Watch CNN While Waiting For A Train

Lost amidst the recent financial negativity from last Wednesday’s MTA Board Meeting was the announcement of a possible partnership between themselves & CNN. Helen Kennedy of the New York Daily News has the brief story:

Coming soon to a subway platform near you: Wolf Blitzer.

The MTA is exploring a partnership with CNN to install TV screens tuned to the cable news channel at various train and subway stations around the city.

CNN has TV screens in departure lounges in 42 airports. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s pilot program would install TV screens in six stations later this year to see how the idea goes over.

“We haven’t determined the stations yet but we’re thinking of a mix of commuter rail, subway and maybe a bus station,” said MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin.

News, features and sports scores would run on a loop for waiting straphangers. The MTA also could broadcast transit information.

CNN will provide the equipment and the pilot project won’t cost the MTA anything.

If it works out, the MTA hopes to receive significant revenue from the network, which would sell ads on its subway network. “We have 5 million customers per day. That’s a lot of eyeballs,” Soffin said.

In the era of TiVo and DVDs, TV advertisers are desperate to find new captive audiences.

Many New York City cabs have TV screens installed.

In 2005, Atlanta’s MARTA became the first transit system to install flat-screen TVs displaying news and ads with closed captioning.

For starters I applaud the MTA’s initiative to bring better technology to our transit system. I will also applaud them for exploring a partnership that would benefit them overall without having to spend any out of pocket costs. However that is where my applause stops.

While I am for bringing better technology to our system, I question the timing for such initiatives. At a time where they face deficits that can possibly bring the system down, now is not the time to explore partnerships that don’t help with the here & now. The agency’s finances are so bad that any & all initiatives should be focused on getting out of our financial crisis. When the finances start to show improvement then & only then should they look into initiatives that are luxuries as compared to necessities.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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MTA Expects Ridership To Fall Flat In 2009

A few days ago Matthew Sweeney of AMNY had a report about the MTA’s projection for 2009 ridership numbers to fall flat. Here is his report:

After more than a decade of growth in transit ridership, the MTA is predicting that bus and subway straphanger numbers will fall flat in 2009.

Ridership on subways has grown dramatically this year — increasing by more than four percent — as people have run from the rising price of gasoline. The subway crowds have so far more than made up for a slight drop in bus ridership. But the MTA believes that days of increases are soon coming to an end. The MTA is expecting 2.35 billion bus and subway riders this year and 2.34 billion in 2009.

“The leveling off is due to two factors,” said Jeremy Soffin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “We grew more than expected in 2008 due in part to high gas prices and two is the loss of jobs due to the cooling off of the economy.”

The loss of jobs has a direct effect on the numbers of riders. And the agency’s forecasters expect that job losses will outpace any new riders who choose the subway to avoid the high cost of gasoline.

Click here to read his full report.

I happen to agree with the Straphangers Campaign’s Gene Russianoff when he said “I think predicting is a little risky and there are conflicting factors.” How can anyone trust these projections when just a 5 months ago, the MTA was forecasting ridership growth through 2012? I for one do not feel the growth will just fall flat in 2009. I would not be surprised if it did not fall at all. With the cost of driving seeming to become even more of a burden, drivers will continue to flock to mass transit even with fares expected to rise in the near future.

I seriously hope the MTA is not using these projections to make any cuts in service. We already need more service than we currently have so they better not pull any funny business. However this is the MTA we are talking about so funny numbers are just part of the package.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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Subway General Manager Program Coming Soon

Caught in the mess of what has been a really negative amount of press for the MTA was MTA CEO/Executive director announcing plans to have a general manager for each individual subway line. Pete Donohue had the report:

The MTA is gearing up for a major subway management shakeup to improve service on the debt-ridden, delay-plagued system, the Daily News has learned.

This fall, individual lines systemwide are expected to get their own chiefs with broad authority to run them like their own mini-railroads, officials said Tuesday.

Click here to read the full report.

I am not sure why media outlets are acting like this news is new. They announced plans to do this back in December. The initial pilot program was implemented on the 7 & L lines respectively. It was known that if the program went well, it would be implemented on the remaining lines.

I am not going to repeat my opinions on the plan as they can be seen by clicking the link in the above paragraph.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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The Nepotism Continues

A story that has come up a couple of times on this blog was the rerouting of the Q54 to serve the Shops at Atlas Park. Many have felt the reroute was a clear sign of nepotism to benefit MTA Board Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger who happens to be the co-owner & president of ATCO Properties which owns the mall.

However if you thought the initial reroute was a sign of nepotism, wait until you read about how yet another bus is being rerouted to serve the Shops at Atlas Park. Nicholas Hirshon of the New York Daily News has the report:

The MTA will reroute another bus past its chairman’s family-run shopping mall in Queens, defying a community board’s 39-to-1 vote against the switch and marking the second such reroute in just over a year, officials said.

