For New York City to plan for the 21st century, it should embrace its 19th and early 20th century history. During this time, the city grew rapidly; in the 1930s, the city had almost 7 million people – an increase of almost 6 million people from the 1850s. And we could accommodate all this growth because we had less interference – fewer zoning rules, for instance – so that we could build transit and housing rapidly. In fact, 40 percent of the buildings in Manhattan couldn’t be built with today’s regulations – they’re too tall, with too many apartments or businesses.

The controversy surrounding the Equitable Building‘s construction “without setbacks, which does not allow sunlight to reach the surrounding ground, contributed to the adoption of the first modern building and zoning restrictions on vertical structures in Manhattan, the 1916 Zoning Resolution.” (RR)

The Empire State Building‘s setbacks were required by NYC zoning laws. (RR)



The private and profitable elevated railroads of the 19th century voluntarily lowered their fares and expanded into the outer boroughs with more frequent service, back when much of the land was rural, betting on the explosive growth of the city – and they took an active role by developing much of the real estate themselves. Since they sought profit, they had an incentive to provide fast service for their paying customers – they knew that delays mattered for their bottom line, and that being efficient, frequent, and reliable meant being fast. Delays require overtime, more crews, more trains, more power, and so on.

The remnants of the BMT Myrtle Avenue elevated line, which had continued towards Downtown Brooklyn and City Hall, across the Brooklyn Bridge. (RR)

Opened in the 1880s, the line was one of Brooklyn’s original elevated railroads. (RR)

The IRT Second Avenue elevated line used to traverse the Queensborough Bridge to Queensboro Plaza. (RR)

The IRT 9th Avenue Line roared atop the land that became today’s Yankee Stadium. (RR)

Stub of a demolished elevated spur in the Bronx. (RR)


As the city continued to develop, the City contracted private operators to build and operate subways. The subways were more expensive, but unlike the noisy els, which blocked natural light, the subways had the support of developers; the elevated portions of the subway network continued to get built where the land was less valuable or less dense. (It was cheaper to build elevated structures, and the outer boroughs were still so rural that there was little opposition; by the 1930s, building elevateds became politically impossible – the last 7 extension to Flushing was built underground, and the IND built everything underground except for a section over the Gowanus Canal. It’s a myth that bad weather caused the construction of the subways – after all, the weather isn’t any different in the outer boroughs; the subway was built due to real estate pressure and it also increased speeds, since it was closer to the street than the els, decreasing travel time. It’s also a myth, by the way, that bedrock has much to do with NYC’s skyscrapers.)


The Flushing Line on Queens Boulevard was built more elegantly than most elevated structures, perhaps because of real estate speculation. Today, automobile parking dominates underneath the structure. Perhaps a bike lane could be added instead?


Today, sometimes we don’t build subway lines because we don’t think there’s enough density to support them (especially if zoning doesn’t allow for more growth). But back then, NYC was booming, and development quickly followed transit infrastructure because the city was growing.

The IRT even built their own Powerhouse. (RR)


America was a poorer and less productive country in the 1900s, and most people could not afford automobiles, which had only recently started getting mass produced. (The subway’s original fare, a nickel, is around a dollar in today’s money, which is cheaper than today’s fare, but we are also a wealthier society today.) Back then, and still today, most New Yorkers commute with mass transit. So the city “sprawled”, but through dense, efficient, transit-oriented development. Today, our region now has more than 20 million people, though New York City itself has only 1.5 million more residents than in the 1930s – largely due to slow growth today, and a historical exodus to auto-oriented suburbs and to the Sun Belt.

Our metropolitan region is actually less dense than the LA region, but our city is denser – it has taller buildings and more people. It’s also more walkable, but not necessarily because it’s denser (there are plenty of dense American CBDs with lifeless, auto-oriented streetscapes, and even NYC has tall apartment buildings with few residents). But over all, NYC is not dependent on automobiles due to its transportation infrastructure – its bridges and buses, subway and sidewalks, buses and bike lanes, ferries and… not freeways. Public transportation makes sense in NYC.

Actual crowding is generally not because the system is over capacity; ridership is actually decreasing. It’s due to incidents and due to long-term changes that are slowing down trains. Perhaps, in the above instance, the train was late due to an incident, or other lines in the station were messed up, resulting in many additional transferring passengers. (RR)

Making C trains longer is an improvement! (RR)


While some people may want to have their own single-family home with a large lot, in a quiet neighborhood, the truth is that smart growth makes more sense socially, economically, and environmentally. It’s just more efficient, and it takes up less space. If transit isn’t slow, it can be possible. It was easier, of course, for the els of the 19th century to build onto farmland, but now we raise fares and cut service and complain that there’s no more room for growth, even though the LA metro is denser than the NY metro. They built denser suburbs in LA largely because there weren’t already NIMBYist small towns in the area, like in the Mid-Atlantic and New England.

