Since I’ve Been Gone……

I know the title of the Kelly Clarkson mega smash hit is “Since You’ve Been Gone” but I am giving it my own title for this post! Since I did reference her & the one of many smash hits she has had, I am going to listen to that song as I write this entry.

I debated how I was going to make my first entry back. I could sit back & write an entry for every worthy story in the time period I missed or I could make a ridiculously long entry touching on different news items from the last few months. I will touch on different pieces of news in random order up until the last week. From the last week & on, I will break it up into the traditional individual entries. Well folks get comfortable as this very entry will be long! But before I get to that…….

Let me first acknowledge the fact that yes, I am alive. I got a number of e-mails asking if I was alive & everything was ok. I am happy to report that I am alive as this isn’t a ghostwriter. I am also doing ok for the most part. Thank you for caring enough to send in e-mails. I do want to apologize for not updating the site since January 25th. I did not abandon the site or lose passion for it, I just became very busy. If I wasn’t busy, I was exhausted & did not have the energy to play catchup. I have been keeping busy with some non-transit related projects along with the on & off week long celebration of my birthday. In case you were wondering, my birthday was February 16th.

So the MTA finally announced plans to permanently terminate trains at Court Square as part of their 2008 Service Enhancement Program. I don’t know what is more funny, that the MTA feels it is worth announcing something that anyone with a clue already knew would happen or the fact they will terminate service one stop short of a key transfer point. I among with many others have assumed this day would be coming. It seemed blatantly obvious when the MTA would always be doing some “construction” that prevented trains from running to Forest Hills during the brief periods it was scheduled to do so.

I read a few people commenting on how the transfer issue is not that big of a deal due to the underground transfer to the & at Court Square. My response is in the form of a question, are you serious? Yes, the provides a transfer that is a 1-3 minute walk away to Queens Blvd local & express service. The issue clearly stems from the fact that the is a part time line.

What happens to those riders who need/want to transfer to local service along Queens Blvd? Are they supposed to hop on the & backtrack? Why should they have to do so? I don’t see how anyone can think this is fair. During the overnights when the runs local, the issue is not there. However that window is only for a few hours & we still have the bulk of the weekend when the does not even run. It disgusts me how the MTA is always finding a way to discourage ridership on the .

Oh by the way before the naysayers come in & say how the G can’t be turned around at Queens Plaza anymore, save it. Yes, I know the layup track was shortened to allow the 63rd St. connection. However this still did not prevent trains from turning at Queens Plaza which it has done many times since the track was shortened. Now I am not saying it would be easy to turn trains at Queens Plaza but it can be done with reworked logistics. The truth is one of the main reasons they don’t like to turn trains at Queens Plaza is because it lacks certain employee facilities that Court Square has.

So riders who would benefit from such a common sense service pattern have to get railroaded for less important issues. Things like this continue to emphasize the disconnect between the MTA & its ridership base. I just think it is pathetic that riders have to put up with substandard service. Oh wait that’s right, riders should rejoice in an increase of service of up to 50% on weekday evenings & 20% during the afternoon. Of course with the MTA a catch is involved & that is for the increase in service, you lose 13 stations & a key transfer point to local service. Thanks MTA!

Now lets look at the opposite end of the line where the MTA actually is actually helping out riders by extending the to Church Avenue. Many Brooklyn riders & bloggers have been looking forward to the day when the would finally have a Brooklyn terminal that made sense. For years many have complained that the current terminal of Smith-9th Sts. made no sense. The main complaints were that the terminal was one stop short of a key transfer point (sound familiar????), & that it delayed trains which had to wait for the to exit & begin its eventual relay process.

Well I am happy to say congestion pricing was dealt the deadly blow. As readers of this blog know, I was against this plan from day one as it was filled with too much hot air & was another excuse to abuse the working class of our city. I used to chuckle at the ads (especially the one outside my former residence) touting how it was going to benefit mass transit users. Yes, it was going to help mass transit users by adding more people into a system with very little space as it is for current ridership levels. Good one!!!!!

