Today’s Headlines

  • 5 Ways Andy Byford Can Turn Around NYC Transit in 2018 (TransitCenter)
  • More Coverage of the Drop in Pedestrian Deaths (News, AMNYPost) — The Daily News Is Thrilled
  • Fact Check: Other Mayors Made Progress on Traffic Safety Before de Blasio (Politico)
  • Penn Station’s New $300 Million Concourse Already Cracking (Post)
  • MTA’s First All-Electric Buses Debut on Three Routes Today (AMNYPost)
  • Lobbyists Press Cuomo to Allow Non-Union Labor on Subway Projects (Crain’s)
  • Corey Johnson Worries E-Bike Crackdown Will Harm Immigrant Delivery Workers (WNYC, AMNY)
  • Nicole Gelinas Doubts That Zone-Based Routes Will Fix What Ails NYC’s Private Carting Industry (Post)
  • DOT Procurement Manager Busted for Getting City Contractors to Pay Church He Ran (News)
  • Good News! The Putrid Rupture in the Bergen Street Platform Wall Has Frozen Over (Bklyn Paper)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

  • Larry Littlefield

    Here is what no one is saying about union vs. non-union workers on MTA contracts. It may not be that for current workers, the union is all that much more expensive. That’s now where the extra money for union workers goes.

    But if you also hire union workers, you end up paying for the retirement benefits of past workers and managers, now in Florida, for past work on public AND private jobs. That accounts for most of the extra cost. Those retirement benefits should have been funded in the past when the work was done, but benefits were retroactively increased and employer contributions were cut, allowing larger profits. So the multi-employer pension funds for the construction industry are in the hole.

    Who ends up holding the bag? That’s what this is all about.
    Private jobs are increasingly non-union or partially non-union, so the unions and union contractors are looking to the MTA and other public jobs to pay for the past. Obviously no one wants to say so. New hires have already been screwed, as in the public sector, because of deals to favor those cashing in and moving out.

    You can get a sense of the real story here.

    “While cracks are appearing in the commercial market generally, getting open shop into public works will be the greatest challenge, and it might explain why the unions have been sanguine about open shop’s sudden visibility. Public-works jobs require workers be paid prevailing wages by state law. The unions set wages in its collective bargaining agreements with construction companies.”

    “According to an Empire Center for Public Policy report in April, the average prevailing wage with benefits for a union construction worker on a nonresidential site is about $75 an hour, an increase of nearly double from the $40 an hour for a site with both union and nonunion labor. Operating engineers in Gotham bring in an average of $114.5 an hour ($74.20 base salary and $40.30 in benefits), and laborers average $66 per hour ($36.47 in base salary and $30.13 in benefits), according to that report. Meanwhile, carpenters average $96.76 an hour, and electricians bring home $103.44 per hour.”
    You are looking at $200,000-plus in wages and benefits, but cash pay is much lower, especially for new hires. Just like in the “underpaid” public sector here.

    “I think when you look at public works, you look at the large, multibillion dollar projects that the government is building, government will always find a way to give that to the unions,” said Brian Sampson, the president of the Empire State Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, a group that represents approximately 130,000 workers not affiliated with unions in New York City.”

    “One point construction experts are making, however, is that taxpayers are paying premiums for these public projects since they aren’t being done open shop. The Empire Center report calculated that the government ends up paying 25 percent more for public projects in New York City because of the high prevailing wages. ”

    “McMahon’s report argues that the union’s pension benefits are so high—in many cases nearly 50 percent of workers’ compensation—because the unions have to fight for very expensive pension funds for workers.
    “The union model of employee leasing, you can understand it has a lot going for it from an employee standpoint,” McMahon said. “The problem is that they have priced themselves out of competition. And it’s not just greed but that they have to back fill their unpaid liability of pension shortfalls.”
    If they weren’t draining the MTA, these multi-employer pension funds would make union construction more and more expensive for everyone still doing it, until there was a collapse. It’s the same problem as everything else. A generation negotiated a great deal for itself at the expense of those coming after, and is continuing to cover it up. Making politics about who else deserves to suffer as a consequence.

