(In)formality (In)justice

too damn high

As many New Yorkers know, the rent is too damn high. The neighborhoods of New York have always been dynamic and ever-changing, and today, this continues to be true, but perhaps, on a level unforeseen in recent memory. Many are being priced out of our neighborhoods that they’ve lived in, sometimes for generations. So I asked Jimmy McMillan, the founder of The Rent Is Too Damn High Party, what he proposed to do in order to address exponentially rising housing costs. He told me that it was too complicated to explain right now, but that we could take a photo together… ironically, right next to a “PREMIER RETAIL FOR LEASE” sign…

Recently, I went to an NYU event with Richard Florida, the man who, among many accomplishments, popularized the “creative class” and who co-founded Atlantic Cities. The event, Onramps of Opportunity: Building A Creative + Inclusive New York, was also sponsored by Scott Stringer, the NYC Comptroller. There were also many other distinguished panelists, all of whom discussed how to build a vibrant, creative, and inclusive economy.

And guess what? Transportation infrastructure was a grand aspect of their discussions. Rent is rising nearest the subway stations around the city, so they proposed that the subway be expanded, in order to increase the supply of transit-oriented housing, and therefore, hopefully decrease the cost.


Richard Florida, Global Research Professor at New York University

Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn is a major East-West corridor. The Mayor’s affordable housing plan has identified Eastern Brooklyn as a primary center for residential development, due to a relatively high amount of opportunity sites. This is partly due to arguably outdated zoning laws, which prohibit residential development on abandoned lots that are currently zoned for manufacturing, so the lots are remaining vacant until it becomes profitable to develop them (i.e., until the zoning changes). In my opinion, corridors akin to Atlantic Avenue, with subways nearby, should be a lot more dense. We cannot complain about high housing costs when we’re living in single-family homes above a subway station, and when there’s vacant land nearby.


Vacant Land on Atlantic Avenue, Below the LIRR Tracks!


Walled Entrances… A Not-So-Great Way to “Activate” Atlantic Avenue… 

But what about areas that aren’t right next to public transportation? Richard Florida and Scott Stringer both hammered down the point that we need to “expand” public transportation. I’m sure most people in NYC would agree. But, it’s been decades, and we haven’t even gotten close to finishing the Second Avenue Subway. There are cheaper and quicker ways to expand transportation access, and many of these building blocks are already in place.

Do you ride informal transportation? I do. Below is an excellent map from The New Yorker:


SOURCE: The New Yorker

Each of these routes has its own distinct and vibrant culture. And so do the individual companies and drivers operating these routes. The city should be doing more to catalyze the development of these routes. After all, they’re self-sufficient and they provide a backbone to neighborhoods without good transportation access. Right now, the city is actually trying to destroy these routes with excessively bureaucratic regulations and outdated laws.


Inside a Van (Blurred for Confidentiality)

As it stands, the city has made it easier to get licensed as a van operator, and they continue to crack down on unlicensed drivers and unsafe driving. However, there’s a Catch 22: to be licensed is one thing, but to pick-up passengers is another thing entirely. Akin to non-medallion car services (a.k.a., non-yellow and non-green taxis), vans are not supposed to pick up street hails. They also are not supposed to stop at bus stops or compete with the MTA (i.e., the “Monopolized Transportation Agency”). But they have to pick up street hails in order to, well, exist. These laws don’t make sense…


Vans on Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn

The city has recently introduced the Boro Taxi, which is a green taxi instead of a yellow taxi. These Boro Taxi medallions are a lot cheaper because Boro Taxis cannot pick up passengers in the Manhattan Core or at NYC airports. As a result, they are flourishing in the outer boroughs, where there is now a legal option, readily available, for street pick-ups. But it’s still illegal for vans to pick up passengers, even though these services create jobs and operate in under-served neighborhoods.

The Atlantic writes:

The existence of laws and the lack of enforcement put the legal drivers in a bind that Winston [a driver] describes as a Catch 22. In 1993, New York outlawed dollar vans entirely. It took the intervention of some activist van owners with the help of the Libertarian Institute For Justice to get them legalized. Deliberate or not, the city’s perverse policy of half-legalizing legal vans and failing to enforce laws against the unlicensed ones limits the growth of what could be a useful transit resource.

The city is essentially incentivizing drivers to avoid licensing, because then they’re less likely to get caught picking up passengers. As a result, the licensed drivers, who have to pay hefty licensing fees and insurance costs, on top of fueling and staffing, are actually the ones getting in trouble!

The Atlantic writes about Winston, a licensed driver, who operates a fleet of licensed vans:

Winston used to have his vans all painted with a green stripe, so they became easily recognized in the neighborhood. While this “uniform” was good for business, his vans also caught the attention of police of various kinds who ticketed him for stopping to pick up passengers, and he accrued fines that ate into profits. This is the paradox of Winston’s work: While he is fully licensed, insured, and inspected, his vans are prohibited from doing the one thing they really do — picking up passengers off the street.

Winston, along with plenty of other drivers, is providing a service to his community. People are riding these vans, so there clearly is a demand for them. Imagine, as The Atlantic imagines, these services popping up throughout the city.

What’s interesting about dollar vans, if they’re properly licensed and insured — and reasonably legal — is that they could gravitate to where the riders are and where they want to go faster than public transit, which requires more infrastructure and meetings. In some cities, bus routes have histories going back decades, and they don’t change to reflect how people’s lives and work habits have changed. ([Buses] certainly don’t [wait for you to drop off your children] at daycare centers.) Dollar vans are out there to make a buck, and that’s not bad for passengers.

Why does the city keep them from flourishing? After all, according to the Wall Street Journal, they can be faster, and you get a seat every time. But part of the problem, according to me, is a lack of smart regulation. These drivers are incentivized to pick up as many passengers as possible and compete against other vans, so sometimes they’ll go fast, make illegal turns, or honk really loudly all the time. The city wants to keep passengers safe, and they also don’t want vans competing with the TLC’s taxis, which pay a lot for street hail medallions.

