A meeting of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee (PCAC) to the MTA was convened at 11:45 a.m. on June 2, 2009, in the 5th floor Board room, at MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City.
The following members were present:
William K. Guild
James F. Blair
Gerard P. Bringmann
Sharon King Hoge
Francis T. Corcoran
Burton M. Strauss Jr.
The following members were absent:
James L. McGovern
Sharon Santa Maria
In addition, the following persons were present:
William A. Henderson – PCAC Executive Director
Jan Wells – PCAC Associate Director
Ellyn Shannon – PCAC Transportation Planner
Karyl Berger – PCAC Research Associate
Richard Ravitch – Former MTA Chairman
Helena Williams – MTA Acting CEO/LIRR President
Marsha Desormeaux – MTA/IG
Alan Kritzler – MTA/IG
Jeremy Soffin – MTA
Robert Paley – MTA
Douglas Sussman – MTA
Joseph Chan – MTA
Aaron Donovan – MTA
Holli Dunayer – LIRR
Scott Howell – LIRR
Rodney Chabot – CT Rail Commuter Council
Bob Jelley – CT Rail Commuter Council
Joseph M. Cliff – RRWG
Hunter Armstrong – CIVITAS
Raymond Knowles – CB-6
Tom Namako – New York Post
Beverly Dolinsky – Concerned citizen
Matthew Kessler – Concerned citizen
Daniel Goldstein – Concerned citizen
James T. Raleigh – Concerned citizen
Matt Shotkin – Concerned citizen
Shelly-Ann Brown – Concerned citizen
Edwin Tubens – Concerned citizen
Christine M. Diamond – Concerned citizen
Roger Herz – Concerned citizen
Clare Stuart – Concerned citizen
Meg Reed Mian – Concerned citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the June 2, 2009 meeting was approved. The minutes of the March 5, 2009 meeting were approved.
The PCAC, LIRRCC, MNRCC and NYCTRC Chairs’ Reports are attached to these minutes.
There was no Old Business discussed.
Andrew Albert presented Bill Guild with a book and thanked Mr. Guild for his four years at the helm of the PCAC. He noted that, as Chairman, Mr. Guild has had to deal with a number of new issues for the PCAC and did a terrific job responding to them.
David Buchwald spoke about the kinds of questions the PCAC should be asking the MTA. Ms. Mason said that one question for Mr. Ravitch would be to explain more fully what the Office of Legislative and Community Input is supposed to do and how he sees its role going forward.
Mr. Henderson indicated that Hilary Ring, MTA Director – Government and Community Affairs, will record and track all comments they receive from groups like the PCAC and elected officials. Mr. Henderson said Mr. Ring has to submit a report to the State Legislature in September.
Election of PCAC Officers
The PCAC Nominating Committee proposed the following slate of officers Ira Greenberg – PCAC Chair, William K. Guild – 1st Vice Chair and James P. Blair – 2nd Vice Chair. The PCAC members voted unanimously to elect this slate.
Introduction of Helena Williams, MTA – Interim Chief Executive Officer/Executive Director
Ms. Williams noted that she will be focusing on the 2010 preliminary budget that will be presented in July and said she is looking forward to working closely with the PCAC.
PCAC 2009 Research Project Topic
The members debated the merits of doing one large project as has been done in the past or small projects that are unique to each council. Maureen Michaels noted that it is important to be focused on what results are desired.
The members decided that the individual councils should determine what they each want to do for the year and report back to the full PCAC at the September quarterly meeting.
Shirley Genn suggested if two of the councils decide on similar topics the reports can be merged to make it one big report. William Guild said it would be up to the Executive Committee and the PCAC to make the final determination about research work.
Gerry Bringmann made a motion to have each council come up with its own topic. The motion was approved.
Introduction of Richard Ravitch to Discuss the Work of the Ravitch Commission
Mr. Guild introduced Mr. Ravitch and spoke about his extensive resume and important role he played when he was Chairman of the MTA.