  • Jane Brody’s Personal Health column today is all about how to protect yourself from falling, yet she fails to advise wearing a helmet. Last October she averred that “even low-speed falls on a bike trail can scramble brains,” yet today she (or her editor) unaccountably failed to mention how a helmet can mitigate the potential dangers of slips, trips and falls while outdoors.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I keep calling for a two way matrix of those killed, and those who have to spend an overnight in the hospital, due to accidents and collisions on public ROWs, streets and sidewalks.

    With the person struck (motor vehicle occupant, pedestrian, cyclist) on one exist, and what they were struck by (motor vehicle by type, bicycle, pedestrian) on the other.

    Included in the stuck by axis would be struck by nothing — a one person or one vehicle accident. For pedestrians, that would be slips, trips and falls.

    I just want to see the number of pedestrians killed, and those sent to the hospital, in slips, trips and falls right next to the number killed, or sent to the hospital, by bicycles and those killed, or sent to the hospital, by motor vehicles.

    And stick it in front of Jane Brody and everyone like her.

  • AnoNYC

    Why does an eBus pilot take 3 years? Especially considering that electric buses are already in use internationally. Shenzhen, China recently electrified their entire fleet (16,000+).

  • sbauman

    considering that electric buses are already in use internationally. Shenzhen, China recently electrified their entire fleet (16,000+).

    Average low temperature for winter in Shenzhen is 55 F vs. 40 F for NYC. Battery capacity and life decrease very rapidly, as temperature drops below 40 F and even more below 30 F.

  • AMH

    My exact question. How would they have performed the past two weeks?

  • AMH

    The link, for anyone interested:

    It’s all sound advice, particularly maintaining strength and balance through exercise.

  • AnoNYC

    Yes, but there are cities that have similar or colder average temperatures than NYC yet are much further along or have already implemented electric buses in limited quantities.

    The timeline is extremely slow and at this rate we will not see substantial electrification within 10 years.

  • AnoNYC

    In time. people are going to look back at the way things were and shake their heads in disgust. There will be a time when it will be a crime to allow so many pollutants into the atmosphere one day, especially in a densly populated urban area.

    I can’t wait until that time. Hopefully I’ll still be among the living.

    The global community should have approached this much more aggressively, but we all know the story as it continues to play out.

  • sbauman

    I’ll agree that the MTA has been very slow in testing any new technology, unless a retired official has taken a position in a firm that advocates it.

    I was asked to evaluate various technical approaches without the luxury of a full scale test on which to base my answers, during my 40 years as an R&D engineer,.

    This question is fairly easy to evaluate. Batteries perform the same way, whether they are used for propulsion or in a temperature test chamber. Until the power source is not so temperature dependent in the -20 to 40 F range, any full scale test will fail.

    There is a new technology that holds promise. It’s using super capacitors instead of batteries for energy storage. It’s not a one for one replacement. The charge/discharge characteristics are different. However, its application is more suited to a short run city bus than a long distance Tesla. It would also not be affected by low winter temperatures.

    This technology is not yet ready for prime time. There’s a test being conducted in Shanghai, a city with a winter temperature closer to that of NYC.

    There are two economic obstacles. Super capacitor powered electric buses require many more power charging stations than battery powered electric buses. There’s also the super capacitor cost. Initial implementations have used graphene as the electrolyte ($$$). Recent research has suggested a far less expensive and slightly more efficient electrolyte can be manufactured . Such super capacitors have not yet been field tested to find any shortcomings. One other problem is that the raw material for the new electrolyte is banned in the US. This would mean that the super capacitors would have to be imported rather than manufactured domestically.

    The bottom line is that an economical technology is about 5 years away. Does it pay to go full steam ahead with a battery based electric bus that is likely to fail? Such a failure would strengthen the MTA’s entrenched preference to avoid anything remotely considered to be new.

  • AnoNYC

    Interesting. I do hope that the technology hits that cost effectiveness/reliability point sooner than later (and according to some sources it may have already arrived).

    I would like to add that Seattle and Helsinki have been piloting battery powered buses for some time now. The initial test must have proven successful because both cities have dramatically increased the number of purchases.

    Cities need to work together on this, among other things.

  • sbauman

    I think reducing construction costs should not rank near the top, as advocated by the Transit Center and yesterday’s NY Times editorial. A more important priority should be controlling the MTA’s operating costs. If these costs are controlled, more money will be available for construction.

    One method for controlling such costs is the same as documented for reducing construction costs – labor costs. Construction labor costs are not directly controlled by the MTA. However, operating labor costs are.