But the benefits of these vans far outweigh the costs, so long as the city regulates these vans with smarter laws. How about GPS devices to make sure they aren’t speeding or making illegal turns? After all, these services combine the efficiency of private-sector enterprise with the safety of law enforcement. With people getting forced to live further and further away from subways, these services need to be catalyzed. Plus, if there’s better transportation access in the outer boroughs, perhaps there will also be more “back office” jobs located there.

We are definitely lucky that we have the MTA. But in cities without safe, government-subsidized subways and buses, informality takes over. Vans like those in the outer boroughs of NYC are omnipresent in many developing countries, where the battles and balancing acts between formality and informality are played out daily. Kenya’s matatus, recently being pressed to adapt Google’s electronic payment methods in order to combat corruption and increase efficiency, are one example of this phenomenon. In fact, my friend has been working tirelessly on this project for years now through his organization, Groupshot.

But back to New York. We have a city with rising rent, rising seas, and rising inequality. The peripheries of the metropolitan area are under-served by mass transit, and they also have plenty of opportunity sites for housing and for jobs. There’s also opportunities for more informal transit.


How about a van route along the Belt Parkway?



How about express routes to particularly far-flung neighborhoods?

These are just some examples of how informality can bridge the gap – often literally, if the vans go on bridges or in tunnels. These vans are essentially Uber/Lyft services on “steroids”, helping to take more cars off of the road, and helping to free up more space for humans. Imagine a downtown with fewer parking lots, and more space for parks. Or, imagine transit-oriented infill development, catalyzed by a public-private partnership and informality-formality collaboration.


Parking in Downtown Newark, NJ


Vacant Lot in Newark, NJ

Simply put, there needs to be a reworking of our laws, so that we can develop our cities using our brains. If a new project is being built far away from formalized transit access, we need to be reaching out to these drivers to see if they’re interested. But, even if they’re not interested, we should let them focus on the areas that they are interested in driving, because those are the areas with demand that isn’t being met. And until formalized transportation is built, we need to encourage informality and make it easier to provide non-governmental services to communities.


(Formal) Light Rail in Newark, NJ


(Formal/PPP Contract) NJT Light Rail in Lifeless CBD of Jersey City, NJ

To be clear, I’m not advocating for less formalized public transportation; I’m advocating for more choices and for more alternatives. While the MTA builds expensive projects, we can also be building cheaper projects, such as BRT routes, while encouraging informality as well. It all depends on the context, and what mode works best for the given physical, social, economic, and political environment.

For instance, if the context is a location where existing infrastructure assets already exist but have since been abandoned, then we should work to revitalize those assets. There are many underutilized and forgotten railroad routes in the city, such as the former LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch, which the A train partly uses, but which continues further north towards Queens Boulevard. In fact, a future usage of this rail line could look like this! Right now, many want to turn this transportation asset into a park, even though it could help to connect the outer boroughs and assist in the G train’s outer borough connectivity efforts. The tracks are still there, the stations are still there, and there’s even evidence of a former connection to the LIRR Atlantic Branch at Woodhaven Junction. This is one of countless proposed subway extensions, which, combined together, could end up making the system look like this:

SOURCE: vanshnookenraggen.com (They sell subway maps!)

However, even that map above, which extends to the Nassau county border, does not integrate the PATH and the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail. More lines would also be needed into New Jersey, as well as more regional routes through-running via Manhattan. The LIRR could connect from Atlantic Terminal to the Fulton Center, and trains could also go from New Jersey into Long Island through Penn Station without needing to transfer from NJT to LIRR. Moreover, there could be more express regional routes as well, just as there are local and express subway lines. And, let’s not forget… train ferries! All of these ideas help to increase the capacity for density and, therefore, for more (affordable) housing.

The map above also does not include frequency, and other smart indicators…. such as, you guessed it, informality. So I’ll repeat: it all depends on the context, and what mode works best for the given physical, social, economic, and political environment. And in the end, where dollar vans can work, they should work. And they should work well.

Rayn Riel is a student at Tufts University studying international urban development, his self-crafted major. Interested in transportation, he is the founder of Tufts’ only undergraduate urban development student organization and was an intern at the NYC Department of City Planning (DCP) in Brooklyn in order to work on transportation accessibility and mobility in East New York. Now an intern in the DCP Transportation Division, Rayn is a writer on PlanYourCity, he has had transportation planning work and research experience in the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Europe, as well as in the United States, and of course, NYC.

(All photos are taken by Rayn, except for the two brilliant maps: The New Yorker and Vanshnookenraggen.com)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

39 Comments on “(In)formality (In)justice”

  1. Andrew Goldstone July 24, 2014 at 8:16 am #

    Excellent overview and focused view of some of the cities transportation problems


  2. Rayn Riel July 29, 2014 at 3:48 pm #

    //Post updated!


  3. Bobby July 23, 2016 at 12:23 am #


  4. Yoyo July 29, 2016 at 4:36 pm #

    there should be an HOV lane for these vans and for buses.

    unfortunately, good luck enforcing it…


    • Mark July 30, 2016 at 7:47 am #

      Yes good point. In america land of the free we love being “independent” … hard for agencies (nypd, dot, mta) to work together! But the USA was founded because states united to be stronger together as a whole, while remaining free. Nowadays we have brexit, trumpism, people trying to build walls and divide us… but as long as the subways keep running, ny will still be connected!


