Transportation http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation Wed, 19 Sep 2018 03:22:47 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) A Strategy For Paving The Way To Fewer Traffic Fatalities http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/4771-paving-the-way-to-fewer-traffic-fatalities http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/4771-paving-the-way-to-fewer-traffic-fatalities 800px-WTM3 Gnarly 0004

ALBANY, N.Y. — Almost as many people will die in New York City each year in traffic accidents as are murdered. The city’s own stats show that traffic deaths involving pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers went up 23 percent from June 2011 to July 2012 — 236 to 291 — and yet it remains a struggle for the city to set policy to deter the unsafe behavior that can contribute to these fatalities.

What stops the city from enacting measures to stop traffic carnage? In one word: Albany.

For decades the city has had to defer to Albany to address key policies from the way rent control is set to speed limits. The state Constitution grants a degree of self-governance — known as home rule — to the city and all municipalities across the state. But, often, city lawmakers have had to press the state Legislature to grant home rule on a raft of policy issues.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for instance, got home rule to take over the city’s education system. Yet, for every territory of policy that city lawmakers are able to grab back from the state, there is still plenty that advocates and officials say remains outside of city control.

With a new mayor entering office in January, a number of advocacy organizations are calling for home rule to set long-gestating policies that affect everything from how elections are run in the city to affordable housing.

Advocates believe that Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio will use his political skills and connections to be more aggressive in pressing Albany for home rule. Nowhere, though, is the fight for home rule as clear and evolved as the one for increased street safety.

The importance of reducing traffic fatalities was further emphasized during the announcement of Bill Bratton as the next police commissioner.

"It is ironic that even as the death totals have declined dramatically with violent crime in this city, this year the number of people killed on our streets — pedestrian and traffic — will almost equal the homicide total," Bratton said last week.

HOME RULE AND SAFER STREETS

De Blasio has already sent a strong message to transportation advocates that he plans to deal with traffic fatalities with his “Vision Zero” strategy for reducing fatalities. Key to that strategy is getting home rule.

In his campaign’s transportation plan, de Blasio said he would “stop waiting on Albany and fight for home rule” so the city can “install red light cameras and speed enforcement cameras around hundreds of schools and senior centers.” He also promised to “establish more 20 mph zones in residential neighborhoods, so kids and seniors can walk their streets safely.“

The city has long battled the state for control of its own destiny — and by long we are talking Teddy Roosevelt-long. “Teddy Roosevelt was the first Assemblyman to a get home rule bill passed,” said State Sen. Brad Hoylman of Manhattan. That was in the 1880s. The current home rule policy was adopted in 1963.

{pullquote}”All the cities we compare ourselves to around the world rely on automated enforcement,” said one advocate for speed cameras.{/pullquote}

Gerald Benjamin, professor of political science at SUNY-New Paltz and an expert on the state Constitution, said the battle between city and state for control has been going on “forever.” In the late 19th century, he said, the two levels of government battled over the creation of police and park districts in an attempt to woo voters and control patronage. The battles continue to this day in other forms, but the state has the legal advantage whenever issues come before the courts.

“You can view New York City politics as city politicians at the state level fighting New York City politicians at the local level for control over the city,” Benjamin said.  “This isn’t a question of home rule — it is really a question of policy.”

The difficulty in deciding city traffic policy became extremely apparent last month as the City Council tried to pass legislation to reduce the city speed limit.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced that Councilman David Greenfield of Brooklyn would be introducing a bill to reduce the city speed limit to 20 mph and that the city’s legislative branch would push to pass the bill by the end of the year. But problems quickly arose. The city Department of Transportation told the Council that reducing the speed limit would conflict with state law.

State law requires that streets that aren’t school zones must go under further adjustment before the speed limit is dropped to 20 miles per hour. So Greenfield tinkered with his bill to lower the speed limit to 25 miles per hour on one-way streets that don’t have more than one lane of traffic — not the sweeping change advocates were looking for.

The battle to reduce speed limits will now go to Albany where advocates also want to expand on a pilot program for speed cameras that was approved late in the session this year.

STRUGGLE FOR AUTOMATED TRAFFIC CAMERAS

After a decade of fighting with Albany, state lawmakers finally approved a simple pilot program for automated traffic enforcement cameras back in June.

Upstate legislators were major impediments to the passage of the home rule message — which would allow the city to install the cameras — due to concerns over civil liberties and the concerns of the law enforcement lobby.

Transportation Alternatives has issued study after study showing that most drivers don’t obey the city’s 30 mph speed limit and that it has lead to a rising number of fatal crashes. The studies also show that pedestrians have an 80 percent chance of surviving if they are hit by a car traveling at 30 mph as opposed to a 98 percent chance of survival if the car is traveling at 20 mph.

The pilot program established a five-year program that allows for the installation of 20 speed cameras around schools in the city. Drivers that violate the speed limit are fined $50.

”All the cities we compare ourselves to around the world rely on automated enforcement,” said Juan Martinez of Transportation Alternatives. “So we know it is effective. I’m glad we have cameras at 20 schools but there is no need to test it. This technology has been working for decades in DC, Portland, and Boulder. A rapid expansion of this program is going to be necessary to save lives.”  

Last session it was hard to get a straight answer out of legislators who controlled the fate of traffic cameras about whether it would come to a vote. Sen. Marty Golden of Brooklyn was thought to be very influential in the Republican caucus and be key to the bill's fate. Golden dodged the Gazette’s questions about the bill a number of times but as session came to an end advocates say Golden changed his mind and decided to back the test program.

During the episode, Mayor Michael Bloomberg tore into legislators for failing to act on the measure — and recommended reporters give the phone numbers of legislators who didn’t back the pilot program to the public.

“Maybe you want to give those phone numbers to the parents of the child when a child is killed,” Bloomberg said to reporters. “It would be useful so that the parents can know exactly who’s to blame.”

Opponents in the Legislature have questioned the effectiveness of the cameras, some are concerned about civil liberties aspects of using cameras and The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association — the union that represents many police officers — lobbied against their implementation saying that more money should be spent on hiring police for traffic enforcement.

Hoylman, a supporter of the speed camera pilot program, says he thinks a push from de Blasio could help change minds in Albany and give the city the discretion over transportation policy.

“The mayor will be approaching this issue from a progressive democratic place. He is concerned about civil liberties and how this data will be used so it could help change minds,” said Hoylman. He said that “to the extent de Blasio makes this a priority it will be extremely helpful.”

Benjamin said that whether the state Legislature ultimately supports home rule messages at de Blasio’s request comes down to politics. “It depends on their predisposition to support de Blasio, based on his power, his popularity and the policy he supports,” he said.

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dking@gothamgazette.com (David Howard King) Transportation Sun, 15 Dec 2013 05:00:00 +0000
Keeping It Running: Mass Transit's Future http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/4650-keeping-it-running-mass-transits-future http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/4650-keeping-it-running-mass-transits-future trains-collage-new-reduced

NEW YORK — Subway trains arrive at stations late at night too crowded to board. A train that usually travels express often runs local after a certain hour, and some routes have been remapped entirely thanks to Superstorm Sandy repairs or other long-term upkeep. Scores of the city's bridges and highway overpasses are considered structurally deficient and fixes have been progressing at a snail’s pace. When construction happens, cars sit on highways for upwards of an hour, waiting to get from point A to B.

The city’s mass transit is groaning under the weight of age and use. A labyrinth of governmental agencies that govern and fund construction, operating costs and daily repairs all share the same problem: they are either broke, in debt and set to sink further, and not one of them has figured out how they will get necessary funding.

Yet if the city and state fail to maintain or expand mass transit, there is a possibility that the entire mess of it all could choke on its own congestion.

Figuring out where new transit money might come from is perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing policymakers — and the next mayor — in the years ahead. Transit advocates say there are workable solutions, from levying “impact fees” on new development to a “toll swap” proposed by "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz.

But past attempts to raise money for transit, such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan for congestion pricing or the (Richard) Ravitch Plan that included imposing more tolls on bridges along with other schemes, have failed once they made it up the political ladder to Albany.

During the primary, some Democratic mayoral candidates argued for the city to have a greater voice at the table of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the state-dominated agency that runs the subways and buses. But, for that to happen, City Hall can ill afford to sit on the sidelines.

"If the city is going to have some say, they are going to have to cough up more cash," said Ellyn Shannon, transportation planner at the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA.

THE CITY’S SHARE OF THE COST

However you look at the MTA’s financial problem, long-time mass transit advocate and Straphangers Campaign spokesman Gene Russianoff argues the city's current contribution to transportation is inadequate. Just on the capital side, Russianoff says the city provides only $100 million a year or $500 million of the MTA’s $25 billion, five-year program.

"It's been this way since 1982, with the exception of the late 1980s when Koch gave $200 million a year. So inflation has also eaten away the value of the city's share of funding,” Russianoff said. He called the arrangement “quite a bargain for a transit system that literally is the engine of the city's economy."

Both leading mayoral candidates have refrained from detailed discussions on how to raise the city's voice at the MTA — if they'd even do that at all.

In a radio interview on Oct. 9, Democrat Bill de Blasio told Mark Riley on WWRL-AM that the city wasn’t in any position, fiscally, to increase its MTA budget contribution at this time. The mayoral frontrunner has proposed working with trustees of the city’s $140 billion-worth public pension funds to identify strategic local transportation infrastructure investments. .

Republican candidate Joe Lhota, a former MTA president, has argued that expansive city control of the MTA is unrealistic. Nevertheless, the Daily News reported that Lhota has said he would advocate for increasing city funds to the MTA. Lhota reportedly said the amount would be significant enough to have an impact on overall MTA finances. He has also called for a mayor’s board of transportation that would be a policy coordinating body for the city among transit agencies.

