NEW YORK CITY TRANSIT RIDERS COUNCIL
MINUTES OF SEPTEMBER 26, 2013
A meeting of the New York City Transit Riders Council (NYCTRC) was convened at 12 noon on September 26, 2013 in the 5th Floor Board room at MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City.
The following members were present:
Andrew Albert Sharon King Hoge
Christopher Greif Trudy L. Mason
William K. Guild Edith Prentiss
Marisol Halpern Michael Sinansky
The following members were absent:
Stuart Goldstein Steve Mayo
Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas Burton M. Strauss, Jr.
Thomas Jost Toya Williford
In addition, the following persons were present:
William Henderson -Executive Director
Ellyn Shannon -Senior Transportation Planner
Karyl Berger -Research Associate
Richard Barone -Regional Plan Association
Maria Garcia -NYMTC
Michael Shaw -Rider’s Alliance
Alan Flacks -NY County Democratic Committee
Ken Stewart -Concerned Citizen
Ann Guild -Concerned citizen
Matt Shoktin -Concerned citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the September 26, 2013 meeting was approved. The minutes of the July 25, 2013 meeting were approved with a change in wording on page 6.
The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.
Christopher Greif said that he has ridden the R train on several days recently and that since it has been split into two parts its reliability seems to have improved.
Matt Shotkin noted that he still has to wait approximately 10 to 15 minutes for R trains in Manhattan.
Andrew Albert stated that he has asked NYC Transit to split R train statistics on on-time performance and wait assessment into two parts, corresponding to the two parts of the route. Mr. Albert said that he has discussed accessible options for travel between South Ferry and Chambers Street with NYC Transit as well. He noted that that the countdown clocks with audible announcements in 1 line stations are telling South Ferry riders needing an accessible station to transfer to a bus at Chambers Street.
Trudy Mason pointed out that there are items that she asked about that are not listed on the status report.
Mr. Albert said that there are many service enhancements that have either already been implemented or are coming to NYC Transit. There have been increases in G line service and many bus route improvements and extensions throughout the five boroughs. He said that the LIRR is also restoring some service and that NYC Transit will conduct a study of the Co-Op City area to develop ways to realign service and serve the community better. He also noted that NYC Transit will implement a system that will allow riders to communicate with booth agents at stations where an agent is not accessible from their side of the station.
Edith Prentiss said that her Community Board received a letter from NYC Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan that said the M60 SBS may be revisited and that this question will possibly be reopened in October. Ms. Prentiss said that her concern with the SBS is that when the fare machines are added to the sidewalks it increases the crowding that is already present. She also noted that SBS stops often occupy an entire block, forcing existing bus stops to move.
Mr. Albert noted that MTA Chairman Prendergast stated that service restorations and enhancements must be sustainable. He said that the current group of service restorations does not include everything that was cut in 2010 and that the NYCTRC will continue to press for restoration of other services.
Mr. Albert also mentioned that whenever the MTA Board is provided with counts of the number of vehicles using MTA Bridges and Tunnels facilities, it is clear that crossings with nearby free alternatives are not doing well. He said it is obvious that a significant number of people are shopping for the lowest toll when they make a crossing and that something must be done to place a toll on the free bridges. This could be done through the plan promoted by Sam Schwartz or by another arrangement.
Mr. Sinansky commented on the issue of tolling the East River bridges and said that it would be difficult to manage tolls to prevent toll shopping with control of these bridges and other crossings split between the City and MTA. Convincing the City to accept MTA control of the bridges would be difficult.
Ellyn Shannon asked whether the Council should put out a fact sheet on withdrawal of City funding. Mr. Sinansky and Mr. Albert noted that the City’s funding of the MTA has been reduced considerably and should be increased. Mr. Albert responded that this would be useful and that the Council should send it to candidates for City offices.
Ms. Prentiss said that there is a need, which is not limited to Washington Heights, for those who write signs for subway service diversions to provide better, fuller, and more accurate information about travel options during the diversions. She said that the fonts used to provide information on accessible travel options have gotten smaller and smaller.
Mr. Albert said that the Council should do a study of NYC Transit General Orders, which could include the signage used, its posting, and the alternative means of transportation that are identified and provided. Ms. Prentiss commented that deficiencies in service diversion information seem to be related to the “end of the line” syndrome. She said that the information provided to riders on the outlying portions of subway lines is inferior to that provided in more heavily traveled areas.
