Friday, October 30, 2009

What are they building at Queensboro Plaza?

I can't decide if it's condos or a really big parking lot. Based on the trends of the neighborhood, I'm guessing condos... which is somewhat entertaining, since you could practically reach a broom out of what will be windows and touch the 7 train.

This, however, is not what upsets me. If people want to buy stupidly located condos, that's their business. What does upset me is, first, the building they tore down to build whatever this is. That thing was a hideous 60s masterpiece, complete with many hexagons. It will be missed, at least by me. Second is that, now, when coming around the big curve between Queensboro Plaza and 39th Street, the timespan during which a rider on the N or W can catch a nice view of the Empire and Chrysler buildings is cut in half.

Stupid "progress".

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Grudgingly, the G train.

I've been struggling with the G. Really, I'm in denial. Its original purpose was so bold, so inspired, so innovative: to have one single solitary train that would bring a rider from Brooklyn to Queens, and vice versa, without having to go through Manhattan.

Those of you who live in either of these boroughs know what I'm talking about. Say you live in Astoria or Long Island City or even Hunter's Point, and all you want to do is get to Greenpoint or Williamsburg. Without the G train, you have to make an hourlong trek through that all-important isle, to which all roads (or tracks) lead, to get to someplace that in reality you probably could have walked faster because they're actually right next to each other.

But the G, ah, the G! No Manhattan for its passengers, just Queens to Brooklyn, Brooklyn to Queens, back and forth all day long. With full service beginning in 1937, it is the only train now running to use the IND Crosstown Line. Unitl 1985 they called it the GG, and it stretched from the odd nook between Red Hook and Carrol Gardens all the way to Jamaica, Queens in a crazy outer borough zig-zag. Brilliant!


Troubles seemed to have started for our dear old G train in 1997, due to the terribly problematic 63rd street tunnel, through which only the F train runs. Apparently the G somehow got in the way of construction, and so service was cut back to Court Square on evenings, nights, and weekends. This stop is *technically* in Queens. It is in fact directly under that hideously shiny CitiBank tower that can clearly be seen from 53rd street in Midtown if looking across the East River. Of course, standing outside the Court Square station, you can practically throw a rock and hit Brooklyn. But nevermind that.

Then, in 2001, the V train happened. Because of overcrowding on the E and F trains (and no one can argue that the E train is not ridiculous), the V was introduced to help bring riders into and out of, uh, *Manhattan*. For some reason, the system in northeast Queens is made up of one huge channel. Once the V was introduced, too many trains were competing for use of the same tracks: the E, R, and G, and now the V. Guess which one got axed? (Hmm, could it be the one that wasn't going to Rome?)

Of course it was the one train that didn't serve the Almighty One, the Great Manahatta. G train service to the upper part of Queens then sort of inverted: it would run all the way out on evenings, nights, and weekends -i.e., when the V train does not run - and during prime time its terminus became Court Square.

Service was thus truncated, but it didn't stop there: in order to have G trains run more frequently, the trains themselves got shorter. Instead of running trains of normal length less frequently, the MTA felt it would be better to have trains half the length of the platform come more often. They took the "extra" cars to make "extra" trains for the line. (I can only guess that they were just that strapped that no full length extra trains were to be had?) The overall result of this being that unwary riders waiting too far along the platform could easily miss the train entirely. The first time I rode the G, I was totally bewildered when the end of the train whizzed by me and kept going another car length or so, but then did indeed stop and open its doors. I was so dumbfounded in fact that I almost didn't make it onto the train. They hold the doors open extra long for foolish newbies like me.

The south end of the G strikes one as totally arbitrary. It is in fact at the highest station in the system, towering 88 feet over neighborhoods and highways and offering a clear view of the old Kentile Floors sign - a sign which would mean entirely different things to me if I didn't work in asbestos personal injury litigation. Oh, how one's work can change one's perception of the world... Oddly, the tracks then almost immediately dive back underground, giving something of the feel of a rollerocaster. No one ever believes me when I tell them that New York City's physical geography is interesting. But I'll tangent more on that station in a lil bit.

