MTA Chairman Joe Lhota. Source: Flickr | Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin

THE COMMUTE: When MTA Chairman Joe Lhota took the helm at the MTA from Jay Walder at the beginning of this year, I asked the question: New ideas or same old politics? Last week I stated that Lhota has begun to turn the MTA in the right direction by announcing service restorations, such as the B4. Prior to Lhota, the MTA was purely in cutback mode. Has the MTA really changed? Have they reversed their trend of reducing service?

I don’t think so. The service restorations represent only one-third of the service that was lost. Transportation Alternatives is not satisfied. They want all lost service returned and for Governor Andrew Cuomo to stop the fare hike. All it takes is the failure of one assumption in the MTA’s Financial Plan for the MTA to announce additional service reductions in the future, which they will claim they have been forced into.

The MTA issued a press release last week discussing this plan. It is an important one and should be read in its entirety. Here are a few excerpts:

MTA Presents Financial Plan Update

Budget Remains Balanced, But Long-Term Challenges Persist

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) today released its 2013 Preliminary Budget and July Financial Plan for 2013-2016. The plan builds on cost cutting initiatives begun in 2010 — the most aggressive series of cost cutting efforts in the MTA’s history — to help achieve a balanced budget in 2013 and reduce deficits in the years ahead. Those cost cutting efforts generated $686 million in annual recurring savings in 2011; that figure is projected to grow to $745 million in 2012, $870 million in 2013, and $1.13 billion by 2016.

The plan released today describes a fragile stability for the MTA budget, and it assumes that four key components will meet current expectations: continued receipt of dedicated taxes as projected, continued success of the MTA’s savings initiatives, three years of net zero labor cost increases, and continuation of biennial fare and toll increases.

[...]

The budget assumes that MTA cost control initiatives will save $870 million in 2013, and the public will be contributing nearly $382 million in increased fare and toll revenue. The budget depends on the MTA’s partners in labor contributing as well, by agreeing to three years of net zero labor cost increases, which will contribute $227 million toward the MTA’s bottom line in the 2013 budget. Raises would still be possible for unionized employees, but they would need to be offset by changes to costly work rules or increases to employee health care contributions.

The MTA continues by listing all the measures it has taken to control costs and new steps it is taking. They make it appear that the MTA is doing everything possible to operate more efficiently and the rest is up to the unions, the government and the public.

How The MTA Is Not Being Honest

The first sign is that the MTA refers to its restoration of one-third of the 2010 service cutbacks by calling them “Service Investments” not service restorations. They are trying to make it appear that additional service is being added. While this may be true for a few routes the MTA has hinted at creating, it is not true for the vast number of “investments” which are not investments at all.

The second sign is that the MTA does not mention any areas where more efficiency is needed, such as the need to reduce the costs of paratransit. Most paratransit users use it as a last resort. I really doubt the offering of free rides on regular transit will reduce paratransit demand in any great numbers. Why is it that the MTA switched from private automobiles to vans and most vans still carry single occupants rather than multiple riders? Couldn’t paratransit trips be scheduled more efficiently with more combining of trips? The MTA makes it appear that they are currently doing everything possible to improve efficiency. But are they?

As I have written many times, bus bunching on virtually every route, which involves more than 30 percent of all buses, needs to be brought under control through better scheduling and dispatching. A near empty bus following an overcrowded one highlights the inefficiency of the bus service being provided. Can’t more steps be taken to avoid this? Buses should not arrive and leave their terminals bunched. The MTA continues to blame traffic as the entire cause of bunching and the press release does not recognize the MTA’s role in controlling it or if it plans to use Bus Time, scheduled to be implemented in Brooklyn by the end of 2013, to greatly reduce bunching.

If the MTA could control bus bunching, perhaps up to 25 percent of bus service could be reallocated to service underserved areas where many rely on car services. That would provide additional revenue to the MTA, making it more efficient.

The MTA assumes the union will agree to a zero cost increase for three years, which is very unlikely. They state that non-represented wages have been frozen since 2008. They do not state that as soon as the fare increase goes into effect, that will no longer be the case, that MTA non-represented employees will be rewarded, probably with three, four or five percent increases as has been the case prior to 2008.

