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Thread: The New York City Subway

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    Crisis in New York's Subways Comes Into Focus

    BY JEREMY SMERD - Special to the Sun
    March 23, 2005

    Four major subway service disruptions in the last week, including a fire yesterday that sent five people to the hospital, have highlighted a crisis in the New York subway system. Critics say the transit system is reeling from years of neglect and politican manipulation.

    Three power outages crippled the overcrowded Lexington Avenue line last Wednesday. Some 750 riders of the 7 line were trapped in a smoke-filled tunnel a day later. Yesterday a fire at Atlantic Avenue and a police investigation at Columbus Circle sent commuters scrambling for alternative routes to work at the height of the morning rush hour.

    While not every service disruption can be blamed on the vast decline of the system, piecemeal repairs have not addressed the overarching problems facing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a New York-based think tank.

    "We're now at the point where we have several generations of problems piled on top of each other," Steven Malanga said. "The problem is you can never catch up. New York can only operate on a crisis basis. Once the crisis passes, the legislature exploits the system."

    Mr. Malanga points to debt, which consumes 60 cents of every dollar of revenue, pension obligations, and the sheer size of the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority as problems that require the active attention of the state Legislature and the governor, which jointly oversee the authority.

    "There are no easy solutions," he said, citing the fixed costs for pension and debt obligations.

    Seven major subway disruptions since a fire at the Chambers Street station crippled the A and C lines for 580,000 riders eight weeks ago has brought out public fears of a return to the decrepit subways of the 1970s, said a spokeswoman for the Straphangers Campaign.

    "This is the typical stuff that used to happen in the late 1970s and early 1980s until investment started," Neysa Pranger said. "I think the bottom line is: these things are going to happen more frequently unless we invest in the sytem."

    Transportation officials fended off criticism yesterday, telling customers that things are not as bad as they seem.

    "We certainly apologize. That is about all we can do for this unfortunate series of events," a spokesman for New York City Transit, Charles Seaton, said. "What has happened in the last couple of weeks has nothing to do with funding or lack of maintenance."

    The fire on the tracks near the Atlantic Avenue subway in Brooklyn station yesterday created enough smoke that authorities suspended service for the 2/3 and 4/5 trains.

    While its cause remains under investigation, officials said debris on the tracks and a spark from the third rail at 7:06 a.m. may have set the wooden railroad ties on fire. Five people were taken to Long Island College Hospital with minor injuries from smoke inhalation. Full service was restored at 8:42 a.m.

    Police investigating a robbery halted subway service between 164th Street and Columbus Circle beginning at 8:05 a.m. The delay for downtown trains lasted an hour. Police said they did not catch the suspect.

    For commuters north of Columbus Circle, piling onto the 1 and 9 trains, it was an unwelcome reminder of the subway fire at Chambers Street on January 23 that crippled the A and C lines for several weeks.

    "I've lived here all my life and every other day it seems some train line is out of service," Tonya Garcia, 27, said as she stood on the overcrowded platform of the 1/ 9 train at 137th Street. "I try to give the MTA credit where other people don't but they are getting on my nerves actually right now. It's a horrible inconvenience."

    Like other New Yorkers, Ms. Garcia expects crowds in a city of 8 million, but her tolerance for the disruptions is wearing thin, especially in light of the fare increases.

    "I'm very tolerant but then again I haven't purchased the new Metrocard at the higher rate," she said. "Once I have to shell out that money for the monthly card I'll probably get progressively more upset."

    Riders, especially those who have paid the increased fare, feel caught in a system that has become too politicized.

    "It seems that no one wants to take the blame," one commuter from Brooklyn, Jesse Levin, said. " I'm really upset that I pay so much money for the train and it seems the MTA is not run well. I think a lot of people feel that way."

    The recent disruptions are unrelated, Mr. Seaton said, but because they follow so quickly after each other, the appearance of disrepair belies statistics that show a subway that has improved tremendously since the first capital plan was introduced in 1982.

    Trains are on time 98% of the time, ridership reached a record 1.4 billion last year, and the average distance between subway car breakdowns is up from 8,000 miles in 1982 to 150,000 miles last year, he said.

    "We may be victims of our own success," Mr. Seaton said of the criticism. "As problematic as these events have been, the system is running better than it has in our entire history. Twenty years ago, events like these were nearly daily occurrences."

    But comparisons to the past mean very little to riders today, said a transportation consultant who worked for the MTA until 1998.

    "The question isn't whether it's better than it used to be," Bruce Schaller said. "The question is: are they meeting the needs of people using the system today."


    A logbook of major service disruptions since the January 23 subway fire at Chambers Street.

    * March 22: A subway fire of unknown origin fills the tunnels near the Atlantic Avenue station with smoke during the morning rush hour, injuring five passengers. The 2, 3, 4 and 5 lines were shut down for an hour and a half until 8:45 a.m. The Long Island Rail Road shut down service for almost an hour, stranding 3,000 commuters.

    * March 22: A police investigation shuts down the A, B, C, and D trains for an hour at Columbus Circle during the morning rush hour. Thousands of riders switch to the 1 and 9 trains, overwhelming the trains and platforms. Police do not catch the suspect.

    * March 17: Smoke detected in the tunnel connecting Manhattan to Queens shuts down the 7 train at 6:45 a.m., trapping 750 riders for an hour. Officials said an improperly secured metal plate became dislodged and hit the electrified third rail, creating a smoke condition.

    * March 16: Three power outages shut down the Lexington Avenue line during morning and evening rush hours, wreaking havoc for about 350,000 commuters. A mysterious breach at the base of a manhole allowed brackish water to seep onto wires, causing them to short-circuit.

    * February 28: Grand Central Shuttle derails after it hits a bumper, injuring three people.

    * February 15: Three-alarm blaze at a Bronx apartment building disrupts rush-hour commutes for riders on the 2 and 5 trains.

    * February 1: Subway fire on D line in Brooklyn disrupts service for an hour.

    * January 23: A fire spreads to a control room at Chambers Street, destroying cables and wires that run the track signals. Service for the A train was disrupted and C train service was suspended until February 2, affecting 580,000 commuters daily. Officials initially misstated the service delay on the C line, estimating it would be out for five years.

