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MTA unveils new travel app for public testing

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The MTA now has one app to rule them all.

A new app that covers all modes of travel at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — subway, bus and rail — was released Monday, as the agency also updated its main website to make it easier to navigate.
It details delays, planned work, service changes and real-time arrivals, while letting riders plan trips and find nearby stations. It’ll also track escalators and elevator outages.

Riders can download the app and test out the beta version — MTA officials will be collecting passenger feedback.

“This is about getting to our customers and putting information in their hands,” MTA managing director Ronnie Hakim said.

Riders who use the MYmta app will be able to buy Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road tickets by the end of the summer.

There is currently separate MTA apps called eTix to pay for commuter rail trips and Subway Time for train trip arrivals and disruptions.

The app will also let subway and bus riders use their phones to pay for trips once the MetroCard is retired.

The MTA had avoided getting into the app game — agency officials instead handed its trip data to third-party developers, leading to a proliferation of apps.

“One of the things our customers have said, they like to hear from us directly,” Hakim said. “They have a sense that there is an integrity to the data we’re providing.”

Nick Sifuentes, director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, was an early tester of the MYmta app. He appreciated how it combines helpful travel information into a single app, instead of making riders look for different apps.

“Riders, millions of them, every single day, are going to say, ‘Oh, man, I don’t know how I got around without being able to use this app for my trip planning,’ ” Sifuentes said.

The MYmta app will also get an update this summer to let people who use wheelchairs or have disabilities book an Access-A-Ride trip.

Access-A-Ride traveler John Hatchett, 58, helped the MTA test out the app and gave feedback. One feature he appreciated is that an accessibility section was included in the app, instead of a separate app.

“I really felt like we’ve been listened to about not only what’s not working but what we would like to see to make it work better,” Hatchett said.

Source: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ny-metro-mta-app-20180702-story.html

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No light at the end of the tunnel for MTA, comptroller finds

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The subways are bad—and Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota’s $836 million “Subway Action Plan” isn’t making them much better.

That was just one of many bleak conclusions state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli reached in his annual report on the MTA, released Thursday morning. The chief fiscal officer said the agency faces nine-figure annual budget shortfalls that will hit $634 million by 2022, even if the authority goes through with plans to jack up fares and bridge and tunnel tolls, and assuming that the local economy continues to grow at its current brisk pace.

The deficits largely stem from swelling health insurance costs and debt service to pay off the bonds that financed the 2014-2019 capital plan. Past capital plans have run long and been underfunded—the MTA is still trying to complete projects in the 2005-2009 program—and the comptroller voiced doubts that the state entity is capable of executing the next five-year plan, let alone the 10-year, $40 billion Fast Forward proposal to fully modernize the city’s trains and buses.

Quality of service has spiraled downward and utilization has shrunk even as the city’s population and job market have blossomed.

“Our regional transit system is in crisis,” DiNapoli said. “Despite an infusion of $836 million in state and city funds, there has been little improvement so far in subway service. Riders are leaving the system in frustration and deserve better.”

MTA officials have said the action plan stabilized the system, preventing further declines in on-time performance.

With only three months remaining in the year-and-a-half-long action plan, DiNapoli discovered that the MTA has allocated just 58% of the money it obtained from the state and city and from a new excise on for-hire vehicles. Roughly 40% of what it spent on what Lhota deemed “emergency” repairs went toward overtime for existing employees, while outside contractors gobbled up 28%. Just 12% of the money got spent hiring new staff, which can be difficult to do on short notice in a tight labor market.

Not one cent has gone toward replacing the transit network’s notoriously antiquated signaling system or its uneven and corroded rails. Despite the $836 million infusion, and $20 million from the new vehicle levies, DiNapoli determined service has improved only “marginally.” Fewer than two-thirds of trains arrived on time on weekdays in 2017, and nearly 30% of subway cars are more than three decades old.

The report lacks even a glimmer of hope. It notes that the MTA is counting on $300 million in unspecified savings to balance its books, and that planned projects like the Second Avenue subway rely on uncertain federal support. Meanwhile, negotiations with the Transport Workers Union—closely allied with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who appointed Lhota and controls the MTA—loom next year, meaning employee costs may only bloat further.

The comptroller acknowledges that “the MTA is asking the state to authorize new sources of revenue,” an allusion to Cuomo’s calls to enact congestion pricing, which would charge autos for entering the Manhattan business district. But he refers to that controversial proposal’s prospects as “not assured.” And continued feuding between the governor and Mayor Bill de Blasio over how to fund capital improvements only worsens the authority’s credit and delays progress.

The MTA referred Crain’s to its internal findings of the Subway Action Plan’s salutary effect on service, and pointed to the hiring of Andy Byford to lead its New York City Transit division. It also maintained it was on track to get its finances in order, though failed to provide much detail on its plans.