Mr. Ravitch began his remarks by stating that he learned a lot about the system from people who use it everyday and made it clear that he had not expected to be asked to assume the post of MTA Chairman. He said that relying on riders’ experiences sometimes had unintended consequences and that in one notable case an issue was caused by sending a PCAC representative to review seating on prototype subway cars. In this case, the rider’s representative had too small a seat himself and did not anticipate later complaints that the cars’ seats were not large enough for some riders.
Mr. Ravitch said that the MTA Chairman should operate independently of politics with a 6 year term. He said that as Chairman he worked very closely with the NY State legislators.
Mr. Ravitch said he regretted that the State Legislature did not adopt the Commission’s recommendations, but noted that the political system was not going to allow the fare to be increased enough to adequately fund the system without an additional State funding package. He said that he was pleased that the payroll tax was adopted.
Mr. Ravitch said that the most interesting fact from the funding debate was that the commission’s recommendations were almost unanimously endorsed by the business community, labor, and the Governor, as well as the press. He also noted that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was very supportive of the plan.
Mr. Ravitch noted that the Legislature rejected the notion of a regional bus company. He said by bringing all the bus companies together under one roof would have brought about tremendous efficiencies for the system. He said the main reason the idea was rejected was the strong opposition from the labor unions. He noted that they also rejected the notion of putting the payroll tax into a lock box that would be applied toward the capital plan.
Mr. Ravitch also said the legislators rejected the imposition of new bridge tolls. He said that the tolls would have netted $800 million per year, which would have been devoted to expanded bus service. Mr. Ravitch said that expanding bus service is as high a priority as can be imagined.
Mr. Ravitch said he believes the MTA system is the best in the United States. He said it is critical to get better people elected to the Legislature and noted that the MTA budget is bigger than the budgets of one half of the states.
Mr. Ravitch also believes that the economy is continuing to deteriorate and that in 2010 most of the new tax receipts will go towards operating expenses.
In response to a question as to whether the MTA should suspend the mega projects, Mr. Ravitch said the health of the region is tied up with the expansion of its transportation system, and with the population of the region growing, it is critical that the transit system keeps pace to ensure the economic competiveness of the region. He said that he has hope that after the next election serious people will address the need for system expansion in a serious way.
Mr. Ravitch noted that one of the recommendations of his commission was that there should be some rational way to establish the rate of fare increases in the future. He said there should be an acknowledgement that fares should reflect the true operating costs of the MTA. He had suggested that specific capital funding sources should be established and that the operation of the system should stand on its own. He noted that this arrangement would only work when the existing bonds are fully amortized.
Mr. Ravitch said he did not know how MTA would come up with a Capital Program for the next five years.
In response to a suggestion that capital projects should be subject to approval in a general election, Mr. Ravitch said that he did not agree that capital plans should be voted upon by the electorate. He said that it is the responsibility of the MTA Board to make decisions on capital expenditures and that there is opportunity for public input in this process.
In response to a question about whether the MTA budget will be made public, Mr. Ravitich said that the budget is made public, but it is also complicated and large. He spoke about the accusation that the MTA has two sets of books and noted that this allegation was rejected by the courts as well as totally dismissed by his commission.
Jim Blair noted that Mr. Ravitch’s comments about there needing to be another round of discussion on MTA finances are very important. In response to Mr. Blair’s question as to what thoughts Mr. Ravitch might have about the proper Farebox Operating Ratio (FOR) for the system, Mr. Ravitch said the FOR has not varied appreciably over time, but noted that the real question is what is actually considered an operating expense. He said debt service on capital is considered an operating expense, but depreciation is not an operating expense under Government Accounting Standards Board rules. Mr. Ravitch said that at this point the MTA’s debt service is approximately the same as the depreciation of its assets, thus the Commission recommended that a non-farebox funding source be established for debt service, which would function as a stand-in for the depreciation expense.
Shirley Genn thanked Mr. Ravitch for his summary of the outstanding issues and noted there is great concern about the needs of the commuters, but said that she did not get a sense that the Commission had considered the need to provide essential services such as station agents, cleaning supervisors, and the like. She said there is no sense in the Commission’s recommendations of what is to be done to improve existing conditions. Mr. Ravtich said he appreciated Ms. Genn’s comments, but noted there are real budget constraints and there are many needs that must be addressed. He said it is a question of managing the existing facilities with limited resources.
