PERMANENT CITIZENS ADVISORY COMMITTEE TO THE MTA
MINUTES OF MARCH 1, 2012
A meeting of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee (PCAC) to the MTA was convened at 12:00 noon on March 1, 2012, in the 5th floor Board room, at MTA Headquarters, 347 Madison Avenue, New York City. The following members were present:
Andrew Albert Sharon King Hoge
James F. Blair Matthew Kessler
David Buchwald Trudy Mason
Mark Epstein Steve Mayo
Randy Glucksman Maureen Michaels
Stuart Goldstein Edith M. Prentiss
Ira Greenberg Larry Rubinstein
Christopher Greif Michael Sinansky
William K. Guild Burton M. Strauss, Jr.
Marisol Halpern Toya Williford
The following members were absent:
Gerard Bringmann Shirley Genn
Sheila Carpenter Rhonda Herman
Richard Cataggio Thomas Jost
Francis T. Corcoran Bryan Peranzo
Owen Costello Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas
In addition, the following persons were present:
William Henderson -PCAC Executive Director
Jan Wells -PCAC Associate Director
Ellyn Shannon -PCAC Senior Transportation Planner
Karyl Berger -PCAC Research Associate
Angela Bellisio -PCAC Outreach Assistant
Shanni Liang -PCAC Consultant
Joseph Lhota -MTA Chairman
Hilary Ring -MTA
Catherine Rinaldi -MTA
Fred Chidester -MTA
Marsha Desormeaux -MTA
Alan Kritzler -MTA IG
Hector Garcia -LIRR
Tina Redwine -NY1
Craig Rutta -Newsday
Rodney Chabot -CT Rail Committee Council
Roxanne Warren -Vision 42
Ann Guild -Concerned citizen
Yvonne Morrow -Concerned citizen
Ken Stewart -Concerned citizen
Joseph Garber -Concerned citizen
Approval of Agenda and Minutes
The agenda for the March 1, 2012 meeting was approved as amended. The minutes of the December 1, 2011 meeting were approved.
Introduction of Joseph J. Lhota, Chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, to discuss his perspective on the MTA, his view of issues facing the MTA and its riders, and the direction in which he plans to lead the Authority
Ira Greenberg said that he wanted Mr. Lhota to know that everyone around the table is dedicated to the MTA system. He commented that the Chairman’s biography shows that Mr. Lhota is a New York story and noted that Mr. Lhota has been a transit rider on both the NYC Transit and LIRR systems.
Mr. Lhota commented that he knows how Penn Station operates and like the subway it is a miracle. He stated that he had just come from a meeting with John Porcari, the Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Transportation, about the Moynihan Station project. He stated that much of his role as Chairman revolves around making MTA more efficient and effective.
Mr. Lhota addressed a number of key points that guide his work as Chairman. He said that he is consistently impressed with the work of MTA employees in moving 8.5 million riders that use the system. He said that it is important to give credit to employees, especially to the ones that don’t often get credit, and that he was surprised that the MTA operates in silos, with little interchange between operating agencies. As a result, there are seven different ways of doing things within the MTA. Mr. Lhota stated that his most important goal is unifying the MTA.
Mr. Lhota said that another key theme is the need to improve service.
A third point that Mr. Lhota cited was the need to improve the MTA’s capital assets. He said that he has been asked when all of the work on the subway system will stop and has responded that the answer is that it will go on forever, as there is always more to do.
Mr. Lhota noted that the original mission of the MTA was to serve the region as a unified system, but that this objective has not yet been achieved. The European transit operators have found ways to integrate systems, but in New York a rider can’t get from point A to point B easily if there is more than one transportation system involved. He noted that many people are doing a reverse commute and that this can be very difficult given the current state of the system.
Chairman Lhota stated that he has been surprised at how tough the press and elected officials have been on the MTA. He said that transit advocates’ energy would be better spent working for more stable funding for the MTA than in assigning blame and observed that some legislators say that they want to eliminate subsidies to the MTA, yet they are among the first to complain about service cuts.
