Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Mass Transit Use is Rising
*Source: The New York Times
Why is it that the Daily News, Richard Ravitch, and Mayor Bloomberg seek to impose an additional burden, by tolling the free East River bridges, on already overtaxed and underserved New York City residents? The drivers coming from New Jersey, and the counties of Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland, and Fairfield County, Connecticut—those riders, who contribute the greatest amount to congestion and pollution, would have received a discount for tolls paid. Any new congestion plan must eliminate that discount.
A far more equitable, and more effective approach to congestion pricing would double the tolls on the Henry Hudson, Throgs Neck, Triborough and Whitestone bridges, and add $8.00 "Welcome to New York City" tolls on the L.I.E., the Grand Central, the Southern and Northern State Parkways, and at the exits into the city from the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, and the George Washington Bridge. That would cut a lot more traffic, and provide much greater funding for mass transit. Drivers from those areas have access to NJ Transit, Metro-North, or the Long Island Railroad, and Metro-North and Long Island Railroad riders are already subsidized by the state to a much greater degree than are New York City Transit users, who pay a greater share of transit costs than do riders of mass transit anywhere in the United States.
To show just how inequitable the Bloomberg approach is to outer-borough residents, I've added together the household median incomes of Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland and Fairfield counties, and come up with an average median income for those surrounding areas of $70,912.00. That's quite a bit more than the average of Kings, Bronx, Queens, Manhattan and Richmond counties, which is only $39,850.00*. If we're going to have congestion pricing, the fees should come from the majority of drivers who are also better-equipped to pay—not from city residents.
Finally, the Daily News once again mourns the loss of the $354 million that would have bought 300 new express buses, and very minor improvements to four of our twenty-six subway lines. I, too, will miss those improvements, but without major reforms at the MTA, reforms not included in PlaNY 2030, those promises, too, would likely have been broken.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
MTA moves to solar power
Peter H. Bass, director of environmental and energy policy for the MTA, said the cost of using solar power is expected to be about $1 million dollars more per year than if that power were purchased from Con Edison.
While the agency should be commended for this initiative, there are two things the agency could do today to benefit the environment and save money at the same time:
1) End the use of diesel locomotives throughout the system, except when absolutely necessary; e.g., when power has been cut and repairs must be made. The outdated diesel engines used by the MTA spew an incredible amount of particulate matter (one of the most harmful forms of pollution) into the atmosphere. The garbage trains that collect the trash from subway stations often use diesel engines.
2) Begin using plastic railroad ties throughout the NYCT subway and elevated lines. Plastic ties have several advantages over the wood ties that have traditionally been used; they are made of recycled materials and can be installed incrementally as needed, they have a longer life than wood ties, and they are not a source of pollution as are wood ties which are treated with creosote, a highly toxic substance.
The Long Island Railroad began installing plastic ties on the Montauk line in 2007, so the MTA is well aware of the benefits. Let's pressure them to implement these two common-sense measures.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Driver actually charged!
In the image shown above, © 2008 Sanborn, ©2008 Tele Atlas, from Google Earth™, traffic from Duane Street and the Brooklyn Bridge merges on to Centre Street (lower left), often at speeds higher than the limit of 30 mph. The courthouse steps are at top center of the photo. Increased enforcement would be particularly useful here.
As reported by Christine Hauser in the New York Times, six people were injured yesterday when an out-of-control 1999 Nissan Altima traveling north on Centre Street mounted the curb, destroyed a fire hydrant and a coffee vendor's cart before finally coming to rest on the State Supreme Court steps.
From Ms. Hauser's report:
"The police said six people were injured, including Lorenzo Bello, the 33-year-old man who was driving the 1999 Altima; his passenger; the coffee vendor, 26; and the pinned man, 32, whose right leg was injured. They were taken to hospitals in stable condition, but the police did not give their names.
Mr. Bello, who lives in Queens, was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment and driving with a suspended license.
Two pedestrians also were injured: a 35-year old woman who was hit in the left thigh and taken to the hospital in stable condition, the police said, and Maryanne Hom, 59, who said she jumped out of the way just in time."At least the driver was charged.
About four hours later, a cab driver hit another pedestrian approximately 60 feet from the first accident. A witness at the scene said the victim flew 15 to 20 feet. No information about charges is available at this time.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Some other things we could do to reduce traffic and improve transit; most without State approval
• Do the same for every third or fourth avenue (First Avenue, Lexington Avenue, Fifth Avenue, Broadway, Ninth Avenue).
• Make all deliveries requiring trucks larger than a van take place between 6PM and 6AM.
• Do the same for major thoroughfares in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx.
• Establish a dedicated force of 2,500 police to enforce the traffic laws, dedicate half of the increased fines collected to mass transit; the other half would pay for the increased enforcement.
• Eliminate at least half of the parking placards now in circulation.
• Double the parking tax; dedicate the increased revenues to mass transit.
• Triple the street parking fees; dedicate the increased revenues to mass transit.
• Impose a $1,000 per year tax surcharge on passenger vehicles registered within the city that get less than 25 mpg/city.
• Eliminate city sales tax on bicycles and bike equipment.
• Make the fine for traveling over 30mph in the city $20.00 for every mile per hour above 30—and strictly enforce it.
• Ban "schooling" behavior of cabs—hundreds at a time travel up Church/Sixth Ave en masse or down Columbus while people elsewhere can't find one. Cabbies income would rise, streets would be calmed.
• Get the cross-harbor tunnel built—we've been waiting since 1915!
And there's so much more that can be done—please post your ideas!
Sunday, April 6, 2008
Bloomberg bon mot
As if anyone has ever answered to New Yorkers regarding inadequate transit.
Saturday, April 5, 2008
Congestion pricing money going to these guys?
New York City Transit bus rider report cards were to be made accessible on the MTA's website on April 1st. So far, as of April 5th, they've only been able to post report cards for Staten Island. I've informed them of this error via their online complaint process, but from past experience, I'm not holding my breath. Above, you can see the page that one gets when one attempts to rate one's line. I suppose that one can't vote if one's line begins with M, B, Q or Bx.
Do you really believe these people have the ability to improve service to the degree that congestion pricing requires? Has the MTA shown supporters of the current congestion plan some newly found yet hitherto unseen competency?
Mayor Bloomberg and his congestion-pricing coterie have been running around the corridors of Albany asking legislators what changes are necessary in order for the plan to be enacted. Aside from the changes that have been requested all along, I'd say a complete overhaul of the MTA and its operations might be in order.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Congestion pricing—a great idea, a terrible plan
I support congestion pricing, but have extreme reservations about this version they’re trying to ram down our throats. There are serious drawbacks to this plan; most importantly, it will not produce substantial reductions in traffic and pollution, nor will the plan provide sufficient revenues to enable the necessary improvements to mass transit necessitated by congestion pricing.
The plan may also be unconstitutional—how do you justify making outer-borough residents de facto second-class citizens of the city in which they live? What additional tax burden do Manhattanites living within the zone pay, that they should receive preferential treatment above and beyond other city residents? Yet the state assembly was the direct cause of this—the original agreement with the federal DOT did not specifically restrict congestion pricing to the borough of Manhattan (as I read it), but the bill approved by the state assembly and senate authorized the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission to devise a plan restricted to Manhattan. We outer-borough residents already receive inferior city services compared to Manhattan.
There are insufficient disincentives to discourage drivers coming from Westchester, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Long Island to forgo travel to Manhattan by car; most would receive a credit for tolls paid, and would only pay an additional $2.00 to enter the congestion zone. Do you really think that a $2.00 charge will stop drivers from coming? There are no incentives in the plan for the use of hybrid vehicles and other, non-polluting and alternative methods of transportation (how about eliminating sales tax on bicycles and helmets?). Only those who live within the congestion zone will benefit from improved air quality—those who live in neighborhoods outside the zone, who already suffer disproportionately higher rates of asthma and COPD due to high concentrations of particulate matter will continue to do so—the rates of asthma and COPD may even rise. As New York City has the highest rate of asthma in the United States and the Hunts Point neighborhood in the Bronx has the highest asthma rate in the world, I, and many others find this green-wash solution completely unacceptable.
New York City residents have the lowest car-ownership rates in the area, and account for the lowest percentage of drivers in Manhattan, yet the lion’s share of costs of this plan will inequitably fall on them.
I will not go into all the alternatives here, but many spoke out to the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, including myself, and that testimony is part of the record, and I urge you to read all of it—there are many excellent suggestions, most of which were ignored by the commission.
Please read my report on Traffic and Mass Transit in New York City, which I originally sent to Governor Spitzer in May of 2007, but I ask you to also read the letter to the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, which also appears here:
I also request that you read my other posts, too.
I’d like to point out that 40% of the City Council did not approve of this plan, and I would like to say, once again, that drastic reforms at the MTA (ignored in the plan) are necessary if congestion pricing is to be an effective means of reducing congestion, pollution and improving the quality of life for all New Yorkers, both upstate and down. Driver reform is also entirely necessary, and is also completely ignored in the current plan.
