July 31, 2008

Brooklyn Paper: G is a broke down, dirty train

G is a broke down, dirty train
By Mike McLaughlin
July 31, 2008

The results are in and the G train is off the charts — in the wrong direction.

An annual report of subway service by the Straphangers Campaign ranked the perennial whipping boy of mass transit, the G line, dead last in two pivotal categories — cleanliness and breakdowns — preserving its horrific reputation for another year.

The Straphangers report judged the lines on scores ranging from zero to $2, the price of a single ride on city buses and trains.

The L was considered the best value, though only worth $1.40, and the W train was considered the worst, worth just $0.70.

The G train did not receive a cash evaluation because the Straphangers had incomplete rush-hour ridership statistics — but nonetheless, the Smith-Ninth Street to Queens line fulfilled its underperforming reputation by getting the lowest ranking in two categories — the frequency of breakdowns and dirty conditions of its cabins.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority was hard pressed to explain why cars on the G line are prone to breaking down more than other trains.

“We have no explanation because we run the same cars on many tracks,” said Charles Seaton, a spokesman for New York City Transit, the branch of the MTA overseeing city buses and subways.

The four-car-long G, the only train in the system that never enters Manhattan, was also with the dregs of the report for its PA system and the scheduled frequency of trains.

For G-train riders, the findings confirm their suspicions that their commute stinks.

“It’s definitely dirty … it’s totally one of the worst,” said Christy Harrison, in the Clinton-Washington station on Tuesday night.

On the bright side, the G was fourth in the regularity of service, meaning that its operators do a good job of sticking to its sporadic schedule.

But that was little comfort for people who don’t like the long waits.

“My biggest complaint is that comes too infrequently,” said Jessica Dwin on the Hoyt Schermerhorn platform.


July 29, 2008

Straphangers Survey Rates G Line as Among Worst

According to the recent NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign State of the Subway report, the G train is more likely than average to break down (not fun when trains are scheduled so far apart to begin with), and is the system's dirtiest line (even more disgusting when one considers that the MTA only needs to clean 4-car trains - and fewer trains at that) - tens times dirtier than other subway lines.

The Straphangers Campaign couldn't provide crowding data for the G, since the MTA does not take platform ridership crowding assessments as for other subway lines.

The G's report profile can be found here:

And here's the main link to review methodology as well as reports on other lines.

Question: Does the State of the Subways report profile for the G line match your own G line experiences?


Daily News: Commuters Rail for Spot on MTA Board

Commuters rail for spot on MTA board
By Pete Donohue Daily News Staff Writer
Sunday, July 27th 2008

An MTA advisory panel has floated a novel idea to Gov. Paterson: Appoint regular rail riders to the board.

"There are quite a few [current board members] who don't ride mass transit on a regular basis," said Gerard Bringmann, chairman of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter's Council.

Bringmann said the group wants Paterson to appoint "someone who feels our pain and is in the trenches with us; someone who knows what it's like to be on a train without air conditioning or on a platform where messages are garbled or nonexistent."

The council, part of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, expressed its view in a letter to Paterson, who must fill a vacancy caused by the death of Frances Powers. The missive was prompted by recent comments by David Mack, chairman of the MTA's Long Island Rail Road committee, who said he rides the train a handful of times a year - and only because he doesn't have to pay.

MTA divisions are currently preparing their preliminary 2009 spending plans amid high fuel costs and declining tax revenues. The reports include how the various divisions will meet a prior directive to cut spending by 6% over four years, starting next year when savings must total about $80 million.


July 26, 2008

NY Observer: The G Train Crusader

The G Train Crusader

Sculptor Peter Eide wants a tunnel from Fulton to Atlantic;
M.T.A. says too few people would take it

by Leigh Kamping-Carder July 24, 2008
Photo by James Hamilton.

When Peter Eide moved to Clinton Hill, he had a "fantastical" idea.

The sculptor had spent 12 years moving around the borough after arriving from Philadelphia: Greenpoint, Williamsburg, back to Clinton Hill. But Mr. Eide, now 37, never strayed far from the G train, the only subway line in the city that doesn't travel through Manhattan. And he never stopped thinking of that idea he had: to connect his neighborhood G train stop, Fulton Street, to the Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street transit hub, effectively linking the line to almost a dozen other routes.

