Source: Subway Nut

THE COMMUTE: Happy New Year to everyone!

As we enter 2012, it is time to pause and reflect on the year that just passed. Hard to believe “The Commute” is now entering its second year. When Ned asked me to start this weekly feature after writing several articles for “Sheepshead Bites,” I hesitated because I wasn’t sure I could think of something new and different to write about each week, which would interest me as well as Sheepshead Bay and its residents.

I try to write simply rather than bore you with technical discussions and keep the subjects varied, but some topics appear more frequently than others. Some spur little discussion while others, such as the one last week about speeding on Oriental Boulevard may have broken Sheepshead Bites’ record with 123 comments thus far. It is difficult to predict which topics will be popular for discussion and which ones will either be a big yawn or will have few comments, because I made such a good case that most everyone feels there is nothing further to add.

I try to concentrate on topics specifically relevant to Sheepshead Bay and citywide topical issues that I believe will interest you that you may have missed in the newspapers or on television. I only discuss other neighborhoods like Park Slope if there is some relevance to Sheepshead Bay. Most of the topics are about mass transit because that is the way most of you commute, and that means discussing the MTA. I have tried to not be too negative toward them, but sometimes that has not been possible. However, I have always tried to be fair, unlike some blogs that only advocate one point of view, ignoring any story or facts that do not support the viewpoint they are advocating. I’ve concentrated on bus service more than subways because buses is the area of most of my expertise and where I believe the most potential exists for improvement, with better routes and scheduling without major capital expense. I have also made predictions for the future.

And here is another prediction: The MTA will hold hearings for a fare increase in 2012 or 2013, but this time the hearings will include provisions for small increases to fares and tolls, like a nickel or dime for subways and buses, and a quarter or 50 cents for bridges and tunnels, in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. New Jersey is already combining several increases into a single set of hearings. Toll increases [PDF] went into effect yesterday on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway based on hearings held four years ago.

New York will soon follow unless there is a law that all hearings for fare and toll increases and service changes must be held within the previous 90 days of the change taking effect. If a law similar to that does not already exist, it needs to be proposed, and if it already exists, we must make sure it is not altered. Although fewer hearings would save the MTA money, how do we know what the economy will be like four years from now and if fare and toll increases will be necessary then? We also have no assurances that future surpluses, if any, would be invested in service restorations or service increases to fill service gaps, before they are spent on salary increases so we need to be very conservative before raising user rates.

There are many websites advocating more bicycle lanes and pedestrian spaces at the expense of motorists portraying automobiles as the villain. Although additional bike lanes and pedestrian spaces are not necessarily bad ideas, I have tried to present the other side discussing the needs of motorists here and here, covering topics like potholes, alternate side of the street parking, and how DOT can improve. I have also touched on the needs of cyclists and pedestrians as well by discussing the controversy over a wood or concrete boardwalk. If there is a transportation topic you would like covered that I have neglected, please share it in the comments.

Here are some of the other topics I covered in 2011:

Locally, many articles related to the B1 and B4 bus lines, and Select Bus Service. I have tried to stay away from political and funding issues but have covered those issues as well. If you have missed any of those discussions, now would be a great time to catch up by clicking on any of the links in orange or on the tags at the end.

Most articles have included my opinions on the subjects discussed. I have tried to encourage discussion by sharing my opinion and to inform with such subjects as “The MTA May Be Stealing Your Money.” As a follow-up to that article, I have recently been made aware of several instances where the MTA has been charging extra fares instead of granting a free transfer when one was entitled, probably due to some glitch in the system, so always check the farebox readout when dipping your MetroCard when entitled to a free transfer to make sure it says “Transfer OK” and not the amount remaining. Most important, if you are unfairly charged an extra fare, do not remain silent. Write down the bus number or turnstile number and let the MTA know by calling or writing! Don’t just say to yourself, it was only $2.25 or $1.10, so I’ll just forget it. If you are cheated, others are being cheated as well and it will continue unless the MTA knows about it. Since it is easy to criticize the MTA, I have tried to compliment them as well.

My ultimate goal is to make a positive difference by getting people involved in transportation issues. I hope I am succeeding. After all, I am not paid for this series, so it really is just a labor of love. I have no idea as to the extent of the readership and I often spend more time than I intend to writing and proofreading but I feel it is worth it. Many of you agree with me most of the time and a few disagree with most every article. I guess that is how you know you are doing a good job when you create some controversy. If everyone always agrees with you, you couldn’t be writing about anything very important.