Anyway. By this point you're probably asking yourself, has this girl ridden this damn train or what? And the answer is: yes. Twice. And yet never how I'd wanted, because I still haven't been able to catch it running all the way out to Jamaica. See, it used to. I know it did - I've caught it up at Steinway and Broadway, far past its current pseudo-north-terminus. But ever since I've been trying to catch it on its full route, it's been thwarting me. The MTA's official standing is that it will be ending at Court Square "until further notice". I've tried to be tricky and catch it on federal holidays, when trains often run on a "Saturday" or "Sunday" schedule and thus tend to do things they otherwise wouldn't, even on a Saturday or Sunday. But no, they're not even falling for that one anymore. My last such attempt was on July 3rd, but no such luck.

So I've just had to accept the fact that the G Train now runs from Smith and 9th to Court Square - regardless of what the official story of the MTA is and regardless of what the maps say. It's a short bit of a line, and my rides on it have been so fragmented that I have no choice but to give this ride to you in something of a photoessay.

But wait! Get this! As of July 5th and for the next several years (word on the street says four, but who knows with these MTA projects), the G will actually run five stops past Smith and 9th Street to Church Avenue, its original terminus from 1937! Are you excited? I know I am. Now let's make with the pictures, huh?

Ely 23rd Street connects with Court Street, the fake northern end of the G. They're distinctly different stations connected by a long corridor that gets quite crowded during rush hours - so crowded that it has a powerwalk! The powerwalk even works sometimes. For my first ride, which happened last, ahem, December, this is where I started out - I much prefer entering on 21st street and walking down some long hallways to trying to wander around the damn CitiBank building to find the entrance that's open.

The aforementioned powerwalk. There is not very much art on the G line, and what little there is is almost all in this station. Unfortunately, it looks like this.

See what I mean? It's more interesting that dirty white tile walls, certainly. And I much prefer it to the advertisements that positively paper the walls at, say, Union Square. Is there any surface they *won't* put ads on? Yup: tile mosaic.

Court Square. This is the true beginning, for so many people each day. After the mad rush through the corridor beneath CitiMonstrosity, they dash down to this desolate platform... all too often to see that the precious G, which doubtless has been sitting idle for the past 10 to 15 minutes, has just closed its doors and begun to pull out of the station. (If you're lucky, another one has pulled in, and at least you can wait sitting down. Ho hum.)

I love these sort of classic silhouettes that the old stations provide... Of course, all of the stations are old. Until they finally finish the T, that is.

I love this guy. (Doorway? What doorway? I'm not blocking any doorway...)

Who's that guy? And why's he always reading?

I adore this tilework - it's so entirely different than anything I've seen in any other station. But I can't remember which station it's in! That's it. I officially suck. Process of elimination tells me that it's Classon, Clinton-Washington, or Fulton. Ugh, why don't I have a photographic memory? (Har har har.)

If you've read very much by Jonathan Lethem, you've heard about Hoyt-Schermerhorn. (Please, please don't ask me to pronounce it.) You may have also seen it in movies and not known it. See, the station has four sets of tracks running through it, but only the two interior sets are in active use. The two on the outside are "abandoned", and therefore used by Hollywood! If, for instance, they need to have a subway train come into a station and then leave it, these side platforms are ideal. I hear tell that a long-since-closed department store had display windows that reached down into the station (a la the S-Mart at Astor Place), but I've never been able to spot them, and I fear that they've been covered over. This is also where you'd get out to go to the Transit Museum... but that's a post in and of itself, now isn't it?

Carroll Street. Very cute neighborhood at this stop. You should check it out sometime.

I love this green tiling, truly. It's sort of the earmark of this part of the line - many of the lines have a color theme present for long stretches, which makes sense. It wouldn't be practical or cost effective to try to use a different palette in each station, and it also gives people an easy identifier that they've gotten on the right train home...

Look at me! I've gone past Smith and 9th on the G train, because I'm in bizarro world... and will be for like four years or so. Go figure. Here we've got goldenrod yellow tile - we're not in Kansas anymore.

And I've arrived at Church Ave. Notice: they changed the map to show the new G terminus. This is like, for reals, peoples. I hope Park Slope is happy. (I don't mean that in the sarcastic way. I mean literally, I think they're pretty happy about it. I'd be pretty happy if a new train line started coming by my neighborhood.)

