Category Archives: Politics

Andrew Cuomo Is Hiding from NYC’s Subway Nightmare

From Vice.com

The real reason the country’s largest subway became such a total disaster.

What do you do when your political brand is based on old-school competence, but you literally can’t keep the trains running on time? For New York governor Andrew Cuomo, presiding over a subway system that’s become a total nightmare, the answer seems to be: Hope your constituents think it’s someone else’s fault.

Cuomo’s public image has never been about an inspiring message or firing up a passionate base. He lost more than a third of the vote as an incumbent in a Democratic primary in 2014 after pushing deep cuts to school aid, declaring war on unions, and tacitly supporting a Republican takeover of his state senate. Nor is he one of those happy retail politicians who derives popularity from attending local events, shaking hands, and flashing a friendly smile.

Instead, a key selling point for Cuomo has been a promise of barebones effectiveness. Or, as the man himself explained in a 2015 New Yorker profile: “Show me, it’s show-me time. Show me results. Build a bridge, build a train to LaGuardia, clear the snow, save lives. Huh? A little competence.”

It’s precisely this “a little competence, huh?” shtick that makes the disastrous state of New York City’s subways so dangerous to Cuomo—and why it’s vital for him that city residents continue to not realize that it is he, Cuomo (and not his nemesis, Mayor Bill de Blasio), who controls this mess.

How bad is the subway situation, exactly? A woman recently got her head stuck in a train, and people just kept walking past her. These people resorted to taking their shirts and pants off after being stuck in an underground tunnel for 45 minutes. This guy missed his graduation and had to settle for some passengers giving him a makeshift subterranean ceremony because his train was delayed for almost three hours. Signal malfunctions, crowding, and track repair delays have become commonplace, and there are now 70,000 delays a month—nearly triple the number five years ago. The results, beyond people losing their minds, include lost wages from tardiness and missed medical appointments.

And all of that’s before the pending shutdown of the L train upends thousands of people’s lives.

Seizing on those who understandably assume this stuff is the province of the local mayor, Cuomo recently proposed an adorable bill giving himself control of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) that he already oversees. “Who’s in charge [of the trains]?” he asked last week. “Who knows! Maybe the county executive, maybe the president, maybe the governor, maybe the mayor.”

It’s super weird that Cuomo isn’t sure who controls the transit system, since this winter he orchestrated a multimedia self-promotional tour to take credit for opening the “Second Avenue subway.” This included a fawning profile in the Times in which he invoked Robert Moses, and a celebration in which the MTA’s Tom Prendergast gushed about how proud he was to serve the governor. Never mind that the project was over budget, overdue, and basically amounted to the addition of three subway stops. For this particular development, Cuomo was not confused as to who controlled the subways. (He was right then: The governor not only appoints the head of the MTA, but also a plurality of its board. The MTA is chartered by the state, and even the agency’s own website says the governor appoints the members.)

Cuomo’s real coup has been dodging a full-fledged media scandal over this stuff, due partially to a quirk of geography.

Some excellent journalists are out there covering Cuomo’s administration, holding his feet to the fire on everything from his double talk on political corruption to a water poisoning crisis in upstate Hoosick Falls. The vast majority reside and work in Albany—which is great when a major event or story occurs in the State Capitol or nearby. In those cases, reporters are able to experience it directly and viscerally (and then go a short distance and report on it). Many times, the big stories requiring context and reporting involve the legislative process, and the Albany press corps are experts at condensing this super boring but important minutia.

The problem is when a Cuomo story happens hours away from the people keeping tabs on him. In the case of the ongoing subway nightmare, the reporters experiencing (and covering) these hellish commutes, the ones who know precisely how the MTA works on a day-to-day basis, are not necessarily in position to put pressure on Cuomo in Albany.

While the governor has received his share of unpleasant criticism over this fiasco, he still seems to be evading a total bulldozing in the press. Which means many people still don’t know where to point their fingers.

Speaking of Albany reporters covering the legislative process, some dogged ones noticed earlier this month that Cuomo tried to slip in a provision in the dark of night that would replace the honorary name of the Tappan Zee bridge from that of one former governor, Malcolm Wilson, to that of another: Cuomo’s father, Mario.

Ultimately the provision was stalled (though perhaps just temporarily), when members of the state assembly declined to vote on it.

