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MTA Says Proof of Payment May Increase Fare Evasion, History Says Otherwise

The introduction of the MTA's "Eagle Team," which checks for fare compliance on city bus routes, has resulted in a decrease in fare evasion. Image: MTA

The introduction of proof of payment on Select Bus Service routes has resulted in less fare evasion, not more. Image: MTA

Last week, transit advocates called on the MTA to ensure that its next-generation fare payment system allows for “electronic proof of payment” on buses. By enabling bus riders to board without dipping a farecard or carrying a paper receipt, such a system would simplify and speed up the boarding process, saving passengers time on every route in the city.

In response, the MTA cited the “threat of fare evasion” as a reason not to embrace electronic proof of payment. But experience suggests there’s no cause for concern. In fact, in San Francisco and right here in New York, proof of payment systems have led to less fare evasion, not more.

New York’s Select Bus Service routes rely on proof of payment via ticket vending machines and paper receipts to speed up trips. To ensure people don’t cheat the system, inspectors occasionally check for receipts on board. The MTA’s own data show that on these routes, fare evasion is lower with the proof of payment system than without — between 50 and 80 percent lower, depending on the route.

The experience has been similar in San Francisco, where the SF Municipal Transportation Agency implemented proof of payment and all-door boarding on its bus lines in 2012. A 2014 SFMTA report on all-door boarding showed that fare evasion continued to decline after the new fare system was implemented. The rate decreased from 9.5 percent to 7.9 percent between 2009 and 2014.

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Will the MTA Waste Its Opportunity to Save NYC Bus Riders a Ton of Time?

B44 SBS upgrades existing limited-stop service with bus lanes and other improvements. Photo: Stephen Miller

Only a few bus routes in NYC, like the B44 Select Bus Service, allow riders to enter at any door. The MTA’s next-generation fare payment system could expand all-door boarding to every route in the city. Photo: Stephen Miller

The MTA’s next-generation fare payment system can greatly speed up buses all over the city by allowing passengers to board much faster, but so far the agency hasn’t required bidders for the fare system contract to include such technology. With proposals due July 13, a coalition led by the Riders Alliance is calling on the MTA to make the most of this opportunity to improve travel times on NYC’s notoriously slow buses.

The system that advocates urge the MTA to adopt, known as “electronic proof of payment,” would allow riders to board without worrying about dipping a farecard or even carrying a paper receipt. Instead, riders could use mobile devices, credit cards, or electronic farecards to pay either before boarding, or by quickly scanning the fare media at any door as they board. The system would be enforced by on-board ticket agents who check whether riders paid their fares.

On crowded bus routes, this would mean a boarding process that currently takes minutes at each stop would only take seconds.

The problem is that electronic proof of payment is not mentioned in the MTA’s request for proposals. Without such a system, the MTA might waste a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve bus service for millions of passengers each day.

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Brewer to DOT: Start Looking Into a Bus-Only 14th Street

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer wants bus-only lanes on 14th Street. Photo: David Meyer

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer wants the city to study making 14th Street car-free so buses can carry the load while the L train is shut down for repairs. Photo: David Meyer

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is calling on DOT to study making 14th Street a bus-only thoroughfare while L train service is disrupted during Sandy-related repairs.

To allow for urgently-needed fixes to the L train tunnel, the MTA is considering either a full shutdown of service between Bedford Avenue and Eighth Avenue for 18 months, or a three-year variation that preserves about 20 percent of current service. At a press event this morning, the Riders Alliance revealed that most L train riders who responded to an online survey prefer to get it over with in 18 months — a position the MTA seems to share.

In either case, said Riders Alliance Deputy Director Nick Sifuentes, the city and the MTA need to take steps to keep people moving: “No matter what the MTA does, a shutdown will profoundly change transportation options for commuters on both sides of the East River.” Sifuentes said survey respondents “called broadly for robust, supplementary bus service in Manhattan and Brooklyn.”

In the survey, respondents suggested bus lanes in both Brooklyn and Manhattan and along the Williamsburg Bridge, as well as a number of other measures, including Citi Bike expansion, more capacity for bicycling on the Williamsburg Bridge, increased service on nearby subway lines, and increased ferry service.

“The shutdown will not be easy, but a robust set of alternatives would reduce the pain,” said Kate Slevin of the Regional Plan Association. “For example, 14th Street could become reserved for buses, pedestrians and bikes, and the Williamsburg Bridge could offer dedicated bike and bus routes. The MTA and DOT need to be bold.”

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How Long Will It Take to Modernize New York’s Commuter Rail System?

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Metro-North runs trains from New Jersey through Penn Station — but only for football games. Map: MTA

The New York region’s commuter rail network is failing to keep up with current travel patterns, said panelists at Friday’s Regional Plan Association annual assembly. MTA chair Tom Prendergast agrees, but he doesn’t expect that to change much anytime soon — there are too many other priorities that need to be taken care of first, he said.

For generations, New York’s commuter rail system — Metro-North, the LIRR, and NJ Transit — has been run to serve one primary purpose: carrying suburban commuters into the central business district in the morning and back home in the evening. But riders are increasingly using it for other purposes — trips between boroughs, between suburbs, and at off-peak times.