I'm a big dumb jerk and I don't have any pictures of what the streets around the Church Ave stop look like. Hopefully if and when my work load ever slows down, I will get back down there and post an addendum.

But for now, let's back up to the "real" terminus, because oh how I dig it so.

Now's the time that we gush about Smith and 9th, a superlative station in the NYC subway system - literally, in that it is the highest station. As in, really really high off of the ground, like woah. 88 feet doesn't sound that high, except that you're out in the open... and the platform doesn't feel exactly flat. Also, how rad is this tiling? It's under every lamp post along the platform. I love this kind of detail. And see? Still with the green.

I wouldn't want to have to wait up here on one of our terrible New York in February nights, when it's twenty degrees and the wind is raging through (wind chill negative two? Mmm hmm). But man, it's worth all those stairs and escalators just for the view.

The view at night is indeed spectacular, but the view during the day is nothing to shake a stick at either.
I love old signs like this - which has a certain twinge of irony to it seeing as I hate advertising to the point that I don't own a television. If this was for Sketchers I'd hate it. What can I say? I'm a bundle of contradictions.

And, you know, there's this. (Look hard. You'll see it.)

You really notice the height when ascending or descending. At Smith and 9th, if you actually want to get down, you must descend 18 stairs... before you reach the first of two super long steep scary escalators. Eyeah.

And what do you see when you get outside? Well, you're sort of under a highway underpass. There's a bodega, and a bus stop, and the Ikea shuttle for Red Hook stops there. So there's always a huge influx of college students and yuppies-in-training... much to the chagrin of the people who actually live in the neighborhood and just want to take the bus home. But hey, we can't call it progress unless we're ruining someone's neighborhood, right?

Well, alright darlings. That's my G train story. It's been a long time coming, I know. Ten months, actually, is how long it took me to actually get this post written. But the good news is that I've already ridden the J train! And then there's always the K to talk about. Oh, what, you didn't know there was a K train? You have so much to learn...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

You guys are like, totally not gonna believe me, but...

I've ridden two trains! No really, I swear! I've ridden the G train - twice. And today I rode the J! But now listen. It takes a minute to digest a ride and get all the photos in order and write one of those oh so clever blog posts. But just rest assured. Rides are coming.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

So here's the thing.

I know. You're so super duper sick of my excuses that you're not even going to read this blog post. And I don't even really blame you for that. But I'm going to tell you what's happening anyway.

At the moment it's really hard for me to type because my right hand is so messed up. Why? I don't really know. What I do know (thanks to an MRI) is that I have a pinched nerve on the left side of my neck. It's basically just being folded in to a general flare-up of my chronic illness. This has not left me in a good position to do any subway riding.

I know. You hate me.

I have material for at least four posts for you! And when I can type better I will post them! Among other things, I promised you I was going to bring back pics of the D.C. Metro, and I did I did! I haven't shown them to you yet because I suck, or more specifically because my body sucks and it isn't letting me do the things I'd like to at the moment.

But look. The project isn't abandoned - far from it. In fact, come early September I have a date to ride the J train. I have high hopes of being more functional by that point, and I'll have a partner, and damnit I have determination.

I know what you're thinking. She hasn't posted the G train yet.

Bear with me lovelies.

Until then, a consolation prize.

Treehugger's "World's Best Alternative Subway Maps". Unsurprisingly, NY is heavily featured. Wish I could give you the whole slideshow here, but they're not so big on the embed features. Anyway...

Thanks Dan!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Where's my ride? A weekend concern.

A major concern in this project, for me who has a weekday 9 to 5 (or so), is the fact that some trains don't run on the weekends. This is a somewhat major hurtle to overcome, as these are also often the trains that stop running at 10 or 11 pm on the days they do run. That leaves me with just a handful of hours to do a ride. It takes very careful planning - and a certain willingness to end up at the end of a line at ten o'clock at night with blind faith in the dear old MTA that there will, somehow, be another train to get you home.

So, what trains are these weekend slackers? Here's the complete list.

-The B Train. Fortunately we've already overcome this one - and got to see some fireworks as our reward.