BILLIONS FOR MASS TRANSIT

It’s tough for New Yorkers to wrap their heads around a public agency that runs up such an incredibly high bill for expansion and upgrade projects.  A 2012 Citizens Budget Commission report said that five big high-profile MTA capital projects — the Second Avenue subway line, East Side Access (linking the LIRR to Grand Central Terminal), and the Fulton Street Transit Center — are years behind schedule and $3.6 billion dollars over budget.

The growing bills contribute to distrust in the gargantuan agency — and trust in its ability to micromanage and budget big projects. Public faith in the MTA's ability to manage its budget as well as its day to day operations gets tested further each time fares increase, but service at least appears not to.

Around 38 percent of the MTA budget comes from fares. Another 38 percent comes from dedicated taxes — mostly commercial real estate which is subject to market swings. Another 12 percent comes from tolls on the bridges; eight percent comes from state and local subsidies.

Billions in debt, the MTA does not have sufficient funding to pay for its construction projects. So, the agency borrows money for the capital budget, then it takes more money from the operating budget to pay down interest on the debt.  

A 2012 report by the Permanent Citizens Action Committee to the MTA, titled “The Road Back: A History of the MTA's Capital Program,” said the agency had $32 billion in long-term debt (bonds) on its balance  sheet.

Annual debt service totals around $2.3 billion — and that $2.3 billion impacts daily service on the system.

According to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, debt continues to consume a growing share of the operating budget, which means, if different financing source isn't identified,  more and more fare increases are likely.

That's not to say the capital investments haven't borne fruit.

Recent history shows capital investments can fundamentally improve the New York subway commuter experience.

Take, for instance, the implementation of automated signaling technology called “Communications-Based Train Control,” which makes use of telecommunications between a train and track equipment for signaling.  

With the exception of the L-train, almost all the city’s subways operate on a 1930s-era system that limits the number of trains that can run at a given time on a particular subway line. Replacement parts for much of the old system aren't even manufactured any longer today.   

In 2000, MTA began installing CBTC on the Carnarsie (L) line.  That project was finally completed  in 2006.  Once CBTC was up and running,  MTA had the ability to increase the number of trains that operate on the line each hour.  By 2010, MTA had increased the number of hourly trains from 15 to 26.

The improved subway service coupled with rezoning along Brooklyn's East River contributed to a huge spurt of growth in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as well as surrounding areas.

By 2011, a study conducted at the urging of State Sen. Daniel Squadron found that ridership on the L train had grown at three times the rate of the subway system as a whole.

NEW REVENUE STREAMS

Transportation advocates say new development along the city’s transportation arteries could be a source of future revenue — and that just as development attracts more people it will also demand more infrastructure.

Shannon, a transportation planner at PCAC, pointed to the East Midtown rezoning as a missed opportunity to identify a new potential source of dedicated MTA revenue. "Currently the East Midtown rezoning effort has the MTA getting a one-time payment for transit investments within the zone," Shannon said.

But, Shannon pointed out, as these buildings are up-scaled, they will be providing the city with more tax money. Therefore, she said the city could propose that new tax revenue from any resulting development, be earmarked for the MTA. But Shannon says the city hasn't pursued that idea — yet.

"One thing that has surprised us has been the city's reluctance to push for impact fees with the commercial real estate developers like those who would benefit from newly relaxed air rights in a rezoned East Midtown," Shannon said.

Impact fees are imposed by local governments on new or proposed development projects to help pay for the costs of providing public services such as public transit. In East Midtown, the city and MTA settled for one time-existing subway station improvements and a few other items, but not a new funding stream.

"The city has not embraced that idea at all," Shannon said.

Yet another potential source of new MTA income comes from what supporters of the scheme are calling "fair pricing."

Created by New York City transportation expert “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz, supporters say the proposal would provide a continuous source of city produced MTA funding, while providing relief for drivers in the far outer boroughs as well.

The fundamental difference between this plan and plans touted in the past is that toll money from freight, car drivers and others, would be redistributed back throughout the city. In basic terms, it is a"toll swap" where tolls on "outer borough" bridges such as the Whitestone, Throggs Neck, Triboro and Verrazano are reduced, while crossings into Manhattan's Central Business District are tolled at the same rate ($5.33 E-ZPass) as the East River tunnels.

Schwartz says the plan would generate a billion-and-a-half dollars each year; the first $500 million would go to maintaining the mass transit system in a "state of good repair"; the remaining $1 billion would go to invest in improving area roads and bridges and the transit system.

Last year, Schwartz teamed up with environmental advocate, Alex Matthiessen, and his Move NY campaign to build support for fixing the region's transportation system. The plan has earned the support of the Regional Planning Association.

But, at this point, Schwartz and Matthiesen say they don't need or even want elected officials to take a position on the plan although they say at some point, politicians will need to be honest about the problems the city's transportation network faces.

"If it is agreed that these are serious problems in need of a serious solution, then we can have a public discussion about what those solutions might be," Matthiessen said.

Schwartz and Matthiesen said they are on a years-long journey, where they hope to engage as many stakeholders as possible. The two say they believe by taking a more holistic approach to New York City's often antagonistic transportation conundrum, and by engaging all affected stakeholders, their plan might someday become a reality.

NYPIRG’S Russianoff said there have been periods in the New York's past when the city tied its transit funding to particular projects, such as  the subway car overhaul program in the early 1980s.

“So let's do something similar now," said Russianoff, who has an idea for the city to up its contribution and spread the popular “Select Bus Service” to the outer boroughs.

He said the city should give at least $100 million more in capital to make it possible to jumpstart the popular "Select Bus Service" route program. He said the SBS programs makes it possible to increase the speed and reliability of transit service in many neighborhoods underserved by the current MTA system.

"Transportation groups are very enthusiastic about the ability of SBS to bring reliable and faster service. The Second Avenue Subway cost a billion dollars a mile but SBS cost about a million (a mile)," Russianoff said.

Most transit advocates agree with Russianoff that it's the outer boroughs that are underserved by transit. He said SBS may be the only cost-effective solution.

"We are unlikely to bring train service to these underserved areas for decades or maybe, even, never," he said.

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clyon@gothamgazette.com (Cody Lyon) Transportation Tue, 15 Oct 2013 04:29:56 +0000
Taming The Intercity Bus Industry http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/4288-to-tame-an-industry http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/4288-to-tame-an-industry boltbus-crowded

NEW YORK — On any given day, hundreds of passengers toting bags and suitcases crowd sidewalks near Penn Station waiting to board buses destined for cities along the East Coast.

That has been the status quo for years as the cheap buses — fares can go for a few bucks —have grown in popularity among budget-conscious travelers. With the congested sidewalks, though, have come complaints from property owners about makeshift outdoor bus stops and safety and pollution concerns about idling buses.

Now the city is taking on a new role aimed at taming the intercity bus industry: curbside regulator.

Last year, the state gave the city the right to impose a new permitting system on intercity buses with the goal of increasing oversight and cutting down on overcrowded sidewalks and streets. Under plans currently being evaluated, the owner or operator of an intercity bus would have to obtain a special permit from the city’s Department of Transportation to obtain an assigned on-street bus pick-up and drop-off location.

“These rules are an important step toward closing the door on the chaos that has reigned at the curbside and will help us better manage our streets,” the city’s Department of Transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, said recently in an emailed statement.

At a June 10 hearing on the new rules, around a dozen or so residents and local business groups mostly from the west side of Manhattan weighed in. Chief among their concerns were that bus companies using curbs and sidewalks around Penn Station would be allowed to keep their current spots for up to three years.

As written, the so-called grandfathering provision allows operators to keep their existing stops, as long as they apply for a permit within 30 days of when the law goes into effect and the DOT approves their request.

Ernest Modarelli, a resident of Hell's Kitchen and a member of the Hell's Kitchen Coalition for Public Safety, said it was “imperative” that intercity bus curbside operations “should not be grandfathered in for a period of three years.”

"Intercity bus stops should not be permitted on streets with residential buildings, schools, or any street which experiences periods of high pedestrian traffic,” he said. “The overwhelming amount of intercity bus parking, idling and operating on the streets of our community is a clear indication that what we really need is a new bus terminal.”

The Port Authority Bus Terminal, which opened in 1950 on West 42nd Street north of where many of the intercity buses park in Midtown Manhattan, is notoriously overcrowded. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has sent out a request for proposals seeking a vendor to create a long-term planning study that would take into account the need for more space at the terminal and neighborhood needs.

Evan Cooper, a representative of the owner of property on 155-159 at 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue where Greyhound's Bolt Bus does its brisk business on the curbside, said the grandfathering clause was a bad idea.

He said the tenants complain on a daily basis about fumes, charging that buses don't follow idling laws.

"We ask you to reconsider the grandfathering of this law and the re-location to a more suitable spot possibly further west of our location," he said.

Later, Greyhound spokeswoman Carolyn Daly said the company understood the concerns about congestion and that discussions were underway about the 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue bus stop.

"Our whole mission is to strike a balance between our riders’ needs and the community's needs," Daly said, noting the company had worked closely with the community board in Chinatown when it had a bus stop there.

Chinatown Partnership, the local development corporation, has testified at Community Board 3 meetings that businesses in the area benefit from the foot traffic generated by the curbside buses.

What started as an inexpensive, under-the-radar transit service for Chinatown residents to get to jobs in area casinos as well as other Chinatowns along the East Coast became all the buzz among budget-conscious city travelers in recent years. They were drawn to Chinatown by fares as cheap as $10 to Boston or Washington, D.C.

They were so cheap that the national bus carriers couldn't ignore the sector any longer. When the bus lines started drawing passenger traffic from more conventional companies, the conventional bus carriers developed their own brands meant to compete directly with Chinatown bus carriers.