Mark Epstein said he was interested in Mr. Ravitch’s comments about the proposal for a regional bus company. In response to Mr. Epstein’s question about the possibility of MTA taking over the operation of Suffolk Transit, Mr. Ravitch said that the merger of local transit systems into a regional bus network would have been at the option of the local operators. He said that Suffolk County Executive Levy was not interested in regional bus at first, but later became interested in the possibility. Mr. Ravitch said that a regional bus system would save Nassau County $15 million per year.
Gerry Bringmann asked how the plan for a regional bus system fell through. Mr. Ravitch said there was strong opposition to the payroll tax but that the legislature was unwilling to change the definition of the MTA region. He said that the Commission had to look at regional revenue source and, with the advice of academic, City, and State economists, the Commission proposed a payroll tax because they believed that it would have the least impact on the region’s economy.
In response to Ms. Michaels’ comments that there does not seem to be a regional plan for transit, electrification is uneven, and the Third Track project has been shelved, Mr. Ravitch said the Third Track project should be a very high priority. He noted that State Senator Johnson has panned the plan and remarked that he seems to be against everything. Mr. Ravitch said that it would be a disaster if Mr. Johnson is appointed to the Capital Program Review Board.
Mr. Greenberg said there is a historic cycle of more debt and then demand for more money and then the legislature ends up blaming the MTA. In response to Mr. Greenberg’s question as to what can be done to change the public’s opinion of the MTA, Mr. Ravitch said the business community is supportive of the MTA and understands the importance of state of good repair of the system. Mr. Ravitich said that one of the biggest opponents of the effort to fund the MTA was Senator Carl Kruger, who has a district in which 85 percent of residents use transit to commute, but there was no political fallout from his opposition.
Mr. Albert commented that there are many subway stations that are in terrible physical condition and it would be great if the legislators could see them. He said these conditions would not be accepted in other places.
In response to Joe Clift’s comment that there seems to be a capital program crisis brewing at the MTA in that it is not clear how the program will be funded in the future, Mr. Ravitch said he did not know where the funding would come from and that he thought the plan would be somewhere between $30 to $35 billion for five years.
In response to a question about the Vanderbilt Yards deal, Mr. Ravitch said the $100 million sale price was less than half of the appraised value. Mr. Ravitich said he has not taken a position on this issue because one of his relatives has a business relationship with Forest City Ratner. He noted that he helped to lead the fight against the Jets stadium.
In response to David Buchwald’s questions of how the MTA can better convince the public of its competence and of how can the PCAC use its new authority to ask pertinent questions, Mr. Ravitch said he does not have the level of detail needed to answer this question but noted the existence of problems does not invalidate the process. Mr. Ravitch said that the MTA funding legislation states that the Board members should be fiduciaries, but he stated that it should have been clearly stated that the MTA Board members’ fiduciary responsibility is to the system and its riders.
In response to Trudy Mason’s question of what outcome Mr. Ravitch sees in the future when the next crisis comes, Mr. Ravitch said that so much depends on external matters including the next election cycle and the Governor’s interest. He said he hoped that the Governor would choose an independent MTA Chairman, but he has no idea who this person will be. He said that the health of the MTA has a lot to do with future events and noted that the identities of the Board members are also important, as a supportive board is critical. He said that it is important as well to look at the big picture.
Mike Sinansky said that the PCAC has been outspoken in support of Mr. Ravitch’s recommendations and that he was personally particularly disappointed in the failure of the Legislature to enact an MTA Capital Finance Authority. He asked what untapped sources of revenues still exist. Mr. Ravitch replied that in 1979 President Carter proposed a gas tax increase, but it failed. In 1982, a five cent gas tax passed with the provision that one cent would go to transit projects and this resulted in the biggest infusion of dedicated dollars for transit. This could serve as a model for future transit funding. Tax increment financing is another possibility to pay for transit investments. Mr. Ravitch noted that transit investment makes sense in bad economic times, as investment in infrastructure is counter-cyclical.
