Wednesday, December 30, 2020

2020: Year In Review

By N Miller

NEW YORK, NY – Wow, just wow. 2020 has been one crazy, tumultuous year. The way how we live our daily lives has been flipped. This year was supposed to be the start of the roaring twenties, but it was the complete opposite of that. 2020 was somewhat not the year transit/transportation. The moment the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) commenced, our plans for the year changed. Schools, offices, and businesses shut down, Broadway shows and movies went on intermission, and the sports world was put on hold. The Olympics were postponed to last year. We have lost loved ones due to this horrible disease. Deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor has sparked cries to end racial injustice towards people of color. As we take a look back of 2020, we should all hope and pray that 2020 will get better.

We begin the year with January. In January, the MTA has been awarded two contracts for 357 new Prevost X3-45 buses (300 for MTA Bus and 57 for NYCT).  The new bus class will replace the 2001-2002 MCI D4500s and the 2004-2007 MCI D4500CLs. The manufacturing of the new buses has created up to 25 new jobs at the Prevost plant in Plattsburg, New York.  The R179s by Bombardier had its doors opened up to four feet mid-ride along the (C) subway line. Due to that incident, all of the cars that were on property were pulled out of service. The R32s and R46s provided coverage on the (A) & (C) Lines while the R143s and R160s covered the (J/Z) Lines. This also brought back the R42s in service along the (J/Z) lines as well. They were slightly longer wait times along the (A),(C), (J)/(Z) lines. NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer bashed the railcar company, stating that, “Bombardier sold us lemons.” Due to the fact that the train order was two years behind schedule, it was heavily rushed. So the comptroller blamed the TA for failing to purchase quality products, TA blamed Bombardier for faulty equipment, and the railcar company blamed its third-party company, Kanagi, for not calibrating the doors. The R179s returned to service three weeks later after the incident and the R42s went back to retirement. Actress Awkwafina (real name Queens-native Nora Lum) voice has been featured on the (7) Line in promotion for the new show “Awkwafina is Nora from Queens”, which premiered back on 01/22/2020 on Comedy Central. We took a brief look of the R262s, which will be all open gangway cars, and will run on the (4), (5), and (6) lines as well as the (2) line. This will be like the R211s for the B-division, which will replace all R46s and Staten Island Railway’s R44s. The Transportation Authority awarded $1.3B for a study of a new rail line to operate between Astoria, Queens and Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. The Bronx Bus Redesign Network plan is in its final plans, while the Queens and Brooklyn Bus Plans are still in the draft phases. New York City’s MTA announced on December 15, 2019, that it has deployed the first phase of its new all-electric articulated bus fleet. The now historic 2020–2024 Capital Plan includes $1.1 billion to acquire 500 new electric buses to serve all 5 boroughs. NYCT President Andy Byford announced his resignation from his post due to his ongoing feud with Governor Andrew Cuomo.  On 02/12/2020, the MTA and the New York Transit Museum performed a final trip of the 1969 R42, which was manufactured by the St. Louis Car Company. The train took its last ride along the (A) Line from Euclid Av to Far Rockaway, then all the way up to 207th St, and lastly back to Euclid Avenue. The Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn got some of that transportation improvements. NYCT Transit has decided to reopen the Bedford Avenue entrance of the Nostrand Avenue (A)(C) station and the LIRR Nostrand Avenue station stop has been 100% fully renovated. Some teenagers and police officers got into a massive fight at the Jay St-MetroTech stop (A,C,F Platform). The officer was put on modified desk duty after slamming the teen down to the ground, causing serious bodily injury. There has been reports of vandals trespassing in unauthorized areas, tagging trains with graffiti. To make matters worse, people carrying e-bikes, couches, etc underground, plus the rise of crime has brought the police to the subway stations.