-The J Train. I'm kind of baffled by this - I really thought that the J was a full timer - apparently not though. Seems that the M is the workhorse on that particular line.

-The V Train. This is truly lamentable, as in the city it's the best alternative to the always bursting at the seams E train. It also just stops pretty much everywhere I want to go on the west side, and from one of my common destinations in Queens no less. So it goes.

-The W Train. My little buddy out here in Astoria, who almost faced the ax during the "doomsday" propositions of late. Yeah, great idea guys - approve the construction of one billion condos in a neighborhood and then cut its train service. Luckily it's been staved off, for the time being at least.

-And, last but not least, The Z Train. I haven't seen much of this elusive beast, and apparently there's a reason for that. Seems that all it really does is supplement the J line during rush hours on weekdays. This line follows a most unusual path - from lower Manhattan, through Brooklyn, and then up into Queens the back way. It ends up where all the other Queens trains end up, way up in Jamaica, but by slicing an entirely different route. Cool, says I. It will be an interesting ride.

And when is she riding again, you ask? Soon! I hope. The schedule's a little bit packed at the moment. But here's a touch of exciting news for you: next weekend I'll be in DC! No promises, but maybe just maybe I'll come back with photos of the Metro's Red Line. (Doubtless I'll come back with lots of pictures of me in wedding dresses, as that's why I'm going down. But that's a different blog entirely.) Ah, the Metro - a much less impressive system with much more impressive stations, largely because many of them were built as artful bomb shelters... true story.

So that's what I got for ya today. See you soon, and happy riding.

Monday, July 6, 2009

One year down, and I am no hero.

One year down and there is not a sound.

Well, actually there's lots of sounds - the subway is a very loud place. Sorry, 90's indie rock reference.

So, believe it or not today marks the first anniversary of my A Train ride - the first of what would prove to be seven in year one of The Subway Project. I knew that it would be slow going. But I'll admit, I thought I'd be farther along by now. The intention, luckily, never was to do it quickly though. The intention always has been to do it right.

In that vein, I've begun a new phase of this multi-media adventure. Each train post has been very photo heavy, but even so I've only included a fraction of the images captured on each ride. For example: on my B Train ride, I took 180 pictures. It's just not reasonable to put that in a blog post. *However.* There are whole websites dedicated to nothing but photo posting, and I've now commandeered yet another little piece of the digital landscape to dedicate to the images of the subway as seen through my eyes (ahem, camera).

So, once I get everything uploaded, you'll be able to see my whole photographic journey on each line. If you'd like to lift these images for non-profit-making purposes, honestly, feel free. All I ask is that you give a little shout out to me and the project.



This is a message to the fine people of New York City, and specifically those of you who use our mass transit system each and every day. As certainly you know by now, on June 28th our fares were raised. They didn't go up as much as they could have, and they're not destroying three of our subway lines, so we can't be too upset can we? However, here's what you need to know:

If you have already purchased a card at the old prices - say, a 30 day card for $81 dollars through TransitCheck - you MUST begin using it TODAY, JULY 6TH. After today, your card will not be honored by the subway turnstyles. Now, whether or not you will be able to trade in that card for its cash value I have yet to be able to determine.

That is all.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

This year has been hard... but I have a gift for you.

I know. I haven't ridden a train yet this year. It's getting kind of ridiculous, seeing as it's almost July. You may think that I've given up on the project. But I haven't, not at all. It's just been a hard year thus far.

But I've got a little something for you, something special that I came across. And I think you'll like it.

See? Now don't you feel better?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

HOPE. Perhaps it's gonna be OK... perhaps.

Finally the fat cats have paused long enough in licking their whiskers to make a decision about the fate of the little people, and not a moment too soon. Fare hikes and service cuts, including the eradication of two entire lines, was scheduled to occur in just a few short weeks. Now, it seems that we'll take a bit of a hit in the pocket, but not much else. Unfortunately, this may be a quick fix to what is actually a long term problem. But what else is new? As usual, I suppose we'll have to jump off that bridge when we come to it.

Below, the latest from the New York Times City Room blog on the status of the situation.