Mr. Lhota said that someone had asked him why is he is at the MTA and that he replied that he took this job because he knows how important the MTA is to the region. The public has a love-hate relationship with the MTA, and Mr. Lhota said that he is pondering ways to change public perception of the MTA. He also stated that he is working toward doing a better job of communicating with public and that the issues here will require more than just countdown clocks. He said that he wants to find new ways to communicate with the riders and to give them information on all aspects of the system.
Mr. Lhota commented that riders need to demand full funding for MTA operations and that the Capital Program be fully funded as well. He stated that running the MTA is very complex and very expensive and that revenues are not coming back as quickly as the overall economy because of the structure of taxes that support the MTA. He said that he continues to have great concerns about the financial stability of the Authority.
The Chairman noted that by 2015, when another fare and toll hike is projected in the MTA’s financial plan, the total generated from the projected increase will only be sufficient to keep up with rising pension and health care costs. Because all of the fare and toll increase is consumed by non-discretionary spending, riders and drivers will pay more but receive no service improvements from the increased fares.
There are also problems at federal level. Since 1983, there has been an arrangement where a motor fuel tax increase was split off to fund transit, but the current House leadership seems to believe that Transit is for the “elite”. Mr. Lhota said that the reason that he has to make the system more efficient is that he never wants to talk about cutting service. If all else fails, we will have to raise fares.
Mr. Lhota said that he is not a transit expert, but he understands that we need to modernize the system. Ridership is up, with weekend volumes at 1947 levels and weekday volumes at 1950 levels. In addition, peak periods keep stretching out, so that there is no real off peak at midday. He said that we need to start reimagining the system; development patterns have changed and there is a need to look at the existing system and figure out ways to use it better. Some ways that this can be done is to make stations longer and to update the 1930’s signal system, allowing the agencies to reduce headways and put more trains in the system. Improving throughput is the real future of the subway system. On the other hand, it is hard to improve on Metro-North’s on-time performance, which often runs between 98 and 100 percent.
Ira Greenberg noted that the commuter railroad ticket validity and refund policies are a sore point with riders and asked what can be done to change them in the near term. Mr. Lhota said that he is working on this issue, but he feels that the policy won’t change that much. The time that a ticket is valid can be stretched and two weeks of validity may be too short, but it costs the railroads more than $10 to refund a ticket.
Mark Epstein said that that he agreed with much of Mr. Lhota’s presentation. He noted that all of the members understand the MTA’s financial position, but said that he wanted to share what the rider goes through on a daily basis. Mr. Epstein said that most riders feel that the LIRR hasn’t received needed resources; the stations need repair and there are on-time performance problems and a lack of track capacity. He cited the research that the LIRRCC had done on train delays and said that these delays are in part the results of neglect. The LIRR needs track capacity, a centralized train control system, and restoration of service cuts.
Mr. Lhota responded that he in turn agrees with much of what Mr. Epstein said and realizes how frustrating it can be for riders. The problem is that everything on the LIRR except Port Washington branch trains gets squeezed through Jamaica. Penn Station is crowded, but Amtrak controls this part of the system, even though it operates only 5 percent of the trains that occupy it. The second track between Farmingdale and Ronkonkoma is in the budget, and the MTA will continue to work with elected officials to push for third track, which has as many friends as enemies. Mr. Lhota said that he is very sensitive to on-time performance and noted that the past evening there was a switching problem at Harold Interlocking that slowed up service on most of the East Coast. He said that Long Island’s State Senators are either the LIRR’s greatest proponents or detractors and must realize that improvements take money. He said that he continually talks with Senators Fuschillo and Skelos about lowering the MTA’s cost structure through back office efficiencies.
