Subway Report Cards…… Hmm Sound Familiar?

On May 15, MTA NYC Transit President Howard H. Roberts Jr. announced his intentions to create a riders’ report card. Here is an article talking about his intentions courtesy of the NY Times:

Griping about subway service is practically a vocation for many New Yorkers. Yet it often goes hand in hand with the conviction that no matter how much they complain, no one is ever likely to listen.

But now the man who runs the city’s subways and buses says that he actually wants to hear their complaints. Howard H. Roberts Jr., appointed last month as president of New York City Transit, said yesterday that one of his first major initiatives would be a system of rider report cards for subways and buses.

Riders on each line will be asked to grade different aspects of service, including the cleanliness of cars and stations, safety and the responsiveness of employees.

He said he would also ask riders to list the three things that they thought most need to be improved.

“I want to know what passengers want,” Mr. Roberts said yesterday during a wide-ranging interview that touched on topics as diverse as dirty subway cars and his affinity for the poetry of Robert Frost.

“I think too often people sit around in offices like this and say, ‘O.K., I know better than the customer what it is they want and so this is what we’re going to do.’ I want the customer to drive the priorities.”

The first report cards could appear this summer on the No. 7 line, Mr. Roberts said. He envisions cards that would be handed out to riders as they exit stations, and which they could fill out and mail in at no cost.

By the fall, he said, he hopes to bring the report cards to every line in the system, and bus lines as well.

Mr. Roberts said that he did not expect to be able to respond with a single solution that would work for all lines.

“It may very well be that different subway lines in the city will have different priorities,” he said. “If it’s cleanliness on the 6 line and it’s security on the A line, those are the things that have to be my first priorities on their lines.”

Mr. Roberts declined to say how he would fill out one of the report cards, but he had his own complaints about cleanliness. He said that he too often found cars that were dirty and full of trash when riding the subway to work as early as 4:30 a.m.

Mr. Roberts had been on the job less than two weeks when Daniel Boggs, a track worker, was struck and killed by a No. 3 train near Columbus Circle on April 24. Five days later, Marvin Franklin, another track worker, was struck and killed by a G train at a station in Brooklyn.

Mr. Roberts, as transit chiefs have in the past, promptly began a comprehensive safety review. But he did it in a very visible partnership with Roger Toussaint, the president of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union.

That cooperation has contrasted with the tense relations between labor and management that prevailed in recent years at the agency.

To a large extent, the tone had already been set by Elliot G. Sander, the executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, who hired Mr. Roberts to succeed Lawrence G. Reuter, who retired.

But in choosing Mr. Roberts, Mr. Sander knew that he was hiring someone with a history of getting along with labor leaders — a history that had not always worked out well for Mr. Roberts.

This is Mr. Roberts’s second stint at the transit agency, and he is now in the unusual position of having been hired to run an organization where he was once fired. He first came to work there in 1981, as vice president for finance and then as the vice president in charge of buses.

He was fired in 1986. Mr. Roberts said that it was a result of his closeness to the labor unions.

Mr. Roberts, who is 67, went on to work at Citibank, where he said he first saw customer report cards used to improve service.

He worked from 1989 to 1997 at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, the transit system for the Philadelphia area, where he used similar report cards.

Mr. Roberts’s formative years were spent in the Army. He graduated from West Point and then served for 20 years, retiring as a colonel.

Mr. Roberts said that the Army taught him about honor and duty; then he handed a reporter a sheet of paper with the final stanza of a Robert Frost poem, “Two Tramps in Mud Time.” The poem is a meditation on the things a person does out of necessity and the things he does because he chooses to, and Mr. Roberts said he planned to have the stanza posted on his office wall.

The poem says, in part: “My object in living is to unite/My avocation and my vocation/As my two eyes make one in sight.”

“That sort of describes why this job means as much to me as it does,” Mr. Roberts said. “Very few of us get to combine our vocation and our avocations and very few of us get to play for mortal stakes, and soldiers and doctors and leaders of transportation organizations and a very few other people do that.”

When I heard about this report card, the first question I asked myself is does this plan sound familiar? Why yes it does, it is pretty much the same concept that the Straphangers Campaign has executed for the last # of years.

I must say this was not the only question that came to mind though. The next question I asked myself is why are the report cards being handed out to straphangers as they exit the station? I think the cards should be handed to straphangers as they enter the system.

In my opinion you would get a better response from the program. Many would be inclined to read it as they are waiting or riding the subway. The odds say that by handing them out to people exiting the system, it is more likely to get thrown away. There are so many distractions for people that this card would get lost in the shuffle. I wonder if Howard & Co. thought about that when they were brainstorming!