Starting Sept. 1, the Q45 bus – which runs from Jackson Heights to Middle Village – will extend its route about 1.4 miles south to stop at the Shops at Atlas Park in Glendale, co-owned by MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger.

In July 2007, the MTA diverted the Q54 a few blocks off its old path so it, too, could stop at Atlas Park.

Critics charge Hemmerdinger orchestrated both reroutes to benefit the mall – run by his son, Damon – despite nearby residents’ concerns about noise, traffic and pollution.

“This is like sticking it to the people of Glendale,” said Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5. “This is a crazy move that is going to hurt [Atlas Park’s] goodwill with the community even further.”

The board, which plays an advisory role in city government, voted overwhelmingly against the Q45 reroute on June 11.

A month later, on July 11, MTA Bus President Joseph Smith sent a letter to Giordano thanking the board for its input – but announcing the reroute would still go forward.

Dorie Figliola, one of 39 board members who voted against the Q45 switch, figured Dale Hemmerdinger guided it through to boost business at Atlas Park.

“If the shoe fits, I guess you could wear it,” she said. “There’s people in other areas that have been asking for buses … and they can’t get them.”

But MTA Bus spokesman Salvatore Arena denied that Dale Hemmerdinger – confirmed as MTA chief on Oct. 22 – pushed for the bus reroutes.

“The chairman played no role whatsoever in this decision, which we began exploring long before his appointment,” Arena said in an e-mail. “We went ahead with it because it makes good sense as transit policy.”

In Smith’s letter, he defended reroutes past malls as a way to let customers “access these malls and patronize their shops.”

Smith also wrote that MTA Bus “would not make this revision if we thought that it did not provide benefits to the public or results in an inconvenience to our customers.”

Damon Hemmerdinger, the mall’s development director, noted that the MTA dropped its original plan to send the bus to Myrtle Ave. in Ridgewood – six blocks further than Atlas Park.

He said locals preferred the MTA’s eventual choice: a shorter route and the Q45 turning around in Atlas Park. “The final route is the route that the community leadership asked for,” Hemmerdinger said.

The continuous display of nepotism is disgusting. There is no way the MTA could legitimately justify the rerouting of this route. The reroute comes on a line that was just fine playing the role it did without being changed to benefit a mall. This route will not see any increase in ridership towards the mall so when they look over the numbers, I hope they realize that catering to leadership instead of your customers was clearly uncalled for.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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My Thoughts On The Proposed Fare Hikes

As I had mentioned previously, I wanted to attend yesterday’s presentation of the MTA’s financial plan & preliminary budget. Unfortunately due to business appointments in Long Island, I could not make it. However I did take the time to watch the entire board meeting & subsequent presentation live via the MTA’s webcast.

The board meeting in itself did not contain any surprises. I was a little disappointed in Gene Russainoff’s speech during his speaking time. Maybe he was saving the main course for when it really counts. Anyhow the first major observation I picked up on was the tone of some of the board members. I seriously think their financial situation is worse than even they thought it would be considering the circumstances. I was glad to hear them repeatedly state that the idea of cost cutting would not magically make the deficit disappear.

For years many have felt the MTA is clearly at fault for squandering their money away. While these claims have some legitimacy based on past & some current choices, it is obvious that it isn’t the sole reason they face an almost $1 billion dollar budge deficit. All the cost cutting in the world will barely make a dent in the overall deficit. As I have stated on repeated occasions, it is clearly up to the elected officials on all levels to properly fund our transit infrastructure.

Speaking of which I was very disappointed to hear Elliot backpedal when asked if the MTA should hold the elected officials more accountable for properly funding the system. While it might sound wise to say they must determine what would be a fair share, I strongly disagree with the stance. If anything our government should fork over extra to partially make up for all the times they railroaded the agency out of much needed & deserved funding.

Another concern I have is the Ravitch Commission which was setup by current New York Governor David Patterson. I understand the point to this committee & more so what Richard Ravitch accomplished the first time he was called on by the MTA to help in dire financial times. However I get the sense that some expect this commission to magically cook up the recipe to save the day like MacGyver used to do back in the late 80’s to early 90’s.

Looking at the numbers from Elliot’s presentation led me to asking myself the same question. Can a potential fare hike not only next year but in 2011 be averted? I say yes but it isn’t because of the proposed budget tightening from within the MTA itself. It is clearly in the hands of our elected officials who up to this point are unwilling to provide the proper funding to the system that in a way is a key to the overall economy.