* * * * * * * * * *

May 6, 2009, 9:11 am

Legislators Reach Deal on M.T.A. Rescue Plan

morning buzz

Gov. David A. Paterson announced the long-awaited deal to rescue the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Tuesday night, which generally keeps fare increases to 10 percent instead of 20 to 30 percent.

Under the deal, the base fare for a single bus or subway ride would rise to $2.25 from $2. The cost of a monthly MetroCard would probably rise to about $89 from $81. Other fares and tolls, including tickets on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad, would go up about 10 percent.

The plan calls for a payroll tax, a 50 cent surcharge on taxi rides and increases in vehicle-registration and license fees and the auto-rental tax.

The New York Post adds that the state Senate is expected to vote on and pass the $2.26 billion bailout bill at its 11 a.m. session on Wednesday morning. Then it would head to the assembly and the governor.

Read City Room’s rundown on what the M.T.A. bailout could mean to you.

The Daily News adds that transit officials have said that they would likely push back the May 31 and June 1 fare-hikes to do the computer programing and other necessary work to implement the scaled-back increases. The News also points out that the streamlined capital plan could mean an extended No. 7 line — but not more frequent service.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Glimmers of hope?

It's a damn shame that I still haven't gotten to go on any of my rides this year. Things are still just too hectic. My health has yet to settle down, and now on top of it I'm moving and going to trial. Nevertheless, I want to try to keep you, lovely reader, up to date on the ridiculous ongoings of the NY MTA fare hikes / service cuts. After all, the fate of my beloved W train hangs in the balance!

And so, the latest New York Times article on the subject, which indicates that there may indeed be a light of the big fat white man's bureaucratic tunnel.

* * *
Senate Shapes New Rescue Plan for M.T.A.

Published: April 20, 2009

Into the maelstrom of competing proposals to rescue the financially troubled Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Democrats in the State Senate submitted another offering Monday — one that would cut out new tolls but add money for highway and bridge construction.

Earlier attempts to pass a rescue plan for the authority have died within the Senate’s narrow and fractious Democratic majority. A spokesman for the Senate majority leader, Malcolm A. Smith, said on Monday that he was “optimistic” that the new plan could win the 32 votes needed to pass.

But Mr. Smith’s ability to deliver enough votes is crucial, so it was not immediately clear whether the new plan would provide a needed breakthrough or fall apart as another plan from Senate Democrats had done.

Senate Democrats hold a 32-to-30 majority over Republicans, who have not backed any rescue plan for the authority.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said in a statement, “I am willing to support any plan that provides a stable, long-term funding stream for mass transit and apportions the burden equitably among everyone who has a stake in the M.T.A.’s future.” Mr. Silver added that he had not fully reviewed the plan Monday night.

“If it can accomplish both of those objectives and command the support of the majority of Senators, then it is an alternative we’re prepared to take very seriously,” he said.

Gov. David A. Paterson’s office released a statement saying that it had not yet reviewed the details of the Senate proposal.

The plan seeks to overcome the objections of Senate Democrats to crucial elements of the original rescue proposal, which was crafted by Richard Ravitch, a former authority chairman, to address growing deficits at the agency.

The original plan included a tax on payrolls of 34 cents for each $100 in wages, to be paid by employers in the 12-county region served by the authority.

Some suburban senators criticized the tax as being too burdensome on businesses, school districts and hospitals.

Austin Shafran, a spokesman for Mr. Smith, said the Senate alternative would retain the Ravitch plan’s tax rate in New York City, but lower it elsewhere, with counties farther from the city paying less than closer ones.

He said he did not know what rates would apply outside the city.

The tax under the Ravitch plan was estimated to take in $1.53 billion in its first full year of receipts.

Mr. Shafran said the Senate tax would take in $1.49 billion in its first full year.

The Senate plan also eliminates the Ravitch proposal for tolls on the East River and Harlem River bridges, which several senators from Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx said were unfair to residents of their boroughs.

The plan includes other charges on drivers and vehicles in the 12-county region served by the authority, like an additional $25 vehicle registration fee, a 25 percent increase in driver’s license fees and an increase in car rental taxes to 11 percent, from 6 percent. Together these fees would raise about $175 million a year.

