Heavily pockmarked tile at the Borough Hall #4 and #5 Station, replaced only eight years ago, now needs to be replaced again. Photo by Allan Rosen

THE COMMUTEOkay, so it is President’s Day, but some people still have to get to work. Not every company gives its employees the day off. The MTA has decided, however, to treat today as if it were still the weekend by continuing its weekend maintenance work throughout today. That means no Brighton line between Prospect Park and Manhattan. Good luck with the shuttle bus from Prospect Park to Atlantic Avenue. You can avoid the Q altogether by taking a crosstown bus (B1, B3, B4, B6, B7, B9, B11, B36 or B82) to the F train instead of having to deal with shuttle buses or by taking the B44 to the Junction.

Hopefully, the decision to suspend the Q will not turn into another MTA fiasco like The Brooklyn Paper reported last week when the MTA made an error in judgment by not providing enough shuttle buses while the L was out of service, and the customers and businesses suffered. If you are a regular Q rider who needs the train to get to work today, let us know in the comments how your day went, transit-wise.

Station Benches

Now the MTA is making another decision that not only shows a lack of concern for the needs of its riders, but is wasteful as well. As any passenger can tell you, there are not enough benches when waiting for a train, especially during peak hours. The MTA has decided to purchase additional benches, but not to supplement the ones we already have. No, the MTA will use these new benches to replace the ones currently in use.

That’s right. They will scrap perfectly good wooden benches that could last another 20 or 30 years if maintained properly. Even worse, the five-seater wooden benches will be replaced with three-seater stainless steel benches, reducing the amount of seating available instead of increasing it.

Did the public have a say in this decision? According to a 2010 article in amNewYork, the MTA sought the public’s opinion on the replacement for the wooden benches. “In coming months, officials will install prototypes of the two competing benches at an undisclosed station to get the public’s feedback.” However the results of that test were never disclosed.

So much for MTA transparency.

The wood benches currently in use replaced older wood benches, with higher backs and without seat partitions, in use since the subway was built. Although the ones they replaced were still perfectly functional, a new design was chosen with partitions to discourage the homeless from laying down on them.

Now they are being replaced once again because some fear the current benches are plagued with bed bugs and are unhygienic. The MTA states that the stainless steel is “easier and less costly to maintain.”

Maintain? Are they kidding? How have they been “maintaining” these fine wooden benches? By occasionally spraying them with disinfectant, if they were doing even that much? They were installed and left to rot, especially the ones installed outdoors without any overhead protection, such as the one at Newkirk Avenue, which was replaced during the recent station improvements there.

Anyone knows that wood benches need to be refinished from time to time, in the very least with a layer of polyurethane. Stripping the wood first would be better, but not necessary, unless they are extremely worn. Yet, the MTA has done nothing to keep the benches in shape. What about the stainless steel? Is it American made or the cheap Japanese variety that will start to rust within a few years? With the MTA usually choosing the lowest bidder, your guess is as good as mine. Will they be freezing cold in the winter and scorching hot in the blazing summer sun?

If they did not wish to purchase additional wood benches, fine — but don’t throw away perfectly good ones. The first wood benches lasted for more than 50 years and could have lasted longer. The current ones are a mere 20- or 30-years-old, and many are newer. Will the older ones be discarded first or will the MTA not even bother to check their age before replacing them?

And what is the MTA proposing to do with these supposedly “unhygienic” and bed bug-infested benches? Sell them to you, of course, so you can take the bed bugs home! Why are our elected officials not speaking out over this latest outrage? They could at least insist that the new stainless steel benches supplement the existing benches instead of replacing them.

Nothing New

Do you notice how the MTA is talking out of both sides of its mouth and no one seems to notice? They are replacing the benches because they are unhygienic, but they want you to purchase them for a mere $650 each. What did they cost new and how much are the replacement benches costing? With all the claimed MTA transparency, try finding the answers to those questions. Double talk is the MTA’s specialty. They do it all the time.

In 2010, the eastern portion of the B4 from Sheepshead Bay Station to Knapp Street was discontinued on weekends and weekday middays and evenings due to low ridership. The initial proposal called for total elimination of the route east of Sheepshead Bay Station until I was able to get them to partially rescind their decision.