While the effort by Cuomo was roundly criticized, with one sharp observer calling it an “incredibly classic Cuomo/Albany story” and a “ridiculous farce,” perhaps it could still spawn an idea that actually serves the public. If the governor is so keen on blessing major infrastructure with his family name, Albany leaders might just oblige—by naming the current transportation mess after its rightful owner.

The Andrew Cuomo Subway System has a nice ring to it.

The state of the New York subway: transit experts weigh in

From CURBED NY

Every day, it seems as though there’s another instance in which the New York City subway fails massively—and, impossibly, the aftermath of those problems also seems to be getting worse. Perhaps you heard about the ride in which a train was stalled for so long that a guy hopped out of the train and walked the tracks to the next station? (Don’t do that, by the way.) Or the one in which commuters were stuck on a train, sans electricity or air conditioning, for over an hour?

Granted, subway breakdowns also seem to be getting more attention thanks to the rise of social media. There are more ways than ever to document when problems happen, and more voices that are ready and willing to broadcast them, which leads to the question: Is subway service actually getting worse, or are more people paying attention now?

Bad news: It’s the former. “I do think [the subway is] measurably worse than [it was] a couple of years ago,” says Ben Kabak, the blogger behind Second Ave. Sagas, though he acknowledges the role that social media is playing in hyping the problems.

“[Social media] is helping make our elected officials pay attention,” says John Raskin, the head of transit advocacy group the Riders Alliance. “[But] it’s not just people’s day-to-day commutes. Subway service has deteriorated noticeably over the last five years.”

The numbers back that up: the MTA periodically releases data tracking its performance, and the numbers are not good. In February, it was revealed that monthly delays had increased to about 70,000—a figure that’s increased dramatically since 2012, when the agency reported about 28,000 delays per month. The Straphangers Campaign, which releases an annual report card for the subway system, has also tracked worsening service vis-à-vis previous years; according to its latest report, car breakdowns have increased, while subway regularity has decreased overall.

According to Raskin, there are three factors that have contributed to the decline in subway service: equipment failures, like recent power outages and signal problems; overcrowding; and a one-two punch of massive delays and unreliable service, which can largely be attributed to the first two issues.

The MTA has, at least, acknowledged the severity of these problems: the agency recently ordered a review of the increase in subway delays, in addition to its six-point plan to tackle that issue. But one of the biggest issues—the MTA’s aging signals, some of which date back to when the transit system was created more than a century ago—is also proving to be one of the hardest to fix.

The MTA has committed $2.1 billion from its current capital plan to repair its signals, but as a recent report from the city’s Independent Budget Office notes, many of the scheduled fixes are happening behind schedule, if they’ve been started at all. Per the report, the current capital plan has 14 signal-related projects scheduled to begin by the end of 2017—more than half of which are now delayed. “They don’t have a plan yet to speed up the replacement of signals sooner than the next few decades,” notes Kabak, “and there’s a groundswell of voices calling on them to improve service sooner than they can.”

And according to Raskin, “the problem is not that the MTA doesn’t know how to run trains. The problem is that every governor in a generation has underinvested in public transit.” That includes Governor Andrew Cuomo, who Raskin says has “ignored deteriorating transit service” in favor of funding big-ticket projects like the first segment of the Second Avenue Subway.

Raskin and the Riders Alliance—along with a growing chorus of voices, both on and off Twitter—have been particularly pointed in their criticism of Cuomo, who was initially less than vocal about this year’s uptick in service disruptions, and has occasionally claimed that he’s not in charge of the subway. (He is, for the record.) In recent weeks, Cuomo has put forth more of an effort into addressing the subway’s meltdown, and recently asked former MTA chairman Joe Lhota to step back into that role, noting his “proven track record needed to address the enormous challenges facing the nation’s largest mass transportation system.”

Kabak is optimistic about the choice. “The MTA needs a crisis manager,” he explains. “Lhota knows what the agency is capable of. He knows the challenges it’s facing.” And as Kabak notes with a laugh, “he actually rides the subway”—something both Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have been criticized for not doing regularly.

Raskin is also cautiously optimistic, but notes that “no chairman or CEO can substitute for leadership from the governor.” He continues, “the change we need is not going to come unless riders demand it until we get what we need from the governor and state lawmakers.”

He proposes that riders keep doing what they’re doing: make their voices heard when issues arise. “Take advantage of newfound Wi-Fi service,” Raskin says. “Tweet and email Governor Cuomo to make sure he understands that riders won’t go away.” That shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Stewart Air Base A Fourth NY City Airport?