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    Leadership Needed

    New York Sun Staff Editorial
    March 23, 2005

    At the rate things are going, it's not going to be too long before New Yorkers start demanding new management at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority - either in respect of Governor Pataki at election time, for the governor has authority over the MTA, or the appointed chairman of the agency, Peter Kalikow. We have no particular gripe with these individuals personally, but if they can't manage to run this railroad, maybe someone else should be given a crack at the job.

    Certainly that thought must have occurred to commuters forced to evacuate the Atlantic Avenue station yesterday morning because a track fire was filling the subway with smoke. Some 30 people sustained light injuries, and four required treatment at Long Island College Hospital. Many more faced delays as the nos. 2, 3, 4, and 5 trains stopped service during rush hour. The Long Island Rail Road also shut down, which left some 3,000 commuters stranded.

    This, moreover, is fast becoming an all-too-regular pattern. On Thursday morning, the no. 7 line went down, suspending service between Hunters Point and Times Square. Some 1,000 passengers, riding two Queens-bound trains, found themselves trapped in a smoke-filled tunnel and had to be evacuated. Just a day earlier, on Wednesday, a series of separate power failures shut down the Lexington Avenue line no fewer than three times in a single day.

    The 350,000 riders who use the train regularly were out of luck during the morning and evening rush hours and, indeed, for most of the day. Apparently, salt and water had been seeping through a mysterious hole in the roof of the subway tunnel - over the course of several years, evidently - and short out a signaling box.

    All of that happened just in the last week. In February, we saw the Grand Central Shuttle derail and a subway fire halt the D train in Brooklyn. And on January 23, a fire - which started in a homeless man's shopping cart - spread to a signal-relay control room at Chambers Street and shut down the A and C lines for days. The 580,000 New Yorkers who ride those trains daily must have had the same thought: "What is going on here?"

    The chairman of the City Council's Transportation Committee, John Liu, plans to hold an emergency hearing. "Things are getting out of control and no one is taking responsibility," Mr. Liu, a Democrat of Flushing, told Newsday yesterday. In 2002, the MTA refinanced its outstanding debt, which provided short-term savings to fund its 2000-2004 capital program. But now the MTA faces annual debt service payments of over $1 billion a year through 2031. According to the MTA's July budget projections, debt service will consume 20% of the authority's operating revenues by 2008.

    Even after fare hikes and service cuts, the MTA faces a $696 million shortfall in 2006, which will grow to $1.2 billion in 2008, according to a study by the New York City Independent Budget Office. The MTA's pension and health-benefit costs are expected to grow at an average rate of 10.2% through 2008. By contrast, New York City's spending on those benefits for its employees will grow about 6% a year in the same period.

    Now the MTA wants to embark on a new $27.8 billion capital plan for 2005-2009 that contains a shortfall of $16.2 billion, including a shortfall of $11.3 billion for maintenance and repair projects. In December, Mr. Kalikow encouraged Mr. Pataki to raise taxes and fees on businesses, utilities, and mortgages to fund the MTA. The governor included two hikes in his budget: raising the mortgage recording tax and motor vehicle fees. He's offering Mr. Kalikow about $8 billion less than what he wants. Some in the state Senate have suggested a new tax on businesses in the MTA's service area as a way to fund the system.

    With the prospect of all this debt and taxes, the MTA was still willing to submit to binding arbitration over the Hudson Yards site after the Jets signaled their unwillingness to pay anything close to appraised value. It can't be lost on voters that they had to pressure the railroad to look for the best price. Mr. Kalikow and his agency are still out stumping for tax increases and new state aid to cover the yawning gap between the MTA's spending and its revenues. So people are going to start to think about demanding leadership that will finally get the MTA's fiscal house in order instead of relying on ever-greater taxes and fares - and keep the tunnels clean and get the trains to run on time.

  3. #3


    With the prospect of all this debt and taxes, the MTA was still willing to submit to binding arbitration over the Hudson Yards site after the Jets signaled their unwillingness to pay anything close to appraised value. It can't be lost on voters that they had to pressure the railroad to look for the best price. Mr. Kalikow and his agency are still out stumping for tax increases and new state aid to cover the yawning gap between the MTA's spending and its revenues. So people are going to start to think about demanding leadership that will finally get the MTA's fiscal house in order instead of relying on ever-greater taxes and fares - and keep the tunnels clean and get the trains to run on time.
    At a Feb hearing of the NY State Assembly public authorities committee, there was the following exhange between committee chair Richard Brodsky and MTA chair Peter Kalikow:

    BRODSKY (addressing the issue that the MTA land must be rezoned before the stadium can be built, or excess development rights can be sold off): How soon could you get a rezoning if you sought it?

    KALIKOW: I don't know.
    BRODSKY: Is there a ULURP [land-use procedure] component to the zoning process?
    KALIKOW: I don't know.
    BRODSKY: Has anybody tested the market for the transfer of development rights in that amount in that area? Does your appraisal do that?
    KALIKOW: I don't know.
    BRODSKY (later): Whose idea was it to go to arbitration?
    KALIKOW: I actually don't know. It just kind of came up.
    BRODSKY (later): Suppose the arbitrator comes back with $35 million, which is what the Jets think [the parcel is worth]. ... You'd take the $35 million and go home?
    KALIKOW: I wouldn't be happy about it, no.
    BRODSKY: I didn't ask you if you'd be happy about it. Would the board be bound by the arbitrator's decision?
    KALIKOW: The board has to decide what it will and will not be bound by.

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    That's an outrageous exchange and highlights the disconnect from common sense. I think the Sun's editorial also spells out why things only get accomplished during a crisis.

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    What’s Taking So Long? The MTA’s Security Plan

    by Marcus Baram

    It’s a nightmare scenario that haunts subway riders: A dirty bomb is detonated on a crowded train, killing thousands and injuring even more in the ensuing panic.

    Most security experts describe the city’s subway system as one of the most likely terrorist targets and stress that its sheer size and openness make it particularly vulnerable to attack. And yet the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has spent only $115 million on mass transit throughout the country, while giving $15 billion to the airlines for security needs.

    “Mass transit carries 16 times more passengers than the airlines,” said Linton Johnson, a spokesman for San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit subway system. “Yet transit systems and commuter rail lines get a fraction of that Homeland Security money. If there was an attack, then they’d find out. It’d be a shame if someone has to die for us to get the money we need.”