For example, Coach USA, the Canadian bus giant, directly invested in Eastern Travel's Chinatown bus. The same company had also introduced MegaBus, which did its curbside trade further uptown near Penn Station. Outside New York, DC Trails unveiled The Washington Deluxe line as well as the Vamoose bus.

And, in 2008, Port Authority bus anchors Greyhound and Peter Pan formed the joint venture Bolt Bus, which turned a few Hell’s Kitchen streets into outdoor bus terminals.

The industry attracted unwanted attention and calls for greater regulation after a series of high-profile accidents, including a 2011 crash of a bus operated by World Wide Travel of Greater New York that killed 15 people. In that incident, a bus carrying 32 passengers to New York’s Chinatown from The Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut struck a guardrail, overturned and collided with a vertical highway signpost. Investigators concluded that the driver was severely fatigued and had lost control. They also found that his license had been suspended 18 times before the accident.

Despite questionable safety practices, the bus lines have continued to grow.

An annual study on intercity bus lines from the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University found that service by conventional discount operators surged over 30 percent nationwide between 2011 and 2012. That study — which did not include the smaller Chinatown bus operators in its statistics — said the conventional discount sector accounts for more than 1,000 daily operations in cities across the country.

To operate an intercity carrier all you need is a driver, a fully equipped bus, gas and a functioning computer system or online access, according to the principal author of the study,

"We estimate it costs around $4 a mile to operate the buses. If you think about a bus from New York to D.C., that may cost $800 total. But that bus needs to be full. In other words, they'd need 40 people at $20 each to break even," Joseph Schwieterman, director at the Chaddick Institute and who is also professor at the School of Public Service at DePaul University in Chicago, said in a recent interview.

Schwieterman said he supports common sense regulations of the booming sector — up to a point. "I'm not sure government agencies are disciplined enough to limit themselves to the core issues," he said.

Besides the DOT’s new curbside rules, the City Council has also been looking for ways to increase oversight of intercity buses. It recently passed Intro 591-A, which calls on the DOT to create links on its website to safety ratings of buses maintained by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The Council has also held hearings over legislation that would require buses to display their designated location, the operator’s name, address and telephone number. All would be permanently affixed in characters at least five inches high on both sides of the vehicle, with the display being in a color contrasting with that of the vehicle and placed approximately midway vertically on doors or side panels.

City lawmakers have defended their push for greater regulations.

"With the new rules, I think we can start to hold these bus companies more accountable," Councilman James Vacca, the chair of the transportation committee, said.

– Gotham Gazette intern Daniel Stein-Sayles contributed to this report.

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clyon@gothamgazette.com (Cody Lyon) Transportation Tue, 18 Jun 2013 22:04:57 +0000
Thousands Of Trips Taken After Bike Share Debuts http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/4245-6k-trips-taken-after-bike-share-debuts http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/4245-6k-trips-taken-after-bike-share-debuts bike-share-lead

NEW YORK — The nation's largest bike sharing program launched yesterday with about 6,000 trips taken by late afternoon.

The privately funded program, which was delayed for months because of technical glitches, offers 6,000 bikes from stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Only those signed up for the $95 annual fee can ride them this week, which so far is around 15,000 people.

It's already the largest system in the country, and will expand to 10,000 bikes with stations farther uptown, deeper into Brooklyn, and in Queens.

One of the bikes was stolen as workers were delivering it to a station. A Daily News reporter took one for a ride and reported that it had won him over: 

The no-frills Citi Bike is heavy and sturdy, but offers a smooth, if not speedy, ride. Its three gears switched easily, and it featured a small rack and bungee cord that smartly holds a bag. I started off riding to an assignment in Murray Hill, a route that would have required at least one subway transfer and a walk. The map on the Citi Bike app wasn’t working, but luckily, the telltale racks are nearly as ubiquitous as Duane Reade pharmacies, and I soon found one.

There were glitches with the racks, with bikes easily taken out without a key or unable to be returned. And the smartphone app didn't work yet. A protest was also held at a station in SoHo which is reserved for art.

Below is a citizen video on the bike share that was posted yesterday:

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mmuller@gothamgazette.com (Mike Muller) Transportation Tue, 28 May 2013 14:18:44 +0000
We Are An Island People: When Will New York City Truly Embrace Water Transit? http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/4223-we-are-an-island-people-when-will-new-york-city-truly-embrace-water-transit http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/4223-we-are-an-island-people-when-will-new-york-city-truly-embrace-water-transit East-Ferry

NEW YORK — Nearly six months after Superstorm Sandy paralyzed subways and buses across the city, water transit advocates and politicians are saying it is time to expand ferry service into a robust, five-borough system that can operate in good times and after disasters.

They also see it as a means for providing affordable public transit to areas underserved by existing transit infrastructure — including, for example, the Rockaways, where the subway linking the peninsula was taken out of commission by the storm and a new ferry service was started up to connect the isolated community to Manhattan.

Yet, as policymakers look to expand ferry service, they are reminded of similar efforts over the past 20 years that have drowned in costs. Around 30 regional ferry services have come and gone, despite the investment of close to $700 million in capital investments.

Today's ferry system is balkanized, with about half a dozen private operators carrying passengers across the Hudson and East rivers, as well as other parts of the metro area. The Staten Island Ferry, which accounts for the largest share of waterway ridership, is run by the Department of Transportation.

Nevertheless, the city has the highest ferry ridership of any city or metro area in the nation, with around 30 million passengers using the "blue highways" — as they are sometimes called — to get around. Still, those ridership numbers pale in comparison to the 1.65 billion people who take subway trains each year.

Significant hurdles remain-primarily adequate public funding-especially in a city that is highly dependent on an already cash-starved mass transept system. But ferry supporters say what's needed is a collective change in transit psychology regarding the opportunities on the blue highways. They and their political supporters say ferry service should be fully integrated into the existing transit system, with riders being able to transfer from a bus to a boat with the same fare card- freely.

Officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the buses and subways, say they' d be open to a technological fix that would integrate fare payment options between ferry operators and the larger transit system.

"If any of the region's ferry operators would like to approach the MTA about using MetroCard for their fare payment — the same set up with other land base providers — we'd be delighted to talk and evaluate moving forward," MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said.

INTEGRATING FERRIES INTO THE TRANSIT SYSTEM

For ferry operators, the technology behind integrating the payment operations into the mass transit system is the easy part. The bigger question is who would make up the lost fare revenue for free transfers from the public MTA to the private ferry operators. Would government be willing to provide the additional subsidy? Or could the ferries themselves someday find themselves under the ownership of an expanded MTA?
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For now, Helena Durst, vice president at the Durst Organization and president at New York Water Taxi, said she'd be willing to talk about a system where riders could transfer for free to a ferry or vice versa onto a bus or train. She said ferry regulations require that her company keep accurate passenger counts that they could provide to the transit agency for payment.

ferry-service-681

Current ferry service (map courtesy of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey).

That process could be streamlined in the next few years: The MTA hopes to move over to a to a tap-and-go payment system where the majority of people would use a bank-issued 'smart' credit card or even a phone to pay fares. The system would essentially take the MTA out of the fare collection business.

The city's Economic Development Corp., is also studying the possibility of expanding ferry service.

The agency is helping to pay for East River Ferry service with a three-year, $9 million subsidy, and is in discussions with the MTA to share ridership information and inform bus planning. The MTA has plans to expand bus service near ferry stops on the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront, the EDC said.

Roland Lewis, president and CEO at the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, which held its annual conference last week and hosted a panel on the future of the ferry system, said any expansion of ferry service would require subsidies similar to the one being provided for the East River Ferry.

Most mass transit systems receive subsidies. The Long Island Rail Road has a subsidy of around $6 per passenger and the New York City Transit Express bus system's subsidy is roughly $12 per rider.

Lewis calls ferries a bargain. He said the government pours billions of dollars into subway tunnels, roads and bridges, while the city's underutilized waterways offer abundant potential for relieving clogged roads. He says ferries require virtually no capital investment.

But he said there was a greater obstacle to overcome.

"Ultimately, this will be a political question," Lewis said. "If and when political leaders do embrace or make ferry service a priority, then we'll likely see integrated ferry service that's a part of our bigger transit system."

POLITICIANS LOOK TO WATER TRANSIT

Politicians appear to be eyeing ferries as a solution to the problems of climate change and increasing mass transit costs.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2100 Commission calls for improvements in ferry service as a means for improving the region's resilience to future extreme storms.

For his part, Sen. Chuck Schumer has been fighting for federal funds to upgrade the Staten Island Ferry’s infrastructure as well as federal funds for the proposed Glen Cove Ferry project, which will create a link between Nassau County and New York City, said a spokeswoman for the senator, Marisa Kaufman.

Earlier this month, Schumer also asked the Federal Highway Administration and the New York State Department for Transportation to prioritize funding for infrastructure that would allow for expansion of the East River Ferry Service, which exceeded ridership expectations during its first 18 months of operations.

New ferry service would include new landings at Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, Hallets Point in Astoria and the Upper East Side. Also, the expansion would allow for a Roosevelt Island ferry landing.

That service would likely meet the needs of student commuters to ConellNYC's Applied Science Campus — the new ferry service has already been dubbed the "Nerd Boat" because tech industry professionals would likely use it to travel between Roosevelt Island and Brooklyn and Queens.

At a mayoral forum held at the MWA's annual Waterfront Conference last week, some candidates expressed support for a more robust ferry system.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a frontrunner to be the Democratic mayoral nominee, said she supported having the city partially subsidize the ferry system's integration into mass transit. "It's about the greater good of the city," she said.

At a separate MWA conference panel discussion on New York City ferry service, the city's Department of Transportation's Deputy Commissioner for ferries and chief operating officer of the Staten island Ferry, James DaSimone, told the panel it was essential to take a more visionary approach.

He said that meant promoting a viable ferry system that the city and the whole metropolitan area can expand transit. He said that if ferry transit supporters can promote water travel as a viable way to augment and grow transit in areas where the existing transit infrastructure is mature, the rest will naturally flow into place.