Andy Byford has stepped down from his position as NYCT President. Sarah Feinberg, the founder of Feinberg Strategies, LLC, a Federal Railroad Administrator, and a former Chief of Staff for U.S. Department of Transportation under the Obama Administration, has been appointed to be the Interim President of New York City Transit. March 2020, the rise of the coronavirus aka COVID-19. News got sent out of the coronavirus outbreak. The MTA decided to disinfect their entire fleet to combat this infectious disease. A water main break caused a major disruption on the L train subway line on Wednesday 03/04/2020, forcing transit officials to briefly shut service between Brooklyn and Manhattan and upending the morning commute for thousands of people. That incident happened at 4:30am in the morning. At that time, 23 MTA employees had tested positive for COVID-19. Later that month, a bus operator and a train conductor were the first two to pass away from the coronavirus. In order to avoid contact with passengers, transit allowed customers to enter/exit through the buses rear door, making bus rides free for five months straight. Ranging from late March all the way to June, a total 153 NYCT employees have passed away from COVID-19 compilations, with over 1,000 MTA being sick from it. One of the deceased was conductor Benjamin Schaeffer. He passed away just only days after his birthday. The reason for so many deaths and illnesses is because employees were getting mixed messages in regards of mask and gloves wear. Transit leadership did not want their workers to wear masks and gloves because it would “scare” the passengers. That right there was a load of baloney. They never had the proper PPE equipment to begin with. This was during the time when Cuomo put loads of elderlies who were sick with COVID from hospitals and dumped them into nursing homes, causing the largest nursing home deaths that we have ever witnessed. To make matters worse, homelessness infiltrated the subway stations mainly during the overnight hours, which sparked Transit to halt overnight service between the hours of 1 am to 5 am, starting back on May 6th. During the overnight closures, platforms, trains, and stations were disinfected. Cleaners from a third party were brought in by the agency to help out with the cleaning. Here is the thing right here, if transit leadership had cancelled overnight service the second the virus came to our land and had the health and wellbeing of their employees and colleagues, then then would not be so many deaths from COVID-19 and Train Operator Garrett Goble would still be alive today. Another way the MTA decided to combat this infectious disease, was to install Ultraviolet (UV) Lighting in the trains’ HVAC to detect and kill the coronavirus. Lastly, the MTA and the TWU Local 100 had come to agreement to payout $500K to families of employees who passed away from COVID related compilations while on duty. Cuomo canceled this at one point but later reinstated it after getting called out on his idiocy.  

On April 16th, all transportation agencies in the Northeastern region all did horn salutes at 3pm SHARP as a way thank all of the transportation employees to keep this region moving during the pandemic. The regional horn salute was done two more times. At least 59 agency employees have died of COVID-19 over the past three weeks. Now their families and those of future MTA coronavirus victims can be assured that they’ll be compensated. Families will also receive up to three years of health insurance from the MTA. During the time when the COVID-19 death count was on the rise, Chairman/CEO Pat Foye, Interim NYCT President Sarah Feinberg, and the one who appointed her, Governor Andrew Cuomo. Those three did not care for the well-being of employees and for the essential workers who used the system. If Andy Byford was still the NYCT President, he would have done the same procedures much earlier than it took these three to do later after so many employees deaths. Speaking of Byford, he currently in Wales, England and is the current commissioner of TfL (Transport For London). Not only Byford left NYCT, but Sally Librera left her post as the Senior Vice President of Subways. Frank Jezycki, the chief operating officer for subways, took over for Librera on an interim basis.

