New Bus Service To Poughkeepsie Train Station

Yesterday the MTA’s Metro-North division issued a press release to highlight their partnership with the New York State Department of Transportation, Dutchess & Ulster Counties. The partnership has lead to the creation of a new bus service to link bus service to train service at the Poughkeepsie train station. Here are the complete details:

Ulster County residents who want to catch a train at Poughkeepsie soon will be able to take a bus to the station rather than drive over the Mid-Hudson Bridge, pay the toll and hunt for parking.

MTA Metro-North Railroad, the New York State Department of Transportation and Ulster and Dutchess counties have teamed up to create the Ulster-Poughkeepsie LINK, a shuttle service that will operate seven days a week, meeting 25 trains each weekday and 10 trains each weekend day.

“Access to Metro-North’s excellent train service should not be limited by lack of a car or a lack of a parking space,” said Metro-North President Howard Permut. “This new feeder bus service will increase access to our trains and help alleviate a severely constrained parking situation at the Poughkeepsie Station.”

“The Ulster County Legislature has recognized the increasing significance of public transportation in Ulster County,” said David Donaldson, the Chairman of the Ulster County Legislature. “With gas prices rising, we have a responsibility to assure that all modes of transportation are accessible to the residents of Ulster County and we will continue to look for cost effective and innovative ways to facilitate it.

“This service will reduce single occupancy vehicle travel within Ulster and Dutchess Counties, resulting in less fuel consumption, less traffic congestion, and reduced emissions to improve air quality in our region,” Donaldson said. “It also will increase access to Metro-North trains for commuters, students at SUNY New Paltz, senior citizens and people with disabilities who can not drive. Ulster County appreciates the support of Dutchess County, the New York State Department of Transportation Region 8 Office and Metro-North in seeing this project through.”

The service is expected to start in mid-September and will be supported by strategically located Park&Ride lots in Rosendale, New Paltz and Highland.

Poughkeepsie Station, which is the terminus of the Hudson Line 74 miles north of Grand Central Terminal, serves about 1,800 people every day of the week. On weekends, it is one of the Metro-North’s busiest stations, used by 1,800 on Saturday and 1,600 people on Sundays. Fully 25% of these people come from Ulster County. On weekends, the percentage form Ulster is even higher.

Despite the presence of 1,035 parking spaces at the station, including 538 in the garage that opened in 2002 there are 400 people on the waiting list for a parking permit.

Ridership growth at Poughkeepsie has been steady and considerable, up 63% since 1992 on weekdays and.85% on weekends during the same period. In the first six months of the year, ridership is up 7% compared to the same period last year.

This bus service, which also will serve the SUNY New Paltz campus on weekends, will be operated by Ulster County Area Transit, UCAT, under contract to NYSDOT. The service will use one new, full size, 35-seat transit bus and two 16-passenger mini-buses for off-peak periods.

The lot in Highland, which is a 15-minute ride from the station, is already in operation and has capacity for 80 or more cars. The lot in New Paltz, which is a 30-minute ride from Poughkeepsie, is under construction. The Rosendale lot, which is 45-minutes from Poughkeepsie, is being expanded. All lots will be paved, lighted and well-signed. Parking will be free with no permit required.

The one-way bus fare will be $1.25 from Highland, $1.75 from New Paltz and $2.00 from Rosendale, where the service will originate (about 10 minutes south of Kingston). For monthly customers who buy a combined bus/rail Uniticket, the bus fare will be $40, plus the applicable rail fare. (The monthly fare from Poughkeepsie to Grand Central Terminal is $367.)

Customers will be covered by the Railroad’s Guaranteed Ride Home Program, which covers the price of a cab ride from Poughkeepsie back to the Park&Ride lot for all Uniticket customers during periods when the Ulster-Poughkeepsie LINK is not operating. This makes the shuttle bus more attractive for people who occasionally may need to get home for emergencies.

The shuttle operation is funded by a $1 million federal Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality grant. The buses were purchased by Ulster County using a combination of federal, state and local money.

I think this bus service is a great idea for the residents of Ulster County. I have a number of friends who live in Ulster County & frequent the Metro-North from the Poughkeepsie station. They always complain about the drive to the station in terms of the cost of gas, tolls, & traffic. This bus service is perfect as it takes care of all 3 issues. Lets hope riders take advantage of the service.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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New Weekend Train On The Pascack Valley Line

Last fall, the Metro-North & New Jersey Transit introduced an increase in service on the Pascack Valley Line. Now comes the news that the original increase in service will be expanded. The MTA has issued a press release with all the details:

The new weekend service on the Pascack Valley Line, which began last fall after a hiatus of four decades, is being expanded beginning Sunday August 3, 2008.

