Sunday, December 27, 2015

New NYCT President starts Monday - an open blog post.

Tomorrow, Veronique “Ronnie” Hakim will start her first day as the 8th permanent President of MTA NYC Transit.  She returns to the MTA family after serving a brief stint at NJ Transit and enter a fragmented time where the MTA and NYC Transit are in the midst of rebuilding the nations largest  urban transportation network from Superstorm Sandy as well as coping with dwindling on-time performance in the subways due to record high ridership, work programs, and equipment malfunctions.    As Ms. Hakim starts to lead the ship abandoned by the last NYCT President, Carmen Bianco earlier this year, I wish her great success in 2016.

That said, I am making an open blog post (like an open letter) to Ms. Hakim about some suggestions to improve the customer's perception of MTA NYC Transit.

1. Improve on-time performance and scheduling.  That is most obvious given that some lines such as the 2, 4, 5 and 6 lines have below 50 percent on-time performance.  Page 31 of the November MTA NYC Transit Committee Meeting document shows these lines have poor weekday on-time performance.  On weekends, only the 2, 4 and F lines have below 50 percent O/T performance.  (The best explanation why the 5 line has a much better 71 percent on-time performance is probably because the line had some Bronx only shuttle train service scheduled on certain weekends or if the line ran the entire length to Bowling Green, then some weekends were at 20 minute intervals.  Using platform controllers as well as better response times to trains involved in minor incidents might help.  Of course I am not an expert as to how NYC Transit should improve on-time performance but I do know that no more trains can be added during rush hours due to constraints in system capacity.  But with the recent rash of equipment failures like signals going on the blink almost very day or the gap fillers at the Downtown side of 14th Street-Union Square on the 4/5/6 lines are not working properly - - and these gap fillers were replaced this year - - then it's time for NYCT to stop purchasing cheap equipment which continues to break down.

2.  Improve customer information and communications:  That is one of my biggest issues - - you cannot have inaccurate information hereherehere and here,  Oh yes, did I remind you that the MTA Weekender pages still have the Bronx House of Detention and other errors after all these years?  As for train announcements, you cannot say transfer to the 7 train if that line is not running in Manhattan on any given weekend (except for a shuttle train between Times Square and 34th-Hudson Yards)  So if te MTA NYC Transit announces a weekend A/C Cranberry tube shutdown, then there is absolutely no reason why I should hear the A/C transfer on 2/3/4/5 trains at Fulton Street (I cannot vouch for the J train as I have yet to ride any during the Cranberry Tube shutdown).   Same goes for a bus line - - I should not be hearing a "Transfer to the Bx41 SBS" at Gun Hill Road at 10 PM when the last Bx 41 SBS left the intermodal terminal an hour ago.  /  

3.  Improve customer service and response:  One thing NYC Transit loves to do is to answer customer's concerns with form letters - - a letter with "we will take care of this" which they end up not doing anything at all.  Nothing ticks a customer off than getting a form letter as a reply - - they should reach out via email directly to the customer and see how this matter can be resolved that way.  Most people have email accounts so this is a cost effective way in taking care of customer's concerns.  Other people who don't have computer access can still receive letters the old fashioned method. 

4.  Reach out to customers in person:  Former NYCT President Alan Keipper ran the system from 1990 to 1996 and during his tenure, he took a hands-on approach in the system's day-to-day operations.  Mr. Keipper would hold forums at specific subway stops, usually about once or twice a month and during the weekday PM rush hour - - listening to customer's concerns and directing the appropriate issue to a senior NYCT manager,  I attended a few of these meetings, once at 168th Street  A/C station and another at 205th Street on the D for example.  Reach out and hear what customers are talking - - social media such as Facebook and Twitter have made a positive impact in improving customer service but sometimes there is nothing like the old fashioned way of face to face interaction.  

And lastly, ride the system - - see what is being done right and what is done wrong.  Whatever you see that is wrong, try to see if there is a way to fix it without being cost-prohibitive. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Avenue X station renewal work complete and other NYC Transit errors.

Today, MTA New York City issued a press release with the title "Avenue X F Line Station Renewal Completed".  The title implies that the renewal work at the Avenue X station on the F line in Brooklyn is complete and all would be left are the finishing touches.  You would think NYCT's contractor completed work on this station.  

But the Avenue X station is only about 50 percent finished.  Not even close to be done.

The details on the press release are clear that on Monday morning (12/28) at 5 AM the Manhattan-bound side on Avenue X station will reopen.  As anyone who works and/or lives in this area, the Coney Island bound side is yet to be done - - that requires a full closure of this platform which is yet to be announced.  Has anyone at NYCT bothered to proofread this PR before the majority of the NYC area press receives this?  

Other mistakes I encountered on the MTA website are as follows:  

1.  The S89 and S93 Limited bus routes don't operate on December 26 (a Saturday) anyway.   

2.  Pelham Bay Park ADA elevator closure needs to be updated - - you cannot transfer between 4 and 6 trains at 125th Street due to these elevators are being closed for replacement on Jan. 8 (also see below)

3, 125th Street elevator outage on Jan 8, 2016 - - no access to Simpson St 2/5 station because these elevators are being replaced too,.  Also the Bx19 bus stop on Westchester Ave and Southern Blvd is too far away from the Hunts Point Ave 6 line station.   The correct location is around the Southern Blvd and Hunts Point Ave area.  

Errors makes us human - - that's why NYCT needs to proofread their work before posting.  

Friday, December 18, 2015

Diallo cop gets promoted - - where's his apology to the Diallo family?

Kenneth Boss, one of the 4 officers who shot and killed Armadou Diallo when they mistook his wallet for a gun on the 1100 block of Wheeler Ave in the Bronx on Feb 4, 1999, was promoted to NYPD Sergeant yesterday.  Of course this infuriated Diallo's mom, Kadiatou Diallo and reopened old wound between NYPD and minorities.  Let's get one thing clear, Boss was promoted by Civili Serviced rules where he took the NYPD Sergeant's exam, passed it, and was later pulled off from the eligible list.  There is nothing anyone can do under NY State Civil Service Law to prevent anyone from being promoted.   And I am a proponent of Civil Service.  

However, it appears that Boss is not really interested in his mea culpa or apology to the Diallo family.  In 2003, Kenneth Boss claims that he didn't find any time in his "busy" schedule in apologizing to the Diallo family for that tragedy (since a jury in Albany found the 4 officers not guilty of all counts, we will refer this as a tragedy, given they received due process of the law.) - - and to this day, he still refuses to apologize to the Diallo family.   But he found a lot of time to file NY State and Federal lawsuits against the NYPD to get his gun back, not to mention pleading with three police commissioners before  the last Commissioner, Raymond Kelly, gave Boss his gun back in 2012. Boy, you can't just have a press conference or meet with Diallo's mom to man up and apologize cause you couldn't find the time to do so but you wanted everything else that's good for your restoration of your career with the NYPD.    Maybe you don't understand what Diallo's mom is going through for nearly 16 years - - a $3 million settlement with the city won;t bring her son back from that Wheeler Ave apartment lobby.  About a week after the shooting, I visited the walk-up apartment building and saw walls ripped with bullet holes.

In contrast to Kenneth Boss' self-righteous attitude, Sean Carroll, one of the other officers who confronted Diallo that fateful night, at least had a heart about what happened, saying that he has felt sorry about this incident from Day 1. / Carroll was emotionally distraught about it but whether Carroll's response is real or crocodile tears, at least he apologized for it.

The NYPD promoted dozens of Sergeants at 1 Police Plaza - - one of them was vermin.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Star Wars returns - May the Force Be With You

Last Saturday, I was fighting the Times Square and Santa-Con crowds to get to 8th Ave for the subway - - I passed by the Playstation 4 theater on West 44th Street where I had my fondest childhood memory in a long, long time ago (but a galaxy not far away) of another movie theater.  Back in the summer of 1977, my father took me to see Star Wars for the first time at the Loews Astor Plaza theater - - the same location where the PS 4 theater is now (and that used to the the Nokia or Best Buy theater - - how much we lose sight of naming rights).  Watching Star Wars at the largest regular first run single screen theater in New York City was an experience in itself which can never be duplicated in an IMAX or regular theater - - the 1,500 seat theater situated in the basement of 1 Astor Plaza, largest of it's kind with 50+ rows of seats (and plenty of room for standees), the long escalators, the wall murals of actors/actresses like Bogie, Cagney, Sinatra, Crosby, Monroe and other stars from the 1930s through 50s,, the large concession stand (and a smaller one in the back of the theater) and the awesome Dolby sound system on a huge (and I mean MAMMOTH 70MM screen. ).  But most of all, watching Star Wars with the crowd experience was the best time I had at the movies, hands down. When the Death Star exploded at the end of the film, the crowd cheered so loudly, you can feel the earth shake.   I also remember watching huge movie hits at the Astor Plaza, such as Superman I and II, the next two Star Wars films, (Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) and Logans Run (prior to Star Wars).    Today, the largest auditorium of a multiplex theater typically hovers around 300-450 seats although there are IMAX theaters with more seats.  This Friday, December 18th, Star Wars, The Force Awakens opens in U.S. theaters and will be projected to be one of the biggest, if not biggest, all time box office blockbusters in recorded history, filling multiplex theaters with die hard Star Wars fans dressed out in a stormtropper, Yoda, Jabba The Hut, or Darth Vader.   Of course many theaters will be showing evening shows tomorrow evening (12/17).

To me, Star Wars is every one's childhood memory and like a candle burning forever, that memory will carry on for past, present and future generations.   It feels like yesterday about that memorable trip my father and I took to a Long, Long, Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far, Far Away.  May the Force Be With You. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

1 train skips stops - -,before announcement was made

Many times, trains running behind schedule would skip certain stops to make up lost time and to maintain even intervals of train service - - this is known in NYC Transit jargon as a "battery run" and I never have a problem with that as long as there is a train right behind us.  What I do have a problem with is making a battery run first then telling customers after the fact.  Such a case of miscommunication took place last week on the 1 line, historically known for it's frequent battery runs as many trains fall behind schedule.  

On Friday December 4th, at approx 2 PM, I was on a northbound 1 train (car #1841) when a woman dragging her heavy bag was struggling with her daughter - - it was crowded at that time of midday.  When we got to 181st Street, it was a normal stop and the conductor announced 191 as the next stop.  Once the doors closed and the train was leaving the station, the conductor changed his previous announcement - - stating that the next stop is Dyckman Street - - thus the train will bypass 191st Street station.  This made the woman with the heavy package and daughter angry - - she was cursing.  At Dyckman, I asked the conductor why did he make the announcement to skip 191 after we left 181 - - the conductor said that control center (RCC) told him to skip 191 even though he told them that our train already left 181 when the order was made.  The conductor also told me that RCC told him to keep it moved because our train was way behind schedule.  We continued our conversation after our train left Dyckman with 225th Street being our next stop (as per RCC) to make up some lost minutes and he did apologized for the error.  .

That's great miscommunication - - now what about the woman with the package and the girl - - they needed to leave the train at - where else?  191st Street, of course.    The woman would have to ride all the way to 242nd Street/Van Cortlandt Park, the northern terminal for the 1 line then ride back to 191 as she would not be able to drag the package all the way down the stairs at Dyckman (she still would have steps at 191 though).  The conductor told me that there are elevators at Dyckman and I told him that he was only half right - - there is only one elevator at Dyckman and that is only on the southbound side from mezzanine to platform.  There is no elevator from the mezzanine to the northbound platform.  (Another important piece of information which NYCT employees should be trained on).   So I made sure that the woman and girl would stay on the same 1 train when leaving 242 before I left the terminal.

This is one reason why the MTA's Pledge To Customers is pure garbage and lies - - nothing more than a PR smokescreen to make them look good.  To make the announcement after the train leaves the station as miscommunication occurs can be dangerous - - what if RCC gave one set of instructions to avoid an accident or dangerous condition and the crew does not get the information until it's too late?   If the order was made after the train left the last station where customers can wait then the adjustment should be made.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

AHA's Jump Rope and Hoops for Heart Events - - how you can help.

I don't need to remind you how prevalent heart disease is in adults - - the facts speak for themselves about heart attacks are the leading cause of death among adults in America.  We think of heart disease in adults but how many of us think about children who are diagnosed with a heart condition at a very early age?  Yes children can have heart conditions too, or Pediatric Heart Disease  - - the most common is Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) which most children acquire it at birth - - their heart is not working at optimal capacity like most children who have healthy hearts.    It is psychologically devastating for a child to endure a lifetime without any or restricted physical activity at the school gym or playing with friends/siblings - - it's most difficut for  the parents who keep praying for the continued health of their child.  40,000 babies are diagnosed with CHD at birth each year along with other children who acquire CHD later on in their lives.  Approx 10,000 of those babies who have CHD will require heart surgery or intense medical help to prolong their lives.

But it's an ongoing tragedy which you can help - - The American Heart Association, in partnership with local elementary/middle schools across the nation, is sponsoring the first ever Jump Rope/Hoops for Heart events in 2016 and I am pleased to announce that my daughter Sabella is participating in this event - - sponsored by her school.  You can make an online donation through Sabella's dedicated online webpage.  Additionally, you can leave an encouraging or thank you note to Sabella (don't worry, I will make sure she reads any of them each day before her bedtime.).  Your support will help children such as, Vivian, Cassandra, and other kids who are living with PHD.  Thank you.  

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Westchester Bee Line communication fail.

Westchester County' Bee Line bus system has a good operation, although they could improve on-time performance on some bus roues like the 25.  But when it comes to providing information on their website, they are worse than the MTA.

From November 8th until now, a road construction project on Jerome Ave at the Woodlawn Subway terminal on the NYC subway 4 line has detoured Bee Line bus routes 4, 20/20X/21 in the northbound direction.  These buses usually run on Jerome Ave from Bedford Park Blvd to Yonkers and are the busiest routes in the entire Bee Line system (the 20/20X/21 is Bee Line's busiest while route 4 ranks up there for it's quick access from Yonkers' Getty Square to the 4 train).  Northbound buses are detoured off from Jerome Ave onto Gun Hill Road and Bainbridge Ave until further notice.

But nothing about this service diversion is posted on the Westchetser Bee Line website - - I called Bee Line on two occasions to let them know about the missing information on this temporary detour on their website and it still hasn't been fixed.  Mind you, this is not the first time that Bee Line has not posted information about planned detours.

This is the screenshot as of today (12/3) - - only one service notice on Route 1 in Hastings:

The following pictures were taken on Monday at the Woodlawn subway terminal area - - I also drove past this area tonight - - here is a White Plains bound 20 local on Bainbridge Ave

Here is the NYC Transit Bx16/34 bus stop - - now Bee Line buses have to share this stop.

Here is the original bus stop, with temporary sign directing Bee Line customers to walk across Bainbridge Ave to the Bx16/34 bus stop - - note the road work which has taken out the curb lane

And the service notice - - this picture was too blurry to make out the start date but it was November 8th when the northbound 4/20/20X/21 Bee Line buses to be detoured off Jerome Ave.  Therefore, Bee Line was aware of the road work on Jerome and implemented the detour.

So why can't they post this detour on their website?  When a fire destroyed a row of stores, and damaged  the 260 year old Saint John's Episcopal Church in Yonkers' Getty Square - - Bee Line posted every bus detour which was affected by the street closings. They also go a good job during temporary service changes due to snow over the winter.  But I also noticed last summer that Bee Line doesn't post bus detour information during weekend parades and street fairs which required street closures. During 2016 when warmer weather approaches and the parades/fairs kick off along Westchester and Bronx counties, I will try to follow the Bee Line website to see how Bee Line is performing.

For a detour to last almost a month now - - and Bee Line is aware of this project in the Bronx - - it's inexcusable for them not to update this on their website.  That is a major communication fail. Wake up Bee Line.