The pandemic also did a huge number on transit service. The (B), (C), (W), 42nd Street Shuttle (S), and (Z) services were all suspended. Ridership hit an all-time low. Service ran every 10-20 minutes and some segments were put on hiatus. Buses from various depots ran on bus routes around the city to help fill the void and due to the fact that 50% of the workforce was out due to the coronavirus. In early June, the city was slowly returning to normal phase by phase as well as bus/subway service was coming back to normalcy. The MTA requires funding up to at least $24B or more to keep services running. Failure to do so will result in massive service cuts, fare hikes up to 20% and job layoffs. Recently, congress just approved a $900B stimulus package. Included was $4B for NY MTA funding, so that is a start. This was inspired by transportation agencies across the nation to join forces to ask Congress to fund transportation, and it will hopefully be done under the Biden Administration. Earlier in the year, the Jamaica/Coney Island Fleet Swap happened; R46s to CI & R160s to Jamaica (some Siemens propulsion R160s are still at Coney Island). All 316 cars of the R179s arrived on property, which forced a much earlier retirement of the R32s. This is done in preparation for Queens Boulevard CBTC (Communications Based Train Control). Some 2016-2019 NovaBus LFS Artics have been decommissioned from Bus Rapid Transit duty and were assigned to local service. The (E) Subway Line in Queens between Jamaica Van Wyck and Jamaica Center had been suspended for a month due to urgent track repairs and replacement. Shuttle buses provided alternate service and some (E) service were rerouted to/from 179th Street-Hillside Avenue on the (F) Line. The bus class of the 2004-2005 Orion VII Old Generation Hybrid Electric Vehicles have retired from service with the arrival of the 2021 NovaBus LFS HEVs and New Flyer XDE40s. The deliveries will continue on into the new year going forward. Elevator repairs are still continuing in the Washington Heights stations and the M191 provided alternate service along Broadway and St. Nicholas Av between 191st and 181st Streets. The (L) Project was completed three months earlier than anticipated. New elevators and entrances were added to the Bedford and 1st Avenue stations as well as an escalator at 14th St-Union Square on the (L) Platform. New elevators came to the 86th St (4th Avenue) station in Brooklyn and the newly renovated Astoria Boulevard in Queens. With the (L) Project completed, the (F) was the last one standing. The closure of the Rutgers Tubes rerouted (E) service in Queens and Manhattan and the (F) between Queens and Brooklyn. The repairs are being done similar to the Canarsie tunnels. In June, the R179’s problems got worse. A 10-car set along the (A) decoupled heading into the Chambers Street station in Lower Manhattan. Due to this, all R179 sets were pulled from service. The R32s came out of retirement to run on the (J/Z) Lines. The (A) used 20 sets of the R160s from the (F) Line’s Avenue X yard to help fill the gaps left by the R179s. The R719s problems were fixed 4-5 months later, which sent the R32s back to retirement and the R160s back to Avenue X. With the overnight closures of the subways, three new overnight routes were created to keep the flow of overnight service flowing. The three routes were the B99 (which operates between Columbus Circle, Manhattan and Midwood, Brooklyn, paralleling the (2) line), the M99 (which operates between West 42nd Street Pier, Manhattan and East New York, Brooklyn, paralleling the (3)(A) & (L) Lines), and the Bx99 (which operates between Woodlawn, The Bronx and West Village, Manhattan, paralleling (4) & (D) Lines. Certain bus routes provided overnight service, and some routes got their overnight service ended due to low ridership. NYCT has launched Groundbreaking Live Subway Map, Creating Next Generation Map Following Iconic Hertz and Vignelli Designs.

Over on Twitter, I met an activist who goes by the name Progressive Action (real name Tramell Thompson). He has talked about the working conditions over at Transit as well as the unfair treatment that they have received from their superiors. Thompson has also planned the August 26th vigil in front of MTA Headquarters for Train Operator Garrett Goble and the employees who passed away from coronavirus compilations. There was a female worker who showed up to work pregnant and had a miscarriage while on the job. Multiple transit workers were assaulted while on the job on multiple occasions. Certain people on the subway were preforming lewd acts on one another. That was super disgusting. The TWU Union Local 100 needs to do a better job advocating for the rights and well-being of its members. Transit leadership seriously dropped the ball this year; not allowing their workers to protect themselves with the proper PPE equipment, allow them to be opened to abuse, and makes out any employee to be a total liar when they (the employees) speak up. It took Feinberg, Cuomo, and Foye to come to their senses after 100+ transit employe deaths from COVID-19 and infiltration of homeless people in the subways to suspend overnight service, which will not make a comeback until Summer 2021. 