Please, don't buy into the current plan. Note that City Councilmember and Environmental Committee Chair James F. Gennaro voted against this proposal—he's well aware that this is a bogus bill that will only increase the tax burden on outer-borough residents, and will fail in providing the promised benefits of decreased pollution and traffic that we city residents deserve. It will only decrease congestion in select neighborhoods (if at all) while increasing pollution in most other areas, will only marginally improve mass transit; again, only in a few places, and will not benefit the majority of New York City residents. Write your state assemblymember, your state senator, Senator Bruno, Assemblymember Silver, and Governor Patterson, and let them know we need a real plan that benefits all the residents of New York City.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
"...an opportunity to create a real five-borough plan has been missed..."—Councilmember Leroy G. Comrie, Jr.'s comments
I am very disappointed that this body was not able to come together to develop a real plan to help all New York City residents deal with the issues of congestion and health. The lack of outreach was evident and an opportunity to create a real five-borough plan has been missed. In my opinion, the residents of Queens will be unfairly taxed by the current congestion plan.
As a long-time member of this body — as an elected official and as a staffer — over the past 20 years I’ve heard numerous promises made by several administrations regarding improved public transportation and capital improvements in Queens, which were never delivered. And despite the assurances of this administration, I’ve seen nothing that will assure me that the projected benefits of this congestion plan will ever be delivered upon.
We have no control of the M.T.A.’s capital budget- they can change it whenever they want to. Several years ago, when the M.T.A. took over the private bus lines in Queens, there were promises made for additional express bus services. We still haven’t seen them. And the M.T.A.’s inability to open their real financial books to the public only reaffirms my belief that the people of Queens will be paying into a system that places executive perks over real transportation improvements. I have absolutely no faith in M.T.A. to be honest with New Yorkers.
I want to applaud my colleagues who stood against this plan, especially my colleague from Brooklyn, Council Member Lew Fidler. Real leadership comes not when you are agreeing with majority- that’s the easy part -but when you dissent as minority, based on your principles and your belief that what you do and how you vote is a true reflection of the community you serve.
Today, I cast my vote for the residents of Queens, who this evening will be packed like sardines on the E train to Jamaica Center. Who will be frustrated sitting in traffic on the Grand Central. Our economy is in recession and the mortgage crisis now threatens to erode the entire Southeast Queens community. Our federal government has seen fit to bail out billion dollar Wall Street firms, while real families in this City are losing homes and jobs. And the message from this Council, in the midst of this crisis, is to impose another tax. We are unwilling to raise taxes on the wealthy, but see fit to continue pricing working class residents out of the City.
I will not in good conscience vote in favor of this plan.
Monday, March 24, 2008
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Council Hearings on Congestion Mitigation
The first session, beginning at 10AM, will feature "expert" testimony.
The second session, which begins at 6PM, invites comments from the public.
Please attend and show your support for congestion mitigation and transit improvements, but let the council know that the current plan is the wrong plan. The hearings will be held in the Council Chambers at City Hall.
Tell Governor Patterson that this is the wrong plan!
This is exceedingly difficult to write, as I fully support congestion pricing in theory, but the current plan is wrong for New York City, and wrong for New York State. Here, briefly, are some of the biggest problems:
• There is no "lockbox"; the MTA plans to dedicate only 15% of revenues to capital improvements
• The current plan penalizes outer-borough residents while PA, NJ commuters and
Manhattanites living within the congestion zone get a free pass
• Improvements to mass transit are not in place, and the planned improvements are inadequate
• The current plan doesn't address the lack of traffic enforcement, one of the leading causes of traffic congestion
• The current plan doesn't address New York City Transit's woefully well-documented and historic inefficiencies
• Manhattan isn't the only place in NYC with horrendous congestion; Bloomberg's plan will increase congestion in poor neighborhoods with high asthma rates
• The current plan doesn't offer incentives for hybrid vehicles
• Even the mayor admits that traffic will probably NOT be reduced by 6% with the current plan, yet a 6% reduction is required to obtain the Federal DOT grant of $354 million
We need vastly improved mass transit to make congestion pricing effective; Theodore Kheel's plan, while still not perfect, is a much better plan than Mike Bloomberg's, and it makes mass transit free. Please read some of my earlier posts; then, email your city council member, your state senator, Sheldon Silver (email@example.com) and Governor David Patterson, and insist that they provide a better congestion plan that addresses all of these issues.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Transportation Committee Chairman wants guarantees
He further requests that these funds be additive: "Second, the money must be additive in terms of overall transportation funding, not an excuse for future governors, mayors and legislators to cut MTA funding by an amount equal to congestion pricing proceeds.” and goes on to suggest that the City Council, along with the State Legislature, create a list of transit improvements towards which spending will be directed.
I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Liu's proposals, but ask that he, and his fellow City Council Members re-examine the "workable framework" provided by the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, and see if they cannot recommend further improvements to the plan—specifically, I'd like to alleviate the disproportionate impact upon city residents, and add more disincentives to those non-residents who regularly drive in—see my report, speech and letter to the commission on Traffic and Transit in New York City, posted on January 5th.
Higher congestion fees for out-of-city residents and discounts for city residents would help, and would encourage those city residents who currently register their cars out of state (perhaps as many as 1 in 4 outer-borough residents) to register their vehicles correctly.
I'd also ask that the funding be directed only to New York City Transit capital improvements, and not to the MTA. In addition, I would suggest that the council form a citizens oversight committee, to review and make changes to proposed spending by New York City Transit—NYCT has a history of spending far too much too obtain too little, and correcting this, too, should be part of congestion pricing. (See my posts "A culture of waste and inefficiency", from February 6th, and "Concrete flooring for the subways", from February 1st for some examples of NYCT waste.)
Finally, I stress once more that increased traffic enforcement, and a portion of the revenues generated thereby, is an essential element not only of any congestion-pricing initiative, but is necessary to ensure a civil society, and ask that the City Council incorporate this into their final recommendations to the State Assembly.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
A culture of arrogance and obfuscation
Customer (Cameron Williams) - 01/31/2008 03:50 PM
Why are these buses (Q39) allowed to leapfrog each other, without regard to the printed schedule? I've seen four of these buses arrive within the space of three minutes—then no buses at all for 45 minutes.
Is this a concession you've made to the TWU? (i.e., if a driver finishes his/her route ahead of schedule, they get a break until their next scheduled run.)
If not, what's your justification?
Inadequate (and canned) response that doesn't answer the specific questions.
Response (Helen Castiglia) - 02/05/2008 09:43 AM
Dear Mr. Williams:
I am writing in response to your e-mail regarding the Q-39 bus route.
We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience you have experienced. Despite our best efforts to maintain regularly scheduled service, delays and service diversions can sometimes occur for a variety of reasons.
Therefore, in response to your concerns, with respect to multiple buses arrivng at the same time, this is usually an indication that a problem or obstruction occurred along the route which backs up the buses. Once the obstruction clears and buses resume a normal flow into traffic, they begin to catch up with one another thus resulting in a "bunching" or "piggyback" effect. Despite our best eforts to maintain regularly sheduled service, delays and service disruptions can sometimes occur for a variety of reasons.
If you have any future bus related concerns, please call our Customer Service Department at (718) 445-3100 Monday through Friday 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM.
Customer Service Department
MTA Bus Company
A culture of waste and inefficiency
This narrow-mindedness is pervasive throughout the MTA. A few months back, their knee-jerk reaction to the "lack of cleanliness" noted in the "Rider Report Cards" was to immediately hire an additional 300 cleaners. Have you noticed how much cleaner the cars are since then? I thought not. But there is now another substantial drain on transit resources. A more prudent approach would have been to evaluate the efficiency of the cleaners already employed, then take steps to maximize their effectiveness. I've watched the cleaners at the Coney Island terminus, and they tend to miss every other piece of litter.
Again and again, one finds that the solutions to problems implemented by transit officials invariably adds another layer of cost to the system. Why? The answer seems to be that executives don't advance their careers within the MTA by saving money; they advance by devising grandiose plans which garner publicity. Unfortunately, that approach cheats the taxpayers and riders.
Since it's our money these authorities are spending, I would ask that the MTA adopt the philosophy of Occam's Razor, a well-known principal used successfully by scientists throughout the world. Stated as succinctly as possible, it is: "When confronted by a problem with multiple solutions, the simplest is usually correct." Remember folks, that's "simplest", not "costliest".
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Today is primary day—Vote
We're New York City Transit
If you need a train or must take a bus
You. Gotta. Depend on us.
We don't give a damn
And we don't give a hoot
Complain all you want
But we got your loot
Thank you for being our victim tonight
We're the transit authority—thass right
Yeah, your commute might take half the day
That's right, we're a part of the MTA
We don't care
If you ever get home
We got you to work
So don't bitch & moan
Thank you so much for being patient
We're New York City Transit
A man was caught riding while dead
You too might be late—plan ahead
Monday, February 4, 2008
What's wrong with congestion pricing?
While I support congestion pricing, the Manhattan-centric approach endorsed by the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission will actually harm most New York City residents (the presumed beneficiaries), and will not provide revenues sufficient to support the necessary improvements to mass transit that increased ridership demands.