Ellyn Shannon expressed disappointment about the tone of the MTA funding debate. Mr. Ravitch said that he believes that people lash out in proportion to their ignorance. He said that the political leadership needs to end discussion at some point and move to a decision. Mr. Ravitch noted that there has been much discussion about Downtown Manhattan reconstruction and that nothing had been done, but that the MTA has regularly decided upon and implemented its Capital Programs over the years.
The meeting was adjourned at 2:20 p.m.
Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA
Chair’s Report- William K. Guild
I am happy to announce that two new members have joined our ranks: Sharon King Hoge who was recommended for appointment to the New York City Transit Riders Council by New York City Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and Mark Epstein who was recommended for appointment by Steve Levy, Suffolk County Executive. I would like us to go around the room and introduce ourselves and state the Council of which you are a member and the public official by whom you were recommended.
I would like to take this opportunity again to introduce our student associates Chris Jewett and Manzell Blakeley and heartily thank them for their efforts. Chris is working on our regional transportation research report and Manzell has put a fresh face on our website and designed innovative posters for our presidents’ forums.
I am also pleased to announce that we have new officers on the LIRRCC and MNRCC: Maureen Michaels and Gerry Bringmann have been elected Chair and Vice Chair of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter’s Council. Gerard Kopera and David Buchwald have been elected Chair and Vice Chair of the Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council. The NYCTRC will elect its officers later this month. I want to take a moment to thank Gerry Bringmann for his service and hard work in steering the LIRRCC over the past few years. It has been an active time for the Council and Gerry’s leadership has been critical in addressing the hot button issues.
I also want to thank Rich Cataggio for his 17 years as Chair of the MNRCC. His knowledge and commitment to the MNRCC have been important as the MNR has grown into one of the premier commuter services in the country. We look forward to your continued involvement in the PCAC and MNRCC.
Ira Greenberg has been nominated by the Governor as Jim McGovern’s replacement as the LIRRCC non-voting member of the MTA Board. We are hoping that his confirmation will be voted on before the Senate adjourns for the year.
As you know it has been an eventful few months here at the MTA. Lee Sander’s last day as MTA Executive Director was May 22. Last week, the MTA Board approved Helena Williams as the interim Executive Director, effective until a new Chairman and Chief Executive Office is nominated by the Governor and confirmed by the State Senate.
Ira Greenberg, Sharon King Hoge, Gerard Kopera, Burt Strauss, Bill, Ellyn and Jan attended the press conference with Governor Patterson where he announced that a funding package for the MTA had been secured. The MTA funding package that recently passed has stirred up a lot of controversy. Elected officials and business groups from Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, and Rockland Counties have been very vocal on the subject of the payroll tax that provides most of the additional funding for MTA. While this is a sore subject now, we may be able to use this sentiment as we work for additional service and improvements such as expansion of the Port Jervis yard, which is necessary for additional West of Hudson Service.
Another additional revenue source for the MTA is, unfortunately, an increase in fares of about 10 percent. The increase will take effect June 17 for Metro-North and June 28 for NYC Transit.
We can discuss it under New Business, but I want to note the changes in the status of the PCAC that were included in the recent MTA financing legislation passed in Albany. There are two main provisions: First, with this legislation the PCAC is officially established in State Law, and the members of the riders’ councils are officially named as members of the PCAC. Second, the legislation establishes in the MTA an Office of Legislative and Community Input. This office is to communicate information and receive comments, concerns, and recommendations from members of two entities, the State Legislature and the PCAC. This is a major step forward in having the PCAC recognized as the point of contact between riders and the MTA. Bill Henderson is in the process of setting up meetings with PCAC and the Government and Community Affairs staffs at the operating agencies to ensure that the lines of communication are flowing.
Over the last few months, we made our voice heard in Albany. Andrew Albert and Jim Blair went to Albany with an MTA Board contingency and Bill Henderson went up several times with ESTA representatives.
