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THE FRONT ARCHIVES Transit

We Can’t Tell If the Subway Action Plan Worked, Which Was the MTA’s Whole Idea

“Hold me accountable,” MTA Chairman Joe Lhota told reporters last July when he introduced the Subway Action Plan, the authority’s $836 million initiative to “stabilize and improve the subway system and lay the foundation for modernizing the New York City Subway.”

On Monday, the New York Times ran an article setting out to do just that, essentially declaring the Subway Action Plan a failure — noting that MTA statistics “show minor progress in some areas, but no major boost in reliability, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on repairs.” Lhota immediately pushed back, calling the premise of the article “pure fiction,” and insisting the Subway Action Plan was only supposed to “stabilize the system to prevent a continuation of the free-fall.”

The problem is, they’re both right. Because, pledges of accountability aside, the Subway Action Plan was designed to be amorphous enough that it’s nearly impossible to judge whether it was a success or a failure.

The official MTA press release on July 25, 2017, announcing the plan vowed: “The first phase starts immediately and will deliver improvements within one year.” But for all it offered in dollars and big numbers, parts to be fixed, or maintenance schedules to be accelerated, it lacked in hard, fact-checkable promises. Even the fully fleshed-out plan was all inputs, no outputs: Clean 40,000 street grates, triple the rate of installing continuous welded track, put in 50,000 friction pads on the rails, overhaul more cars, and station more emergency response personnel throughout the system. While nobody questions that these things were worth doing, there was also no consensus on how much it would help.

In May, AM New York reported that one small aspect of the plan, removing seats from some E trains to increase capacity, was impossible for even the MTA to judge. The authority couldn’t figure out how to measure its impact, it turned out, because even if it had the intended effect of increasing capacity, the impact was so marginal that it would not have registered in any of the statistics the MTA uses to measure performance. Jaqi Cohen of Straphangers Campaign put it best: “If the MTA can’t quantify how much performance has improved or not improved due to the removal of these seats, that’s a problem.”

So, too, with the Subway Action Plan as a whole. At the time of the plan’s release, the MTA bragged that it “addresses 79 percent of the major incidents that cause delays in the system.” But as I wrote back in March, the Subway Action Plan did not even target the cause of most delays, which are largely not the result of major incidents.

In fact, during this Monday’s MTA board committee meeting, Senior Vice President of Subways Sally Librera said that the 40 percent of delays — 22,350 in June — attributed to “Operating Environment” are “the delays we absorb as a system that aren’t tied to a single incident.” These would be things like signal timers slowing trains down, which reduces capacity, which in turn creates delayed trains. An additional 25 percent of delays are caused by trains slowing down to 10 miles per hour near work zones, while 14 percent more are due to “external” causes such as police and emergency responses, sick customers, and weather. Which is to say, using June’s figures — which were representative of previous months — four out of every five delayed trains were not the result of the types of delays $836 million was supposed to fix.

In the entire Subway Action Plan, in fact, there was not a single solid declaration for what success would look like, unless you count reducing EMT response time from 45 minutes to 15 minutes — something that’s impossible to verify with publicly available figures.

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The unavoidable takeaway from current performance stats — not to mention the daily experience of riding the subway — is that we’re basically where we were a year ago; definitely not worse, maybe slightly better, but $836 million poorer. Meanwhile, the meltdowns keep coming, routine delays are a fact of life, and weekend subway service is a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure exercise.

Yet it’s difficult to argue with Lhota’s assertion that the subway has been “stabilized” because, as Nick Sifuentes of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign told Curbed NY, “we don’t have the counterfactual.” As in, we don’t know what would have happened to the subway if we didn’t spend $836 million to clear drains or install 50,000 friction pads. Lhota and the MTA can always argue things would have been worse had we not done those improvements. Fair enough, but what we do know is that delays in the categories the Subway Action Plan was supposed to address had only marginally increased from 2012 through 2017. In that sense, the Subway Action Plan couldn’t possibly fail, because the statistic it was meant to stabilize was already fairly stable.

This is in stark contrast to the culture Andy Byford is now fostering as president of NYC Transit. His Fast Forward Plan, a comprehensive reimagination of the entire agency, calls for “a clear, time-bound mandate to which we expect to be held accountable.” Although he’s still seeking funding for it, Byford is already putting this principle into practice. On Monday, his team vowed that by the end of the year they would reduce weekday delays by 10,000 per month, a statistic that is publicly released every month in the NYCT committee materials. Whether they succeed, at least, come 2019, we won’t be arguing about what the goal was in the first place.

And even if we wanted to hold Lhota accountable for this $836 million stabilization program, good luck figuring out how. He’s appointed to his position by the governor. You could vote against Cuomo in the primaries if you so desire, but aside from that, Lhota is virtually untouchable. The only other option is to tweet at him and hope he actually reads it.

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THE FRONT ARCHIVES Transit

Borough Hall Ceiling Collapse Shows How Badly Subway Is Deteriorating

Back in January, the city’s Department of Transportation prepared a list of “priority” subway stations that ought to be renovated. At the time, a few members of the MTA Board, including DOT commissioner Polly Trottenberg, were opposing an MTA project originating from Governor Cuomo’s office called the Enhanced Station Initiative (ESI). There were several points of contention, including a failure to propose installing elevators or finding other ways to make stations accessible, but Trottenberg and others also complained that the MTA wasn’t clear on how it had chosen the 33 stations for the $1 billion project. So, DOT prepared their own list and compared it with the stations chosen by the MTA.

There was almost no overlap between the two lists. Yet, Borough Hall was on neither of them.

This is worth revisiting now, because the ceiling at Borough Hall collapsed this afternoon. A giant pile of roof stuff fell onto the Manhattan-bound platform a couple of hours before the evening rush hour.

https://twitter.com/NYCityAlerts/status/1009521858541228033

This isn’t the first incident of this kind: Two weeks ago, some tiles fell on the Chambers Street platform as well.

Borough Hall was the 27th busiest subway station in 2016, the last year for which data is available, and the ceiling collapsed onto the Manhattan-bound 4/5 platform, one of the busiest lines in the system. Fortunately, only one person suffered minor injuries, but the debris covered a portion of the platform that typically holds a dozen or two people during peak hours. It could have been so much worse.

It’s no secret Borough Hall desperately needed renovating. As recently as April, one of its entrances was literally held together by duct tape.