Smart growth is feared, for various reasons – perhaps people may be concerned that expanding a transit system into their neighborhood would raise property values, or make the neighborhood noisier and crowded. Maybe they just don’t like tall buildings or they don’t trust government. Regardless of the reason, if the supply of housing doesn’t increase, the city can’t grow sustainably – and that means housing prices will continue to rise, as people clamor to move here, and many others just can’t even attempt to migrate. The subway was originally built partly to decrease congestion in Lower Manhattan; the subway allowed for the city to sensibly expand.

A school was built below the towering 8 Spruce Street skyscraper. (RR)


While building a luxury condominium in a poor neighborhood may usher in drastic changes compared to not building anything new, if nothing gets built, many people will also eventually get priced out, sprawling further and further away. And rent control certainly won’t increase the supply of housing. Allowing developers to build – in exchange for affordable housing, transit improvements, schools, parks – is the smart choice. The city has plenty of capacity for more people; the subways aren’t overcrowded because of ridership, but because of mismanagement and delays, causing crowding. If the trains ran on-time and quickly, there wouldn’t be crowding; it’s an excuse.

6 1/2 Avenue is a privately owned public space (POP) built in exchange for zoning concessions. (RR)

6 1/2 Avenue passes right by the Central IND Substation. (RR)

Improvements are being made to the Grand Central subway station, paid for by the One Vanderbilt developers. (RR)

One Vanderbilt, under construction! (RR)


Housing costs aren’t the only skyrocketing costs in the Big Apple. Transportation costs are also rising, making it difficult to expand and connect the system – the costs to build new subway lines in New York are a lot higher than the costs in other wealthy cities, such as London and Paris, which also pay high wages, have union employees, and have strong property rights and many regulations. To be fair, the city’s original subway, the IND, was also more expensive than its private predecessors, the IRT and BMT, but the MTA’s costs today are highly unsustainable. We used to make capital investments to reduce operating costs; prior to unification, the subway continued to become more efficient. Today, even if we can build new subway lines, which would require leadership (if it were a priority, perhaps it would get done quickly), we’d need to first stop slowing down the subway. Smart growth doesn’t work if rapid transit isn’t rapid anymore; we need leaders to understand that speed matters, and to be honest and accountable. And, of course, even successfully implemented projects that are on-time and on-budget can be failures, if the project itself isn’t designed well. But with good leadership, even government agencies can be run well; the extensive IND was built quickly, and NASA even went to the moon!

Never Built New York, at the Panorama of the City of New York (RR)


Beautiful stations are nice, but speed is more important, and it’s what people mean when they say that they want reliable, frequent service. If travel time is minimized, after all, it means service is reliable and frequent (passengers don’t need to wait long on the platform or the train). It also means stations are quickly accessible (ideally right below the street) and nearby. Countdown clocks help too, because wait time and transfer time can be minimized. The main purpose of rapid transit is to be fast, and we can be both safe and fast, especially with 21st century signaling technology.


We used to have open-gangway rolling stock, and we will have them again soon. But making our trains faster again would be a better way to increase capacity. (RR)

This R211 prototype features an open-gangway. Hopefully, the door announcements and door chimes will be quicker, reducing dwell times. If longer, travel time will increase, and if the R211s share the same tracks and lines with other rolling stock, there may be more variability and gaps in service due to varying dwell times. (RR)


Delays make service slower along the line, adding running time and requiring more crews and trains to meet demand, adding costs. But the MTA (and other government agencies) don’t need to worry as much as a private company about costs – or about its customers. As a political agency, the MTA needs to care primarily about looking good. Cuomo wants to look good, and MTA leadership wants to look good for Cuomo, too. So perhaps, to avoid bad news, problems are hidden from leadership, or leadership hides things from politicians, the press, and the public. Paid time ends up getting spent hiding problems, misstating facts, cherry picking good news, and often making the system worse, or at least causing a lot of internal and external confusion, and not spending time making things better. If a private business acted like that, and often cut corners to take the easiest or sexiest route, they’d be out of business quickly. Their employees wouldn’t know who to trust or what to believe, or they’d just be ignorant of reality and make poor, wasteful, ill-informed decisions and policies — not necessarily because they don’t care (though that may be the case), but because they don’t know any better and aren’t distrustful of their own press releases.