“We know these issues and the struggles riders are facing well—it’s why the MTA has new leadership, dramatic modernization plans, short-term blueprints for improving service, aggressive cost-containment initiatives and why we’ve been pleading for sustainable, reliable sources of funding,” spokesman Jon Weinstein said in a statement. “ These issues are well documented and it’s exactly why we’re focused on solutions, which is all we’re focused on every minute of every day.”

Source: https://www.crainsnewyork.com/transportation/no-light-end-tunnel-mta-comptroller-finds

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Ferry rides are costing taxpayers $8.96 apiece

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No wonder only rich people own yachts. Operating costs for the city’s ferries increased by 50% last fiscal year as the system expanded to reach farther-flung locations and officials filled service with chartered vessels.

The Economic Development Corp. spent $44 million running boats in fiscal 2018, according to recently released budget documents, up from $30 million the year before. That jump occurred because the number of routes increased from three to six, including sojourns to Soundview in the Bronx and southern Brooklyn. The frequency of trips also added to fuel costs, the city said. Over the same time period, ridership increased from 1.8 million people to 4.1 million.

While the network has proved popular with residents, tourists and elected officials, it also has been expensive to get off the ground. For the past two fiscal years combined, the per-rider cost to the city was $8.96. Passengers themselves pay $2.75, the same as a MetroCard swipe. The development corporation declined to provide per-rider subsidies for individual fiscal years but noted that the metric went up slightly.

“Like any popular startup, initial costs will always be higher than they are in the long run,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. “The incremental difference in operating costs is mainly attributed to increased service that was needed to meet ridership demand that surpassed our initial projections.”

In particular, the city had to charter private boats to cover some of the routes as it waited for all 23 of the vessels it has ordered using $84.4 million in capital dollars, part of hundreds of millions dedicated to the network. James Patchett, head of the corporation, said in May that once those ships come in and chartered vessels are eliminated, the city hopes to be closer to its ultimate goal of getting the subsidy to $6.60 per rider, which he noted is in line with other forms of transportation, such as the Long Island Rail Road.

However, some reports have dinged the initiative as an expensive way to serve relatively few riders. For example, even the mayor’s ridership projection of 9 million people by 2023 would put the entire ferry system on par with the 15th busiest bus route, according to an article in the Village Voice, which also suggested that most ferry riders were affluent New Yorkers who live in pricey waterfront apartments. The city pushed back against that characterization and said that the Voice’s rider survey was done during more traditional working hours and before routes to the lower-income areas of Soundview and the Lower East Side were launched.

Source: https://www.crainsnewyork.com/transportation/ferry-rides-are-costing-taxpayers-896-apiece

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NJ Transit derailment shows how pain persists for commuters

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Round-the-clock repairs at Pennsylvania Station were supposed to guarantee smoother New York City train commutes. They haven’t.

New Jersey Transit’s Montclair-bound Train 6279 went off the tracks Thursday at 6:20 p.m. near the Hudson River tunnel, where Amtrak last year oversaw $30 million of stepped-up maintenance after three trains derailed. Amtrak, which owns the Manhattan station and shares it with commuter railroads, “ruled out any issue with the infrastructure” after investigating the latest mishap, spokesman Jason Abrams said in an emailed statement.

NJ Transit expected no major delays for Friday evening’s rush hour. It was “looking into the possibility that an equipment issue with the train may have been a contributing factor,” spokeswoman Nancy Snyder said in an emailed statement.

The crumbling and century-old Hudson River tunnel provides the only New York City access for NJ Transit trains, and Amtrak has said it has less than 20 years of serviceable life. It’s key to the Boston-to-Washington Northeast Corridor route, serving an area that generates 20% of the nation’s gross domestic product. Amtrak’s proposed $30 billion Gateway project includes a second tunnel and other improvements, but President Donald Trump’s administration hasn’t pledged a federal cost share.

“Every time something like this happens, it’s a reminder of why we need another set of tunnels,” Stewart Mader, chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Riders Council, said in an interview.

A tunnel power failure stranded about 1,600 passengers on two trains on Sept. 8. A moment after one re-started, a piece of metal, possibly displaced from the overhead electrical system, pierced the roof of one car. Amtrak this week said it was continuing to look for a cause.

NJ Transit described the Thursday incident as a “minor slow-speed train derailment” with no reported injuries. Some riders on social media described reaching their destinations as much as three hours late initially and on Friday morning.

Occasional passengers complained on Twitter about missing shows and family outings. Commuters, though, ranted about a week of unexpected delays heaped atop service cuts as the agency pulls locomotives from service to install federally mandated emergency braking systems. Crowding, already a chief complaint, will worsen in November, when the railroad makes a push to hit its Dec. 31 installation deadline.

Source: https://www.crainsnewyork.com/transportation/nj-transit-derailment-shows-how-pain-persists-commuters

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