Perhaps one reason Borough Hall didn’t make any emergency repair lists is because the station was repaired six years ago as part of the FASTRACK program, which included “intensive cleaning and maintenance”; the link includes ample photos of work crews staring up at/painting the ceiling. (It’s worth noting those repairs occurred pre-Sandy, and it’s possible some of the water damage occurred since then, although that area of Brooklyn did not experience any flooding.)

The damage here, though, is far more severe than fallen planks and plaster. For all of the subway’s trials and tribulations this year, its safety has never been questioned. But that question has now effectively been asked by the fallen debris.

The answers are not flattering: The ESI program (although the MTA has stopped calling it that) is plowing forward with three station closures in Manhattan slated for next month, to continue through the end of the year. According to the MTA, these repairs will also include addressing “structural defects,” which only serves as a reminder of just how many stations have those.

NYCT president Andy Byford told the press this afternoon that the cause of the collapse wasn’t immediately clear, but “there is some evidence of water ingress in that you’ve got a bit of paint peeling”; he said structural engineers are currently inspecting the station to determine the cause and the extent of the damage.

The MTA is now in the unenviable position of either explaining that it didn’t know the Borough Hall ceiling was in such a state of disrepair or that it simply didn’t bother to fix it. I’m not sure which is worse, and it doesn’t really matter. In either case, the onus is now on the MTA to prove its stations are structurally sound, because we simply cannot assume that anymore. The only thing we do know: Of the list of fifty or so stations two public authorities determined were most in need of critical renovations, Borough Hall was not one of them. Not to sound alarmist, but at this point, there’s no great reason to believe any station is safe.

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THE FRONT ARCHIVES Transit

Why the MTA’s ‘Subway Action Plan’ Won’t Fix Your Commute

Part two of the Village Voice’s investigation into the causes and solutions of subway delays. Part one can be read here.

Last July 25, MTA chair Joe Lhota held a press conference to inform the city how he was going to fix its broken subway system. The month before, Lhota, who had previously served as MTA chair in 2012, had been reinstated to the position by Governor Cuomo with the task of “stabilizing and improving the system,” as Lhota characterized it. Cuomo had given him thirty days to come up with a plan, and now it was time to announce it.

At the time, the subway system appeared on the verge of collapse. The harrowing scene of trapped F train riders trying to claw their way out of a subway car was still fresh in every New Yorker’s mind. As a result of a seemingly endless cascade of rush hour meltdowns, Cuomo had declared a state of emergency for the MTA, a largely bureaucratic maneuver to remove some oversight mechanisms on the authority in order to speed procurements and repairs. Nevertheless, the idea that the subway was in crisis rang true with straphangers. And, at last, that July day, the MTA was revealing its rescue plan.

The $836 million Subway Action Plan, as it would be known, would expedite signal repairs, install new track, address water leakage issues, clean stations, and place emergency response units throughout the city to more quickly respond to medical emergencies, all in an effort to target the subway’s main issues.

The problem, according to internal MTA documents reviewed by the Village Voice, is that Lhota’s plan, now underway, doesn’t address the causes of the vast majority of delays plaguing the subway system. Most subway delays are the result of a myriad of smaller factors, none of which are directly addressed in the Subway Action Plan — including a general slowdown of the entire system thanks to lower speed limits, a Voice investigation found.

Lhota’s presentation last July had a very different focus. After introductory remarks, he pulled up a slide outlining causes of delays. “Phase I,” the slide read, “will attack the key drivers of 79% of the major incidents causing delays on the system.” On the right-hand side of the slide, a pie chart broke down the causes of delays of major subway incidents. (The same language is also prominently displayed on MTAmovingforward.com, the website set up to introduce the Subway Action Plan.)

This one slide captures the MTA’s shifting priorities during the subway crisis. By focusing on “major incidents” — incidents that delayed fifty or more trains — the MTA actually excluded more than 85 percent of subway delays from its target. Instead, it focused on a relatively small category that does not capture the rising delays over the past five years. In fact, the number of monthly weekday major incidents has remained relatively stable since the beginning of 2014.

(An MTA spokesperson, who asked not to be quoted directly, argues that the Subway Action Plan does in fact target all delays, but focuses on major incidents because they have the biggest impact.)

When the MTA says the Subway Action Plan is working, it is — but only in the limited area where it was meant to work. According to the February 2018 Transit Committee board book, there were fifty major incidents in the month of December, the least of any month in the last three years. There were also clear improvements in the number of major incidents in the second half of the year, from an average of 77 per month to 58.8 per month, lending further support that the Subway Action Plan, which was instituted in July, is having a positive effect.

The problem with this approach is obvious from the agency’s own internal data: Not only do major incidents account for a relatively small share of overall delays, but many of them occur for reasons that are not within the MTA’s control. There are, on average, 8,063 weekday delays each month due to “major incidents,” and only 5,372 of those are from so-called internal causes, such as signals or tracks; the rest are due to factors largely outside the MTA’s control, such as passengers on the track, police activity, or inclement weather.

And major incident delays account for only a tiny fraction of the overall delays in the system. For June 2017, the most recent data available at the time of Lhota’s press conference, the subway system recorded 60,698 total delays, which is almost six times the number of delays riders faced because of major incidents.

Simply put, the vast majority of delays are not due to incidents. When each train gets to its terminal, it is up to the dispatcher to document the reason for the delay. Those listed reasons then get compiled into a database. Last June — a typical month for the system over the last year — 62 percent of those delays were attributed either to planned work or to “insufficient capacity, excess dwell, unknown,” the MTA’s catchall category. Almost none of the delays in this category are the result of major incidents. Yet, it is this catchall category that has been responsible for most of the subway’s worsening performance — increasing by 1,190 percent since 2012, from 105 per weekday to 1,355 by the end of 2017. To put it in perspective, there are as many delays due to “insufficient capacity, excess dwell, unknown” about every six days, on average, as there are due to major incidents in an entire month.

With only three months to go before Lhota’s self-declared one-year deadline to see noticeable improvements, the Subway Action Plan is reaching a critical juncture. The data from MTA’s targeted category shows that the plan is working — on delays in that category, at least. But if the total number of delays remains unchanged, thanks to all those causes that Lhota’s plan isn’t addressing, straphangers may be hard-pressed to notice.

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THE FRONT ARCHIVES Transit

‘The Trains Are Slower Because They Slowed the Trains Down’

In the summer of 2014, New York City Transit intern Philip Betheil was finishing up his master’s in urban planning at Columbia University when his boss, David Greenberger, gave him a project. The two worked for NYCT’s operations planning division, and Greenberger tasked Betheil with looking into an arcane bit of subway minutiae called signal modifications and what effect they had on train service. They worked on the report on and off over that summer, tossing more than a dozen drafts back and forth.

