Archive for the tag 'joseph j lhota'

Source: Metro Transportation Library and Archive/Flickr

THE COMMUTE: Last week in Part 1, I briefly summarized the MTA’s “Looking Ahead: A Context for the Next Twenty Year Needs Assessment” and stated that the MTA’s reaction to changing needs is disappointing.  I stated this because many of the transit problems and problems with the MTA I have highlighted here during the past three years are not being addressed, presumably because the MTA still does not recognize them as problems.

Most importantly, the problem of inadequate and outdated bus routes that have not kept up with land use changes during the past 70 years, which I have mentioned numerous times, and has been recognized by others such as Transportation Alternatives, is totally omitted.  There is also no mention of improving reliability on local bus routes, another major problem. The MTA apparently believes that the local bus system operates just fine, except that perhaps it is a little slow, so their primary strategy to fix the bus system involves ramming through dozens of new Select Bus Service (SBS) routes. These routes help some but has been overrated and also makes travel more difficult for seniors since bus stops are spaced further apart. For many, using an SBS and transferring to a local bus will mean paying an extra fare. Presumably, occasionally adding a new bus route or extension at 30-minute headways, as they have been doing this year, is deemed sufficient for the next 20 years, although there is no mention of even the need to update bus routes or the need to do any system-wide studies.

The MTA recognizes that travel to the Manhattan Central Business District (CBD) is becoming less important with intra-borough travel and inter-borough travel increasing over the next 20 years.  Yet no mention is made about studying new express bus routes between major urban centers like Flushing and Jamaica, or building off-street bus terminals or even new bus depots. Improving airport access to areas such as southern Brooklyn, which is totally deficient, is also something that needs study and is omitted.

Also, there is no mention of the need to study a new fare structure, such as a time-based fare, or the need to re-examine any aspect of the fare policy such as the refund policy for unused LIRR tickets, which now include a hefty penalty, extending the time that tickets can be used (which I believe now is only two weeks, having been reduced from six months), lowering intra-city LIRR fares, and integrating all MTA fares such as allowing free transfers between LIRR and buses and subways. It also omits adding new subway and bus fare options, such as greater discounts for prepaying for longer than 30 days, offering discounts for groups such as families using the same MetroCard or reinstituting discontinued options such as a biweekly pass, a one-day pass, etc.  The only mention of the fare relates to adding new subway transfers as if that is the only problem with the fare. There isn’t even a specific plan to replace the MetroCard that the MTA eventually intends to phase out.

Subjects that are Mentioned

Even the topics that the MTA does mention leaves much to be desired. For example, in “Overcome Subway Capacity Obstacles,” it is unclear whether “Nostrand Junction” refers to constraints at the terminal stop at the Flatbush/Nostrand Junction or the junction at Rogers Avenue and Eastern Parkway, where the Nostrand Avenue line diverges (also called “Rogers Junction”).  If it is the latter, the MTA promised to alleviate that congestion point in the 1970s and it has never been done. So why should anyone believe that it will be done within the next 20 years due to the MTA’s misplaced priorities, such as providing Wi-Fi services in the subways, which is considered more important than reassessing off-peak subway crowding guidelines to ensure that riders get seats at midnight?

Under “Optimize the Subway and Bus Network” it is disturbing that the MTA inserts the word “possible” when discussing utilizing under-utilized rights of way, rather than making a firm commitment to study the feasibility of the Tri-boro RX Plan, or Rockaway Line reactivation. That leaves open converting abandoned rights-of-way to busways as suggested by mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, instead of building the Tri-boro RX rail line.  The only possible advantage to a busway would be to operate a dozen routes on it, which would diverge to various destinations providing more direct service, which would never happen due to the high operating costs that would entail.

In the case of removing general traffic lanes for a Woodhaven Boulevard SBS instead of reactivating the Rockaway line, traffic would be greatly increased along the boulevard and surroundings streets. A rail reactivation would make midtown accessible from the Rockaways in 40 minutes, while an SBS along Woodhaven could only shave off 10 or 15 minutes from a two-hour commute.

The word “possibly’ also means perhaps letting valuable rights-of-way continue to rot or convert them to green-ways to enable three-hour bike rides to Manhattan. The MTA recommends completing the full Second Avenue Subway, while recognizing that over the next 20 years travel to the CBD will become less important and non-Manhattan travel will increase. So it is interesting that the word “possible” is not used when discussing the full-length Second Avenue Subway but is used when discussing reactivating unused or under-utilized rights of way, although reactivating those lines would cost approximately $50 million per mile, instead of the $2.3 billion per mile that Second Avenue is costing, with costs escalating every day.