Conclusion

Former MTA Chairman Jay Walder was the first MTA chairman to admit that the MTA is inefficient. Hr took the first steps to correct that by cutting managerial positions. He was forced into doing that and cutting service because of reduced state funding. Lhota took a first small step in the right direction by announcing some service restorations. Omitted from the press release is what the MTA still needs to do to better serve the public. Improving customer service, being more honest and responsive and improving service to underserved areas head that list.

What is so difficult in announcing which train will depart first when two trains going to the same destination arrive on different tracks? Watch this video embedded in this New York Times article. This is a situation that need never occur if the MTA cared about its passengers, and one that doesn’t cost money to change.

Demand exists for bus service in underserved areas and to destinations not adequately served currently and at affordable fares. This is evidenced by the demand created by recently discontinued bus service to Chinatown. The MTA is now first hinting that there is demand not currently served. When the MTA recognizes all the areas not adequately served, and takes steps to correct that situation by restructuring the entire bus system, not merely making band-aid changes, they then will have truly turned around. Joe Lhota, are you reading this?

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).

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.

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  • sonicboy678

    The problem at Herald Square also plagues many 2 and 5 trains, unfortunately.
    Although much work will have to be accomplished (I also hope that Joe’s listening and reading this), reinvesting in cut services and adding new services will be more likely to encourage people to use the cheap public transportation. Remember that traffic is not the only cause for bus and subway bunching; rookies, slowpokes, and bad dispatchers will also create bunching and discourage use of services. In cases of bottlenecks around areas like Herald Square, the Rogers Avenue Junction, and much of BMT Canarsie Line, alert people more clearly about which trains leave first and where they’re headed to minimize confusion, frustration, and the delays that come with them.

    • Flatbush Depot

      How would telling people which train will leave first help them on the Canarsie line, except at the terminals where, I assume, they already notify people which train is leaving first?

      I think the reason why they might not want to indicate which Flatbush train is leaving first at Franklin is that they do not want the people running across the platform from the trailing train to the leading train, because this could increase the dwell time just a tad too much, which could delay the common-track followers of the leading train.

      For example if the (5) (the leading train in this case) will go through Rogers JCT before the (2) (the trailing train in this case) and the passengers on the (2) are notified of this, they might try running across to take the (5). If the (5) conductor has difficulty closing the doors quickly and there is a (4) (the common-track follower of the leading train in this case) right on his/her tail outside Franklin, there is a problem as the delays could keep on cascading. The Lex is delayed quite a bit as it is. Every second counts, especially on the IRT lines with their tight headways.

      IINM this is why a (B) can sit in the station at 59-CC waiting for the (D) to go through 56 St JCT (even if the (B) gets there first) while at Franklin they must keep it moving, especially during rush hours, and as a result the trains always exit the station ASAP even if it means one has to wait in the tunnel for the other to go through at the switch. It is easier for trains to sit in stations in BMT/IND land than in IRT land because BMT/IND trains are less frequent. It may also have to do with how close the merging point (the switch) is to the station. The further away the merging point, the more likely it is that the trailing train will wait for the merge of the leading train in the tunnel beyond the station rather than in the station, since the tracks/track circuits/signal blocks (you may know this already, but in case you did not it is the distance between two signals, which can only be occupied by one train at a time and does not necessarily have to be an entire train length) need to be cleared as quickly as possible for common-track followers. If the merging point is very close to the front of the station, there is no point to moving both trains out of the station as they will not get very far and most likely MTA has accounted for this by synchronizing the signal at the front of the platform with the switches at the merging point.

      For the reasons I described in the third paragraph it might be best not to notify people which train will go first at HSQ, since an express will always have to merge with a local for the trip northbound. Now it probably would make sense to notify the people since it is just the (N) merging with the (R) to go up the local track, but after SAS phase I is complete and the (W) returns, as it most likely will (see other post), it might be best not to. I am not sure how close the merging point at HSQ is to the station though. I am guessing that the trailing train usually sits at the station with the doors open there while waiting for the leading train to go thru 38 St JCT? If that is the case, then it makes sense to tell the people which train will go first regardless of whether the (W) is running. If not, then the issue might be better left alone.