In August of 2014, after Betheil’s internship had ended, the draft report languished in the organization’s digital innards. (Betheil declined to comment on the record for this article. Greenberger did not respond to a request for comment.)

But now, more than three years later, the report, which was obtained by the Village Voice along with other internal documents, provides a radically different explanation for the subway’s declining performance than the one that MTA leadership has given the public. The root cause of the subway system’s decay, it turns out, isn’t budget cuts or overcrowding — rather, the collapse of the subway system appears to have been primarily self-inflicted by the authority itself, in response to a single accident two decades ago that set the transit system on a path to disaster.

Moreover, these internal documents suggest that much of what the MTA is doing to fix the subways, including the authority’s $836 million Subway Action Plan, is not addressing the bulk of the delays that are plaguing the city’s transit system. And only now has the subway’s leadership, since the recent hiring of New York City Transit president Andy Byford, begun to seriously consider its own role.

“It’s not that complicated,” a source with direct knowledge of the situation who asked not to be identified told the Village Voice. “The trains are slower because they slowed the trains down.”

***

In recent years, the MTA’s preferred narrative for New York City’s subway problems has gone like this: Budget cuts by prior governors and mayors over the past two decades have led to deferred maintenance, which in turn caused the condition of key components such as signals, tracks, and cars to erode over time. Eventually, the cumulative impact of all these failing parts reached a critical mass, at which point subway delays began to mushroom out of control. The Subway Action Plan, announced last July by MTA chairman Joe Lhota, was designed to address these issues.

Nobody debates that deferred maintenance has had a toll on the subway’s resilience and that the system’s antiquated signals need modernization. But new evidence examined by the Village Voice shows that — though the MTA disputes this — simply replacing old technologies with new ones may not be enough to solve all the subway’s fundamental problems.

The subway’s performance has been steadily deteriorating for many years. The authority’s own internal data shows that delays due to “incidents,” such as broken signals and tracks or water damage, have only marginally increased since 2012. But there is one type of delay that’s gotten exponentially worse during that time: a catchall category blandly titled “insufficient capacity, excess dwell, unknown,” which captures every delay without an obvious cause. From January 2012 to December 2017, these delays increased by a whopping 1,190 percent — from 105 per weekday to 1,355. In December, one out of every six trains run across the entire system experienced such a delay. The increase has been steady and uninterrupted over the past six years:

In other words, as the rest of the system has remained relatively stable, this catchall category has worsened to the point that it’s gone from a minor problem to the single biggest cause of delays in the system.

This, almost certainly, is where the other primary MTA narrative developed, that of “overcrowding”: Historically high ridership has resulted in crowds that are keeping trains in stations longer. During the press conference announcing the Subway Action Plan last July, Lhota called the “increasing volume of passengers” the “main issue” facing the subways. The previous month, the New York Times had run a major feature titled “Every New York City Subway Line is Getting Worse. Here’s Why,” which bluntly stated, “The major cause of subway delays is a factor that basically did not exist fifteen years ago: overcrowding. The subway is a victim of its own success and the city’s resurgence. Large crowds slow down trains, which creates more crowding in a vicious circle that takes hours to unwind during every rush.” The main source for this assertion was the data included in the MTA’s monthly board books.

Many — including this reporter — bought the MTA’s narrative (although some didn’t) because the agency’s own publicly released data reflected it (and because the subways were, in fact, frequently crowded). Meanwhile, the MTA’s performance reports in its board books, a key source of information for reporters and the authority’s board members, had changed the title of the internally used “insufficient capacity, excess dwell, unknown” category to simply “over crowding,” making the same numbers seem far more conclusive. (An MTA spokesperson, who refused to be quoted for this article, told the Voice that the reclassification was intended to reduce jargon.)

Even as the subway’s performance tanked, the MTA not only continued to blame overcrowding but touted to its own board members the effectiveness of its proposed remedies. In April 2017, MTA board member Charles Moerdler noted the ever-rising “over crowding” figures and asked what the MTA was doing about it. Wynton Habersham, senior vice president of the NYCT’s Department of Subways, answered that his office was having “some success” with platform controllers who had reduced the amount of time trains remained in the station “a good amount.” In fact, platform controllers — known to most straphangers as the MTA employees waving flashlights — had first been deployed two years prior to Moerdler’s inquiry. In those two years, even though overall ridership fell, delays attributed to overcrowding still increased by more than 50 percent.

The MTA continues to defend the use of platform controllers’ role in reducing delays. An MTA spokesperson told the Voice that platform controllers have helped improve or stabilize dwell times, as well as prevent delays in other ways, such as by tending to medical emergencies or troubleshooting problems. (The authority does not publicly release data on station dwell times.)

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A subsequent Times investigation pointed out how delays attributed to overcrowding continued to rise even as fewer people took the subway, adding that the MTA had a historical pattern of muddling delay records in an effort to “avoid blame for the system’s problems.” Overcrowding’s predecessor was “supplement schedule” — a category that captured nearly 80 percent of all delays from September 2009 to May 2010, according to the Times, because “whenever maintenance work in the system caused a scheduling change, virtually all delays were put under this label, regardless of their cause.”

Nevertheless, something is causing almost 1,400 trains to run late every single weekday. As it happens, the never-released 2014 report explains one of the major causes. And it has nothing to do with overcrowding.

***

In 1995, a Manhattan-bound J train crossing the Williamsburg Bridge rear-ended an M train that was stopped on the bridge, killing the J train operator and injuring more than fifty passengers. The National Transportation and Safety Board investigation placed most of the blame on the J train operator, who the NTSB suspected had been asleep. But the NTSB also identified potential issues with the signal system that contributed to the accident, which it found didn’t guarantee train operators enough time to apply the emergency brakes even when awake.

“They slowed the trains down after the Williamsburg Bridge crash,” a veteran train operator who asked not to be identified told the Village Voice. “The MTA said the train was going too fast for the signal system.” As a result, the MTA, quite literally, slowed all the trains down, issuing a bulletin informing employees in April 1996 that their propulsion systems would be modified so they could achieve a maximum speed of 40 miles per hour, down from the previous high of 50 to 55 miles per hour on a flat grade.