New York City residents should not have to pay a toll to travel within their own city, they already pay more than their fair share of infrastructure and maintenance costs; the costs of congestion pricing should be borne by those drivers who travel to the city from Long Island, Westchester, Connecticut and New Jersey, who are arguably better off financially than the majority of outer-borough residents, and finally, and perhaps most importantly, congestion relief must apply to all five boroughs—we are one city.
Horrific traffic throughout the city contributes to the particulate pollution that has caused New York City to have the highest rate of asthma in the United States; Hunts Point, in the South Bronx has the highest asthma rate in the world. The current congestion pricing plan will actually increase outer borough traffic, causing greater harm to those already disproportionately affected.
In consideration of these facts, I ask that you review the testimony submitted to the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, and devise and submit to the State Assembly a plan that benefits all New York City residents.
Friday, February 1, 2008
Concrete flooring for the subways
Pete Donohue of the New York Daily News again reported on flooring disagreements within the MTA; Howard Roberts, NYC Transit President, and NYCT spokesman Paul Fleuranges claim that concrete can't be polished or kept clean; while William Henderson, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA wants "...officials to deal with this issue."
Finally, Gene Russianoff of the Straphanger's Campaign compared the charm of concrete to that of a fallout shelter, claiming that, "Cleaner, brighter tile floors are more welcoming and feel more secure."
As cost factors indicate the use of concrete rather that granite, or ceramic tiles, all of these gentlemen need to acquaint themselves with modern concrete treatments and construction methods. We can use concrete and have beautiful public spaces; a little research and creativity are all that's needed. The picture at left, from Kemiko Concrete Stain of Leonard, Texas, is of a stained and polished concrete floor and merely gives a hint of what is possible.
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Critical Mass for cars?
What if, on an agreed upon day, 1,000 drivers were to strategically position themselves in groups of 50 cars at 20 major thoroughfares throughout the city, occupy each lane of those thoroughfares, and proceed to obey the speed limits and all other regulations; i.e., not blocking the box, full stops at stop signs, etc.? Bullying SUV drivers who'd like to pass and drive 20 mph above the posted limits would be blocked. With full gas tanks, and another 1,000 relief drivers, this civilizing action could affect both morning and evening commutes. We'd certainly slow traffic down somewhat, and the police couldn't say any laws were being broken; their hands would be tied. In addition, this would be an irresistible story to the press; we'd get massive coverage from every major media outlet. What's the argument, that there's a basic right to break the law? I'd like to organize this and make it happen; if you'd like to participate, email me here. This would definitely get attention—and produce results.
Death tally for 2007
136 pedestrians were killed.
77 drivers and passengers were killed.
23 bicyclists were killed.
35 motorcyclists were killed.
The report failed to mention how many times charges were filed. Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said, "We're going to do whatever we can to make those streets less intimidating and less chaotic.", and I thank her for her efforts—much remains to be done.
Tiles too expensive
And concrete needn't be ugly, as claimed by MTA board member Andrew Albert. There are new, textured and colored concrete flooring options available, and environmentally friendly recycled shredded tires embedded in resin could also be used. Both options were mentioned in my report on traffic and transit (see post of January 5th) written in May of last year. Apparently, the MTA board is unaware of these options. Please write to them and let them know.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Street Renaissance and City Council addresses
Here are important email addresses and committee members for the New York City Council. These three committees, and their members, have the greatest influence within the council on matters of traffic and transit. Please write to all of these committees to give them your opinions regarding congestion pricing. The conclusions of the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission are not necessarily the final arbiters of legislative action; but the time is now to make your voices heard. I'll also be posting State Assembly member addresses in the next few days—a final vote is due by March 31, 2008. For individual council member email addresses, visit:
Chairperson: John C. Liu
Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr.
Daniel R. Garodnick
G. Oliver Koppell
Jessica S. Lappin
Michael E. McMahon
Larry B. Seabrook
Environmental Protection Committee
Chairperson: James F. Gennaro
Bill de Blasio
G. Oliver Koppell
Melissa Mark Viverito
Domenic M. Recchia, Jr.
Peter F. Vallone, Jr.
Thomas White, Jr.
Public Safety Committee
Oversight: Police Department, Courts, District Attorneys, Special Narcotics Prosecutor, Civilian Complaint Review Board, Department of Juvenile Justice, Criminal Justice Coordinator, Office of Emergency Management, and Organized Crime Control Commission.
Committee Chairperson Peter F. Vallone, Jr.
District Office Address
22-45 31st Street., Astoria, Astoria, New York, 11105
Phone: (718) 274-4500
Fax Phone No.: (718) 726-0357
Legislative Office Address
250 Broadway, 17th Floor, 10007
Phone: (212) 788-6963
Fax Phone No.: (212) 788-8957
Chairperson: Peter F. Vallone, Jr.
Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr.
Erik Martin Dilan
Helen D. Foster
Daniel R. Garodnick
James F. Gennaro
Vincent J. Gentile
Melinda R. Katz
James S. Oddo
Monday, January 28, 2008
An Upper West Side Story
In 1992, I was living in a building on the corner of Columbus Avenue and West 77th Street. One morning, I left to hail a cab at about 5:45 AM. If you're familiar with the neighborhood, you know that at that time, hundreds of cabbies race down Columbus Avenue en masse, at speeds approaching 60 mph., resembling nothing so much as a school of bright yellow sharks in search of prey. (This behavior can also be seen downtown, where Church Street becomes Sixth Avenue.)
Anyway, I extended my hand to hail a cab, and, in their haste to get a fare, three cabbies collided in front of me, doing considerable damage to their cars. I calmly got the next cab, who happened not to be speeding, and left them to their angry recriminations.
We need driver reform—why don't we get it?
It was also a week that saw a software CEO mow down a woman in downtown Manhattan. He was admittedly doing 60 mph. on city streets, where the speed limit is 30. Unfortunately, there's nothing at all unusual about that.
As I mentioned earlier, I've been driving a friend's car to work. Drivers routinely travel at 50 mph on city streets. The good folks at Transit Alternatives have used radar guns to clock them. I know it. You know it. The NYPD knows it. But nothing is done. When was the last time there was a crackdown on speeders, two years ago? And the crackdown lasted an entire week.
We should have reached what Malcolm Gladwell calls "The Tipping Point" long ago, as a matter of fact, on December 7, 2006, when little Andy Vega's life was cut short. A truck driver on Third Avenue in Brooklyn, underneath the Gowanus Expressway, was speeding (by his own admission), trying to make a light before it changed. He missed it, but decided to run the red light (again, his own admission), and ran little Andy down. As usual, no charges were filed.
Why are we willing to accept this? Why are we not outraged? Do we, our police and elected officials see our dangerous streets as a normal cost of doing business? Or are we just inured to the carnage? What will it take to change attitudes? 40% of all traffic fatalities are caused by drunk drivers—the other 60% are caused by bad drivers. It took twenty years, but we finally did something about the drunks. It may take another twenty, but we must do something about the rest.
The Daily News questioned cabbies about the undercover sting operation, and one, quite angry, claimed it was text messages that caused accidents, not talking on cell phones (as he continued to talk on his cell). Numerous studies have proved that hands-free or hand held, cell phones are a distraction.
One last item before I go to work, a report I filed yesterday with the MTA about an exceedingly poor driver in their employ:
January 27, 2008, 3:00 PM
Belt Parkway, parking lot entrance immediately before Exit 5
I was about to exit at exit 5, when the Access-A-Ride driver, plate number 63714-LA, who was standing at the entrance to the parking area which precedes the exit, re-entered traffic on the Belt Parkway—without signaling or gaining the proper speed. I had to slam on the brakes, and was nearly rear ended by the driver behind me. To add insult to injury, the Access-A-Ride driver proceeded to take the exit, which he could have done safely by simply proceeding through the parking area. Drivers as amateurish as this one do not belong on the road, and certainly should not have responsibility for passengers.
MTA Reference: \'080127-000024\'
Saturday, January 19, 2008
A couple of transit jokes
A. That's not in their job description.
Not just anyone can work for New York City Transit; there are stringent requirements.
First, you've gotta fail an IQ test.
Friday, January 18, 2008
But why now? What about all the previous years where the city failed to qualify for federal transportation grants due to a chronic inability to meet the standards of the Federal Clean Air Act? We've heard no heartfelt mea culpas regarding these lost dollars, and in aggregate, the amount lost is in the tens of billions.
This week alone, we received MTA reports that informed us that budget overruns for implementing the thousand-camera surveillance system will drive the cost to $450 million, and that the drastically reduced-in-scope downtown transportation hub's price is now approaching $900 million. That's 1.35 billion dollars for business as usual—suddenly, the $354 million doesn't seem like such a big deal.
It's not—it's just a foot in the door, and once again, our public officials are not quite being completely honest with us—these plans weren't designed to benefit all the citizens of the city and the region, but were designed mainly at the behest of the Partnership for New York City, based in downtown Manhattan, chiefly to benefit the multi-national businesses of which that entity is comprised.