Oh guess what everybody, the MTA is having budget issues which will effect major construction projects. Does this really come as a surprise to anyone? Lets take the Fulton Street Transit Hub for instance, every time I turn around, the MTA talks about cutting back on the project. At the rate they are going, I expect this “hub” to have 1 staircase, 1 token booth, 1 MetroCard Vending Machine (MVM), 1 turnstile, ……. well you get the picture.

The Second Avenue Subway was not spared in cutbacks as any hopes of extra tracks for express service were wiped out. If it wasn’t for the fact that the federal government is pumping a lot of funds towards this project, it would not have surprised me if it was put on the back burner by the MTA. Thankfully they can’t pull that trick due to the feds’ assistance. THANK HEAVENS FOR THAT!

The MetroCard is going to be a thing of the past very soon. Ok, I lied about the very soon part as this is the MTA we are dealing with. However last I checked, they were seeking bids from companies who would conduct a study on current & future technology choices for fare payment. Considering how slow the MTA is at getting things done, by time they choose a new system & overhaul the current one to install it, the rest of the world will be onto something better. So in the end we the riding public will be behind the times!

So the Department of Homeland Security decided to give NYC more money which has led to beefed up security. One of the first initiatives put into place was having New York City police officers (NYPD) armed with automatic rifles while being accompanied by bomb sniffing dogs patrolling subway cars & stations. Seriously what do they expect to accomplish with this? If a terrorist is on the subway or inside the station, I doubt seeing these cops will deter them from going through with their plans. I along with many others feel the money would be better spent securing rail yards, tunnels, & other major access points. But what do we know? We are just some of the millions our system moves around everyday!

Speaking of security or supposed form of it, yet another person was harassed while shooting at a transit related location. The unfortunate victim was a woman named Katherin McInnis who was visiting Brooklyn from San Francisco . An MTA cop harassed her as she was videotaping around the footprint of the future Atlantic Yards & current MTA Vanderbilt Yard. Here is the link to the story courtesy of the “Atlantic Yards Report”. I just hope Katherin kept her promise to file a complaint over the incident.

Now I will go painting, actually I am lying, the MTA is going painting. They have kicked their brushes into motion with the start of their 39 year paint plan for the subway system. No, that was not a typo, they say it will take a total of 39 years to paint every station in the system! What the hell could possibly happen that would lead the MTA or anyone to need that much time to paint 468 stations. While I am not expecting this project to be done in 1-2 months, under no circumstances should it take 39 years!

The saddest part is the $50 million dollars slated for this project was put aside almost 2 years ago! They did not start the project because they couldn’t decide which stations should go first. It took them 7 months but they have figured out how to pick the stations as they randomly drew them from a hat. I now understand why it took so long as it would take multiple geniuses to come up with such an idea! In case you were wondering, here are the initial 6 stations that will get painted as part of the plan to paint 12 stations a year:

The worst part of all of this is that there are stations in much more need of a paint job among other things compared to the randomly drawn stations. Another backwards plan & execution by the MTA. What else is new????

One of the most frustrating things in life is when people wait until someone dies or seriously gets hurt or almost dies or seriously gets hurt to do something that should have already been done. The MTA is no different as they showcased their ability to be reactive instead of proactive after a 14 year old fell to the trackbed after the platform edge he stepped on collapsed.

After outrage from all different directions, MTA New York City Transit (NYCT) President Howard Roberts ordered a complete inspection of every station platform in the New York City subway system. My question is why do you have to order complete inspections after the incident? One would think that such inspections are already a routine procedure unless they were in the midst of their 39 year plan to inspect platforms & had not reached the Kings Highway station yet!