New SAS Community Information Center in Harlem (RR)


The private subways were originally profitable, especially in the CBD, even though they were prohibited from having advertisements or retail (except for newsstands). They made more money than the els, because they were more efficient and moved more people. They were paying back the City as well. But they did not realize that inflation would become a problem; they didn’t know WW1 would start and the gold standard would slowly be chipped away. The City promised New Yorkers that unification would keep the fare at 5 cents, since there would be no profits, taxes, and they could have an economy of scale by unifying operations. But they removed the incentive for efficiency and costs began to increase, along with rules and regulations.


Today, there’s ample retail in the Times Square station complex. (RR)


… And, of course, plenty more in Times Square. (RR)


Arguably because costs have risen so much, the Second Avenue Subway doesn’t have express tracks and the 7 extension didn’t end up including an additional station (or station shell) at 10th Avenue. Back then, the City and the private operators both dreamed big. Now, politics comes before profits, and the MTA has become a monstrous bureaucracy; there are few incentives to be efficient and few to prevent purposeless busy work. Without good leadership (which is hard to come by, given all the gerrymandering, campaign finance, and winner-take-all issues in the USA), the system will suffer. And in our region, where the subway is governed from Albany and commuter rail systems don’t only traverse various municipalities, but also across state boundaries, having strong leadership is especially necessary.

Part of a network of IRT tunnels in Brooklyn that were never used for service. (RR)

A never used station shell at Utica Avenue in Brooklyn. (RR)

Another never used station shell, at South 4th, in Brooklyn. (RR)

Never used mezzanine, built for the Second Avenue Subway, at 2 Av. (RR)


Built to be part of a station complex for the Second Avenue Subway at East Broadway. (RR)

An IND tunnel that was never used, above Roosevelt Avenue. (RR)

If F express service returns to Brooklyn, it probably won’t be stopping at this unused express station. (RR)

Unused Canal Street platforms. (RR)

Abandoned 91st Street station. (RR)

Abandoned 18th Street station. (RR)

There’s so much potential for all these unused assets. Could they be turned over to a museum, for instance? Court Street is being put to great use. (RR)

One of many unused passageways and abandoned station entrances, this one connects IND/BMT 8th Avenue and IRT 7th Avenue stations along 14th Street. It’s right above the L line tunnel. (RR)

Wayside signalling infrastructure is being installed in the IND 6th Avenue passageway between 34th Street and 42nd Street. (RR)

An unused mezzanines and unused station entrances at Nostrand Avenue. (RR)

Another unused station entrance, at 21st Van Alst. (RR)

There are many closed entrances to 50th Street station. (RR)

Unused entrances at Bowery on the BMT Nassau line. (RR)

One of many station entrances that have been slabbed over, this one’s at Ft. Hamilton Parkway. (RR)

An unused entrance at Delancey Street. (RR)

A relatively new unused entrance at 50th Street. (RR)

The subway was designed extremely well, with plenty of resiliency measures. Unlike other systems, which may not even have track connections between lines, much of the NYC subway is interconnected, allowing for interlining and ample flexibility. Unfortunately, it also means that incidents can easily reverberate throughout the system, and that when schedules aren’t followed and merges aren’t coordinated, havoc ensues. Pictured above are tracks that could be used for gap trains (to be inserted into service during incidents causing gaps in service), or just used for storing trains for regular service. (RR)


Privatization is not necessarily the answer; the St. Petersburg and Moscow Metros in Russia, for instance, run quite well, and there are many private companies with poor service. Even PATH, which also runs 24/7, is clean, though it has higher operating costs than NYCT and essentially has a slush fund from the Port Authority. The MTA contracts out advertising, so why not other things, too? Perhaps the MTA could privatize aspects of its operations; European systems often contract out station cleaning and train maintenance, but the MTA has separate internal groups for station cleaning, track cleaning, and train cleaning. There’s no simple solution, especially with such powerful unions and fractured political leadership, which lately only wants to look good and ignore responsibilities when there’s bad news.