Now I've got nothing against helping these businesses; they do, after all, help us all pay our bills, and their continued well-being is in all our best interests. But as long as these transportation issues are on the table, we should demand of our government a more comprehensive transportation plan that accomplishes all of the following:
• Increases service, with reductions in crowding and travel times on public transportation
• Changes the culture of the MTA to put riders first
• Reduces vehicular traffic and particulate pollution in all 5 boroughs and the entire downstate region—that New York City has the highest asthma rate in the United States is shameful, and must be aggressively addressed
• Increases enforcement of all existing traffic laws
• Produces both local and national campaigns to increase driver responsibility
• Dedicates funding (a lockbox) for mass transit
• Expands access to public transportation for those city neighborhoods not served
• Provides incentives to promote the use of alternate transportation, from hybrid vehicles to bicycles
A plan that shoots for these goals is a winner, and would improve the economy and quality of life for all New Yorkers. It could happen, but only if we demand it.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill
However, as I've noted before, almost nobody observes, much less obeys the rules of the road. Drivers fail to signal, fail to stay in lanes, fail to stop at stop signs; they blow red lights, (I was almost T-boned by a driver running a red light on Tuesday morning) and, worst of all, most travel between 15 and 20 mph over the speed limit, whenever possible. So, while my commute time was reduced, my tension level was ratcheted WAY up.
Here's what I don't understand. Why do the police, and our various public officials involved, fail to enforce the laws? It's as though all our elected officials, and nearly the entire NYPD, (I did see one highway patrol officer stop an especially egregious speeder) feel that motorists should get a free pass. If the laws were enforced, the revenues collected would far surpass those proposed for congestion pricing, so why don't we act on this? Enforcement could increase revenues, make our streets safer, lower insurance rates, improve traffic flow (by reducing accidents) and encourage some to use mass transit. So why not?
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Transit Waste Alert Level Red
In a world not gone mad, keeping us safe from terrorists would be the province of the State Department, the military, Homeland Security, and the NYPD, not the bunch of bureaucratic buffoons at MTA headquarters. The dollar amount, you will note, is $96 million more than the Feds have promised us for implementing congestion pricing—does that make you feel safe?
It would make a lot more sense to use cameras to guard against fare beaters, and deploy more NYPD officers on the trains and station platforms, where they could not only guard against terrorists, but could also enforce New York City Transit's "Code of Conduct", making for a safer and pleasanter ride for all of us. Don't hold your breath.
Monday, January 14, 2008
Tree-lined streets of death
Out of frustration, I imagine, the ambulance driver began to blare his horn, his siren still on. Still, the cars kept turning. I could see by the ambulance driver's face that this was really an emergency, so I ran into the intersection and physically blocked the next vehicle, a white delivery van with a Chinese driver, who cursed at me and tried to proceed anyway.
By that time, I'd had enough—I reached into the van, grabbed the driver by his collar, and yelled at him, "That could be your fuckin' mother in there! What the fuck is wrong with you?". I held him there until the ambulance passed.
Then I finally I wondered where the police were, after all, the Police Academy, presumably full of the finest, is also on the next block. But ultimately, the NYPD is responsible for the bad behavior of New York's drivers—they've opted out of enforcing traffic laws—too difficult, too much time in court, and it slows down traffic. Nothing has changed since that incident over ten years ago, if anything, the situation has worsened. The brass sees traffic enforcement as a lose-lose proposition with no opportunity for praise in the press, and many of the citizens who might complain are dead pedestrian victims, victims for whom no charges were filed.
Now, congestion pricing might result in fewer motorists, but it will do nothing to improve the quality of those motorists—that's something that remains to be addressed, and something for which I will continue to fight.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Last public congestion-pricing hearing
The Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission has decided to choose from the following list for making their recommendations to the New York City Council and New York State Assembly at the end of this month.
- Charge cars $8 and trucks $21 to drive into Manhattan below 86th Street on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.;
- Change the entry boundary to 60th Street but add more roads to the area covered east and west;
- Enact tolls at all the East and Harlem river crossings, inbound and outbound, 24 hours a day;
- Ration car entry by license plate, banning vehicles from entering Manhattan below 86th Street one day per week, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., or
- Raise prices for street and garage parking, reduce the number of parking placards used by city government employees and put a surcharge on taxi trips into the designated congestion zone.
I, and many others still believe that these approaches will cause undue harm to residents of the outer boroughs while providing inadequate improvements to mass transit. Asthma rates in New York City (which means all of the boroughs, not just Manhattan), are the highest in the United States; the asthma rate in Hunt's Point is the highest in the world. The federal government requires merely a reduction of traffic in the central business district, but our children's health cries out for an overall reduction in traffic throughout the five boroughs.
None of these plans offer sufficient disincentives to discourage drivers from Pennsylvania, New Jersey or Connecticut to change their habits—indeed, the Mayor's plan would make Hudson River entry points free, now that the Port Authority has announced that it will raise their tolls to $8.00.
In short, outer-borough residents who must travel by car will be penalized, out-of-state residents will benefit from reduced traffic, while children (except for those lucky tykes within the congestion zone) will continue to suffer from respiratory diseases at unacceptable rates.
It is necessary for the City and State to adopt a workable plan by March 31, 2008 to be eligible for the federal funding offer of $354 million, but putting in place a more ambitious plan that benefits the residents of all boroughs is still possible.
The Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission will be holding one last public hearing before making its final recommendations to the New York City Council and New York State Assembly on January 31, 2008. The hearing is scheduled for 4PM, Wednesday, January 16, 2008, at Hunter College Auditorium—Hunter College, East 68th St. between Park & Lexington Avenues. You may register to speak until 1PM on the day of the hearing. You may register here:
And you may also email the commission at that site. I urge all concerned citizens to attend, or to write.
Friday, January 11, 2008
Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission releases report
Yesterday, the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission released its preliminary report, prior to making their final recommendations to the New York City Council and the New York State Assembly on January 31, 2008.
They are holding a hearing on January 16, 2008 to solicit further public comment, and I strongly urge all New York City residents to attend.
There are many valid and practical proposals contained in their report, particularly Anthony Weiner's suggestion that metered parking rates be raised dramatically, but as I've mentioned before, the arbitrary restriction of congestion mitigation to Manhattan is a disservice to the majority of New York City residents, and thus is deeply flawed.
No congestion pricing will be put in place until the New York City Council and New York State Assembly have voted, so, once again, I urge you all to write to your elected representatives and make your voices heard. I will be posting a more detailed report in the next day or so.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Outer boroughs might as well be outer space
I, and many others, including Council Members Lew Fidler and Letitia James, spoke out against this wrong-headed approach, apparently to no avail. Likewise, there has been insufficient press coverage of the traffic mitigation and congestion pricing issue, and basically no public dialog. This does not a healthy democracy make. Therefore, I am asking you to write your own viewpoints concerning traffic and transit in New York City—and to make them known to each member of the City Council and State Assembly.
Please read my report, speech, and letter to the congestion mitigation committee,
and tell me that you think these issues are unimportant—I don't think you will; these are probably the most important issues facing the city—far too important to be ignored.
There are many issues to be addressed here, and the solutions I propose are not necessarily the best solutions; but the astounding lack of public discussion of these issues is causing serious harm to our fair city. We, the people, are not being heard, and we are not well represented by silence.
I thank you for any help, comments, or suggestions you have to offer.
NYCT Bus sale
Here's my question: Why are we purchasing buses for evaluation? I would think that NYCT, as the largest transit agency in the country, would have enough clout to be able to evaluate equipment at the manufacturer's expense, rather than at the taxpayer's, wouldn't you? This sounds like yet another example of the rampant waste that has long been a hallmark of the MTA's operations.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Milan begins congestion pricing
"The 'eco-pass' is being policed by cameras at 43 electric gates around an 8-sq-km (three-square-mile) inner area."
"The mayor of Milan, Letizia Moratti, launched the charge predicting a 30% cut in pollution levels and a 10% reduction in traffic."
"Electric and hybrid cars are allowed to enter the congestion charge zone without payment."
"On weekdays, between 0730 and 1930, drivers will have to buy a ticket either online or from key points in the city."
"The price of the ticket depends on the vehicle involved and anyone who fails to pay the charge will face a fine of at least 70 euros (£52)."
"Money raised will go towards buses, cycle paths and green vehicles."
Monday, January 7, 2008
Free subways, less traffic
Sunday, January 6, 2008
Another out-of-control driver
Now, I don't desire harsh punishment for this hapless, "elderly woman", but a driver should be in control at all times; anything else is unacceptable. If one is unable to distinguish between accelerator and brake pedals, one has no business driving. Some sort of official licensing re-evaluation should be put in place for drivers involved in accidents of this type.
Saturday, January 5, 2008
Trafﬁc and mass transit in New York City
Governor Spitzer has promised to reform the MTA, a system desperately in need of reform. The poor performance of NYC Transit drastically contributes to poor air quality by adding cars to the roads, and costs the city billions each year in lost worker productivity due to lateness and artiﬁcially lowered real estate values. Neighborhoods that have the potential for growth fail to achieve it because they are ill-served by transit. In addition, we have for years failed to meet federal air quality standards and thereby have lost billions (billions!) in available federal mass transit aid.