Several years ago, when I proposed that the B4 be split into two routes to increase reliability — one route operating from Bay Ridge to Sheepshead Bay Station, and another from KeySpan (now Municipal Credit Union [MCU]) Park to Knapp Street and continue further north on Knapp Street to Avenue U and perhaps Kings Plaza — the MTA rejected it, stating the following:

“A high volume of current B4 customers travel from Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst, west of the Sheepshead Bay Station, to areas east of the station. This suggestion would require those customers to transfer.”

So the MTA had a problem with a “high volume” of passengers transferring, but a few years later had no problem when passengers could not take the bus at all because it was eliminated. Suddenly, the “high volume” became low ridership when the MTA wanted to discontinue service. This is why you cannot trust anything the MTA tells you, because they manufacture their “facts” at will.

The MTA Continues To Waste Money

The MTA claims to be cash strapped. We have subway stations that are literally falling apart. The brand new South Ferry Station is leaking after less than three years and will need continuing maintenance to prevent conditions from getting worse.

The tile at the Borough Hall #4 and #5 Station was replaced in 2004 to mark the IRT centennial. Just a few years later it is all falling apart while the 90-year-old tile on the adjacent #2 and #3 station is still in good condition. The current Capital Budget includes $203,000 to replace the tile a second time.

Whether these problems are with the contract specifications, adherence to the contract, the contractors, the materials used, or improper installation, these need to be investigated. Now these situations have to be corrected and that costs money the MTA does not have. Yet they have money for new benches they do not need.

If the benches were periodically maintained with a protective coating, they could look new for years and bed bugs could not hide in the crevasses. They are structurally sound and were built to last for at least 50 years, and are not nearly that old. How long will the new stainless steel benches last, or will there be a new scandal when they start to rust or when there is a lawsuit because someone received a burn from 150 degree steel on a 100 degree day? Will the MTA then have to place warning signs on the benches that they may be very hot in the summer?

Conclusion

The MTA is continuing to not to show enough concern for its passengers as evidenced by:

  1. Assuming no one has to go to work on President’s Day by continuing its weekend construction
  2. By not supplying enough shuttle buses for L train riders, and
  3. By reducing available seating on stations, replacing five seat wooden benches with three seat stainless steel benches that will be subject to temperature extremes.

The new MTA chairman, Joe Lhota, has opportunities to start showing that he cares about the passengers. Thus far he has done this by not supporting the proposed subway food ban, now before the New York State Senate. Lhota told The New York Times:

“I do not support the bill. It severely hurts and impacts minority communities. I don’t want to deny the kid the only time that day he’s going to get food.”

He needs to show more concern, for example, by not short-changing riders by shutting down subway lines at inappropriate times, providing enough replacement service, and by stopping the scrapping of the wooden benches and see they start getting some much-needed maintenance.

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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  • Annoyed with the MTA

    To get Manhattan; take the Q to Prospect, the Shuttle to the Botanic Gardens, walk through to Franklin Avenue then catch the 2, 3, 4 or 5 to Manhattan.  
    Or, the Q to Coney island and then the D, F or N to Manhattan.takes a little bit more time, but not much more and much easier than the shuttle bus.

    • Allan Rosen

      Thanks for the additional tips.

  • Andrew

    Today was treated as a weekend because it has similar ridership to a weekend. That doesn’t mean that nobody is going to work (I went to work today, but, then again, I often work weekends too) – it just means that the level of service offered on a Saturday (including the shuttle buses in this case) is adequate for the demand. If my ride this morning was any indication, it was. Three-day holidays have hosted three-day GO’s for years. Would you have preferred an extra weekend of shuttle buses instead?

    Aren’t benches normally replaced in station rehabs? They’re going to be replaced by the new stainless steel benches instead of wood ones. I don’t like stainless steel benches in general, but if it’s been decided that stainless steel is the new way to go, I don’t see the problem with replacing the benches when they would have been replaced anyway.

    The article doesn’t state that five-seat benches are being replaced by three-seat benches. The prototype bench at Whitehall has three seats, but some of the wooden benches also have three seats. I’m sure the bench manufacturer knows how to manufacture five-seat benches.

    (By the way, there is such a thing as too many benches. Benches take up platform space, which is problematic on crowded platforms. I’ve even missed connections on island platforms because I had to run around a bench to get from one train to the other, and the conductor closed the doors before I got there.)