Governor Cuomo in 2016, holding a press conference on the tracks, requiring service reroutes. The MTA is a massive organization, and it’s mind boggling that politicians seem to spend much of their time blaming each other for problems, rather than owning up to issues and trying to fix them. So, while it’s good that Cuomo’s now admitting to controlling the MTA (he’s been hesitant arguably because taking ownership for the MTA will send all the bad press to his desk), his desire to look good is still causing problems. In this instance, valuable time and money must’ve been spent rerouting service so he could be seen looking concerned on the tracks. Couldn’t he hold a meeting somewhere that would’ve required less planning, perhaps somewhere that didn’t necessitate placing down third rail protection covers behind his feet? (RR)


The MTA was formed in an attempt to create one unified transportation agency in the New York metropolitan area – at least for the portion within New York State. It succeeded at removing Robert Moses from power, but it also took away the subway from the City’s control (PATH was never in the City’s control, but it became governed by Tobin’s Port Authority around this time.) This isn’t necessarily an issue; Mayor Bloomberg took an active role nevertheless, understanding the relationship between land use and transportation, and helping to extend the 7 to Hudson Yards. But some politicians do a better job than others, and it seems many just want to look good, even if it means hiding the truth.

Hudson Yards (RR)

Hudson Yards (RR)

The 7 extension plowed westward across this abandoned station underneath 42nd and 8th Avenue. (RR)


The NYC subway arguably has enough ridership and demand to be profitable, just like Hong Kong and Tokyo. Compared to other global cities, New Yorkers have quite a good deal right now. The fare is not based on distance or time of day, which means that poorer residents farther from Manhattan don’t pay more, and, the subway is also quite extensive. For $2.75, 24/7, one can go from the tip of the Bronx, all the way to the Rockaways in Queens. MetroCard also allows for free transfer between buses and subways.

New fare payment technology, currently being tested. (RR)


Again, the subway used to be profitable until government bankrupted the private operators with too many rules (keeping the fare low, not being allowed to advertise, etc.) and removed the incentive for efficiency through unification; Tokyo continues to have more than one subway operator. If fares are raised and people are too poor to pay, which is an extremely valid concern, perhaps they can receive transit stamps, but we should not directly subsidize the company itself. Subsidies just make things more expensive (healthcare, agriculture, housing, college, etc.) People may end up with better service and lower taxes, saving them time and money.

Heading up the IRT from South Ferry to Yankee Stadium. (RR)


The same applies for other agencies, like Amtrak. They may be a private company on paper, but they don’t act like it. In reality, they are a government agency. Perhaps we can privatize NEC operations, and let the government maintain the tracks – as they do in many European countries. The MTA doesn’t own and maintain private vehicles that use TBTA bridges and tunnels; perhaps they should let private businesses run commuter railroads on their ROW. There are ways to prevent problems associated with monopolies. Develop smart contracts with the right incentives and relationships. Develop leaders, not ranks and titles.

There are many private and profitable passenger railroads; there are even privately-owned bridges in the US. The Hong Kong MTR is profitable even without its real estate development. Their OTP is 99.9% and their fare is low (and their farecards can be used to purchase most things in the city). There are many differences between HK and NYC, but we can do a lot better, too. Even though old age isn’t a good excuse, they have a newer system. They also are denser (and more comfortable with density) and have a political boundary preventing suburbanization and massive car ownership, and didn’t have a history of white flight. They also don’t have as many rights (property rights, etc.) so it is easier to build, and their government is more centralized and can collaborate better (for zoning changes, etc.) In New York, outer boroughs would block the tall buildings needed for value capture. And the MTA is rarely synergized with the City (it’s a State public authority), although in HK, they are able to zone things to allow MTR to build very tall. Plus, we have so many other agencies and political boundaries; the connection between land use and transportation is difficult to form.

Developing TurnStyle was an ordeal, but almost all MTR stations have retail space. TurnStyle is a success largely because the MTA decided to turn the reins over to private developers; they also let developers manage the Fulton Center. The MTA is a state authority, so they technically don’t need to follow local zoning laws or pay local property taxes, and they can be given leniency for developments with a transportation purpose (renovating stations, etc.) But in practice, they aren’t developers and if they don’t follow local zoning, they need to self-certify their buildings, which they don’t have the capacity or expertise to do, so they work with the City. Besides, the City owns most of their assets anyway, which the MTA leases, and the MTA Board is appointed by politicians.

TurnStyle (RR)

TurnStyle (RR)


Grand Central is owned by a single man, and Amtrak owns Penn Station, leading to quite a few real estate issues there now. But railroads commonly developed real estate in the U.S. and around the world, from the CN Tower in Toronto and the Château Frontenac in Quebec City, to Terminal City in NYC. The MTA is developing their property as well, but a major difference is that often, it’s not a profitable venture. Grand Central Terminal was constructed for 2 billion dollars in today’s money, while the new WTC hub was twice as expensive. What’s more, Grand Central’s reconstruction in the early 20th century was extremely profitable for the New York Central, as they decided to electrify the entire complex, and bring it underground, so that real estate could be sold for Terminal City. They also rebuilt the terminal because of the Park Avenue Tunnel wreck, caused by poor visibility due to a lot of emissions from steam locomotives, which were far less efficient than electric locomotives or diesel locomotives, invented later. The Park Avenue Tunnel was built underground (while other railroads ran along the streets) because Park Avenue was already a corridor of wealth and influence. The tracks are elevated in Harlem, and there are advertising and real estate opportunities below the tracks, such as La Marqueta.