David Buchwald noted that the Long Island State Senators are on record as being against Metro-North access to Penn Station and asked Mr. Lhota if he is committed to Metro-North access to Penn Station and the regionalization of the system. Mr. Lhota replied that he forwarded a relevant letter to MTA Board members and asked that the PCAC’s MTA Board members share it with their fellow PCAC members. He said that he is committed to regionalization and believes that there is room for Metro-North to come into Penn Station. He thinks that New York and New Jersey’s four US Senators understand the issue and that Governor Rockefeller had long ago promised Metro-North service to Co-Op City. Mr. Lhota said that he does not want to close the door in this area. The MTA is studying the possibilities and will work with Amtrak and LIRR to see what can be done. In addition, Amtrak, the LIRR, and NJ Transit are working on ways to change the experience of Penn Station.
Andrew Albert commented that the PCAC is hoping that Governor Cuomo will give Mr. Lhota the tools that he needs. He said that the Governor and his predecessor took money from the MTA and put it into the general fund and asked what PCAC can do to prevent a future loss of funds to State’s general fund. Mr. Lhota replied that the thinking on taking money from the MTA for the State’s general fund was reversed when the Payroll Mobility Tax was amended. The Governor put funding to replace lost PMT revenues into the State budget and financial plan. It is now recognized that everyone at the MTA should and must work together. Whether the subject is on-time performance, station conditions, or other issues, we have to do a better job. He gave an example that he had asked NYC Transit President Tom Prendergast whether something could be done to scrape peeling paint in the stations because of its impact on rider perceptions.
Edith Prentiss said that the MTA has never addressed passengers with disabilities and that in 1994 the plan for improving 100 key stations was established, but work on increasing accessibility doesn’t reflect development that has taken place since that time. She said that the MTA put all of its eggs put into the Access-a-Ride basket and its costs went up; as a result we are being punished. Ms. Prentiss said that there is a need to identify the next 100 key stations, but now people are acculturated into using Access-A-Ride and want all kinds of things from it.
Mr. Lhota apologized not speaking about working with disability community in his initial remarks. He said that he had a long history with disability issues, having worked extensively on increasing curb cuts when he was with the City, and that he is sensitive to these issues. He said he has to focus on these issues in the context of the existing system. There is a need to make sure that elevators and escalators work, and the MTA is working on the Bus Time system to allow people know if a bus is close to a stop. Mr. Lhota noted that the MTA does not control bus shelters.
Larry Rubinstein asked that Mr. Lhota involve the PCAC in the study of bringing Metro-North service into Penn Station and in any planning for a redesign of Penn Station. Mr. Lhota stated that this work is in its infancy, and at the point where people are talking about plans the MTA will bring in the community, including the riders’ councils.
Karyl Berger asked about the MTA’s progress on a smart card fare system. Mr. Lhota said that work in this area is ongoing. He said that recently the Mayor’s staffers were praising MetroCard and seemed to have no idea of the greater potential of smart cards. He said that he is very interested in moving to a new fare collection system.
Trudy Mason stated that many people are worried about the federal transportation bill and asked if Mr. Lhota would give an update on it. She also asked for an update in regard to Labor negotiations with the Transport Workers Union. Mr. Lhota responded that TWU President John Samuelson has changed the paradigm of negotiations. He said that the negotiations are in overtime but the process remains cordial and productive with no job actions. He indicated that he will not talk about possible job actions and that the union isn’t doing so either. Mr. Lhota briefly discussed the House proposals on the transportation bill.
Stuart Goldstein said that the MTA Business Service Center was created by Mr. Lhota’s predecessors but that he wanted to know whether it is performing its functions and whether there are plans to change anything about it. He also asked whether Mr. Lhota could share BSC performance data. Mr. Lhota responded that projects like this never go easily, but the back office system should be unified. The BSC has had its issues, but the accounts payable backlog has been eliminated. There is a new President of BSC, who is working with labor to improve performance.
The PCAC, LIRRCC, MNRCC and NYCTRC Chairs’ Reports are attached to these minutes.
In reference to the LIRRCC Chair’s report Burt Strauss asked whether there is staff at the stations where open hours have been extended. Mr. Epstein replied that during the extended hours station waiting rooms are open, but they are not staffed.