DaSimone also noted the difficulties in finding money to run the systems. He said at the federal level one of the biggest problems he faces as a ferry operator is the abundance of cash for highways and other forms of transit.

In 2011, the Staten Island Ferry received $2.34 million for boat upgrades under the Ferry Discretionary Program, through the Federal Highway Administration.

A GROWING PASSION FOR THE WATERFRONT

Lewis said that he had seen a passion for the coastline in other waterfront cities, that is just now emerging in New York City.

"When I'm in Vancouver, Seattle or Portland, people are very attached to the water," he said, adding that newer waterfront parks along the city's borough shores have started to change the psychology of New Yorkers.

He said ferry service can help to encourage interest in the waterfront and pointed to San Francisco as an example.

In San Francisco, commuters can use what's called the "clipper card," a multi- transit payment card, for all trips. The city has 28 different transit agencies in its nine-county metro region.

But the city has had mixed results with its newer ferry service.

John Goodwin, a spokesman at the Metropolitan Transit Commission in San Francisco, said the city has two ferry operations: the established Golden Gate Bridge highway and transportation district, which operates two lines between San Francisco and Sausalito and San Francisco and Larkspur; and the San Francisco Bay water emergency transportation authority, which operates all the other regular services.

Goodwin said there were also a couple of other private operators as well. He said the public subsidies for the Bay area's ferry routes vary.

He said some of the newer routes that link south San Francisco to the East Bay were struggling to find a market. He said the fare box recovery rate on those new routes was around just 8 percent, meaning that each ride was around 92 percent subsidized.

"A new service takes time to find and grow its market," Goodwin said.

Ferry service has long been part of the mix of transportation available to New Yorkers, going back to 1600s when boats powered by the use of oars were popular.

But by the turn of the 20th Century, bridges and tunnels had rendered much of the ferry service obsolete, with commuters choosing trains, buses or cars to get around.

Image of East River Ferry boat courtesy of New York Waterway. 

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clyon@gothamgazette.com (Cody Lyon) Transportation Mon, 15 Apr 2013 18:26:40 +0000
How Data Is Helping Riders To Make Sense Of Their Transit System http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/4201-how-data-is-helping-riders-to-make-sense-of-their-transit-system http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/4201-how-data-is-helping-riders-to-make-sense-of-their-transit-system woman-tablet-subway

NEW YORK — New Yorkers love to complain about their subway system: It's too slow, too expensive, too dirty. And, worst of all, it's too difficult to understand why.

That part — the why — is gradually being answered as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority embraces and promotes the public dissemination of the massive amounts of data that the agency generates on everything from train delays to its budget.

A group that works to keep the MTA accountable is set to release findings on Tuesday from a long-term study titled "The MTA in the Age of Big Data," which looks at  the state of the agency's efforts to make data accessible to the public. 

Read about the findings of the report on The Eye-Opener blog. 

Such so-called open data is creating new lines of transparency and opportunities for tech savvy entrepreneurs to develop apps for smartphones and tablets. It is also giving at least those citizens with the technical wherewithal a peek into the inner workings of a public agency that has long been criticized for its lack of openness.

"The MTA has emerged as a leader in open data efforts, and while there's certainly still a long way to go, considering the amount of data they are dealing with, they're doing pretty well," said Sarah Kaufman of New York University's Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management.

Still, she said the agency has a ways to go before the tremendous amounts of data coming from the nation's biggest public transit system is simplified and fully user friendly.

Some transit advocates also believe the data should be used to create charts and other visualizations to show sources of income and to demand more funding for the public agency, especially given staggering increases in ridership.

"How many times have we been in conversations explaining to people why the MTA raised its fares, how many times have we explained that no transit agency in the country survives off its fares alone?" asked Ellyn Shannon, a transportation planner and staff member of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, which is releasing Tuesday's report.

The move by public agencies like the MTA to make available to the public data that was once almost impossible to obtain has been celebrated by open government advocates. In the transportation sector, observers see local agencies such as the MTA on the path to transparency. Still, understanding the nuts and bolts potential of what transparency in transportation means will require real and open collaboration between those releasing the data and those receiving and using it.

Before the virtual curtain was lifted at the vast public agency, software and app developers were at risk of copyright infringement and intellectual theft charges if they created programs with subway system maps or train line schedules. The MTA famously sued one Metro-North commuter who wrote a blog called "Station Stops" and developed an app of the train line's schedules. The matter was resolved in 2009 when the MTA dropped all its charges.

By 2010, the MTA appeared to embrace the mobile revolution with the launch of a redesigned website under the leadership of Jay Walder. In January of that year, the MTA started an open data feed. The fast flowing river of new information was a virtual gold mine for researchers and tech developers who could use all the data for projects they might be working on.

Months later, in what MTA has called a watershed moment, public transit officials held a conference with techies at Google headquarters in New York. There, the agency learned more about the potential ways it's vast troves of data could someday benefit and engage its riders — from tracking real time bus arrivals and train delays to understanding the pipelines where millions of dollars in MTA funding gets used each year.

Jeff Maki, director of operations at the nonprofit civic technology organization OpenPlans, said the MTA began to understand that software developers were better equipped to understand how its data could be used.

"The MTA does its job well. But the third party developer world is better equipped to respond to many of its app and technological needs," Maki said.

By July 2011, the MTA had launched its first app contest and, the following February, the agency had finalized a data feed that allowed passengers to know where and when trains run.

But even after opening its databases to the public, some remained far too complex to fully understand. For example, up until February, MTA budgets weren't keyword searchable.

Cate Contino, the Straphangers Campaign coordinator at NYPIRG, says even the smallest of technological innovations or tweaks to a data pool can mean a lot in helping make vast troves of data easier to navigate. Her organization has lobbied for a more "open" MTA since 1973.

"There are data sets now available at the MTA page that even I don't fully understand," Contino said.

Her group has worked with The New York City Transparency Working Group, which supports efforts to use information technology to make New York City government more open and accountable.

Ultimately, the goal of the transparency efforts are to get the greatest public value from the city's wealth of digital information.

"We've been requesting that the MTA expand its efforts and introduce performance measures and historical data that would allow researchers and academics to take a deeper look at what's been going on inside the MTA," Contino said.

That would allow the public and the agency to come up with solutions such as improving schedules — places where trains need to be cleaned more or other issues.

"We'd love to see a historical archive of capital investment projects and see how they've impacted the service and the overall transit riding community," Contino said.

Shannon said that part of the conversation should be that this is not an all or nothing proposal on open data. She said the MTA website, while a rich source of information, can prove unwieldy.

MTA's Donovan said the agency is looking at digitizing its budgets and making that information more readily available.

"At this time, they don't have a launch date, but they are aware of it, and looking at ways to make that might could happen," he said

For now, Donovan praises the push for a more open MTA and how it has engaged the riding public.

"It helps everyone in the public understand what we do both operationally and, administratively," he said. "Overall, the reaction has been very positive."

Shannon said it's also been exciting to see a new groundswell of interest in MTA affairs among younger New Yorkers. She noted that transit in New York City had for many years taken an adversarial tone.

Referring to one memorable transit advocacy meeting she had attended, she said "it was more a beat-up, not a meet-up."

Shannon and others agree that as more New Yorkers are able to better understand how funding deficiencies impact MTA services, interest will only continue to grow and the public will find itself even more engaged in MTA policy.

Perhaps, even, the public will come to grasp some of the complexities that face leaders who are running an aging railroad under the auspices of a giant public agency.

"Now there's this new group that has such a thirst for all the data, and learning about how the MTA works, and I think in a much more generous spirit than what we saw years ago," Shannon said.

___

Image of subway rider on tablet courtesy of the MTA. Photo of digital clock by Cody Lyon. 

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clyon@gothamgazette.com (Cody Lyon) Transportation Tue, 19 Mar 2013 03:39:56 +0000
Butt Of Jokes G Train Gets Some Serious Attention http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/4183-butt-of-jokes-g-train-gets-some-serious-attention http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/4183-butt-of-jokes-g-train-gets-some-serious-attention g-train-600px

NEW YORK — It was once known as the venerable train to the 1939 New York World's Fair and was a critical transit artery for workers at industrial plants churning out materials for World War II.

Today the G train is the object of jokes and rants each day, both for its small number of cars and its spotty service.

"It's a wild card as far as when I'll get to work or back home," said freelance theater director and Greenpoint resident Josh Hecht, who takes the G train daily and says he leaves home an extra twenty minutes or so early to get to work appointments.

A number of factors are coming together to bring change to the long-neglected G train, which has seen ridership grow because of the popularity of neighborhoods served by the subway line, including fashionable Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Fort Green, Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn.

The Metropolitan Transportation Agency, in response to calls from state lawmakers and a new transit advocacy organization for improvements like increased frequency of trains and communication with riders on the line, has announced that it will do a so-called "full line review" of the line by June. That review could result in major upgrades to one of the city's most neglected lines.

Reviews of the L and F lines have led to improvements in service in recent years.

G-Train-Worlds-Fair-600px

Of course, it remains to be seen whether the MTA can find any room in its already squeezed budget for improvements, especially after Hurricane Sandy caused an estimated $5 billion in damage. A spokesman for the state comptroller's office said it expected the storm to "have a relatively small budget impact" on the MTA. 

"We're asking the MTA to partner with riders to make some common-sense improvements to G train service," said John Raskin, CEO at Riders Alliance, a new grassroots organization that seeks increase funding for public transit in New York overall. The group is taking a neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach, with the G train being its current focus.

Raskin said MTA service cuts in 2010 to the entire subway system had focused attention on the G line's inadequacy.

"The MTA doesn't have the resources it needs to fully run the subway system — the G train being just one example of that greater system-wide problem of inadequate funds," Raskin said.