In the end I still would like to know one thing. Why make a big deal about your idea when it is pretty much a knockoff of an already well known idea? I can’t answer that question for you but if I ever speak with Howard, I’ll be sure to ask!

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Farewell Peter Kalikow

May 7th is the day Peter Kalikow finally announced his attentions to step down as the MTA Chairman. Here is an article about Kalikow stepping down courtesy of 1010 Wins:

NEW YORK (AP) — Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Peter Kalikow said Monday that he will step down so that Gov. Eliot Spitzer can choose a new head of the agency that runs New York City buses and subways and two commuter railroads.

“I’m a firm believer in setting aggressive goals, accomplishing these goals and then giving others the opportunity to take on new challenges with new visions and new energy,” said Kalikow, a real estate developer and former publisher of the New York Post.

Kalikow was appointed to the MTA chairman’s post by Republican Gov. George Pataki in 2001 and re-appointed to a fresh six-year term last year.

But following the November election of Spitzer, a Democrat, Kalikow had indicated that he would resign by mid-2007.

“I have always been a supporter of term limits,” he said. “I think that people run out of steam, run out of ideas, run out of innovation. And I think that term limits are a good idea and I couldn’t support them unless I supported them by my own actions.”

Kalikow was joined by MTA Executive Director and CEO Elliot “Lee” Sander, who was Spitzer’s choice to run the agency day to day.

“Lee’s presence here makes my job easier,” he said. “I know that I’m leaving this place in good hands.”

Kalikow advised Sander to raise fares only as a last resort. “But do not keep the fares artificially low, which will cause disinvestment in our system,” he said.

Asked if there were plans to raise subway, bus and commuter rail fares in 2008, Sander said, “It is still a real possibility.”

During his tenure at the MTA, Kalikow helped obtain increased federal funding for subway cars and station rehabilitation and easier access for Long Islanders to Manhattan’s East Side. He also saw ground broken on a new Second Avenue subway line last month.

But a three-day transit strike that halted service on city buses and subways occurred on his watch in 2005.

“Make no mistake about it. This was a tough job,” he said. “I could actually take my jacket off and show you I have the bruises to prove it. Some of them more painful than others.”

Kalikow said he was proud to have overseen the rebuilding of facilities that were damaged in the 2001 terrorist attacks and to have consolidated formerly private bus companies. But he said there should ultimately be one bus system for the entire New York region. A merger of the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad was another unmet goal.

The Straphangers Campaign, a riders’ advocacy group, gave Kalikow mixed ratings for his stewardship of the MTA.

The group said Kalikow’s achievements included a $21.3 billion five-year capital rebuilding program and more transparent budget-making process. On the debit side, the straphangers said, he initially agreed to sell development rights to the Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn and the far West Side in Manhattan for less than the MTA’s own appraiser said they were worth.

Kalikow served previously as commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and owned the New York Post from 1988 to 1993. He is president of his family’s real estate company, H.J. Kalikow & Co., LLC.

He announced his resignation at 101 Park Ave., a midtown building his company developed.

Sander said Spitzer would name a new MTA chairman in the next several weeks.

Personally I am happy to see him go. I will not say that nothing was accomplished during Kalikow’s reign. However I did not agree with how he handled the job as a whole. I always got a bad vibe about how trustworthy he is. I don’t think someone from his walk of life is cut out to run the show for a working class operation. The mentality is not there to match the people he serves. Hopefully the next chairman will take the MTA to bigger & better things.

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Two Lives Lost Way Too Soon…..

Continuing with the I’m months behind on blog posts adventure, next up is a sad entry. Unfortunately during the month of April, we lost two transit workers in a span of 5 days! Both deaths involved track workers who in my opinion get overlooked as far as being vital to this city.

The first death occurred near the end of April 24th. 42 year old Daniel Boggs was struck by a downtown 3 express train roared through the 59th St – Columbus Circle station. Here is a more detailed article about the incident courtesy of the Daily News:

A track worker putting up a stoplight was struck and killed by an express train that roared through the Columbus Circle station in Manhattan last night, officials and witnesses said.

Just before the accident, transit veteran Daniel Boggs had hung safety lights on the No. 1 local track to warn train crews that workers would be on the adjacent express tracks, co-workers said.

He and a partner had moved over to put up the red stoplight on the express track when he was hit by a southbound No. 3 train about 11:30 p.m., the colleagues said. The partner was unhurt.

Workers said they believed that the last express train had already cleared the station and that the train that hit Boggs may have been late.