On March 17, Bill Henderson met with Governor Paterson as a member of a group of transportation and civic advocates. Much of the meeting concerned additional steps that the Governor could take to move the MTA funding debate forward. Richard Ravitch also spoke at the meeting about his experiences meeting with legislators over the past several months. After the meeting Bill participated in a press conference with the Governor to urge the Legislature to act on MTA funding legislation.
On April 7 the PCAC released its second annual Performance Review of the MTA and its agencies. You were emailed a copy of the report and the accompanying press release on April 9. We received some media coverage on the report as well as a nice thank you note from Suffolk County MTA board member Mitch Pally. As was the case last year, Metro-North was rated very highly in the Review.
We are happy to announce that our new website is up and you can see the Homepage up on the screen. There are several new features: a capital construction corner, accessibility update section, and a high contrast text-only selection. Be sure to check it out. In conjunction with this new look, we will shortly be releasing our 2008 Annual Report that has been redesigned in color with pictures. Many thanks to Jan Wells for overseeing this effort and to Manzell Blakeley, our graduate assistant, on his technical and design work.
Bill Henderson, Jan Wells, Karyl Berger and I attended the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council’s annual meeting. Thomas Barrett, the Deputy Secretary of the U. S. Department of Transportation, gave the keynote address. He spoke about the stimulus package and the benefits it would bring to our region. Tim Gilchrist, the Governor’s point man for distributing federal stimulus money also gave a brief overview of the stimulus package and noted that there are many more worthy projects than there is available money.
In March, Associate Director Jan Wells made a presentation in the Board room to the TOD working group headed up by Bob Paley, Director — Business Development, Real Estate. The group members are representatives from the operating agencies and MTA Headquarters. Jan described the New Jersey State Transit Village program that she monitored for NJDOT for five years while at the Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University. She talked about the factors of success and presented pictures of downtowns that had been transformed by making the train station a centerpiece in redevelopment planning, by creating pedestrian friendly station areas, and by being creative with parking strategies and shuttle services.
On April 9, as an extension of this meeting, Jan met with Joseph Chan and James Stover of the MTA Real Estate department to discuss strategies for implementing walkability audits around stations in an effort to support communities in their planning and zoning for transit-oriented development.
On April 17 Jan attended the RPA‘s Regional Assembly at the Waldorf-Astoria. The theme of the conference was the need to invest in our infrastructure, particularly public transportation. Speakers included Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell, who estimated the shortfall in transportation, water, and energy infrastructure investment in the United States at $2 trillion. At lunch, NY Governor Paterson presented former MTA Chairman Richard Ravitch with a lifetime leadership award.
Long Island Rail Road Commuter’s Council
Chair’s Report-Maureen Michaels
We held our President’s Forum on Wednesday, May 20 at Jamaica station. LIRR President Helena Williams and I thanked Gerry Bringmann for his hard work during his tenure. Ms. Williams described her priorities as safety, security and service reliability. Eleven individuals spoke on a variety of issues including concerns about garbage and debris along the right of way, senior citizen fares, service cuts, the East Side Access project, and parking concerns. It was not the level of turnout that I would like to see at future forums and I will be exploring location alternatives that are more convenient to a larger number of commuters for the 2010 Forum.
We received a response from Ms. Williams to our letter about the LIRRCC customer satisfaction survey. She stated that the LIRR Market Research Department is familiar with the standards and rules of disclosure that we cited and that their market research vendor fully complies with the guidelines. Enclosed with the letter was an extensive report on the survey and its findings that substantially answered the questions that we asked in our letter. I have since discussed with Ms. Williams my concerns about how the data are being aggregated in the analysis and how it can be better used strategically for setting new goals for deeper levels of LIRR rider satisfaction.
We also sent a letter to Helena Williams requesting that the LIRR Third Track Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) be released to the Council and to the public, either through the resumption of the environmental process, which would provide for public comment on the document, or as an unofficial document if the LIRR has determined not to move the project forward. The letter noted that it has been almost four years since a notice of intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was issued by the Federal Transit Administration and over three years since the public comment period on the scope of the EIS ended.
We received a response that stated that the existing project document is preliminary and that the LIRR is moving forward in the process with the Federal Transit Administration, but provided no schedule for further action.
