Gotham & Hudson

Tap&Ride MetroCard: the future for fare payment in New York?

Gotham & Hudson was contacted recently by RSG, a research firm conducting a survey on future fare payment technology for the MTA. The survey presented a hypothetical contactless fare payment system that appears to work much like London’s Oyster card, and other systems that rely on near-field communications (NFC) technology. In addition to accepting contactless cards, the survey suggested the hypothetical New York system would also accept fare payment from NFC-equipped phones:

Within the next five years, MTA NYC Transit will introduce a “contactless” fare payment method. Contactless means you tap or touch a card or phone at a reader by the bus farebox or on the subway turnstile to pay your fare.

You will be able to pay your fare with your own smartphone, or contactless credit, debit, or prepaid card issued by a bank or credit union, just like a store or restaurant. You will also be able to use an MTA-issued contactless card good only for transit use.

The survey included several graphics that referenced a “Tap&Ride MetroCard” and showed existing subway turnstiles fitted with new NFC readers. According to the survey, the Tap&Ride MetroCard would allow account holders to access travel history and purchase transit passes on the web or via a companion mobile app, and even receive a mobile alert when it’s time to purchase a new transit pass. The issuance of contactless cards is important as well, since it provides a graceful fallback for an exhausted phone battery, and an option for transit users who don’t own NFC-equipped phones.

The MTA has been understandably cautious about picking a nascent technology to replace the current MetroCard, but the recent launch of Apple Pay is likely to move NFC technology into the mainstream. Technology news website The Information notes that Apple is already working with several companies that make NFC-based access control and ticketing systems to integrate Apple Pay into their products.

For the MTA and transit riders alike, replacing the aging MetroCard technology with a contactless fare-payment system will be a major step forward in convenience, security, and cost savings. The benefits would be even greater if it extends beyond the confines of the MTA system to include PATH, NY Waterway Ferries, Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, and NJ Transit buses, especially those that connect riders to the subway at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal.

A Viable Plan for Penn Station

At the 2014 Summit for New York, the Municipal Art Society and Regional Plan Association presented the latest development in their Penn 2023 campaign to remake Penn Station. The 42-page report, Madison Square Garden: Shaping the Future of West Midtown, highlights two options for the future of the station and arena, along with a feasibility study for turning the surrounding neighborhood into a cultural district. The first option, presented as the ideal scenario, would relocate Madison Square Garden one block southwest, replacing the Morgan postal facility on a site bounded by Ninth and Tenth avenues between 28th to 31st streets. Without the arena above it, Penn could rise above street level, restoring a semblance of what was lost when the original was demolished in 1963.

A second option, developed for MAS & RPA by architecture, design, and consulting firm Woods Bagot, was presented as the backup if the first option’s “grand bargain” to move MSG can’t be reached. It focuses on reconfiguring the complex at street-level to create an entrance hall for Penn Station. Woods Bagot’s website says the proposed hall would be as large as the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal, contain retail and dining, and extend around the arena to the station’s Seventh and Eighth avenue entrances:

Director Jeffrey Holmes discussed removing the theater that sits under MSG on the Eighth Avenue side and opening up that facade to be a big entrance hall with steps down to the concourses. The floor of the arena, which is currently elevated, would serve as the hall’s ceiling. A similar move could apply to Seventh Avenue, resulting in a more prominent entry hall there, too, which would “open up the center of the site” and bring light down to the concourse level.

The multi-level, glass-enclosed expansion flows around the arena and 2 Penn Plaza tower, framing a second, east-facing entry hall on Seventh Avenue and bringing street-activating retail and dining to the block’s north and south edges. The four-story-tall expansion mirrors the civic scale of the Farley Post Office, recalling the cornice line of the historic Pennsylvania Station, and supports a new rooftop public garden. The arena, which gains additional program space as part of the expansion, is clad in reclaimed timber to complete the “new” Garden.

The “grand bargain” proposal to move Madison Square Garden and rebuild Penn without the arena above it is visionary, but a brand-new, above-ground station building doesn’t fix the most urgent issues with Penn Station. Worse yet, it could divert attention and resources from them at a time when the region can’t afford to wait. The century-old North River Tunnels are already operating over capacity, and the brackish water that inundated them during Hurricane Sandy has caused deterioration that may force Amtrak to shut them down for repairs. Any disruption in service to the only intercity rail tunnels connecting New York and New Jersey would be felt along the entire Northeast Corridor, from Boston to Washington, and as far west as Chicago.

Furthermore, Penn station itself is trifurcated into three separate passenger environments, which inhibit smooth passenger flow, complicate transfers between Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, and New Jersey Transit, and make an already limited underground space even more congested and unappealing to travelers. As the new towers at Hudson Yards open over the next five years, their residents and workers will put additional strain on the existing station and tunnels, long before the vision of a new Penn Station is realized. These problems are too critical to wait for the “grand bargain” to become reality.

Woods Bagot’s proposal, by contrast, appears significantly more feasible and politically practical. It would address several of the station’s most critical needs–street presence, passenger flow, lighting, seating, and access to tracks–in a much shorter timeframe, and at lunch lower cost, than relocating the Morgan postal facility, building a new MSG, and demolishing the current arena, just to reach the point where a new Penn could be built. It would also be more palatable to the Madison Square Garden Company, because it preserves the $1B invested by the company between 2010-2013 to modernize The Garden.

MAS and RPA’s successful 2013 campaign to limit The Garden’s operating permit to ten years put its owner on notice that staying put wasn’t a given, and was a major victory for political awareness of the critical problems surrounding Penn Station. Now it’s time to use the leverage gained from that victory to engage MSG, city and state politicians, and the three transit agencies that occupy Penn to make the Woods Bagot proposal and Amtrak’s Gateway tunnels a reality well before 2023.