      • sonicboy678

        The Canarsie Line point was made in terms of how easily it gets delayed AND that you can’t always tell if the next train is being short-turned at Myrtle-Wyckoff. As for stuff like the Rogers Avenue Junction, it’s really to try to help those already standing on the platform at Franklin Avenue.

  • Flatbush Depot

    Exactly which services does Transportation Alternatives want back? We know perfectly well that not everything (read: B37) needs to be restored. I could see the M8, M9, B39, and perhaps the B51, although the B39 does get stuck in an awful lot of traffic on the bridge, but what else do they want? Anybody who wants the Bx20 the way it was before the cuts does not know what is good for them or for the majority of Riverdale residents.

    The pre-2010 (V) does not need to return, point-blank. The (M) is doing an excellent job right now. The (W) was helpful in that it gave Astoria folk a one-seat ride to Lower Manhattan, which they no longer have except during overnight hours when it is less important, and in that it mitigated merges, merging delays, and switch problems (this happened today around Prince St where the (N) switches tracks, causing the southbound (N) trains to have to run via Lower Manhattan and has not yet been fixed according to MTA’s site, and these switches would not be in use if the (W) were running).

    It may not happen as soon as people would like, but once SAS phase 1 is finally complete the (W) will have to return since the (Q) will be an SAS line and the merging delays shall be minimized once again.

    • Allan Rosen

      I was just quoting from the article which stated they want everything just as before.  I did not state that I agree with their position. 

      • Flatbush Depot

        Was not saying you agreed. I was just saying my piece.

        This is a response to one of the things you wrote in response to @Andrew_J_C:disqus: As for announcing which train will leave first, my belief remains that you may be able to do it in certain situations, but as I explained to @266c9f22baa38d698e89d296e81d532b:disqus, I know of at least one (Franklin Ave IRT) where it probably would not be a great idea. In that case, I would definitely say 15 seconds are too much since basically every second counts on the IRT, especially the Lex.

        For other cases, aside from 59-CC IND, I am not quite as sure.

        • BrooklynBus

          It is not a good idea when both trains are very crowded or late. There is no reason not to make an announcement when the trains are not crowded because few would be transferring.

          • Flatbush Depot

            Yes, as long as the common-track follower of the leading train (the one to leave first) is not right on its tail. No problem during off-hours IMO

      • Flatbush Depot

        Wanted to write this in the other post:

        You made a good point that the announcement needs to be made before the train arrives. In cases where the trains absolutely have to keep moving as much as possible in order to clear the tracks/track circuits/signal blocks for their followers ASAP, the extra dwell time that might be incurred should not exceed about five seconds in my opinion. Even that may be too much though. Trains be all on top of each other at Franklin during rush hours.

        I keep on referring to the situation at Franklin Ave IRT only because that is where the worst-case scenarios occur due to the service frequency. Although Herald Sq may have a similar situation as far as frequency goes since the (Q) EXP trains that go to Astoria must merge with the (N)(R) LCL trains. (After SAS it will likely be the (N) EXP merging with the (R)(W) LCL).

  • Yoytu

    At least they are restoring.

  • Andrew

    The service restorations represent only one-third of the service that was lost. Transportation Alternatives is not satisfied. They want all lost service returned and for Governor Andrew Cuomo to stop the fare hike.

    Then Transportation Alternatives should find the money for that, because the MTA doesn’t have it.

    The MTA continues by listing all the measures it has taken to control costs and new steps it is taking. They make it appear that the MTA is doing everything possible to operate more efficiently and the rest is up to the unions, the government and the public.

    You can infer what you want to infer, but that isn’t what the press release implies.

    At some point, though, the law of diminishing returns steps in. Trying to find all of the needed funds from efficiencies simply won’t work.

    Here’s an efficiency idea that would probably be more effective than all of the others combined: have the same person open and close the train doors and operate the train. That’s the way almost every system around the world works, including systems older than ours, busier than ours, and with longer trains than ours.

    The first sign is that the MTA refers to its restoration of one-third of the 2010 service cutbacks by calling them “Service Investments” not service restorations. They are trying to make it appear that additional service is being added. While this may be true for a few routes the MTA has hinted at creating, it is not true for the vast number of “investments” which are not investments at all.

    Of the 32 items listed as NYCT service investments, 17 are restorations and 15 are not. “Vast number” is usually not used to mean 53%.