Grand Central Terminal (RR)

The Helmsley Building was built as part of Terminal City. (RR)


Unlike New York Central, government agencies don’t really have a need to make a profit, or maximize their assets, or really care about their customers. Of course, many MTA employees do care and do their best (plus the Metro-North bar cars are returning), but there are few financial incentives to care, and few penalties for inaction. And it’s not just the MTA; these are valid concerns for most government agencies, such as the Port Authority. P3s may bring healthier incentives into the mix; LaGuardia is getting redeveloped under a P3, and perhaps the MTA could accelerate the disposition of its real estate assets to developers, and get developers to pay for improvements. The Low Line will eventually get built; perhaps the MTA and DOT will eventually lease out the wine cellar underneath the Brooklyn Bridge.

The Low Line may eventually get built here. (RR)

The future site of the Low Line, which used to be one of many trolley terminals; streetcars used to dominate the city’s streets. (RR)

Caverns underneath the Brooklyn Bridge. (RR)


Our subway system is vast and complicated, and there’s so much potential for New York City. But it’s being hampered by poor incentives and mismanaged institutions. Regardless, the one year anniversary of the opening of the Second Avenue Subway is something to celebrate, and hopefully the next few phases get finished within the next few decades, while the existing section is properly maintained.


Maybe place ads along the walls? (RR)


This is a beautiful station, but perhaps they could add advertisements on the walls? (RR)


There are a few newsstands! (RR)

Why not build a taller building on top of this SAS entrance, and get revenue from it? (RR)

Perhaps, build a taller building on top of this SAS entrance, and get revenue from it? (RR)

SAS tail tracks, constructed in the 1970s, extend north of 96th Street. (RR)


And there were many other accomplishments in 2017 as well, such as the reopening of the new South Ferry terminal, and other newly reopened and renovated stations. Hopefully 2018 will see many more accomplishments, and perhaps, better service vis-a-vis faster performance.

South Ferry (RR)

Bay Ridge Avenue (RR)

Bay Ridge Avenue (RR)

The station looks great, but waiting 30 minutes for the next train isn’t good. (RR)


Born and bred in Brooklyn, Rayn Riel (RR) is a Senior Editor at PlaNYourCity.

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10 Comments on “Incentives”

  1. Eugene Riel January 8, 2018 at 9:01 am #

    Wow! What a wealth of information! Thanks Mr. Riel for debunking myths about subways and skyscrapers and presenting exciting new ideas for making the city and subways great again!


  2. rexcurry January 8, 2018 at 1:55 pm #

    Writing these “storyscapes” as apolitical should stop. After reading, I think one conclusion is to demand accountability as history. Some effort that connects the links (people) on chains (institutions) that tie housing and transit to urban successes and those that lead to resolutions by urban catastrophes. The Loew’s King Theater on Flatbush stood vacant for a half-century, its resurrection is a miracle that local NGOs deemed essential for decades. The details of a story like that one can be kept in the long memory of a neighborhood. If you explore the decisions of people in power like assets you will see the ways investments work or end in tragedy by name.


  3. CaracasesBurning January 8, 2018 at 11:45 pm #

    At least government doesn’t hide as much as in Venezuela. That’s a real sad story of government mismanagement. And hiding the truth, making themselves unaccountable, just makes it worse – confusion, corruption, fraud, lies, time spent not fixing anything… and yep, look at all the “subsidies” making the whole country fall apart! No food, medicine, mismanaged oil… so much crime, unemployment…

    They have a broken, mismanaged currency. And yes, they have an unequal society, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. An equally poor society could also be bad, which is what Venezuela is becoming… immobile and poor. Because everything was nationalized, unlike Norway or other semi-socialist places. Taxes went to fuel corruption. Violence due to the inequality and the culture. Army, police, courts, corrupt, falling oil prices, no voting rights or human rights… people too hungry to have time for politics, media too controlled for dissent, too many elites in unequal country fueling continued populism because of no OPPORTUNITY. And the cycle of drugs, stealing, killing, continues, as people flee the crime or get jailed for speaking out, as the rule of law is ignored and compromises aren’t made, it is a constitutional crisis… unseen in America, but yes, in Venezuela.

