MTA Should Buy Two City Bridges For $1 Each….

Earlier this afternoon I wrote about the initial Ravitch Commission hearing that was held at NYU. I mainly focused on the main sentiments that are shared by many transit advocates throughout the region. However at this hearing former Transportation Commissioner Louis Riccio proposed an idea he called “congestion pricing lite”. The idea called for the MTA to buy the Manhattan & Williamsburg Bridges from the city for $1 each. New York Daily News transit reporter Pete Donohue has more in his report:

Hey, MTA, wanna buy a bridge … or two?

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority should purchase the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges from the city for $1 each – and impose tolls, a former city official urged.

Ex-Transportation Commissioner Louis Riccio called his concept “congestion pricing lite” because other East River crossings would remain free.

“We’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars that could be found for the MTA,” Riccio testified yesterday at a Manhattan hearing of the state Commission on MTA Financing.

The commission, formed by Gov. Paterson and chaired by Richard Ravitch, is expected to release in December a report recommending how state and local officials can address a burgeoning transportation crisis.

The MTA’s bus and subway system is bursting at the seams. It’s facing huge gaps in its operating and capital budgets. The city’s population, according to some experts, will grow by 1 million over the next decade or so.

Riccio said he believes his scheme wouldn’t require approval by either the state Legislature or City Council because the MTA is authorized by its charter to buy “transit facilities” and impose tolls. The Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges support subway lines and can be considered transit facilities, he said.

Click here to read the complete report.

I’m sorry but I can’t support any sort of plan which is finding a way to replicate parts of the ridiculous & shortsighted congestion pricing plan. While this is considered a “lite” version of the original plan, it still unfairly attempts to “Rob Peter to pay Paul” & that is not the way to go about doing things. I also can’t picture the city going for this especially since Mayor Bloomberg has lashed out at the proposal (more on that in the next entry).

This idea does not seem to be going over well based on the responses to the Daily News Article as most are against the idea. While I can understand the sentiment against the idea, I am concerned about the attitude of some towards any possible ideas. The attitude or thinking displayed by responder “streetz” who said:

I am with you, Dave P. Famous, I live 10 minutes from lower Mahattan. I want to jump on one of those free bridges, run to the city, and come right home. I dont give a hoot about the bus service in Rockland, nor Bridgeport, nor Fiji for that matter. All that equates to, is a free ride from the suburbs at my time and expense (wait times and tolls).

For people, most of whom have the money and cars to make the trips in other ways. Their trips dont even entail the use of the east river crossings. How ill is that? You must be crazy to think the people of Bklyn, Queens and LI want to subsidize Suburban express trains, and rising MTA pensions and salaries. Thats the real issue. Free rides for suburbanites, and clears streets for Manhattans’ richest, all at the expense of the working class of bk, queens, and western LI.

is concerning as it is nothing but a detriment towards the goal of better mass transit. How are things supposed to change when people can’t grasp the concept of how a properly funded & operated transit infrastructure benefits everyone? The fight continues on…….

xoxo Transit Blogger

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LIRR To Rebuild Atlantic Avenue Viaduct

I just literally received a press release from the LIRR to announce their $93.4 million dollar project to rebuild the Altantic Avenue Viaduct. Here is the release:

$93.4 MILLON PROJECT TO BE DONE ON WEEKENDS TO MINIMIZE IMPACT ON TRAIN CUSTOMERS AND BROOKLYN NEIGHBORHOODS

MTA Long Island Rail Road President Helena E. Williams announced today that the Atlantic Avenue Viaduct, which carries LIRR customers between Jamaica and Downtown Brooklyn, is about to undergo a major rehabilitation.

The 16-month project is the first of a two-phase plan to overhaul the viaduct with the work to be conducted on weekends only.

“Our goal is to restore this much traveled and critical stretch of Railroad infrastructure to a state of good repair and extend the service life of the viaduct to ensure safe and reliable service to our customers and the public,” said Williams. “We will achieve this with an absolute minimum amount of inconvenience to riders and to the surrounding Brooklyn neighborhoods.”

Work is scheduled to begin October 25, on the replacement of girders, beams and bracing as well as the upper portion of street columns supporting the structure. Built in 1901, the viaduct stretches about a mile and a half from Ralph Avenue to Nostrand Avenue, supported by 199 individual steel spans each of which are about 10 feet apart.

Phase I is scheduled for completion in January 2010 at a cost of $93.4 million. It will involve the replacement of 81 spans between Ralph Avenue and Troy Avenue and six spans between Kingston Avenue and Brooklyn Avenue. Work will progress east to west over approximately 36 weekends to minimize the impact on train travel and local street traffic. The LIRR will maintain normal train service throughout the project, at times operating on a single track.

In 2007, more than 25,000 customers traveled the line each weekday and another 16,000 on the weekend.

The project will require temporary street lane and intersection closures and traffic will be guided toward alternative routes to avoid construction areas. To ensure the safety of pedestrians and motorists, the city’s Department of Transportation has agreed to provide Traffic Enforcement Agents at key locations as required.