But he says that many of the changes being called for by his group and others for the G involve simple reprogramming of existing services that could come at little cost.

MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan told the Gotham Gazette that the agency "continuously evaluates levels of ridership, including loading levels, boardings and alightings, across all subway and bus lines, and seeks to maximize service availability to as many customers as possible within operational, capacity and financial constraints."

State Sens. Daniel Squadron and Martin Malavé Dilan are among the lawmakers whom support improving service on the line. A Squadron spokeswoman, Amy Spitalnick, says the the full line review would compile thorough information on rider patterns, find out where and when there are service gaps and figure out where service can be filled in at a very cost effective way-even in a day of constrained budgets.

The data that already exists helps create a compelling picture of a subway line that is becoming more in demand as the neighborhoods it serves increase in popularity.

G-Train-Construction

At subway stops served by only the G and no other trains, ridership is up year over year, based on percentage. For example, MTA data shows that ridership spiked by 13.2 percent at Greenpoint Avenue between 2010 and 2011; by 12.7 percent at Nassau; and by 11.3 percent at Flushing Avenue.

Real estate agents also report an increased interest in the neighborhoods served by the G line. According to PropertyShark.com, home prices in Williamsburg shot up 174 percent between 2004 and 2012. In the areas north of Williamsburg, such as Greenpoint, prices were up by as much as 47 percent.

Real estate players consider reliable train service an important factor when making decisions about where to build.

"People forget that it was the subways and elevated train lines of years ago that led to development in places like the Bronx allowing immigrants who before that were crowded into lower east side tenements to move to bigger apartments," said Marcia Rose Yawitz, a 40-year real estate veteran and current senior director and principal at Eastern Consolidated.

Anthony Lolli, CEO of Rapid Realty, one of the city's largest residential brokerages, said that just a few years ago, if a broker told a client that an apartment was off the G train, they groaned.

"While that's still a common attitude, now we have a growing number of renters who specifically want to live along the G. The housing options along that line have become so good," he said.

For most of its history, the G train — originally known as the GG — operated between 71st Ave in Forest Hills Queens and Church Ave., in Brooklyn. Soon after it opened 1937, the line was cut back to Smith and Ninth Street in Brooklyn. It quickly gained fame as the best way for Brooklynites and Queens residents to get to one of the nation's biggest events — the 1939 World's Fair at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park via an extension built from the Forest Hills station (and later closed in 1940). From the 1940s, the GG was a workhorse line for industry-heavy northern Brooklyn.

But then the cuts began, and the GG shrunk. Currently, it runs between Court Square in Queens and Church Avenue in Brooklyn.

"The G train is one of those unsung heroes," said transit historian Andrew Sparberg. "It performs a vital function, but it doesn't do so under the bright lights of Manhattan. But for the people of Brooklyn and Queens who have used it over the years and now use it each day, it's a very important train."

For those who don't know the G, it is the only train option for trips between central Brooklyn and at one time, central Queens and is the only line between the boroughs that doesn't actually go through Manhattan.

Sparberg, who teaches courses on subway history at the New York City Transit Museum, said the G train plays a supporting role to other, more critical lines in the system. "The G's biggest role over the years was that of a strictly local line," said Sparberg.
.
In many ways, the G line is still playing that role.

On the other side of Brooklyn, south where the G extended service to Church Street, one rider sang some of the G's praises.

Mitch Adair, a marketing advertising and brand consultant, says he thinks the G and its reputation as a 'forgotten train' could be remedied with a few tweaks, perhaps those called for by the Riders Alliance and others. But for now, Adair is happy with his ability to keep things on his side of the river and avoid Manhattan when crossing over into Queens.

"I can't tell you how nice it is to live in Brooklyn and get to PS1 in Queens without a trip through Manhattan," he said, referring to the outpost of the Museum of Modern Art that is a hipster haven of sorts. "What a relief!"

____

Image of G train at Court Square courtesy of Bitch Cakes, used under Creative Commons license. Images of G train poster from the 1939 New York World's Fair and from construction of the line courtesy of the New York Transit Museum.

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clyon@gothamgazette.com (Cody Lyon) Transportation Mon, 04 Mar 2013 15:24:49 +0000
Why The Latest Delay To The Bike Share Program May Not Be The Last http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/2348-why-the-latest-delay-to-the-bike-share-program-may-not-be-the-last http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/2348-why-the-latest-delay-to-the-bike-share-program-may-not-be-the-last bike-share-politicians

NEW YORK — The latest delay of the city's bike share program is being blamed on damage caused to equipment by the floodwaters of Superstorm Sandy.

The bike share will now launch in May 2013, with 5,500 bikes instead of 10,000 as initially planned, the city's Department of Transportation said in a news release Friday. The bikes will now roll out first "in the densest and most geographically contiguous parts of the service area" of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Citi Bike Share, as it is known, failed to launch this past summer as expected because of software glitches.

And while the program appears to be lurching forward, there are signs that the Candian-based sole supplier of bikes and technology for the bike share, known as Bixi, is in financial trouble and is straining to meet its obligations in other U.S. cities.

Recently put up for sale, the company and its U.S. partner, Alta Bicycle Share, have been incapable of delivering 54 new bike stations for the expansion of the Washington, D.C., program, according to The Washington Post. There are also delays with the launch of Bixi-based systems in Chicago and San Francisco, though not necessarily because of difficulty obtaining equipment.

Alta Bicycle Share was also picked to oversee New York City's bike share.

The delays — coupled with the culture of secrecy by company and city officials regarding details about the program's launch — have added to the frustrations of cyclists as well as critics who say that despite the Canadian supplier's financial woes, Alta appeared to be a shoo-in for the New York City program.

Meanwhile, critics of how the city has handled the bike share program are questioning whether Alta has adequate insurance to cover the damage to the equipment caused by Sandy.

"I'd say expect more delay and more shrinkage of scope," said Norman Steisel, a former deputy mayor under David Dinkins who has sued the city over a bike lane in Brooklyn but supports the idea of bike shares. "Given its problem-plagued history to date in New York City and elsewhere, Alta has proved itself to be unqualified to carry out the program." He said that "sufficient grounds exist to declare the firm in default."

"This important and highly desirable restructuring of our street network should be started  over — this time with proper legally required input of the City Council by exercise of its franchise granting authority," said the government policy expert in an email to Gotham Gazette.

(Steisel has earned the ire of many in  today's cycling advocacy community, because of his vocal opposition to an additional bike lane in Brooklyn's Prospect Park – but he told Gotham Gazette that he thinks bike shares and lanes are "all fabulous ideas," but doesn't agree how they've been implemented.)

Alta is listed in the official contract as the sole owner of the New York City Bike share or NYCBS. According to the city's contract, if the city has reason to believe the bike share contractor is in poor fiscal health, and that that the financial woes might impact its ability to perform its duties, DOT can request a full accounting of its finances.

For the record, Alta has fiercly maintained an official separate identity as a company apart from Bixi or the publicly-funded PBSC.

But since PBSC/Bixi is the exclusive supplier of bikes and technology for Alta, it stands to reason that if there is no PBSC/Bixi, then Alta will certainly be facing an existential crisis.

As recently as this past fall, Bixi announced that it did not bring in the revenue it had projected for this past year. Its deficit was due to delays in getting the bike-share programs up and running in cities like New York, according to the Montreal auditor general's office.

New York City's Department of Transportation did not respond to questions about whether the bike share has sufficient insurance to cover damage to the equipment or whether the financial troubles facing Bixi might be a cause for concern.

Bixi spokesman Michel Philibert said the Canadian company had no comment .  He instead referred all questions to Alta, which has not responded to repeated requests for comment from Gotham Gazette since the bike share was delayed this past summer.

In previous comments to Gotham Gazette before Friday's announcement of the new delay, Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the DOT, said the bike share would someday bring New Yorkers a new, affordable transportation option at no cost to taxpayers and with profits shared with the city — emphasizing that the structure of the deal guarantees that there will be no city outlay to support the system.  

On Friday, the DOT said Sandy's storm surge in late October flooded Brooklyn's Navy Yard, where "two-thirds" of the bike share's equipment was being stored, causing damage to bike frames and hardware.

“Despite the damage, New York will have the nation’s largest bike share system up and running this spring," said DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, in a statement.

Andrew Brent, a spokesman for the main corporate sponsor, Citi Bank, said Friday that they were still committed to the New York City program in spite of the delays.

LACK OF TRANSPARENCY

Much of the outcry about the delays with the eagerly awaited program has been due to a dearth of information about its progress coming from either DOT officials or the various companies involved in its stewardship.

But the concerns about transparency are not just in New York City. In Montreal, city officials there are also frustrated about the lack of information about how the Bixi program — and, thus, Montreal taxpayers — benefits from its international activities.

"The whole Bixi adventure has been characterized by a lack of transparency. There have been transparency issues with both the administration of the local arm and the administration of the program in other cities," said Sarah Gagnon-Turcotte, political operative for City Councilor Louise Harel, cabinet of the chief opposition party in Montreal.

Turcotte, who is in charge of the Bixi probe, said she did not know how far along BIXI was in the sale process. But she said that the contract binding BIXI and Alta "could be part" of any sale.

Turcotte said they hadn't been able to obtain information on the consolidated activities of PBSC in Montreal and other cities and how it impacts the local organization that is backed with Montrealers’ money.

"We have been very vocal on this front, but it seems to be part of the culture of the party in power," she said, referring to the administration of former Mayor Gerald Tremblay, who resigned Nov. 5, following allegations of corruption. Tremblay had been Bixi's biggest booster.

A FORECAST FINANCIAL STORM

There were plenty of red flags about the financial situation facing Bixi for any official in New York City to weigh into any decision regarding giving Bixi's U.S. partner, Alta, the concession.