In response to the NYCTRC Chair’s report, Ms. Prentiss noted that while it is said that bus utilization is lower, the buses going downtown at 10:00 pm are packed within ten blocks of their terminal. She asked why these routes should be served by lower capacity buses. Mr. Andrews commented that higher capacity buses are appropriate on the major routes and noted that during one of the FASTRACK shutdowns, 3 line Lenox Avenue service was lost.
Maureen Michaels asked whether the NYCTRC has a position on the arrest of riders for putting their feet on subway seats. Mr. Albert responded that it did not, but these arrests have decreased after media coverage; he agreed that arrests for these issues are out of line and noted that fare evasion is a real concern.
Trudy Mason discussed her concerns with Select Bus Service and said that there is a need for “ambassadors” to explain the system on 34th Street.
Chris Greif asked for an update on the restoration of East River Bridge bus service. Mr. Greenberg stated that this is part of the service restoration issue and that the impact on the MTA budget from restoring this service would be miniscule.
Jim Blair stated that he believes Mitch Pally will bring up service restoration at the July MTA Board meeting.
Larry Rubinstein wanted to know what happened to the funds set aside for winter weather. Mr. Greenberg stated the savings from the mild winter is an underrun of budgeted expenses and that it remains in the MTA general operating fund.
Ms. Prentiss stated that, theoretically, there are places on platforms where persons with disabilities can board. The positions of these points change from station to station, even on the same line. There seems to be two issues at work here: change of standards from one time to another and poor planning by the operating agencies.
Ms. Michaels she commented that she was on a train that morning. Commuters had their February monthly ticket accepted to Hicksville, but when they transferred they had to pay for the ticket from Hicksville to Penn Station. She said that the PCAC should look into this. She also noted that there is no college student discount on MTA services and said that the PCAC should look into this as well. Mr. Greenberg questioned the source of funding for this discount. Ms. Michaels said that times are tough for students. A suggestion was made that the federal government should subsidize fare discounts.
Sharon King Hoge asked if the PCAC should take a position on the Tappan Zee Bridge design. Randy Glucksman responded that he recently went to a meeting where everyone who spoke wanted transit on the bridge.
David Buchwald noted that the PCAC got through a lot of material today because the meeting started on time. Toya Williford agreed with this assessment.
The meeting was adjourned at 2:00 pm
Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA
Chair’s Report-Ira Greenberg
March 1, 2012
First, we want to welcome two new faces to the PCAC. As Mark Epstein notes in the LIRRCC Chair’s report, the LIRRCC has a new Nassau County member, Bryan Perazzo, who unfortunately is unable to be with us today. Bryan has been a welcome addition to the LIRRCC in the two months that he has been with the Council.
Also, I would like to welcome our new outreach assistant, Angela Bellisio, who is in her second year at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers. Her area of concentration is transportation planning. Prior to joining PCAC she spent seven months interning at the Bronx Borough Office of NYC Department of City Planning. Angela lives in Brooklyn.
While the year is young, there have been indications that the MTA’s finances may be more stable than was anticipated. One of the early signs is that the Governor’s proposed budget for the year beginning April 1, 2012, for the first time in several years, does not contain funding cuts for the MTA. This is good news, as the 2012 MTA budget is particularly precarious.
There was some apprehension when in late 2011 the Legislature passed amendments to the Payroll Mobility Tax (PMT) that will reduce the MTA’s income from this source by $250 Million per year, but the Governor’s proposed budget includes funding to make the MTA whole from State general revenues. While it may be argued that a state appropriation is less secure than a dedicated tax, the Governor has at least made the first step toward fulfilling a commitment to hold the MTA harmless that he and legislative leaders made when these PMT amendments were enacted.
The most critical issue at the State level is ensuring that the Capital Program Review Board approves the revised MTA Capital Program, which was resubmitted this week, and that the State Legislature approves an increase in the MTA’s bond limit sufficient to allow the MTA to carry out the Capital Program. The current approved Capital Program does not provide for the final three years of projects, and unless changes are approved in the State’s budget process, the MTA’s ability to perform capital work may be affected. Although increased borrowing is not positive, it is the only viable option for funding the last three years of this Capital Program. A number of Assembly Members, led by James Brennan who spoke at our meeting last fall, are supporting prompt action on this front and have sent a letter to Speaker Silver to this effect.