“There’s a curve at the mouth of the tunnel, but it’s not so bad that you can’t see,” said one shaken member of the 20-man crew.

Another described Boggs as “a really good guy, a good worker, a family man” in his mid-40s who lived in Brewster, Putnam County, with his wife and three young children and had been a transit worker for 14 years.

“The man helped out whatever had to be done. He never walked away from work,” said another. “This is a sin, a crime. It’s the danger of the job.”

All repair work was halted and service in both directions on the express lines was suspended while investigators pieced together exactly how the accident happened.

Transit worker Ron Hall, 37, said Boggs “was a big guy. He was the type of guy who didn’t need any help with anything. He was like a lumberjack, but he was a softy. He was a great chess player. You wouldn’t expect it.”

“He was a strong union man, a real decent guy,” said longtime Transport Workers Union activist John Samuelsen.

Before yesterday, the last transit worker killed on duty was Lewis Moore, 35, who was fatally injured Dec. 1, 2005, while heading to the rear of a work train as it passed through a Bronx subway tunnel.

And before that, Harold Dozier, 54, of Brooklyn, was fatally struck by a B train Dec. 14, 2004, while working on the tracks at the Newkirk Ave., Brooklyn, station.

On Jan. 18, 2003, A-train conductor Janell Bennerson, 30, apparently leaned out the window as the Manhattan-bound train left the Aqueduct/North Conduit Ave. station in Queens and inadvertently slammed into a metal fence.

After the death of two transit workers in two days in 2002, NYC Transit boosted safety measures at the prompting of the TWU.

I wish the tragedy ended there but days later a second track worker died, this time in Brooklyn. 2 track workers were hit by a G train entering the Hoyt – Schermerhorn station. Here is a detailed article about the incident courtesy of the New York Post:

April 30, 2007 — A track worker was killed by a subway train loaded with passengers yesterday, in the second such tragedy in less than a week.

The dead man, Marvin Franklin, 55, and a co-worker, Jeffrey Hill, 41, were hit by a G train in the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station in Downtown Brooklyn just after 4 p.m., after a supervisor ordered them to retrieve a tool on the unprotected track, transit sources said. Franklin was wedged under the train.

“The operator saw them on the track and attempted to brake,” said NYC Transit President Howard Roberts Jr., who promised a full investigation.

“Any death is unacceptable,” he said. “To have two people killed in the system within less than a single week is intolerable.”

Hill was pulled out alive and rushed to Bellevue Hospital in stable condition.

“He’s doing fine. It’s a miracle,” said MTA Executive Director Lee Sander, who visited him.

The victims were on a crew replacing concrete under the A and C line tracks when they were struck by the Queens-bound G on an adjacent track as horrified onlookers watched from the platform.

The track work was meant to be finished last night, a week ahead of schedule.

Roberts said the transit agency was “instituting an immediate stand-down” for workers lasting at least 24 hours. All crews will be pulled from the tracks, except in emergency situations, while safety procedures are reviewed.

Transport Workers Union leader Roger Toussaint said, “We have to find out why, despite the set of various rules, these accidents have been reoccurring.”

Last Tuesday, 41-year-old worker Daniel Boggs was killed on the tracks under Columbus Circle when he was hit by a downtown No. 3 train as he set up flagging lanterns.

Toussaint and Roberts both were on their way to Boggs’ wake last night when they heard of the latest tragedy.

Franklin, who lived in Queens, had worked in the subways for 22 years. He was planning to retire next year, and hoped to teach art in public schools, according to his neighbor, Sandy Almonds.

“He’s a very hardworking guy, dedicated to his wife,” he said.

He was very popular in his St. Albans neighborhood, as president of the his block association and among kids who nicknamed him “Champ,” said Dale Prentice, 42, another neighbor.

“It’s a heartbreaking. He was the kind of guy you’d want in your neighborhood,” he said.

Toussaint also went to the hospital to visit Hill, a track worker for two years.

“He had just heard about the passing of his co-worker and he was completely distraught,” the union leader said.

Even before Franklin’s body was pulled out from under the first car of the train, workers were calling for safety changes.

“Transit workers are not cannon fodder,” said track worker John Samuelsen.

“Transit workers’ lives have value. Twice this week, this has happened. This is one of the more dangerous jobs in the world.”

I was saddened by the loss of these two workers who were just doing their job, one that is severely overlooked by the masses. Just imagine what NYC & the world for that matter would be like if track workers were not out there daily keeping our subway system rolling! Just sit down for a minute & think how this one job in a way controls so much of our world. Hopefully after you are finished thinking, you will realize just how important track workers are!

