Financial Details For The MTA Text Alert System

As I wrote about earlier, the MTA will soon be implementing a text alert system in the case of emergency service disruptions. Sewall Chan of the New York Times has a report which discusses the financial details of the new system. Here is his report:

When torrential rains shut down nearly the entire subway system on Aug. 8, 2007, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority was unable to provide quick information to riders. Its Web site, with its confusing layout, crashed. And other means of delivering information like cellphone alerts, downloadable maps and electronic message boards were not available.

Chastened by the criticism, the M.T.A. commissioned a study of what went wrong and proposed a bunch of fixes, including developing a system of customized e-mail and text message alerts for each subway line so riders could be informed about problems.

That notification service will be unveiled in September. The authority has signed a $600,000 contract — $120,000 a year for five years — with the MIS Sciences Corporation, an Internet services company, to run a text-messaging service that will provide real-time alerts about subway, bus and train disruptions to millions of commuters. (The Daily News reported some details of the new text-messaging system on Sunday.)

Under the contract, the company must be able to send out at least one million messages in five minutes, far more than what the M.T.A. can do on its own. MIS Sciences provides a similar service to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The transportation authority currently sends out regular e-mails — which can also be sent to cellphones — to commuters about track work and other planned service disruptions. About 60,000 New York City Transit customers, 40,000 Long Island Rail Road customers and 26,000 Metro-North Railroad customers have signed up for those advisories, according to Christopher P. Boylan, the authority’s deputy executive director for corporate and community affairs.

But the “Big Kahuna,” Mr. Boylan said in a telephone interview, is the new system of real-time text alerts. Customers will be able to select information for specific subway, bus or railroad lines. “You’re going to self-select what you want, how much you want and when you want it,” Mr. Boylan said.

In addition, M.T.A. Bridges and Tunnels (also known as the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority), Long Island Bus and the M.T.A. Bus Company, which do not currently offer any form of e-mail notices, will be part of the new text-alert system, he said.

During major service disruptions, Mr. Boylan explained, vast numbers of messages must be sent simultaneously from many nodes. The M.T.A.’s system, however, required that e-mail alerts be sent sequentially, “so it took maybe an hour to get a message out to 40,000 riders,” he said.

(Mr. Boylan acknowledged that it would impossible for riders deep inside subway tunnels to get text alerts immediately, but said the messages would aid riders deciding whether to board the subway and riders entering or waiting inside stations.)

The transportation authority is not the only public entity moving to improve its text-messaging capabilities. In December, the New York City Office of Emergency Management announced a new text-messaging program, inviting readers in certain neighborhoods to sign up for emergency alerts.

My thoughts on the system are in the entry I linked to in the beginning of this thread. I noticed the people responding to Sewall’s article are not a fan of the system that will be debuting in September. Check out their responses by clicking here.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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MTA To Release Financial Plan

Yesterday afternoon I received an e-mail from MTA Headquarters to announce the release of their financial plan. I wish I could attend but I have some business appointments in Long Island that I must tend to. I will do my best to watch the presentation online & report about the plan which I’m sure will have tons of people in an uproar.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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Gov. Patterson Criticizes The MTA’s Plan To Raise Fares

New York State Governor David Patterson openly criticized the MTA’s plan to implement substantial fare hikes. What their exact plans are won’t be known until later this morning when their financial plan is released (more on that in the next entry). Here is the report from Jeremy W. Peters, Fernanda Santos & Sewell Chan of the New York Times:

Gov. David A. Paterson on Tuesday sternly criticized the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s proposal to increase subway, bus and commuter rail fares and called on the authority to take a second look at its finances before it formally asks for an increase. However, Mr. Paterson did not say whether he would support the authority’s plea for more operating aid from the state.

Speaking to reporters after a news conference here on moderately priced housing, Mr. Paterson said that now was not the time to ask commuters, who are already feeling pinched by a rate increase earlier this year, to pay more to use the city’s transit system, bridges and tunnels.

“Another fare hike this soon after the last fare hike, just in my opinion, is not wise,” he said. “This just cannot become the new way that the M.T.A. solves problems. Every time there is an issue, pass along the increase.”

He added: “Let’s explore other options.”

If the authority gets permission from its board to raise fares, it will be only the second time in its history that it has raised fares in consecutive years. The last time that happened was in 1980 and 1981.

The amount of the increase has not been determined. But if the board agrees to it, fares will rise again next summer.

The authority is facing an increasingly grim financial outlook. Rising fuel costs have caused its operating costs to soar, and revenue from real estate taxes — a major source of the authority’s revenue — are declining as the housing market falters.