    It’s so sad, that the quickest to judge, loudest, ignorant, greedy, stupid people in the room are the ones listened to… they are corrupt, evil, ill, and ruin our legitimacy and trust around the world, let unfree China take over. It’s so sad how paperwork, rules, and artificial lines keep us apart. Money and clothes keep us apart. “Religion” keeps us apart… do you really think God is a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu? We boycott for the dumbest of reasons, terrorize because we think it will send us to “Heaven” and our morals are the right ones. We don’t realize we’re being controlled, we’re afraid, we’re not free… truth is beyond human imagination. Wake up, we are just ANIMALS floating around somewhere in space, sleeping, eating, fucking. Doing it over and over again. Everything is connected. Just LIVE FULLY!

    Historic NYC


  4. ANONYMOUS January 9, 2018 at 10:15 pm #

    I didn’t know that advertising and retail was prohibited in the dual contracts, but I’m not surprised. I suspect it was primarily for aesthetic reasons. I believe contract no. 1 was silent on the issue, and someone at the IRT came up with the idea of advertising. Anyway, I came across several rants against ads in both New York and London around the turn of the century, and it was always about the appearance. I’m not sure about retail, but I could imagine concerns about clutter, garbage, etc…

    Regarding the link in your article: are you sure it was not from the Onion? It describes politicians who fear that the MTA could become more self-sufficient by acting as a real estate developer. These same politicians don’t want to fund the MTA. They are afraid that the MTA will develop its commuter rail parking lots, but the MTA can do that and still keep the parking underground in order to make even more money. Oy. Tough road (or should I say ‘rail’) ahead for folks trying to change this mindset.

    And I don’t think they understand how the MTA works. It is controlled by a Board that has members appointed by the City, so of course it is going to work with the City. It has also always been exempt from local zoning and property tax, so there is nothing new except that state leaders have clarified that TOD is related to transportation and benefits the MTA. None of the incentives have really been changed and the MTA remains more interested in disposing rather than developing. (They worked with the City on Hudson Yards because they disposed of their property, so of course the City could then create a special tax district.)

    Seems like this uproar is an extension of the feud between De Blasio and Cuomo, and it is quite sad to me that NYC DOT is fighting the MTA for resources. NY cannot seem to plan as a region, without even accounting for NJ and CT…

    I think the MTA should enter the tour bus business! Its outdated buses can be kept in service for the tourists! Who needs double decker buses, anyway? Those buses are hard for disabled folks and hard to load and unload! (only half kidding)


    • ANONYMOUS January 9, 2018 at 10:16 pm #

      And… yes, MTR receives land from the central government. There are no private property rights. There is no democracy in Hong Kong. The MTR pays the gov’t for the market value of the land before they build their railroad. People are accustomed to density and tall buildings in HK, built on a series of islands. And they could not protest either way. NIMBYism does not exist. So of course they will have all the money from this real estate for a great OTP. And every station is like the WTC, people can go to work without ever leaving the indoors, through a bunch of malls… MTR does not need tax subsidies, they can have low fares… because HK has high property values due to its density and limited space. And because the central government enables value capture on stations, depots, etc.

      The MTR can work with developers on a competitive process, and share a percent of the total profit, or lump sum, or a portion of commercial property… to fund capital maintenance, operations, with millions of sq meters of value capture. And the government makes money from selling land to the MTR, and from having majority shares in the MTR, which is listed on the stock market there. Projects are quicker because they don’t need to compete for public funds… all because HK is dense, land is scarce and valuable, and HK has no democracy, so it does not matter if people are accustomed to density or don’t want something here or there.

      Here, most people are afraid of TOD, so we don’t have a positive feedback loop of expansion like our old RRs. Back when the US gov’t gave land to railroads to build across the country. And then those RRs developed it. But, there were few white people who could vote there to protest, and native americans, chinese, blacks, could be as NIMBY as they want, but they had/have little power unfortunately. (Suburbs are also a lot easier to get built, cus fewer NIMBYists if there is no one there already. But now our political economy has changed, people fear change, fear massive projects, fear density, fear fear fear)

      Another good thing is that MTR station entrances are not built on the sidewalk, but inside buildings, so there is more space for walking. I guess NYC does this a bit too, but maybe not as much due to fear of subway crime entering buildings… and a bad thing, HK is full of mountains and the MTR does not have stops underneath them. (If it did, it would take a long time to get to the station…).