      • Mark July 30, 2016 at 8:05 am #

        And what made robert moses so special is that he got stuff built — bridges tunnels parks, the UN, lincoln center, world fairs, etc — because he did NOT need to collaborate. he controlled numerous authorities/agencies and worked his magic. the TBTA was self-sufficient from all the toll revenue and he had his own little empire, own police force, connecting the region with today’s MTA bridges and tunnels. he got US DOT, NYDOT, NYC DOT.. all to build for him and connect his highways. of course this is not ethical today, we need more cooperation, community input, but we need to find the balance and also get things built.

        it is good that b&t now helps to fund the subways. the unified subways were in such a financial mess by the 70s, even bringing them from BoT control to NYCTA, a new public authority, did not seem to help. (public authorities are relatively independent from legislature and election cycles and can more easily raise fares, issue tolls, bonds, etc.. )

        so the state came in to help, bringing tbta under mta control and nycta too. along with lirr, which the mta was founded to control, and eventually, mnr:

        Chartered by the New York State Legislature in 1965 as the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Authority (MCTA) it was initially created by Governor Nelson Rockefeller to purchase and operate the bankrupt Long Island Rail Road. The MCTA dropped the word “Commuter” from its name and became the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in 1968 when it took over operations of the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) (now MTA New York City Transit (NYCT)) and Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA) (now MTA Bridges and Tunnels (B&T)).[2]

        The agency also entered into a long-term lease of the Penn Central Transportation’s Hudson, Harlem, and New Haven commuter rail lines,[2] contracting their subsidized operation to Penn Central, until that company’s operations were folded into Conrail in 1976. The MTA took over full operations in 1983, as the Metro-North Commuter Railroad.[2] Governor Rockefeller appointed his top aide, Dr. William J. Ronan, as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. Dr. Ronan served in this post until 1974.



      • Mark July 30, 2016 at 8:21 am #

        MTA Bridges and Tunnels, legally known as the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, is an affiliate agency of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, that operates seven intrastate toll bridges and two tunnels in New York City. In terms of traffic volume, it is the largest bridge and tunnel toll agency in the United States serving more than a million people each day and generating more than $1.5 Billion Dollars in toll revenue annually as of 2012.[2]

        The seven bridges are:

        Triborough Bridge (officially Robert F. Kennedy Bridge), its namesake and flagship crossing, connecting Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, and Randalls and Wards Islands (Manhattan)
        Bronx–Whitestone Bridge, connecting the Bronx and Queens
        Verrazano–Narrows Bridge, connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island
        Throgs Neck Bridge, connecting the Bronx and Queens
        Henry Hudson Bridge, connecting Manhattan and the Bronx
        Marine Parkway–Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge, connecting Brooklyn and the Rockaways (Queens)
        Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge, connecting Broad Channel to the Rockaways (Queens)
        The two tunnels are:

        Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel (officially Hugh L. Carey Tunnel), connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan
        Queens–Midtown Tunnel, connecting Queens and Manhattan

        Originally named the Triborough Bridge Authority, the authority was created in 1933 as a public-benefit corporation by the New York State Legislature. It was tasked with completing construction of the Triborough Bridge, which had been started by New York City in 1929 but had stalled due to the Great Depression.

        Under the chairmanship of Robert Moses, the agency grew in a series of mergers with four other agencies:

        Henry Hudson Parkway Authority, in 1940
        Marine Parkway Authority, in 1940
        New York City Parkway Authority, in 1940
        New York City Tunnel Authority, in 1946
        With the last merger in 1946, the authority was renamed the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. Generating millions of dollars in toll revenue annually, the TBTA easily became a powerful city agency as it was capable of funding large capital projects. From the 1940s-60s, the TBTA built the Battery Parking Garage, Jacob Riis Beach Parking Field, Coliseum Office Building and Exposition Center and East Side Airlines Terminal,[3] as well as many parks in the city

        The TBTA was merged into the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1968. Surplus revenue, formerly used for new automobile projects, would now be used to support public transportation. [4] Since then, more than $10 billion has been contributed by the TBTA to subsidize mass transit fares and capital improvements for the New York City Transit, Long Island Rail Road, and Metro-North Railroad. Since 1994, the TBTA has been doing business as MTA Bridges and Tunnels.[5] The name Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority is still the legal name of the Authority and was used publicly between 1946 and 1994.



      • Mark July 30, 2016 at 9:06 am #


        NYSDOT rebuilding!


      • Friedrich July 31, 2016 at 4:40 pm #

        from NYT

        There are sociological factors at work: America is an older society than it was in Reagan’s day, a more individualistic and more atomized one, more ideologically polarized and less religious, with more diversity but less solidarity and social trust. There are economic trends: The Obama era, like the Bush era before it, hasn’t generated sustained wage growth even when the unemployment rate is low, creating a feeling of stagnation even in periods of rising gross domestic product.
        But then there are also more immediate factors. Trump’s doom-laden litany last week was exaggerated but not fabricated. Homicides really have spiked in the last two years, illegal immigration is up since Obama’s attempted executive amnesty, Islamic State-inspired terrorist attacks are clearly on the rise. More broadly, the Western liberal order seems considerably less stable than it did even in the depths of the Great Recession.

        Liberals always try to put down the rich, whites, men… rather than bring up others! They would rather everyone poor and oppressed than unequal…


    • Mark July 30, 2016 at 9:28 am #

      all of these nycha homes have so much parking… folks thought cars were the key to mobility, access to jobs… and perhaps true, since many were built right along asthma corridors (highways)…


    • Hank July 31, 2016 at 5:58 pm #

      trump makes no sense. a republican? republicans have long appealed to rural and suburban voters… “family values” in single family homes… who escaped the cities and african-americans… while democrats, the city, where african americans have moved to since great migration. except for centrists like bloomberg who have common sense and understand the importance of cities, mass transit, education, climate change, private sector… not like republicans who blame it all on govt or democrats who blame it on private sector.