    Since 9/11, subway systems around the country have scrambled to help secure their systems through a combination of federal aid and by dipping into their own operating budgets. Yet while many of these transit agencies have already exhausted those limited Homeland Security grants and are pleading for much more funding, New York’s sprawling Metropolitan Transportation Authority has only spent a portion of the $591 million it has budgeted for security.

    That revelation came to light during a routine budget hearing at the City Council on March 18, when Gregory S. Kullberg, the M.T.A.’s grim-faced director of capital program budgets, said that the agency had spent $25 million to $30 million of the allocation so far, sending local politicos and editorial writers into a frenzy. “It’s shocking to hear that so little progress has been made toward securing our transit system from terrorist attack,” fumed Council member John C. Liu, who chairs the Council’s transportation committee, shaking his head in disbelief. By the end of the year, the agency vowed to spend about $200 million in security-related work and an additional $100 million in security consulting and design contracts awarded last year.

    Other municipal transit agencies don’t seem to have had such trouble spending their smaller allocations.

    In Washington, D.C., the Metro has gone through the $49 million it was allocated by the federal government soon after 9/11. “It’s all been spent,” said Steven Taubenkibel, a Metro spokesman. “We spent it on additional explosive-detection canine dogs, ID systems at entrance locations, bomb-resistant trash cans, a pilot program for additional cameras, automatic vehicle locators, chemical sensors in train stations, closed-circuit TV.” The agency, which also spent several million of its own funds to purchase video equipment in buses and explosive-containment trash cans, is seeking $260 million in federal money to help build a backup operations control center. “If we had resources like [the $591 million allocated to the M.T.A.], we would be spending it immediately. New York and D.C. are two areas where security is critical and you need to act.”

    In San Francisco, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system spent $20 million since 9/11 to improve security for the heart of the system, the Trans-Bay tube. “We’ve bought security cameras, police overtime, hardware to improve security, detection devices, alarms, anti-terror training,” said Mr. Johnson, who identified nearly $200 million in immediate security needs for the BART. “We’ve worked with Laurence Livermore labs. And yet once they develop these products like detection devices, they’re too expensive and we don’t have the money.”

    In Los Angeles, transportation officials have spent $6.8 million in federal funds to harden the city’s new subway system with closed-circuit TV, barriers and emergency-response training, in addition to $40 million in local funds on security guards and other enhancements. “Before we got the money, we knew how we were going to spend it,” said Paul Lennon, director of intelligence for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “All this pot of money, you get bogged down in discussing how to spend it. New York isn’t comparable. They have layers of management and layers of politics—they all want their particular cows to be considered.”

    So what’s taking so long in New York? The M.T.A. asserts that it would rather take the time to make the right choices than throw the money at every proposal that comes its way. “Could we go through the $500 million?” asked M.T.A. spokesman Tom Kelly. “Absolutely—in about a week, if you took every cockamamie scheme that everybody brought to us to improve security.”

    Instead, the agency has four engineering firms—the Jacobs Engineering Group, Parsons Brinc- kerhoff, the URS Corporation, and a joint venture of Washington Group International and the HNTB Companies—on contract to supply advice and the accompanying construction. “They give us all the architectural plans and surveys of what we need to do,” said Mr. Kelly, who stressed that the agency has spent tens of millions of dollars out of its operating budget on security-related needs in recent years.

    “If they told us we need to put another foot of concrete around the tunnels, then that has been paid for,” Mr. Kelly added. “Look, this is a 100-year-old system that now you have to put in all new technological stuff. We have to do it in the best way possible. Anything you do in New York is going to be taken up by every other system in the world—if it’s good enough for New York City, it’s good enough for every system.”

    And Mr. Kelly, who sat and shook his head throughout most of Mr. Liu’s questions and comments during the recent City Council hearing, is angered at politicians quick to attack the behemoth agency. “What I resent is the fact that they make it appear that we are not concerned about the safety of our customers,” he said. “Not only do we use the system, but our families do. And you know that [politicians] would be the first ones to criticize us if these steps prove to be unwise.”

    Setting Priorities

    Some have criticized the agency’s security staff and spending priorities. “I’m not clear what they’re doing with this money,” said Dave Katzman of the Transport Workers Union. “Most of these high-tech detectors don’t work underground because of the high levels of steel dust. They seem to have spent a lot of money on consultants to tell them what to do instead of taking real security measures like protecting the rail yards which are not properly secured right now.”

    The M.T.A.’s director of security, Bill Morange, has been meeting with law-enforcement groups and security organizations to help assess the agency’s needs, but his tenure has gotten a mixed reaction. “Morange is a perfectly pleasant guy, but he doesn’t seem to know much about transit,” said one longtime security consultant. “Why did they hire him? He seems to be taking a wait-and-see attitude, and everyone knows that the subway is one of the ripest targets in the whole country. While you’re sitting there thinking about what to do, someone could set off a bomb—boom!”

    But Mr. Morange has earned the respect of his colleagues, including his counterpart in Los Angeles. “I know Bill, and he knows what he’s doing,” said Mr. Lennon. “It requires a lot of focused attention in a place like New York, with all its politics, but he’s capable of that.”

    And longtime transit advocates understand the delay in spending on security. “Have they spent enough and on the right things?” asked Beverly Dolinsky, the chair of the N.Y.C. Transit Riders Council, an advocacy organization. “It takes a while to do things. They’ve been increasing the number of police and canine units, hardening the system. First of all, you want to do it right, and you have to figure out the best way to spend it.”

    Security experts agree that money shouldn’t be spent when trying to secure a system of the M.T.A.’s size and scope without doing a cost-benefit analysis first. “I’m not terribly worried [about the delay in spending],” said Robert Castelli, a professor of criminal justice and security management at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “My concern is that once they get all the advice, that they won’t spend it. It may be too much of a lag, and you have to ask: How good are these consultants? And how long do you want to wait for your advice? It’s great to hire top consultants as long as you don’t avoid dedicating yourself to the end game—helping secure the subways.”

    And, considering the sprawling nature of the subway system and the sheer volume of commuters, the larger question is: Can New York’s subway ever be truly secured? “Will we ever come up with a 100 percent secure system? Probably not,” said Mr. Castelli, looking at the impracticality of security measures such as metal detectors. “You’re going to have to stop every single person with a briefcase or a backpack. It would be so unwieldy, it would be impossible.”