The possibility of building other less costly subway lines during the next 20 years such as the Nostrand Avenue and Utica Avenue extensions are also omitted from the 20-year needs assessment, with the MTA putting all its eggs in one basket, SBS, the panaceas and cure-all for our transportation needs of the next 20 years.


Subways and buses came under the control of the MTA in 1968 to create a regional and unified transportation system. Yet now, more than 40 years later, they have not achieved that goal. On the surface there is one logo and there has been some streamlining. We also have some nice maps of the various systems but little else has been done with the exception of using toll monies to support mass transit.

Manhattan and Bronx Surface Transit Operating Authority (MaBSTOA) and NYCTA have largely been combined and we now have bus-to-bus and bus-subway transfers, but there has been little or no further fare integration between the rails, subways and buses. The LIRR and Metro-North still operate as two totally separate agencies.

Private bus operations have been absorbed into the MTA as the MTA Bus Company, which still operates independently from New York City Transit preventing efficiencies from occurring like reassigning buses to different depots or streamlining bus routes. MTA Long Island Bus (formerly Metropolitan Suburban Bus Authority) was dissolved. Instead of absorbing Suffolk County’s local bus system into the MTA as originally planned, operation of bus service was returned to Nassau County.

Regionalization of transit services is an admirable goal, but since it has largely not occurred more than 40 years after the MTA takeover, there is now talk of returning control of the subways and buses back to the City, which maybe now deserves a closer look.

“Looking Ahead” does not include a word about improving customer service which would include improving signage, announcements, maps, reopening closed subway entrances, changes to subway services, improving coordination between modes, and a willingness to fairly evaluate suggestions from the public rather than just dismiss them, which would result from a change in MTA corporate culture.

During the next 20 years, the MTA has not proposed any further efforts toward regionalization of the system and is showing that in “Looking Ahead” they are still suffering from tunnel vision, not able to see many of the system problems the rest of us see. That includes local bus routes not adequately serving the needs of the residents, some of whom have resorted to using dollar vans. That is a partial reason for “flattening” of bus usage that the MTA cites, the other being fare evasion. The MTA continues to largely ignore both in doing its bus planning. The MTA needs to remove its blinders when “looking ahead.”

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.

No long range planning going on here. Move along, nothing to see here. Source: Museum of Flight

THE COMMUTE: Most of what the MTA does such as day-to-day operations does not make the news. Keeping the system running each day, as imperfect as it is, is a monumental task and the MTA does not receive enough credit for all the good that it does. In fact, other than MTA workers, few realize the complexity of what needs to be done just to maintain the system the way it is, not to mention improving it. Most take for granted all that goes on behind the scenes.

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The mayoral candidates at last Friday’s debate. Photo by Allan Rosen

THE COMMUTE: In Part 1 of this series, I reported on the candidates’ positions regarding major transit issues. In Part 2, I addressed financial issues. Now we will discuss safety, and sum up.

The first half of the conference addressed safety, both for transit employees as well as passengers. It is an issue that has been in the headlines recently and is a major concern for both parties.

The union implied that the number of passengers falling onto the tracks is increasing, stating that four people fell just during the past week. They did not mention their heavily criticized plan to slow down trains to make the subways safer. This issue was also not addressed further by the panelists.

Union officials mentioned that in 2010, there were the most service cuts ever, and also the most incidents of employee assaults. The question asked was: Is there a correlation between the 2010 service cuts and the rise in incidents of employee assaults?

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Attendees at the mayoral candidates forum. Photo by Allan Rosen

THE COMMUTE: In Part 1, with the exception of safety and financing, I reported on the candidates’ positions regarding major transit issues. In this part, we will address financing.


The event was well-attended and the conference was run well, with time limits respected. There were some microphone issues, and the table was barely long enough to accommodate all seven panelists, with Thompson (seated at the far left) remarking about how little table he had.

Comptroller John Liu commented on bus schedules not being realistic.  Although traffic is probably considered in developing schedules, I agree that many schedules are unrealistic. Insufficient consideration is given to heavy passenger loadings and to wheelchairs, both of which delay buses.  If the schedule does not necessarily allow for it, a bus can lose up to 15 minutes or more on a single trip if more than one passenger in a wheelchair needs to be accommodated.

In response to the recent school bus driver strike, the moderator suggested that the MTA take over yellow school bus operations without any mention of the financial ramifications that it would cause. MTA workers are paid much more than school bus drivers and no revenue is obtained from the passengers, so such a move could be detrimental to the MTA’s finances without an increase in the city’s contribution to the MTA.

This was stated as a matter of fact — as something that just needs to be done. No candidate addressed that issue. There was little interaction between the panelists other than a slightly heated discussion between two participants regarding allowing non-medallion taxi street hails.