MTA Metro-North Railroad is adding a new inbound train on the Pascack Valley Line that departs Spring Valley at 7:10 p.m. making limited stops in New Jersey, and arriving in Hoboken at 8:28 p.m. and at Penn Station at 8:38 p.m.

This brings the number of daily weekend trains on the Pascack Valley Line to 24, a dozen in each direction. Ridership is now 250 each weekend day and growing.

In fact, overall ridership on Metro-North’s West-of-Hudson service is up 17% during the first six months of the year compared to the same period last year, due primarily to the introduction of off-peak and weekend service on the Pascack Valley Line.

When the new timetables take effect on August 3, there will be a number of other, minor changes to both the Port Jervis Line and Pascack Valley Line schedules. New timetables are available at Hoboken Terminal, Penn Station NY, and Secaucus and customers are advised to pick up a copy to check for changes.

On weekdays, the 5:29 a.m. train from Spring Valley will have a five-minute later connection at Secaucus, and therefore will arrive in Penn Station five minutes later at 6:51 a.m. Also, the 5:28 p.m. train from Penn Station will now leave four minutes earlier at 5:24 p.m. Arrival times at Pascack Valley Line stations remain unchanged.

A number of minor schedule adjustments will be made to other Penn Station–Secaucus connections, ranging from one to three minutes earlier. See the new timetable for details.

An extra getaway train will operate on August 29, the Friday before the Labor Day holiday weekend, The train that departs Hoboken at 2:51 p.m. and Penn Station at 2:35 p.m. has been extended for this holiday and will arrive at Pearl River at 3:47 p.m.; Nanuet at 3:55 p.m.; and Spring Valley at 4:01 p.m.

On the Port Jervis Line, a number of minor schedule adjustments will be made to some Penn Station–Secaucus connections, ranging from 3 minutes earlier to 3 minutes later. See the new timetable for details.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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Gov. Patterson Makes The Right Call

I must applaud New York Governor David Patterson for making the right call in terms of choosing not to replace MTA CEO/Executive Director Elliot Sander. Pete Donohue of the New York Daily News has the story:

Gov. Paterson has replaced more than a few high-ranking officials since taking office, but MTA CEO Elliot Sander is definitely staying on the bus.

“At a time when transportation agencies throughout the country are facing the hard choices that are the result of a national economic downturn, Lee has been a steadfast leader and an honest broker,” Paterson communications director Risa Heller told the Daily News about Sander. “We need his expertise now more than ever.

“He has the complete support of the governor as we all work together to find creative ways to increase efficiency and provide improvements to the best transit system in the country,” Heller said.

Not long after Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s sexcapades with a high-priced call girl led to his resignation earlier this year, there was speculation among government insiders that Paterson would want to install a CEO of his own choosing. Speculation flared again after a run of bad publicity, including reports that Sander negotiated a raise while MTA deficits ballooned.

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester), a frequent MTA critic, shrugged off those controversies and said Sander has made significant improvements at the MTA over the last 18 months. They include fostering better relations between management and transit workers, who waged a strike in 2005, Brodsky said.

Relations between the MTA and its workers were “awful,” Brodsky said. “There needed to be a sense that workers were being treated fairly and someone was listening. I think Lee has done a remarkable job with that under difficult circumstances,” Brodsky said.

Sander himself said the much-maligned MTA has turned a corner.

“What I’m most proud of is this organization of 68,000 people has begun to implement a new vision of the MTA, one that is more customer-oriented and efficient by being leaner, flatter and more integrated,” Sander said.

Some of the milestones and initiatives since January 2007 by the MTA include:

* Record on-time performance by the commuter railroads. Buses going a record number of miles between breakdowns.
* The first bus route to New Jersey, linking Staten Island and the light-rail line in Hudson County. The MTA also has announced plans to run Metro-North trains from New Haven, Conn., to Secaucus, N.J., for Jets and Giants home games, further breaking down geographic boundaries.
* The first bus rapid transit route, the BX12 in the Bronx, with riders paying at bus stops before boarding.
* Placing three bus divisions under one manager instead of having three separate presidents.
* Creation of an emergency response center to coordinate responses to emergencies such as severe storms that have flooded the subways.

Still, Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign said he’d pencil “incomplete” on Sander’s report card. The big test is whether he is able to secure needed funding to continue maintaining, upgrading and expanding the system, Russianoff said.

“We hope in the coming months he will be a vocal champion on behalf of the needs of the system’s 9 million daily riders, not just a political buffer for Gov. Paterson,” Russianoff said.

Gov. Patterson absolutely made the right call in not replacing Elliot Sander as MTA CEO/Executive Director. At a time when the stability of the MTA is in question, the last thing needed is a change of a major leader. Most casual observers would call for his head due to the current state of the MTA & its finances especially with a fare hike most likely looming (more on that in a few minutes) next year.