Its budget gap for 2009 now stands at $900 million and is only getting bigger. Just six months ago, the authority projected a deficit of only $200 million.

Mr. Paterson said he asked the authority to re-examine its financial situation and report back to him. “What I am asking the M.T.A. is to go back and take another look at their books.”

Click here to read the entire report.

I’ve already discussed my current point of view on the possibility of fare hikes. However I must call attention to the comments left on the above article. Just about all of them are blaming the potential fare hikes on the MTA which is what I said many would do. As I said there, they should point the finger of blame at the elected officials before getting to the MTA.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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So This Is What We Pay For

Woodlawn bound 4 train approaching the 183rd  St.  station in the Bronx
Woodlawn bound 4 train approaching the 183rd Street station. Resized photo courtesy of Eye On Transit

As I addressed in the previous entry, the MTA will most likely look to implement substantial fare hikes next year to help close the budget deficit that is nearing $900 million dollars. Now in that entry I mentioned how these fare hikes would come as we are continuing to have a decline in the amount of quality service. On Monday, the New York City Transit division of the MTA shared the results of a rise in subway delays which equaled 24% for the year ending in May. Annie Correal & Ray Rivera of the New York Times filed this report:

People who hazard the No. 4 subway line each day don’t need the numbers to tell them: It’s slow. Not just slow, it turns out, but of the city’s two dozen or so subway lines, its on-time performance is the poorest and getting worse, according to new statistics released on Monday by New York City Transit.

The figures were among a raft of dismal performance numbers included in a report to the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees the transit agency. They included a 24 percent spike in the number of delays systemwide, measured over the year ending in May, the latest records available.

The indicators come as the authority is considering a second consecutive year of fare increases to help close a budget gap of nearly $900 million. Transit officials said at least some of the performance problems are tied to past budget cuts in subway car maintenance.

Click here to view their full report.

Now here are the full results of each line’s percentage of trains arriving at the terminal within 5 minutes of scheduled time:

    1 Train: May 2007: 92% / May 2008: 88%
    2 Train: May 2007: 80% / May 2008: 81%
    3 Train: May 2007: 86% / May 2008: 88%
    4 Train: May 2007: 80% / May 2008: 70%
    5 Train: May 2007: 86% / May 2008: 82%
    6 Train: May 2007: 92% / May 2008: 89%
    7 Train: May 2007: 94% / May 2008: 90%
    A Train: May 2007: 92% / May 2008: 93%
    B Train: May 2007: 96% / May 2008: 96%
    C Train: May 2007: 96% / May 2008: 96%
    D Train: May 2007: 96% / May 2008: 96%
    E Train: May 2007: 96% / May 2008: 95%
    F Train: May 2007: 94% / May 2008: 92%
    G Train: May 2007: 98% / May 2008: 98%
    J Train/Z Train: May 2007: 99% / May 2008: 98%
    L Train: May 2007: 95% / May 2008: 92%
    M Train: May 2007: 99% / May 2008: 99%
    N Train: May 2007: 95% / May 2008: 96%
    Q Train: May 2007: 98% / May 2008: 97%
    R Train: May 2007: 95% / May 2008: 95%
    V Train: May 2007: 94% / May 2008: 95%
    W Train: May 2007: 95% / May 2008: 97%

The top reason for delays is track work. One of the major reasons for delays comes from straphangers holding doors. The other reasons consisted of sick passenger, unruly customer, signal trouble, & other. However before we just assume these results are accurate, lets not forget that these results are based on reports filed by train crews. So these results are unscientific to say the least.

I find it hard to believe that “straphangers holding doors” was not the cause for a bigger percentage of delays. Lets look at the way of life in the jungle known as the NYC Subway. Many straphangers will hold doors open to squeeze into a train as if it is the last train to freedom. Nevermind the fact that they could see the lights of the next train close behind. They must be on the specific train that is too packed for someone else to fit or they legitimately missed.

Is it of any surprise that the worse line for delays is one of the big 3 on the Lexington Avenue line, more specifically the 4 Train train. It is truly a sad state on that line when it was the only line to score in the 70’s for on time performance indicators or more accurately a 70!

When I saw the results, I thought of a thread on the Straphangers Campaign’s Rider Diaries forum which called some Upper East Side riders oh the Lexington Avenue line maniacs. This sentiment was shared by some due to how many of these riders purposely hold up trains in stations due to the fact they feel it is their right not to miss the train they see even if the next one is most likely only a short time away from arriving.

