I was shocked when the New York Times exposed the abuses by Long Island Railroad employees of their disability benefits, as well as provisions of its labor contracts that no sane company would accept . Now, perhaps less surprisingly, the New York Post reveals egregious time and leave abuse, allowing some individual employees to rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime for hours they didn’t work. While some of the workers were able to retire before facing disciplinary action and recoupment of the stolen funds, the taxpayers who subsidize the railroad — already victimized by the railroad’s paying the crooked employees for hours not worked — will continue to pay their crookedly inflated pensions. If the abuse can’t be stopped (I give Governor Cuomo credit for trying to stop it, albeit belatedly), a big step toward curbing it would be to disallow overtime hours to be part of pension calculations.
The delays occasioned by traffic jams, red lights and other things that slow our automotive travel are a major source of frustration to most of us. As individuals, we can mitigate this frustration by choosing our home and work locations, and the times at which we work. We may be able to telecommute, walk or bike, or take public transit (which has its own frustrations). But in today’s automobile-dominated society, most of us have to use the private automobile for most of our travel, much of which must be done on a rigid schedule.
We deal with this frustration with fancy sound systems, luxury seating and blue tooth connections that allow us to use some of our automotive downtime productively. However, those measures do not address the tremendous waste of oil-based fuel and its concomitant pollution. Government, on behalf of us all, can do more to manage traffic and its related delays, but in our geographic area it has largely failed to act.
While I was driving down Washington Avenue in Albany recently, hitting red light after red light, my frustration triggered some early memories — from the 1960s — of driving up and down avenues in Manhattan with my father, watching each light turn green as we approached it. My dad explained to me that the lights were timed so that you would rarely have to stop, if you maintained a steady speed at or around the limit. I am aware of nowhere in our area that employs this proven (and by now, probably more affordable), technology.
Another local failure, on the part of the Thruway Authority, is its lagging behind the Mass Pike in eliminating toll plazas at exits and entries to its highways, with all tolls being tallied by gantries over the road that read E-Z Pass transponders without the need for cars to slow down (a few such gantries do exist on the Thruway, most notably near the Harriman exit, but they have not replaced the toll plazas at the entries and exits). Although the demolition of the toll plazas and barriers on the Mass Pike is not complete, travel time savings already have been noted.
While we now do have electronic signs on many of our primary roads advising of travel time to various points, these signs do not offer alternatives when delays are indicated, and in most cases no alternatives exist. While information may reduce frustration during times of congestion, expenditures aimed at reducing congestion would be a better use of taxpayer funds.
Money spent on reducing traffic congestion, as well as on things like bike paths and libraries, benefits everyone by making the area a more attractive one in which to live. Unfortunately, in New York, “everyone” is not a special interest, which may be why government under-spends in many of these areas.
This recent Times Union story shows the persistence of unrealistic, grandiose thinking in relation to our local Amtrak station. The proposal to study spending $20 – $30 million, and who knows how much time, building an aerial tramway to transport a few hundred people a day across the Hudson, in all likelihood at significant public expense, is another example of the thinking that got us the present bloated, cavernous station that leaks money and water, and whose large outdoor clocks never tell the same time. Here’s something to try first, if there’s really a need for an alternative to the existing taxicab service most railroad passengers use (there is):
Realign the two bus routes that serve the station so they both stop at the same place on East St. for trips in each direction. Coordinate bus schedules with train schedules. Have a covered walkway from the station exit to the bus stop. Sell one way or round trip bus passes at the railroad ticket windows or at nearby kiosks. Have “Amtrak connect” schedules printed up that show when busses leave the station for popular downtown destinations and when they return, with a large map on the back showing the locations of bus stops and downtown landmarks.
If the above does not work, thousands, not tens of millions, will have been wasted. Then you can say “I told you so,” and try the gondola.
Now that a casino is coming to the Capital District, where shall it be located? The present favorite appears to be the Saratoga racino, but I wouldn’t put it there if it were up to me. Here are the siting criteria I’d employ:
1. It should be as close as possible to major population centers of the area, but not too close, and located a little bit out of the way, so that people don’t usually pass it on their way to and from work, shopping and other regular errands. It should have plenty of on-site parking. Look to the Casino de Montreal for an appropriate location in an urban area.
2. It should be accessible by public transit, both to limit its environmental and traffic generating impact, and so that the service jobs it provides will be accessible to the urban residents who need them and who may not own their own cars.
3. It should be located in an area with as much existing infrastructure as possible, and it should not be built in an undeveloped area where it will gobble up open space.
4. It should be located in an area where it is wanted by the local population and where it will not adversely impact existing local business.
I propose the Port of Rensselaer, which meets all the above criteria. Rensselaer County, unlike Saratoga and Albany counties, voted for Proposal 1, indicating it would welcome a casino. Rensselaer is centrally located, near Amtrak and Megabus, and is served by CDTA. It can use the increased property tax revenues a casino would bring, and the Port location would impact few local residents and businesses, Its central location and existing road structure would minimize the traffic and environmental impacts caused by travel to the casino. Shuttles between the rail station and the casino could help make it an attractive destination for gamblers from the New York City area, and existing CDTA routes could be slightly modified to make casino jobs accessible to Albany, Troy and Rensselaer residents who rely on public transit. If the City or County owns a parcel in the port area that could be developed and placed back on the tax rolls, so much the better.
The existing racino in Saratoga does have the basic infrastructure in place and, as an existing gambling venue, is less likely to attract local opposition, especially given the area’s historical acceptance of all sorts of gambling. However, taking the path of least resistance would forgo a tremendous opportunity to provide jobs where the people who need them most, and where potential customers from the largest population center in the State, could actually get to them, to give a struggling city a chance to get back on its feet, and to minimize the environmental impact of a venue to which many people will travel by automobile.
The CDTA has announced it is considering raising parking rates (to match those at the airport and Empire Plaza) to provide additional funds for station maintenance. Public comments were invited. Here’s mine:
I just read in the Times Union that CDTA is seeking to raise parking rates to generate more revenue to keep the white elephant patched up. In other words, you are asking the public to pay more for the poor design, construction and oversight of this facility. Maybe you should instead start thinking about how to seal off some of its vast unrented spaces to save on heat and other costs before giving your patrons another excuse – as if Amtrak’s high prices and third world service aren’t reason enough – to forgo using public transportation and therefore the rail station and the few businesses inside.
The regular users of the station I know all wax nostalgiacally over the good old days of free parking (the only semi-valid reason for having our rail station anywhere but downtown Albany) and wish the present boondoggle had never been foisted upon them.
Although it probably is too late for anyone to stop this “gift” to our city from hemorraghing cash, maybe CDTA should think about getting out of the station management business and redirect all its efforts to its main mission of providing frequent and reliable bus service, a task that easily could employ all your energy and resources.
Thank you for considering public comments on this issue.
This New York Times story shows the LIRR pension scandal is far from over.
I recently wrote about my plans to take the airport train from Jamaica, New York to JFK airport (https://capitolview.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/second-trips/); here is the promised follow-up. On my outbound trip, upon arriving at the mezzanine in Penn Station (the level from which Long Island Railroad trains run), I saw a ticket machine, and I purchased a one-way off-peak ticket to Jamaica for $6.25 with a credit card. A nearby monitor showed the next train leaving in a few minutes; knowing that most if not all LIRR trains stop at Jamaica, I quickly found the departure gate, where a sign confirmed that the train did indeed stop there. Within a half-hour from the time my Amtrak train arrived in Penn Station (late, of course, and, by the way, the onboard wi fi worked very poorly), I was in Jamaica. Getting to the airport train required going up an escalator and buying a $5.00 Metrocard. People were leaving the train through the same turnstiles those entering were using, creating a few stand-offs. Although airport trains were supposed to be running every 10 minutes, I waited longer, but the train eventually came and the short ride to the airport was uneventful. Signage was good, and, as long as you know the terminal you are looking for, you should be able to navigate the system with the information provided, at least if you speak English. As I predicted, the worst part of this service is the need to change in Jamaica, where you must go to a different level platform, and where there are no porters to help the disabled or overwhelmed. I was travelling light and am relatively able-bodied, so it worked out well for me. I was at my terminal well within an hour after leaving Penn Station.
Coming back, the trip also worked out well, except that I had to walk outside a little bit (in the rain) to reach the train station serving my JFK terminal..
Overall, I give this service a B-. The cost is very reasonable ($5.00, plus subway or LIRR fare) and service seems frequent and reliable. The combined trip, at least the two times I took it, was quick, and being out of traffic and the delays it can cause in the New York City area is a huge advantage. The big knock, as I anticipated, is the hassle of changing trains, buying two tickets, and having to navigate two separate transportation systems. However, if your circumstances allow you to manage the logistical and physical challenges, this is a very nice way to get to the airport.
My destination airport, Arlanda in Stockholm, Sweden, offered a much nicer option – the Arlanda Express, a first-class train that travels directly from the terminal to the downtown Central Station in about 20 minutes (it’s a 30 mile trip). It was expensive (almost $40 each way, though those traveling with companions could take advantage of a 2-for-1 summer offer). Direct bus service for $15 also was available. Arlanda is a relatively new airport, and the railroad link was not added as an afterthought, so direct comparison may not be fair. Better to compare the train to JFK with some of the direct airport to center city transit links in this country, where the need to change trains leaves it wanting, though still worth considering.