The outlook for riders at the federal level is less settled and less promising. Increased limits on pre-tax transit benefits equal to those available for commuter parking, which were enacted in 2009 and renewed for 2011 at the eleventh hour were allowed to expire when Congress refused to consider extending most tax breaks in an end of the year session. As a result, commuters who could previously pay for up to $230 per month in expenses for commuting by public transportation with pre-tax dollars can now exclude only $125 per month from their taxable income to pay for commuting expenses. As noted in our December meeting, the PCAC and Council Chairs wrote to legislators to urge passage of an extension, but our voices, as well as those of other advocates, went unheeded.
Since that time, the LIRRCC has been very active in leading advocacy for restoring higher benefit levels, but each of the Councils has supported the call for the restoration of the higher limits, which would have risen to $240 per month if they had been extended. Senator Schumer has spearheaded this effort in the Senate, and while he was not able to attach the restoration to the extension of the payroll tax cut, he has managed to insert an amendment into the Senate version of the federal transportation bill. We’ll continue to press this effort with our federal elected officials and urge them to make this issue a priority.
The federal transportation bill, however, has a number of problems. The MTA relies heavily on federal transportation funding to pay for capital improvements, including “Megaprojects” such as the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access, as well as new rolling stock and station, track, rail structure, and signal restoration and improvement. Federal funding has historically amounted to between 30 percent and one-third of the MTA’s total capital spending. Funding for the current extension of the last federal transportation bill runs out March 31, and the Congressional leadership is working on a new bill to replace it.
The Senate has reached basic agreement on a bipartisan transportation bill that maintains much of the essential structure of federal aid to transportation. On the House side, however, the bill that emerged with the leadership’s backing poses a severe threat to mass transportation funding, as it would end an arrangement dating back almost three decades where mass transportation receives a fixed proportion of revenues flowing through the federal Highway Trust Fund.
After its release the House bill met with strong opposition from transportation advocates as well as Representatives from both sides of the aisle. I sent a letter to the House members within the MTA service area asking them to support an amendment to restore dedicated funding for mass transportation and to oppose the transportation bill unless this amendment was attached to the bill. The level of opposition to this bill put its passage in the House in question and resulted in it being pulled from consideration and broken into smaller measures that might have better chances of passage.
Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council
Chair’s Report-David Buchwald
March 1, 2012
This year has started out better than the last, especially for New Haven Line riders. I hope that this year we will see some real improvements for those riders.
Metro-North reached a major milestone when it returned its West of Hudson schedules to the timetables that were in effect before Tropical Storm Irene devastated much of the Port Jervis Line. While there’s still work to be done to fully restore the Line, the damage is no longer impacting Port Jervis Line schedules. Metro-North has done an exemplary job bringing service back and they once again deserve our thanks for a job well done.
At last November’s meeting we first discussed Metro-North’s work on a pledge to its customers, and I have worked with Metro-North from that time to help them expand and clarify the pledge. Our Council can be proud of our role in crafting a promise to riders that is both meaningful and workable. It puts in a single place set of commitments by Metro-North to its riders, which include service standards that apply at all times as well as assurances of Metro-North’s responsibilities during service disruptions. We believe that an important aspect of the Pledge is its emphasis upon providing riders with service information that allows them to make appropriate choices about their travel plans.
The final pledge was released on January 23rd. Metro-North has committed to post the Pledge on its website and in its stations, as well as distributing it to riders through on-seat fliers. This dissemination of the Pledge is critical in establishing a set of shared understandings and expectations between Metro-North and its riders, and our members applaud Metro-North for its efforts.
On February 15th, MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota, MTA Metro-North Railroad President Howard Permut, Cortlandt Town Supervisor Linda Puglisi, local and state officials celebrated the completion of a major project to improve and renovate the Cortlandt Station. Also at the event were MNRCC Board member James Blair and PCAC Associate Director Jan Wells.