      Not since the southern strategy has the republican party changed so much from once being the party of lincoln to its racist state of affairs… democrats were once the racist ones in the south, jim crow, and the union bosses in the north…

      fascinating how politics affects our cities. how the civil war and slavery still impact the US. was simply too cold in north for plantation slave economy to exist all year round… so it industrialized, like the UK (US founded by british colonists so they had similar culture, economy, laws, technology, protestant mindset)… massive waves of immigrants, big cities… south was best with plantation economy till slavery outlawed. has always been more poor. until ironically, the feds invested in the region — interstate highway, rural electricity, public education… yet still they are anti government, anti yankee … “states rights” limited government fighting the american revolution and high taxation with their sprawl and lack of mass transit… (except for salt lake city, a nice light rail there, but probably just because it is such a mormon/homogenous white place that they are united and do not see mass transit as a welfare system for the “other”… for blacks. what a shame)





      • Friedrich July 31, 2016 at 7:45 pm #

        still, so lucky to be in US, can vote, free to protest, express yourself, running water, food, electricity…


  5. Snailbus August 7, 2016 at 5:15 pm #

    In the 21st century, buses should not be spending so much time dwelling, with only one door for entry… POP, enter thru all doors, tap on/off, just like a subway. And the nerve some bus riders get off the front door too so adds even more time!!!


    In 2002, New York City Transit recorded some substantial bus ridership numbers as 762 million people paid to ride the bus. It’s been all downhill since then, as only 650 million people used buses last year. Meanwhile, over the same period of time, New York City’s subway ridership has grown from 1.413 billion rides to 1.762 billion last year, and the population of the city has grown by around five percent. When it comes to buses, something isn’t working.

    This isn’t, of course, a new development. A few weeks ago, a NYC DOT report showed how slow travel speeds, among other issues, has led to less reliable and less popular bus service, and we’ve seen how some fairly minor enhancements to bus service — dedicated lanes and pre-board fare payment — can reduce travel times. Now, a coalition of transit advocates and New York City politicians are putting pressure on both the city and MTA to do something to improve bus service and prioritize the bus network.
    In a report issued last week called “Turnaround: Fixing New York City’s Buses” [pdf], the Transit Center, Riders Alliance, Straphangers Campaign and Tri-State Transportation Campaign have called for a redesigned bus network with service enhancements and best-in-class infrastructure including pre-board fare payment and dedicated street space. It’s almost revolutionary for New York but standard practice the world over. Full-scale implementation should combat the causes that have depressed bus ridership over the past decade and a half, but it will take a multi-agency effort across city and state agencies to see through.

    The decline in bus ridership over the past 14 years highlights the flaws in the city’s approach to building a bus network.
    The decline in bus ridership over the past 14 years highlights the flaws in the city’s approach to building a bus network.

    Tabitha Decker, Transit Center’s NYC Program Director, summed up the recommendations. “Many of New York’s global peers, such as London and Seoul, have turned around bus systems that were in decline, even though these cities have large-scale urban rail too. They have done this by making bus travel fast, frequent, and reliable using tools like smart card based fare payment and the use of real time data to keep buses on schedule.”

    The recommendations are broken down into segments. First, the report urges redesigning the bus network for more frequent and efficient service. Today’s bus network is a relic of New York City’s old streetcars, and the routes are often twisting and turning paths that end at borough borders rather than a transit hubs or other popular destinations. The coalition wants to straighten out routes for faster travel times and, as the report states, “rightsize the distance between bus stops. New York is a global outlier in terms of how closely stops are spaced, and on many routes, stops are even closer together than our own standards dictate. Optimizing the number of stops will speed trips for riders.”
    The second section focuses on fare payment and boarding. Obviously, a tap-and-go system will significantly reduce boarding times if a pre-board fare payment system for all local buses is too costly. All-door boarding would reduce station dwell times as well. (The Riders Alliance recently issued a different report raising concerns with the MTA’s next-generation fare payment plans that could have ramifications for buses as well.) Continued investment in low-floor buses should improve the boarding process as well, the report noted.

    Next, the report urges the MTA to change the way it dispatches and controls buses that are en route to ensure buses arrive on schedule and avoid bus bunching. In addition to dispatching buses on time, the MTA should hold buses en route to improve service. This is a bit of a controversial recommendation as it could lead to delays for passengers during their travels, but the coalition feels a more proactive, headway-based control process should improve service for everyone.
    Dedicated lanes and signal prioritization can help speed up the city’s notorious slow buses.
    Dedicated lanes and signal prioritization can help speed up the city’s notorious slow buses.
    Finally, in a recommendation that would overhaul the way buses interact with the streets, the report urges a massive expansion of dedicated lanes, a renewed focus on bus bulbs and boarding islands to “eliminate time spent weaving in and out of traffic,” signal prioritization and queue-jump lanes for buses.

    These changes would require DOT and the MTA to collaborate and would likely require authorization from Albany as well. It’s politically tricky but not impossible.
    And yet, while an expansive coalition of New York City politics voiced their support for these bus turnarounds, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Grand Poobah of New York State politics, in comments to Politico New York, dismissed bus problems with a wave of his hand a complete lack of understanding. “If people in Manhattan are choosing to jump on the subway because the subway is faster, because there’s traffic that a bus has to deal with — that’s not an imprudent choice, right?” Cuomo said.

    Cuomo, who thinks a USB charging port on a bus is some form of revolutionary improvement, doesn’t seem to understand the role the bus network could play in New York City, and Ben Fried took it too him in a post on Streetsblog last week. Cuomo’s Manhattan-centric view of travel speeds betrays his belief that traffic is a force of nature that cannot be addressed through rational policies and that buses mirror subways. As Fried writes, “The governor’s theory about people ditching the bus for the train simply doesn’t apply to the vast number of New Yorkers who ride these routes [that cover territory that the subway does not] and would benefit enormously from the recommendations in the Bus Turnaround report.”