But the MTA didn’t stop there, internal documents show. One of the NTSB’s safety recommendations was to set speed limits. As a result, the MTA began a still-ongoing process of changing the way many signals work to meet modern safety standards. Previously, trains would encounter green lights if the track ahead was clear; if not, a red light would trip the train’s brakes if it tried to cross that section of track, stopping it a safe distance from the train ahead. (Restarting the train after it is tripped can take anywhere from one to ten minutes, and the incident gets noted in the operator’s performance file, according to MTA sources.) Under the new program, generally referred to as signal modifications, the brakes would be tripped based not only on whether the track ahead was vacant, but also on the train’s speed.

An MTA spokesperson said safety is the authority’s primary goal and that measures were put in place to ensure the Williamsburg Bridge crash never happened again.

NYCT had predicted that the signal modifications would only marginally affect run times. But the 2014 study — the first time the authority had attempted to analyze the impact of any of the revamped signals, using its improved data system — found 2,851 lost total passenger hours per weekday could be attributed to thirteen modified signals alone. That was almost double the predicted impact; for comparison, the modifications of those thirteen signals alone created 5 percent as much lost time as that experienced by riders of the entire London Underground on its average day. (The MTA declined to comment directly on the 2014 study because it was never finalized.)

NYCT’s estimates were so off in part because they didn’t account for a human element. The most problematic of the newly modified signals were “one-shot timers,” so called because the operator has only one chance to meet the posted speed limit. One-shot timers are easier and cheaper to install, say MTA sources; the more “shots” the operators have to get under the required speed, the more timing mechanisms have to be installed across a longer portion of track. (An MTA spokesperson disputed this, characterizing the decision to install one- or two-shot timers as safety-related.) But the consequences of going over the speed limit are high — the train is stopped, and the operator gets penalized — so many operators now opt to go well below the posted speed limit just to be on the safe side.

“The grade time signals force us to operate slower, and because they have been installing them gradually, the subways have been slowing down gradually,” the train operator told the Voice. “I used to be able to go from 125th Street to 59th Street on the A line in seven minutes. Now it takes around nine minutes!”

In a private Facebook group for train operators, others note the same frustrations about the signal modifications — especially the one-shot timers. “All these one shot timers they put in over the past few yrs are ridiculous,” one veteran operator commented on the Facebook group last year. Several operators have also expressed suspicion that some of the signals and train speedometers are miscalibrated, further exacerbating the problem. Another commented that she was told 10 mile-per-hour speed limits “means 5-7, especially with b.o. [“bad order,” or broken] speedometers.”

An MTA spokesperson insisted that these allegations by train operators were untrue.

Though the report only studied these thirteen specific signals, it warned that “it is likely that cumulative running time effects will only further increase” as NYCT rolled out the signal modifications to the entire system. (A 2012 MTA document stated that more than 1,200 signals had been modified, with plans to further modify approximately 500 more, though not all the modifications affected run times the same way.) And the report noted that although the delays “represent fairly minor impacts,” they could “potentially affect timetables and train requirements if sustained throughout an entire line, generating unanticipated operating and capital costs.”

NYCT has also imposed increasingly stringent speed restrictions around track work. A Daily News report from last May detailed how trains are required to go a mere 10 miles per hour for a third of a mile before reaching the actual work site. The agency has also expanded speed restrictions to adjacent tracks, even if no work is being done on them. As a result, delays resulting from track crews and planned maintenance on weekdays have increased 69 percent from 2012, according to Daily News reports and confirmed by the Village Voice.

“If we were delayed by something like a sick passenger or a signal problem, obviously I would know,” the train operator who spoke to the Voice said. “But usually I’m late because of many smaller problems.”

Sometimes, he says, his train will get to a junction point with another line on schedule but will have to wait for a train that’s running late to pass in front of him; other times, a conductor slow to close the train doors will result in the train dwelling longer than it should, or he’ll be stuck at a station trying to speak to a dispatcher on the MTA’s balky radio system. On certain lines, he says, “I’m always late because the grade time signals slow me down, but the schedule doesn’t provide enough running time for me to make the trip on time.”

The MTA says it regularly adjusts timetables, most recently in December for the 2, 3, 4, and 5 lines. According to the most recent MTA board book, the 2, 4, 5, 6, A, B, D, and F were on time for less than 50 percent of their weekday trips in December. Systemwide weekday on-time performance was 62.9 percent.

“All of the little things like this add up to a lot of lost time,” the operator said. “When dispatchers see that we’re late because of these little things, they usually just put down ‘overcrowding.’ ” (The MTA rejected the suggestion that this is standard practice, adding all train dispatchers and tower operators are required to write down the accurate reason for a delay.)

The same Daily News article reported that in 2015, then-NYCT president (now managing director of the MTA) Ronnie Hakim inquired why the word “speed” was included in a Department of Subways poster with the slogan “Safety, Service, Speed, Smiles.” When the Daily News followed up with her about the remark, Hakim replied, “It would concern me that people would feel pressure to be faster rather than to be safer.”

But the train operator who spoke to the Voice and has been running trains since the 1980s sees this as a false dichotomy, one that has cost riders dearly. “It feels like the MTA doesn’t care about speed anymore,” he lamented. “They always act like speed is unsafe, but you can run trains quickly without sacrificing safety if you have competent management.”

An MTA spokesperson called this statement a mischaracterization of its mission, and said it was unfair to the hard work that employees do to make the subway system work.

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Benjamin Kabak, who writes the subway-focused blog Second Ave. Sagas and has been one of the few transit advocates raising concerns about the subway’s slowdown, agrees with the operator’s assessment. “I don’t think they’re wrong in citing safety,” Kabak says of MTA management, “but I think there’s a question as to whether their reaction is commensurate to the problem.” He doesn’t see a safety benefit to the vast majority of timers installed around the system. As an example, Kabak recently noticed the 6 train crawling between 51st Street and Grand Central on a regular basis. He suspects a timer has recently been installed there.

“There’s really no explanation as to why they felt the need to slow down the train there,” Kabak says. “It seems to me like they’ve really just gone overboard with them.”

For an example of what can be achieved with a focus on both speed and safety, look to Asia. For just one example, the Tokyo metro system has 8 million daily riders — 2 million more than New York — and viral video–worthy crowding issues, yet maintains an on-time performance around 99 percent and a stellar safety record. A key reason the system is globally known for its obsessive punctuality is its early adoption of automated train control technologies that make the system both safer and more efficient. While the MTA was rolling out timers to slow trains down, Tokyo was installing signals that use automation to let trains go as fast as possible, the very kind of signals New York is struggling to incorporate today. The most punctual subways in the world care not only that trains are staying under an unsafe speed, but also that they’re going as close to that speed as possible at all times.