I must say I find it surprising that the best performing lines were ones that normally get trashed by many for their service. However I want to focus on how the IRT lines have the bottom 6 in terms of on-time performance indicators. This can not be a coincidence & according to Rider Diaries member “Jamal BK3” it isn’t. He provided a very interesting reason as to what might be causing the IRT’s poor on-time performance. After reading his post, it makes a lot of sense especially based on what some employees have mentioned to me. You can read Jamal’s post by clicking here.

I could be here all day breaking down these numbers. Either way you slice it, overall service is behind where it should be & to ask as us to pay more is downright unfair to the riding public. Lets see if our elected officials will take notice as it will take more than vocal opposition from major leaders (I will get to that in the next entry) to fix this.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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MTA To Propose Substantial Fare Hikes Next Year

As we all know the MTA’s finances are in serious shambles. Major construction projects have faced delays, doubts have come about as to whether some will even be finished much less started for others. We also have had the implementation of cutbacks to maintenance throughout the system. Although people could only hope that was the end of the pain, we all knew an even greater pain awaited us & that was in the form of yet another fare hike. Some might ask, weren’t we just dealing with this not too long ago?

Yes, we all were just dealing with this last year when this very blog provided wall to wall coverage of the fare hike battle. We were promised better & extra service for accepting the hikes & a promise of no more until at least 2010. We all know the extra service is in a transit place high in the sky or far below depending on who you ask. As far as better service is concerned, we have not gotten that as recent numbers show it has gotten worse. However I will address that in the next entry. Lets go straight to the New York Times’ William Neuman for the report on the possibility of substantial fare hikes next year. Here is a sample of his report:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will propose a substantial increase in transit fares and bridge and tunnel tolls next year to help close a widening budget gap of nearly $900 million, according to an official at the authority.

Though the precise amount of the fare and toll increase has yet to be determined, the authority will seek to increase the revenue it gets from those sources by 8 percent. If approved by the authority’s board, the increase would take effect next July and would follow a toll and fare increase in March of this year.

In the more than 100-year history of the subway, the fare has gone up in consecutive years only once before, in 1980 and 1981.

On Wednesday, the authority will unveil a preliminary budget plan for 2009 that calls for the fare and toll increases and outlines other measures to balance its budget, including more than $300 million in additional financing that the authority hopes to get from the city and state.

Coming at a time when the state and city budgets face extreme financial pressure as well, those requests are likely to be resisted by elected officials.

The authority faces steadily rising costs, particularly for fuel, as well as sharply declining tax revenues due to a slowdown in the real estate market. Just six months ago, the authority predicted that its shortfall for 2009 would be slightly more than $200 million, less than a quarter of its latest projection.

The budget plan, which the authority is required to produce in July, puts new focus on a state commission created by Gov. David A. Paterson to recommend long-term solutions for the authority’s chronic financial difficulties. The panel, which is headed by Richard Ravitch, a former authority chairman, is to make a report by November. The authority must pass a new budget for next year in December.

Click here for the full report.

I have not gotten a chance to read or watch the news over the last day or so. I am pretty sure the media is reporting how the MTA is forcing riders to bear the brunt of the MTA’s financial peril. While a simple glance at the situation might lead one to believe that, I urge that the situation be looked into more deeply.

Has the MTA mismanaged money throughout its history? Yes, it has but this isn’t the main reason for the situation they are in. The MTA is not a superhero, it can’t dodge the hardships that come with a failing economy like a speeding bullet. It will face the same issues that you & I face in our lives trying to survive. However the economy is not the biggest culprit here. No, the clear culprit is your elected officials. Every time you hear them scream to the top of the mountain how the MTA brought this on themselves, you should ask when will they take responsibility for the improper funding of our transit infrastructure.

I bet they won’t like that question being asked as the truth as a way of stinging worse than a bee ever could. Lets face it, for years our elected officials on the local all the way up to the federal level have continuously dropped the ball in terms of proper funding. Throughout the build up to the inevitable fare increase that went into effect a few months ago, all you heard from elected officials was the same thing. If you need more money, just ask for it. This lip service was mainly led by Westchester County Democrat Asemblyman Richard Brodsky.

As I stated last month, it is time for elected officials such as Mr. Brodsky to live up to his promises of getting the MTA the money it needs. We heard all about how the assembly wants to work with the MTA to correct failed policies from the past. Yet from where I sit, I see the same cycle of failed policies repeating itself with the MTA being the biggest loser when all is said & done. I feel the MTA should not have to beg for funding as providing adequate funding for our transit infrastructure should be mandatory not only in the tri-state area but throughout our country.

So when you get ready to blame the MTA for yet another fare hike as if they are happy to see costs skyrocket for fuel, energy, etc… take a second & point the finger at the people who are truly responsible for this mess, your elected officials.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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