New York City Transit Riders Council Meeting Minutes
January 23, 2014
12:00 noon 5th floor Board room, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City.
The following members were present:
Sharon King Hoge
Trudy L. Mason
Burton M. Strauss, Jr.
The following members were absent:
In addition, the following persons were present:
William Henderson – PCAC Executive Director
Ellyn Shannon – PCAC Associate Director
Angela Bellisio – PCAC Transportation Planner
Karyl Berger – PCAC Research Associate
Bradley Brashears – PCAC Research Assistant
Deborah Hall-Moore – NYCT
Sheila Webb-Halpern – NYCT
Samuel Wong – NYCT
Dan Rivoli – amNY
Jasmine Melzer – 10th St. Block Association
Ann Guild – Concerned citizen
Ken Stewart – Concerned citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the January 23, 2014 meeting was approved. The minutes of the December 19, 2013 meeting were approved as amended. Stuart Goldstein noted that he had suggested that a letter be sent to Tom Prendergast on the child fare issue and that Ms. Winfield had said that she had been told the same thing by NYC Transit officials.
The Chair’s Report is attached to these minutes.
Andrew Albert commented that in addition to the problematic issues that are in the written Chair’s report, labor contracts for NYC Transit workers are yet to be resolved. In response to Ken Stewart’s request, Mr. Albert stated he will find out whether information shown on the Staten Island Railway’s new displays is provided in an audible as well as a visible form.
Mr. Albert stated that MTA Board committee meetings will take place on the coming Monday. He also reported that weekend outages on the 7 Line will resume in the next few weeks. Mr. Albert said that the problem with the 7 line outages is that there is no additional service that can be put in place to replicate the service that is lost.
Mr. Albert stated that during severe winter weather, NYC Transit has been storing trains on express tracks, but Transit has not explained this extensively in announcements and alerts. Mr. Goldstein noted that there are good explanations of this practice on the MTA website. Chris Greif said that on B trains there are many announcements explaining the storage of cars on express tracks during severe weather.
Mr. Albert said that in December MTA Board members Cappelli and Pally made a valiant effort to add money to the budget for service, but their effort failed. There will be service added in April 2014, but this addition was approved last year in the last round of service enhancements. He also noted that many people have come to MTA Board meetings to complain about the plans for incomplete restoration of the B37 bus route.
Mr. Greif commented that the new northern terminal of the B37 route creates a problem, as it requires bus riders traveling toward Downtown Brooklyn to cross a number of busy streets to the Barclay Center side of a major intersection to make transfers.
Mr. Albert said that he had received information about an upcoming news article on NYC Transit’s practice of cancelling some MetroCards to prevent fraud. Riders can have an unlimited card locked out of the MetroCard system when it determines that it is being used frequently at one bank of turnstiles. This is deemed to be evidence of improper use, such as selling swipes for entry to the system.
Sharon King Hoge asked whether it is rare for cards to be locked out. Mr. Albert suggested that the NYCTRC could request someone from MetroCard Operations to come to a future meeting and provide more information on this issue. There are other issues that this guest could address, such as explaining the Express Pay MetroCard and how this system decides whether to charge the cardholder for monthly or reduced fare. Karyl Berger said that the many problems with reduced fare should also be discussed. Ellyn Shannon said that many reduced fare riders have major problems with the 511 call system. Trudy Mason noted that a friend of hers had lost a reduced fare MetroCard and reported it missing, only to find it shortly afterwards. This rider was then told that the card had been cancelled and that this action could not be reversed.
Mr. Albert noted that Ms. Shannon and Angela Bellisio are currently involved in an interesting data visualization project. Ms. Shannon said that the project involves new ways of looking at the “big data” that the MTA produces. The project involves a series of workshops for School of Visual Arts students to investigate ways of presenting these data. The workshop is open to advanced students, which means that the results that they produce are more likely to be adapted for use by the MTA.
Mr. Albert commented that the reason for this is that the MTA currently displays data in tables, with an occasional graph, but as a result the meaning behind the data does not jump out at the reader. Sam Wong from NYC Transit commented that the project aims at producing a prototype and the workshops are being held for students and NYCT to learn what kind of visualization works for these data. He stated that once this project is completed, the effort to improve the presentation of data will move to a larger project to be undertaken at SUNY Albany.