The state of the subways in New York City actually encourages many to drive. Those who might use mass transit opt for cars because buses and subways run so poorly, and are quite unpleasant. I don’t speciﬁcally know what problems Governor Spitzer perceives, but, since I must ride NYC Transit an average of 3–4 hours daily*, (a ridiculous amount of time, and in horrible conditions, conditions that would be a violation of federal statute if I were a cow; cows are mandated to be transported with a minimum of 2 feet clear space on all sides), I have observed many serious problems on my own. Unfortunately, as I work 8–10 hours per day and spend another 3–4 hours commuting, I’ve been unable to perform the rigorous research this subject deserves; nonetheless, I’ve tried to make this report as accurate and objective as is possible, from a passenger’s point of view. It’s passengers who use the system, and passengers and citizens who pay for it. Yet the order of priority among transit honchos seems to be executives ﬁrst, union members second, rolling stock and infrastructure third, and last and least, passengers.
*To put this in perspective, my commute, each way, is 15.5 miles, and takes between one hour and twenty minutes and two hours. When I lived in Tarrytown, NY and commuted to Grand Central, a distance of twenty-seven miles, my commute was thirty-four minutes.
Now, Mayor Bloomberg seeks to reduce trafﬁc congestion, a laudable goal that all but the most shortsighted must realize is necessary for our continued well being. The latest report from the American Lung Society shows that particulate pollution (soot) has dramatically increased in all 5 boroughs. This is a direct result of increased trafﬁc, and a major threat to public health, as this type of pollution causes Asthma and COPD, and is more harmful to the lungs than most. Next, consider the unnecessary contribution to the atmosphere of greenhouse gases and the concomitant negative effect upon global warming. Unfortunately, any initiative aimed at decreasing auto use will be doomed to failure, unless there are massive improvements in public transit; motorists will not eschew auto use unless they can be transported with comparable comfort and convenience. The necessary infusion of cash will be unprecedented—and entirely necessary. New subway lines are required throughout the system; neighborhoods without subway access must have it, travel times need to be halved, and civility needs to be restored to a system where anarchy prevails. New York City is the capital of the world. It deserves a transit system beﬁtting that status.
Treating riders badly
The number one problem I perceive is a total lack of regard for the passengers, by management and union alike. Some examples:
• NYC Transit built several new station entrances in Times Square. They could have been closed to the frigid winter air, but aren’t. Fans, at the very least, could have been installed for the sweltering summer months, but weren’t. PATH riders have the beneﬁt of platform fans, turn of the nineteenth-century technology. Try waiting for an N train at 34th Street in August. The temperature in this station has topped 120°, and there’s not a fan in sight. But every token booth is air-conditioned, and the heat discharged by those air conditioners isn’t even exhausted outside, but is directed at the paying riders, raising the temperatures of already sweltering stations.
• When a train is behind schedule, it is standard operating procedure to bypass stations full of waiting passengers to bring the train back on schedule. The stranded riders are
aurally assaulted with an ear-damaging 120-decibel blast from the train’s horn, a signal to let the people know they’re being left behind. The stranded passengers fail to see a beneﬁt, and rightly so. Transit honchos get to disingenuously claim near-perfect on-time performance.
• One of the more egregious abuses is that single-ride customers may not transfer from subway to bus or vice versa. Multiple ride customers can. So the poorest customers are made poorer, are treated as third-class citizens. I say third class because if you must ride with the MTA at all, you’re a second-class citizen, at best. All customers should receive equal beneﬁts; they’ve all paid a fare, and the poorest customers have paid the highest fare. This niggardly treatment of the poorest riders further reduces the mobility and purchasing power of the working poor, and thereby hurts small businesses, too.
• The MetroCard is a great innovation; it’s unfortunate that it was so poorly implemented. Every day, people get stuck at turnstiles, attempting swipe after swipe. The card readers in other transit systems work smoothly; in the two years I lived in Miami, I never saw a card rejected, and you can be sure that their more reliable technology was purchased at a considerably lower cost. One can also pay for a bus ride with bills, card or change in Miami, and the bill readers accept wrinkled, old bills without protest while still reliably rejecting counterfeits.
• And what about the thirty-day MetroCard? Why thirty days and not thirty-one? Only ﬁve months have thirty or fewer days, which means that the average rider is forced to pay an extra $28/year to make up for the gap. It’s a small matter, but it clearly shows an anti-passenger bias, or perhaps (and more sadly) a culture with little or no concern for rider well-being.
• Conductors are hired and deployed without regard to speaking ability. If the main requirement of a job is communicating effectively to the public, then clear, Standard English speech, free of impediments, should be the main qualiﬁcation for obtaining that job. It isn’t.
• Buses run according to the whim of the driver; they are allowed to leapfrog each other without regard to schedule. In practice, this means that 3 buses, scheduled to arrive at ten-minute intervals, can all arrive at the terminal simultaneously, leaving passengers along the route with half-hour waits, a situation that can, and does, happen often. On minimally serviced routes at night, such as the B1, an early arrival and departure means that passengers arriving at the stop ahead of the scheduled time may have to wait over an hour for the next bus. Though trafﬁc delays are inevitable, this leapfrogging has to stop. Buses must be made to run on schedule, or at least, never ahead of the schedule. If that requires waiting on the driver’s part, so be it. The most efﬁcient method for maintaining bus schedules would be through the use of GPS tracking, informing drivers when to wait.
• Whether due to supervision, or operator’s whim, far too many connecting trains leave transferring passengers in the lurch, literally closing the doors in their faces. Often, allowing the passengers to transfer would account for a delay of no more than 30 seconds, yet they are left behind with an average 10-minute wait for the next train. Inexplicably, at other times, trains are held for up to 10 minutes for connections.
• Another part of the conductor’s job is to make sure that passengers have entered and/or exited the train safely. This requires looking both ways, and in stations where the view is blocked, cameras and monitors have been installed so that the conductor may perform this function. How to explain, then, the oft-occurring incidence of doors closing upon passengers attempting to enter? Could slovenly work habits perhaps provide an explanation?
• Passengers are constantly berated by train operators and by ill-conceived MTA advertisements. All blame for late trains is assigned to the passengers. Perhaps running more than one train every 20 minutes at rush hour (in other words, adequate service), would keep passengers from holding doors. More trains need to be added during rush hours, which should rightly be deﬁned as from 6AM till 10AM, and from 4PM till 8PM.
• At some bus depots, such as the Ulmer Park depot on the B64 line, drivers change shifts in mid-route, which is wholly for the drivers’ and management’s convenience. I’ve seen bus drivers turn off the engine and air-conditioning during the summer months, seal the doors, and leave the passengers waiting for a new driver without explanation—a new driver, who, at the very least, should have been waiting at the bus stop to relieve the departing driver. Driver changes should only happen at terminal stops, and drivers should punch-in to work remotely, at the terminal stop for their route. The technology has long existed to make this possible.
• In winter, drivers work in their shirtsleeves and heat the buses to levels intolerable to passengers wearing heavy winter clothes. The same goes for the subways. Drivers should be required to wear outerwear so that temperatures can be set for the average passenger’s comfort. Drivers should not have access to temperature controls. Temperature on public transportation should be maintained at a constant 70°, in summer, and at 60° (cooler, to allow for winter clothes) in winter.
• Locked cars. Everyone except the NYPD and MTA realizes that in this age of terrorism, preventing or hindering the movement of people out of an enclosed space is insanity. Yet the MTA insists that the policy beneﬁts passengers. Please, tell me how I beneﬁt from being locked in a car with a madman, intent on inﬂicting harm. Or with a homeless person, covered in feces. I’ve faced both of these situations within the past year. Incredibly, I can be issued a summons for switching to another car to avoid said homeless person. However, the policy is also to leave doors open while being held in a station, even when the temperature is well below freezing. Conductors who are considerate and close the doors while waiting can be disciplined for doing so. The only reasonable explanation for both seems to be that the management wants to provide passengers with the most unpleasant and dangerous ride possible.
• There are many, many more examples of poor treatment of passengers, but we’ll move on now, to...
...wasting money, and lots of it
• One of the more blatant examples of waste is the installation of highly polished marble, granite or terrazzo tiles throughout the system. This has many drawbacks. The tiles are very slippery when wet. At the Union Square station, during the rain, I’ve seen a dozen passengers slip and fall in as many minutes. What brilliant management, to increase the number of possible lawsuits! Another big drawback is that the tiles are not very durable. At the Broadway-Lafayette stop, you can count hundreds of broken tiles. Colored, textured concrete would have been slip-proof, attractive, more durable, and less expensive to implement and maintain. Shredded used tires, embedded in a resin-based matrix might be another, environmentally sound, economical and long-wearing ﬂooring option. Instead, the worst possible material was purchased and installed. It looked good in the architect’s rendering.
• On many elevated platforms, the corrugated steel has been removed, and replaced with heavy-duty stainless-steel wire mesh. While the mesh does have decreased maintenance and longer life to recommend it, it costs at least 4 times what the corrugated metal did, and provides no shelter from the wind. Who advocated for the passengers? And why are there no shelters for passengers on exposed subway platforms? Nearly every Metro North and LIRR station has heated shelters on the platforms, and Metro North and LIRR passengers pay a lower-percentage cost per mile.* Could that be interpreted as preferential treatment for the more well to do?