    As I said elsewhere, the Borough Hall tiles were not replaced in 2004. The station got a minor cosmetic upgrade in the 80′s. That included the floor tiles but I’m not sure about the wall tiles.

    • Allan Rosen

      Although one of the articles which I couldn’t locate did state that stainless steel would be used in station rehabs, none of the other ones indicated that. They said that since the MTA did not have the funding to replace all the benches at once, they would replace them as funding became available. I have never encountered a time when there were too many benches on a station. Most only have two or three. You call that “too many?

      And what makes you think that they will put in a five seat variety? That is pure speculation. I have not seen any three seat wood benches. Could you provide a picture of one?

      Borough Hall mosaics were restored in the past ten years and pick mocked tile was replaced. These perhaps could be new occurrences of pockmocking on the original tile or it could be the replaced tile.

      • Allan Rosen

        They also could have provided double width bus shelters at high use stops like Kings Plaza but didn’t. Now you will respond by saying that was DOT.

        You’re the one with the vendetta to prove I am always wrong and the MTA is right. I notice when you agree you just keep quiet. You are not debating the deficient shuttle service on the L that was provided.

        The only time you ever complimented me was when I stated the MTA wouldn’t be shortchanged by Albany.

        • Allan Rosen

          That should have said “shouldn’t” not “wouldn’t.

          Also, Whitehall benches were previously 5 seaters. So the only way the MTA could not be reducing seating capacity there is if they were installing two new benches for everyone being removed which would be very costly. There is also no indication that would be the case.

      • Andrew

        Although one of the articles which I couldn’t locate did state that stainless steel would be used in station rehabs, none of the other ones indicated that.

        “One of the articles which I couldn’t locate”? How hard is it to find a news article? Have you tried Google?

        If they’re not going to be replaced in station rehabs, I stand corrected.

        They said that since the MTA did not have the funding to replace all the benches at once, they would replace them as funding became available.

        And the problem with that is … ?

        I have never encountered a time when there were too many benches on a station. Most only have two or three. You call that “too many?

        I didn’t say that most stations have too many benches. I only said that “there is such a thing as too many benches.” If you want to see some examples, I suggest you look at busy stations with heavy cross-platform transfer volumes.

        And what makes you think that they will put in a five seat variety? That is pure speculation.

        I didn’t say that they would.

        You saw a picture of a three-seat bench and took that to mean that all five-seat benches would be replaced with three-seat benches, one for one. That’s pure speculation. You then posted your speculation, as fact, on this blog for the world to see.

        I have not seen any three seat wood benches. Could you provide a picture of one?

        No, sorry.

        Borough Hall mosaics were restored in the past ten years and pick mocked tile was replaced. These perhaps could be new occurrences of pockmocking on the original tile or it could be the replaced tile.

        Wrong. There might have been some replacements of individual tiles, but that’s the case at many stations. There has been no wholesale wall tile replacement at Borough Hall since the 80′s, if not earlier.

        They also could have provided double width bus shelters at high use stops like Kings Plaza but didn’t. Now you will respond by saying that was DOT.

        I’ll bite. Isn’t it DOT?

        You’re the one with the vendetta to prove I am always wrong and the MTA is right.

        I have no problem with you being right, and I think the MTA has made some pretty dumb moves. Happy now?

        I notice when you agree you just keep quiet.

        You want me to explicitly say “I agree” to every sentence I have no comment on?

        You are not debating the deficient shuttle service on the L that was provided.

        I commented on it here, in response to your comment. Do I need to repeat myself?

        The only time you ever complimented me was when I stated the MTA wouldn’t be shortchanged by Albany.

        Bravo.

        Also, Whitehall benches were previously 5 seaters.

        And the test benches were installed side-by-side on both platforms (see the photos in the Daily News and NY1 articles), so there are six seats where there used to be five.

        So the only way the MTA could not be reducing seating capacity there is if they were installing two new benches for everyone being removed which would be very costly. There is also no indication that would be the case.

        There’s no indication of how many benches there will be nor of how many seats each one will have. All we have is your speculation, as presented as fact in your article.