The new facility includes an overpass extension that ties the original station east of the tracks with a new entrance on the west side off Route 9A, new parking and a landscaped, canopy-covered, intermodal drop-off plaza. The new overpass has a spacious, heated waiting area with numerous benches and a coffee concession. Both parking lots and the center island platform are served by elevators and enclosed staircases.
To build the improvements at Cortlandt, several land transfers and purchases had to be accomplished. Local 14 of the International Union of Operating Engineers relocated its training facilities and Metro-North purchased 2.1 acres from the Town of Cortlandt to put together the 9.5-acre site. The MNRCC applauds this creative solution to an otherwise problematic outlook for the station’s enhancement.
In a PCAC letterdated January 31st to House Speaker Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Reid and the US Representatives in the MTA region, the MNRCC joined with LIRRCC and NYCTRC, along with many other rider advocacy groups across the country, to request the restoration of parity between workers’ pre-tax parking and transit benefits to a level equivalent to the maximum benefit for parking.
The Council is pleased that Metro-North has now implemented Quiet Cars on all lines. The New Haven Line was the last to implement the policy because of concerns from the State of Connecticut.
Another notable accomplishment is the successful effort of the Council to keep the Tarrytown Station open later to provide a waiting place for riders who have one particularly long connection between the train and the Tappan Zee Express bus.
Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council
Chair’s Report-Mark Epstein
March 1, 2012
First, I want to announce that the LIRRCC has a new member. At our January meeting, we welcomed Bryan Peranzo to the Council. He commutes to Penn Station from Hicksville and has already proven to be a valuable addition to the LIRRCC. Unfortunately, due to prior commitments, he is unable to be with us today, so members of our sister Councils will have to meet him at the June PCAC meeting.
We continue to work to fill our vacant Council positions, and in February we met with Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano’s senior staff. Among other issues, we discussed the two Nassau County vacancies on the LIRRCC. We agreed to schedule periodic meetings with County officials to discuss issues of concern to LIRR riders.
While the year is young, we continue to face a range of service and communication issues that are all too familiar to us. We’re looking forward to continuing to get the word out to commuters that the LIRRCC is working to improve conditions for the riders and to working more closely with local and state officials to bring about positive changes in the coming year.
One of the tools that we are using to increase awareness of the Council and its mission are informational poster that introduces the LIRRCC to the riders. With the help of the LIRR, this poster is being placed in stations throughout the system. On behalf of the Council I would like to thank the LIRR for their willingness to display the posters and their help in getting them up in the stations.
We also plan to host more events where we can meet face to face with commuters. This contact not only gets our name out there, but it also lays the groundwork for ongoing communication. As a result of our Meet the Commuter Council event last fall we were able to add over eighty names and emails to our mailing list, which we want to make an important tool for communication with LIRR riders.
On January 9th I attended the State of the State Address in Albany on behalf of the Council. I was able to speak with a number of elected officials about our priorities and am hopeful that we will be able to follow up on these contacts to make our voices better heard in Albany.
A major issue that we have been addressing with the LIRR is extending the open hours of station buildings. In many locations, station buildings are locked while there are still a substantial number of riders using the station and in need of shelter to wait for a bus or train connection or a ride. Our member Sheila Carpenter brought it to our attention that many stations closed at 2:00 p.m., which we felt to be inadequate. We met with the LIRR and as a result that the Rail Road instituted a limited pilot to extend the open hours of the Patchogue and Farmingdale stations. Finding no negative impacts of longer hours, the LIRR has agreed to extend that pilot to twenty stations and to keep these stations open until 10:00 pm. This is a big win for the riders.
We’re moving along on another station access issue. The Pinelawn station, which provides access to the Long Island National Cemetery, is not accessible to persons with disabilities. Many LIRRCC members have been troubled by the idea that persons with disabilities, including veterans who may come to visit the National Cemetery, are unable to take shelter in the station. At the Council’s urging cost estimates to make the station accessible have been prepared, and we are investigating potential funding sources for this work.