RPA has some big ideas to re-orient commuter rail to meet the growing need for connectivity between places outside the Manhattan central business district. Among the proposals RPA is considering for its fourth regional plan, set to be released next year: one-seat rides between New Jersey, Long Island, and the areas served by Metro-North; an integrated regional fare system; increasing service within New York City; and third tracking the New Haven Line to allow for more local service between Connecticut towns.

RPA Vice President for Transportation Richard Barone said the MTA and NJ Transit have to change things up to meet new travel demands.

Running trains through Penn Station, for example, would open up the possibility of new service patterns. “When you hit Penn Station, you’re at a dead end,” Barone said. “It operates like a terminal even though, quite frankly, it’s a station: you should be thinking of running service through it.” (The commuter railroads already do this — but only on very rare occasions, like Giants or Jets games.)

Within New York City, there are 36 commuter rail stations — many in transit-starved parts of town — but high fares and low service frequency discourage residents of surrounding neighborhoods from making intra-city trips. Re-orienting commuter rail service to be more appealing to city residents could ease the capacity crunch on some subway lines while cutting outer borough commute times significantly, Barone said.

Prendergast, whose agency encompasses the LIRR and Metro-North, responded positively to RPA’s ideas, but did not see them happening in the near future.

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Will DOT Make Safety Upgrades Over Objections of Sheepshead Bay Cranks?

DOT is reportedly going ahead with a plan add pedestrian space and eliminate B36 turns, including one at the intersection where an MTA bus driver killed Eleonora Shulkin last December, indicated by the red arrows. Image: DOT

DOT is reportedly going ahead with a plan to add pedestrian space and eliminate B36 turns, including one at the intersection where an MTA bus driver killed Eleonora Shulkin last December, indicated by the red arrows. Image: DOT

Update: DOT confirmed this project is happening.

DOT intends to go ahead with a project to straighten out a bus route and add pedestrian space in Sheepshead Bay, reports the Brooklyn Daily. DOT had let the project stall after Council Member Chaim Deutsch and Community Board 15 opposed it, but after a bus driver killed a pedestrian in December while performing a turn that would have been eliminated under the plan, the improvements now appear to be moving forward.

The plan was first put forward in 2014, when DOT and the MTA proposed eliminating a winding detour on the B36 bus route between E. 17th Street and E. 14th Street, removing bus turns at intersections that see a lot of collisions. Sheepshead Bay Road would be converted to one-way eastbound between Jerome Avenue and E. 14th Street, and a taxi stand would be installed near the B/Q entrance, where livery cab drivers now park illegally to wait for passengers getting off trains.

The plan would also replace a slip lane on E. 17th Street at Sheepshead Bay Road with space for people, and convert one block of E. 15th Street to a public plaza.

Seventy-four people were injured in crashes within the project area between 2009 and 2013, DOT says, and seven people were killed or seriously injured. A driver killed a pedestrian on Avenue Z at E. 15th Street in 2008, according to DOT.

But DOT shelved the plan after CB 15 and Council Member Chaim Deutsch objected to the street design changes and the proposed E. 15th Street plaza. Deutsch said he was concerned about plaza upkeep, and that bus riders would have to walk a block to transfer between the train and the B36. CB 15 chair Theresa Scavo was okay with the taxi stand but otherwise wanted Sheepshead Bay Road to remain as is. “The problem comes down to enforcement,” Scavo told Streetsblog. “If you have proper enforcement, traffic will move on Sheepshead Bay Road.”

Six months later a bus driver making a left turn killed 62-year-old Eleonora Shulkin at Avenue Z and E. 17th Street, an intersection where bus turns would have been eliminated had the redesign been implemented.

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Cuomo’s MTA Debt Bomb: How the Pieces Fit Together

NY1’s Zack Fink reports that last week’s Albany budget deal raised the MTA’s debt ceiling to $55 billion (about one-third higher than the previous cap of $41 billion). That’s $14 billion more in potential borrowing that, in all likelihood, straphangers will pay off in the form of higher fares.

The increase in the debt ceiling wasn’t a surprise, since it was included in Andrew Cuomo’s draft budget, but it’s worth taking a quick look at how this fits with the governor’s broader strategy of saddling MTA riders with the burden of paying for the authority’s capital program.

Recall Cuomo’s original bait-and-switch. In October, he agreed to cover $8.3 billion of the MTA’s $26 billion, five-year capital program from “state sources.” Then a few months later he released a budget proposal with no additional state funds for transit, just a notional commitment to pay for the capital program once the MTA’s own resources “have been exhausted.”

With the increase in the MTA’s debt limit, the authority now has $14 billion in new borrowing capacity to exhaust. The point at which the state would have to commit its own resources has been pushed farther into the future. Cuomo will probably be out of office by then. Not his problem.

But for the people who ride MTA trains and buses, especially people whose budgets are stretched tight already, paying off that debt will be a serious problem.

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A Car-Free Plaza Is the Key to DOT’s Safety Plan for Myrtle-Wyckoff

wyckoff_myrtle

Reconfiguring this dangerous intersection with a car-free plaza will simplify vehicle movements and reduce the potential for turning drivers to hit pedestrians. Image: DOT

The dangerous intersection of Myrtle Avenue and Wyckoff Avenue at the Bushwick-Ridgewood border is in line for a major DOT redesign this year. The proposal calls for pedestrianizing the block of Wyckoff between Myrtle and Gates to reduce potential motor vehicle turns at the intersection by 70 percent.

Myrtle-Wyckoff is a major transit hub, where the elevated M Train crosses paths with the underground L, and six bus routes converge at the Ridgewood Bus Terminal on Palmetto Street. Since 2009, three pedestrians have been killed at the six-legged intersection — two by MTA bus drivers. Two years ago, hundreds of people gathered there to remember Ella Bandes, who was struck and killed by a bus driver in 2013, and call for safety improvements.

In 2014, the city eliminated five of the 25 potential turns at the intersection, and last year the MTA rerouted the B26 away from the westbound turn from Wyckoff onto Palmetto. With the car-free plaza, the number of turns would fall even more dramatically — bus drivers would make five turns and drivers of personal vehicles would be limited to three turning movements.

According to DOT, three times as many pedestrians as cars pass through the block of the proposed plaza. Making it car-free would allow pedestrians to travel between the train station and bus terminal without having to cross motorized traffic lanes. The proposal also calls for demarcating the bus-only blocks by the bus terminal with red paint, and for converting Wyckoff to a one-way street south of the intersection.

On Tuesday night, about 60 people came to a public workshop hosted by DOT at International School 77 and weighed in on how they want to use the proposed plaza space.

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The Boom in Subway Ridership Is Waning. Why?

Graph-of-Annual-Changes-in-Subway-Trips,-1993-2015-_-30-March-2016

Transit officials recently reported that 1,763,000,000 subway trips were taken last year, the most since 1948. But the rise in ridership was meager, with only 12 million more trips in 2015 than in 2014. The percentage growth rate was seven-tenths of one percent. Over the same year, employment in New York City rose three times as fast.

Subway ridership boomed over the prior two decades, rising from 1993 through 2014 at an average annual rate of 34 million trips. During 2013 and 2014 the rate of increase was even higher, averaging 48 million a year, or four times last year’s increase. Measured against those benchmarks, ridership last year fell short by around 30 million trips. At the average effective fare of two bucks, which takes into account price breaks like unlimited farecards, transfers, and senior discounts, NYC Transit lost out on $60 million in revenue in 2015 — no small sum.

Employment in the five boroughs rose last year by 87,000 jobs, or 2.1 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If half of the additional workers rode the subway to work, their daily commutes would have added nearly 22 million trips to the system. Alternatively, if subway ridership had simply risen as fast as employment, the gain in ridership last year would have been 36 million.

But actual trips rose by only 12 million. Why so little? Transit officials won’t comment until “official” 2015 figures are in. But here are some factors that, in combination, could have suppressed subway use last year.

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DOT and MTA Unveil Plan for Select Bus Service on 23rd Street

m23_design

Image: NYC DOT

About 15,000 daily passengers on the M23 will get faster trips starting this fall under the plan from NYC and the MTA for Select Bus Service on 23rd Street. Last night the agencies revealed their preliminary plan for M23 SBS, which calls for bus lanes on most of 23rd Street and off-board fare collection [PDF], to the Manhattan Community Board 5 transportation committee, which voted for it unanimously.

Most M23 passengers board close to the eastern or western edges of Manhattan. The route provides connections to eight subway lines, the PATH train, and 14 other bus routes — but it is currently one of the city’s slowest buses. The two agencies found that M23 buses are stopped in traffic or at a bus stop 51 percent of the time, and are “crawling” at speeds under 2.5 mph another seven percent of the time.

To bypass congestion, the bus lanes will run from Ninth Avenue to Second Avenue on the eastbound side and from midblock between First and Second to Eighth Avenue on the westbound side. DOT expects the lanes to be camera enforced, but buses won’t get priority at traffic signals “due to the complexity of Manhattan’s traffic signal system,” according to an agency spokesperson.

As on other SBS routes, pre-paid fares will speed up the process of boarding at stops. The project would eliminate one redundant local stop — at Fifth Avenue — that is barely 400 feet from the Broadway stop, which will remain.

On most of the street, the bus lanes will be “offset” from the curb, running between a parking lane and a general traffic lane, and in effect from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. On narrower sections, however, the bus lane will run curbside. The curbside bus lanes will not be in effect from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to allow for commercial loading and parking midday.

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The 30-Second Silent Video That Every MTA Rider Should See

The next time you hear a friend talking about the time their train stayed still for 30 minutes because of signal problems, or the time they waited 45 minutes for a bus then watched four buses pull up simultaneously, or the time they almost got pushed onto the tracks because the platform was so crowded, point them to this video from the Riders Alliance. It’s 30 seconds of truth about Andrew Cuomo.

What the clip lacks in decibels it makes up for in directness. We have a governor who thinks a press conference about wi-fi on buses can substitute for a transit system that meets the demands of a city of 8.5 million residents and growing. Spread the word!