On March 6 Bill Henderson attended a public forum on improving bus service in Nassau County through implementing the Ravitch Commission recommendations. The forum was sponsored by the Regional Plan Association and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. Participants in the meeting included Assembly Members David McDonough and Michelle Schimel, County Executive Tom Suozzi, Long Island Bus President Joe Smith, and TWU Local 252 President Patricia Bowden, who represents Long Island Bus and some Suffolk Transit employees. MTA Board Member Mitch Pally was not on the program, but spoke at length from the audience.
In March, Associate Director Jan Wells attended the Long Island 2035 Visioning Workshop in Melville. This initiative is a collaboration of the Long Island Regional Planning Council, RPA, NYMTC, Vision LI and Sustainable Long Island. Well over 100 invited people of diverse constituencies attended and there was strong agreement that there should be more mixed-use development near train stations and job centers, infill development in downtowns, and a high priority placed on preserving open space and farmland.
In March, Bill Henderson and I met with Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone and his staff concerning conditions at the Huntington train station. I arrived back from a business trip recently to find the station overpasses covered in bird droppings and the station in a general state of disrepair. Bill and I discovered in the meeting that there is a “Friends of Huntington Train Station” group at work to improve the station. We also learned that because there is no bathroom facility in an LIRR-owned building at the station that is being leased to a taxi company, employees of the taxi company had been urinating outside and around the station house.
As a follow-up, Bill Henderson and I participated in a conference call involving the LIRR, representatives of the Friends of Huntington Train Station, the MTA Police, and the taxicab operator at the station. The stated purpose of the call was to discuss the possibility of placing “port-a-potties” at the station to provide restroom facilities for taxi service employees and others when the station is closed. Bill Henderson had sent a letter to Helena Williams in April asking that these facilities be provided. Holli Dunayer established at the outset of the conference call that decisions had already been made not to supply the portable bathroom facilities, and this was confirmed when after the conference call Bill received a letter from President Williams, dated the day before the call, stating that the LIRR does not support our recommendation.
The solution that was discussed on the call is to have taxi employees travel by cab to a nearby restaurant to use the facilities when the station is closed, to have passengers use the restroom facilities on the trains, and in the longer term to construct a restroom in the taxi service office to accommodate the business’ employees. Neither Bill nor I felt that participating in the conference call to hear the announcement of an apparent done deal was a valuable use of our time. It was later confirmed that the LIRR has agreed to install a water line to expedite the construction of restroom facilities.
Subsequently, Associate Director Jan Wells and new Council member Mark Epstein attended a ribbon cutting ceremony at Huntington Station, celebrating the station’s 100th anniversary and the completion of the station house renovation project. The walkways and overpasses had been power washed and no evidence of bird droppings was visible.
Gerry Bringmann was told of possible drug sales on trains out of Patchogue from one of his “train buddies” and passed it on to Bill. Bill emailed Chief Finneran of MTA Police about the issue and spoke with her on April 20 to follow up on the situation. She confirmed that there had been issues with drug sales on the Babylon branch. The problems started in the parking areas and have migrated onto some trains. The MTAPD are using plainclothes and undercover officers to monitor the line. She was very positive about us alerting her to issues on the Rail Road and encouraged the Council to contact her with similar information in the future.
In April, Bill Henderson, Jan Wells and Gerry Bringmann attended the opening of the new LIRR exhibit at the Transit Museum in Brooklyn in honor of the Rail Road’s 175th anniversary. Bill Guild of the NYCTRC was also there. The exhibit, entitled “The Route of the Dashing Commuter,” is an interesting collection of memorabilia and pictures from LIRR’s long history, including a 1961 caboose. In addition to the historical material, there were displays on the East Side Access construction project. Speakers included Helena Williams, President of the LIRR and Lee Sander, CEO of MTA. The exhibit will run through September 13, 2009.
On April 24th, Bill, Jan and Gerry joined the formal celebration of the LIRR 175th birthday at the Jamaica Control Center Atrium at Jamaica Station. Many dignitaries were in attendance including four past presidents of LIRR. Malcolm Smith was the featured speaker. Senator Smith referred to the need for MTA reform, but spent a great deal of his time addressing issues that are not directly relevant to the LIRR, such as the State’s efforts to secure federal funding for high speed rail. A number of elected officials issued proclamations saluting the Rail Road’s 175th anniversary.
