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DOT and MTA Years Behind Schedule on Traffic Signal Tech to Speed Buses

Equipment for transit signal priority is inexpensive and has a proven track record of boosting NYC bus speeds. So why is it years behind schedule? Image: DOT [PDF]

Transit signal priority is inexpensive and has a track record of boosting NYC bus speeds. So why are plans to implement it years behind schedule? Image: DOT [PDF]

Bus riders spend a lot of time stopped at red lights, but they don’t have to. A technology called transit signal priority, or TSP, speeds up transit trips by adjusting signal timing so buses hit more green lights and fewer reds. TSP has a proven track record in New York, but on several routes, implementation is years behind schedule.

Transit signal priority uses GPS devices on buses to send a signal to a traffic management center, which can then either hold a green light as the bus approaches or shorten the amount of time a bus is stopped at a red light.

According to NYC DOT, the technology has sped bus trips between 10 and 18.4 percent. A recent evaluation of signal priority on the M15 Select Bus Service [PDF] said “the system is working well… [and] the city has the option to deploy citywide.” The problem is that only a handful of routes are outfitted with TSP.

The city’s 2011 PlaNYC update set a goal of adding transit signal priority to 11 routes citywide, but didn’t set a target completion date. So far, the city and the MTA have rolled out transit signal priority on just three corridors. Seven routes remain in various stages of planning or study.

New York’s first TSP system was installed at 14 intersections along Staten Island’s Victory Boulevard in 2008. Signal priority cut bus travel times by 16 percent during the morning rush hour and 11 percent during the evening [PDF], and 19 additional intersections on the route are in line to get it.

The city’s first Select Bus Service route, the Bx12 on Fordham Road, received TSP later in 2008, covering 35 intersections over 2.4 miles between Broadway in Manhattan and Southern Boulevard in the Bronx.

Since then, the only route to receive upgrades has been the M15 SBS, which in May 2013 received signal priority for 50 buses and 34 intersections along 2.2 miles of its route south of Houston Street. The M15 was the first in the city to use newer technology that communicates with the traffic management center, the MTA says, with Victory Boulevard and Fordham Road relying on older “line of sight” devices.

Bus riders on other routes are still waiting for improvements, in some cases years after blown deadlines.

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How Much Will Fares Rise Without Closing the MTA Capital Plan Gap? Try 25%

When the MTA’s chief financial officer warned last month that the likely price for failing to fund the authority’s capital plan was a 15 percent fare hike, the response was swift. Just 24 hours later, according to Newsday, MTA chief Tom Prendergast “backed away” from that scenario, calling it “unconscionable.”

Evidently the one thing worse than jacking the price of a Metrocard is letting the public know it’s in the works. But if a 15 percent boost would be unconscionable, what should we call a 25 percent increase?

That’s no idle question. I’ve made a careful calculation of the rise in subway and bus fares required to pay for NYC Transit’s share of the unfunded part of the authority’s 2015-2019 capital plan — assuming no other funding source comes along. My result: subway and bus passengers will see their fares go up 25 percent. Monthly unlimited Metrocards will shoot up by $29, nearly a dollar a day. Averaged across every fare medium — 30-day and 7-day unlimiteds, bonus pay-per-rides, and one-ride tickets — the price to ride a bus or train, which now averages $1.92 (taking into account unlimiteds, free transfers, senior discounts, etc.), will rise by 45 to 50 cents.

And that would be on top of the 7-8 percent biennial fare hikes the MTA has programmed indefinitely to cover rising operations costs.

The minimum wage in New York is set to reach $9.00 an hour at the start of 2016 (it’s now $8.75), so the $29 rise in the 30-day unlimited would eat up a half-day’s wages after taxes. In addition to that new burden on millions of low-income New Yorkers, a 25 percent increase in the transit fare would be projected to have these consequences:

  • A 3-4 percent drop in subway use;
  • A 4 percent deterioration in travel speeds in Manhattan’s Central Business District as some of those dropped subway trips switch to cars;
  • Nearly a billion dollars a year in costs from increased pollution, more traffic deaths and injuries, and more time lost sitting in traffic.

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Someone Show Governor Cuomo This Animated Move NY Explainer

Not sure why you should support the Move NY toll reform plan? This animation is for you.

Move NY has picked up endorsements from city and state electeds, press outlets including the Times and Daily News, and scores of public interest groups. Yet despite the enormous $15 billion gap in the MTA capital program, Governor Andrew Cuomo, who runs the authority, has remained cool to the idea of reforming the toll system to secure the revenue the MTA needs to avoid burdening straphangers with higher fares and compromised service.