    There have been a couple of documented examples unusual labor costs that the TWU has shown reluctance to reduce.

    The first involved using Con Ed contractors to fix the subway’s crumbling power distribution system. The TWU balked until TWU workers were assigned to “supervise” the outside workers.

    The second is the documented reluctance of station agents to move out their bullet proof enclosures, even though much of their function has been replaced by vending machines. The Times article stated that 2,660 agents $298.6 million annually in salary and benefits. That comes to $112K per station agent.

    Let me add a third example of non-essential staffing – train conductors. There are over 2000 of them, whose door opening and closing task could be performed by the train operator. Their contribution to the MTA’s annual operating cost comes to $224M, using the $112K employee cost for station agents.

    As Senator Dirksen used to say, a few million dollars here and a few million dollars there and pretty soon you are talking about real money.

    I think controlling operating costs should be a top priority.

  • JarekFA

    So where do you put all the existing station agents and conductors? Don’t the conductors need to point at the black/white sign at each stop?

  • Fool

    Unemployment? It is harsh but true. The MTA does not need to be a welfare employment mechanism.

  • Joe R.

    I think NYC should ban the use of ICE vehicles within its borders by 2030. A ban on sales or registration of ICE vehicles should happen by 2020. One of the complaints about electric vehicles is their higher cost. That’s only true because they’re not made in the same numbers as ICEs. A ban on the sale of new ICEs by large cities would create a captive market for EVs. This in turn would drive their costs down by economy of scale. In fact, EVs should cost less to mass produce than ICEs if made in similar numbers due to their simplicity. Once this is the case, even people in non-captive EV markets might be swayed into buying EVs just to save money.

  • Joe R.

    For some reason people like her think the only time you can get a head injury is while riding a bike. It turns out lots of other common activities have a much higher likelihood of head injury but people like her would never even think of recommending a helmet. I personally think a helmet and knee pads aren’t a bad thing to recommend to an elderly person venturing out this time of year.

    That said, if you’re healthy and have a good sense of balance, there are few common activities, including riding a bike, that have a high enough likelihood of head injury to merit a helmet. Also worth a mention is that you need something better than a bicycle helmet if you want real protection while getting up on a ladder.

  • Joe R.

    Same here. I find it ironic that she wrote an anecdote-filled article last October basically imploring people to never ride a bike with a helmet, and yet she failed to recommend helmets while doing the more dangerous activities in her latest article. I’ve long said anyone who considers cycling dangerous enough to merit a helmet should also wear one while walking, riding in a car, or doing any number of other activities which are statistically more dangerous if they want to be consistent.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Frankly, I worry more about slipping in the shower. I wonder what the stats are on that one.

    I sense a Shark Tank idea. The shower helmet.

  • Joe R.

    A rubber mat which costs a few dollars easily solves that. Last year I also put in shower bars. They were to help my mom get in and out of the tub, but they would be useful for me also if I started to fall.

    I think falling in the shower is particularly potentially hazardous because of the plethora of hard objects you can hit your head on going down. It wouldn’t surprise me if a rather large percentage of head injuries in the home are from slipping in the shower.

  • Joe R.

    Proterra already field tested an electric bus with over 1,100 miles range. Even if cold weather cut that range by a factor of three, it would still be more than adequate for any NYC bus run. Yes, we should go full-steam ahead with electric buses. Once we have the platform, down the road we can always upgrade the power source as new types of energy storage become available. Also, with inductive charging buses can partially recharge while on a run. We can install inductive chargers at bus stops, for example.

  • Joe R.

    If gasoline and gas engines were invented recently, my guess is their operation would be prohibited in populated areas, while the sale of gasoline would be highly restricted. Yes, one day we’ll look back on how we do things today the same way we shake our heads that the streets were once filled with horse manure. I just hope that day comes sooner rather than later.

    As for being among the living when it comes, here’s some food for thought. I’ve heard that environmental pollution may be taking as much as 50 years off average life spans. Yes, if we cleaned up the planet an average person might live to 125, an exceptional one to over 150, without any major advances in medicine. So the sooner it happens, the better. I like to think that at 55 I’m less than halfway through my life.