The fantastical part? A 660-foot tunnel buried under Fort Greene.

"It just didn't make sense to me that it wasn't there," he said of the tunnel. "And this was a while ago. This was before these neighborhoods changed as drastically as they've changed."

The Atlantic Avenue station services the B, Q, 2, 3, 4, 5, D, M, N and R lines. On average, over 30,000 commuters cross through its turnstiles every weekday, making it the second most trafficked hub in Brooklyn and the 29th busiest station in all of the M.T.A. But the G? Transit advocates call it the system's "forgotten stepchild." Most recently, M.T.A. CEO Elliot Sander announced the line would not receive the service enhancements that the transit agency had promised riders last February, due to budget constraints.

But Mr. Eide is not sympathetic to the M.T.A.'s financial woes.

"I live here in the city, and if they're going to increase my fares, they need to do certain things," he said. "If they want to have a successful mass transit system, I think they need to have [a tunnel]. They do make improvements to their lines, and they can make one here."

When we met for coffee at a local cafe, Mr. Eide arrived in a rumpled button-down shirt, with a weekend's worth of stubble on his chin. But he's no slacker artist. Mr. Eide was involved in the campaign to halt the construction of a 15-story luxury condominium tower at 163 Washington Avenue. Community members formed a coalition, Building Too Tall, to fight the developer, the GLC Group, over the course of three hearings before the Board of Standards and Appeals. The BSA approved construction of the tower last March.

During the course of the hearings, Mr. Eide met City Councilwoman Letitia James of Fort Greene. In February, the M.T.A. had promised Ms. James that it would conduct a study to determine the costs associated with digging a passageway between Fulton and Atlantic. (Ms. James declined to be interviewed for this story.)

It was her efforts that convinced Mr. Eide that his long ago tunnel idea was more than a pipe dream. He created an online petition to the M.T.A., publicizing it through the Brooklyn blogs, such as Brownstoner and Save the G.

Since February, over 1,200 people have signed, including James Surowiecki, The New Yorker writer and author of The Wisdom of Crowds, and Eric Demby, the cofounder and curator of the Brooklyn Flea Market. Not that Mr. Eide could tell you that -- he hasn't combed the names for notables. He's just happy that the petition has a space where riders can comment, testifying to their experiences with the G.

"I can make anonymous comments on blogs about the M.T.A. as much as I want," he said, "but it's not going to affect anything. But maybe the petition will."

Riders from as far away as Canada and the U.K. have affixed their names and observations to the petition.

"My husband and I have long considered a move to Clinton Hill," wrote Pamela Remickof Brooklyn last April, "but always hesitate when we consider that the G train is the primary train service. If it were connected to Atlantic, our fears would be erased!" Another, Kristine Ganancial, wrote, "my entire NY life, I've based my living situation entirely on how far and how much I can avoid the G Train."

Others called the tunnel a "no-brainer," and a few even suggested that the developers behind the Atlantic Yards should pay for its construction.

Cate Contino, of the transit advocacy group the Straphangers Campaign, wrote, "This line serves one of the fastest growing populations in NYC. It's time transit reflected the vibrancy of G-dependent communities. Why not add a few more cars while we're at it? If you build it, the riders will come."

But New York City Transit is not convinced that they will. When NYCT looked into the viability of creating a free passageway between the stations, it found that only 1,000 to 5,000 commuters would use it daily.

"The prohibitive cost would not be justified," said Deirdre Parker, deputy director of NYCT's public affairs, in an e-mail. Ms. James, the councilwoman, told the Brooklyn Paper in February that it would most likely take 5 to 10 years to complete but would be "the biggest shaft in the subway system."

Of course, many G riders think they've already gotten the shaft. "The G train suffers from neglect," said Mr. Eide. "Part of that neglect is engineered." In other words, the M.T.A. has created a vicious cycle: low ridership numbers lead to service cuts, which lead to a decrease in ridership.