Mr. Albert agreed that there is not consistency in service diversion signage. Ms. Mason noted that the letter that was sent on information during service diversions is not included in the list of issues that was distributed. She said that there was a recent diversion that included both East and West side lines and nothing was posted. She also said that her request to be informed about the relocation of the temporary SBS stop at 88th Street to 86th Street was also not included in the list.
Ms. Mason also said that she recently witnessed two people being pulled off an SBS bus when they could not provide proof of payment of fares and renewed her request that the font size of language telling riders to retain their receipts be as large as any other print on the fare machines and other informational signage.
Ken Stewart said that wayfinding in subway stations would be easier if subway exits were identified by the businesses or facilities that are outside of them. Ms. Prentiss commented that compass directions are also needed at the subway exits to orient their users.
Mr. Flacks noted that nothing has been posted on the walls at the renovated Smith/9th Street station, including maps. He also said that night subway maps are not widely distributed.
Mr. Albert replied that he believes that the last night subway map may be obsolete due to the closure of the Montague tubes.
Mr. Flacks asked where he can get a MetroCard with color photos of Grand Central Terminal. Mr. Albert said that he would get one for Mr. Flacks.
Mr. Grief said that he was disappointed with Ted Orosz, as he had agreed to consider a 3-leg transfer to the B12 bus for SBS riders so that they can access Kings County Hospital without a long walk. Now that service is planned to begin on November 17, the NYCTRC has been told that the 3-leg transfer is no longer under consideration, and Mr. Greif said that he does not believe how the issue has been handled. He noted that Mr. Orosz’s behavior was rude to disability advocates.
Ms. Mason suggested that Council send a letter to Tom Prendergast with a copy to Carmen Bianco regarding the 3-leg transfer issue.
Ms. Prentiss said that she would like to compliment NYC Transit for the work that they did for the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities’ Accessible Transportation Expo.
Introduction of Richard Barone, Director of Transportation Programs, Regional Plan Association (RPA), to discuss the proposed Triboro RX subway line, which would link Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx using existing rail corridors
A copy of Mr. Barone’s presentation is on file in the PCAC office.
Mr. Barone said that the RPA has looked at congestion and how it is affecting the use of transit in its recent work on transportation. In their current study the impacts of congestion on both work and discretionary trips are being considered. The focus of this effort is centered on studying five Community Boards and analyzing the transportation issues that these areas face. The Community Boards in the study are Queens Board 5, Manhattan Board 11, Bronx Board 9, Brooklyn Board 5, and Staten Island Board 1. These areas are considered transit deserts because of the small amount of service offered that meets residents’ needs.
Mr. Barone said that the City is trying to address areas that are considered transit deserts by using Select Bus Service (SBS). While SBS lacks some benefits of a full Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, BRT would be difficult to implement in New York City because dedicated rights of way for bus travel are difficult or impossible to assemble. He said that using SBS can speed up buses, but it is only part of the picture in terms of improving transit. Another element that can improve transit is implementing a new fare payment system to speed up bus travel. By using smart card readers in connection with a proof of payment system, NYC Transit could significantly reduce dwell time at stops and make bus travel faster.
There are other ways that transit could be improved, including the use of existing rail rights of way. These rights of way include the Rockaway Beach Line and the Atlantic Branch, but the largest of these corridors is the combination of the New York Connecting Railroad and the LIRR’s Bay Ridge Branch. An alignment that follows these tracks has great potential for passenger transportation. Mr. Barone said that the RPA has looked at using this alignment for subway service, but now recognizes that operation of subway service in this corridor may not be the best means of providing service.
Subway service may not be a preferred option here in part because of the possible connections that are available from this corridor. In the Bronx, this route could tie into future Metro-North service to Penn Station in the vicinity of Co-Op City. Mr. Albert asked how many tracks are involved in the corridor that the RPA is studying. Mr. Barone replied that from Bay Ridge there is room for four tracks north to Fresh Pond, and north of this point there are two tracks.
Mr. Barone said that currently this corridor is used for the rail freight. The challenge in developing passenger service in this corridor is to balance freight and passenger use on these tracks. This complicates planning for passenger service, but similar arrangements have been made in other places such as NJ Transit’s River Line. The ability to move freight in this corridor is critical to link the region’s seaports to New York City and western Long Island. These tracks are connected to the mainland via the Hell Gate Bridge and to port facilities throughout New York Harbor through cross harbor service. There is a float bridge service with a Brooklyn terminal that received severe damage from Sandy, but a freight-only cross harbor tunnel is also an option and was the subject of a study funded through the efforts of Congressman Nadler among others.
Any new service will require some investment, with the concept of service that is developed determining what is needed. Some options are modified M8 multiple unit or diesel multiple unit cars that are approved to run on the same tracks as freight. Mr. Barone said that the resulting system would be similar to the London Underground, where there is an integrated system composed of different types of service. Transfers between the different types of service would be fairly seamless, but there would not necessarily be cross platform transfers between subways and new rail services.
Mr. Barone noted that building the Triboro RX system, which incorporates these rail lines, is one potential recommendation to improve the accessibility of transit deserts, but increased use of buses will probably be a major part of any plan. Mike Sinansky asked how much the system would cost and how it would be funded. Mr. Barone replied that rail service following the Triboro RX corridor could be put in place for $1 billion at most, and that this cost could be lower. He said that the source of funding is an open question and that one option would be to bring in a private-sector operator who could provide some or all of the capital necessary for the project.
Mr. Sinansky asked if CSX and Amtrak ownership of some of the right of way would change the options that are available. Mr. Barone responded that the existing ownership pattern makes the project more complex, but use of the right of way can be negotiated. He noted that Amtrak has plans for high speed service that may change their operations in the Northeast and that there are many alternatives. One issue that will have to be addressed is how any plans to bring Metro-North to Penn Station will affect these alternatives.
Mr. Greif wanted to know whether the RPA has contacted the City’s Borough Presidents about this study. Mr. Barone stated he has spoken to the Borough President’s offices in Brooklyn and Queens and that Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has made improving transportation throughout the City an emphasis of his present term of office.
Mr. Albert asked whether a new service could share stations with Metro-North if it ran over the Hell Gate Bridge. Mr. Barone said that it could.
Sharon King Hoge asked whether the plan is being promoted. Mr. Barone replied that RPA has worked to gain support for the concept several times, the last time when Lee Sander served as MTA Executive Director. He said that recently they have been approaching the issue from the standpoint of actively promoting coordination between freight and passenger rail.
William Guild commented that in the presentation, Mr. Barone mentioned a route that ran to Yankee Stadium and the use of light rail. He asked whether such a plan would include the tunnel under St. Mary’s Park and running rail vehicles in the streets. Mr. Barone responded that the tunnel could be part of the plan and that light rail vehicles can run in street rights of way. He said that there should be some preference given to rail traffic if the rail runs in the streets.
Ms. Prentiss requested an explanation of Mr. Barone’s earlier comments about high floor buses. Mr. Barone responded that they want to increase the speed of bus travel by having all low floor buses, which are easier to board. Ms. Prentiss pointed out that when the bus cannot reach the curb, the slopes of low floor buses’ ramps are excessive. She also noted that a major issue in the Bronx is a lack of east-west routes.
Ms. Shannon asked if the study team had access to the MTA’s origin and destination study. Mr. Barone replied that he will be asking for that information for use in preparing RPA’s next Regional Plan.
Mr. Albert asked whether measures being taken to preserve the right of way that has been identified. Mr. Barone said that no measures are being taken, but they are not concerned because the right of way in question is owned by the Long Island Rail Road, another railroad, or the City of New York. He said that this does not prevent all conflicts, as one rail tunnel at Broadway Junction has been used as the path for a jet fuel pipeline.
Alan Flacks asked about the origin of the plan. Mr. Barone responded that expanding passenger service using this right of way was raised as an option in the RPA’s 3rd Regional plan in 1996. At that time it was considered a secondary option, along with the primary options of increasing the system’s capacity by completing the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access and increasing the efficiency of commuter rail by increased through running between New Jersey and New York. Mr. Albert remarked that the NYCTRC supports a service plan that includes through running.
Mr. Barone closed by noting that the major issues facing a through running plan are institutional rather than technical.
The meeting was adjourned at 2:15 p.m.
To Do List
Letter thanking Carmen Bianco for audible announcements about 1 line accessible options. — Letter sent.
Find out how the reduced fare return tickets will be addressed when agent is not accessible from one side. – Reduced fare tickets no longer issued except in one specific rare situation (fare payment with transit benefit debit card). Reduced fare riders paying cash now receive 2 trip MetroCard for subway trips.
Whenever an issue is brought up by any member of council or general public, if a letter is written, it will be sent to members. Staff will keep lists of issues raised by members.