I am most proud of both three-part series that I wrote, the first one concluding with 10 needed changes at the MTA and the other concluding with how the MTA should be doing their planning. Hopefully, MTA planners read them and they will have some affect. I was also especially satisfied with “Some Thoughts On Planning And Life,” sparked by the recent passing of my sister resulting from a bicycle accident she had in 2004.

Today would have been her 64th birthday.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).

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  • Andrew

    There’s no need for a dog-and-pony show (otherwise known as a public hearing) for a fare increase that merely keeps the fare in line with inflation.  The law should be changed to allow that.

    In a city where most residents don’t own cars and where most car owners often get around by other means, I don’t think that reallocation of a fraction of 1% of the space devoted to cars, at the request of the local community board, portrays anyone as the “villain” – it simply moves the city towards a very slightly more equitable allocation of space, and it also happens to improve safety.  Don’t worry – most of the public space in this city is still available for your personal car.

    I notice on occasion that a bus claims that it’s charged a fare when it should have given me a transfer, but when I check the balance afterwards, it turns out that I actually got the transfer.  So before making a fuss over $2.25, make sure that you actually lost $2.25.  (Or call it in anyway if you’re not sure, but don’t be surprised if you don’t get anything back if it turns out that you didn’t lose anything.)

    • Allan Rosen

      We also can’t predict what inflation will be four years from now. What if the economy turns around and transit ridership boom?. Without making the service guidelines public, we can’t even be sure service will increase proportionately. The MTA must first improve their efficiency. From speaking to a former co worker last night, it doesn’t even seem they at doing that. As usual rather than analyzing where they need to make staffing cuts by using a scalpel, they are taking the easy way out by going after entire classes of employees with a machete and for one group lost every case in arbitration.

      As for reallocating street space only at te request of community boards as you say, why did DOT propose bike lanes for Avenues J, P, and T without even consulting the Boards. J and P would be horrible for new bike lanes. Check te bike map if you don’t believe me.

      • Andrew

        I’m not suggesting that specific fares be named years in advance.  I’m suggesting that the public authorities law be amended to allow for periodic (annual or biennial) fare/toll increases in line with the actual inflation rate over the previous year or two.  Anything beyond that would still go through the traditional public hearing process.  Holding public hearings for mere inflation adjustments is a waste of everybody’s time.

        Aside from the first sentence, your first paragraph seems to be a generic rant having nothing to do with anything I wrote, so I will refrain from responding to it.

        A dotted line on a map is not a reallocation of space – it’s merely a dotted line on a map.  Yes, I know you’re afraid that it must be a dastardly DOT conspiracy, but in fact it’s been on the map since the very first bike map in 1997.  So I guess Chris Lynn was in on the conspiracy too.

        • Allan Rosen

          A dotted line on a map is not a reallocation of space because the proposal has not been put in effect yet.  It is directly contrary to your statement that DOT only makes proposals AFTER it speaks with and gains approval from the communities.

          When have we had fare increases only for inflation?  Every time there is an increase, it is because of an MTA deficit, not because of inflation.  You can have economic growth and increased transit riders and revenue and inflation at the same time.  So if the MTA is doing well why would we need automatic increases to fares just because of inflation?

          You won’t respond to my rant, because you see no need for the MTA to make public its service guidelines?  And what would be the reason for keeping them secret? Or do you think the MTA is as efficient as they possibly can be and can’t improve any more?

          • Andrew

            A dotted line on a map is not a reallocation of space because the proposal has not been put in effect yet.  It is directly contrary to your statement that DOT only makes proposals AFTER it speaks with and gains approval from the communities.

            I never said anything about proposals.  I said that the bike lanes have only been implemented by community request.  (But, again, if you object to this mere proposal, for some reason, take it up with Chris Lynn of the Giuliani administration, since it was proposed in 1997.)

            When have we had fare increases only for inflation?  Every time there is an increase, it is because of an MTA deficit, not because of inflation.  You can have economic growth and increased transit riders and revenue and inflation at the same time.  So if the MTA is doing well why would we need automatic increases to fares just because of inflation?

            My proposal is to allow automatic fare adjustments every year or two based on the actual inflation rate (as determined by the Consumer Price Index or some other index of inflation).  Anything beyond that would still go through the public hearing process.