A 2011 report from the City of Montreal's auditor general brought to light the fact that the city of Montreal was not in conformity with Quebec law, which states that a city can't be using public money for commercial activity — which it has done in several cities with the bike share.

Montreal's municipal auditor report also said that Bixi had launched without a comprehensive business plan employing “questionable accounting treatments,” and had “neglected” rules of management.

Later, when a rescue plan of $108 million was designed in which the city of Montreal would lend $35 million to Bixi, Quebec's government demanded first that the city follow the auditor's recommendation and make sure it was in conformity with the law. It wasn’t clear at the time, but a sale was just an option, not an obligation in itself.

That point had since been clarified before the sale process began. Regardless, the city has gone ahead anyway and requested PBSC to sell its international arm.

PBSC/Bixi is also being sued by a software company that had developed the original software that ran its payment terminals, solar energy control and other elements of the bike share systems it sold to cities in theU.S. PBSC/Bixi ditched the software company and began to develop its own solutions from the ground up, which contributed to the delay in New York City.

Former Montreal Mayor Tremblay had maintained his support for keeping the international arm, saying in a press release this past June  that "international activities such as New York and other US cities finance the local bike-share system in Montreal."

The May 2011 financial package that the City of Montreal had put together included a $37 million loan with $71 million in loan and credit-line guarantees to expand the international arm in places such as New York. At the same time, the Canadian press was having a field day reporting on financial troubles facing Alta's supplier.  

HOW WAS ALTA PICKED FOR NYC'S BIKE SHARE?

According to language in the New York bike share RFP, initial proposals were evaluated by an evaluation committee. That committee was assisted by technical advisors who may have included representatives from other city agencies and public entities.

The technical evaluation accounted for the initial ranking, which narrowed all the bidders down to three companies who were then shortlisted for further evaluation of their business models.

At 35 percent, "demonstrated financial capability" was the single biggest determining factor for the short list, followed by proposed levels of  investment to capitalize the system; value of the system services provided to the public; and the amount of revenue offered to the city.

Ross Sandler, director for the Center for New York City Law at the New York Law School, (who has not read and is not familiar with the the bike share RFP or contract) explained that the term "demonstrated financial capability" is simply a legal term of art. It basically means the bidding company needs to be able to fulfill the terms of the contract. He said the city can ask for whatever it wants to determine a competing bidder company's financial health.

"That bidder has to demonstrate that it's responsible," Sandler said. "One of the aspects of being responsible is having the financial wherewithall to carry out the contract."

But, he said the decision about whether a bidder is responsible is within the city's discretion. Sandler explained that there are a wide range of factors the city can look at when making that determination, including its past performance.  

In September 2011, the city's DOT named Alta the vendor for what was set to be the nation's largest bike share program.

____

Cody Lyon is an avid New York City cyclist and freelance journalist for TechPresident, Wine Enthusiast, the Real Deal and the Biz Journals.

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clyon@gothamgazette.com (Cody Lyon) Transportation Mon, 10 Dec 2012 04:44:33 +0000
How The City Council Plans to Rein In the 'Wild West' of Pedicabs: A Policy Brief http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/2134-how-the-city-council-plans-to-rein-in-the-wild-west-of-pedicabs-a-policy-brief http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/2134-how-the-city-council-plans-to-rein-in-the-wild-west-of-pedicabs-a-policy-brief pedicab-fee-bill

NEW YORK — Too many tourists are being taken for a ride by pedicab drivers charging excessive fees, city officials say.

After one vacationing couple made tabloid headlines for being scammed into paying over $400 for a 12-minute pedicab ride, City Council members introduced a bill aimed at stopping such exorbitant fees. The new bill is on its way to being voted on by the City Council at tomorrow's stated meeting.

While the case of the $400 pedicab ride is extreme, the bill's sponsor, Councilman Dan Garodnick, said today at a committee hearing that the "outrageous fares" are not uncommon throughout Central Park and Times Square, an area he calls "Mid-town's Wild West." Tourists often begin a pedicab ride with the expectation of paying $30 to $40, when at the finish they end up paying anywhere from $90 to $15, he said.

The bill calls for making it impossible for pedicab drivers to stack on any added fees.

CONTEXT

Intro. 0597 - 2011 is part of an amendment to a local law to the administrative code of the city of New York and was debated in the Committee on Consumer Affairs. It is designed to eliminate confusing pedicab rates and fees and to simplify what the committee's chair, Garodnick, describes as having become "predatory business practices."

HOW IT WILL AFFECT NEW YORKERS

This bill aims to make it mandatory for pedicab drivers to use a timer during all rides, fastened within clear view of the passengers. It would also require that pedicabs charge a per minute rate only and to post the rate on the side of the pedicab.

Information cards must be supplied to all passengers listing the per minute rate, along with the name and license number of the pedicab driver as well. There will be no more hidden fees, surcharges, taxes, or mandatory gratuity added on to the final cost.

WHO DID WHAT?

The bill is being sponsored by Garodnick and is backed by the city council committee on consumer affairs, including city Councilman Charles Barron and Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras.

Councilman G. Oliver Koppell said he believes the issue would be better handled under the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission, as pedicabs are now to be priced the same way regular taxicabs are.

The New York City Pedicab Owners' Association has endorsed the bill, saying it will help the sector to maintain a good reputation.

The Department of Consumer Affairs, which would be responsible for developing a "pedicab information card" that would display basic consumer protection information, has supported the bill.

NEXT STEPS

The bill was approved at today's committee meeting and goes to the full Council hearing tomorrow.

REFERENCE

View Intro. 0597 - 2011 Legislation Text and Details

Committee on Consumer Affairs report on pedicab fares, Nov. 26, 2012

____

Image by Kevin H., used under Creative Commons license.

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csalazar@gothamgazette.com (Cristian Salazar) Transportation Tue, 27 Nov 2012 02:26:54 +0000
Taxi Smartphone Apps Seen As Threat to Street Hails http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/1455-apps-for-hailing-cabs-seen-as-threat-to-industry-hallmark http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/1455-apps-for-hailing-cabs-seen-as-threat-to-industry-hallmark wirelesscab-lg

NEW YORK — Smartphone apps that allow passengers to hail yellow taxis could divide the city into those who can afford to pay a premium to get a ride and those who cannot, elected officials argue.

A number of companies are looking to break into the yellow cab industry with smartphone apps that would let New Yorkers hail a taxi without having to wave one down on the street. But yellow cabs are banned from making prearranged pickups, raising questions about the legality of hailing apps. Drivers of yellow cabs also aren't supposed to use electronic devices while in transit.

At an oversight hearing yesterday, members of the City Council also questioned whether smartphone apps were necessary or even fair.

"We cannot have a two-tiered taxi system in this city, where people with money pay a premium to get a cab, and the rest of us are left out," said City Councilman James Vacca, chairman of the transportation committee, during the hearing.

He said the use of smartphone apps to hail taxis could "change the game for passengers on the street" because drivers could refuse service to pedestrians and blame it on an "app call" — especially if it meant a ride that would be more profitable.

"How are we not to think that cab drivers won't respond to those using apps because there will be a higher fare?" he said later in an interview with Gotham Gazette. "If we allow those with apps to be charged more for a cab rider, then how are people who are going to hail going to be treated equally?"

He said that could be a particularly pernicious problem in the outer boroughs, where yellow cabs are rare and residents might be less likely to own smartphones.

"It could pose a have and have-not dilemma, which I would not encourage," he said. "There has to be an assessment of how we prevent that from occurring."

The use of new technology in cabs is one of Vacca's key policy priorities this fall as chairman of the transportation committee, particularly legislation (Intro. 599) to make the credit card payment system in yellow taxis accessible to people with visual impairments. Advocates testified at the oversight hearing in support of the bill.

"I want to make a contribution. You know, my father was blind for the last 30 years of his life," Vacca said.

But it was the question of whether to allow hailing from smartphone apps that some Council members saw as having the potential to upend the way that yellow cabs have traditionally been required to do business — by picking up passengers who flag them from the street.

"There's a reason why we don't allow you to use a telephone to call a cab. That's because we want cabs on the street to be available to be hailed," said Councilman G. Oliver Koppell to Ashwini Chhabra, a deputy commissioner of Taxi & Limousine Commission who was at the hearing representing the agency that regulates the city's more than 13,000 medallion cabs.

Chhabra made the point that he didn't personally see the purpose of smartphone apps for getting a cab. "For me it's just as easy to go outside now and stick my hand out and get one," he said, but added that consumers should have the option if they wanted it.

Koppell said the use of apps could potentially destroy the use of street hails. "I think this whole idea of allowing you to call is frustrating one of the hallmarks of New York, which is just like you said, that most of the time you can hail a cab," he said.

Livery cabs, the black cars that are popular in the outer boroughs where yellow cabs rarely appear, are allowed to respond to calls and have already begun using some types of smartphone software, Chhabra said.

In testifying at the hearing, he said the TLC was keen to revisit the issue of whether to allow "e-hailing" apps and promulgate rules, seeing potential in the software to improve the experience in riding in cabs for passengers and to help drivers increase the number of hails. Rules could be issued as early as October (separately, he said the agency had put out an RFP calling for companies interested in developing payment software for mobile devices.)

The legal limbo for taxi apps hasn’t stopped a number of entrepreneurial companies flush with cash from making plans to enter the New York City market.

One of these companies, Hailo, became operational in the city six months ago after successful launches in London and Dublin. In London alone, the company says it has signed up 30 percent of the city's 23,000 cabbies. And the company has big ambitions for North America, where it also plans to expand in Toronto, Chicago and Boston.

Jay Bregman, CEO and founder of the company, said the idea of Hailo is to “complement” street hails by creating more opportunities for drivers by filling in those hours when they are roaming for passengers. “We are not trying to dominate the driver's day,” he said, adding that, in London, street hails "have not been affected at all."