The animation directs viewers to the spiffy I Heart Move NY website, which has detailed info on the plan along with an online petition, where New Yorkers can tell officials to “get New York moving again.”

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Transit Advocates Ask Cuomo to Ride the Subway Like a Real New Yorker

Transit ridership is soaring, delays are way up, and the MTA has a $14 billion hole in its capital plan. MTA leadership is sounding the alarm, but Albany doesn’t seem to notice. With the clock ticking on the year’s legislative session, transit advocates are asking Governor Andrew Cuomo to hop out of his muscle car and ride the subway with them to experience the MTA’s needs first-hand.

If the governor experienced a typical New Yorker's transit commute, he might be more inclined to fund the MTA capital plan, advocates say. Photo: Azi Paybarah/Flickr

If the governor experienced a typical New Yorker’s transit commute, he might be more inclined to fund the MTA capital plan, advocates say. Photo: Azi Paybarah/Flickr

The governor has ridden the subway before, but it’s typically a choreographed affair with the press and public officials. His most recent ride, to reassure the public about terrorism preparedness last September, was only tangentially related to transit.

Advocates say it’s time the governor, who has yet to act on funding for the region’s transit investment plan, see a typical morning rush hour. Without a funding plan from Albany, straphangers will be saddled with massive fare increases to pay for debt-financed system upgrades.

“It defies comprehension that Governor Cuomo hasn’t taken up the issue of funding for our subways and buses,” Riders Alliance deputy director Nick Sifuentes said in a release. “The only reason we can think of is that he doesn’t have to deal with the dreadful rush hour commutes that average New Yorkers face every day.”

“New Yorkers are paying more for less and they hate that,” said Gene Russianoff, senior attorney for the Straphangers Campaign. “Don’t believe us? Join us on the subway and ask them how they feel about higher fares and poorer service.”

“New Yorkers are fed up with fare hikes, bad service, and overcrowded trains — we’ve been hearing from frustrated riders for months,” Sifuentes said. “It’s about time the governor does too.”

Riders Alliance has launched a petition asking Cuomo to ride the subway. The complete letter to Cuomo is below:

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De Blasio Deputy Anthony Shorris Ducks Questions on MTA Funding

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s One New York plan, focused on the intersection of income inequality and the environment, doesn’t hesitate to make big recommendations to the MTA, like a new subway line. To pay for those plans, de Blasio will need Governor Cuomo and the state legislature to take action, but the mayor isn’t putting forward his own ideas about how to fund the MTA.

First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris. Photo: Wikipedia

While the Move NY toll reform plan aligns with the mayor’s environmental and equity goals, de Blasio has avoided taking a position on it. Today, his top deputy wouldn’t elaborate on City Hall’s position except to note that the mayor is “leading the fight” to pass a federal transportation bill.

After his morning keynote at the annual Regional Plan Association assembly at the Waldorf-Astoria, First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris continued the administration’s waltz around the Move NY Fair Plan during a press scrum.

“Look, I think one thing we’ve said from the beginning is the full funding of the MTA capital program is essential to the city, to this mayor’s agenda, and to the whole One New York plan, and even more broadly, to the whole region,” Shorris said. “Everybody’s going to have to figure out how to come together and do that. That’s the city, the state, the MTA itself.”

Then Shorris shifted to Congress.

“It’s also very important that the transportation bill in Washington be passed. There’s actually a critical federal component,” Shorris said.

I asked if that meant the city wouldn’t talk about its transit funding preferences until a new transportation bill passes Congress. “No, it means that we all, though, have to fight to get that transportation bill funded,” Shorris replied, “and the mayor’s leading that fight right now.”

When it comes to funding the MTA, however, federal policy is the wrong place to focus. With power in Washington split between the Obama White House and the GOP Congress, federal transit funding isn’t about to change much. The arena where the mayor has allies and can actually make a difference is Albany.

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A Bus Design Flaw Is No Reason to Gut the Right of Way Law

As part of its campaign to make it legal for bus drivers to injure and kill people, the Transport Workers Union says flawed bus design is to blame for bus drivers hitting pedestrians while turning.

Ella Bandes was killed by a bus driver turning right in 2013.

According to WABC, the TWU claims “half of all recent bus accidents” in NYC and nationwide occurred because drivers were prevented from seeing pedestrians while turning left. TWU and the Amalgamated Transit Union say the issue is that driver visibility is obstructed by the left-hand windshield pillar and the driver’s side rear view mirror.