* Metro North riders are the most-highly subsidized, followed by LIRR, and last, NYC Transit.
• Approximately 50% of the valuable advertising space available in stations and on trains and buses is unpaid, and much of this unpaid advertising is devoted to telling the passengers what stupid dolts they are. Other PSAs remain posted for many months, sometimes even years past their expiration, inviting riders to tour exhibitions or events that have long been gone. Getting this valuable media space out of the hands of the MTA altogether and leasing it as a concession to an advertising or display company could immediately double, or even triple the revenue stream from this neglected, but valuable resource.
• Let’s make an analogy. Your house needs a new roof; there are leaks when it rains. Your wife wants to remodel the kitchen. You prudently take your wife to dinner and explain that the roof must come ﬁrst; the kitchen will come next year. Now, consider that many tracks and signals are in need of replacement, and that the transit system looks kind of shabby in places. You’d ﬁx the tracks and signals ﬁrst, wouldn’t you? Not if you’re NYC Transit. They decided to remodel stations ﬁrst. With tiles that are now broken, less than ten years after being installed. And we still have outdated, inefﬁcient signals.
• Lately, we’ve been hearing announcements such as, “There is a downtown express train now approaching West 4th Street”. These announcements are always made as the train is entering the station and is therefore clearly visible to riders on the platform. Do we really need to pay someone to give us useless information?
And what better indication of bad management than the fact that trains run badly? Unfortunately, the system is Manhattan-centric—riders in Manhattan who take a train for a couple of stops are basically unaware of just how bad the system is. Sure, the Lexington Avenue lines are severely overcrowded, but overall, service in Manhattan is good. Manhattan has an abundance of stations with multiple lines, express and local trains on the same platform—effectively doubling the service for strictly Manhattan-based riders. That’s one of the keys to understanding how this system doesn’t serve the majority of riders. Manhattan riders are the ones with inﬂuence, the ones with the most money, so where they don’t see a problem, none exists.
You could argue that that’s efﬁcient management—if you’re a cynic who believes that management’s job is merely to deﬂect criticism, rather than to serve the people of New York City.
And don’t forget that this MTA management has a forty-plus year history of capitulating to unreasonable—no, unconscionable union demands, so that the worst conductor, barely able to speak intelligible English, (stankleededoze— translation: stand clear of the doors) who is fond of yelling at the passengers, who doesn’t look both ways but simply tries to close the doors on passengers attempting to enter a car after waiting 20 minutes for a train that should have arrived after six minutes or so, who then blames those passengers for having the audacity to think that they should be admitted to this train because they’ve paid for service—cannot be ﬁred for his poor performance, bad attitude, or for his inability to speak clearly. No, he can only be ﬁred if he’s caught doing drugs, stealing, being insubordinate—he must commit a truly outrageous act to be dismissed. He has a job for life, beneﬁts twice as good as anyone in private enterprise, excessive vacation time, free parking, free transportation for life—all of which are paid for by the taxpayer. Management could have bargained to get us our money’s worth, but they’ve deemed it not worth the effort, time and time again.
You may think I’m being harsh to the average TWU conductor, token booth clerk, bus driver or motorman (I’ve excluded mechanics, electricians, track workers, carpenters, etc., not only because I don’t know their average pay, but because many of them also have harder, more dangerous jobs requiring more skills). I’d ask you to consider the value of the salary and beneﬁts they receive; the combined average pay of these workers, after ﬁve years, is approximately $60,000/year—without including beneﬁts or overtime. Now, let’s look at the average monthly cost of beneﬁts; 4 weeks annual vacation, twelve paid holidays, medical insurance, and free parking. Here’s the breakdown:
$ 76 free unlimited MetroCard
600 medical (average cost of family medical insurance in NYC)
400 parking (average monthly parking cost in Manhattan)
$1,723 average monthly cost of beneﬁts per TWU employee*
* Doesn’t include pension costs
That comes to a whopping $80,676/year cost to the taxpayers. To put that in perspective, my sister has two graduate degrees and manages a large department at one of the city’s public library systems, and, after working twenty years, her pay and beneﬁts are just beginning to be comparable to that of a subway conductor with only ﬁve years’ experience. Can anyone argue, with a straight face, that we taxpayers are getting our money’s worth from the average TWU worker?
Here’s another idea for management to consider. Keep the trains running. Constantly. This isn’t the Lake Shore Limited, which needs to run on a schedule. This is the business of rapid transit, people moving on a grand scale. The faster trains run, and the greater the frequency, the better.
No behavioral standards
While there is a transit code of conduct, it is not enforced, for the most part. Take the new emergency exits, which can be activated by pressing a bar, which then sounds an alarm. Advertisements advising passengers that these exits are for emergency use ONLY have been posted in Spanish, English, Russian, Korean and Chinese (and those are just the languages of which I am aware), and passengers have been further advised that using these exits for convenience makes one liable for penalties. Yet passengers exiting at the Bay 50th Street stop use these emergency exits in front of police ofﬁcers, who do nothing, they don’t even object!
I decided to ask one of the non-performing ofﬁcers why he wasn’t giving out summonses, or at least warning these customers that their behavior was unacceptable. His response was to claim that most of the offenders are foreigners who don’t understand English. So, hey, if you don’t speak English, you get a free pass to disobey the law! If that’s the NYPD policy, then why is the MTA wasting money on printing the ads in foreign languages? Rules, and laws are meaningless without enforcement.
Spitting in public, and on the subways, has been a violation warranting a $500 ﬁne since the late nineteenth century, when public health ofﬁcials began to understand the causes of the spread of disease and epidemics. New York City, unfortunately, is home to countless migrants from countries with the highest rates of tuberculosis, such as China, India, and Russia, who, incidentally, have cultural predilections for spitting profusely. And spitting runs rampant in the subways. These wise transit chieftains have seemingly determined that it would be culturally insensitive to try to eradicate this disgusting and dangerous habit. When and if the H5N1 inﬂuenza epidemic strikes, subway riders will be doomed. But, hey, the police will give a summons for a lit cigarette at 500 paces, citing dangers from second-hand smoke, something that has never been clinically proven, even after a ten-year study by the World Health Organization. I’m not claiming that second¬hand smoke is good, just that rampant spitting is a greater and more imminent threat to public health.
Once, while I was riding the D train home, the doors opened at the 55th Street stop, and a Chinese man sitting opposite me, next to the doors opening onto the platform, nonchalantly turned his head and copiously spit through the opened doors, at the feet of two police ofﬁcers. The ofﬁcers merely chuckled. Unbelievable. They’re under a misguided and ill-advised directive to be tolerant of other cultures. I believe in tolerance, but tolerance is not absolute; limits are necessary. What’s next, allowing people to squat and defecate? Oh, right, the homeless already do that.
Then there’s the epidemic of leg spreading, most often seen in conjunction with feigned sleep. This is mainly the province of males, though some female riders have been seen engaging in this misbehavior. Adopting this behavior prevents anyone from sitting next to you, the subway riders’ equivalent of an upgrade from coach to ﬁrst class. Young men sit, their legs spread as wide as possible. A bench intended for seven people commonly holds just four men, not because they are inherently larger (though that’s another incipient problem), but because they intentionally sit in a way that prevents others from sitting. Say, “excuse me”, and they won’t answer or move. If you can wedge yourself in, you can sit, but they’ll be pushing you with their legs. Once, I said something politely, “could you close your legs a bit so I can be comfortable, too?”. The response was, “...you better watch yourself. You’re in the street, now. I ain’t takin’ no shit”. When did showing consideration for others become “takin’ shit”?
Everyone is rude these days. I often ask people, nicely, to please take their shoes off of the seats or the poles in the subway car. Just about everyone loves children, so I try to
appeal to that. I tell them that little children put their hands everywhere, and could pick up nasty germs from shoes. Usually, this embarrasses people into realizing that they are being selﬁsh and inconsiderate, but not always. Once, a woman said that she taught 3rd grade, and that the “...children can die, for all I care”.
Why would anyone who can afford to drive a car willingly subject himself to such abuse? No one would, and that’s why we need drastic changes. And don’t forget, most people who can afford to drive into Manhattan on a regular basis are willing to pay almost anything to avoid mass transit. Since this is a ﬁght we cannot afford to lose, that attitude needs to be priced out of reach.
Speaking of “inherently larger”, shouldn’t the morbidly obese be required to pay an extra fare? Of course they should. I mean really, if one needs a separate seat for each butt cheek, that person should pay more than a standard-issue human. If the airlines can measure bags, transit can measure people. This would increase revenues, and encourage the overweight to shed those pounds. We can’t afford to coddle the colossal.
Oh, and one more thing. The media love to talk about how awful transit was in the seventies. Well, it was dirty and crowded, with lots of outdated equipment. But at rush hour, number 1 trains ran every 4 minutes, and reliably, too. And the A or D could get you from 59th street to 125th street in four minutes, as well. Wouldn’t you like to see that level of service again?