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The mayoral candidates (seated alphabetically by last name, right to left) at last Friday’s transit debate. Photo by Allan Rosen

THE COMMUTE: Last Friday I attended a discussion held at the City University of New York with mayoral hopefuls Sal Albanese, Tom Allon, Adolpho Carrion (Allon and Carrion are both seeking the Republican nomination), Bill de Blasio, John Liu, Christine Quinn, and Bill Thompson all in attendance. Former MTA Chairman Joe Lhota, also seeking the Republican nomination, was not in attendance. The big question is: Why? This article sheds some light why he was not present.

The candidates answered most of the questions rather than sideswiping the issues, as we all too often see in political debates. One exception was the very first question about groping attacks on women in which the candidates used their time to make their opening remarks instead. The other questions asked of the panel were:

  • Is there a correlation between the 2010 service cuts and the rise in incidents of employee assaults?
  • New York City currently funds mass transit with .2 percent of its budget. As mayor, would you increase that funding amount to one percent?
  • How would you reduce New York City’s carbon footprint?

There was a greater interest in improving and expanding bus service than subway service. Three candidates were in favor of building light rail and only Liu mentioned expanding the subway system in the long term. There was also much interest in ferries and the need to pay more attention to the outer boroughs.

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Source: Antonio Martínez López / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: Last week, I wrote that fewer than 50 people showed up at the Brooklyn fare hike hearing, held the same day as the nor’easter, which possibly explains the low turnout. However, how do you also account for the low turnouts in Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens?

Approximately 120 people, including myself, attended the Manhattan hearing, held in an auditorium that could have accommodated at least 10 times the number of participants. Only approximately 30 attended the Bronx hearing. The Queens hearing was so sparsely attended, that there was a break before the 8:00 p.m. concluding time to allow for more speakers to arrive.

Even the elected officials seemed to boycott these hearings. In the Bronx, only Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz of Riverdale spoke. In the Manhattan, former mayoral aspirant Scott Stringer — who has now decided to enter the race for NYC Comptroller instead — testified. This is a marked contrast to the 2010 service cut hearings, which were so widely attended by the public and elected officials that many intending speakers, such as Community Board 15 Chairperson Theresa Scavo, left after two or three hours waiting their turn. That Brooklyn hearing concluded at 11:30 p.m. So what happened this time?

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Photo by Erica Sherman

THE COMMUTE: If you did not attend the Brooklyn Transit Fare Hike Hearing held at the Marriott Hotel in Downtown Brooklyn last Monday because of the nor’easter, you have another chance. Another hearing will be held in Manhattan tomorrow evening from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. Registration begins at 4:00 p.m. You also can pre-register on line here.

The Brooklyn hearing should have been rescheduled. Seniors and the disabled should not have been expected to brave the nor’easter, especially without full subway service. The MTA did not care, however. Fewer than 50 people showed up, one of the lowest turnouts ever. “I didn’t hear anyone calling for not having the election,” MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota said. “We have to continue. We have to move forward.”

Last week I complimented Chairman Lhota on how well the MTA handled Hurricane Sandy and how well the agency works in times of crises. They were even considerate enough to provide two days of free fares. Well it looks like the crisis is over as far as the MTA is concerned, because it’s back to business as usual. A typically heartless MTA was unconcerned that residents in Sea Gate and Gerritsen Beach, who had lost their homes, had higher priorities than to brave a nor’easter in order to attend a hearing right now.

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Damage wrought to Manhattan’s South Ferry train station, which was completely submerged from the storm surge. Source: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin

THE COMMUTE: It is not too often that I compliment the MTA for a job well done. Regular readers of this column know most of my commentary toward the MTA usually is negative, but not this time. First, they did a tremendous job protecting the equipment from flooding by moving subways and buses to higher ground before the storm, as well as other protective measures to prevent damage to rolling stock and equipment. Then they worked ‘round the clock to remove standing water, clear debris, and check every foot of the system to ensure it was safe for service to return. That certainly was a monumental task. I just hope everyone doesn’t forget the storm in six months when elected officials start crying about MTA overtime. Overtime is not a bad thing in times such as these.

I spent nearly 25 years working for the MTA and saw firsthand what many of the problems were. However, this is not the time to discuss them. Suffice it to say that my co-workers would often compare the MTA, specifically New York City Transit, to a dysfunctional family. Squabbling between departments hinder many tasks from being completed efficiently. Those are during normal times, but not when there is a crisis. During those times, the MTA usually excels.

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Photo by Allan Rosen

Now that the B4 and other bus lines will be restored, you’ll want to ensure you’re not standing at that bus stop forever. To help with that, the city is expanding a GPS-driven program that will keep bus riders posted about real-time arrival estimates.

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