    In response to the report, the MTA noted that it is in the process of implementing some of these upgrades and that the agency has undertaken certain studies regarding specific routes. But overall, the MTA, DOT and city and state officials need to engage in a concerted effort to reroute and redraw bus routes while improving the infrastructure upon which buses rely. If they don’t, ridership will continue to decline, and buses will forever remain stuck with the stigma of being a second-class transportation option.


  6. Jorg August 20, 2016 at 4:07 pm #

    The informal economy around the world varies drastically… Brazilian favelas, South African townships… Places with extreme poverty and creativity, lacking plumbing, clean water, electricity, an address… and unable to participate in formal economy. Formal housing cannot meet the demand. Favelas all stack on top of each other in hilly Brazil, dense Rio and Sao Paulo, with bricks and other local supplies… In S Africa, slums are almost never more than one story tall structures/shacks… even the formal homes… because, why? They want ea. family to have a home, not be in an apartment, and a sense of ownership to maintain it? Townships are sprawling sprawling far from city center yet most don’t have cars, rely on informal transit… An entirely different reality.




  7. Matatulife August 20, 2016 at 4:40 pm #

    gtfs formalizing informality in kenya!!!

    Meanwhile, AFC data for the NYC MetroCards has transformed data collection for the MTA.


  8. Solaris September 5, 2016 at 8:41 pm #

    citibike is expanding to more areas, docks on curb, taking away parking spots, but it’s ok, hopefully means fewer drivers

    electric charging stations


  9. Jinxor September 10, 2016 at 11:29 am #

    In the Soviet Union, where it was hard to find chocolate, colorful shirts, and other free market products, the St. Petersburg Metro and Moscow Metro were extremely extravagant and ornate. These were propaganda machines, built to be the people’s palace, and also their nuclear bomb shelter. Meanwhile, in less formal places, like African cities, with little government resources, informal transit rules. Each minibus has its own rules… is it raining? prices go up. bus not full yet? we wait. cash only to pay off corrupt police officers. minibus unsafe? too bad. They will go fast and swerve around to pick up passengers. But they are trying to formalize it with GTFS, so drivers have more efficient routes… and, it is a lot more flexible






  10. Albequek September 13, 2016 at 7:57 pm #

    it is hard to formalize these buses, they refuse to follow schedules or routes, they want to follow the money


  11. Gor September 22, 2016 at 6:06 pm #

    elevators on the subway are all glass now so people feel more safe. but people need to also know how to ride the subway! move inside the train! don’t hold doors! sometimes they’ll stay by the doors because they want to get out first, or know that it’s the closest to their exit, but it causes crowding in some cars and not in others… the G train is only 4 cars and people run to them from the whole platform, making the first and last car more crowded. maybe conductors should tell people to use all doors. or just local recycle when people hold doors so the whole train’s doors don’t reopen; this is possible on the newer trains but they don’t seem to use it to just reopen that one door a bit.

    i feel like the mta spends so much time reporting, or responding to audits, but never gets around to figuring out WHY, the root cause of the numbers they are reporting, and then trying to FIX it!

    the 70s had more crowded trains during rush hour than now, because there were fewer trains and people had less flexible work hours. AND now, people are fatter and still it is less crowded during rush hour. the increased ridership we see is during other hours and reverse commuting which is GOOD for the subway, not bad. and in the 40s, platforms were not yet extended, many locals had only 5 cars, and they dealt with it. so really, what’s the big deal? why are there more delays? probably because of signal changes, flagging changes, an emphasis on SAFETY, and going SLOW, and new crews learning this, so they don’t go fast… just my observations

    The MTA has managed to grow ridership again because the system is safe again. Passengers have returned because the amount of litter, dirt, uneven lighting, patchwork flooring, broken tiles, out-of-order equipment, and even out-of-date signage and rat poison signs have been reduced to lower uneasiness and insecurity. Meanwhile, service reliability and knowledge (countdown clocks) have increased ease and safety.


  12. Yinks September 27, 2016 at 10:24 am #

    They are modernizing stations with next train arrival signage, communication screens, help points, fixing the PA system… almost as big as when they extended platforms on IRT BMT a few decades ago, except for some like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/145th_Street_(IRT_Lenox_Avenue_Line)



    • Taurine October 2, 2016 at 7:59 pm #

      IRT and BMT used to have shorter trains, shorter platforms. Locals were only 5 cars on the IRT originally, since they didn’t know what demand to expect. (And the tunnels were narrower than BMT/IND, built later, which was cheaper, but now B Division trains cannot operate on IRT tracks, and IRT trains have too wide of a gap if they were used for B Division stations). But the signals on the first IRT corridors allowed trains to be a lot closer, as you can see from this video

      Now everything is up to 10 cars, platforms were extended, and thus some stations were abandoned (such as 91st, which then became too close to nearby extended stations.)

      But even still, block signaling doesn’t allow RCC to know the “precise” location of trains. Only in the block. And on the B division, RCC doesn’t know where all the trains on all the blocks are; it’s still in the local towers, with 1930s signal technology and switchboards. Only A Division has ATS (not at terminals where dispatchers change crew and lay-up to yard during non-peak hour) and consolidated all the signals to the rail control center for central, computerized control of the signals and interlockings. And only the L is CBTC, which allows trains to be a lot closer together since computers communicate with trackside locators and trains and know where everything is… everywhere else, speed is controlled by grade timers, station timers, etc… so trains can close up on a station when another train is leaving it on the block… very old school signals and old school relays with completely outdated technology, vulnerable to fire and such with all of the old cables, wiring, transponders

      But, very expensive to change… Other industries have become more productive, but not the NYC subway.

      Still, such a rich history. City Hall was the original terminal of the IRT, before the Brooklyn Extension and the loop at the South Ferry. The first subway through 42nd to the West Side had Times Square as a local station (back then, it was called Longacre Square and it was not yet a popular place), so for 5-car locals, and it was never extended because then it became the shuttle, and the third track was filled for a platform. Other corridors were built at varying depths… such a maze of complexity. And they only added local side platforms at a few stations, like Brooklyn Bridge and 14th and 96th, for a little while, since when they extended platforms for locals to get to 10 cars, they did not want to extend side platforms since most were using island platforms to transfer to express trains.