Changes are imperative. Personally, while I back Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion-pricing initiative, I feel that it doesn’t go far enough. I’d rather see all cars, except for those belonging to residents, taxis, buses, ambulances and trucks making deliveries, and vehicles necessary for construction and maintenance, banned from Manhattan entirely. Plates identifying residents can make this possible. Impose not congestion fees, but entry fees, to all drivers entering the other four boroughs (excepting for through trafﬁc that does not exit an expressway). Those few who are able to prove genuine hardship would, of course, be exempt. As the plan stands now, pollution and congestion will increase in boroughs other than Manhattan.
Of course, I won’t get my wish, but this could be done, and local businesses would not suffer—quite the contrary, they would thrive. The same complaints were heard when streets downtown were permanently closed to trafﬁc many years ago, and businesses there saw an increase in sales. This IS the capital of the world, and people WILL come.
Other, perhaps more practical changes are:
• Double the number of trains, on all lines and at all times.
• Immediately stop all cosmetic improvements and concentrate on upgrading signals and infrastructure.
• Build new lines to serve the vast stretches of NYC that have no service.
• Raise the tax on gasoline an additional $2.00/gallon and dedicate the funds to mass transit. Sure, drivers will howl like stuck pigs, but worldwide, the vast majority of people have been paying these high gasoline prices for decades. Do it, it needs to be done; let’s not encourage delusions and fantasies. Let’s resurrect the notion that driving is a privilege, not a right.
• Raise all bridge and tunnel tolls to $15.00. Of course, those who can prove genuine hardship will get an exemption.
• Construct ﬂyovers in Brooklyn for the BMT lines, to eliminate congestion. These
have worked very well on the IND line in Manhattan. (A flyover enables the express train to corkscrew around and under the local track, so that one train doesn't need to be held while the other crosses the track. You can see an example at 59th Street/Columbus Circle on the northbound A/D and B/C tracks.)
• Lease the right to place and maintain advertising to an independent, private company. The lease terms must include provisions for a percentage of the proﬁts, as well as a ﬂat rate. This one step has the possibility of holding off fare increases for many years— add improved service, and it could become a real cash cow.
• Place a police ofﬁcer on every train, and on every platform of each station; strictly enforce the laws regarding seat usage, spitting and all other items in the MTA “code of conduct”. This would pay for itself through increased revenues from issued summonses. If you feel that’s a draconian tax, you have the option of obeying the rules. If the NYPD can’t or won’t spare the manpower, hire an independent contractor such as Wackenhut. The transit system in Miami uses Wackenhut in this capacity, and it has worked very well.
• Limit diesel train use to only when power has been cut. Particulate matter in diesel smoke is extremely harmful to health, more so than automobile pollution, and seriously contributes to NYC’s high asthma rates.
• Make the MetroCard more equitable; allow single ride customers to transfer, etc. Allow token booth clerks to issue refunds for up to $20.00. Who has the time to travel to Schermerhorn street to get a refund? No one, so NYC Transit gets to keep the money.
• Remove all locked doors from subway cars.
• Require anyone making announcements to have a clear, easily understandable speaking voice; train announcers in microphone/PA use.
• Require contractors to continuously work on projects until said projects have been completed. The standard contractor practice now is to, say, close off a stairwell, go work on other jobs around the city, return to the stairwell when the other work is scarce, etc., etc. So replacing a prefab stairwell can, and has, taken up to nine months.
• Speaking of prefab materials, utilize them wherever possible to reduce labor. Almost everything you see underground now is custom made.
• Find a way to get rid of the token booth clerks whose jobs have been eliminated— stop the practice of having them do work that beneﬁts no one. A buyout would be preferable.
• End bus leapfrogging, incorporate GPS in all buses to maintain schedules.
• Above ground, strictly enforce the trafﬁc laws and speed limits. Police could easily triple the number of trafﬁc summonses issued. Every day, I see stop signs and red lights run, pedestrians threatened, speed limits broken, corners cut, turn signals unused. New York City drivers have an outsized sense of entitlement that extends to breaking laws. In New York City papers, the phrase that appears most often in accounts of trafﬁc fatalities is, “No charges were ﬁled”.
• In the seventies, licensed livery drivers were allowed to accept street hails above 96th street in Manhattan, and in the other boroughs. Resume this practice; yellow cabs are mostly not to be found in these areas.
• Do whatever is necessary to reform the bloated TWU. The previous governor missed two golden opportunities to act as Reagan did against PATCO. Don’t let another opportunity be wasted.
• Seriously, you could also get rid of every other person in management with no ill effects.
• Replace all incandescent bulbs with CFLs.
• Replace bulbs in signals with LEDs.
• Make all workers and management pay for their parking. (And if mass transit is so good, why does nearly every TWU worker drive?)
• Eliminate free MetroCards for worker’s families, and for retirees.
• Require all NYC Transit executives and administrative staff to use mass transit to get to their jobs.
Speech to the congestion pricing commission
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
Let me begin by saying that PlaNY 2030 presents many good and timely ideas; but I must also say that the Manhattan-centric implementation presented by Mayor Bloomberg is flawed, and inadequate to meet our long-term needs. Establishing a SMART Financing Authority is a good first step, but we will need unprecedented amounts of cash, literally hundreds of billions of dollars.
I take issue with restricting congestion pricing to Manhattan; we who live in the outer boroughs of New York City are full citizens, and deserving of equal consideration. My daily commute, using public transportation, takes one and a half hours each way to travel a mere 16 miles—and the Federal DOT defines any commute over 45 minutes as an "extreme commute". Most of my neighbors also suffer from such extreme commutes on a daily basis, and the vast majority of New York City residents are not car owners. This situation must be fixed if we are to maintain New York City as a viable economic powerhouse. I know people who live in Pennsylvania who spend less time on their commutes. When I lived in Tarrytown, nearly twice the distance from work, my commute took 34 minutes—one third the time.
The latest report from the American Lung Association shows that particulate pollution in all parts of New York City, and particularly in Brooklyn, caused by auto and diesel exhaust, is at an all-time high, contributing to high rates of asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Is it any wonder, then, that New York City boasts one of the highest asthma rates in the world? And do we outer-borough residents not deserve relief from this public health disaster?
My alternate proposal consists of three parts.
1) An entry fee, in addition to congestion pricing.
The entire city, not just Manhattan, suffers from nightmarish traffic. When I recently had occasion to return a rental car to Manhattan from my home in Bensonhurst, the trip took two and a half hours, for a journey of ten and a half miles. There was no accident clogging the roads, they were just jammed, as usual. This is typical for vehicular travel within the five boroughs.
So, rather than just congestion pricing, which will only alleviate traffic in Manhattan, and which will only produce limited revenues, charge a daytime entry fee to New York City, a twenty-five dollar surcharge to all drivers entering the five boroughs, with a reduced fee for through traffic, and let those funds be dedicated to public transportation improvements, with a percentage set aside for road and bridge maintenance. This alone would have an extremely beneficial effect on traffic throughout New York City, and produce vastly higher revenues than Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing alone.
There are those who will object and say that such a fee will hurt business in the city—nonsense. The city is (at least for the time being) the economic engine that drives prosperity throughout the region—if they have a genuine need to drive, they will continue to come, and many will move to mass transit, a desired outcome.
New York City residents will be exempt from this fee, and could be identified through special EZPass devices, and by special New York City license plates. This would also remedy another source of revenue loss—many city residents now register their cars in other states—Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, etc., to obtain lower insurance, and to take advantage of lower registration fees. Under this plan, they would have an incentive to register as New York City residents, producing another revenue stream, and with reduced traffic will come reduced accidents and insurance rates.
2) Driver and enforcement reform.
We must step up enforcement as well. The vast majority of moving violations do not result in any sort of fines or penalties; they go unnoticed. This needs to be addressed; increased enforcement will produce more revenue, and a percentage of that revenue, plus a portion of entry fees can be dedicated to traffic enforcement and driver reform. Many drivers in the area feel that they can break speed limits, talk on cell phones, fail to signal—even kill pedestrians. And they're right. Review pedestrian deaths over the past few years; if a driver isn't drunk, he usually faces no charges or fines of any sort. A casket truck driver killed a four year-old boy last year in Sunset Park; he admitted to speeding and to running a red light, actions which directly caused the boy's death, yet he faced no charges at all. Time and again, pedestrian deaths resulting from driver carelessness go unpunished. This is wrong, and if we are a just and humane society, we can no longer countenance such behavior. Drunk driving causes forty percent of all traffic fatalities— guess who causes the rest. Careless driving must have steep penalties; our children deserve no less. Stringent traffic enforcement will change driver attitudes, return revenues, and even convince many to use mass transit, instead.
3) Reform the MTA.
PlaNY seeks to add over three-hundred more express buses, complete the Second Avenue subway, and the number 7 line extension. These improvements, while notable and desirable, are inadequate. Again, those who take express buses are still victims of extreme commutes—extreme commutes that cost more than double what other transit riders pay. Last week alone, there were 2 letters to the Daily News complaining of two and a half hour express bus commutes, due to construction. One would think that the city DOT and the MTA could coordinate their efforts—and one would be wrong.
