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What To Expect From New Plan To Overhaul NYC’s Subways



andy byford

Even as the MTA has tried to patch up the subways, straphangers have demanded to know how officials plan to fix them for good. The clearest answers yet may come this week when Andy Byford, the president of New York City Transit, unveils his corporate plan to overhaul the agency that helps New Yorkers get around the city.

Since taking the helm of the MTA in January, Byford has promised a “radical” plan to modernize the subway system and tackle its myriad problems. He offered a taste last month with his vision for turning around the city’s bus system, which advocates praised as ambitious.

But Byford has said the corporate plan will take on all facets of the city’s transit system, from its infrastructure to its operations.

“It will be bold. It will be wide-reaching, even controversial in its ambition,” Byford said at a Regional Plan Association event last month, according to NY1.

Transit advocates expect the plan to include big-ticket items the subways desperately need, including new signals, train cars and upgrades to make more stations accessible to the disabled. It’s also likely to tackle less splashy but still critical operational issues such as contracting and management.
But the success of Byford’s likely pricy plan will hinge on whether state lawmakers — including Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who controls the MTA — will pony up funding for improvements that likely won’t be finished until long after they’re out of office.

“For the first time in my career I actually have faith that the authority is going to do the right thing (and) come up with a comprehensive plan,” said Nick Sifuentes, the executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “I have next to no faith that elected officials are going to step up to their end of the bargain, which is funding.”

The scope of Byford’s plan will likely be much bigger than the Subway Action Plan, MTA Chairman Joe Lhota’s $836 million initiative to tackle the system’s short-term problems.

It’s time for long-term fixes now that Lhota’s plan has “stabilized the patient,” Sifuentes said: “This phase two plan needs to be the open heart surgery plan.”

The idea of such a sweeping plan hearkens back to the 1980s, when the officials Richard Ravitch, Bob Kiley and David Gunn overhauled the MTA and New York City Transit by laying out clear solutions and reporting on progress, said Jon Orcutt, the director of communications and advocacy for TransitCenter.

“Some of that transformation was very visible, not day to day but year to year,” Orcutt said.

Replacing the subway system’s ancient signals will be a linchpin of Byford’s plan, advocates say. The existing system is decades old and frequently causes train delays.

The MTA has previously estimated that resignaling the subways would take 40 years. That’s too long for commuters to wait, advocates say, so Byford’s plan could include a more aggressive timeline for that work.

The subway’s trains are also getting old and many need to be replaced. Rolling out new cars and adding substations to increase the amount of electric power going into the system could boost reliability and allow trains to run more frequently, advocates said.

State officials will need to help pay the multibillion-dollar bill for that infrastructure overhaul, said Danny Pearlstein, a spokesman for the transit advocacy group Riders Alliance.

“He (Byford) can’t conjure up billions of dollars but the fact is under the state constitution, the governor is someone who can,” Pearlstein said.

Byford’s plan may also build on his pledge to make the city’s public transit more accessible to disabled riders, advocates said. About a quarter of the subway stations are currently accessible and projects to increase that number are underway, Byford has said.

Sifuentes said he wants the subways to reach 100 percent accesibility within 30 years. “We should at least try to get to the halfway mark in the next decade,” he said. Byford has promised to study how much it would cost to make every station accessible.

The behind-the-scenes aspects of the plan will be just as critical as the things commuters will be able to see and touch, advocates said.

The MTA’s contracting practices and deals with labor unions are reportedly to blame for the enormous costs of big capital projects such as East Side Access, the construction of a Long Island Rail Road station at Grand Central Terminal. Work rules also reportedly played a role in forcing trains to slow down near tracks where construction is underway.

Byford has tried to make public transit friendlier by hiring a chief customer officer, openly apologizing for failures and trying to engage more directly with riders.

But he’ll need to speed up procurement, overhaul management and change the agency’s culture for real progress to happen, Sifuentes said.

“He’s going to have to grind against the bureaucracy,” Orcutt said. “It’s been doing things its own way for a long time. But I don’t think that’s insurmountable. He’s the boss and if he says go, they have to go.”

The plan’s success, though, will depend on funding. If it’s as ambitious as Byford’s bus proposal, it could require multiple new revenue streams, Sifuentes said, including congestion pricing and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed tax hike for wealthy New Yorkers.