Stewart International Airport is in the southern Hudson Valley, west of Newburgh, New York, approximately 60 miles (97 km) north of Manhattan, New York City. The airport is in the Town of Newburgh and the Town of New Windsor.

Developed in the 1930s as a military base to allow cadets at the nearby United States Military Academy at West Point to learn aviation (at the direction of General Douglas MacArthur), it has grown into the major passenger airport for the mid-Hudson region and continues as a military airfield.

Over the years it has had a checkered history of “ownership”: NY State, Port Authority, private, etc. Also all kinds of “do-gooders” who opposed it’s use.

Biggest problem is a convenient New York City connection.

Metro-North’s Port Jervis line offers a direct connection to Hoboken, New Jersey,from the Salisbury Mills Station. (pictured here) Salisbury Mills is about three miles from Stewart. Taxi service is available. NO BUS! Check out more on Salisbury Mills from “I Ride The Harlem Line”: http://www.iridetheharlemline.com/tag/salisbury-mills/

Metro-North’s Hudson line provides a direct link to Grand Central Station in New York City from the Beacon Station. (pictured here)

Leprechaun Bus Lines provides frequent and inexpensive connections from the Beacon Station to Stewart. Taxi service is also available.

Find out more about Beacon Station: https://penneyandkc.wordpress.com/the-final-phase-of-the-nyc-rebuilding-at-fishkill-landing/

Public-Private Partnerships Will Not Save U.S. Infrastructure

Streetsblog USA via California Rail News

Although the White House has been talking up private infrastructure investment as a replacement for public funding, a panel of experts told Congress that, even with perfectly executed public-private partnerships, the federal government still needs to provide its own support — especially for projects, like transit lines, that aren’t guaranteed to generate toll revenue for profit-seeking investors.

This morning, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao appeared before the Senate’s Environment and Public Works committee. Chao didn’t reveal much, but she did say that the White House will release a statement of “principles” about infrastructure later this month before handing off an actual infrastructure plan to Congress sometime later this summer.

Whether that’s actually going to happen is anybody’s guess. So far, the administration has given two substantive clues about its infrastructure agenda. One is a budget proposal that guts transit programs. The other is a campaign white paper that recommends using tax cuts to promote private financing of public infrastructure projects.

Featured image: Virginia’s HOT lanes were held up in the U.S. Senate this week as an example of public-private partnerships done right. But is this what you really want out of the transportation system?

High-speed rail in Ontario, finally? Not so fast

This is in response to a blog from May 25
https://penneyvanderbilt.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/premier-wynne-announces-plans-for-high-speed-rail-in-ontario/

From CBC-CA via California Rail News

The proposed plan is a massive and expensive infrastructure program and politicians have preferred in the past to get elected by promising to expand highways in their ridings, rather than rail routes.

Paul Langan, from an advocacy group called High Speed Rail Canada, told CBC News that a lack of political will is a major reason why high-speed rail has never been built in Ontario.

In his report, Collenette also cites “political willingness to support the huge investment over more than one election cycle” as a factor in limiting high-speed rail development

Calls for high-speed rail in one of Canada’s busiest corridors have been made before and went unanswered. Will it be any different this time?

GOVERNORS CHRISTIE AND CUOMO CALL FOR PRIVATIZING PENN STATION

WABC via California Rail News

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a joint letter declaring they have lost all faith in Amtrak. “A professional, qualified, private station operator must be brought in to take over the repairs and manage this entire process going,” the letter read.

Many of the infrastructure problems in the New York Metro Area can be blamed on the Governors of New York and New Jersey. Both States have power over the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The Port Authority controls most of transportation in the Metro New York area. It is funded from revenue from bridge and tunnel tolls which allow it to issue bonds to build major projects without approval from legislatures or a vote from the people. The problem is many people consider the Port Authority a piggy bank for both state’s governors for money without the need need of dealing with the legislature. At the same time the Authority is not keeping up with maintaining infrastructure they already control. One example is the Port Authority’s Bus Terminal in Manhattan which is literally falling apart and needs replacing. The other is LaGuardia Airport which the Port Authority owns with the other regional airports. It was built in the 1930s and is a favorite butt of jokes. In New York the state has a major role in funding the Subway system. The state hasn’t been willing to fund the Subway which leaves much of the signalling and infrastructure predating the 1950’s. As for New Jersey it was Christie who cut money of the Gateway Project he now has to support and to New Jersey Transit. The result of the NJT cut backs has been in increase of accidents and breakdowns on NJT.