      Remember, back when the subway was built, this is what life was like:

      The year is 1910
      One hundred years ago.
      What a difference a century makes!
      Here are some statistics for the Year 1910:
      ************ ********* ************
      The average life expectancy for men was 47 years.
      Fuel for cars was sold in drug stores only.
      Only 14 percent of the homes had a bathtub.
      Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone.
      There were only 8,000 cars and only 144 miles of paved roads.
      The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.
      The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower !
      The average US wage in 1910 was 22 cents per hour.
      The average US worker made between $200 and $400 per year.
      A competent accountant could expect to earn $2,000 per year,
      A dentist $2,500 per year, a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000 per year, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year.
      More than 95 percent of all births took place at HOME.
      Ninety percent of all Doctors had NO COLLEGE EDUCATION!
      Instead, they attended so-called medical schools, many of which
      were condemned in the press AND the government as ‘substandard.’
      Sugar cost four cents a pound.
      Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen.
      Coffee was fifteen cents a pound.
      Most women only washed their hair once a month, and used Borax or egg yolks for shampoo.
      Canada passed a law that prohibited poor people from entering into their country for any reason.
      The Five leading causes of death were:
      1. Pneumonia and influenza
      2. Tuberculosis
      3. Diarrhea
      4. Heart disease
      5. Stroke
      The American flag had 45 stars.
      The population of Las Vegas was 30!
      Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and iced tea hadn’t been invented yet.
      There was no Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.
      Two out of every 10 adults couldn’t read or write and
      Only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.
      Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at the local corner drugstores.
      Back then pharmacists said, ‘Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind,
      Regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health’
      Eighteen percent of households had at least one full-time servant or
      domestic helper.
      There were about 230 reported murders in the ENTIRE U.S.A. !


    • Eugenie October 18, 2016 at 9:39 am #

      As Crime in the Subway Comes Down, Signs From an Earlier Era Do Too
      OCT. 17, 2016


      The “Don’t Honk” signs came down a few years ago. Notices urging pet owners to clean up after their dogs disappeared from New York City streets not long after.
      Now, another directive posted in the city’s public spaces is being removed: where to wait for a subway train late at night.
      That such instructions even exist is news to many.
      “I never even noticed it,” Eddie Rodriguez said as he stared at a large yellow sign that read “Off hours waiting area” in the Astor Place subway station in Manhattan.
      “What does that even mean?” he asked.
      Mr. Rodriguez, a New York native who rides the subway every day, is not alone in his confusion. Although still valued by some, the designated waiting areas — well-lit spots within eyeshot of a station agent or next to an intercom — are unknown to many riders today. They will soon become even more obscure.
      Citing rising nighttime ridership and falling crime, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is gradually removing the waiting area signs as it renovates stations. Once promoted as a useful, low-cost way to provide a sense of safety, the waiting areas have become obsolete, some say — relics of an unruly era in the subway system’s past.
      Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the authority, said a number of high-tech safety features had effectively supplanted the purpose of the waiting areas, including thousands of security cameras and “Help Point” intercoms on platforms that enable riders to call a station agent and the system’s Rail Control Center.
      Mr. Ortiz said the authority did not know when the last of the signs would be removed, or how many waiting areas remain.
      “Some stations still have the signage, but we don’t have a running tally,” he said.
      Christopher Hurley breezed past one of the signs at the 14th Street and Sixth Avenue station in Manhattan on a recent Sunday night, as did seemingly everyone else who passed through the turnstiles. Mr. Hurley said he could not even imagine the point of the area, which was on the mezzanine level, a staircase away from the trains.
      “Who’s waiting there?” he asked.
      Pelumi Adegawa, for one. Ms. Adegawa said she regularly sat in designated waiting zones, especially at the Grant Avenue station in Brooklyn, near where she lives.
      “It’s cooler up there” in the summer, she said. “And you don’t have to stare at the rats.”
      Ms. Adegawa said the areas often felt safer than other parts of the station. “As a female, going home late, safety is a big issue for me,” she said.
      Whether the waiting zones have yielded quantifiable safety benefits is unclear.
      Vincent Coogan, executive officer of the Police Department’s Transit Bureau, said he did not know whether the areas had been effective in deterring crime. But he noted that crime on public transit had dropped in recent decades.
      The transit system experienced an 87 percent decrease in felonies from 1990 to 2014, according to Police Department data. During the same period, annual subway ridership nearly doubled.
      Oscar Israelowitz, the author of a book on design in the subway system, was more certain of the waiting areas’ benefit.
      “It’s the placebo effect,” he said. “You feel secure because it says you’re in the safety zone.”
      The psychological comfort may be all that some riders need.
      Christine Zhang was unaware that she was standing in the off-hours waiting area at the Astor Place station on a recent night. She said she did not seek out such areas but thought they might provide peace of mind to tourists and newcomers to the city.
      “Maybe they have that perception that New York is dangerous and need that sense of security,” Ms. Zhang said.
      Guidebooks, online travel forums and even the websites of the authorityand the Police Department still encourage riders to congregate in the designated spots at night, even as they are being phased out.
      The New York City Transit Authority, which operates city buses and subways, began installing the waiting-area signs in the 1980s as part of a series of new security features for the then-troubled subway system.
      “When I first went there, it was really almost frightening to ride the subway,” said David Gunn, the transit authority’s president from 1984 to 1990.
      Train breakdowns, graffiti, fare evasion and even cars catching fire were chronic problems at the time, Mr. Gunn said, on top of persistently high levels of crime in subway cars and stations.
      “The whole atmosphere was so out of control,” he said. “It was intimidating.”
      Establishing the waiting areas cost around $14 million, and the authority had planned to install signs in all of the system’s stations, which numbered 465 at the time, by 1987.
      But the agency began to remove the signs in the 1990s, Mr. Ortiz said. To those with deep roots in the city, the slow extinction of the waiting areas reflects just how far the transit system has come since then.
      “It’s a sign of the times, I guess,” said Mr. Rodriguez, who recalled his terror at riding the subway as a child. “It has gotten better.”