I must say I am looking forward to the service improvements for Bronx mass transit users. The overall budget for these improvements is $13.7 million dollars & includes some of the following:

I for one feel the biggest news out of the list above is the introduction of 24 hour service on the Bx5. I have been preaching for years how that line needed & warranted 24 hour service. I sometimes used to crash at a place around Story Avenue after partying in & around NYC. Unfortunately many times I had no choice but to take a cab from either the Hunts Point Avenue or Simpson Street station to get to this home away from home. This was the case because the last Bx5 heading in my direction left shortly after midnight.

I could never understand why this line did not have 24 hour service to at least White Plains Rd. Every person who debated me on this topic always threw in my face the 24 hour service on the 2 which serves the West Farms Rd. terminal & the 24 hour 6 train service which covered everything from Hunts Point (arguably W. Farms Rd as well) up to Pelham Bay Park. My response to them was while the train service was there, it was not convenient for residents, especially those who lived in & around Story Ave.

Realistically speaking, if you lived anywhere past the Hunts Point Avenue station, the 6 was useless to you as the walk was very long from the respective stops along Westchester Avenue. Let us not also forget that one would have to cross over the highway to get to the residential area in & around Story Avenue. As far as those who live in & around White Plains Road, the walk from stops like St. Lawrence Avenue, Parkchester, etc… are extremely long. Even past those locations, the stops on the 6 are not really waking distance to the stops of the Bx5 along Bruckner Blvd. While I personally thought it might have been asking a lot for 24 hour service to Pelham Bay Park, I felt with 100% confidence it was warranted up to its White Plains Road terminal.

A story that came out around my birthday was one that saddened me while not surprising me at the same time. According to a 3 piece investigative report by the Daily News, Blacks & Latinos accounted for 88.3% of the 26,490 stop & frisk routines by cops in the NYC Subway! Just think about that for a second, 88.3% of the 26,490 stop & frisk routines are conducted on Blacks & Latinos! As a man who is part Black, & Puerto Rican (along with White), I have to seriously ask how can the cops get away with this? What should come as of no surprise to anyone, most of the stop & frisk routines occurred in mostly white areas.

Blacks & Latinos account for 49% of subway ridership yet they account for almost 90% of the searches? You do not need to be a math genius to see what is wrong with this picture. Here is a link to a system map with statistics breaking down the amount of stops along with other data such as the percentage of Blacks & Latinos which make up the total number of stops. The map is courtesy of the Daily News.

Let me take this time to congratulate the PATH for celebrating its 100 year anniversary on February 25th. To celebrate, the PATH provided free rides for everyone all day. I am sorry that I was not around for this event as it would have been a blast to ride PATH again. I have only ridden it a few times but I can’t recall ever having a problem with it.

***NEWSFLASH*** The Second Avenue Subway is over budget & 2 years behind schedule. This breaking news which comes as a surprise to everyone (deals with the pain of the most extreme sarcastic eye rolling ever!) This news came out towards the end of February. Although we are now in June, I am sure nothing has changed!

Now onto March which was somewhat quiet on the really major news front although not completely. On March 3rd, executive director & chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Elliot Sander held the first ever “State of the MTA” address. While the address contained the usual rhetoric one would expect such as talking about completing the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway along with the creation of East Side Access for the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) to Grand Central. it also contained some very ambitious plans about possible future service patterns. Some of these included:

These were just some of the ideas discussed in the state of the address. While I applaud Mr. Sander for having such ambitious goals, I must question whether any of these expansions will come to fruition anytime soon if ever. I mean when you can’t get something as simple as the Fulton Street Hub done without one issue after another, how can I believe these other bigger projects would get done. I also have to question is some of these expansions even necessary.

I will say that the creation of Metro-North service to those areas in the Bronx would not be that bad of an idea especially since these areas are going through gentrification. However I must question the usefulness of extending the train to connect with the & . I find that to be overkill as I wonder if the ridership is there to justify connecting to the which for the most part is a 1-2 block walk away from most stops in Manhattan. As far as connecting to the east side, well the hardly services the Gun Hill Road stop on the as it only sends some of its trains to service the Wakefield end of the .