Preparatory work will take place Monday through Friday. Demolition and replacement work will be done in 49-hour windows on weekends (including overnight) with tracks fully operable by Monday morning rush hour.

In addition to the replacement of the steel spans, new track will be installed along with new center and outer walkways. The viaduct will also receive a fresh coat of paint.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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MTA Wants NYFD & NYPD To Pay Tolls

We all know the MTA’s finances are in the toilet. They are looking at each & every way to try & bring in extra revenue. The MTA Board feels they have come up with a good idea which calls for the NYFD & NYPD to pay tolls on all official duty travels, which at the current time is waived by the authority. Pete Donohue of the New York Daily News has more in his report:

A budget war has broken out between the city and the MTA over bridge and tunnel tolls. The MTA wants the Police, Fire and other city departments to pay tolls now waived by the authority.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority board is expected to vote this month on a resolution requiring payments for all official-duty travel, including firefighters responding to fires and police responding to calls for assistance.

“It’s an underhanded attempt to increase the city’s already large subsidy of the MTA by charging the city for responding to emergencies or performing other essential services,” mayoral spokesman Marc La Vorgna said.

Both the MTA and city have budget gaps rooted in the economic downturn highlighted again this week by the collapse of major Wall Street firms. The MTA has been hit hard by lower tax revenues and high fuel prices and is proposing another fare hike for next year.

Click here for the complete report.

This is a very interesting proposal that I can see will get a flame war (no pun intended) going. I see both sides of the issue here as good points can be made for them. On one hand the MTA’s finances are in terrible shape & are at a point that they could be too much to overcome. So if the agency can bring in money on tolls why not waive what is a luxury at the moment.

On the other hand I can understand the point of how this action could be considered dangerous. In the case of an emergency where every second could be the difference between life & death, the time spent dealing with toll payments could easily come into play.

I have to think about this one for a bit before sharing an opinion. I will keep an eye on this battle as I imagine it will make for some interesting times.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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Initial Hearing Messages Are The Same But That Is Just Fine

Eleven days ago I posted an entry about the initial 3 Ravitch Commission hearings that have been scheduled. The news was first broke by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. Speaking of the TSTC, they were in attendance at the first meeting which took at NYU this past Monday. Here is a small press release about it from the Empire State Transportation Alliance which the TSTC is a member of.

Leading transportation, environmental and labor groups warned today that New York faced major fare hikes, and cuts in transit service and vital repairs unless new City and State aid is raised to address the MTA’s “titanic” financial problems.

The warning came at the first public hearing of the State Commission on MTA Financing. The Commission – appointed by Governor David Paterson and headed by former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch – is charged with recommending ways to meet the MTA’s financial needs over the next ten years. Its report is due out by December 5th.

In July, the MTA officially announced major operating deficits in its $6 billion operating budgets for 2009 and 2010. The deficits are caused in large part by declining tax revenues in a bad economy; rising fuel costs; and the impact of years of massive borrowing to finance badly needed repairs.

The agency’s enormous debt has made the MTA the fifth largest debtor in the U.S., behind only three other states and New York City.

The MTA has also proposed cutting $2.7 billion from its five- year, $14.7 billion core capital program – nearly a fifth of its current efforts to bring the subways, buses and commuter lines to a state of good repair. The cuts include rehabilitating 19 fewer subway stations and $336 million in fans to clear smoke in emergencies.

The agency faces a shortfall of more than $17 billion in its 2010-2014 capital program.

Click here for the complete release.

The testimony in Monday’s hearings came from the transit advocates & workers one would expect. The messages delivered were not new & some might be tired of hearing them but until changes are made, they must be repeated. I feel two specific comments summed it up best with the first coming from co-chairman of the Empire State Transportation Alliance, Kevin Corbett:

Failure to make the necessary investments in the critical transportation infrastructure would severely hamper New York’s economic viability. We simply can’t allow this to happen.

The second comment came from executive director of Transportation Alternatives, Paul S. White who said:

The MTA’s problem is clear: The City and State have inadequately funded mass transit for years. The formula for funding mass transportation should be changed.

These two comments are feelings I & many other transit advocates/bloggers have stated for ages now. We all know our system is in dire shape physically. The scary part is as bad of shape as it is in, one could argue it is even in worse shape financially. Think about that for a second & then take in this starling fact posted in the TSTC’s entry I linked to:

The agency’s enormous debt has made the MTA the fifth largest debtor in the U.S., behind only three other states and New York City.

Take a minute or two & just think about that statement. I sat at my desk for a couple of minutes & just let that fact soak in when I first read it. If that statement alone does not get you worried about our transit infrastructure, then you truly don’t give a damn about it & have no right to complain about it.