Lastly, we will discuss crime in the system. The year of assaults, arson, and greed. At 8:15 am, an Inwood-207th bound R46 (A) express train pulled up at the 14th St-8th Av subway platform and got derailed. The cause of this derailment was some metal tie plates, known as D plates, which keep the tracks together, was intentionally thrown onto the tracks. Three passengers suffered minor injuries. Moments later, a suspect was caught and apprehended. 30-year-old Detemtrius Howard of the Bronx caused this derailment. He has an extensive criminal history and threw more clamps just as the (A) train roared into the station. Commuters saw the suspect laughing at the disaster he unleashed, sources said. Good Samaritans held him at the station until cops took him into custody. Police brought Harvard to NYPD Transit District headquarters at the Canal St. station on the A, C and E lines for questioning. He was later charged with reckless endangerment, criminal mischief, assault and criminal trespassing. The brazen act caused one of New York City’s most catastrophic train derailments in years. The train’s first two wheel sets were thrown from the tracks and the front car slammed into four structural pillars, causing its metal siding to peel back like a can of anchovies and its front three door panels to be damaged. The person who caught the scoundrel, Rikien Wilder, caught Howard at the scene of the crime and held him along with some good samaritans for 15 minutes until police arrived. For his heroic deeds and troubles, he was rewarded free unlimited rides for a year and a shirt that says, "Hero Of The Subways" and "New York Tough".  Another crime that happened was people and transit employees getting assaulted for either confronting people for not wearing mask, targeting Asian-Americans for the coronavirus pandemic (i.e. spraying Lysol on an Asian on a Southbound (N) Train), and pushing people onto the tracks from out of nowhere. Back 11/19/2020, a disturbed man pushed a straphanger onto the tracks while she was waiting for the subway that morning. The 24-year-old man was pacing up and down the platform before coming up behind the woman, appearing to time the shove until the 5 train is pulling into the station. Two cars passed over her before the train could stop and the FDNY could pull her to safety. The 40-year-old victim survived and was taken to Bellevue Hospital for treatment. The suspect, who only recently came to NYC, was taken in custody.

March 27th, 2020 is a day that will forever be etched not in our minds, but also one of the most tragic events in New York City Subway History. In the early morning hours of that day, Train Operator Garrett Goble became a hero. He was performing his shift along the (2) subway line heading up towards the Bronx when the deadly fire transpired. He evacuated his train, saving the lives of his conductor and passengers. Unfortunately, he succumbed to the smoke inhalation from the fire. Goble is a brave soul and a hero and deserves every inch of our respect. He came to work to get essential workers moving from point A to point B while the pandemic was reaching its peak in terms of toll deaths. There was a Lenox Terminal-bound (3) train right behind. Everyone on board evacuated from that train. Weekend (March 28th-31st) service along Lenox Avenue was suspended and the station did not reopen until Monday, April 6th. Police from the Transit District 32, located in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn arrested 50-year old Nathaniel Avinger for allegedly groping a transit worker. He was later linked to the Harlem subway fire that claimed the life of 36-year old Train Operator, six-year transit employee, and devoted father of two, Garrett Goble. Avinger remained in police custody back on 12/18/2020 while awaiting arraignment in Manhattan on the murder charge. Online court records didn’t list an attorney representing Avinger in that matter. A message seeking comment was left with his lawyer in another pending case. He set fire to a Columbia University Music Center sixteen days earlier. This criminal has been hiding under the radar this whole time and we did not realize it until now or at least until he struck again. Avinger has been arrested thirty-times prior to these incidents. The arrests date back to 1987 for assault and robbery. I will NOT describe the full detail on how this incident went down. If you want to know the full details on how this tragic event unfolded, you can read it all about it here. Today, Avinger faces charges of arson (x2), unlawful touching (groping), property damage, and murder. As for Brother Garrett Goble, he will always honored and remembered as a hero. On December 21st, the Goble Family joined NYCT and TWU Local 100 at the Flatbush Avenue-Brooklyn College stop. A plaque and a mural will be placed in the station to honor Goble as well as a scholarship in his name sponsored by the TWU Local 100. King Goble will always be in our minds and hearts forever. 

In other news, the end of 2020 is here. The Moynihan Train Hall at 7th Avenue and West 33rd Street is now open. This is the last post as the Transportation Hub Blogger. On 1/1/2021, the Transportation Hub Blogger becomes the new Hub Chronicles. My new podcast series, Hub Talk will be launched on New Year’s Day 2021. It will be available on Anchor and Spotify. With that being said, I wish all of you a Happy and Prosperous New Year and see all of you next year at the next stop. 


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