Lets not forget that D riders who want to connect to the east side can transfer to the at 161 Street-Yankee Stadium. Lastly there are 4 buses riders around the 205th Street terminal can use to connect to the & at Gun Hill Road. They can take the Bx28 or Bx30 from the 205th Street terminal to Gun Hill Road & White Plains Road or walk about 2-3 minutes & catch the Bx41 or extended Bx55 to the same corner (although I don’t know why they would walk).

As far as the extension of the Second Avenue Subway is concerned, I think they would be best suited extending it to the Bronx before anywhere else. Where does the majority of the Lexington Avenue ridership come from? Obviously the answer is the Bronx, & what is the main purpose of the Second Avenue Subway? Once again the answer is obvious, to provide relief to the Lexington Avenue lines. So why would you extend the service in the opposite direction?

Hopefully the Rockaways will see a nice upgrade to their stations. The MTA wants to start work this fall on a $190 million dollar renovation project that will provide upgrades to all 9 stations in the Rockaway peninsula. The plans which can only go through if approved by the state legislature would include include improvements to platforms, stairs and canopies, electrical work, & a public address system.

Speaking of renovations, the MTA plans on doing them in 2010 to 4 stations in Queens which all happen to be on the . The financial costs of work to the 4 stations is as followed:

April was filled with typical transit news for the most part. Riders & advocates for the are still demanding much deserved better service & upgrades to the line. The MTA is still crying about the sham known as congestion pricing failing. Oh yeah something big did happen, the Pope came into town & caused commuting nightmares for many. It is so nice when your commute is messed up due to the spread of stuff you don’t want or care to hear……

The biggest news of the month in my opinion was the announcement of the city’s first BRT (better known as Bus Rapid Transit) line. The line will debut on the Bx12 in the Bronx. Here is a link to an article on Streetsblog which has much more information. I am surprised that something positive would be debuted in a borough outside of Manhattan since it seems that borough gets preferred treatment.

Now onto May which saw much more transit news take place. Some of the major stories included the MTA continuing their obsession with customer surveys. This time they announced plans to survey 170,000 residents so they can assess their travel patterns.

On May 4th, a Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue bound train derailed inside the tunnel near the 57th Street-7th Avenue stop. While no one ever wants to hear about a train derailing, some comfort was taken in the fact that it happened on the weekend as compared to a weekday where ridership is higher & most importantly no one was hurt.

Onto a more disgusting piece of news, a story came out about some subway benches being invaded by bedbugs. While I don’t care to sit on those benches to begin with, this has pretty much guaranteed I won’t now. The thought of bedbugs on them is disgusting & that is saying something as I am used to how sad of shape our system is in. What is really interesting if you think about it is that some people wonder why bed bugs would be on benches. My answer is these benches are pretty much beds considering how many homeless people have used them as such. I don’t think one bench in the system can lay claim to not have been slept on at least once by a homeless person.

Now onto the Hudson Rail Yards project which I have blogged about a lot. In the first week of May some unfortunate news came out about the project. The $1 billion dollar deal for the rights to the Hudson Rail Yards between the MTA & Tishman Speyer fell apart. However thankfully (depending on who you ask) the fear of having a lesser price tag for the rights did not come to fruition as one of the initial unsuccessful bidders inked a deal with the MTA.

Related Companies/Goldman Sachs signed an agreement worth $1billion dollars for the rights to develop 12 million square feet of office towers, apartment buildings, & parks over the current site. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Board unanimously authorized the staff to proceed with the agreement which was announced.

***NEWSFLASH*** Ridership is up according to statistics released by the MTA in May. Do we really need them to release statistics to tell us something anyone with 2 eyes could see? Now back to more relevant transit news…

The MTA did announce a plan for something that was long overdue. They issued a press release to announce their plans to integrate operations of their 3 bus agencies. Normally I would post the entire press release but this entry is long enough so here is a link to it. This plan is clearly a sign of the change that occurred when MTA Bus President Thomas Savage retired. Now one might wonder what is the big deal about someone retiring? Well this so called retirement has led to controversy due to the fact that Mr. Savage is going to receive his yearly salary of $200,000 for doing nothing for the next year. Folks this is not retirement but an actual buyout regardless of what anyone says.