    The second sign is that the MTA does not mention any areas where more efficiency is needed, such as the need to reduce the costs of paratransit. Most paratransit users use it as a last resort. I really doubt the offering of free rides on regular transit will reduce paratransit demand in any great numbers. Why is it that the MTA switched from private automobiles to vans and most vans still carry single occupants rather than multiple riders? Couldn’t paratransit trips be scheduled more efficiently with more combining of trips? The MTA makes it appear that they are currently doing everything possible to improve efficiency. But are they?

    This is rich. There have clearly been efforts to improve Access-a-Ride efficiency. You deny this fact while simultaneously denigrating one of the MTA’s efforts to improve Access-a-Ride efficiency.

    As I have written many times, bus bunching on virtually every route, which involves more than 30 percent of all buses, needs to be brought under control through better scheduling and dispatching. A near empty bus following an overcrowded one highlights the inefficiency of the bus service being provided. Can’t more steps be taken to avoid this? Buses should not arrive and leave their terminals bunched. The MTA continues to blame traffic as the entire cause of bunching and the press release does not recognize the MTA’s role in controlling it or if it plans to use Bus Time, scheduled to be implemented in Brooklyn by the end of 2013, to greatly reduce bunching.

    As I’ve already said, service reliability and efficiency are entirely different goals. They are both worthy goals, but they’re not the same thing, and programs to improve reliability are not going to appear on a list of efficiency improvements.

    As I’ve also already said, service reliability is a problem that all transit agencies have to cope with, some with greater success than others.

    BusTime will be used to improve reliability (and to help riders adapt to unreliability, which can never be completely eradicated). Increased use of bus lanes, and camera enforcement, will help make bus service less prone to traffic delays – unfortunately, the state is not permitting the use of camera enforcement on non-SBS routes, limiting the benefit to a few corridors.

    If the MTA could control bus bunching, perhaps up to 25 percent of bus service could be reallocated to service underserved areas where many rely on car services. That would provide additional revenue to the MTA, making it more efficient.

    Bus frequencies are determined by the average load over a period of time (probably an hour or a half hour). Unbunching buses yields better service but it doesn’t trigger service reductions, since the same riders are still riding, they’re just distributed differently from bus to bus. (On the contrary, if better service attracts more riders, it potentially triggers service increases.)

    (As an aside, public transit is not the best way to provide for every possible trip. There’s nothing wrong with car services.)

    The MTA assumes the union will agree to a zero cost increase for three years, which is very unlikely.

    The Citizens Budget Commission disagrees.

    They state that non-represented wages have been frozen since 2008. They do not state that as soon as the fare increase goes into effect, that will no longer be the case, that MTA non-represented employees will be rewarded, probably with three, four or five percent increases as has been the case prior to 2008.

    Strange assumption, considering that non-represented wages didn’t go up with the 2009 or 2010 fare increases.

    Frankly, though, after four years, I certainly hope non-represented employees do get a raise. Refusing to give raises for five years straight sends a clear message to the employees that they’re not valued. The best and brightest will find jobs elsewhere.

    What is so difficult in announcing which train will depart first when two trains going to the same destination arrive on different tracks? Watch this video embedded in this New York Times article. This is a situation that need never occur if the MTA cared about its passengers, and one that doesn’t cost money to change.

    If announcements like that were generally made, the first train to leave would have to wait in the station an extra half-minute or more as the second train emptied out and its passengers walked across to the first train – and that would obviously also delay the second train. Everybody who was already on the first train has now been delayed. Everybody waiting for the train further up the line has now been delayed, and the first train to come will be very crowded. If there’s any degree of congestion behind the two trains, then the third and fourth and fifth trains are also delayed.

    While appearing to be passenger-friendly, in fact it would delay many more passengers than it would benefit. Sometimes, being nice to one group of people ends up hurting a far greater number of people.

    Demand exists for bus service in underserved areas and to destinations not adequately served currently and at affordable fares. This is evidenced by the demand created by recently discontinued bus service to Chinatown. The MTA is now first hinting that there is demand not currently served. When the MTA recognizes all the areas not adequately served, and takes steps to correct that situation by restructuring the entire bus system, not merely making band-aid changes, they then will have truly turned around. Joe Lhota, are you reading this?