Hailo's model works by getting cabbies to register as members of its exclusive network, which, in the case of New York, passengers will have to pay an upfront fee to access. Bregman said the fee is collected outside the cost that shows up on the meter.

"What we aim to do is provide services where a proprietary network has access to really great drivers," he said. "That's one of the great compliments people say in London — that hail seems like a better drive than you can usually get."

He said that 3,500 taxi drivers had pre-registered to be part of its network in New York City.

In his testimony at the hearing, Chhabra said that the TLC conducted a survey in the back seat of taxis in recent months and found that almost 70 percent of passengers own a smartphone. He said 50 to 60 percent responded that they wanted to hail taxis with their smartphones. He did not say how many people responded to the survey.

But he said there were other reasons why these services could provide positive improvements for customers.

"They may assist passengers late at night when there are fewer taxis cruising," he said. "They may also serve to reduce driver reluctance to take trips out of Manhattan, if drivers think these apps can provide them with a greater prospect of finding a passenger for the return trip."

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csalazar@gothamgazette.com (Cristian Salazar) Transportation Thu, 20 Sep 2012 05:13:06 +0000
The Drama Behind the Bike Share Delay http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/1435-why-the-bike-share-software-doesnt-work http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/1435-why-the-bike-share-software-doesnt-work altashare-lg


NEW YORK — The firm picked by the city to run what is meant to be the nation's largest bicycle share program has been dogged by questions about how it got a contract to run a similar system in Chicago, while its partner is being sued by a key software developer.

City officials announced last week that the much-anticipated bike share program would be delayed from its expected roll-out this summer to March 2013. Mayor Michael Bloomberg blamed the system’s software. “The software doesn’t work. Duh,” Bloomberg said on his radio show. “We’re not going to put it out until it does work.”

There may be a good reason why the software doesn’t work: It’s unfinished. According to the city official in charge of the recently launched bike share program in Chattanooga, Tenn., which uses the same platform, the software is undergoing “ongoing development.”

"There's still work to be done — features to be added — and that's where we are at the current time," said Philip Pugliese, of Bike Chattanooga.

Chattanooga's program only involves 30 bike stations and 300 bicycles. In New York, plans originally sold to the public called for 10,000 bikes at several hundred stations.  

Pugliese said that while the Chattanooga system is operational and the software is able to complete transactions, there is a delay in the time it takes for transactions to be completed.

"The software probably wasn't robust enough to complete transactions in an operation your size," he said, referring to New York City.

Portland, Ore.-based Alta Bicycle Share, which was awarded the contracts for both Chattanooga and New York City, did not respond to emails and calls requesting comment for this story.

In September 2011, the city awarded the contract for the bicycle share program to Alta, which had worked with its Canadian-based partner, Public Bike Share System Company, to successfully deploy similar systems in Washington, D.C., Boston and elsewhere. Four months later, PBSC ditched the software that provided critical technology for the system and began developing its own.

"To this day, we don't understand, why are you doing this? You can not just remove the heart and the brain," said Isabelle Bettez, president and CEO of Montreal-based 8D Technologies Inc., which developed the original software for the bike share program.

She said that it appeared that Alta Bike Share and PBSC were selling the infrastructure 8D developed to Chicago and New York — and then attempting to install something entirely different as if it didn't matter. She claimed the 8D technology solution comprised over 60 percent of the total bike share system infrastructure — from payment security and wireless solutions to the solar panels that power the kiosks.

"New York would be up and running now without any flaws,” she continued. “We shouldn't even be talking about this now.”

This past April, 8D Technologies filed a $26 million lawsuit against PBSC for ending their relationship and hiring an American firm to develop new software for the systems in Chattanooga, New York and Chicago. PBSC countersued for $2.5 million, saying 8D overbilled for its products. PBSC didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The American firm that PBSC hired, Hopkinton, Mass.-based Personica Inc., also did not return calls or email messages requesting comment.

Alta Bicycle Share was supposed to have had at least 1,000 bikes on New York City’s streets on or before July 31, according to its contract with the city. Unlike most other Alta cities, taxpayers aren't on the hook for the costs of the program, thanks to sponsor Citibank, which ponied up $41 million to get the program rolling.

Still, the much-hyped program has been a topic of discussion, debate and now scrutiny as New York's greenest mayor ever makes bold attempts to turn the city into a bike-friendly utopia.

In an August 17 Wall Street Journal interview, New York Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan suggested that the city was surprised by the problems with the bicycle share software. "We thought that there would be a substantial transfer of the Washington/Boston software capabilities, not a total rewrite, which is why we thought a July launch was feasible," Ms. Sadik-Khan said. "But it turned out it's not just a software upgrade."

In April 2012, the Chicago City Council approved a plan to hire Alta for that city's bike share program. Like New York, the Chicago program has been delayed until next year.  But unlike New York, city officials in the Windy City are not attributing the delay to technology.

"Our program didn't really have any software issues or anything like that," said Tom Alexander, a spokesman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, adding that he didn’t know whether the software that would be used in Chicago was the same as New York City’s.

Instead, he attributed the delay in Chicago to a need for more planning and the advent of winter, when cycling is more difficult. "We just felt like we needed a bit more time to make sure all the infrastructure was in place,” he said.

Bike Chicago, which lost out to Alta for the contract to set up a bike share in the Windy City, called the mayor’s office’s excuse for the delay “spin.”

"Alta/PBSC are clearly over-extended and the $28 million lawsuit from 8D has created a very serious problem for them,” said Bike Chicago’s Josh Squire. "Without the software they have no product to sell, and their contracts should be canceled.”

He said Alta and its partner had lied. “They made it sound like they are upgrading software when, in fact, they are developing new software from scratch.... It could take up to two years to get it right,” he said.

The Chicago inspector general’s office is also looking into allegations of misconduct in the selection of Alta during the procurement process, according to local press reports.

Among the allegations is that the city’s transportation commissioner received a $10,000 consulting fee from Alta to evaluate a bike share system in New York shortly before his appointment by Emanuel last spring.

According to an April 30 report from Crain's Chicago Business-Chicago's bike-share request for proposals was written by Jeremy Pomp, a Chicago Department of Transportation intern who was reportedly a former Alta consultant. Almost immediately after the internship, Pomp was hired by Alta to head the company’s effort in Chattanooga. Calls to Pomp's office in Chattanooga were not returned by press time.

Jonathan Davey, a spokesman for the inspector general’s office, told the Gotham Gazette that by law he was prohibited from commenting on any ongoing investigation, but said the agency had not disputed earlier reports of the investigation into Emanuel's Department of Transportation. "We didn't issue any denial,” he said. “Make of that what you want."

Alta Bicycle Share was founded in 2010 as a partnership of Portland, Ore.-based Alta Planning & Design, which designs bike lanes and parks, and BIXI, the commercial unit of PBSC.

PBSC was set up as a nonprofit in 2007 by the Canadian taxpayer-funded parking authority of Montreal to create a modular bicycle sharing system for the city. PBSC then launched BIXI in 2009 to expand the model into cities such as Washington D.C., and London.

But by 2011, PBSC was in financial trouble, so the City of Montreal provided a $37 million loan and guaranteed $71 million in credit.  

The Montreal Gazette reported Aug. 7 that PBSC had projected $91 million in revenue for its 2011 financial report, $83.6 million of that from international sales. New York accounted for the biggest part of PBSC’s sales, although the company didn't see the revenue.

PBSC instead reported $32 million in revenue, $27 million of that from international sales. If the company had delivered its bikes to Chicago and New York this year, it would have made an additional $67 million in revenue.

Canadian press reports show that, in July, the City of Montreal's auditor said that under the city charter, PBSC had no legal right to be in a commercial enterprise through BIXI. The auditor wrote that "basic elements of management were neglected, including risk and cost-benefit analyses and allowance for a financial margin of error.”

Around that same time, The New York Post reported that it had discovered through a Freedom of Information Act request that Alta Bicycle Share had asked Citibank to speed up payments of $3.5 million in case the New York system was delayed until spring and runs out of cash.

In an email message, Andrew Brent, a spokesman for Citibank, said that "even on questions about sponsorship financing, we’ve nothing to say at the moment."

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clyon@gothamgazette.com (Cody Lyon) Transportation Wed, 22 Aug 2012 05:00:00 +0000
MTA willing to evaluate integrated fares for subways, bike sharing http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/1413-mta-bikes-subways http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/1413-mta-bikes-subways

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Workers install a dock to model how the city's bike share program would work, 2011.


NEW YORK – In the near future, subway riders may be able to use their fare cards to check out a bike from hundreds of nearby docking stations.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it is open to evaluating ways to integrate fare payment with the city's bike share program as it moves toward a wireless, smart card-based system by 2015, agency spokesman Aaron Donovan said in a recent interview.

The smart card will be based on an open payment system that will allow customers to simply tap and go at a turnstile with their own credit or debit cards.  

The city's bike share program -- which promises to put 10,000 bikes that can be checked out on the streets in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens -- is expected to begin rolling out this summer. Officials have said the program will likely begin in early August.

Department of Transportation spokesman Nicholas Mosquera said that in other cities, up to 50 percent of bike share trips are connections to other modes of transit.

But he said while he expects to see the same here, the DOT is currently not working on fare payment integration at this time. "We look forward to exploring it in the future," Mosquera said.

The Paris Region Transit Authority currently issues a tap-and-go fare card called Navigo that makes it possible to pay for the city's VĂ©lib’ bike share system as well as other means of transportation.

"Users can then just show up at any station and take out a bike from a docking station without having to go through any other process: you simply select a bike, swipe your card over the card reader and wait for the green light and signal to release your bike," said Albert Asséra-Directeur, strategy and marketing director for JC Decaux in Paris.

Valeau said the transit authority has allowed JCDecaux’s infrastructure and systems to recognize particular transit cards. Each system is otherwise independent.