Advocates have urged state lawmakers to adopt congestion pricing — a proposal to toll cars entering part of Manhattan that could raise as much as $1.5 billion annually for the MTA —as a long-term transit funding strategy. The city also contributes funding to the MTA.

But the legislative session in Albany ends in about a month and has so far produced only small pieces of that plan, including a surcharge on trips in taxis and other for-hire vehicles in the recently approved state budget.

The picture seems bleak — despite the recent heat Cuomo has taken for the subway’s failures, there’s been a “startling lack of political accountability for transit over the past generation,” Pearlstein said. But lawmakers could benefit from supporting Byford’s potentially bold plan.

“If Albany can get behind it with the resources and let him work, it will end up being a great legacy for Cuomo,” Orcutt said. “As much as people have tagged the subway crisis to him, this can sort of erase that if it’s working.”


MTA News

Three separate homicides across city this weekend under investigation





The weekend was especially busy for homicide detectives across the city as three people were killed since Thursday night in separate murders, police said.

Police were also seeking a possible wounded person from a shooting on a Brooklyn train Saturday night.

The violence began Thursday, Nov. 14 at about 9:05 p.m. when police from the 34th Precinct responded to a 911 call of shots fire in the vicinity of Sherman Avenue and Thayer Street in the Bronx.

Upon arriving at the scene, law enforcement sources said, officers were told about a 20-year-old man who had arrived at New York Presbyterian Hospital, via private means, with gunshot wounds to the legs.

The victim, identified as Luis Dela Cruz, of 36 Arden Avenue, was subsequently pronounced deceased at the hospital. There are no arrests and the investigation remains ongoing.

On Friday, Nov. 15, at about 9:15 p.m., 17-year-old Talasia Cuffie of Vernon Boulevard in Long island City, Queens, was found stabbed in the chest multiple times along 166th Street in South Jamaica. Paramedics rushed her to Jamaica Hospital. where she was pronounced dead.

Sources said Cuffie was stabbed only hours after attending a memorial for her friend, Aamir Griffin, 14, who was shot to death on by a stray bullet 21 days earlier.

Hours later, at about 3:44 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, police in Brooklyn responded to a 911 call of male shot in front of the Lafayette Garden Houses, a NYCHA development. Officers found a 34-year-old man shot multiple times in the chest. EMS rushed him to Brooklyn Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The victim has not yet been identified, and no arrests have been made.

Shooting aboard train

Meanwhile, cops are also investigating a reported shooting on board the Franklin Avenue Shuttle in Brooklyn Saturday evening.

Police say a group became embroiled in a dispute either aboard or on the platform of the Franklin Avenue shuttle as it sat in the station at Prospect Park and Flatbush Avenue Saturday night at about 8:40 p.m. Police were checking hospitals in the borough for possible person shot, but could not confirm that anyone was hit.

A transit worker inside a maintenance room at the station said he heard a large group of teens running from the station, but he didn’t hear the shots. Police were holding the motorman after the shooting for questioning.

The suspect was described as male black, 5’9″ with a dark hoodie.

The shuttle was shut down for the duration of the investigation as evidence collection units collected spent shells and a bullet that may have been lodged in a wall of the train.

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By  Todd Maisel

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MTA News

Advocates: MTA Board Must Get Moving On Congestion Pricing Details




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In less than one year, the state-mandated Traffic Mobility Review Board can issue its nuts-and-bolts recommendations for how congestion pricing is supposed to work, what it will cost, and who will get much-desired exemptions from the toll.

Of course, there’s a few things that need to happen first — primarily Mayor de Blasio and the MTA Board have to actually appoint members to this obscure board, get it an office so it can start the work of setting those tolls and exemptions, and start holding meetings (which are supposed to be public, but might not be!).

On Friday, a coalition of 20 good government and transit advocacy groups including Reinvent Albany, the Permanent Citizens Advisory Council, the Citizens Budget Commission and the Straphangers Campaign fired the first warning shot, with a letter reminding the politicians who passed the tolling scheme earlier this year that the hard work of actually designing and then implementing congestion pricing still needs to be done before it supposed to (magically!) begin in January, 2021.