Update: Cap’n Transit suggests converting the Farley post office building into a new bus terminal:

We know that there’s a shortage of places to catch a bus in Manhattan, particularly near the Lincoln Tunnel…There is a lot of space (with skylights!) inside the old building where the postal trucks used to go, and more along the sides…You could even build a flyover across Eighth Avenue, or maybe even an underpass next to the train tracks, if you wanted to spend some money. Back inside, there are big open spaces for concourses.

The Port Authority is seeking funding to build a bus storage facility on land it owns between 40th and 41st streets between 10th and 11th avenues:

In March, the Port Authority applied for a grant from the Federal Transit Administration to construct a bus facility on the Galvin Plaza site. This grant would help fund a one level facility for bus parking and staging, with direct access to both the Lincoln Tunnel and the Port Authority Bus Terminal, reducing the need for buses to enter the local street network. The proposed bus annex would have 112 highly flexible storage spaces that could be used for either bus parking or bus staging and as possible swing space for the PABT during its reconstruction/rehabilitation.

Imagine if intercity and long-distance bus service was moved from PABT to a new bus terminal at Farley/Penn. This would free up capacity for local and commuter bus services, currently subject to quickly-compounding delays during morning and evening rush. Popular, low-cost services like Bolt Bus and MegaBus could be moved from their makeshift, on-street pickup points to the new terminal, improving the street-level environment around Hells Kitchen and the emerging Hudson Yards neighborhood. The Port Authority’s proposed bus storage facility would be in the vicinity of both PABT and the Farley building, so it could provide bus layover space for both terminals. Together, a renovated PABT, new layover storage facility, and intercity bus terminal at Farley/Penn could form a long-term, dynamic solution to Manhattan’s bus capacity needs.

NJ Transit to fill canal, build new tracks at Hoboken Terminal

Will Rebuild by Design be Realized? That’s the question The Architect’s Newspaper asked recently in an article reviewing the status of the winning Rebuild by Design projects announced in June. Hoboken’s Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge plan received $230M, which will be used to construct infrastructure and landscape features for coastal defense, rainwater storage, and drainage. In addition, a $146M Federal Transit Administration grant awarded in September will enable New Jersey Transit to fill in the Long Slip canal adjacent to Hoboken Terminal, the primary source of flooding in southwest Hoboken during Hurricane Sandy. Filling the canal is an important step toward making the city more resistant to future storm surges. Six new tracks will be constructed on the land created by filling the canal, and three new ADA-accessible platforms will provide step-free access to trains.

The city now has enough money to move forward with the “resist” phase of the Rebuild by Design project, which focuses on creating infrastructure and soft landscape to guard against storm surges, Zimmer said. The city will seek more funding in the future to move forward with the additional phases, which involved storing and discharging storm water, she said.

The transit agency noted that the project is moving forward in a series of tweets from its October board meeting:

Don’t Buy in Brooklyn Before Reading This

John Petro:

Consider that since January of 2012, nearly 15,000 new building permits were issued in Brooklyn. But if the borough had issued the same number of permits as Hudson County, on a per capita basis, there would have been almost 37,000 permits issued in Brooklyn over that time.

Despite the greater volume of building permits issued in Hudson Country, quality isn’t suffering because the redevelopment and rehabilitation processes in New Jersey give the city an active role in planning, design, infrastructure improvements, and public amenities:

“In Hoboken, a lot of those projects are redevelopment projects, they’re not as-of-right development,” said Maraziti, noting that the redevelopment process is often beneficial for both the municipality and the developer. “In the redevelopment process the city can be true partners and shape the outcome of the project – the timing, design, all the details – and also extract parks, amenities, infrastructure improvements.”

Building more residential capacity—without sacrificing quality—eases the market demand that otherwise pushes prices to record levels. Development on the Hudson Waterfront is setting a good example for the region:

But even the market-rate housing in many New Jersey communities is affordable by New York standards. New condos in Jersey City and Hoboken can be found for between $500 and $700 a square foot. Comparable condos in Long Island City and downtown Brooklyn, on the other hand, are asking between $900 and $1,000 per square foot.

Could NJ Transit Remove Seats to Increase Passenger Capacity on Trans-Hudson Trains?

Four years ago, when the Christie Administration cancelled ARC, the project to build two new trans-Hudson tunnels, Yonah Freemark of The Transport Politic suggested that NJ Transit could borrow an idea from Paris’ RER and increase passenger capacity on its existing trains by removing some seats:

Whereas New Jersey Transit carries roughly 275,000 riders a day on its entire rail system, Paris’ RER Line A — one corridor, running through the center of the city using just two tracks — is able to handle a million users daily. It’s a squeeze, and the region is planning to build a relief line, but it still works. How can New Jersey Transit be facing such constraints with so many fewer riders?

The explanation is the agency’s steadfast adherence to the rule that commuter trains are different than rapid transit ones — primarily, that they have to offer each and every one of their riders a comfortable seat. This limits maximum train capacity to about 1,400 passengers when using ten multi-level cars such as the ones pictured above. While this may seem like a lot of people, with only limited tunnel capacity there are only so many trains that can make the trip into Manhattan during peak hours. If the agency were to simply remove a dozen seats or so per car and replace them with standing areas, trains would be capable of carrying up to 2,000 people apiece. There’s a huge bump in capacity, at virtually no cost. The RER A has a relatively even mix of standing and seating areas, and that’s one of the primary reasons it’s able to move so many more people.

Riders would complain if NJ Transit increased capacity by removing seats, but as the condition of the North River Tunnels becomes more critical and the prospect of a partial shutdown looms large, this idea may quickly become more palatable.