In the middle of May, the MTA issued a press release in which they honored officers & civilians for their shows of bravery. Here is a link to the press release. Also in the middle of the May, Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) president Helena Williams announced the agency’s plan to reduce the use & decibel level of horns. Here is a link to the press release with more information.

The MTA Staten Island Railway introduced new “Get-A-Way” service on May 23rd. The service implements earlier afternoon express train service on the day before select major holidays. Staten Island Railway chief officer John G. Gaul had this to say about the new service: “With our new “Get-A-Way” schedule, there will be one express and one local train to meet every boat starting at 2:30 p.m. That’s double the service two hours earlier than usual.” According to the MTA, the service will run on the following days:

Towards the end of last month, the MTA announced plans to have a trial expansion of their paratransit service “Access A Ride”. The trial expansion would enable trips to within 3/4 of a mile corridor into Nassau & Westchester counties respectively. Here is a link to the press release with complete details.

Let me also acknowledge the brave Metro-North employees who saved the life of a suicidal man. Here is the press release with full details:

Six Metro-North employees whose quick thinking and selflessness saved the life of a man who was struck by a train were honored Wednesday by the Executive Director and board of directors of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

On May 16, at 4:04 p.m., the engineer of a Hudson Line train saw a trespasser lying on the ground with his feet on the rail. Although the engineer immediately applied the emergency brakes and sounded the horn, the train couldn’t stop in time and hit the trespasser.

When the train came to a stop, Assistant Conductor Guy Sclafani and three other Metro-North employees who were off duty and happened to be riding the train home-Conductors William Marsden and Jeffrey Williams, and Grand Central Terminal Building Maintenance Superintendent Frank Rufino-jumped off the train and ran to find the man.

Seeing the man alive but with severe trauma to his feet and legs, Sclafani and Marsden removed their shirts and used them as tourniquets applying pressure to stop the victim’s hemorrhaging. They sheltered the injured man from the pouring rain and kept the man conscious by talking with him.

“In the face of horrific circumstances, these individuals reflexively raced into action to save a life,” said MTA CEO and Executive Director Elliot Sander. “Their performance during this incident reflects positively on them as individuals and on Metro-North and the MTA family as a whole. I am honored to recognize and commend these gentlemen for their work that afternoon.”

Conductor Tim Boruta and Engineer Mike Maxwell stayed aboard the train and kept the customers calm and informed.

Medical responders, who had a challenge reaching this nearly inaccessible location just south of the Garrison station, said that the Conductors’ actions saved the victim’s life.

The man was taken to Westchester County Medical Center, where he is now recovering.

Sclafani, a 17-year veteran with Metro-North resides in Walkill, NY; Marsden is a 33-year veteran and resides in Red Hook, NY; Williams, a railroad employee for 32 years, lives in Poughkeepsie, NY; and Rufino, a railroad employee for 11 years, lives in LaGrangeville, NY.

The end of May could not come quick enough as a major scandal broke out thanks to the report from the Daily News’ own Pete Donohue. According to his report from May 27th, almost 60 past & present MTA Board members get free taxpayer funded E-Z Pass tags for life. Here is the link to the full report.

As one would expect the riding public was outraged but they were not the only one. The day after the report was released, State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo came out on the attack warning the MTA to end the practice of giving out free E-Z Pass tags. He was quite serious about it as he quickly noted how doling out such perks was illegal while having a letter titled “Illegal Compensation of Board Members”.

Past & current board members felt it was not a problem which was pretty evident by the comments made by former Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman (MTA) Peter Kalikow who stated “Everybody on the board serves for nothing. They do a lot of hard work and it’s a way of saying thank you.” You have just got to love this attitude coming from a multi-millionaire who had as many as 8 tags so he did not have to switch them out between his endless supply of cars.