What do our elected officials not understand? Our transit infrastructure needs major amounts of funding to keep up with not on a state of good repair but handle the continued growth throughout the tri-state region. If our transit system crumbles, the economy will be the next domino to fall down. If they need any proof of this, go back to the transit strike of 2005 which crippled the city’s transportation system. The local economy took a major hit over that few day period due to our system not moving around the millions of people that it does daily. Now if they thought that was bad, just imagine what our economy will turn to if the system falls in a prolonged period of shambles.

The current funding process is clearly dated & does not serve the best interests of the tri-state area. No longer are the days here where Albany leads New York to greener pastures. Without a strong NYC economy, the state is in a complete bind from all angles. Unfortunately our leaders treat the funding of the MTA the same way the agency does to the G Train, an unwanted stepchild.

Why can’t they realize that something is clearly wrong when the financial health of our transit infrastructure is dependent on a cyclical market such as real estate to determine if it will be a good or bad year financially. This is completely unacceptable in a society where more & more people are turning to mass transit to get from “Point A” to “Point B”. We all hear how putting less cars on the road is good for the environment & how the masses are encouraged to take mass transit. Well if you really feel this way, provide the proper funding to maintain & improve our transit infrastructure. Stop punishing the riders who are doing what you wanted all along!

While I write this, I would like to call attention to Second Avenue Sagas’ own Benjamin Kabak who feels the MTA should double fares. Here is a sample of a few of his points:

Let’s start with an unpopular premise: The fares for the New York City subways are far too low, and they’re kept at low levels artificially by politicians looking to curry favors with voters.

If the MTA were to raise the base fare to $4 and the cost of Unlimited Ride 30-Day MetroCards to $120 — still a meager sum — people would complain, but they would still ride the trains. Under this fare structure, the MTA might make inroads into their budget crisis.

Meanwhile, politicians, falsely claiming populism, opted against congestion pricing, a measure that would have guaranteed the MTA at least $400 million a year annually for operating costs. Noticeably absent from the fare hike coverage is mention of how, with congestion pricing, that $900 million deficit would be cut in half.

New Yorkers won’t admit that subway fares are low — artificially so — and would still be a good deal even doubled. We want a top-line subway system that’s clean and efficient, but we don’t want to pay. These are irreconcilable differences, and something has to give. So let’s raise those fares until Albany is forced to lay out the big bucks.

I will first begin with my main idea & that is the MTA should not double the fares. One thing I have noticed from him over time is his belief that our fares even with increases are quite paltry compared to the amount of service we get. I ask are they really?

Every time straphangers turn around, they get to hear or read a report of how buses & subways are running behind schedule. In some areas instead of an increase in service to match growth in ridership, we get the same amount of pre-growth service or even worse reductions. So once again are the fares really too low? Is this kind of service acceptable because we pay such a “paltry” amount for fares? I think not & many riders would echo the same sentiment.

I am a numbers guy & understand why on “paper” it would seem to be a wise idea to double the current fares. However as I stated above, if the current service is not worth what we pay now, what makes one think it will be worth paying double for it? By doubling fares on riders, you are just adding to the financial burden experienced by millions of tri-state area residents. While on “paper” the fares are low, when you are struggling to make ends meet & most times barely doing so if at all, asking riders to pay more much less double is not the right way to go about doing things. I would not be so sure that “they would still ride the trains.”

Readers of this blog know just where I stand on congestion pricing. Once again I see it being trumpeted as a huge saving grace for the MTA’s financial woes. I will continue to call bullshit on that every single time. I have asked this question numerous times, show me any sort of proof that congestion pricing was nothing more than an excuse to collect revenue for the city in a form of a tax & put a burden on drivers as if they grow money on tress. The plan was nothing more than a modernized version of “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul”. Such proposals will only end up hurting a majority in the end. The plan should be noticeably absent from fare hike coverage as it is & always will be a complete sham.

Lastly as I said, doubling the fares for the current system in place would not be a good deal. To even think so is mind boggling in my opinion. Come talk to me when we have a completely modernized system from equipment to facilities & the stations themselves & I’ll agree with you.

You are right Benjamin, we as riders do want a “top-line subway system that’s clean and efficient” & do not want to pay for it. Why not? Because we as riders should not have to shoulder the majority of the costs to provide such a system. Our elected officials should come up with the money to provide a system we rightfully deserve as it benefits everyone in the long run.

Asking us to once again shoulder more costs in such struggling times is completely irresponsible & irrational. Doing such a thing is only encouraging our government to continue to short change the MTA as they feel the riding public can make up for their purposeful shortcomings. Instead of irresponsibly raising fares, the MTA should do everything & I mean everything possible to get all the money they rightfully deserve & take no prisoners in doing so.

Now that is what is truly needed regardless of what the “numbers” look like on paper. Now is the time to put an end to the never ending mickey mouse bullshit & take care of business. You are right Benjamin, “something has to give” & it sure should not be “us”.

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