In January we met with LIRR officials on two occasions to discuss issues that are important to the riders. On January 18 we met with Chief Engineer Robert Puciloski and Vice President of Market Development and Public Affairs Joe Calderone to discuss the winter storm preparations that the LIRR has made for this season and the resources that the Rail Road has to deal with winter weather. Our members were briefed on the new equipment that the LIRR is acquiring to improve snow fighting capacity and the procedures that will be followed to deal with winter storms.
On January 26, our members were briefed on the LIRR’s new customer communication system and were taken on a tour of the Rail Road’s new Public Information Office (PIO) by PIO Manager Rich Mendelson. The new facility, opened in December 2011, brings all of the LIRR’s passenger communication functions under the same roof and locates them immediately next to the Movement Bureau. This proximity gives the PIO staff access to up to the minute information about conditions on the Rail Road and allows them to efficiently convey this information to the riders through multiple means including email, web postings, social media, electronic signage, and traffic reporting agencies.
On January 20 our Vice-Chair Matt Kessler joined PCAC staff members Bill Henderson and Karyl Berger at Penn Station for a meeting of the LIRR Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) task force. Also in attendance were Peter Albert and Hector Garcia from the LIRR as well as ADA representatives from the Nassau and Suffolk County Executives’ offices. The Task Force discussed ADA implementation issues and ways in which reduced fare status can be expanded.
On January 23rd Long Island Rail Road President Helena Williams presented a formal “Pledge to Customers” at the MTA Long Island Rail Road/Metro-North Railroad Committee meeting. The Pledge represents the first time that the LIRR has put its commitments to provide riders with safe and reliable service in writing. The Rail Road also made commitments in terms of accurate and timely information, courteous employees and a clean environment and agreed to waive the $10 refund processing fee when service is disrupted. The LIRRCC worked closely with LIRR senior staff to offer recommendations in the preparation of the Pledge.
We are also interested in several pilot programs that the LIRR has begun to implement. On December 5, the LIRR began a quiet car pilot program on four morning rush and six evening rush trains on the Far Rockaway Branch. Matt Kessler has been monitoring the workings of this pilot program and we are providing feedback to the LIRR on our observations and concerns.
The LIRR is also conducting a pilot of LIRR Train Time, which provides real time train status information to personal computers and mobile devices. The pilot is being conducted on the Port Washington Branch and began December 19. The LIRRCC assisted the Rail Road to find commuters to participate in a previous limited phase of testing the system. LIRR President Helena Williams has referred to this service as the next step beyond the CooCoo system to provide digital train information.
A third pilot program that the LIRR is conducting, a test of the use of Near Field Communication (NFC) enabled smartphones for fare payment is even more limited in scope. The pilot, also conducted on the Port Washington Branch, is initially using employees to simulate riders using a tap-on tap-off fare payment system. If the initial phase is successful, the trial will expand to 100 volunteer riders to simulate fare payment using a tap-on tap-off system. The results of the first two phases will feed into the planning of a pilot where the phone is actually used for fare payment. We had a demonstration of the NFC technology at our January meeting.
While our November 2011 letter to MTA Board members asking them to actively support changing ticket and validity policies received a number of positive comments, no official action has been taken in this area. As progress has slowed on this issue, we will be renewing our efforts to move this issue toward a resolution.
We have also been advocates for the commuters on the subject of pre-tax transit benefits. On February 1, we brought together a group of nineteen organizations from across the nation representing mass transportation riders to call upon House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to immediately bring to the floors of the House and Senate legislation restoring 2011 limits on pre-tax commuting benefits. The drop in the maximum value of these benefits from $230 to $125 per month is effectively a tax increase for the riders, and we thank our sister Councils for joining us in this effort.
At the State level, we worked with Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Charles Fuschillo to support legislation that he introduced to preserve higher pre-tax transit benefit levels as they apply to the State’s personal income tax. We wrote a memorandum of support for Senator Fuschillo’s bill and for a companion Assembly bill, and we sent letters to State Senators and Assembly members in the LIRR service area asking them to support these pieces of legislation. Senator Fuschillo’s bill has passed the Senate, and the companion bill is pending in the Assembly. Of course, the ideal solution is to raise the Federal transit benefit levels, which would automatically raise the benefit levels at the State level.