Mr. Shafran said the plan would also include a $1 surcharge on taxi trips throughout the 12-county region, which is expected to produce $190 million a year, half of which would go to the transportation authority.

The other half would be used to pay for highway and bridge projects upstate and on Long Island. Mr. Shafran said that the state would use that portion of the taxi fee to finance borrowing for road and bridge projects. He said the fee would allow the state to borrow $1.2 billion. That would cover only a fraction of the state’s roadway construction needs.

Like the Ravitch plan, the Senate proposal would include an increase of about 8 percent for bus and train fares and existing tolls this year. That increase would come instead of an increase of 20 to 30 percent that the authority says it must impose without a rescue package.

Both plans would also avert deep service cuts.******

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


March 25, 2009, 9:38 am

M.T.A. Increases Fares and Cuts Services

Mack and HemmerdingerRuby Washington/The New York Times David S. Mack, vice chairman of the M.T.A. board, and H. Dale Hemmerdinger, the chairman, at Wednesday’s session.

Updated, 11:40 a.m. | The board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted on Wednesday morning to enact a series of fare hikes and service cutbacks needed to keep the transit system from going broke.

The vote was broken largely into three parts: fare hikes, toll increases and service cutbacks. After hearing from the public and the board members, the board approved each by a vote of 12 to 1.

“This is your last chance or forever hold your peace,” H. Dale Hemmerdinger, the chairman of the board, said before the final vote.

The lone dissenting member in each vote was Norman I. Seabrook, president of the 9,500-member New York City Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association.

Board members called the combination of fare increases and slashing bus, subway and commuter rail cuts a disaster but said they could no longer wait for lawmakers in Albany to rescue them.

The fare hikes on the subway and buses, including an increase in the base subway and bus fare to $2.50, from $2, will take effect on May 31.

Commuter rail fares will increase on June 1. Tolls on the authority’s bridges and tunnels will also go up, with the increase taking effect in mid-July.

The service cuts are far reaching. They include the elimination of 35 bus routes and two subway lines, the W and Z. Off-peak and weekend subway, bus and commuter rail service will also be cut back. The city comptroller’s office Web site allows you to search for the cuts by zip code.

The authority’s board had hoped for a different outcome.

Gov. David A. Paterson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver have championed a financial rescue plan for the authority that would have prevented the service cuts and allowed a much smaller fare increase.

That plan [pdf], put forth by Richard Ravitch, a former authority chairman, would have funneled new revenues to the authority by creating a new tax on payrolls and tolls on the East River and Harlem River bridges. But several Democrats in the State Senate opposed the bridge tolls and blocked the rescue package.

“It’s truly sad that a few individuals can hold all these brave individuals hostage,” Mr. Hemmerdinger said when the meeting started.

Officials in Albany have said they still hold out hope that a compromise can be reached in the coming weeks. But the authority said it had to go through with the Wednesday vote to give itself time to plan and implement the fare and service changes.

If lawmakers do eventually pass a rescue package, authority officials say they may be able to stop the changes before they take effect.

Before the vote, the board heard from a parade of M.T.A. employees, transit advocates and city officials who criticized the fare hikes and service cutbacks that would affect a system that covers two-thirds of all mass transit riders in the United States. A number complained about how the cuts would disproportionately affect the middle class, who were already struggling in the city’s economic downtown.

Norman Siegel, a onetime candidate for the city’s public advocate and longtime civil liberties lawyer, tried to portray the board as out of touch, asking the board, “I am curious how many of you use the trains or buses regularly?”

When only some raised their hands, he said, “I hope that one day everyone here raises their hand.” He added, “You clearly don’t represent the diversity of the city or the state.”

David I. Weprin, the city councilman who is chairman of the Council’s finance committee, said that fare hikes should be the absolute last option. “They are neither new nor innovative,” he said. Instead, he urged for pursuing more aggressive advertising strategies and appealing to Washington.

Others used the opportunity to vent against Wall Street and the broader financial crisis, as much of the M.T.A.s’ financial burden comes from debt payments on money borrowed for capital improvements through Wall Street companies.

Elliot G. Sander, executive director of the M.T.A., acknowledged the cost of the spending binge earlier in the decade, describing the capital improvements made from 2000 to 2004 as being put “on a credit card.”