    Not every market is best served by a transit agency. Transit agencies do well when there’s a strong market for a frequent local service, preferably all day long. Irregular and longer-distance services are typically better operated by private entities, which aren’t required to uphold predetermined service standards, don’t have predetermined fares, and have far more flexibility in setting driver salaries and work schedules. 

    Restructuring the entire bus system is overkill. It’s expensive, and a small mistake can inadvertently leave people stranded. Making a handful of changes at a time, as the budget permits, is a better way to go.

    • sonicboy678


      Here’s an efficiency idea that would probably be more effective than all of the others combined: have the same person open and close the train doors and operate the train. That’s the way almost every system around the world works, including systems older than ours, busier than ours, and with longer trains than ours. ”
      Yeah, not happening. Do you even realize that it would also give the MTA reason to operate trains at half-lengths? The MTA’s already doing that on the G and shuttles. It works for shuttles because they need few trains and can operate with decent headways, but the G is too long, too high in demand, and too forgotten to make OPTO (One-Person Train Operation) practical. Do you realize that it takes some time to open the doors without the program? Do you realize that OPTO has limits placed on it? Do you realize that the MTA would come under more fire for that? Or are you so hopped up on whatever that you can’t see this?

  • Allan Rosen

    “Then Transportation Alternatives should find the money for that, because the MTA doesn’t have it.”
     
    They could have had more money if they used the Federal stimulus money to restore service instead of for non-transportation uses related to the Fulton Transit Center. http://suite101.com/article/a-boiling-cauldron-new-yorkers-have-had-enough-of-the-mta-a410514 
     
    “Trying to find all of the needed funds from efficiencies simply won’t work.”
     
    Service cuts are just self defeating because less people ride and revenues are further reduced which leads to more service cuts.  Service needs to be rearranged where it is inefficient, not cut. If they wasted less, they would have more and they waste plenty.  I saw waste everyday when I worked for them.  You only know what you read.
     
    “Of the 32 items listed as NYCT service investments, 17 are restorations and 15 are not. “Vast number” is usually not used to mean 53%.”
     
    The investments are mostly minor, while the restorations are far more significant.  Providing hourly overnight service costs the MTA peanuts as does route extensions of several blocks.  You can’t simply count the numbers to determine significance.
     
    “There have clearly been efforts to improve Access-a-Ride efficiency.”
     
    Name a few.
     
    “(On the contrary, if better service attracts more riders, it potentially triggers service increases.)”
     
    And do you consider that a good or bad thing since more service would increase the MTA’s deficit?
     
    “As an aside, public transit is not the best way to provide for every possible trip. There’s nothing wrong with car services.)”
     
    You are right about the first sentence but wrong about the second one.  When a trip half way across a borough costs $25, or $50 from one end of the borough to the other, or more between boroughs, there is plenty wrong with car services, because most people cannot afford to pay that, especially on a regular basis. 
     
    “If announcements like that were generally made, the first train to leave would have to wait in the station an extra half-minute or more as the second train emptied out and its passengers walked across to the first train – and that would obviously also delay the second train. ”
     
    False assumptions.  If the announcements were made before the trains open the doors, the delay would not exceed 15 seconds unless one of the trains is filled to capacity. Also, the train would not empty out because not everyone is in a hurry. Most would not give up a seat to save two minutes.  If both trains have seats in most cars, there is no reason not to make an announcements.  If one or both are late, or the first one is already overcrowded, then I can see not making an announcement.
     
    “As I’ve also already said, service reliability is a problem that all transit agencies have to cope with, some with greater success than others.”
     
    Do other agencies routinely run buses bunched when they are scheduled for 20 minute headways and there is little traffic?
     
    “Restructuring the entire bus system is overkill. It’s expensive, and a small mistake can inadvertently leave people stranded. Making a handful of changes at a time, as the budget permits, is a better way to go.”
     
    Where did I say it has to be done all at once? (Thanks again for putting words in my mouth.) A handful at a time does make for sense, but not when you study a one mile extension for 5 years, as the MTA did with the B83 extension and many others. At that pace, it would take several hundred to restructure the entire system and when completed, another one would be then necessary.
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

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