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    March 23, 2005

    Subways Are Stalling, and the Riders Are Screeching

    A tunnel near the Atlantic Avenue station filled with smoke from a track fire, halting service on the Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 lines between Brooklyn and Manhattan and snarling Long Island Rail Road service in Brooklyn.


    For the third time in less than a week, New York City subway trains were halted yesterday and thousands of commuters were delayed at the peak of the morning rush, this time because of a fire at the Atlantic Avenue station in Brooklyn that snarled service on the Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 lines as well as 13 trains on the Long Island Rail Road.

    Two minutes after the fire was extinguished, and before service was even restored, service on two other subway lines, the B and the C, was suspended, at 8:10 a.m., because of a police investigation at the Columbus Circle station in Manhattan, infuriating riders in another major business district. The police said they were looking into reports that a man had run onto the tracks.

    Major subway disruptions have occurred with striking regularity throughout the city in the past two months, unleashing a torrent of frustration from riders and elected officials, coming as they have on the heels of the second fare increase in two years.

    "They don't notify you before you go into the station that there's a problem, that's the pathetic part," said Joshua Justin, a retired chemist who was caught in last week's chaos.

    Last year, weekday on-time performance - a key barometer of subway service - declined for the first time in a decade. But transit officials insisted yesterday that the system was better than ever and that they were victims only of higher expectations brought about by their success.

    "It's performing at levels we've never seen before in terms of on-time performance and service reliability," said Lawrence G. Reuter, the president of New York City Transit since 1996.

    He dismissed the slight drop in on-time performance - to 96.6 percent from 97.1 percent, after steady increases since 1995 - as an aberration. "Statistically, it's not very valid," he said.

    Mr. Reuter attributed any increase in delays to an intensified schedule of repairs and upgrades. "Any slight degradation is because of all the work we're doing on the system," he said. "We've had an active capital program, but we're doing a lot more work now that's on stations, tracks and tunnel lighting."

    Among the agency's major projects are a new computerized signaling system on the L line and a signal-replacement project on the No. 7 line. The number of major work projects that require service changes, is perhaps twice as high as usual, Mr. Reuter said.

    Yesterday's fire left six riders with minor injuries, and more than 60 firefighters worked to put it out. At 6:58 a.m., loose debris ignited wooden track ties near Atlantic Avenue, one of the busiest stations in Brooklyn, filling a subway tunnel with smoke.

    Service on four lines between Manhattan and Brooklyn was shut down until 8:42 a.m. The Long Island Rail Road canceled or diverted 13 trains between Jamaica, Queens, and the Atlantic Avenue terminal, delaying 3,000 passengers.

    Yesterday's problems followed three other recent mishaps starting on Jan. 23, when a signal-room fire disabled the A and C lines for nearly two weeks. Last Wednesday, water poured through a concrete hole onto a tangle of electrical wires, disabling signals on the Lexington Avenue lines; the next day, a piece of metal struck the third rail along the No. 7 line and sent smoke through a tunnel under the East River.

    The recent disruptions have occurred at an especially sensitive time for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the transit agency's parent. The authority's executive director, Katherine N. Lapp, spent yesterday pleading with state lawmakers for $17.2 billion, the amount officials insist is needed over the next five years to prevent the transit network from declining.

    Also yesterday, the City Council said it would hold an emergency hearing next week on the state of the subways. "It is clear that this system is in a state of crisis," declared the Council speaker, Gifford Miller, who is running for mayor.

    The disruptions have also begun attracting the attention of the authority's board. "I wouldn't want to presuppose that because we've done a good job, people should be happy about it," said Barry L. Feinstein, a board member since 1989. "I don't come from that school."

    Mr. Feinstein, the chairman of the board's New York City Transit committee, said that despite $40 billion in upgrades since 1982, "all the difficulties of the system are just enormous," from outmoded signals to unprotected wiring. "Those are things that only can be handled on a slow, deliberate pace, picking the priorities of things that should be done, so that mega-problems don't develop," he said. "And we've had several mega-problems in recent weeks."

    Mr. Reuter offered an apology to his riders but insisted that the proximity of the mishaps was essentially a coincidence and urged riders to keep things in perspective.

    "Twenty years ago, we were having these types of incidents basically daily," he said. "We were having catastrophes every day; just pull up the headlines of the papers in those days. For the last 6 to 10 years we haven't had that. Because of the success and how much the performance has improved, people begin to forget what it was like 20 years ago. We've had a string of unfortunate incidents here."

    He added: "We don't see anything systemic. We don't see anything of a pattern developing. We don't like these either. We don't want any delays to the system."

    In an interview, he addressed two disruptions that affected hundreds of thousands of riders last week.

    Last Wednesday, service on the three Lexington Avenue lines was shut down three times after water seeped through a hole in a concrete tunnel roof and drenched a set of electrical cables. The hole appeared to have been one created in 1993 by transit workers to transfer concrete onto the tracks, Mr. Reuter said, confirming an account reported in The Daily News. The workers who created the hole, near the station at 33rd Street and Park Avenue South, have retired, he said. On Thursday, 750 passengers were stranded on two trains in the Steinway tunnel, under the East River, after a repair crew left behind a metal track fastener, which bounced onto the third rail and created electric sparks. "Those people have been called in and they've already been reprimanded, " he said.

    Many riders, however, said yesterday that they thought the disruptions seemed less like an accident and more like a pattern.

    "It's very, very bad, especially on the weekends," said Kouch H. Kach, who was preparing to board the E train in Jackson Heights, Queens, where a station rehabilitation project has lasted for months. "Sometimes at rush hour, my God, it's very crowded. You can't even walk on the platform sometimes."

    Like roughly half of all subway riders, Ms. Kach began paying more last month, when the price of 7-day and 30-day fare cards rose. "It's not fair," she said. "We're paying such a high fare, and not getting the service, especially on the weekends."

    Clay M. Dean, an asset manager, said he was considering moving from Long Island City, Queens, to the Upper East Side of Manhattan to save the money he routinely pays a car service when the subways are delayed. "It's very bad, and it's getting worse," he said. He conceded that the system is a century old, but added, "I can't imagine that it has decided to fall apart all at once."

    Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has been largely silent about the subway woes. The mayor has aggressively lobbied the transportation authority to sell development rights to its West Side railyard to the Jets for a new football stadium. "He voices his criticism when he thinks it's merited, and he's not shy about doing so," a spokesman for the mayor, Edward Skyler, said yesterday.

    Despite the transportation authority's growing financial problems, Mr. Reuter said he would resign before he would agree to postpone maintenance, adding that no one had suggested he do so. "We want people to be more efficient and productive, but we're not going to defer maintenance," he said. "I can sleep comfortably every night, every night, telling you we have not deferred any maintenance in the system."

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    the MTA needs another Richard Ravitch.

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    March 24, 2005

    As Subways Slow, Riders Play Waiting Games


    A barometer of just how bad the recent subway delays have been can be found in Sacha Newley's reading habits. Mr. Newley, a painter from the Upper West Side, has certain books that he reserves only for subway reading. Two months ago, around the time the delays began, he picked up his latest: "Moby-Dick." He's now on Chapter 107.

    A great book, Mr. Newley said, but a paltry coping technique when faced with the angst of a serious delay, when a quick hop underground turns into an interminable wait on an ever-crowding platform with no more information than an occasional belch from the loudspeaker. He and hundreds of thousands of other passengers have found themselves in that very situation over the past two months, forced by an epidemic of power failures and track fires to count the tiles, reread Us Weekly, stare forlornly into the abyss or debate whether to give it up and take a cab.

    Always popular is the distraction approach. Peter Hitt, a New York University student, was doubly insured, standing on the uptown No. 6 train platform at the Bleecker Street station yesterday, listening to his iPod and reading a book ("Journey to the End of the Night," naturally). Mr. Hitt, as calm as a lighthouse, said he did not get angry until he heard just how bad the delays were going to be.

    As if on cue, a voice on the loudspeaker announced: "Ladies and gentlemen, because of a brflig fraptail at 116th Street, the uptown 6 train will frip deet brak croob."

    Mr. Hitt ignored the announcement.

    But Ulises Ortega, 43, a waiter who lives on the Upper West Side, was adamantly opposed to the use of headphones. Sure, they could make the time go faster, but there is one's safety at stake.

    "One time I witnessed a robbery on a train," Mr. Ortega said, explaining that the victim "was wearing earphones." Being vigilant is more important, Mr. Ortega suggested, than being entertained: "You never know, you know?"

    One never knows indeed. And when one is still standing on a platform and already 10 minutes late to work, it does not really matter whether the recent delays are just a run of bad luck or the first rumblings of total breakdown. The iPod might work well as a distraction, just as the Rubik's cube did 20 years ago. But more than anything, waiting is a mind game.

    "I'm planning my wedding," said Whitney Burrell, 30, a medical student who lives on the Upper East Side. "I think about everything that could go wrong. Every permutation that could go wrong. The photographer doesn't show up. The hairstylist doesn't show up."

    When she snaps out of it, Ms. Burrell said, it isn't so bad to be standing on a subway platform. Anyway, it's a way to pass the time.

    The feeling of helplessness, which prompted one young man on the F train to muse on the subway's "existential aspect," is a recurring theme brought up by frustrated commuters.

    "It's the subway system," said Connie Robinson, 27, a house manager at Studio 54. "There's nothing you can do about it."

    Though Ms. Robinson, who lives in the Bronx, said she had been seriously delayed at least once a week in the past few months, she said a Zenlike approach was the only way to cope.

    "If you don't have a book you don't have a choice but to zone out," she said.

    That's not entirely true. There is the most controversial tactic of all: walking out. Just about everyone who rides the subway has experienced that compulsion to cease the fruitless waiting, to march up the steps and take a cab. That'll show the M.T.A. But few people spoken to yesterday said that they had actually gone through with it.

    Gary Fall, on the other hand, is a walker.

    "Sometimes if it's really messed up, I'll walk for 20 blocks," Mr. Fall said. "The most I'll wait is 15 minutes."

    It's a risky strategy but Mr. Fall, 44, is a professional. He is a messenger. That is why he was waiting in the 23rd Street station on the Nos. 1 and 9 lines yesterday, just as southbound service was being restored to those lines after 2 hours and 20 minutes.

    His deliveries are often just close enough to make it on foot if the delay starts stretching out. And anyway, when he's waiting for a local, he has a system.

    "I'll watch the express trains," Mr. Fall said. "Usually two expresses go by. If I see two come and then I see another, then I leave."

    But isn't that reckless? Just to get up and walk away like that? Wouldn't waiting almost always pay off?

    "If I was on the clock, I wouldn't mind," Mr. Fall said. "But I get paid on commission. If I was on the clock it might be a different story."

    Colin Moynihan contributed reporting for this article.

  9. #9
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    March 25, 2005

    Maybe Transit Should Try Some Courtesy


    THIS happened on the No. 1 line the other morning. Any subway regular knows a variation of this story all too well.

    Long after the morning rush, a downtown local train sat in the 72nd Street station, its doors open, for two minutes or so. Why? Who knew?

    A downtown No. 2 express pulled in across the platform. Some passengers on the No. 1 got up, preparing to hop to the speedier train. But the moment the No. 2 came to a halt, the conductor on the local closed his doors. After having idled in the station, his train started to roll just as the doors were opening on the No. 2.

    The riders stuck on the local were frustrated. No doubt, so were some on the express who may have wanted to switch.

    You had to ask yourself: What in the name of Mike Quill was going on? During rush periods, the need to get back on schedule is understandable. But at 11:30 a.m., what cosmic harm would have been caused by keeping the doors open 15 more seconds?

    Judging from the grumbling, some riders believed that the conductor had gone out of his way to make them miserable. Mild paranoia? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. As we said, this is a sadly familiar tale.

    So here is some unsolicited advice for Lawrence G. Reuter, the president of New York City Transit:

    Even if some of your loudest critics are politicians capitalizing on your system's recent woes, plenty of your customers are fed up with paying more while sensing that they get less.

    Clearly, you need many billions to keep the system in proper shape; the exact amount is for the politicians to hash out. But you might gain a measure of customer sympathy through small changes that cost nothing or close to it.

    Hint: gratuitously closing doors on people is not the way to go.