  5. John W. January 10, 2018 at 2:59 pm #

    Good post, as usual. BTW, did you know…

    The MTA has been working to consolidate bus operations. Since the mid-2000s, the MTA Bus Company has operated services previously administered by private carriers operating under agreements administered by the New York City Department of Transportation, the successor to the New York City Bureau of Franchises. The MTA has consolidated management, with a unified command center to reduce redundancies, and they’re working to add more countdown clocks, and SBS branded routes.

    In addition, MTA Regional Bus Operations operated bus and paratransit service in Nassau County under the name Long Island Bus until December 31, 2011. This service was operated by the MTA under an agreement with Nassau County, who owned its facilities and equipment. In 2011, the MTA asked Nassau County to provide more funding for Long Island Bus than they were at the time. The county refused to provide additional funding, and the MTA voted to end operation of the system at the end of 2011. The county then decided to hire Veolia Transportation, a private transportation company, to operate the system in place of the MTA beginning in 2012.

    And don’t forget the ferries and all those contractors.

    The government builds piers, subsidizes… will all that government money just increase costs?


    • John W. January 10, 2018 at 3:01 pm #

      Plus, don’t forget all the ad space in the system. kiosks, metrocards, billboards, buses, commuter rail cars, station billboards, urban panels, digital screens… subway car wrapping… all outsourced

      And, other P3s:

      Isn’t LGA being rebuilt under a contract? And Penn Station? And AirTrains are contracted out.–press/display-news/?nid=wyQUcHXL

      And MTA parking garages are contracted out:

      And probably the MNR bar cars

      Passengers were also brought into Manhattan primarily from ferries. In the early 20th century, the subway had yet to be expanded extensively into the outer boroughs of NYC, and most bridges had also yet to be constructed. Lately, attention to renewing, enhancing, and expanding ferry service has coincided with the revitalization of the waterfront; recently, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new P3 with a new subsidized ferry operator. Unlike the Staten Island Ferry, operated by NYC DOT, a private operator could theoretically improve the efficiency of the service; after all, if they do not do a good job, they’ll be replaced by another operator. Hopefully, the city does not become the operator, as was the case for the New York City Subway following the bankruptcy of the IRT and BMT, which was partially forced by the city imposing a fare ceiling even amid rising inflation.


      • John W. January 10, 2018 at 3:02 pm #

        The On the Go network is made possible through a unique public-private partnership with OUTFRONT Media (formerly CBS Outdoor) and Intersection (formerly Control Group). In this public-private partnership, NYC Transit is working with the two private sector partners who covered kiosk fabrication, screen user interface design and programming costs. The partner firms will recoup their investment through the sale of digital advertising displayed on the screens. NYC Transit is covering installation and maintenance costs, and will share in advertising revenue with both OUTFRONT Media and Intersection. As part of an expansion of the program, Intersection and OUTFRONT Media will deploy up to 90 additional kiosks each.

        On the Go kiosks are located in some of the system’s busiest stations and is one of the largest transit based digital signage networks in the United States, currently providing transit information to more than 1.5 million subway daily.
        On the Go kiosks are located in some of the system’s busiest stations and is one of the largest transit based digital signage networks in the United States, currently providing transit information to more than 1.5 million subway daily.
        Having separate screen interfaces will allow NYC Transit to evaluate how best to display transit information and engage customers using a digital platform In each screen design, NYC Transit has programs agency information, including marketing, safety and service change messaging. During major service disruptions, NYC Transit can also take over parts of or the entire screen to provide service change and emergency information.

        Real-time information for arrival times is currently available on the lines. While real-time data is developed for the rest of the system, we are using scheduled information for the remaining lines, based on the best information we have at this time (service delays and interruptions are not accounted for in the scheduling).

        OUTFRONT Media designed their kiosk application to provide relevant information to the everyday commuter on a default screen using a rotating cube (treadmill) on the upper portion of the screen. Once the interactive application is activated by touching the default screen, the approach of the OUTFRONT Media team has been to provide an intuitive user experience providing wayfinding applications such as an extension to MTA’s popular TripPlanner+ in a concise and appealing format.

        Other useful information such as Overall Status of the Service, Real-time train departure, multi-touch maps for Subway, Railroad and Bus as well as neighborhood maps is included. A notable value in the design of the On the Go application has been to consider the passenger with reduced mobility by providing an adapted user experience as well as providing Escalator and Elevator Statuses for the entire MTA network. In order to enhance revenues for the MTA, each of these applications and screens have a complement for advertising and/or institutional messages.

        The Intersection kiosk was developed through an analysis of existing NYC Transit station signage flows and rider behavior. Leveraging existing rider experience studies, observational studies and interviews, Intersection identified three rider archetypes: locals familiar with every nuance of the system; commuters with regular routes who need extra guidance on familiar paths; and tourists who have little or no prior knowledge of the system. The overall goal for all archetypes was to create a platform that provides the most relevant information in the most efficient way possible while limiting the interaction to one touch as much as possible.