  13. Webster October 7, 2016 at 3:49 pm #

    NY is very expensive and fast, but that’s good for the economy! Yes, it is hard to drive places, but families sacrifice their SUVs and huge loads of groceries at Wal-Mart for density, dynamism, being close to good parks and neighbors, and plenty of educational activities. Besides, there are supermarkets all over and people can just pick things up and walk home or bike. And there are still many parking lots for supermarkets. The subway is 24/7 and so are many stores. And if you really need a lot, just do fresh direct. Whereas suburbs: you NEED a car. Here cars are a liability.


  14. Yuni October 9, 2016 at 4:06 pm #

    Toronto’s streetcars were saved because of advocacy. In SF, cable cars saved for tourism factor. Trackless trolleys sometimes also saved, reduces pollution, and electric buses are expensive.

    Meanwhile Hyperloop is feasible to some people? Hyperloop is subject to the very same political funding process and land acquisition challenges as NEC modernization and California High Speed Rail…Maybe in China or Russia where the state has little concern for private land owner rights.

    In the early 1900s, we were able to build a lot of transit because labor costs were cheaper. But we were also less wealthy. BUT, we had fewer regulations, and private companies were building a lot of the system and they had an incentive to be efficient. Then again, the city subway was also built quickly. So I think a lot of it is political will. That new bridge in the twin cities was built in like, 11 months. The second avenue subway has such high costs, even though they have a tunnel boring machine. Sounds like inept management in the city with the highest spending on transit in the world, with the most stations, track miles, employees…

    It’s so bureaucratic. There are capital program managers for subways, buses, major projects, all coordinating… so


    And then the PA is building the new 1 line WTC station, lol.

    At first, horse-drawn buggies were attached to rail for more traction, then they got them electric-powered. But buses are so much more flexible, can move around traffic, and don’t get stalled along the rail. And light rail has more capacity than buses, so if there’s enough density for it, sure.



    • ConfederateCity November 8, 2016 at 5:29 pm #

      A Slow Ride Toward the Future of Public Transportation
      NOV. 4, 2016


      HELSINKI, Finland — A small electric bus chugged along at a slow but steady seven miles per hour when a white van, entering the street from the side, cut in front of it. The bus slowed, as if its driver had hit the brakes, and got back up to speed after the van moved out of the way.
      But this bus has no brake or accelerator pedal. It has no steering wheel, either. In fact, it doesn’t have a driver — it operates using sensors and software, although for now, a person is stationed on board ready to hit a red “stop” button in an emergency.
      At a time when self-driving cars are beginning to make progress — most notably with a trial program that the ride service Uber began in Pittsburgh this fall — the bus represents a different approach to technologically advanced transportation.
      A driverless car, after all, is still a car, carrying at best a few people. By transporting many passengers on what could be very flexible routes, driverless buses could help reduce the number of cars clogging city streets.
      It’s no surprise that the bus is being tested in Helsinki, which has been at the forefront of efforts to use technology to rethink public transportation.
      Driverless buses like this one are being used in private, controlled settings, for example to shuttle students around a campus or employees on the grounds of an industrial plant. Helsinki is one of the first cities to run so-called autonomous buses on public roads in traffic; another project, in Sion, Switzerland, has been operating for several months, although the service was suspended in September for two weeks after a minor accident.
      The Helsinki bus is a project of several universities with cooperation and money from government agencies and the European Union. The two-year, $1.2 million project, called Sohjoa, is just one manifestation of a movement to reduce the use of cars, and the traffic jams and greenhouse gases that come with them.
      “A good possible outcome is that less and less people will own personal vehicles in the cities because they really don’t need them anymore,” said Harri Santamala, who coordinates the project and directs a “smart mobility” program at Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences.
      In September, a Sohjoa bus, which can accommodate up to 12 passengers sitting and standing, made its debut on a straight, quarter-mile route in the city’s Hernesaari district, turning 180 degrees at both ends. The trip connected a popular sauna and restaurant at one end with several restaurants at the other, and attracted a small stream of curious riders.
      “We chose this as a first route because we can study a huge amount of different traffic issues depending on the time of day,” Mr. Santamala said.
      The buses are not as sophisticated as Uber’s self-driving cars, or those being developed by Google and other companies. Those are essentially “free-range” vehicles, able to travel just about anywhere by comparing what their sensors detect about roads and surroundings with a database that has been compiled by the cars over time. (Before Uber began offering rides in Pittsburgh, for example, employees drove its cars around the city for months, collecting data.)
      The buses, made by a French company, are “taught” a route by having operators drive them using steering and acceleration controls on a small box. The route is then fine-tuned with software. In operation, the buses have laser sensors and GPS to keep them on the route, and can deviate only if alternate routes have been “learned” as well.
      While the buses are designed to travel at about 15 m.p.h., or 25 kilometers pe hour, they are running at half that for the Helsinki trials. Lateral movement is also restricted; if a car is double-parked along the route, for instance, the bus must wait until the car moves or the bus operator steers around it using the control box.
      “We have to be very keen about safety,” Mr. Santamala said.
      Those restrictions provide an underwhelming experience for now. The most excitement occurs when a vehicle like the white van crosses too closely, or when a motorist approaches from the rear and, impatient with the bus’s tortoise like pace, swerves around it.
      Mr. Santamala said the project aimed to establish a real bus route — probably a seasonal one — in the next two years. And there’s no reason self-driving technology could not be applied to bigger buses eventually.
      For now, the project is focusing on so-called last mile service — taking riders from a stop on a more conventional bus line to a point closer to their homes, shops, offices or schools. An autonomous bus, presumably going faster, could be useful, especially because of a quirk in Finland’s motor vehicle laws.
      “It doesn’t state anywhere that we need to have a driver holding the steering wheel or even inside the vehicle,” Mr. Santamala said. “A legal driver can be observing the operation through a computer.”
      That means a number of buses could run autonomously, with one operator in a central office intervening remotely as needed. Reducing the number of operators could make it financially feasible to run routes that serve only a few customers, or to vary routes throughout the day based on ridership.
      Helsinki has already seen several efforts to use technology to change public transportation. One was an on-demand minibus service, Kutsuplus, that was operated by the regional transport agency for four years. Using a smartphone, customers could choose pickup and drop-off locations. The service’s software then combined requests from several customers and calculated an optimal route for one of its 15 minibuses.
      “It was a good experiment,” said Sami Sahala, who advises the city on “intelligent transportation” issues. “But it was a little bit ahead of its time.” Kutsuplus was heavily subsidized by the city, and although the service was popular and gaining riders, it was doomed by budget cuts at the end of last year.
      A spinoff company, Split, ran an on-demand service in Washington that was discontinued last month, and Uber and its ride-service rival, Lyft, have developed similar ride-share services that use the companies’ drivers and their private cars.
      Other efforts to remake transportation continue in Helsinki. The most ambitious is a service introduced this fall by a Finnish company, MaaS Global, that offers all-inclusive transit services for a monthly fee. The concept, called “mobility as a service,” takes its inspiration from the changes that have occurred in the telecommunications industry over the past several decades, Mr. Sahala said.
      “You used to pay for all the calls you made,” he said. “But with the advent of mobile phones, the business model started to change. Now you pay a fixed price, and everything is included.”
      Through an app called Whim, MaaS Global lets customers order transportation from point A to point B and then guarantees it will provide it, using a combination of trams, buses, taxis, rental cars and car-sharing services.
      “You’re covered,” said Sampo Hietanen, the chief executive of MaaS Global. “You can just concentrate on going.” The monthly fees vary depending on how much transportation is needed.
      Mr. Hietanen said that to be successful, the service should provide the same feeling of independence that owning a car does.
      Cars are expensive, and studies have shown that most urban car owners rarely use them, so there’s a potential market in people who give up their cars and spend some of the savings on a service like Whim.
      Self-driving cars and buses may eventually help to make services like MaaS Global’s widely affordable, Mr. Hietanen said.
      For now, the bus trials continue. Last month, the project moved to a more complex route in Espoo, on Helsinki’s outskirts, and is now operating in Tampere, 111 miles (179 kilometers) to the north.
      Mr. Santamala and his colleagues analyze each trip to learn how a self-driving bus differs from one operated by a human, and how motorists and pedestrians interact with it. One difference was apparent to everyone aboard the bus after the white van cut in front of it: There was no driver to yell at the driver of the van, which had pulled into a nearby parking space.
      So Helena Bensky, a Helsinki resident who was giving the bus a try, offered to fill in.
      “Should I go give that guy a telling off?” she asked.