    Mr. Reuter's response to his critics is to blame higher rider expectations. The subways, he suggested this week, are so much better than they were 20 years ago that New Yorkers are less tolerant when things go wrong.

    No question, service is light-years ahead of what it was in the early 1980's. Subway stations are far more attractive. Back in the day, the system seemed near collapse. If you missed a train, you never knew when - make that if - another would arrive.

    Unfortunately for Mr. Reuter, many of today's New Yorkers were living elsewhere or were not yet born 20 years ago. So telling them about the bad old days is limited as a form of persuasion. There are other ways to win friends, though. They involve actions, not words, and would not seem to require gobs of money.

    Do the doors between train cars have to be locked, as they are more and more? Locking the doors is billed as a safety measure. But it permits no escape from intolerable smells or balky air-conditioning.

    It may also be a safety hazard of its own, as a woman we know discovered while riding the V train one recent night. On the unbroken stretch between Queens and Manhattan, she found herself alone in the car with a man who exposed himself and then tried to force himself on her sexually.

    She was not hurt. But she had no means of escape because the doors were locked. She endured three or four frightening minutes, she said, before she could cry for help at the Lexington Avenue station.

    OTHER problems are hardly that serious, but they are nuisances that would seem easy to solve, again at little or no expense.

    Stations are littered with discarded MetroCards. Can't the storage boxes for them be built in a way that keeps the cards from spilling across the station floor?

    Can nothing be done about the drummers in major stations who bang on plastic buckets and make the din unbearable?

    Must the trains be turned into freight carriers? Can't station managers refuse to open the gates, at least during peak hours, to people who want to bring oversized objects on board, from steamer trunks to refrigerators?

    Do subway announcements have to be garbled? Can't conductors be encouraged to speak straight English instead of insider jargon like, "We're being held by supervision"? And is there a rule forbidding the station clerk to notify riders that there is a problem with the trains before they pass through the turnstiles?

    The list could go on. Not that any of it deals with the bigger picture of making the trains run on time. But isn't it just possible that riders would be more understanding about inevitable glitches if stations seem orderly and train doors are not needlessly slammed in their faces?

  10. #10
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    The money train that will pay for subway upgrades over the next five years needs to come from Albany, Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday.

    The cry for more funding comes after state lawmakers earmarked $16.6 billion toward transit improvements — even though the bulk of the plan could be dependent on more MTA borrowing that would drive fares through the roof.

    "I think what is clear is that we for decades have underfunded the kinds of investments that we should be making in infrastructure," Bloomberg said.

    The Metropolitan Transportation Authority's previous five-year capital program was funded almost entirely through borrowing, leading to the agency's current fiscal crisis and two fare hikes in as many years.

    The cash-strapped MTA has said it is willing to borrow up to $4 billion, but lawmakers have proposed that as much as $8 billion come from bonds.

    MTA staffers have spent the last week lobbying lawmakers to increase the state's contribution to the program and lower the burden the cash-strapped agency would have to bear down the line.

    "Anything over $4 billion becomes worrisome," said Jeremy Soffin, a spokesman for the Regional Plan Association. "That's when the operating budget starts to suffer."

    Bloomberg said that it would be "disappointing" if Albany does not come through with more money needed to modernize signal systems, fan plants and other underground equipment that keeps trains running.

    "We saw the penalty for that back in the '70s, and today we're catching up," he said.

    Another part of funding the program hinges on getting Gov. Pataki's support behind a $2.9 billion transportation bond act that would be put before voters next fall in a statewide referendum.

    "I'm going to look at it in the context of the total budget," said Pataki, who has power to approve or veto the MTA package.

    Voters rejected a similar transportation bond act in 2000.

    Bloomberg said increased state aid would go a long way toward avoiding breakdowns like the ones that have recently plagued the subway system.

    "If you don't go and keep your technology up to date, if you don't keep replacing things, you will have more and more breakdowns," he said.

    The Legislature's package puts expansion projects like the Second Avenue subway and East Side Access in peril after just $2.5 billion was put aside for them — $5.5 billion less than the MTA requested last year.

    Meanwhile, Mother Nature made getting around on the rails yesterday even harder.

    The No. 4 line in The Bronx was halted for hours after a large tree fell onto the tracks.

    Sleet and heavy winds knocked the 60-foot elm onto the elevated tracks at the Bedford Park Boulevard station just after midnight.

  11. #11
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    March 26, 2005

    Reversing Trend, Subway Delays Are on the Increase Again


    An analysis of delays on the New York City subway system confirms what many riders have begun to suspect: After years of improvements, the number of delays has started to increase over the last 18 months. The trend has raised concerns among some transit experts that the service improvements achieved over the last decade may be ever more difficult to sustain.

    Indeed, according to an analysis by The New York Times of monthly statistics on delays covering the last eight years, a typical weekday rider on the subway today is likely to experience a train delay roughly once every three weeks, compared with about once every five weeks in September 2003, when the number of stalled trains reached a record low. New York City Transit defines a delay as running more than five minutes behind schedule.

    The delays - those poorly explained and always frustrating waits on crowded platforms or inside idled trains - have increased across any number of the 49 categories catalogued by the transit agency, ranging from malfunctioning signals and switches to maintenance crews working on the system's more than 700 miles of track. Reports of suspicious packages have become more common. And many of the delays are due to worker error, as when a train's emergency brakes are automatically tripped because the motorman has improperly passed a wayside signal without stopping.

    But riders themselves are often responsible for stalled commutes. Sick passengers who require medical attention have been one of the most common causes of delay in each of the last eight years, despite a program that has placed nurses in five of the busiest stations. And the category listed as "Persons Holding Doors" has finished as one of the top 10 causes for delays in 4 of the last 18 months.

    On one level, to be sure, the analysis appears to confirm a central assertion that the transit agency's president, Lawrence G. Reuter, has made in the last two months: that seen most broadly, subway service has become far more reliable in the last decade, even as annual ridership - 1.4 billion last year - has soared to its highest level since the early 1950's.

    Yet for those riders who have grown increasingly frustrated by a series of four disruptions on major subway lines at the height of the morning commuter rush since January, the most recent statistics come as little surprise.