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  • LLQBTT

    In the instance of the L not having enough buses, isn’t this just flat out stupid?  This was not the first outage of this type, nor is it far from the last, so I don’t get why there apparently just isn’t a directive that states, when the L is out from Lorimer to B’way-Junction, x # of buses shall be placed into service.  I mean why would this be discretionary each and every time? 

    • Allan Rosen

      Good question. The article states it was dispatcher error. The L seems unusual because Saturday afternoons get more ridership than weekday AM rush hours. More interesting according to the comment in the news article is why the line needs to be shut down fo such an extended period of time? Conversion to automatic train operation should be completed in April, but closures will continue into the fall. The reader asks the MTA to level with the people and explain what is going on.

      • Andrew

        The L seems unusual because Saturday afternoons get more ridership than weekday AM rush hours.

        WHAT?! You misunderstood something badly.

        • Allan Rosen

          Not my fault. The article is not clear. It states: “The MTA deployed enough shuttle buses to transport an average of 4,680 riders per at any given time during weekend.”  Per what?

          Then it goes on to say that that amount is enough “to serve passengers in the morning hours”.  I assumed that to mean Monday through Friday, but on second reading, it could also mean Saturday.   Anyway it states that the numbers of buses to handle the loads were not there.  It says nothing about a possibility of the buses being there but not being dispatched properly. as you suggest in Number 3 below.

          • Andrew

            Has the text of the article been updated? On my screen it says “The MTA deployed enough shuttle buses to transport an average of 4,680 riders per hour at any given time during weekend when the subway line was shut down.”

            The article is discussing a shortage of buses on a Saturday. It speaks of the morning and it speaks of the afternoon. Where does it mention weekdays?

            Although the L does carry unusually large weekend loads, they still don’t come close to rush hour loads. The busiest hour on Saturday has just over 7,000 riders (on 12 trains), while the busiest hour on weekdays has nearly 23,000 riders (on 17 trains). (Numbers are from the L report, specifically the tables on pages 12 and 4.)

            The article states that there weren’t enough buses, but it blames it on dispatcher error. But dispatchers don’t determine bus schedules. Either there weren’t enough buses and the dispatcher had nothing to do with the problem, or there were enough buses available but they weren’t being dispatched properly.

          • Allan Rosen

            Yes, the article must have been updated, although it is still grammatically incorrect.  The word “per” was not there last week. The only place it mentions weekdays is the sentence “The admission comes as the agency announced six new service disruptions in the coming year for the beleaguered crosstown line — which retains 90 percent of its weekday traffic on the weekends.” If that is true, it conflicts with your statement showing 23.000 at the busiest weekday hour. (I would tend to believe you more than that article regarding that figure.) However, given that sentence it wasn’t difficult to make the mistake that they were talking about weekday morning hours, not Saturday hours.

            Anyway, back to the original point, could it be that the dispatcher was the one who chose the wrong schedule to be put into effect?  There is nothing in the article to assume that the buses were available but weren’t dispatched. It only says there were not enough buses.

          • Andrew

            Yes, the article must have been updated, although it is still grammatically incorrect.  The word “per” was not there last week. The only place it mentions weekdays is the sentence “The admission comes as the agency announced six new service disruptions in the coming year for the beleaguered crosstown line — which retains 90 percent of its weekday traffic on the weekends.” If that is true, it conflicts with your statement showing 23.000 at the busiest weekday hour. (I would tend to believe you more than that article regarding that figure.)

            The 90% figure is incorrect (have you read the report that I linked to earlier today?), but there isn’t necessarily a conflict – rush hour ridership is much more strongly peaked than Saturday ridership.

            Anyway, back to the original point, could it be that the dispatcher was the one who chose the wrong schedule to be put into effect?  There is nothing in the article to assume that the buses were available but weren’t dispatched. It only says there were not enough buses.

            You’re suggesting that the dispatchers at the bus depots looked at the wrong schedule and sent out too few buses? I suppose that’s possible.

    • Andrew

      Good question.

      Some possible answers:

      1. Somebody misread the schedule, or looked at the wrong page (AM instead of PM? Sunday instead of Saturday?), and ordered the wrong number of buses by mistake.

      2. The schedule was updated, but somebody made a mistake in the process.

      3. There were enough buses on hand, but the dispatchers let them pile up at the terminals instead of sending them out frequently enough. (This matches up best with the statement that “a dispatcher made an error.”)

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