The Traffic Mobility Review Board is supposed to comprise one chairperson and five members: one appointed by Mayor de Blasio and the rest appointed by the MTA Board/Gov. Cuomo, though two members must be from the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North service areas.

Asked if the MTA Board had held any discussions about the board and who will be appointed to it, de Blasio’s MTA Board appointee Veronica Vanterpool told Streetsblog it had not. Noting that she felt it could wait until after December’s decision on the 2020 MTA budget, Vanterpool still urged the Board to prioritize the TMRB going forward.

“All eyes are on NYC for this rollout, so we shouldn’t squander time,” Vanterpool said. “January, 2021 is around the corner.”

A spokesperson for Cuomo referred Streetsblog to the MTA, and a spokesperson for de Blasio did not respond to a request for comment on potential board appointees.

Nov. 15 was an auspicious date for the good-governance groups to send the letter, because Nov. 15, 2020 is the date when the TMRB can release its recommendations, per the congestion pricing agreement that the state legislature passed this year (observers have pointed out releasing the recommendations on Nov. 15 allowed legislators to avoid any potential consequences in the 2020 election, which is a week earlier).

If those recommendations are approved by the Triborough Bridges & Tunnel Authority, the MTA can start collecting the congestion toll fee as soon as Jan. 1, 2021, although there’s no requirement that the tolling begin that soon (clearly, there is a huge potential for delay). Although the TMRB has not yet been appointed, the MTA has at least selected a vendor to design and operate the tolling infrastructure once the fee is instituted.

With no TMRB holding meetings, there’s no way to know what congestion pricing will look like or even what the price might be. For now, thanks to state lawmakers carving out exemptions, we know that emergency vehicles, vehicles transporting disabled people and drivers passing through the congestion toll zone on the FDR Drive or West Side Highway will be exempt from the fee. In addition, CBD residents making less than $60,000 per year will get a tax credit equal to what they spend on the tolls each year, and an exception is being worked out for drivers who have to move their cars in and out of the CBD border because of alternate-side parking.

Other than that though, the public is only left to speculate. At Tuesday’s state legislative hearing on the MTA’s historic $51.5-billion 2020-2024 capital plan, MTA Chairman and CEO Pat Foye promised that before the tolls and exemptions are set, there would be pointless kvetching sessions robust public hearings with the TMRB so that MTA Board members could be properly informed.

In September, the Regional Plan Association issued a series of suggestions as to how the congestion toll could be set. The plan that seemed to do the most good, in terms of raising money and reducing congestion during peak hours, was a fee of $9.18 to enter the CBD during the morning rush and the same fee exit it during the evening peak. That charge would raise $1.06 billion and increase traffic speeds in the Manhattan core by 15.6 percent.

The TMRB’s decisions will have enormous consequences for the success of the congestion pricing program, and for the MTA’s historic capital plan. The MTA is banking on raising $1 billion per year with the congestion fee, which they can then turn into $15 billion in bonds for the agency’s capital spending. In addition to setting the tolls and exemptions, the TMRB is also supposed to review the 2020-2024 capital plan at some point, which makes actually appointing its members somewhat urgent since next year is…let’s see here…2020.



By Dave Colon

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MTA News

Contract talks break down between TWU, MTA





NEW YORK (WABC) — Talks between Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the MTA have broken down after both sides have been meeting for the last three days, officials say.

The transit union president claims that the MTA contract demands have “only made the already tense situation worse.”

The union released a statement Thursday evening about MTA Chairman Pat Foye.

“These two days of bargaining have actually set us back,” union president Tony Utano said. “Foye presented us with a new set of demands today that are substantially worse than the insulting package he threw across the table three months ago. Foye not only appears unwilling to negotiate in good faith, he is intentionally spoiling for a confrontation.”

No new talks are scheduled.

The main issues are wages, pension and health benefits, but it all comes amid rising tensions at the MTA and accusations of widespread overtime abuse.

On October 30, members of Transport Workers Union Local 100 rallied outside MTA headquarters, from bus drivers and subway operators to station cleaners and track inspectors. All of them, working without a contract for nearly six months.

MTA officials claimed they have been bargaining in good faith. But unionized workers from the Long Island Rail Road and Metro North are also working without contracts.

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