    The breakdowns since January had various causes - an electrical fire, a track fire, a hole in the roof of a subway tunnel and a metal fastener left on a track - but they all met with exasperation from riders and criticism from local politicians. They also underscored the agency's persistent need for cash to finance upgrades and repairs, as well as the heightened expectations held by riders, who have become accustomed to consistent service and have little patience for interruptions.

    Andrew B. Albert, the chairman of the New York City Transit Riders Council, a state-sponsored advocacy group, said he had recently heard a surge of complaints from riders about stuck door panels, malfunctioning turnstiles and other devices that required constant maintenance.

    "I hope this isn't the start of a downward trend," said Mr. Albert, who is a nonvoting member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's board. "I hope that these are aberrations I'm seeing and that it doesn't portend something terrible down the track. We don't want to go back to those days of endless delays, people packed in because trains were always taken out of service, and pieces falling off the bottom of trains."

    Jack S. Lusk, who was the transit agency's senior vice president for customer service until 1997, said the frequency of the recent disruptions should cause concern for officials like Mr. Reuter, the transit agency's president.

    "If you see a spate of this stuff, it's either indicative of some outside issues, like really bad weather; or some loosening of staff attention, which Larry's not going to let slide any further; or, lastly, some fraying that can be a result of underinvestment in certain areas," Mr. Lusk said.

    Weekday on-time performance - a major benchmark of subway service - declined slightly last year for the first time since 1994. In an interview yesterday, Mr. Reuter, who has led the agency since 1996, said he believed that most of the increase in delays could be attributed to four factors.

    Major track projects are under way, more suspicious packages are being reported as part of an antiterror campaign and the increase in riders has led to more trash that ends up on the tracks, Mr. Reuter said. In addition, he said that the agency had altered its work rules in 2002, after two on-the-job deaths, and that the changes had enhanced worker safety but increased delays.

    "We've erred on the side of safety for everybody," Mr. Reuter said. "In doing that, your delays sometimes fluctuate and what you see now is a slight uptick. We have to drill down into each of those categories. Right now, we don't think maintenance is a key driver of these factors."

    The analysis by The Times drew from service reliability records that the agency provides each month to the transportation authority's board. The data contains the total number of weekday delayed trains, as well as a tally of the 10 leading causes for each month, from January 1997 to January 2005. In seven of those years, the board took a monthlong summer break so records were not provided for those seven corresponding months.

    In January 2005, the most recent month for which records were available, there were 6,294 delayed weekday trains. The transit agency runs an average of 8,077 trips each weekday, or 177,694 trips in a month with 22 weekdays. So a rider had a 1-in-28 chance of being on a delayed train that month. (The month with the fewest delays, September 2003, had 3,635 delayed trains.)

    Ten causes have appeared most frequently on the monthly lists since 1997. Leading that list are delays due to work crews. While most work takes place at night or on weekends, if a crew is still on the tracks beyond the scheduled end of its shift, hundreds of trains can be delayed in a matter of hours.

    The transit agency frequently attributes delays to trouble with four types of equipment: guard lights, which alert the conductor that the doors have been closed properly and permit the train to proceed; signals, which guide train movements; switches, which allow trains to move across tracks; and track circuits, which detect the presence of a train on a segment of track.

  12. #12
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    New York Daily News -

    Subway tests new way to foil thieves

    Sunday, April 3rd, 2005

    Transit officials conducted a secret test last week to see if early-morning trains could be made safer by effectively cutting the subways in half, the Daily News has learned.
    The hush-hush experiment by the Transit Authority involved running trains with 10 cars along the Lexington Ave. line - but locking the doors of the last five cars to force passengers to enter the front of the trains.

    The test was requested by the Police Department to help protect straphangers against "lush workers" - pickpockets who prey on sleeping, sometimes drunken subway riders overnight, police told The News.

    "By restricting the number of open cars, it's less likely for potential victims to find themselves asleep and alone in empty cars," NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said.

    Major felonies in the subways are up 14% this year compared with the same period last year.

    Despite the increase, police officials say subways, which carry more than 4 million riders a day, are safe.

    Roughly 10 major felonies are committed a day, compared with 12-17 daily from 1995 to 2000.

    During the TA's early-morning test Wednesday, conductors kept train doors open longer than usual to allow passengers at the back of the platform to walk to the front of the trains, where the doors were open.

    The experiment involved 15 trains and caused some delays, transit sources said.

    But the delays could be lessened if the TA made a few changes, including placing staffers on platforms to direct riders to open doors, installing signs and launching a public information campaign, a source said.

    The TA and NYPD have not decided whether to lock train doors overnight on a regular basis.

    If the security initiative goes forward, it likely would target only train lines where lush workers have been a problem, such as the Lexington Ave. line, police said.

    The pickpockets' crimes, though mostly nonviolent, are by far the most prevalent problem in the subway system.

    But rider advocates have their concerns about locking train doors.

    Gene Russianoff, an attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, and Andrew Albert, chairman of the New York City Transit Riders Council, said locking rear doors could force some riders to make longer walks to station exits after they get off the trains - leaving them more vulnerable to criminals.

    Locking train doors or running shorter trains also could worsen crowding on subway lines already jammed at night, Albert said.

    "This has to be thought out very, very carefully," he said.

  13. #13

    Default ??

    I still don't understand that article, so please can smene clarify,... what are these "lush" workers?

    And I still don't understand how locking the doors would help, does that mean that the last 5 cars are still accessible, but only through the doors between the cars, as no access can be made from the platform, or does that mean that the last 5 cars are not used altogether and are jsut being dragged around by the front 5..?


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    April 4, 2005

    25 Years Ago, Subways and Buses Stopped Running

    Subway riders by the thousands walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to get to and from Manhattan. There were restrictions on access by car.


    Twenty-five years ago this week, a strike by 33,000 transit workers shut down much of New York City and tested the resourcefulness, patience and sanity of more than 3 million subway and bus riders.

    No commemoration of the strike has been planned, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which faces a round of labor negotiations in December, would probably prefer that it be long forgotten. But the 11-day walkout - the second of only two general strikes in the subway system's history - remains an indelible memory for New Yorkers who lived through it.