        The guiding design principal of their interface is based on the fact that all riders use the paper map the same way – touching where they are and then tracing the route to their destination. Looking to improve on that paper experience, Intersection designed the digital interface to dim and recede information that a rider does not need so they can concentrate on the things they do need– like departure station, route line, transfer station, and destination station. In addition, system-wide data feeds allow the kiosk to suggest the fastest route to a selected destination based on the real-time status of trains at both the departure and transfer points.


  6. John W. January 10, 2018 at 3:07 pm #

    I keep finding more stuff for you

    Cities grew because they had adequate transportation infrastructure. Many of New York’s waterways, essentially the city’s sixth borough, were filled and narrowed so as to deepen them and allow for ships to dock. Landfill, of course, largely paid for itself, by selling off the new land, such as for the World Financial Center. And transportation companies also developed real estate to help pay for operations, maintenance, and capital improvements. They even contributed to landfill, too; for instance, the IRT expanded Governors Island with its landfill, and also built an entire artificial island atop the Steinway Tunnel, U Thant Island.

    There’s still a lot of potential for real estate development, like
    … at post offices!

    These government agencies do not pay property tax… they should market that to their tenants, give them better deals! like roosevelt island and battery park city… these are private city agencies, developers… and they pretty much are government so they can have a lot of influence over zoning, master planning, etc… balancing safety,environment, housing, commerce, schools, art, restaurants, parks, shops…

    Who We Are

    Writing the right contract is key. The IRT and BMT literally owned their own power plants. They had the right relationships and incentives. They had the freedom to make their own decisions. Except for all the stipulations that caused their downfall. Imagine if they had built into New Jersey and had NJ politicians giving them demands as well… they’d be ruined!


  7. John W. January 10, 2018 at 3:23 pm #

    OK, last thing for today, I promise!

    It’s all politics. The MTA is governed by a 19-member board representing the 5 boroughs of New York City and each of the counties in its New York State service area. Five members, in addition to the Chairman and CEO, are directly nominated by the Governor of New York, with four recommended by New York City’s mayor, and one each by the county executives of Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties. Each of these members has one vote.

    The county executives of Dutchess, Orange, Rockland, and Putnam counties also nominate one member each, but these members cast one collective vote. The Board also has six rotating nonvoting seats held by representatives of MTA employee organized labor and the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, which serves as a voice for users of MTA transit and commuter facilities. All board members are confirmed by the New York State Senate. The Governor nominates the CEO.

    Thus, of course, politicians will tell the MTA to just dispose, dispose, dispose. Though the MTA, yes, has a long-term lease of the City’s subway. Probably for like a $1. Meanwhile the MTA leases GCT from Andrew Penson.

    But compared to the Port Authority? MTA is small town politics. PA has to deal with NJ too. The Port Authority is jointly controlled by the governors of New York and New Jersey, who appoint the members of the agency’s Board of Commissioners and retain the right to veto the actions of the Commissioners from his or her own state. Each governor appoints six members to the Board of Commissioners, who are subject to state senate confirmation and serve overlapping six-year terms without pay. An Executive Director is appointed by the Board of Commissioners to deal with day-to-day operations and to execute the Port Authority’s policies. Under an informal power-sharing agreement, the Governor of New Jersey chooses the chairman of the board and the deputy executive director, while the Governor of New York selects the vice-chairman and Executive Director.

    So of course, the PA is going to be dealing with politics. LGA and JFK were leased to the PA from the City because public authorities can take on more expenses…

    An authority may at times levy taxes and tolls; this means that they are not part of the usual state budgetary process, and gives them a certain independence. Their most admired ability by the New York State and local government, is to circumvent strict public debt limits in the New York State Constitution. Furthermore, they may make contracts; because of public authorities’ corporate status, there is generally no remedy against the chartering State for the breach of such contracts.[6] On the other hand, as agents of the state, public authorities are not subject to many laws governing private corporations, and are not subject to municipal regulation. Employees of public authorities usually are not state employees, but are employees of the authority.[7] Public authorities can also often condemn property

    But, the City still fights for the PA, which makes a lot from these airports (all the airline fees, parking fees, retail, etc), for PILOT payments. After all, the PA uses money made in NYC for projects in NJ! They also have PILOTS for the WTC. Public authorities don’t have to pay property tax. They should be the best developers. But they are also too political to be good developers.


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