The MTA is one of the most poorly managed enterprises to ever exist. Time limits here prevent me from citing a long litany of poor performance, but we're all aware of the many billion-dollar boondoggles attributable to this agency, ranging from their over-priced headquarters to their poorly-planned station renovations. After over one-hundred years of operations, August 8th's flooding debacle left many lines out of service more than twenty-four hours after the rains had ceased. Likewise, many sections of track, signals and switches are still in need of repair, while lavish amounts of money have been spent on poorly conceived cosmetic improvements, such as the marble tiles at the Broadway-Lafayette station, half of which are broken, due to poor installation. Slippery when wet, these tiles also cause an increase in slip and fall suits against the MTA.
It should be clear to all that incremental improvements will not meet our transportation challenges. If we seek to get drivers out of their Lexuses, or even their Corollas for that matter, we need a transit system that is safe, affordable, comfortable, and, most of all, one that is at least twice as fast as the system we have now. Adding some so-called express busses will not even come close to accomplishing these goals. New subway lines are necessary; lines that reach the vast stretches of Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island that have been abandoned by mass transit. In addition, standards of behavior need to be enforced; Miami has hired Wackenhut to augment the police in that regard, with an enforcement officer on every train, and with excellent results.
The twenty-first century presents us with numerous challenges; among them, population pressures, pollution, increasing political instability in many parts of the world, oil shortages and prices that are now over $90 a barrel, and the challenge of sustainabilty. We live in the financial and cultural capital of the world, and we must create a transportation system befitting that status. We have before us the opportunity to set the standards and create a shining example for America and the world; we must not let that opportunity pass.
Letter to members of the congestion pricing commission
Dear Commission member:
After all the testimony you have heard, investigations you’ve performed, and the communications you’ve received, the following should be noted:
1) The MTA, and NYCT in particular, are not perceived by the majority of New Yorkers as terribly competent. In fact, they are not; they barely manage to keep the outdated system we have up and running. I remind you once again that the D train has an average speed, over its entire route, of only twelve miles per hour. We have a multi-million dollar track-metrics inspection machine, and it has shown that most sections of track are not in sufﬁciently good shape to handle the speeds of which the trains are capable. Likewise, the majority of signals are also incapable of handling increased throughput at the higher speeds necessary to achieve better commuting times.
One of the problems I have not previously mentioned is that I, and many others, believe that the state authority model is faulty; I contend that these authorities have failed in their intended purpose; to serve the people of New York.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was founded with the sole purpose of building a cross-harbor tunnel from Brooklyn to New Jersey, in 1915. Now, in 2007, both Anthony Weiner and Jerold Nadler, among others, are still ﬁghting to get this crucial transportation link built. When viewed from this perspective, the Port Authority’s biggest success has been in exporting jobs from New York to New Jersey.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has also failed in its core mission: to provide transportation adequate to the needs of the region. We, the people of the city and state of New York, need agencies that are responsive and accountable, and not a law unto themselves. The dissolution of these authorities, and their replacement with a more effective and responsive model should be a top priority, and an integral part of any plan to ameliorate trafﬁc and improve mass transit throughout the ﬁve boroughs and the downstate region.
2) The majority of New York City residents support congestion pricing in one form or another—provided that the funds obtained from congestion pricing are dedicated to meaningful improvements to mass transit.
3) The majority of New Yorkers do not support the Manhattan-centric plan proposed by Mayor Bloomberg. While Mayor Bloomberg and his administration deserve kudos for opening this dialog, there are insufﬁcient disincentives in PlaNY 2030 to discourage drivers from using cars to enter the city, and not enough incentives to encourage them to use public transportation. The majority of New Yorkers also rightly doubt the sincerity of an administration that proposes congestion pricing, yet seeks to add 20,000 parking spaces to the West Side, and a like number to the Atlantic Yards project.
4) Maintaining the status quo is not a viable option. Children in all 5 boroughs are acquiring, suffering from, and even dying of respiratory diseases at an annually rising rate. Both businesses and individuals throughout the region are fed up with transportation problems and their related costs. The state has habitually shortchanged the mta, failing to meet its own funding formula, and we have also repeatedly failed to obtain available federal transit dollars, due to our historical inability to meet federal clean-air standards. New York City residents who use public transportation pay the highest percentage of operational costs of any transit system in our nation, yet service is abysmal. Continuing down this road is untenable.
5) Existing public transit is incapable of providing for passenger comfort and efﬁcient, predictable service while handling current volumes; even less so with increased ridership. Much of the existing infrastructure within the ﬁve boroughs is a decaying remnant of the Victorian era, that, while quaint, is increasingly expensive and impractical to maintain.
6) Everybody knows that the 350 million dollars from the federal government is just a starting point; the vast infrastructure improvements we need will realistically cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and will require a new, dedicated funding model. The new express buses will be a welcome addition, but without intensive trafﬁc and driver reform, they will not, in and of themselves, be of much help. Let’s use this unique opportunity to implement substantive and necessary improvements to transportation throughout the region.
7) It is clear that any congestion pricing plan will need to be implemented in steps, as our existing public transit infrastructure is, at present, incapable of handling the increased volumes required for genuine improvements in air quality and trafﬁc reduction. Any proposed fees should be implemented in phases that correspond to actual transit improvements.
New York City Council Member Letitia James spoke to you of “the big pink elephant in the room”, referring to the Atlantic Yards project, and I wholeheartedly agree, yet there is a much bigger, pinker elephant looming.
In 1907, there was much talk of pollution in New York City; but when they spoke of pollution, they were referring to profuse quantities of horse excrement in the streets. Naysayers (no pun intended) scoffed at the notion of the car; it could never replace the horse; yet by 1920, horses were scarce, and cars predominated in the urban streetscape.
We are at a similar juncture in history, and that bigger, pinker elephant is the same gasoline-powered internal combustion engine that promised to save us from the ills of pollution a mere hundred years ago. A large part of our challenge is to convince our fellow citizens that their continued well-being is largely contingent upon making our current car usage patterns as obsolete by 2020 as the urban horse was by 1920.
The largest part of meeting that challenge lies in improving mass transit; we need a faster, more reliable way of moving people about. If we are concerned about the economic growth, health and vitality of the region, we must become proponents of a vastly expanded and improved mass transit system; we cannot continue to advocate an automobile-centered transportation model—that model falls short of meeting our needs today, and certainly will not meet them in the future.
Bombardier, Kawasaki and Grumman, and others, offer several alternatives to our current subway/express bus/local bus model; light rail, guided light transit (GLT), advanced rapid transit (ART; the recently-initiated AirTrain to JFK is an example)—all of these are more efﬁcient, require less maintenance, less new infrastructure, and create less of a footprint, than would building new subway lines. These systems also have the distinct advantage of requiring fewer employees. Guided light transit, in particular, could be rapidly deployed, and would produce immediate beneﬁts at a relatively (compared to constructing new subways) low cost. Express buses can also be a useful addition to the mix, but only with drastic reductions in current trafﬁc volumes.
Ferries have been mentioned by many; new public and private routes should be established— keep in mind that ferries also have an ineffable quality, a romance that other transportation lacks, a je nais se quois—and the unique advantage of being a proven tourist draw, capable of producing more revenues.
Likewise, the bicycle can play an important role in the region; bicycle use should be encouraged, and incentives provided. We could abolish sales tax on bicycles and bicycle equipment, for one; and establish, wherever possible throughout the city, inviolable bike lanes, with high penalties for cabs, cars and/or buses who disregard them. Even better, we could have designated streets and avenues set aside for bicycle and pedestrian use only. We must also change bicycle rider habits; they must respect and obey all rules of the road, at all times.
Objections have been made that the cost of setting up monitoring systems to ensure payment of any congestion fees would claim a substantial share of any revenues produced; that the technology is unproven, and so forth. Balderdash, hokum, hooey and nonsense. The success of EZ Pass can put those objections to rest; ETC (Electronic Toll Collection) is a proven technology, and holding costs to a minimum is not an insurmountable task.
Now, I’m obviously partial to many of the ideas I’ve presented to you, as others are partial to their own ideas. I must repeat once more that increased enforcement of our existing trafﬁc laws is probably the single most important tool available to us to bring about the vast sea changes that meeting our transportation needs require. As the situation now stands, trafﬁc law enforcement in New York City is virtually nonexistent. Simply adopting strict enforcement throughout the region, not only within New York City, would return as much or more revenue than Mayor Bloomberg’s $8.00 fee, and would go a long way towards changing driver habits.
Yet I also feel very strongly that the best solution lies in an amalgam of all the ideas that have been presented to you—that combining Mr. Fidler’s one-third of one percent regional income tax and encouragement of the development of hydrogen fueling stations, with Mr. Weiner’s proposal to reduce truck trafﬁc and his proposal to increase metered parking rates, with entry restrictions to the Central Business District (even a total ban on cars), with my entry fee and increased trafﬁc enforcement plan, etc., will produce the highest revenues, and the best solutions for the region.
I implore each of you to objectively consider every option available, to study every proposal and technology, consider every point of view, and then recommend to the Governor, the New York City Council, and the State Senate and Assembly the very best plan possible for all the people of New York. I’m asking you to make a plan with your great-grandchildren in mind, a plan to carry us into the twenty-second century; a plan that recognizes and afﬁrms that New York City is, and will continue to be the greatest city in the world. During your deliberations, I ask that you keep in mind the following quote:
“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” —Robert Burns