However those of us who follow the MTA daily know he has been doing a great job considering the mess he inherited. Even with that, Elliot knows that his legacy as MTA CEO/Executive Director hinges on how he & the rest of the MTA brass get out of the financial mess they are in.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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MTA Plans & Finances Editorial

Yesterday’s edition of the New York Daily News had a very good editorial about the MTA’s “tunnel vision” in regards to their plans & finances. Here is the editorial:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority gave the press a tour last week of a brand new mile-long excavation that’s supposed to turn the infamous Tunnel to Nowhere into the Tunnel to Somewhere.

And the thing is magnificent. From beneath Grand Central, it extends through bedrock to 63rd St., where it hooks up with a tube under the river to Queens, thus bringing the MTA closer to connecting the Long Island Rail Road with the East Side.

Never mind that the MTA started the project 40 years ago.

Never mind that the MTA is still, oh, $3 billion short of the estimated cost of completion.

Never mind that the MTA’s finances have been a festival of fantasies – with only the riders having to face reality in the form of fare hikes. Enough. It’s time for everyone to get real.

Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger and CEO Lee Sander are scheduled Monday to brief the MTA board on the state of the agency’s books and to clue the public in on Wednesday. Their financial plan better be damn good.

Hard facts. Credible facts that stand the test of time. No do-overs for at least a year, a standard officials generally live by.

The first question: How deep in the red is the MTA? The second: Will Hemmerdinger and Sander be savvy and tough enough to persuade Albany and City Hall to shield straphangers from fare hikes, maintain the system and complete expansion projects?

The first answer is easy – and ugly. The MTA’s deficit could hit $700 million because energy and labor costs are rising while a tanking economy is depressing tax collections.

To close the gap, riders are at high risk of a second fare hike in two years – despite having been promised a respite until 2010. Such a double whammy would be unfair. The deal was that riders would do their share and the state and city would do the rest. Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer committed to kicking in $600 million. He’s gone, but the pledge should stand.

The challenge for Hemmerdinger and Sander – as well as for former MTA chairman Richard Ravitch, who is heading a study of agency finances – is to push government into properly funding the region’s lifeblood.

There has to be light at the end of the tunnel. Not a dead end.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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MTA Text Alerts Coming To A Screen Near You

So the MTA is finally catching up with the times & providing real time text alerts in the case of emergency service disruptions. The steam picked up to implement this technology after the horrific flooding that practically shut the entire subway system down almost a year ago. Pete Donohue of the New York Daily News has the story:

If you get an e-mail or text message from the MTA this fall, it’s nothing to LOL about.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority expects to start sending alerts to commuters’ cellphones and computers with details about unplanned service problems in September, the Daily News has learned.

The notices will help riders alter their routines to avoid floods and other incidents that cause delays, or warn them away from a crippled system altogether, officials said.

The need for a communications upgrade was highlighted during the Aug. 8, 2007, deluge that flooded subway tracks, forcing the authority to cut electricity and halt trains.

Many riders, unaware of the severity of the widespread service disruptions, continued to their local stations and became ensnared in delays and line shutdowns.

“Communications with the public when you have this type of catastrophe is essential,” MTA CEO Elliot Sander said.

Efforts to improve communications began before last summer but intensified after the Aug. 8 storm, Sander said.

Riders will be able to sign up for the free service on the MTA’s Web site – www.mta.nyc.ny.us.

They can tailor their alerts by focusing on the routes they take most often, MTA deputy executive director Christopher Boylan said.

The authority has retained an outside firm to distribute the texts and e-mails, Boylan said. The distributor will be able to send more than 1 million missives within five minutes, he said.

NYC Transit doesn’t e-mail or text riders about unplanned service disruptions.

Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road do send alerts but at times have trouble getting the information out in a timely manner. The MTA moves about 8.5 million riders a day.

I don’t know if I should focus on the positive that the implementation of this technology is almost here or the negative on how the MTA is as usual behind the times. I will look at it from both perspectives. Lets first look at the good which is that the millions of riders who depend on our system will have access to the best information possible in case of an emergency service disruption. This can only be seen as a good thing. Lets hope the ridership takes full advantage of such a service as it is only there to help us all in the long run.

However I must call into question why it took the MTA so long to implement technology that has been used by so many for an extended period of time. While they can say it was on the agenda all along, it should not have taken our system nearly being rendered completely useless to implement such technology. With that being said, there is no excuse for it taking about a year if not a little bit over that in the end to get this to the riding public. I always tell people it is better to be proactive than reactive. The MTA should seriously take those words to heart in all facets of their operations.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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