Of course, similar types of semi-automated train control have helped the New York subway as well. The L is the only line that currently has communications-based train control, or CBTC, which tells train operators precisely how fast trains ought to be going at all times, taking into account both safety requirements and efficient operations. Mostly thanks to this technology, the L’s weekday on-time performance generally hovers around 90 percent, or about 30 percent higher than the system average, despite being one of the most heavily used lines in the system.

But as anyone who has ridden the L knows, CBTC is not a cure-all. It can help eliminate the human element that keeps subway trains operating below the posted speed limits and reduce headways, but there is still the issue of the unnecessary speed limits themselves. Moreover, even the most optimistic projections forecast it will take decades to install modern signals for the rest of the system; in the meantime, resetting existing timers to allow for higher speeds can help reduce delays. And even a modern signaling system with the same overly cautious speed restrictions would still result in a suboptimal subway system.

Kabak sums up the problem: “If you’re running trains at speeds that are lower than what the system capacity was designed for, then you’re losing capacity, and that’s a choice that you’ve made. If that’s a choice that you’ve made, then you have to prove to people why you’ve made that choice. And if it’s a question of a hypothetical safety situation that doesn’t come into play, then you kind of have to question how that analysis has been reached.”

***

Just like “supplement schedule,” the overcrowding theory has outlived its useful life. Starting with the October 2017 board materials, the category was finally modified to “over crowding/insufficient capacity/other,” more closely reflecting the nebulousness of the internal definition. Similarly, recently hired New York City Transit president Andy Byford, who has held senior positions in the London, Sydney, and Toronto mass transit agencies, asserted at the last NYCT meeting, “If we’re to truly improve the service that we offer, you have to get to the underlying root cause.… So therefore I don’t want to just see ‘overcrowding.’ I want to see what caused that overcrowding, what was the absolute underlying root cause.”

In an email to the Village Voice, Byford acknowledged that “changes made to the signal system (in response to a crash in 1995) have undoubtedly had an impact on subway capacity,” and added that NYCT leadership has already met to begin reviewing the issue. “We are studying the impact and what was done to see if adjustments can be made while still maintaining the safety benefit these changes (and more onerous flagging arrangements) were brought in to address. This renewed scrutiny is part of my drive to properly understand — then tackle — root cause. As I have already said, the real fix is renewed signal systems and that will be the anchor behind my Corporate Plan that I am currently working on.”

Back in the train operator Facebook group, several members remain irked by a recently installed one-shot timer on the northbound 4/5 track between Franklin and Atlantic avenues in Brooklyn. “That timer at Atlantic is the youngest one,” an operator commented. Trains used to be able to go more than 40 miles per hour between Franklin and Atlantic, but now much of the track is restricted to below 25 miles per hour, and a mere 10 miles per hour approaching the station thanks to new safety rules, according to multiple MTA employees, although at least some operators have been instructed to go even slower than that.

Because the timer is new, one operator complained, dispatchers at Rail Control Center may not have known about it and therefore asked if there were any problems. “I would’ve been like yeah I got a problem,” another operator replied. “Y’all put this busted ass timer here.”

The operator who spoke to the Voice said his biggest frustration on a day-to-day basis is the same as every straphanger’s: the Sisyphean task of keeping the train on schedule. “I try to keep my train moving,” he insisted, “but there’s a lot working against me.”

Next: If the MTA has been trying to fix the wrong problems, what can and should it be doing to get the subways up and running again?

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Stations of the Elevated Is a Graffiti-Bombed NYC Blissout

Lumbering, skronking, and wondrously paint-bombed, Manfred Kirchheimer’s Stations of the Elevated (1981) is a 45-minute proto-hip-hop bliss-out, a masterpiece of train- and tag-spotting dedicated to memorializing the extravagant graffiti on its era’s MTA trains and how those trains rumbled across Brooklyn and the Bronx, bearing not just exhausted New Yorkers but gifted artists’ urgent personal expression.

Over the clatter and grind of wheels on track, Kirchheimer layers prime Charles Mingus cuts, often the ones where the bassman’s band is swinging so hard and so loose it sounds like the music couldn’t possibly hold together. That’s a perfect accompaniment to Kirchheimer’s 16mm footage of train cars rounding curves and tipped at angles suggesting Coney Island’s Cyclone rather than sensible commuting.

There’s no narration and only fleeting voices, mostly the yawps of Mingus and the spirited shouts of a couple kids jumping from the second story of an abandoned building onto a couch or mattress. On occasion, Kirchheimer’s attention gets caught by billboards and bridges. He frames through girders and black pillars the great painted eye of the catalog-handsome man in an advertisement; the feeling is of some giant peeking at us.

The dull, idealized realism of these ads — beaming bikini women, the puckered-up ass of the Coppertone baby — clashes tellingly with the jagged glory of the tags. The graffiti, by comparison, is wild and Galápagan, part declaration of self and part impossible flora. Why is one considered an eyesore, and the other not? This newly restored print screens with Kirchheimer’s 1968 short film Claw, a pained look at urban renewal.

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The Paint-Bombed Stations of the Elevated Is a Masterpiece of Train- and Tag-Spotting

Lumbering, skronking, and wondrously paint-bombed, Manfred Kirchheimer’s Stations of the Elevated (1981) is a 45-minute proto-hip-hop bliss-out, a masterpiece of train- and tag-spotting dedicated to memorializing the extravagant graffiti on its era’s MTA trains and how those trains rumbled across Brooklyn and the Bronx, bearing not just exhausted New Yorkers but gifted artists’ urgent personal expression.

Over the clatter and grind of wheels on track, Kirchheimer layers prime Charles Mingus cuts, often the ones where the bassman’s band is swinging so hard and so loosely it sounds like the music couldn’t possibly hold together.

That’s a perfect accompaniment to Kirchheimer’s 16mm footage of train cars rounding curves and tippped at angles suggesting Coney Island’s Cyclone rather than sensible commuting. There’s no narration and only fleeting voices, mostly the yawps of Mingus and the spirited shouts of a couple kids jumping from the second story of an abandoned building onto a couch or mattress.

On occasion, Kirchheimer’s attention gets caught by billboards and bridges. He frames through girders and black pillars the great painted eye of the catalog-handsome man in an advertisement; the feeling is of some giant peeking at us. The dull, idealized realism of these ads — beaming bikini women, the puckered-up ass of the Coppertone baby — clash tellingly with the jagged glory of the tags.

The graffiti, by comparison, is wild and Galápagan, part declaration of self and part impossible flora. Why is one considered an eyesore, and the other not? Bonus: This BAMcinemaFest premiere is preceded by a live performance by the Mingus Dynasty.