            Based on your comments I’m not sure you understand what inflation is, so I’ll explain briefly, but I encourage you to read up on it (Wikipedia has a pretty good article).  The value of a dollar changes over time, generally going down.  Most items that cost $1 five or ten years ago cost more than $1 now, even if the item hasn’t changed at all.  That’s because $1 isn’t worth as much now as it was five or ten years ago.  So even if nothing else changes, if a nominal $2.25 fare is adequate now, it won’t be adequate forever, since the value of that $2.25 decreases over time.  There are several indices that measure the rate of inflation from year to year, the most common being the Consumer Price Index, or CPI.

            Here is a table of annual inflation rates since 2000:
            http://inflationdata.com/inflation/inflation_rate/currentinflation.asp

            Since the mid-90′s, even ignoring inflation, the fare has gone down substantially for anybody who transfers between subway and bus – they used to pay $1.50 for the subway plus $1.50 for the bus, but now they pay $2.25, or more likely $2.10 (the effective fare per ride after the 7% bonus is applied), for the subway and get a free transfer to the bus.  And for frequent riders, the various unlimited options, none of which existed in 1995, bring down the per-ride cost even more.

            But let’s put aside the free transfers and the unlimited cards – maybe you don’t ride frequently enough to use an unlimited and you don’t transfer between subway and bus and you can’t be bothered to claim the 7% bonus.  Based on the CPI, $1.50 in 1995 dollars was worth $2.23 in 2011 dollars.  In other words, even ignoring the  many discounts that were introduced with MetroCard, the fare is virtually unchanged since 1995 in real dollars (i.e., nominal dollars adjusted for inflation).

            You won’t respond to my rant, because you see no need for the MTA to make public its service guidelines?  And what would be the reason for keeping them secret? Or do you think the MTA is as efficient as they possibly can be and can’t improve any more?

            I won’t respond to your rant because it was a rant that came out of nowhere.  If you felt the need to rant, I’m glad you got it out of your system, but it had nothing to do with my comments above.

          • Allan Rosen

            DOT implemented a bike lane on Oriental Blvd in Manhattan Beach against the wishes of the Community Board. The Board and two community organizations have unsuccessfully tried to get it removed or relocated for the past five years. Next time research your arguments before making false statements.

            I know exactly what inflation is. Here was no need to explain it. I am not arguing that the fare isn’t a good deal when compared to inflation. My point was that in good economic times increased ridership could more than make up for the loss in value of a dollar to make a fare increase unnecessary so that inflation does not require automatic fare increases.

          • Andrew

            DOT implemented a bike lane on Oriental Blvd in Manhattan Beach against the wishes of the Community Board. The Board and two community organizations have unsuccessfully tried to get it removed or relocated for the past five years. Next time research your arguments before making false statements.

            It’s usually Janette Sadik-Khan who’s accused of running roughshod over motorists with all those awful bike lanes that nobody wants, not Iris Weinshall.

            I know exactly what inflation is. Here was no need to explain it. I am not arguing that the fare isn’t a good deal when compared to inflation. My point was that in good economic times increased ridership could more than make up for the loss in value of a dollar to make a fare increase unnecessary so that inflation does not require automatic fare increases.

            But we all know that the economy won’t remain good forever, and when it tanks, the MTA will need a whopper of a fare hike to cover not just the immediate shortfall but also the deferred inflation adjustment – and that fare hike will hit exactly when riders will be least able to afford it.

            Letting the fare in real dollars slip down and down until there’s a crisis is highly irresponsible. What do you think happened between 1995 and 2003?

            By the way, this isn’t my idea: http://nymtaideas2.ideascale.com/a/dtd/Ravitch-Proposal–Peg-MTA-fares-to-inflation/17838-3327

  • sonicboy678

    Andrew, if you knew what you were talking about, you would know that the fares would have made up for the shortfalls not only at that time but lessened all blows from economic downturns. Some of those profits could have been used to help maintain the entire system’s operations and smaller fare hikes would have been implemented to offset the very thought of a deficit. Instead, the MTA decided to take the easy way out and screw everything up like too many businesses would and is continuously finding ways to make it worse.
    I’m not saying that all fare hikes are unjustified; I’m saying that you keep missing the point. A smart businessperson would say that profits are necessary for optimal performance; however, rainy-day funds and actually listening to customers to provide top-notch service would be the ideals of the smart businessperson.
    (Man, I suck at explaining things.)

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