"If they did make some of these critical connections that they could make, then ridership would increase," Mr. Eide continued, "and they'd be forced to do something. I think regardless they're going to be forced to do something at some point soon."

However, the feasibility study that the M.T.A. promised Ms. James died along with congestion pricing. To go ahead, the study would have to be a part of the agency's capital budget, she said in an e-mail.

Many G train riders wonder why the M.T.A. couldn't at least allow for a street transfer between Fulton and Atlantic, allowing commuters to transfer aboveground for the cost of a single fare. (This is already in place between the G and the 7 lines at Court Square in Queens and between the F at 63rd Street; and the E, V and 6 lines at 53rd Street in Manhattan.)

If such a system were in place, Peter Eide, for one, would use it. He currently rides the bus to Atlantic, transferring to the Q train on his way to Rockefeller Center, where he works part-time in the graphics department of a financial advisory firm. Although the ultimate goal of his campaign is to build the tunnel, Mr. Eide believes that any kind of improvement to the G line -- increased frequency of service, street transfers, a longer train -- would benefit the community.
The petition will close in December, but until then, the signatures and the comments -- what Mr. Eide calls "the motor of the petition" -- will continue to accumulate.

"It's sort of like power to the people," he explains. "The great thing about it is that there's weight in numbers."


July 23, 2008

MTA Wants to Accelerate Fare Increases

July 23, 2008
M.T.A. Wants to Accelerate Fare Increases
By Ray Rivera

At a contentious meeting at its Midtown headquarters, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board provided new details about its plan to plug a gaping hole in its finances. Not only is it seeking an 8 percent increase in revenue from fares and tolls, to take effect July 2009, but it also is requesting an additional 5 percent to take effect by January 2011 — for a cumulative increase of 13.4 percent over 18 months.

In presenting its preliminary budget for the 2009 fiscal year on Wednesday morning, the authority made no attempt to conceal what it considers to be its worst fiscal situation since the economic downturn that followed 9/11. When fares last went up, in March, the authority’s plan was not to have another fare increase until January 2010, with future increases every two years thereafter. Now that entire schedule has been moved forward — by six months for the initial increase and by a year for the projected future increases. (Jeremy Soffin, an authority spokesman, said after the meeting that the 2011 increase might be pushed ahead a few months to get as close as possible to the goal of two years between increases.)

The authority’s leaders said the fare and toll increases are necessary by the confluence of soaring energy prices and a plunge in revenue from real-estate transactions, which are a prime source of the authority’s revenue. The authority is struggling to pay the interest on billions of dollars in debts that have accumulated since the 1980s, but exploded since 2000, to pay for expensive equipment upgrades; debt service alone is expected to consume one-fifth of all authority spending by 2012.

Speaking before a packed hearing room at the authority’s headquarters on Madison Avenue, the authority’s leaders portrayed the plan as difficult and unpopular, but necessary. “Nobody wants to increase the fares,” said H. Dale Hemmerdinger, the authority’s chairman, adding, “We’re human beings, like the rest of you.”

Several board members, however, expressed dissent, saying that despite internal spending reductions already proposed by the authority’s leadership, more should be made before asking riders for more fares and tolls. Some argued that those reductions could be made without affecting service.

“When I look at this budget, I don’t think that we have nearly made the cuts that we need to make,” said Andrew M. Saul, a board member who represents Westchester County. He urged lawmakers to reexamine legislation that he said would restructure the authority and streamline its operations. “There needs to be fundamental change,” he said, adding, “and until that’s done, there’s going to be fare increase after fare increase.”

Several members of the public called for more city and state aid was needed — a position with which several board members are quietly sympathetic, though as political appointees, they have been reluctant to publicly call on the governor and mayor for new assistance.

At least a dozen witnesses brandished signs urging, “Mayor Bloomberg: Help the Riders” and “Governor Paterson: Help the Riders.”

While some board members, like Mr. Saul, called for long-term restructuring of the authority’s finances, others said the authority needed to make cuts urgently.

Jeffrey A. Kay, who oversees municipal operations at City Hall and is one of four representatives of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on the board, said, “Before we go out and ask for higher fares, we need to find every dollar we can.”