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Underground Cake Boss: Bettina Banayan’s Subway Performance Art Infuriates and Overjoys


By the time Bettina Banayan pulled out the meat cleaver, it was clear something weird was about to happen.

By now, the 12-minute video of Banayan chopping onions on the subway has been viewed more than 337,500 times. In the video, shot in early 2012, the diminutive, almost sprightly Banayan is clad in a sleeveless black dress. She has wavy black hair, a cutting board across her lap, a large onion, and the aforementioned cleaver. She chops away as the passengers on either side of her cast wary sideways glances and occasionally snap a photo.

“I wanted to look socially acceptable and trustworthy,” Banayan says cheerily, recalling the stunt. Throughout the performance, she adds, “Nobody said anything to me. Even though I was holding a meat cleaver, which was potentially very dangerous.

“Not that I’m dangerous,” she adds, after a beat.

By most standards, Banayan, who’s 22 years old, isn’t a famous artist. She has a fine arts degree from Parsons School of Design, is working on a degree from the French Culinary Institute, belongs to several art collectives, and works steadily, mainly painting iconized images of classic American foods like pizza and hot dogs. She’s still deciding what she wants to do with her life after culinary school. “I’d like to travel,” she says.

Yet Banayan has achieved an intense mixture of viral fame and infamy for two videos, the onion stunt and another she made in February of this year, in which she iced a cake on the train and served it to her fellow riders, to their glee. That one has already been viewed more than 370,000 times, with thousands of comments either complimenting or deriding her, a development Banayan has found a little hard to process.

“The internet’s very weird,” she says. “You put something out there, and then you don’t have any control over it.”

That became clear as soon as the onion segment went viral. Eventually it appeared on Anderson Cooper Live, with Cooper and his co-host for the day, 1980s pop legend Cyndi Lauper, earnestly debating whether it was “real.” It’s shown up more than once on BuzzFeed lists of “wacky” things you might see in New York, on every viral video blog there is, and on more than one forum for transit enthusiasts. (“Am I the only one who finds this arousing?” a commenter named Dan the Transit Man muses on a forum for New York City subway operators and bus drivers.)

There have always been subway performers, of course: ranchera musicians, the “It’s show time!” breakdancers narrowly missing your head as they spin from a pole, doo-wop groups, off-key soul singers. But those people are, by and large, working for tips, trying to eke out a living in the space between cars. In the past few years, another sort of subway artist has popped up: the art school crowd, we might call them, who use the subway as their canvas and their fellow riders as a captive audience.

Banayan is probably the most visible example of a performance artist using public transportation as medium. But February was an especially crowded month for subway art: Banayan’s cake stunt was quickly followed by London Kaye, a “crochet artist” who wrapped an entire L train car in yarn to celebrate Valentine’s Day; and Maria Luisa Portuondo Vila, who posted a flyer styled to look like an official Metropolitan Transit Authority notice — but hers was titled #MissingLove and added “Pay attention NY! This is about my heart” in three languages. It was an attempt to find a man in a top hat Vila had seen on a Brooklyn-bound A. (Vila insisted the whole thing wasn’t an attention-grabbing stunt but a real effort to find love, telling Metro, “Maybe I love him, but he might not remember me and maybe he didn’t even see me. It’s a little joke; it’s a little dramatic.”)

As Banayan has found, not everyone wants to ride to work inside somebody else’s art. The onion performance piece didn’t provoke much reaction from her fellow riders at the time (they may have been afraid to say anything to the lady holding the big knife). But the internet had some thoughts about it: “Pest to society,” one YouTube commenter declared, as the view count grew. And another: “Performance artist = Untalented dipshit who has nothing to offer the world other than annoyance.”

The MTA has made clear that it, too, is deeply sick of art-related subway stunts. In October, after an anonymous artist put up Lord of the Rings–themed fake MTA announcements, agency spokesman Adam Lisberg testily told Gothamist, “[W]e serve more than 5 million customers a day on the subways, and plenty of them have very limited English skills. We work hard to make a complex system simpler to navigate, and these posters make it harder. If one person misses a train because they’re trying to decipher a joke, it’s one too many. Enough already.”

Asked about Banayan, another MTA spokesman, Kevin Ortiz, says, “We frown upon any activity that creates additional work for our employees and ends up costing our customers.” He also points to Section 1050.7 of the MTA’s code of conduct, which prohibits “disorderly conduct” of all kinds, including a rider behaving “in any manner which may cause or tend to cause annoyance, alarm or inconvenience to a reasonable person or create a breach of the peace.”

In retrospect, Banayan isn’t altogether pleased with the onion piece. “It was really about shock value,” she says, too much about drawing attention to herself and not enough about evoking a thoughtful response in her audience. “It was so much about me, just, ‘Look at me, everyone; I’m absurd.’ It didn’t change anything.” (The same was true, she says of another, less widely seen piece, in which she read a pornographic magazine on the train while dressed in business attire.)

Banayan likewise regrets taking part in a subway photo shoot in January, when she served as the model for an acquaintance from art school. In the piece, she was mute, smeared in red paint, with purple daisies in her mouth and petals strewn across the floor.

“The train was pretty filled up since it was rush hour,” the artist, Andrew Tess, wrote in an email to Gothamist. “We didn’t clean anything up [afterward]. We actually ran out of the train lol.”

The reception was not kind. “I’d like to know where this person lives so I can throw trash on their doorstep in the name of performance art,” a commenter responded. “Oh, sorry, was that not what you were trying to inspire me to do?”

It wasn’t the feedback that upset Banayan. “I have no problem with criticism; I believe that bad press is also good press,” she says. “So much of being an artist is just that. Criticism is only beneficial and necessary to growing as an artist.” Rather, it was her feeling that Tess had taken advantage of her because of her notoriety, “for my small amount of internet ‘fame,'” as she puts it. “It’s really actually sad what people of this generation would do to boost their egos.”

The piece also wasn’t very well thought-out, she adds. And when the photos hit the blogosphere, she says, “I was suddenly accountable and responsible for all of the ignorant and uninformed decisions. I was being misportrayed and it was frustrating to not be able to speak up for myself. From this I learned that sometimes doing a favor is not in your best advantage.”

She doesn’t plan to model for anyone else any time soon.

Serving cake to her fellow straphangers, though, showed Banayan what might be possible with her art.

“Is this a project you had to do for school?” a teenage boy asks her, near the video’s end, as he lines up for his slice of cake.

