a reference.