US Prepares to Ban LapTops On Flights From European Union

If everybody else has to depend on paper and pencil……Then I will be on top of everything!!!

The U.S. is expected to broaden its ban on in-flight laptops and tablets to include planes from the European Union, a move that would create logistical chaos on the world’s busiest corridor of air travel.

Alarmed at the proposal, which airline officials say is merely a matter of timing, European governments held urgent talks on Friday with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The ban would affect trans-Atlantic routes that carry as many as 65 million people a year on over 400 daily flights, many of them business travelers who rely on their electronics to work during the flight.

The ban would dwarf in size the current one, which was put in place in March and affects about 50 flights per day from 10 cities, mostly in the Middle East.

Chief among the concerns are whether any new threat prompted the proposal and the relative safety of keeping in the cargo area a large number of electronics with lithium batteries, which have been known to catch fire. American officials were invited to Brussels next week to discuss the proposed ban, the EU said.

European Commission spokeswoman Anna-Kaisa Itkonen said the EU had no new information about a specific security concern.

U.S. officials have said the decision in March to bar laptops and tablets from the cabins of some international flights wasn’t based on any specific threat but on longstanding concerns about extremists targeting jetliners.

Experts say a bomb in the cabin would be easier to make and require less explosive force than one in the cargo hold. Baggage in cargo usually goes through a more sophisticated screening process than carry-on bags.

Jeffrey Price, an aviation-security expert at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said the original ban focused on certain countries because their equipment to screen carry-on bags is not as effective as machines in the U.S.

A French official who was briefed about Friday’s meeting said the Americans announced they wanted to extend the ban, and the Europeans planned to formulate a response in coming days. The official said the primary questions revolved around when and how — and not whether — the ban would be imposed.

The official spoke only on condition of anonymity to discuss the plan.

Jenny Burke, a Homeland Security spokeswoman, said no final decision has been made on expanding the restriction.

But Homeland Security officials met Thursday with high-ranking executives of the three leading U.S. airlines — American, Delta and United — and the industry’s leading U.S. trade group, Airlines for America, to discuss expanding the laptop policy to flights arriving from Europe.

Two airline officials who were briefed on the discussions said Homeland Security gave no timetable for an announcement, but they were resigned to its inevitability. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the meeting publicly.

The U.S. airlines still hope to have a say in how the policy is put into effect at airports to minimize inconvenience to passengers. The initial ban on passengers bringing large electronics devices into the cabin hit hardest at Middle Eastern airlines.

Emirates, the Middle East’s largest airline, this week cited the ban on electronics as one of the reasons for an 80 percent drop in profits last year. It said the ban had a direct impact on demand for air travel into the U.S. and it faced rising costs from introducing complimentary laptop loans to some passengers.

Alain Bauer, president of the CNAPS, a French regulator of private-sector security agents, including those checking baggage and passengers in France’s airports, predicted “chaotic” scenes initially if the ban was instituted.

“Imagine the number of people who carry their laptops and tablets onto planes — not just adults, but also children,” he told the AP.

He said it would slow passage through security checks as people try to negotiate a way of keeping their laptops.

“It’s not like losing your water bottle or your scissors. It will take more time to negotiate,” he said.

“You need a lot of time to inform them and a lot of time for it to enter people’s heads until it becomes a habit,” he said. “After a week of quite big difficulties, 95 percent of people will understand the practicalities.”

The head of the International Air Transport Association said recently that the electronics ban is not an acceptable or effective long-term solution to security threats, and said the commercial impact is severe.

An industry-backed group, the Airline Passenger Experience Association, said the U.S. government should consider alternatives. That could include routinely testing laptops for chemical residues associated with bombs, requiring owners to turn on their devices, and letting frequent travelers keep their electronics with them.

The group’s CEO, Joe Leader, noted that airlines have reduced service by more than 1 million long-haul seats in the 10 Middle Eastern and North African cities affected by the March policy. If it spreads to Europe, “it’s simply a matter of time” before laptops are banned in the cabins of domestic U.S. flights, he said.