Even with State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo calling for an end to these perks, the MTA remained steadfast in defending its actions. Current Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman (MTA) Dale Hemmerdinger justified the perks by pretty much saying it has been in practice all this time so why change it. Here was his exact quote:

The practice of providing board members free access to the system they oversee dates back at least to the 1950s. We believe the M.T.A. has acted in a manner fully consistent with the 1992 law referred to by the attorney general…But given the newly stated view of the attorney general which is contrary to the M.T.A. position we are going to seek a declaratory judgment and allow a court to determine whether or not this constitutes compensation.

Thankfully after the consistent pressure from State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo along with the backlash from riders to rider activist groups, the MTA decided to amend its practice of free E-Z Pass tags. Here was the brief press release issued:

In light of Attorney General Cuomo’s opinion, the MTA will amend its longstanding practice of issuing free passes on the agency’s transit network to its current and former board members. Subject to approval of its Board, the MTA would rescind its policy of issuing free lifetime passes on its operating systems to former board members. Hereafter, pursuant to the MTA’s enabling legislation, active board members may only utilize passes on the transit network to the extent that such use constitutes actual and necessary expenses incurred in the performance of their official MTA duties.

It is truly hard to come up with one word to describe the fact this perk even existed. Some good choices would be Comical, Pathetic, Unsurprising, feel free & come up with your own! Oh by the way I highly suggest checking out the picture of Peter Kalikow. I would swear that he made his statement about the perk right before that picture was taken. Talk about a picture perfectly matching the scene in a story!

I will leave readers with a positive story related to the MTA to end the month of May. On May 29th, the MTA’s Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) issued a press release announcing that they were the recipient of a prestigious transit award. Here is the press release:

Safety is the number one priority at the LIRR. Recent awards help to drive home that point. For employee safety achievements, the E.H. Harriman Memorial Awards Institute, a national rail industry safety advocacy group, has recognized the LIRR with its Certificate of Commendation, one of the most prestigious awards in the industry, for most improved employee accident rate in its railroad class.

The LIRR, which employs more than 6,700 workers, achieved a 13% decrease in employee lost time due to accidents last year. In 2007, there were 156 employee accidents compared to 179 employee accidents in 2006. This is the second time the LIRR has been recognized by the E.H. Harriman Memorial Awards Institute. Last year, the railroad was awarded the Harriman Award Bronze Medal in recognition of safety performance. The LIRR reached this milestone while serving a record number of customers, 86.1 million, and achieving record on-time-performance levels.

The railroad has also received the MTA Chairman’s Sustained Achievement in Safety Award and the railroad’s Maintenance of Equipment Department represented the LIRR in garnering the MTA’s Outstanding Group Safety Award, given to representative departments from each of the MTA’s agencies.

On the passenger safety side, the LIRR has been awarded two bronze Best of Long Island (BOLI) certificates of excellence by the Long Island Advertising Club for its “Be TrainSmart” safety campaign. The informational campaigns focused on reminding LIRR customers to be careful of the gap between trains and platforms and to allow customers to exit trains before getting aboard. Other “Be TrainSmart” safety campaign messages center on the proper use of escalators, child safety, train door safety and grade crossing safety.

” I am extremely proud of these awards. A safe work environment requires a continuous conscientious effort by LIRR employees, as these awards show,” said LIRR President Helena Williams. “Employee safety goes hand-in-hand with a safe environment for our customers,” she added.

In 2006, the LIRR received the Senator Norman Levy Public Transportation Safety Award from the New York State Public Transportation Safety Board. The most recent MTA award marks the fourth time the LIRR has been awarded the MTA Chairman’s Sustained Achievement in Safety Award. The MTA awards were presented to the LIRR during a luncheon on May 28.

It is nice to end the month on a positive note!

Well folks there it is, the 4+ month catchup entry that brings us to the end of May. Remind me to never have to play catchup like this on my blog again!

xoxo Transit Blogger

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