“No,” she tells him, then pauses while the conductor shouts at some people to stand clear of the closing doors.

“New Yorkers just aren’t very personable with each other,” she adds when the din settles. “We’re constantly in people’s private space, especially on the train. I think it’s important to have some kind of community with each other.”

“That’s so sweet,” the teenage boy responds sincerely, taking his slice. Another woman distributes a handful of plates. For a moment, just before the doors open again, contentment reigns.

“People were changed by that,” Banayan says, “even it was just for a moment. They were excited. A bunch of people were laughing together on the subway, and then we were all having a moment, considering each other’s existence. When does that ever happen in New York?”

 

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The MTA Procures Storm Surge Protection via the Catastrophe Bond Market

On October 28, 2012, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority was staring down the barrel of a rocket launcher. In the last hours before Hurricane Sandy made landfall, the agency steeled itself against the storm as best it could: Workers moved as many subway cars and buses as possible out of harm’s way and fortified the stations and equipment they couldn’t.

It didn’t make much difference. When the storm hit, seawater flooded into low-lying stations in steady, salty cascades. You could have scuba-dived through South Ferry-Whitehall Street, where the subway platform was entirely submerged and the lobby was a scene from Waterworld: a lone escalator ascending from a cloudy green lake.

In December, when the agency finished surveying its corroded, waterlogged system, the MTA estimated it had sustained damage in excess of $4 billion—including $4 million worth of subway cars, $222.5 million in station restoration (much of that set aside for South Ferry-Whitehall Street), and $215 million for track repairs.

Sandy was a blow to the MTA, but what happened next was, arguably, worse. As the agency tallied the damage and submitted its claims, it was becoming painfully clear that, under the current conditions, it would not be able to afford the kind of insurance coverage it had maintained when the storm hit.

Its policy was set to expire May 1.

That’s how the fate of the subway system ended up in the hands of just 20 investors. If a hurricane were to descend on New York tomorrow, repairs to the subway system would be paid for with money put up by those investors, who bought shares of a so-called catastrophe bond the MTA sold this past summer.

It’s not philanthropy; it’s an investment. The same 20 bankrollers stand to make millions, provided another Sandy doesn’t hit tomorrow or anytime in the next three years.

Before Sandy, the MTA owned an insurance policy worth $1 billion. After the storm, says the agency’s director of risk and insurance management, Laureen Coyne, “It was impossible to get that kind of coverage.” Even half a billion dollars’ worth would have cost twice as much. The MTA was particularly concerned about its protection in the event of another flood.

“We were in a state of panic for several months,” says Nora Ostrovskaya, MTA’s senior manager of strategic initiatives. A handful of potential solutions were considered and discarded before one of the agency’s consultants floated the idea of a catastrophe bond.

“Normally, when MTA contemplates a project, we have certain control over when we execute. With any of our big capital commitments, we can say, ‘OK, let’s wait until the architectural plan is fully fleshed out. Let’s wait for an approval. Let’s wait for this; let’s wait for that.'” In this case, Ostrovskaya says, “we were under tremendous time pressure.”

Without a lot of options, the MTA dove headfirst into the small, strange catastrophe bond market, where an estimated 100 investors worldwide do $16 billion worth of deals. Other wagers available in the market include whether there will be a windstorm in Europe, an earthquake in Japan, a cyclone in Australia, or major crop losses in Mozambique.

In order to sell the bond, the MTA’s in-house insurer, First Mutual Transportation, enlisted a law firm to create an offshore entity dubbed MetroCat Re, located—for “various legal and tax reasons,” Coyne says—in Bermuda. All the money involved in the bond arrangement goes through MetroCat Re.

Essentially, the bond is a simple high-stakes bet: If a catastrophic hurricane causes a Sandy-magnitude storm surge on or before August 5, 2016, investors lose every cent they ponied up. No hurricane, and they get all of their money back, plus a return that will top 13.5 percent.

The MTA put the bond up for sale in July, expecting to sell $125 million in shares, but the interest was overwhelming. The agency ultimately sold more than $200 million to just 20 investors. (Ostrovskaya describes the buyers not as individuals, but “pretty much specific catastrophe bond funds that specialize in this type of investment.”)

The surge protection supplements the $500 million in insurance the MTA has purchased to cover perils such as wind and fire. That policy costs the MTA $46 million a year.

It’s easy to see why the catastrophe bond was popular—it’s an incredibly lucrative proposition. A $10 million share could pay off more than $1.35 million in just three years.

The money comes straight from the MTA, which makes quarterly payments into a trust, in much the same way that it would pay an insurance premium. At the end of three years, if disaster hasn’t struck, the investors cash out.

The question, of course, is whether disaster will strike.

Long-range hurricane forecasts are notoriously imprecise. James Franklin, branch chief of the hurricane specialist unit at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center, says NOAA’s seasonal forecasts are only marginally more accurate than “just predicting ‘average’ every year.” This year, for instance, the agency predicted hurricane activity would be above average, but more than halfway through the season, activity has been well below normal.

If it’s hard to forecast hurricanes, trying to predict a storm surge associated with a hurricane adds another order of magnitude to the puzzle. Says Franklin: “We don’t even begin to make storm-surge predications until we’re within 48 hours of landfall.”

NOAA does have a program called HURISK, which models the return paths for storms along the coasts. That, Franklin says, offers some idea of the odds that a Sandy-size storm will return to the city: “For New York City, it’s once every 175 years for a major hurricane, and once every 25 years for a hurricane.”

Even if New York does see a second superstorm sooner than predicted, the surge would have to hit at a certain angle to flood the subway system.

“A storm that parallels the coast and comes into, say, Long Island from the south-southwest—it would count as a hurricane, but it wouldn’t be approaching at the right direction to cause a lot of flooding in the New York subway system,” Franklin explains. “Only certain orientations of the hurricane would do that kind of damage.”

Put simply, Franklin says, “To get another surge event like that in New York in the next three years is really unlikely.”

In other words, investors are likely to make a killing. According to Risk Management Solutions, Inc., the agency the MTA employed to calculate the risk, there’s only a 1.67 percent chance of an equivalent storm surge every year.

The odds are firmly in favor of the bettors, to whom the MTA is prepared to shell out $27 million.

tstuart@villagevoice.com

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The Rat Czar Plots His Ascent

It was an ugly meeting last week when the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s board voted to raise transit fares. Members of the public were furious; even the MTA board members who voted for the hike called it “a sad day,” pointing out that, once again, poor New Yorkers were going to feel it most acutely.