• • •

Live Blogging Updates: Before the vote, City Room filed blog updates from this morning’s meeting, below:

11:15 a.m. | Members of Metropolitan Transportation Authority board have been discussing the fare hikes in advance of the final vote.

So far, the wide-ranging discussion from the public and the board members has referenced A.I.G.’s $169 million in bonuses, Bernard L. Madoff and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

10:30 a.m. | The Metropolitan Transportation Authority hearing on the fare hikes has been under way since 9:30 a.m. A vote is expected. “It’s a true crisis that cannot be solved by ourselves without causing great pain to the riding public,” Mr. Hemmerdinger said at the beginning of the meeting.

At the microphone, some used the opportunity to vent about the broader financial crisis. John Ferretti, a conductor on the No. 1 line who helps publish The Revolutionary Transit Worker bulletin, noted that the M.T.A. was burdened by debt that had been incurred with the encouragement of Wall Street companies.

He said the increases “would take money out of the pockets of workers to save the funds of parasitic financiers and bankers.”

9:34 a.m. | The board of the M.T.A. is meeting to vote to enact a stiff series of fare hikes and service cutbacks needed to keep the transit system from going broke. The meeting, which started at 9:30 a.m., can be watched online. We will post details from the discussion and, eventually, the vote.

Board members have called the combination of fare increases and slashing bus, subway and commuter rail cuts a disaster but said they could no longer wait for lawmakers in Albany, who are in legislative stalemate, to rescue them.

As this blog has noted previously, here is what some of the proposed fares and tolls would look like under the plan:

  • New York City Transit: The base subway and bus fare in New York City would rise to $2.50, from $2. The monthly MetroCard would rise to $103, from $81. The pay-per-ride MetroCard bonus would remain at 15 percent.
  • Commuter rail: Fares on most lines would go up from 20 percent to nearly 30 percent. For example, on the Long Island Rail Road, a person who commutes from Hicksville to Pennsylvania Station will pay $267 for a monthly ticket, up from $211. A person who commutes from Ronkonkoma would pay $352, up from $278. On the Metro North Railroad, a person commuting from White Plains would pay $243 for a monthly ticket, up from $191.
  • Bridges and tunnels: Existing one-way E-ZPass tolls on the authority’s major bridges and tunnels, like the Robert Kennedy Bridge and the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, would rise to $5.26, from $4.15. One-way cash tolls on those crossings would rise to $6.50, from $5.
  • Access-a-Ride: Fares on the authority’s door-to-door Access-a-Ride service will remain equal to the base subway and bus fare. The authority had previously proposed raising Access-a-Ride fares to double the base fare.
  • Other fares: Some of the steepest increases will occur on the transportation authority’s Long Island bus line, which operates primarily in Nassau County. There the fare will increase to $3.50, from $2.

Monday, March 16, 2009

This is getting ridiculous.

I haven't ridden a train yet this year! I mean, I ride a train pretty much every day. But, you know. I haven't ridden a train, like, for the project, since my G train ride back in December. And I haven't even blogged that one!

Sadly, having a bum foot does not lend itself to spending six hours taking photographs on a subway train and in its stations. But the foot's clearing up thankfully. And on the subject of the G train, there were confirmed sightings of that ephemeral being above Court Square on President's day - proving that my Federal Holiday theory is correct! Now only to catch it - I don't have another federal holiday off of work until May, ho hum.

Bear with me all. The project is not forgotten. It's just been a long, cold winter.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

So, MTA, are you screwing us or what?

Try as I might, I can't seem to get a satisfactory answer as to what's happening with the MTA's budget crisis. The gist is that "Albany's trying to work it out", but in the meantime I fear for what will happen to my beloved W line - and the price of my monthly unlimited ride metrocard. Of course I'm concerned about the bus lines getting axed, the longer waits between trains, the demise of the Z (I haven't gotten to ride it yet!), and all of the other nonsense - but those two factors are what will impact me most directly, and thus what weigh most heavily on my mind.