    The strike represented the last major effort by New York workers to challenge the fiscal austerity that had taken hold after the city nearly went bankrupt in 1975, according to Joshua B. Freeman, a labor historian at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

    The strike began early on the morning of April 1, 1980, after the board of the city's major transit union rejected management's offer of a 6 percent wage increase in each of the next two years. "There was a pent-up feeling on the part of the transit workers, who, because of the fiscal stringencies of the 70's, hadn't had a wage increase in a long time," said Richard Ravitch, the authority's chairman at the time.

    The walkout was orderly, but shutting down the country's largest mass transit system, even temporarily, involved complex coordination.

    Police officers roped and chained turnstiles and stairways at 458 subway stations with 2,000 entrances. Bus drivers, train operators and conductors were ordered to complete their runs and park their buses and trains in depots.

    Edward I. Koch, who was mayor at the time, said the strike was terrifying at first. "We were scared to death," he said in an interview on Friday. "Remember, I had no experience with a strike. I had been in office two years."

    But Mr. Koch said he was determined not to repeat the experience of John V. Lindsay, who had endured a 13-day transit strike that began the day he took office in 1966. Mr. Lindsay had urged workers to stay home unless they considered themselves "essential."

    By contrast, Mr. Koch ordered all city employees to work and famously stood on the Brooklyn Bridge, cheering on commuters walking across it.

    "I thought: There are the municipal workers coming to save the city," he wrote in "Mayor," his 1984 autobiography. "It was like the Russian Army coming over frozen Lake Ladoga to save Leningrad."

    During rush hours, cars were not permitted in Manhattan south of 96th Street without at least one passenger. Drivers lined up at bridge and tunnel entrances and competed with one another to pick up hitchhikers.

    Entrepreneurs saw opportunity in the confusion. The cost of bicycle rentals, taxicab rides, garage spaces and gasoline - even space on a stranger's couch - soared. The city estimated that 500,000 people stayed in hotels or with friends or relatives in Manhattan.

    Hotels, restaurants, theaters and taxi drivers thrived. Some commercial banks ferried employees on chartered buses and boats. But manufacturing firms were hit hard, especially those in the garment industry. Hospitals reported an increase in visits from elderly people who had been left unattended because visiting nurses could not get to them. The City University of New York canceled classes at three campuses.

    The sight of people wearing business suits along with sneakers or jogging shoes became common, as did the practice of carrying a tote bag with a pair of casual footwear.

    In the end, the strike was estimated to have cost $75 million to $100 million in lost income for workers and companies - and $3 million a day in overtime and lost taxes for the city.

    The strike resulted from bitter dissent within the union, Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union of America. Many members believed that the union's president, John E. Lawe, had not stood up to the city in previous negotiations. "We had had two miserable contracts in a row," said George McAnanama, who was on the union's executive board at the time and is now an employee of the union.

    Mr. Koch and the city's business leaders were equally adamant that Mr. Ravitch not give in to the union's demands, fearful that doing so would set a costly precedent for future municipal contracts.

    In the end, the authority made a new offer that included a 9 percent wage increase in the first year, an 8 percent increase in the second and a cost-of-living adjustment that helped offset the high inflation at the time. The union had been seeking 15 percent in the first year, and 10 percent in the second.

    But even after a quarter-century, there is no consensus on whether the strike was necessary.

    "It was not the inability of me and the union to agree, it was the external forces - Ed Koch on the one hand and militants in Lawe's union - who prevented a settlement," Mr. Ravitch said yesterday.

    Mr. Koch, for his part, said Mr. Ravitch lost at the bargaining table what defiant commuters - by surviving without the subway for 11 days - had won on the streets. "I thought he gave too much, and he did it without telling me," Mr. Koch said.

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    NY Daily News

    Subways to get big makeover

    Station fixes, elevators, new transfers in works


    Soon to be leaving a station near you - peeling paint, dirty tiles and crumbling steps.
    The MTA will spend more than $900 million in the next five years to make over 44 subway stations and continue its upgrade of the massive hub at Times Square.

    An additional $800 million will be shelled out by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to allow riders to transfer to more trains at two stations and install elevators at 17 more stops.

    "Everything needs to be redone," Phyllis Hurst, 43, said as she waited for a train at the Elder Ave. station in the Bronx, one of the stops slated for a face-lift.

    "Remodel the whole damn thing," she said.

    At a minimum, the renovations will include painting ceilings and steel beams, replacing tiles, fixing steps and making stairwells wider to improve the flow of riders from mezzanines to platforms, officials said.

    The Bleecker St. station on the Lexington Ave. line is among those that will be renovated.

    A new passageway at the station will allow riders, for the first time, to transfer for free from uptown No. 6 trains to B, D, F or V trains at the Broadway/Lafayette station.

    "It's a pain in the --- right now," said Sean Mahar, 34, who lives in the East Village and uses the stations frequently. "It only makes sense if you're going to have one transfer in one direction to have it in both directions for free."

    The MTA's $21.1 billion capital plan was approved by its board last week. It still must be given the okay by an Albany panel.

    The MTA had proposed a larger spending plan but the state budget reduced its scope, forcing renovations at a dozen subway stations to be delayed.

    MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow said the station improvements "will provide a nicer environment for our customers" and also "make their trips safer and more reliable."

    Lucky Riders

    Subway stations to be renovated over next five years:

    The Bronx

    Whitlock Ave., Elder Ave., Morrison-Sound View Aves., St. Lawrence Ave., Parkchester, Castle Hill Ave., Zerega Ave., Middletown Road and Buhre Ave. on No. 6 line.

    E. 180th St. on the Nos. 2 and 5 lines.

    96th St. and 59th St. on Broadway/Seventh Ave. line.

    59th St., Bleecker St. & Wall St. on Lexington Ave. line.

    Jay St.-Borough Hall

    Eighth Ave., Fort Hamilton Parkway, New Utrecht Ave. & 18th Ave. on Sea Beach line of N train.

    Ninth Ave., Fort Hamilton Parkway, 62nd St., 71st St., 79th St., 18th Ave., 20th Ave., Bay Parkway, 25th Ave. and Bay 50th St. on the West End Line of the D and M trains.

    Avenues H, J, M, U & Neck Road on Brighton Line of Q train.

    Beach 105th, 98th, 90th, 67th, 60th, 44th, 36th and 25th Sts. and Far Rockaway/Mott Ave. on the A line.

    Originally published on May 1, 2005

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