  15. Hall October 15, 2016 at 8:37 pm #

    The automatic announcements are based on wheel rotation. Rodent poison… based on pizza. lol

    The NY Wheel, that’s another story!



  16. Jinx October 22, 2016 at 1:14 am #

    Better economy = more ridership, traffic, accidents…


  17. Pluto October 25, 2016 at 5:30 pm #

    We could have much better streets, trains, be better connected to our jobs, schools, opportunities, on all modes… In Mexico, the newer cities in the north, near US, were built more auto-centric, with lots of cheap second-hand cars from the US. And the land is flatter, so more sprawl. And so hot, so very little shade, depending on the season/sun angles. But they are now adding BRT, bike lanes… If you build it, people will come. Supply and demand. Unfortunately formal transit faces hurdles in Mexico because of informal vans… hard to make things more multimodal… cultural issues… lane width constraints… speed bumps and narcotics traffickers, which always chip them down so they can speed from police. FYI, one of the easiest things to do is just have contraflow lanes, so people go slower, since they see approaching vehicles. But pedestrians do need to look both ways.

    Politics is probably responsible more than actual traffic flow studies for one way and two way streets, for strange grid exceptions, for speed bumps, and so on. Gramercy Park was built by a private developer, a private park owned by surrounding lots, and the developer even built Lexington Avenue. Then there’s Stuy Town, built without many streets for vehicles, a garden city.



    • Francis October 26, 2016 at 8:33 pm #

      At least it is sunny. When it gets darker up north, there are more fatalities.



  1. Powers, Identities, Ideologies | PlaNYourCity - August 4, 2014

    […] and on whether or not we’re “transporting transportation“, or translating (in)formal best practices. . (All photographs taken by Rayn except for Google Maps & Bing Maps images) […]


  2. Mr. TOD | PlaNYourCity - August 13, 2014

    […] context, and on whether or not we’re “transporting transportation“, or translating (in)formal best practices. . (All photographs taken by […]


  3. Creative Class Controvery | PlaNYourCity - September 17, 2014

    […] context, and on whether or not we’re “transporting transportation“, or translating (in)formal best practices. . This piece is based upon IRB/CITI certified UP3 research. Anonymous artisans […]


  4. Glimpse: Fulton Center | PlaNYourCity - September 29, 2014

    […] (in)formal, public-private partnership hubs must integrate commercial space in order to qualify as smart […]


  5. A Riel Plan for NYC | PlaNYourCity - December 21, 2015

    […] going to happen, we need to think creatively. The city needs to encourage choice, by regulating informal transportation opportunities, rather than banning them. When it comes to choice, the city, too, […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: