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Meeting Minutes Jan 15, 2009

A meeting of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council (MNRCC) was convened at 4:30 pm on January 15, 2009 in the 5th floor Board room, MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City. The following members were present:

Richard Cataggio
Rhonda Herman
Douglas McKean
The following members were present via telephone

James F. Blair
Francis T. Corcoran
The following members were absent:

David Buchwald
Gerard Kopera
In addition, the following persons were present:

William Henderson – PCAC Executive Director
Jan Wells – PCAC Associate Director
Ellyn Shannon – PCAC Transportation Planner
Manzell Blakeley – PCAC Consultant
Brian Tobachnick – Metro-North
Terrence McCauley – Metro-North
Matt Shotkin – Concerned citizen
Debra Ashton – Concerned citizen
Sam Abernethy – Concerned citizen
Dan Biederman – Concerned Citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the January 15, 2009 meeting and the minutes of the November 13, 2008 meeting were approved.

Chair’s Report
As you know the fare hearings began last night in Manhattan. The Westchester hearing is on Wednesday, January 28 and the West of Hudson hearing at the Palisades Center is on Monday, February 2. It is important that members of the Council testify at these hearings and get a chance to hear what the commuters are saying. So far, Gerard Kopera has said that he plans to be at both of the hearings, but that a conflict may prevent him from presenting testimony at the Westchester hearing. We will discuss the contents of the testimony under New Business.

We also should keep in mind the efforts that we can make to educate our Assembly Members and State Senators about the MTA’s operating and capital needs. In late December, the PCAC sent a letter to each of the State Assembly and Senate members calling upon them to provide more resources for the MTA. The letter emphasized the importance of the MTA and its agencies to the economic well being of the State and cited the Ravitch Commission report as a natural starting point for creating a new financing structure for the MTA. Jim Blair and Bill Henderson were in Albany earlier this week to speak with our elected officials, and we can discuss ways that we can communicate our needs to our State officials under New Business.

Since the first of the year, Bill has left several messages for staff in the Dutchess County Executives offices and has spoken to the Putnam County Executive’s Chief of Staff, the Rockland County Executive’s Assistant, and NYCTRC member Marisol Halpern, who is responsible for transportation matters for the Bronx Borough President, regarding new members. Bill will keep on the elected officials and work to have names sent to the Governor for his decision.

On Tuesday, January 6 on Track 28 in Grand Central, Bill and Jan attended Metro-North’s invitation to preview the installation of a prototype bicycle mounting device on two M-7 cars. MNR invited representatives of bicycle groups in New York and Connecticut to visit and provide feedback on this device. Representatives of the disability community were also invited to inspect the installation, as the device is installed in the priority area for wheelchairs and may be used only when the area is not needed for wheelchairs. This effort is one of Metro-North’s initiatives to accommodate the increasing number of customers with bicycles. Metro-North is planning to install this device on a limited number of cars that will operate in passenger service to allow for a real life test of the technology.

Board Report
A copy of the Board Report was circulated to the MNRCC members and is attached to these minutes.

Jim Blair reported that ridership was down in December He said there was a discussion about the parking operator at Metro-North owned lots and reported that AllRight Parking Company is being replaced by a new vendor, LAZ Parking, which operates parking for WMATA in Washington DC among other transportation agencies and governments. He also elaborated on the 2008 Customer Satisfaction survey results. In addition Mr. Blair highlighted an equipment malfunction that led to a broken axle and loss of a wheel from a MNR train near the Cold Spring station.

Mr. Blair reported on the MTA Board members’ trip to Albany to talk with legislators. He said it was very gratifying to hear that there is an understanding amongst the legislators of the MTA’s current budget problems. He said that there is a feeling that there needs to be a clear split between operating and capital funding and the finances of the MTA should be transparent to the public. He said Assembly Speaker Silver was responsive to the Board members and said that Speaker Silver thought the payroll tax was a good source of funding.

Old Business
Jan Wells described the bicycle hooks that Metro-North unveiled to a number of bicycle and disability community groups a few weeks ago in Grand Central Terminal. The bicycle hooks are to be located over the area set aside for wheelchairs and would be available only when the area is not needed by a wheelchair user. Doug McKean expressed concern that the riders need to be top priority of the railroad. He said that Metro-North needs to establish priority for riders using the fold up jump seats located in this area when it is not occupied by wheelchair users. Mr. Henderson said staff will draft letter about the bicycle issue and circulate it for the members to review before it is sent out.

Mr. McKean said the new LED signage at 125th Street is fantastic and is very helpful for visitors. He noted that it appears that the lighting has decreased the number of people who board the wrong trains by mistake.

Ellyn Shannon asked that the members be sure to look at the spreadsheet of the “green” initiatives that are being undertaken by MNR that had been distributed to them at the meeting.