  • AnoNYC

    I think it would be very difficult politically to propose the ban of new sales and registrations of ICE vehicles by 2020 in NYC. Perhaps it would be most feasible to start with passenger vehicles first (including for hire), but perhaps by 2025 at the earliest. The city would also have to aggressively start investing in electrified vehicles, and it is no where close to total replacement. Larger commercial trucks, which are often coming from areas outside NYC would be an issue for a 2030 total ban as well.

    Paris is looking to ban new sales by 2030 and I found that an aggressive target. California aims for 2040, and others have different goals set for around that same timeframe.

    Don’t get me wrong, I would love ICE engines to become banned as soon as reasonably possible (and I own an ICE car and motorcycle).

    Now what could change all this would be if a large conglomerate of cities say the C40 cities, would all legislate for a total 2030 ban. This would definitely make an impact because NYC by itself is too small a market. These cities would influence sales within themselves and surrounding metropolitan areas.

  • HamTech87

    Looks like Trondheim, Norway and Malmo, Sweden are ordering electric buses too (see link).

  • HamTech87

    Still, I wish these buses used battery-swapping instead of recharging technologies. Would shorten the turnarounds. Here’s the battery swap video from Shai Agassi’s late company.

  • Joe R.

    Anything worth doing is going to be politically difficult. That said, electric vehicle technology is suddenly advancing by leaps and bounds after remaining virtually stagnant for decades. My guess is it’ll take the same course as flat-screen monitors and LED lighting. The skeptics said we would still have CRTs in 2025 and incandescent lamps would continue to dominate home lighting well into the 21st century. Now both technologies took over on their own merits, without any bans. My educated guess is EVs will follow much the same path. If gas cars comprise less than half the sales of new vehicles in a few years, a ban on ICE sales will be politically feasible. Once that happens, it’ll take about 10 years to phase out most existing ICE vehicles. It may even take much less. As ICEs dwindle in number, gas stations will find it harder to make a profit. End result is you might be able to own or drive an ICE, but good luck finding a gas station.

    A second educated guess is EV conversions will be big business in a 5 to 10 year time frame. With car bodies lasting longer than ever, it will make a lot of sense to just convert an ICE vehicle you’re happy with to electric, rather than buy a new vehicle.

  • Joe R.

    On the trains, planes, and ships, diesel locomotives are already banned in Manhattan. Not a big stretch to ban them citiwide. Railroads are the easiest thing to electrify.

    Ships are a bit harder but I’ve read we may have commercial fusion by 2030 ( ). A fusion reactor can easily fit inside a ship. Unlike fission reactors, there are no issues running a fusion reactor near populated areas. It can’t explode, it has a small amount of radioactive material. It’s probably safer than running a large diesel engine.

    The same fusion reactors could potentially power planes if they can be made small and light enough. If not, I’ve heard in the long-term battery-powered airliners will probably be feasible.

  • AnoNYC

    Charge time is ten minutes with a nominal range of 251-350 miles for the Proterra, not sure about the New Flyer. Proterra got one somehow going just over 1,000 miles on a single charge.

    The tech is advancing quickly.

  • qrt145

    Let’s hope you are right, because practical fusion reactors have been “a decade away” since around the time you were born. 🙂

  • AnoNYC

    Looks like a lot of EV bus pilots are kicking off this year.

  • Joe R.

    I know. I recall the old joke that “fusion is the power of the future, and always will be”. This time around actually looks fairly promising.

  • sbauman

    Proterra already field tested an electric bus with over 1,100 miles range.

    Are they for sale? What is for sale has a much more modest range.

    This is especially true, if their range and recharge specs are 1/2 to 1/3 of what’s stated because of cold temperature.

    Also, with inductive charging buses can partially recharge while on a run. We can install inductive chargers at bus stops, for example.

    All charging stations for modern EV’s are inductively coupled to the vehicle. An easily detachable copper (not screwed in) connection won’t meet electrical and fire codes.

    The products link, above, indicates a 5 minute quick charge is anticipated.

    The battery life question still remains.

  • ahwr
  • bolwerk

    They’re not going away overnight obviously, but would it kill the MTA to have a plan in place to sunset the jobs that aren’t needed anymore?

    It’s not a zero sum game either. There are jobs within the MTA many of those people could do. Some are undoubtedly retrainable as train operators and bus drivers, others could at least attack years of maintenance backlog. There’s some place for customer service too.