Ms. Mason requested that the Council send a letter to NYC Transit about the lack of communication in planned and unplanned service diversions. She said that on the past Wednesday there were signal problems on the Lexington Line, which required that the signal system be disabled and regular service to be suspended. There were no announcements made to tell customers at the 77th Street station that there were no trains running and the Station Booth Clerks there did not know what was happening.
The Cleaners in the station knew the situation but could not explain it to the customers. The Station Booth Clerk allowed customers into the station through the slam gates, although no service was available, and the information on the countdown clocks proved unreliable, displaying messages that alternated between “delays” and a 17 minute wait for the next train. In addition, audio announcements in the station announced approaching trains, but these trains did not stop at the station.
Mr. Albert asked Deborah Hall-Moore of NYC Transit if she knew how long a subway service disruption has to persist before the Department of Buses is notified that there is a problem. Ms. Shannon said that she was on the West Side at this time and witnessed the biggest crisis she had ever seen as large numbers of riders came into stations as a result of the disruptions. Sharon King Hoge noted that when she was conducting surveys for the Council’s General Orders project it became clear that there is no central communication system in the subways.
Mr. Albert suggested that a guest from NYC Transit address this issue with the Council. Mr. Goldstein suggested that there could be a representative from various divisions within NYC Transit, such as a panel including personnel from both buses and subways. Ms. Mason asked whether there is one person in charge of communication at NYC Transit. Ms. Hall-Moore said that the Rail Control Center handles communication in stations. She suggested that the incident that was described might be used as a case study. Mr. Albert said that the Council will send a letter to NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco.
Mr. Greif said that when there are subway service disruptions in Brooklyn, there is communication between subway and bus personnel. Mr. Albert responded that riders do not know how long it has been between a service disruption and the point where this communication begins. Mr. Greif also noted that the station booths are equipped with scanners that could provide information about disruptions, but they are not always used.
Ken Stewart asked that the Council obtain the guidelines that apply to subway performers. Mr. Albert responded that this is a good suggestion and that the Council will get them.
Mr. Greif expressed his compliments to the people who cleared platforms on the Brighton line after recent snowfall. He said that something needs to be done about clearing snow in bus stops and that the City and NYC Transit pass the buck about responsibility for these areas.
Mr. Stewart noted that Community Board 4 had discussed the possibility of buses on 12th Avenue. He said that he is concerned that it would be difficult and dangerous to reach downtown stops for buses running on 12th Avenue.
Mr. Stewart also said that signage designating preferential seating is not coordinated between subways and buses. For example, signage on buses states that the seniors must be given preferential access to certain seats, but similar signage on subways makes no reference to seniors. The subway elevators also have preferential access signage. Mr. Stewart said that he would like to have posted clear language on preferential seating that riders needing these seats could point out to other riders. Mr. Albert stated that he will contact the appropriate person at NYC Transit about this issue.
Introduction of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer to discuss her transportation priorities for the coming four years.
Ms. Mason introduced Ms. Brewer. Among other accomplishments, she noted that Ms. Brewer was the founding Chair of the City Council Committee on Technology.
Ms. Brewer noted that her next door neighbor was stuck on a bus on 2nd Avenue the previous day for three hours. The bus operator would not allow her neighbor to leave the bus because he could not reach a location where alighting would be safe.
The Borough President said that she had put a lot of work into improving the Midtown East proposal and told that Council that it has a great deal of influence in the ultimate resolution to the question of appropriate development controls in this area. She said that the transportation issues to be considered in planning for Midtown East should include not only the 4, 5, and 6 subway lines but also provisions for access from this area to LaGuardia Airport.
Ms. Brewer said that Select Bus Service is good when it does work, but customers must know they have to purchase a ticket and there must be sufficient signage to tell them the rules of the service. She said that the concept of off-board fare payment has promise and may be a way to increase the speed of crosstown buses. She also noted that there have been issues in getting bus stops restored after the completion of construction and said that this process needs to be improved. Ms. Brewer also noted that she supports having ambassadors for Select Bus Service in tourist areas like 34th Street.
Ms. Brewer noted that letters have done no good in restoring the full length M104 route, but that the community still wants the northern end of route restored. She also said that the performance of the 7 subway line extension should be monitored and noted that there is a lot of development near the unbuilt 10th Avenue Station that will not be served by the line.