“There’s a blind spot that’s 14 inches wide that obscures not only one pedestrian but as many as 15,” ATU International President Larry Hanley told WCBS. The unions say “newly-designed” buses are the problem.

Of the nine crashes in 2014 where an MTA bus driver killed a pedestrian, three drivers were reportedly turning left and five were turning right. I looked back through media reports on those eight crashes. Most didn’t have photos from the scene, but of the three that did, each bus was a different model.

In a statement, the MTA said bus drivers are trained to see pedestrians by “leaning into and out of their mirrors while seated to ensure that their line of sight is not obstructed.”

Mayor de Blasio said Wednesday that if it poses a threat to safety, bus design should be looked at. “But in the here and now,” de Blasio said, “our message to everyone in this city, whether they work for the city, or they work for the MTA, or a private individual, is you have to drive safely. You have to yield to pedestrians. You have to respect that there’s new laws now that clearly penalize those who do not yield to pedestrians.”

If it turns out that MTA buses were built in such a way that endangers people, by all means, fix the buses. But as the mayor indicated, everyone who drives in NYC must yield to people walking. A bus design flaw is no reason to gut the Right of Way Law.

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As Subway Trips Climb, MTA Bus Ridership Continues to Stagnate

Total MTA Subway and Bus Ridership, 1970-2014

While subway ridership hit a 65-year high last year, the story for surface transit in NYC is different. Bus ridership has yet to recover from a major round of service cuts in 2010, and in 2014 it lost some ground, according to new stats from the MTA.

After the MetroCard boom in the late 1990s, bus ridership has dropped 10 percent since 2004. Over the same period, subway ridership increased 23 percent.

The city’s bus network is operated by two different MTA divisions: New York City Transit, which runs most of the routes throughout the city, and MTA Bus, which runs primarily in eastern Queens. NYCT bus ridership fell 1.6 percent in 2014 compared to the previous year. The borough-by-borough picture was mixed, however, with small gains in the Bronx and Staten Island.

The most significant ridership declines in recent years have been in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and in 2014 the drop was again especially sharp in Manhattan, which saw a 5.8 percent decrease. Select Bus Service routes were not immune. On M34 SBS, ridership declined 11.2 percent, and trips fell a combined 8.6 percent on the M15 local and M15 SBS on the East Side. Both routes received SBS upgrades several years ago, leading to increased ridership immediately afterward.

In the two boroughs where total bus ridership went up, so did SBS ridership. The Bx41 on Webster Avenue received SBS upgrades in 2013, and the improvements led to a 21.4 percent ridership gain last year. Trips on the city’s first SBS route, the Bx12, which launched on Fordham Road and Pelham Parkway in 2008, increased 3.4 percent in 2014. On Staten Island, ridership climbed 7.2 percent on the S79, which received SBS upgrades in 2012.

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Subway Ridership Hits 65-Year High. Does Cuomo Care?

Subway ridership hit a 65-year high in 2014, serving 1.75 billion trips last year, the most since the New York City Transit Authority was formed in 1953. That’s an increase of 2.6 percent over 2013 and 12 percent since 2007, according to the MTA. The subway now serves 5.6 million passenger trips on an average weekday, and 6 million on an average two-day weekend.

"Andrew, we can barely keep up with this ridership." Photo: MTA/Flickr

“Andrew, we can barely keep up with this ridership.” Photo: MTA/Flickr

The new figures don’t include bus ridership, which has stagnated since a round of service cuts in 2010. However, the growth in subway ridership is a good indication that the transit system continues to absorb the vast majority of additional travel in the city, a trend that goes back to the 1990s. Meanwhile, Governor Andrew Cuomo still hasn’t put forward any ideas to close the $15 billion gap in the MTA’s five-year capital program, which keeps the system from falling apart, adds capacity, and modernizes signals and stations.

Weekday subway ridership grew 2.7 percent in Brooklyn, 2.5 percent in Manhattan, 2.1 percent in the Bronx, and 1.9 percent in Queens. Here are some more highlights from the numbers:

  • Weekday ridership on the L train increased 4.7 percent, with every station on the line seeing an increase in passengers. Stations in Bushwick saw the largest increases, with weekday ridership at Bushwick Avenue-Aberdeen Street  jumping 11.5 percent over the year before.
  • M train stations in Williamsburg, Bushwick, Ridgewood, and Middle Village saw ridership grow 6.2 percent last year, and are up 23.6 percent since the M was rerouted to serve Midtown in 2009.
  • Long Island City also saw big gains, with weekday ridership up 9.7 percent at Court Square and 12 percent the Vernon Boulevard-Jackson Avenue 7 station, where ridership has more than doubled since 2000.
  • The fastest growth in the Bronx was along the 2 and 5 trains, up 3.7 percent. In Manhattan, ridership grew fastest for the 2 and 3 trains on Lenox Avenue, up 3.7 percent over last year.
  • Stations in the Rockaways, which rank among the system’s quietest, saw the highest percentage increase in subway ridership, with many nearly doubling the number of passengers served, as the area continues to recover from Hurricane Sandy.

