Monday, February 18, 2008

Transportation Committee Chairman wants guarantees

Yesterday's Daily News featured an op-ed piece from John C. Liu, City Council Member and head of the Transportation Committee. Mr. Liu rightly suggests that the revenues generated by congestion pricing be dedicated to funding improvements to mass transit, and that those funds be protected from raids by present and future legislators; the "lockbox" concept.

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

Here is a verbatim transcription of a recent complaint filed with the New York City Transit Authority regarding bad service on the Q39 bus line in Queens. You will note that I've asked two very specific questions; also note that the reply answers neither of them directly—it skirts the issue instead. Just another example of the overwhelming arrogance that is pervasive within the MTA. We riders don't want another useless apology, we want the problems to be addressed and fixed.

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.


Helen Castiglia
Customer Service Department
MTA Bus Company

A culture of waste and inefficiency

Recently, (my post of February 1) I wrote about the use of innovative concrete construction which would allow the transit authority to obtain all the benefits of granite or ceramic tiles, while enjoying the cost savings inherent in using concrete. By using other innovative materials and employing fresh thinking, similar savings could be made throughout the system, e.g., composite plastic railroad ties can be substituted for toxic creosote-treated wood, with better performance and lower cost—yet there is no push for this, only the same old familiar refrain of "we need more money". Please bear in mind that it's your money they're asking for.

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

Subway Song

Thank you for being our victim this evening
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?

The following paragraphs, in italics, would be a suitable letter to send to Christine Quinn, Speaker of the City Council, John C. Liu, head of the Transportation Committee, James F. Gennaro, head of the Environmental Protection Committee, Peter F. Vallone, Jr., head of the Public Safety Committee, and to your Council representative. Please act today.

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.