While it is easy for the masses to blame the MTA for this, it is clearly not just on them. As much as I call them out on their wrongs or rights, they are not the main parties responsible for this. The people responsible are the same elected officials who continue to shortchange the MTA as everything else has to be more important that our transit infrastructure. If it is not those types, it is the officials who say the right things about giving the MTA’s its fair share but when push comes to shove, they run out of bounds a yard or two short of the first down marker or end zone.

The years of financial abuse under the Pataki or more correctly named Paturkey regime have helped lead the MTA to the brink of financial disaster. Now the Ravitch Commission must come up with ways to save the day & even if they come up with ideas, we are not guaranteed to be saved. It seems pretty evident that one of the suggestions will be congestion pricing & we all know that this stands no chance of getting implemented.

Many advocates/bloggers will then start the rally cry that the yet again failed proposal was the answer to our problems & our officials will get blamed again. While I am one of the first to call them out for their purposeful mishandling of MTA funding, this is the one time they would be right. The obsession with the fall back crutch known as congestion pricing needs to end. As I have said for months, all that plan does is become the modern version of “Robbing Peter to pay Paul”. This also would let officials off the hook for their lack of proper funding of our transit infrastructure.

The right thing to do would be to force their hands & have them provide the money they should have all along without passing the buck to fellow commuters albeit via auto instead of mass transit. I sincerely hope that the Ravitch Commission has some aces up their sleeves & are not banking on a fall back crutch. We all know that crutches tend to bend & break easily when put under a lot of pressure or stress. The future of our transit infrastructure is at stake & that is way too much pressure for a fall back crutch or band-aid solution. The time has come for real solutions & real results. If our elected officials can’t finally understand this, then we might be in to deep to make it back.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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Rider Report Cards Are Back

One of the biggest topics covered on this blog last year was the “Rider Report Cards” which the MTA, more specifically NYC Transit used as a way to see how riders felt about their specific line. As you recall I brought the best coverage of the report cards from every angle. Well it is time to dust off those pencils & pens or even keyboards & get ready to grade your line as the 2008 Rider Report Cards are on their way. In a press release that was sent to me yesterday morning, NYC Transit discusses this year’s report cards while announcing the 7 train would be the first line graded.

In our continuing effort to solicit feedback from our customers, MTA New York City Transit is again distributing Rider Report Cards throughout the system. Flushing 7 Line riders are the first of NYC Transit’s over 5 million daily subway riders asked to rate the progress of their line since the initial round of report cards was distributed in July, 2007.

The report cards are being distributed to riders during the morning rush hours over four days between today, Tuesday, September 16th and Friday, September 19th. The cards will be handed out at several different stations along the line each day over the four-day period. Grades will be used to identify how much improvement has been identified by 7 Line customers.

Again, the Rider Report Card will ask our subway customers to grade 21 specific areas of service from an A (Excellent) to an F (Unsatisfactory). Among the areas riders will grade include: car and station cleanliness, safety, security, quality of announcements, and the courtesy and helpfulness of front line customer service staff. Riders will also assign an overall grade for 7 service. From this list of 21 service attributes, riders are also going to be asked to rank the top three improvements they would like to see made to the line.

“In distributing the first Rider Report Cards we were seeking to determine a baseline of how our customers viewed our service. Now, we want to determine how far we have come. We have worked hard to improve service and aesthetics and, in the cases of the 7 and L, we restructured the management system to make it more immediately responsive to our riders.” said NYC Transit President Howard H. Roberts, Jr.”

The Rider Report Card is once again being distributed in a mailer format, designed to be returned at no cost to the rider. Customers will also have the option of completing the survey on-line, on the MTA website at www.mta.info, where it will be available in 3 languages: English, Spanish and Chinese. From the time the survey begins, riders will have two weeks to mail in their response or to complete the survey online.

Rider Report Card results are posted on line for riders to review once they have been tabulated.

Report cards are being distributed between 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. at each station. The schedule for distribution of Rider Report Cards along the 7 line is as follows:

• Today, Tuesday, September 16th – Times Square/42nd Street

• Wednesday, September 17th – 5th Avenue, Grand Central/42nd Street, Vernon Blvd./Jackson Avenue and Hunters Point Avenue

• Thursday, September 18th – 45th Road/Courthouse Square, Queensboro Plaza, 33/Rawson Streets, 40/Lowery Streets, 46/Bliss Streets, 52 Street, Woodside/61 Street, and 69 Street

• Friday, September 19th – 74th Street/Broadway, 82 Street/Jackson Heights, 90 Street/Elmhurst Avenue, Junction Blvd., 103 Street/Corona Plaza, 111 Street, Willets Point/Shea Stadium, and Flushing/Main Street

I urge all readers to let their voices be heard if you really want changes made. I am curious how the grades will come out considering many of the proposed changes have yet to take place due to financial reasons. If I was forced to venture a guess, I think we will see a lot of repeat grades from 2007. The best barometer will be after any & all proposed service changes based on the card’s feedback are in place. This is when we will really see how much things have changed. Either way, I still want all of you to fill out cards for the lines you ride.

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