On May 1, Gerry Bringmann and I met with President Williams to discuss her plans to add a second track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma. She feels that this is a cost effective and achievable project that will improve the operations of the LIRR.
On May 6, Bill, Jan, and Gerry met with Joe Calderone and nine of his staff members to discuss the issues that we have been having with responses to questions and issues that we raise with the LIRR. Although Mr. Calderone did not expect that the speed of responses will increase as the LIRR cannot increase staffing in the Public Affairs area, we had a useful exchange and received a more detailed description of how inquiries are handled. As part of our efforts to improve tracking of the items that we raise with the LIRR, we have added to our regular meeting agenda a follow-up report from Holli Dunayer on the issues that have been raised at prior LIRRCC meetings.
Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council
Chair’s Report-Gerard Kopera
We held our annual President’s Forum on March 26. While we didn’t pack the room with riders, the comments and questions were generally thoughtful and constructive. Howard Permut was very pleased with the event and even mentioned it at the MTA/Metro-North Railroad committee meeting. Jim Blair also made a public statement at the meeting to thank MNR President Permut and his staff for their participation in the event.
Associate Director Jan Wells attended a West of Hudson Regional Transit Access Study Roundtable Discussion that was held in Newburgh, NY on March 31, 2009. The lead in the study is Metro-North Railroad, but this effort is in conjunction with the Port Authority of NY and NJ, the operator of Stewart Airport. The project goals include improved commuter transit access and mobility between Orange County and New York City plus transit options for access to/from Stewart International Airport and surrounding regions. The analysis of options and outreach to the community is being done by AECOM. Approximately a dozen interested parties from the area attended the joint presentation by MNR and AECOM. The purpose of the roundtable was to answer questions and solicit suggestions for any alternatives that had been missed.
On March 10, Bill Henderson and Ellyn Shannon received a briefing on the West of Hudson Regional Transit Access Study from MTA Planning, Metro-North, and Port Authority personnel. The briefing was useful in clarifying the ways in which plans for Stewart Airport and development plans in the area relate to the Access Study.
On Tuesday May 5, Ellyn and Jan attended a Stakeholders Advisory workshop for the Tappan Zee Bridge project at the Palisades Park Mall. Difficulties with station locations around Suffern on the West of Hudson side of the corridor were discussed.
On May 21, Jim Blair and I attended the ribbon cutting ceremony for the newly built Yankee Stadium station that is served by all three East-of-Hudson lines. A number of dignitaries were hand including Mayor Bloomberg and Bronx Borough President Diaz.
Yesterday afternoon, Ellyn and Jan attended the public open house for the West of Hudson Regional Transit Access study. This meeting presented the results of an initial screening of 80 alternatives.
At our April meeting, Robert MacLagger, MNR Vice President – Planning briefed the Council on a number of service changes that would be going into effect in May to accommodate some construction work and to provide service from the Yankees – East 153rd Street station, which went into service on May 23.
New York City Transit Riders Council
Chair’s Report-Andrew Albert
The South Ferry 1 line station opened in early April. Unfortunately, a water main break at the Canal Street 1 line station wreaked havoc on the service just as it was getting started. It is the first new station in the system to open in the past 20 years.
In March Ellyn and I did a walk through of the Times Square station with Lou Brusati and Evelyn Koehler, the West Side Line General Manager and the 1 line General Manager, respectively. We have some progress to report regarding our efforts to improve the noise, crowding and communication problems there. While meeting with Brusati and Koehler we discussed many of the issues included in our letter last month to President Roberts. They indicated that our letter had been very helpful in bringing the multiple stakeholders for the station together. They also said that as a result of our letter a full time manager, whose sole responsibility would be to oversee the station, would be placed at the station. Ms. Kohler said she would was working to bring that manager into the station sooner rather than later, but to date this position has not been filled.