The subway is hitting record ridership during off-peak hours, which is when most maintenance work is performed. That maintenance is more necessary than ever: The subway also had a dramatic increase in delays last year.

Advocates pressed Governor Cuomo and the state legislature to take action before it’s too late.

Read more…

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DOT Scraps Bus Lanes in Kew Gardens Hills for Flushing-Jamaica SBS

This afternoon, the City Council overwhelmingly passed a bill that requires DOT to work with the MTA on a citywide Bus Rapid Transit plan to be updated every two years. The vote came a day after DOT told bus lane opponents in eastern Queens that it will water down a Select Bus Service proposal in their neighborhood.

miller_lancman

I. Daneek Miller and Rory Lancman.

In many ways, the new bill codifies much of the city’s existing BRT planning process. It requires DOT to work with the MTA on a 10-year blueprint for the city’s BRT network updated every two years, taking into consideration the city’s land development patterns and including estimates of how much it will cost to build and operate the routes.

The bill, sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander, passed 49-1. The lone vote against it: I. Daneek Miller, who objects to plans to bring Select Bus Service to the Q44 between Flushing and Jamaica.

“He supports BRT,” said Miller spokesperson Ali Rasoulinejad. “It’s not so much with BRT as it is with the way this process is conducted… If this is the way this process is going to happen, where community voices are not going to be heard, we might not be ready for it.”

Rasoulinejad questioned whether the Q44, which serves more than 28,000 passengers daily, attracts enough people to merit investment. He also cited the potential reduction in on-street parking spaces and said Miller would like the MTA to focus on other projects, like replacing an over-capacity bus depot in his district. (Before joining the City Council, Miller served as president of Amalgamated Transportation Union Local 1056.)

Meanwhile, Miller’s neighboring council member, Rory Lancman, can claim victory in his fight against Flushing-Jamaica Select Bus Service. At a meeting of the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association last night, DOT said it would not be adding bus lanes to Main Street in that neighborhood.

“We had a very productive community meeting last night,” said Lancman spokesperson Nadia Chait. “The council member found that in that situation the DOT and the MTA had really listened to the community.”

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Jim Brennan’s Transpo $ Plan: Gas Tax, Income Tax, and Forced City Funding

A bill from Assembly Member Jim Brennan, who chairs the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, would create a transportation finance authority to collect new taxes and help fund the MTA as well as roads, bridges, and transit statewide. It’s the first major transportation funding proposal to come out of Albany this year.

Brennan's bill marks the start of transportation funding debates in Albany. Photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr

Brennan’s bill marks the start of transportation funding debates in Albany. Photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr

“Time is growing short,” Brennan said this afternoon. The legislative session ends in mid-June, and state transportation agencies need assurances about funding before they can begin projects. “This is just a proposal,” he said. “It’s the first piece of legislation to make a proposal.”

The revenue in Brennan’s plan would come from three sources:

  • A 10-cent increase in the state gas tax would yield $500 million annually.
  • A half-percent income tax increase on New Yorkers earning between $500,000 and $2 million each year would raise their rate from 6.85 percent to 7.35 percent, bringing in $750 million annually.
  • A mandatory contribution from New York City, starting at $60 million in the first year and adding an additional $60 million each year until the city’s contribution is capped at $300 million annually.

That makes for a total $1.55 billion annually, which would be bonded against to provide $20 billion in capital funding. Of that, $12 billion would go to the MTA, nearly filling the $15.2 billion gap in its capital program, and the remaining $8 billion would be distributed through the New York State Department of Transportation, which also has a long-term gap in its capital program.

Although Brennan supports and says he would vote for the Move NY plan, road pricing is not included in his bill, so it lacks most of the traffic-busting, safety-enhancing benefits of toll reform. Forcing the city’s hand through state legislation is also a dubious proposition to say the least.

Still, advocates welcomed the bill as the start of negotiations. “It’s important to get all the various funding options out there,” said Nadine Lemmon of Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “I hope he inspires folks to come forward with other ideas, including the governor.”

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