The only recent article I could find on the subject was this one from the Daily News. It strikes me as odd that for a topic so crucial to almost all New Yorkers, we're not getting the blow-by-blow. From what I can gather, the powers upstate are looking into two sources of money: 1) tolling of the East River and other bridges, and 2) a payroll tax to be paid by the employers of NYC.

I must say that suggestion number one makes a whole lot of sense to me. The tunnels are tolled, so why shouldn't the bridges be? Particularly those from the east side. No one, and I mean no one, needs to be driving into Manhattan over the 59th street bridge, when it's far cheaper to park in Long Island City and take the train in. If they still want to drive in why shouldn't they pay for the privilege?

And yet somehow, much like Bloomberg's congestion pricing suggestion, it is being decried as a "tax on working people". Are they effing kidding me? Shall we even begin to compare the numbers of "working people" who would be affected by increased subway fares and reduced bus services to those who would be impacted by tolls or congestion fees? I'm going to put this in terms of a real-life example. I work in a midtown law office that has something like 67 employees. Of those 67, I know of TWO who will SOMETIMES drive in to work... and both of them are lawyers. EVERYONE ELSE uses some combination of public transportation, be it buses, subways, or other trains like the LIRR. So, a tax on working people? Uh, more like a tax on rich mf'ers who don't need to be clogging up midtown with their damn SUVs anyway.

The fact is that most New Yorkers who even own cars don't drive them into Manhattan; there is far too much traffic to make it a practical way to get to work on time, and once you're in town you'll be very lucky to pay less than $50 dollars to park for the work day. And if you consider $50 a reasonable expense to park for a day, are you seriously going to tell me that you can't afford an $8 congestion fee? Pardon me if I find that just a bit hard to swallow. The whole thing makes me wonder if the people who are crying "unfair!" aren't the very same people who would end up having to pay, lest they be forced to join us public-transportation-riding plebeians.

It seems that The Powers are vastly preferring the payroll tax. On its face it doesn't sound like a bad idea - until you consider that we're in the middle of a recession. Employers are laying people off left and right, and cutting benefits and freezing salaries of the employees they're keeping. So I'm not sure that levying a tax on the PAYROLL will exactly encourage hiring new employees, or even keeping the ones already on the rolls. Yes, the MTA needs money, because the cuts they're proposing are absurd and will make the city borderline unlivable for many, many people. But this option really does seem like a tax on working people - because employers will ALWAYS transfer a new cost to its employees if at all possible.

Since the announcement of the deficit, I have been thinking often about the first winter I spent in New York City: the winter of 2005. The MTA, declaring a budget surplus of over $900 million, decided that the best thing to do with the money was to offer discounted fares for the holiday season. I think I got some benefit out of it - two extra days of rides or some such. But still, my feeling on the matter was mainly, what the hell is wrong with you people? Have you seen your trains? Have you seen your stations? You must be joking! They were also stating that they'd have a deficit of practically the same number only two years later. So... what the hell could they have been thinking? I don't think we ever quite figured it out.

Well, the MTA employees didn't seem to like the plan much either, and during the discounted time they went on strike - beginning on December 20, 2005. Compared to two previous strikes which respectively lasted 12 and 11 days, the two-day 2005 strike was pretty weak. But it was enough to make the city a whole new landscape amidst the ice and snow of that December. Of course, the reasons for the strike were ridiculous - pay increases for people already making over $50,ooo a year? Cry me a river. The strike was so short lived largely because their union did not support them.

When the discounts were announced, I got in lengthy debates about whether or not they were worthwhile. People, intelligent friends of mine whom I like and respect, were trying to argue that by effectively putting subway rides on sale, people would use the system more and it could be a net gain. To which I could only reply, uhhh, that's kind of like saying that if you make municipal water cheaper people will take more showers. It's a public service; people use it as they need it. Making it cheaper will save them a little tiny bit of money for the short while that the discount applies, but in the long run everyone loses. All they were really doing was losing the profit that could have been gained from all the Christmas shopping and tourism - those people were going to ride the subway regardless of what it cost.

Part of me is happy that other people also remember this little escapade. Part of me hates being right. Most of me just hopes that those who make decisions will free their collective heads from any and all orifices, and will find a way to do what's right for the REAL working people of New York City - those of us who depend on reliable subway and bus transportation to get to work each and every day.