At the Delta area of the Cincinnati airport, a sign warned passengers that beginning Saturday on flights returning to the U.S. any electronic devices other than a cellphone would have to be placed in checked baggage. The airline flies between Cincinnati and Paris.

A Delta spokesman said the sign was posted in error by an employee at the airport. Asked if Delta had anticipated that the in-cabin ban on larger electronics would go into effect this week, the spokesman declined to comment.

Here’s why the future of the Caltrain Corridor is so important

From SF-Curbed

The connection between new housing and transportation is too close to ignore

When California Republicans convinced the Department of Transportation to hold off on a $647 million federal grant for the transit corridor’s electrification plan, they did more than stall transportation progress for the region. The delay would put thousands of new jobs and much-needed housing projects on hold indefinitely. It’s not hyperbolic to say that the future economic growth of California stands in peril.

Caltrain gets $100M from budget deal: Support hinges on approval from Trump administration

From San Mateo Daily Journal-May 2, 2017 via California Rail News

The bipartisan congressional budget deal reached Sunday could provide some much-needed fuel for Caltrain’s plans to modernize the Peninsula’s heavily used commuter rail system.
The $1 trillion federal spending plan outlines $100 million for the electrification project and while there’s contingencies to those funds actually being allocated, Caltrain supporters say it’s a positive omen nonetheless.

The 2017 budget proposal includes nearly $232.8 million for new projects that are geared toward increasing capacity and which are expected to receive approval this year — a short list in the Federal Transit Administration’s pipeline that includes Caltrain. While hurdles remain before actual funding is offered, being explicitly recognized in the budget bodes well.

As Christie Hounds Amtrak, N.J. Transit Safety Fines Mount

Bloomberg News has sounded off on Governor Christie of New Jersey

Fresh details of safety lapses are emerging at New Jersey’s beleaguered mass-transit agency even as Governor Chris Christie deflects blame and excoriates Amtrak, the national railroad, for mishaps and riders face upheaval.

In Hoboken, a major hub for New York-bound commuters, a “worn and chipped” track switch remained in use more than three months after it was identified, according to documents that New Jersey Transit provided after a public-records request. The faulty part, cited as a possible cause of a minor two-car derailment in 2014, endangered “thousands of commuters” a day, a Federal Railroad Administration inspector wrote.

At a Morris County yard, inspectors documented out-of-service trains left without brakes applied.

“This car had two wooden chocks under the first wheel, the only measure taken to prevent this string of 13 cars from rolling,” inspector Sean Fitzpatrick wrote in August 2016.

The reports come to light as Amtrak and New Jersey Transit, which share tracks under the Hudson River to Manhattan, tell riders to expect months of inconvenience due to maintenance and repairs after two Amtrak derailments at New York Pennsylvania Station. At the same time, Christie is withholding millions of dollars in fees due to Amtrak to keep its rails in good shape.

“If that’s the political game — pointing across the river to hide your own mismanagement — that’s unacceptable,” said Assemblyman John McKeon, a Democrat presiding over hearings on New Jersey Transit after a fatal wreck in Hoboken in September.

In all, New Jersey Transit faces 67 citations reported over two years that have yet to be settled, as railroads typically litigate them for years.

Passengers already suffer mounting delays and crowding at the hands of the nation’s second-busiest railroad, plus the long-term threat of a failure in Amtrak’s flood-damaged Hudson tunnel. Christie in 2010 canceled construction of a second tunnel, and President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint includes no funding for another passage, part of Amtrak’s proposed $23 billion Gateway project.

No injuries or fatalities have been linked to New Jersey Transit’s violations. In the 2014 Hoboken incident, “passengers were quickly escorted off the train,” Nancy Snyder, a New Jersey Transit spokeswoman, said in an email. The derailment, she said, “was not caused by NJT equipment nor human error, and the FRA inspector finding remains in dispute.”

Steve Santoro, the agency’s executive director, told lawmakers today in a state Senate budget hearing that the Hoboken switch incident was old news.

“We’ve done a lot of things to our railroad in the past two years,” Santoro said. “I can unequivocally say the railroad’s safe.”

As a whole, the reports detail a broader and more serious scope of troubles beyond those disclosed by the railroad at a legislative hearing in November.

In March 2015, for instance, a technician at a Morris County crossing used unapproved cables to bypass wiring that controls gates, warning lights and bells, then failed to reset the circuit, according to the reports. A crew noticed the defect while their train was in the crossing; the technician was given 10 days off without pay.