New York City Transit Riders Council
Chair’s Report-Andrew Albert
March 1, 2012
NYC Transit launched the BusTime information system on Staten Island on January 11. The system seems to be operating well and has received an overwhelmingly positive public reaction. Transit has also announced that the Bronx will be the next borough to get the BusTime system and that it will be in place on Bronx buses by the end of this year.
There is a lot of work planned in the subway system this winter and spring. NYC Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents the Long Island City area, has been concerned about these service diversions and has offered to fund shuttle bus service to replace 7 line trains when the Steinway Tunnels are shut down. Although these diversions will inconvenience a number of riders, I don’t believe that shuttle buses funded through Council member item money are the answer.
Our Council is concerned about the “seasonal schedule revisions” that NYC Transit makes from time to time. When the last set of these revisions was presented, several MTA Board members and I questioned the impact that the service cuts included in the revisions is having on riders. The revisions were put on hold temporarily, and the basis for the cuts is increasingly being questioned. Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal currently has a Freedom of Information Law request pending for further information on the standards being used to make these revisions. Our Council will continue to push for adequate service for all riders and greater transparency on how the revisions are determined.
We will host a Bus Forum on April 25 at 2 Broadway from 5 to 7 pm. Darryl Irick, who presides over NYC Transit Bus and the MTA Bus Company will answer questions from the public. We have not held this forum in Manhattan for quite a few years so we are expecting a large turnout.
We’re also moving forward with data analysis and production of a report on the findings of our survey of planned service diversion signage. It should be ready for release in early March. Thanks to the members who worked on the survey and gave detailed comments on what they saw.
At our December meeting, Jim Wincek, NYCT Director, System Safety, and Cheryl Kennedy, NYCT Vice President – Safety, briefed us on accidents and injuries in the NYCT subway system and the role the Office of System Safety plays in preventing these incidents. Ms. Kennedy sent a follow up letter that addressed some of the issues raised at the meeting. She described Transit’s process for addressing maintenance needs in publicly and privately owned passageways in the subway system; and, as requested, included a copy of the bulletin outlining criteria for ranking station defects. She also stated that the issues that Edith Prentiss raised regarding the 242nd Street station are being addressed.
At our January meeting, Joe Leader, NYC Transit Department of Subways – Vice President and Chief Maintenance Officer, and Jackie Kuhls, NYC Transit Office of Management and Budget – Unit Chief, Resource Review, and Liz Deluca, NYC Transit Department of Subways – Manager, to discuss the FASTRACK Pilot Program of Overnight Subway Line Closures. The FASTRACK program, which involves overnight shutdowns of subway lines to perform necessary maintenance tasks, had been implemented once on the 4, 5 and 6 lines with very positive results. In February, FASTRACK shutdowns have taken place on the 1,2,3 and the B,D,F,M lines. The A,C,E lines will be done in March. The four line sets will be done another three times this year. NYCT has been able to accomplish quite a long list of tasks and there have been few reported problems with the program.
At our February meeting, the newly appointed Chief of the Transit Bureau, Joseph Fox and the commander of the Manhattan division, Inspector Jason Wilcox, were our guests. They spoke about general crime and safety issues in the subway system and some of the challenges they deal with on a daily basis.
We were glad to sign onto the LIRRCC’s February 1 letter to House Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Reid, joining with the LIRRCC and MNRCC and many other rider advocacy groups across the country to request the restoration of parity between workers’ pre-tax parking and transit benefits at a level equivalent to the maximum benefit for parking. While it is true that the cost of a 30-day MetroCard falls below even the new reduced limit, many of our riders would benefit from higher limits as they use multiple transit systems to reach their destinations. More fundamentally, this is a matter of principle, as those who drive to work should not be given greater tax breaks than those who make the responsible choice of using transit.