But the board’s chairman, Joseph Lhota, didn’t want to let the meeting end on a down note. As soon as the increase was approved, Lhota moved on to sunnier news: After less than a year at the helm of his generally foundering ship, he was stepping down to explore running as a Republican to become mayor of New York City.

It takes some balls to walk away from an agency teetering on the edge of structural collapse, mere minutes after sticking straphangers with yet another bill, and then tell the press that your departure to pursue your own political advancement is “bittersweet.” But no one has ever accused Lhota of lacking balls.

Politically, Lhota is a creature of Rudy Giuliani, a man he has called “the most energetic and intelligent person I’ve ever had the chance to work for.” Lhota’s wife, Tamra, raised thousands of dollars for Giuliani’s mayoral campaigns, and a few months after Rudy was elected, he brought Joe on board. Lhota quickly ascended from being a deputy mayor’s chief of staff to finance commissioner, budget director, and deputy mayor.

Those titles all paled in comparison to “Rat Czar,” the vivid honorific Lhota assumed as the administration’s expert on pest-control issues. As Rat Czar, he tabulated the city’s rat complaints and extermination missions and urged residents to put lids on their trash cans.

But Lhota was even more useful to Giuliani as the Imperial Mayor’s top attack dog, taking to the role with gusto—and an overweening vocabulary. When the New York Public Interest Research Group’s Gene Russianoff knocked Giuliani’s charter revision commission in the mayor’s first term, Lhota told him to “apprehend your hubris and rethink your definition of democracy.”

In 1998, Lhota was busted for calling Wall Street firms to talk them out of attending a fundraising dinner for the Citizens Budget Commission, a watchdog group critical of Giuliani. In 2000, a New York Times reporter wrote about Lhota giving her the finger.

Even after Giuliani left office, Lhota ran interference for him. When it was revealed that Giuliani was using a taxpayer-funded police detail for security during his trysts with his mistress, Lhota said the creative accounting that hid the expense was commonplace and predated Giuliani. Confronted with the reality that the sneaky bookkeeping was, in fact, a Giuliani innovation, Lhota folded immediately, telling the press, “I’m going to reverse myself on that.”

This past February, Lhota had to apologize after picking a fight with State Senator Bill Perkins over his old pet topic, rat control. He had told The New York Times that “as a legislator, he does nothing but talk and talk and talk, and he does nothing.” By the next day, he was eating his words: “Bill is an excellent legislator,” he wrote. “I share his commitment to addressing the problem of rat proliferation in New York City.”

In September, when MTA board member Charles Moerdler pushed back on Lhota’s drive to reduce the number of times the transit board meets, Lhota exploded, challenging Moerdler to “be a man,” accusing him of “blubbering,” and daring him to step outside.

Last month, Lhota had to apologize again, for telling the press that Mayor Bloomberg was behaving “like an idiot” in offering projections of when storm-damaged transit service would come back on line.

As a mayoral candidate, Lhota’s got some ground to cover. A November Quinnipiac Poll found him pulling 9 percent versus a generic Democrat’s 60 percent.

But if New Yorkers aren’t ready for a return to Giuliani time, team Giuliani certainly is. Unnamed sources have already told the New York Post that “Giuliani’s circle believes it can raise $10 million for him to run.” After Rudy’s catastrophic presidential bid and general evaporation from the national stage, you can almost hear him and his crew dunning the Czar for sinecures and comfy consultancies. Maybe there will even be room for Rudy’s former right hand, Bernie Kerik, once he’s released from federal prison.

Of course, the “business community” is just as eager for a Lhota administration. Never slow with a dog whistle, they are already hailing the candidacy of a Rudy lieutenant as an opportunity for the city to consider what New York was like before America’s Mayor made it “vibrant and safe and livable.”

A Lhota campaign will at least make the mayoral race more interesting. As a former investment banker and the Giuliani standard-bearer, Lhota could give Bloomberg’s anointed successor, Christine Quinn, a run for her money with Wall Street. For that matter, the Bronx- and Queens-raised son of a cop and his wife could be a more comfortable choice for outer-borough blue-collar voters than Quinn and hers.

Even if Lhota’s candidacy is shorter than a rat’s gestation period (“21 days,” he once informed a reporter), the members of the press are glad he’s rolling the dice. However you describe him—frank, spirited, belligerent, bullying—he’s a damn sight more colorful than the gray-faced hopefuls in the race so far. Let the bird-flipping begin.

npinto@villagevoice.com

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MTA Wants To Raise Tolls (Or: MTA Wastes $800,000 a Year on Idling Vehicles)

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority claims to be strapped for cash and plans to pass its money problems onto consumers by raising subway and bus fares in March. It also hopes to increase the toll on the Verrazano Bridge from $13 to $15.

So how could an agency with a 2012 operating budget of $9.1 billion be hurting so badly for cash? Well, not turning off their cars could have something to do with it.

According to a report by the MTA’s inspector general, released yesterday, the agency blew about $800,000 a year on idling vehicles wasting gas — and polluting the air.

The report, which you can see here, found that MTA field vehicles idled for a combined 20,000 hours each month while Long Island Railroad and Metro-North workers were in the field.

“Certainly, we are encouraged that the LIRR and MNR have accepted all of our recommendations and intensified and expanded their efforts to reduce excessive vehicle idling,” Inspector General Barry L. Kluger said in a statement to CBS New York. “Unquestionably, these efforts will result in financial savings and a cleaner environment.”

(Note: last time we asked the MTA for a statement of our own, we were called an “idiot” by a spokesman for the agency for questioning whether removing trashcans from subway stops was the best way to go about decreasing subway litter).

The MTA is pretty notorious for pissing away taxpayer money. Its inflated salaries for thousands of employees aside, the agency pays at least one team of people to do a job that already can be done by computers, as we pointed out last month.

As was also revealed last month, in many cases, those workers aren’t even doing the job they’re getting paid to do — and, again, already is getting done by computers.

In August, two New York City Transit subway maintenance supervisors — and eight NYCT subway signal maintainers — were indicted for falsifying MTA records to reflect safety inspections of subway signals that were never actually inspected.

That said, the MTA — and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office — assures the Voice that at no point was the public’s safety at risk because the the agency has a “fool-proof plan” to ensure that the signal system is safe, regardless of whether it’s ever inspected. The only thing the team of inspectors does is prevent possible delays — and according to the indictment, the team wasn’t even doing that.

Given these two anecdotes, it’s easy to see why the rest of us will be paying higher fares to move around New York City come March.