Mr. McKean noted that the platform vestibule at the Rye station is heated as are the overpasses. He said that these areas are very dirty and are glazed with single pane glass and that there are 2 to 3-inch gaps in these structures where air can infiltrate the heated area. These structures are also designed with concrete slab floors, and taken together these features make for very poor energy efficiency. He said that there is a need to look at green systems for heating and at technologies such as photovoltaic cells to increase the station’s energy efficiency. He noted the Rye station is old technology, which limits its energy efficiency, and that there are many signs of deterioration in the station. Mr. McKean said he will visit some New Haven line stations to examine the differences in design of the vestibules.

Mr. Blair noted that the Council may not want to dismiss the bicycle issue too quickly. He suggested that in the letter about bikes we couch the issue in terms of the current proposals to increase loading standards. He said that if the loading standards are increased, bikes have to be looked at differently because transporting the rider is the railroad’s top priority.

Mr. McKean said he received the results of Assembly Member George Lattimer’s Metro-North customer satisfaction survey, and the story that it tells is not the same as that told by official MNR customer satisfaction ratings. He said that given the issues on the New Haven Line he does not understand the focus on Hudson and Harlem stations. Mr. Blair said he would be interested in getting a copy of the responses to Assembly Member Lattimer’s survey.

Ms. Wells noted that in terms of Transit Oriented Development (TOD), MNR has been the star at MTA. She said that Bob Paley is heading up the initiative to advance TOD within the MTA Headquarters. She also noted that Citigroup funded a regional TOD newsletter through the Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University.

Ken Stewart reported that there is a pilot program to test new electronic signs. The signage under evaluation can be seen on Track 30. He said there could be Braille and large print signage there as well. He said that the electronic signage doesn’t have good visual contrast and said the duration that the information is displayed is too short. He noted that MNR is moving in the right direction and is pleased with the job that Jennifer Barry is doing.

New Business
Jan Wells introduced Manzell Blakeley, one of the PCAC’s new graduate student interns who will be working on the PCAC website and promotional materials.

Matt Shotkin said that his father was recently on a train coming in from Westport, CT and there was ice on the catenary. As a result the train was delayed by two hours. Jim Blair said he would ask what can be done about the catenary.

Mr. Shotkin also said there are parking issues at Westport. Mr. Blair indicated that is probably a municipal parking lot as the State of Connecticut relies on municipalities to provide parking.

Mr. Shotkin also asked who is responsible for snow removal at the various areas of the station and asked for a breakdown of responsibilities. Mr. Blair said he would ask about this.

A few members asked if the date of the February meeting could be changed. Mr. Henderson said he will contact the Council members about a new date.

Discussion of Fare Increase Testimony
Mr. Blair said there are a number of points that need to be made in the testimony. He said that the service cuts and fare increases will negatively impact the trend of ridership increases that has occurred over the last several years. He said that the items that are saving the most money, such as maintenance and overhaul deferrals and increased loading standards, are reducing the quality of Metro-North’s product.

Mr. Blair said success of the effort to get people to use public transportation could be compromised by the provisions in the 2009 MTA budget.

Mr. McKean noted that MNR has the highest Farebox Operating Ratio (FOR) of the MTA operating agencies and a very high cost coverage ratio when compared to other transit agencies. Mr. Henderson said that he would send Mr. McKean an electronic copy of a recent memorandum that he had written comparing MTA agencies’ FORs with those of other large transit agencies nationally.

Mr. McKean asked if MTA has looked at any other way of charging fares such as having reserved or premium seats. He suggested that the Railroad could charge more if the service was better. Mr. Blair said there has been lots of discussion and thought that has gone into the pricing. Mr. McKean said that the MTA could provide a class of service that would be like Acela Service. He proposed that ticketing could be done on the internet and could allow the rider to print his or her own ticket, which could include a bar code that would allow tickets to be accounted for. Mr. Henderson said that these functions might be possible as extensions of the hand held ticketing technology, but the looming deficits had already prevented Metro-North from moving ahead with a proposal to accept debit and credit cards on board.

Dan Biederman asked if it would be a good idea to raise issue of fair wages. He also said the wage levels in Metro-North are insane. Mr. McKean asked if the Council cold get information on wage rates. Mr. Henderson said that staff would investigate Metro-North pay scales and report back to the Council.

Ken Stewart said the greening of MTA would be a major theme in the future. He said that there are many examples where the MTA and its agencies waste energy, such as having open portals with air blowing through and the constant operation of trains’ HVAC units when in the terminal.

Mr. McKean said he would talk to State Senator Oppenheimer and Assembly Member Latimer about the financial issues facing the MTA and the Council’s position on increasing resources for the MTA and Metro-North. He said that he is willing to deliver testimony at the Westchester fare hearing. Mr. Henderson said that he will consult the members via email on ideas for the testimony and circulate a draft of the resulting statement.

The meeting was adjourned at 6:00 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

Karyl Berger

PCAC Research Associate