R.I.P. Daniel & Jeffery & may only good things happen to the loved ones you left behind.

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Wow, He Knows The Rules!

It was a nice & sunny day on April 3, 2007. I had spent the night with one of my best friend’s Tricia in our friend Rochelle’s apartment. I could have went home afterwards but decided I should try & see my other best friend Dawn. So I gave her a call & we agreed to meet at her place after I was done in Astoria.

We hung out for a few hours & then it was time for us to head out. She was going to the gym for a workout. I was going to do a little shopping in Manhattan before I headed home. I went with Dawn to the 111 St. station & waited for her Flushing bound 7 to come. While we were waiting, I took out my camera to take some pictures.

The train started to approach the station so we said our goodbyes. I decided to stay a little while longer to get a few more shots. I made my way to the back of the station & shot away as a few trains came in each direction. While I was waiting for a particular shot opportunity, I felt like someone was watching & starting to approach me. I have a knack for always knowing where everyone is around me even if I never looked or am looking in their direction.

When I initially felt like I was being watched, my first instinct was a cop. I was a tad bit surprised by this considering I have never been approached by one while shooting. As I had my back turned, someone said hello while approaching me. My senses were spot on as when I started to peak & see who it was, it turned out to be a cop.

My first thought was just great, I’m not really in the mood for this today. I just want to do a hit & run & go about my business. I’m also thinking why is it I bother shooting in Queens. Every single time I have had a run in with someone, it has been in Queens!

However to my surprise & his credit, this was the friendliest run in I have ever had. The cop asked what I was doing. I told him I was partaking in my hobby of transit photography. He asked if I was doing it for a class project. I know the question seems odd but I know why he asked. I carry my camera in a backpack specifically made for SLR’s. So it looks like a regular backpack & it was during the school year. Anyhow I told him no, I am doing it for my website. I invited him to check it out sometime although I warned it was under reconstruction.

The biggest shock to me was the fact I did not even have to bring up the legality of my activity. He mentioned that he only came up to me because someone approached him. He said he spotted me shooting prior but let me be since he knew that taking photos in the subway system is legal. He assumed I did not pose a threat.

I took the time to thank him for the professionalism he showed & for knowing the rules. I joked with him that I wish more police officers & transit workers were like him in regards to the rules. He nodded in agreement as I’m sure he has heard his share of stories.

I can’t remember his name off the top of my head since this happened 4 months ago. However I will always remember the non encounter I had. I just want to thank him & wish him the best. If I ever see him again, I’ll make sure to hand him an E.O.T. business card.

For those interested in the photos from 111th St. they can be seen here.

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School Bus Idiocy

The song & story are the same. I am months behind on blog entries! I do have a good excuse though, a complete reconstruction of the site! Honestly it was only supposed to be a week tops but I became busy with other things. Anyhow the site is back up, so you can party it up in celebration! Anyhow let me get back to “School Bus Idiocy”.

As you might recall, earlier this year many school bus routes were axed or combined. This led to mass confusion & complaints from parents throughout the city. Around the time of this story being big news, I read a very disturbing article about a 7 year old kid named Joseph Merizalde who was affected by the changes.

The Daily News featured a disturbing story on page 7 of their January 30, 2007 edition. The article was about Joseph & how he went from riding a school bus since kindergarten to having to take three city buses to reach his school!

His new school route consisted of:

  • Board the Bx26 or Bx28 at Baychester Ave. & take it to Bartow Ave.
  • Cross a six lane road for a transfer to the Bx12 which he would take to Pelham Bay Park
  • Transfer at Pelham Bay Park to a Bx14 which would take him to his school on Country Club Rd.
  • According to the article, two of the bus stops had no bus shelter in place. This was magnified even more considering these changes took place in the middle of winter!

    His mother was quoted in the article saying

    There’s no way I would ever put a 7 year old child in that kind of danger.

    The kicker in all of this is the reason he was taken off of his school bus. The reason was because he lives ever so slightly more than a 1/4 mile from the school bus stop.

    So let me get this straight, for a little over 1/4 of a mile, you are forcing a 7 year old to ride 3 school buses on his own to get his deserved education? Let me say this is so asinine, I could rant about it all day!

    I happen to agree with his mother 100% in not putting her son in that kind of danger. No 7 year old or kid for that matter should be riding public transportation on their own! I know the exact intersection of that first transfer & it is very dangerous. I am an adult & I have had trouble crossing that intersection. If I did, you can not like the odds of a 7 year old dealing with it!

    I am curious to find out if a follow up exists to Joseph Merizalde’s story. I’m hoping he was able to go back to his old school bus route.

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