The Smart Card Alliance, a non-profit association that works to stimulate the widespread application of smart card technology, said it backs a similar plan for New York City.

Executive Director Randy Vanderhoof said he could foresee a Paris-like situation where the Alta-run bike share accounts could be linked to a card issued by the MTA.  

That way, people who use both services would have a common way to check in and check out of both systems, he said.

The widespread use of such technology will also be spurred, in part, by a new initiative backed by the major credit card issuers requiring all U.S. banks to switch over to smart cards by 2015. "Soon, everyone will have a card that they can use in open payments systems like the MTA and the bike share program," Vanderhoof said.

Mosquera said New York City's bike share program is designed to provide sufficient bike share capacity at transit hubs, allowing riders to transfer quickly from bike other modes or vice versa.  

He said the bike share stations extend the reach of the transit system, making distant parts of neighborhoods easily accessible from subway stations.

"The system will be perfectly suited to any potential fare integration," Mosquera said.

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clyon@gothamgazette.com (Cody Lyon) Transportation Tue, 17 Jul 2012 02:12:38 +0000
City set to begin rolling out nation's largest bike share program http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/1412-bike-share-program http://www.gothamgazette.com/transportation/1412-bike-share-program

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Photo courtesy the New York City Department of Transportation


NEW YORK – On a recent Sunday afternoon at the outdoor flea market along the Williamsburg, Brooklyn waterfront two blue bikes splashed with the Citibank logo stood under a tent awaiting riders.

As hundreds of people walked among the flea market vendors, a few peeked in to check out the cycles. One guy said the bikes "ride pretty smooth."  

The unisex, 3-speed, bell-and-light-laden upright bikes were being demoed to give New Yorkers a chance to try out the city's big bike share before it gets up and running later this summer.

Once it has been completely rolled out, the program will likely be the largest of its kind in the nation – and New York City will have finally joined other cities in the U.S. and in Europe, where such systems have been around for years.

If the $41 million program makes it in the city, it could potentially transform the way that New Yorkers get around the metropolis with hundreds of thousands of new bike trips being taken each year.

But will the Big Apple's collective psyche shift from the bike being perceived as a tool of recreation and exercise to that of a more utilitarian or alternative form of public transit?

Will it be safe, in a city that is notoriously peevish toward cyclers?

Simply put, will the share program usher in broader acceptance of the bike?

Josh Moskowitz, project director for the Capital Bike Share program at the Washington D.C. Department of Transportation, has no doubt that the answer to that question is an "unequivocal yes."

"We've seen daily bike trips in D.C. grow from 3,600 rides per day in 2011 to 6,800 rides per day so far this year," Moskowitz said, adding that DC commuters often jump on bikes near subway stations to complete their jaunts to work.

A NEW FLEET OF PUBLIC BIKES

New York's  24-hour-a-day program, known as Citi Bike Share, will eventually include 10,000 bikes and 600 bike-docking stations throughout parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

The solar-powered, wireless docking stations will be located on sidewalks, curbside road spaces, plazas and other locations suggested through a community-driven process.

Each station can accommodate between 15 and 60 bikes. They are self-contained and require no utility connections. Installation can be completed in minutes.

Oregon-based Alta Bike Share will be running the system and splitting profits with the city.

Annual memberships cost $95. There will also be price options for day and weekly memberships. Members must be at least 16 years old and are entitled to unlimited use of the system for individual bike trips of up to 45 minutes.

It is generally assumed that, like the D.C. program, Citi Bike will likely be used primarily for short trips. The DOT says around 54 percent of all "trips" taken within the city are between two points less than two miles apart.

And although City Comptroller John Liu recently raised concern regarding potential liability issues from bike share accidents, DOT spokesman Nicholas Mosquera said the bike share contract indemnifies the city from claims.

"The city has no additional exposure related to the bike share," he said. "Other bike share cities have not had claims either."

The nonprofit Transportation Alternatives, which advocates for better bicycling, walking and public transit, had been advocating for a bike share program in New York for years.

The group even conducted focus groups before talking to the DOT and city planning officials. Efforts for a large-scale bike share were based in great part on the belief that such a program would lead to a more bike-centric New York City, much like the situation the group had witnessed during a visit to Paris in 2008.  

Most of Paris' 273 miles of bike lanes within the 40.7-square-mile city were built after 2001. But, eventually, transportation officials realized that most Parisians simply didn't get what the lanes were for.

"They didn't have a culture for commuter cyclists," said Caroline Samponaro, director of bicycle advocacy at Transportation Alternatives.  

Since 2007, when the bike share program was introduced, the City of Paris has seen a 41 percent increase in the number of cyclists on its streets. A recent proposal before the Paris City Council called for expansion of the bike lane network to 435 miles.

Samponaro thinks the city could see a similar reaction.

"Given its geography, the distance of our trips thanks to high density, New York City has the potential to be the biking capital of the world," she said.

She reasoned that when you don't have a bike, and you see all the new bike lanes you may wonder, hey, what does this have to do with me?  What's the point of this? But suddenly with the bike share, observers who may not have cycled in the city before will experience eureka moments where they realize that they too can use the bike lanes.

The city is committed to having 1,800 bike lane miles on streets, parks and paths by 2030, according to a 2012 Department of Finance briefing paper. The DOT plans to install 50 lane miles each year until the citywide network is complete. The 2012 DOT fiscal budget includes over $6 million – mostly federal funding – to expand the network.

But Samponaro said one key to full saturation of all those lanes might be the full integration of the bike share with public transit. A key model is the Paris bike share, Velib.

The program has six bike stations around each of the city's 385 metro stops, according to Thomas Valeau, who was in charge of the bicycle project in Paris for JCDecaux, the vendor that runs the program there.

Valeau, who now manages customer relations for 14 similar programs in cities across France, said the Paris system made for a very dense network.

"Many customers use our bikes for going to work, and take a bike in the morning for going to the closest metro, then take the metro and/or finish their trip by bike or walk to their final destination," Valeau said.

BIKE SAFETY

Perhaps the biggest obstacle standing in the way of fully tipping New York's collective psyche towards cycling are the perceptions that is unsafe.

That includes safety for bicyclists, as well as the safety of pedestrians.

Between October and December 2011, 26 pedestrians were injured in crashes with bicyclists; six bicyclists were injured in those incidents, according to DOT data from June obtained by Transportation Alternatives. In the same period of time, 4,336 bicyclists and pedestrians were injured by drivers. That means that, for every 356 injuries caused by car crashes, one pedestrian or bicyclist was injured in a bicycle-pedestrian crash.

But the DOT statistics also show the number of New York cyclists quadrupled over the last decade. During that time, the rate of risk to cyclists was down by 75 percent.

Still, New York bike lanes are pocked with hazards in certain parts of town. As any cyclist will lament after a rush hour trip down a bike path on Broadway between 42nd and 14th streets, the green strips clearly marked for bikes often turn into sidewalks, filled with talking, texting or camera-wielding pedestrians.  That, coupled with occasional errant delivery men on bikes heading the wrong way or a car that turns in front of a cyclist, the lanes can be rife with potentially hazardous situations.

In 2010, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer released an informal study called “Respect the Path, Clear the Lane” that found 1,781 bike lane blockages and other infractions during morning and evening rush hours at 11 Manhattan locations.  

Observers from Stringer's office charted 741 instances of pedestrians encroaching upon bike lanes, including over 275 occurrences of motor vehicle blockages, among them police cars and school buses.  The study also found 242 cyclists riding the wrong way in a bike lane; 237 cyclists riding through red lights; and 42 instances where cyclists rode on the sidewalk on streets with a bike lane.

Stringer's office hasn't collected data on bike lane congestion since the 2010 study, though a spokeswoman said the office knows from recent reports that safety issues related to cycling continue to be a concern for New Yorkers.

At a February 2012 City Council hearing on traffic enforcement, the executive officer of the NYPD Transportation Bureau, Deputy Chief John Cassidy, said the police issued 48,556 summonses to bicyclists in 2011. The Department only issued about half that number, 25,000 tickets to truck drivers.

The NYPD did not respond to repeated requests by phone and email for comment.

"It is a fact in major urban areas that less people opt to ride simply because they do not feel safe," said Ryan Zagata, founder of  bike company Brooklyn Cruiser.

But he said education is critical. Zagata also said cyclists have an obligation to obey all traffic laws, as if they were driving a vehicle  – and that includes riding with traffic as well as stopping at all stop signs and lights.

Jim Brown, communications director for the California Bicycle Coalition, said with all the new cyclists or cyclist trips each day on city streets, the new bike share program has the potential to eliminate at least some hazards since more bikers on the road ultimately affect traffic speed and pedestrian patterns.

"It's well understood that increased bicycle ridership correlates to a lower incidence of collision between cars and bikes," Brown said.

Still, he said in places like New York that are making fast strides with bike planning, it may still take time for cyclists, drivers and pedestrians to figure out how to share the road effectively.

For its part, the DOT said it continuously works with the NYPD on cyclist safety in general and it did so during the planning of the bike-share program as well.

In one list of rules from the DOT, taxi cabs drivers are told it is illegal to drive, stop or park in a bike lane and punishable with a $115 fine. Drivers are cautioned that  "dooring" – opening of doors onto a bike lane – can be fatal. And drivers are expected to yield to cyclists when turning.

As Transportation Alternative's Samponaro noted, the streets haven't been so fundamentally changed in close to 50 years.  She said the bike share will show New Yorkers whether or not biking is something that makes good sense to them.

"People are used to doing things a certain way but pedestrian lanes, dedicated bus lanes and safe bike lanes are all essential to keeping the city moving forward, " she said.

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clyon@gothamgazette.com (Cody Lyon) Transportation Mon, 16 Jul 2012 05:00:00 +0000