Ellyn spoke with Sandra Bloodworth to get an update on Music Under New York (MUNY) at the Times Square station. We brought to their attention that a MUNY brass band was playing on the shuttle mezzanine and that was inappropriate for the space in both volume and size. They have removed the band from the program. They have also been scheduling quieter musicians in the space. MUNY would like to be kept informed of any musicians that are playing too loud. They have informed all the musicians to lower their volume.
Ellyn has also spoken with the Civilian Complaint Review Board inspector who is investigating her case involving the Counter Terrorism police incident that took place in January at the Times Square station. The CCRB were able to identify the four officers involved and are in the process of interviewing them. Unfortunately, although a camera was within five feet of the incident, the footage was erased before the CCRB had a chance to review it.
Ellyn Shannon sent NYCT President Howard Roberts a follow-up letter regarding the incident. The letter specifically asked about when the surveillance tape that may have captured Ellyn’s incident with Counter Terrorist police officers in the Times Square station was erased. We also requested information about the policy for erasing tapes and the reasons for erasing tapes. We are waiting to hear back from them.
The Transit Riders Council will hold our annual Presidents Forum, with NYCT President Roberts, on June 17 from 5 to 7 p.m. in the 20th floor auditorium at 2 Broadway.
Karyl Berger attended a public hearing at the City council sponsored jointly by the committees on Transportation, Aging and Health. Tom Charles, NYCT Vice President – Buses, who manages the Access-A-Ride program, testified about some of the changes that have been implemented for the program. He noted that half the 2,000 vehicles have been fitted with an Automatic Vehicle Locator Monitoring system which includes a GPS system, and that installation on the rest of the fleet should be complete by the end of the year. He spoke about the accessible taxi program and the pilot program to operate paratransit vehicles in-house instead of through outside contractors. We will watch this pilot carefully. Edith Prentiss testified on her own behalf, and a number of advocates and customers testified about their thoughts and experiences on the Access-A-Ride service
In April, Bill, Ellyn, and I attended Roco Krsulic’s retirement party. Roco, who has been in the MTA family for 35 years, has served as Director of MTA Real Estate for the past several years. He will be sorely missed. Bill Henderson sent Roco a thank you letter on behalf of the PCAC members and staff.
I have done a number of interviews over the past few months about the MTA budget and the proposed service cuts. I appeared on the WPIX-11 News Close-up program and NY1’s “The Call” program. I did several broadcast interviews after Board committee and Board meetings. Bill Henderson also did an interview on service cuts that aired on NY1, and our comments in MTA Board and committee meetings have also been included in broadcast news stories.
In March Ellyn Shannon attended a presentation on the Access to the Region’s Core project in Pomona, NY. They mentioned that new access points to the subway from the ARC project have been identified, one of which will be a large entrance on the northwest corner 34th Street and 7th Avenue, where there is currently a Citibank.
Jan Wells and Karyl Berger met with Sonia Jaising from NYC Transit’s Office of ADA compliance to discuss a number of issues about how they conduct their meetings with the public. Karyl Berger attended NYCT’s ADA Compliance Coordinating Committee’s quarterly meeting where a presentation was given about eligibility determination for the Access-A-Ride program.
The MTA and Titan Outdoor Advertising are testing LED advertising screens on the sides of buses that can change with the buses’ location. They are currently being used on the M79 route.
On May 13 Bill Henderson attended a City Council hearing on the provisions of the Mayor’s budget that apply to NYCT. Among the issues discussed were school transportation funding and the difficulties that Transit has had with technology projects. Of particular concern is the system security work that is to be completed by Lockheed Martin, which is currently suing the MTA to void its contract. Little new ground was broken at this hearing, though.
In March, the Council was briefed by John Hoban, NYCT Line General Manager for the 7 line about the Line Manager program. In April, Connie Crawford, NYCT Senior Vice President – Capital Program Management, who brought us up to date on the status of Transit’s Capital Program work. In May, we were briefed by Howard Sackel, Deputy Project Chief — Access to the Region’s Core (ARC), about the status of the project and the design for subway entry from the new NJ TRANSIT 34th Street station.