Ms. Brewer said that she had recently met with the Community Board 1 Executive Board. She said that there is a lot of activity Downtown, but a real need for openness in regards to the completion and opening of the Fulton Center. Ms. Brewer committed to work with the Council in its efforts to make more stations accessible, but said that there is also a need to ensure that existing escalators and elevators are working.
Ms. Brewer noted that the MTA could learn from the PATH system in regard to communications about service disruptions. The PATH system uses several media, including video screens and audio announcements, to keep riders informed when there is a service problem. She said that communication is the key issue for the NYC Transit system.
Finally, the Borough President noted several issues that deserve greater focus. Among them, there is a need for better coordination between subways and buses when there are service outages. There is also a need to examine the rise the use of shuttle buses, which may create problems in their use of curb space and lack accessibility. In addition, there is a need to look at transit access to La Guardia airport, which has been in planning stages for decades but has not appreciably improved. In the longer term, the Manhattan West Side stations have to be addressed, but that will not happen until Penn Station is able to accommodate Metro-North. She also cited the new bus depot being constructed in Harlem, but said that improving service must also be a priority.
Mr. Albert commented that when PATH makes escalator and elevator or service disruption announcements, they are made system wide. He said that NYC Transit could have announcements made on a line by line basis.
Mr. Stewart asked what gives a Borough President clout. Ms. Brewer responded that the City’s Borough Presidents are working together and this will increase their influence. She also noted that her office has the most power in issues that involve land use.
Mr. Greif noted that Ms. Prentiss wanted to attend today’s meeting, but the bus stops in her area had not been shoveled. He said that he has been having problems with the MTA in regard to Select Bus Service in Brooklyn and the planning process for this service does not give the proper respect to persons with disabilities. He said that riders with disabilities were told that they could wheel down several blocks to an SBS stop and that safety should be the key issue, but it does not appear to be.
Ms. Hoge pointed out that there is a problem with inter-city buses that serve the City and the disruption that they cause. Ms. Brewer responded that in downtown Manhattan, instead of constructing a bus facility, the current plan is for tourist buses to drop people off and leave the area. She also noted that there are many issues with hop on- hop off tour buses. Mr. Albert added that casino buses are also causing problems and that there was a new surge in their use when the Resorts World casino opened.
Karyl Berger wanted to hear Ms. Brewer’s comments regarding the bike lanes and plazas that have been established in the last few years. Ms. Brewer responded that she is in favor of bike lanes, but the City has to ensure that they are safe. She said that she wrote the law that requires the Department of Transportation to enforce the regulations that commercial bike delivery riders have a vest, light and bell. This law is enforced against the business and not the rider. She also said that she is concerned about plazas where the boundary between traffic, bike, and pedestrian space and the plazas themselves is not clear.
Burt Strauss asked what could be done about the Sanitation Department pushing snow into bus stops. Ms. Brewer responded that there needs to be more vigilance about the clearing of bus stops. The City hires temporary laborers to do this work, but needs to makes sure they know the applicable rules and regulations.
Ms. Mason asked who is responsible for shoveling sidewalks around subway station. Mr. Albert responded that property owners are responsible. Mr. Henderson said that NYC Transit clears a limited area around station stairs, but is not responsible for the sidewalk generally.
Mr. Goldstein wanted to know Ms. Brewer’s attitudes toward public-private partnerships. Ms. Brewer responded that there have been many good things done by private parties in connection with subway stations and that she is in favor of private projects that also benefit the transit system.
Matt Shokin asked what will be done about ensuring accessibility during snow removal. Ms. Brewer responded that her office is putting together an Accessibility Task Force and that they will deal with this issue.
Phyllis Sylvestri said that operators on the M72 bus don’t stop at a consistent place and often do not stop at bus stop signs. Mr. Albert responded that buses should pull to the head of the stop, which may be ahead of the sign.
Mr. Greif inquired about the progress on the Council project. Mr. Shannon responded that the Council is taking a break from surveys because of the high number of cancellations of planned service diversions.
Mr. Stewart suggested that council should audit non-automated audio announcements in the stations. Mr. Albert responded that he sometimes hears the B train announced as an alternative service on weekends when it is not running.
The meeting was adjourned at 2:00 pm.