Mark Hallum


New LIRR App Feature Helps Riders Stay Socially Distant

Commuters leave a Long Island Railroad train at Pennsylvania Station in New York July 15, 2014 (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

The Long Island Rail Road released a new feature in the TrainTime app that tells commuters where to stand on the platform if they want to avoid crowding on the train coming into their station.

Through seat tracking on the LIRR’s electric fleet, which accounts for nearly 90 percent of its trains, the app will inform folks of where the available space is as New York City makes its way through the first phase of reopening after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At Jamaica Station on Tuesday, LIRR President Phil Eng explained that this technology is first of its kind in North America and will help New Yorkers return safely to work while riding the nation’s busiest commuter railroad.

“Prior to the pandemic, we were faced with record ridership and knew we had to find ways to manage crowding on our trains,” Eng said. “This is something we’ve been working on for the past year, but now as we strive to bring back New York’s economy, this information is more vital than ever.”

Some features on the train will calculate passenger count by the total weight of every car, while infrared sensors above the doors will determine how many passengers are entering and exiting the train at every stop, Chief Innovation Officer Will Fischer said.

“We know that many of our trains can become unevenly distributed throughout their journey, oftentimes cars are packed up front while cars near the back remain empty,” Fischer said. “Now customers will have this information and can make that decision for themselves where they’d like to board if they’s like a little more room.” 

Fischers says that not only does the TrainTime app offer this updated feature, but customers can track the train in real-time with accuracy with upgrades to GPS systems onboard.

According to Eng, the trains are undergoing daily cleaning much like on the subways and buses. He believes the app could ease the worries of commuting after the worst of the pandemic.

As for the subways, Eng said the MTA is working across agencies to share information about ridership but could not confirm if similar technology could be used on New York City Transit rolling stock.

Distrust of the subways became a reality early on in the COVID-19 crisis and by June, more than 130 transit workers had died from complications of coronavirus. In March the subway’s ridership plunged more than 92 percent.

This story first appeared on amny.com

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Congestion Pricing is Gaining Traction in The New York State Legislature: Here’s What You Need to Know

Congestion pricing is designed to help fund the MTA.

While the chips are yet to fall on congestion pricing, April 1 is the deadline for the New York State legislature to include the proposal in the state budget.

The proposal has been heralded as the best option for providing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority with the estimated $40 billion it needs to dramatically modernize the transit system.

Not only does the antiquated transit system need extensive, system-wide overhauls but the agency is facing a steep decline in ridership as a $1 billion deficit looms in 2022. It’s getting down to the wire for elected officials to vote to include congestion pricing in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget, here’s what you need to know about congestion pricing so far:

  1. The cost to drivers has not been decided upon by lawmakers or the MTA. An early proposal by Cuomo’s FixNYC panel release in January 2018 suggested charging passenger cars entering Manhattan up to $11 during business hours. Trucks would have to pay about $25 to conduct business between boroughs.
  2. The governor’s office has outlined a central business district in Manhattan below 60th Street as the boundary for where drivers to expect to pay to access. Traditionally free East River bridges would not be directly tolled, according to early projections, unless drivers follow routes continuing into the central business district as opposed to heading Uptown where they would be in the clear. But a clear definition of where gantries for cashless tolling would be placed has not been established.
  3. Congestion pricing has been projected to provide about $15 billion for the MTA’s next capital plan, which runs from 2020 to 2024. Those funds could go a long way for making the subways more Americans with Disabilities Act compliant within the coming years, for one. New York City Transit President Andy Byford’s Fast Forward plan will bring sweeping changes to the subways and buses over the next 15 years if it receives the proper funding which could total $40 billion.
  4. State Assembly Majority Leader Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) announced on Monday that congestion pricing had enough votes to pass and get inclusion in the 2020 executive budget, but some lawmakers are still holding onto their opposition to the toll which they believe will only isolate the outer boroughs from services and attraction in Manhattan while placing an undue financial burden on eastern Queens constituents. Some legislators have said they want a more clearly outlined pricing plan before they take a vote.
  5. Only about 1.2 to 2.8 to 5 percent of Long Island residents would be paying the toll, according to a study conducted by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign in 2018, which broke down commuter patterns by assembly districts.
  6. Congestion pricing is part of a $175 billion budget proposed by Cuomo in January and received support from Mayor Bill de Blasio in February after over a year of opposition from his administration who favored a millionaire’s tax instead, but was shot down by Cuomo and former MTA Chair Joe Lhota on the grounds that the plan lacked immediacy. The tax on the 1 percent of New Yorkers had the potential to raise $700 million in 2018 and had the support of over half of City Council members.
  7. Establishing a dedicated revenue source for the MTA, which moves over 8 million people per day across all the services it provides, is not the only reform Cuomo has ordered to be made to the agency. The MTA will also undergo a restructuring to improve accountability in financing, cut down on bureaucracy and have an board made up of members appointed by an elected official whose tenure would expire with that of the politicians themselves. The restructuring will include a variable pricing structure for the tolls into Manhattan and establish a lockbox for those funds to go into.
  8. Budget amendments would, through talks with the legislature, determine the pricing structure, “which would take into account the type of vehicle, the time and day of the week, credit for any tolls paid at other bridges and tunnels, as well as other key factors that will be determined through conversations with the Legislature.
  9. The lockbox would ensure that 100 percent of the revenue collected through congestion pricing would only be used for MTA capital projects.
  10. Congestion pricing was first proposed by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but it proved unpopular at the state level and was killed before it could even make it to a vote in the Assembly chamber in 2008.
  11. The environmental impacts of congestion pricing can improve the overall health of communities in central zones where it is implemented dramaticallyaccording to a Johns Hopkins study performed in Sweden, which showed asthma attacks in children decrease by up to 50 percent. Transform, a Los Angeles-based organization, warns that congestion pricing, however, can pass on the burden of traffic pollution onto other communities and that legislators should take caution.

The World’s Fare Returns to Citi Field in May 2019 for Second Helping of Global Eats

Photo by Corazon Aguirre

The World’s Fare is coming back to Citi Field next spring and figures to attract thousands of local foodies eager to try curated bites from across the globe.

Tickets are now available for the May 18-19 festival to be held at Citi Field. Inspired by the 1964-65 World’s Fair, the World’s Fare gives attendees access to food, drink, music and entertainment for allotted times and is curated by leading chefs, food journalists, bloggers and social media influencers.

“It was a massive success last year with over 10,000 people attending. The foundation of the event is around food and drink,” said Josh Schneps, one of the organizers of the event. “This year we are going to be adding new experiences and family-friendly activities for kids.”

Schneps is also publisher of Schneps CNG, the parent company of Long Island Press.

The World’s Fare will feature up to 100 different vendors celebrating equality and diversity in the food industry plus over 50 global craft beers and international cocktail bars as well.

“The whole intention of the event is to embrace the diversity of New York City and Queens in particular as it is most diverse of all the boroughs,” Schneps said. “Everybody has a shared love of food and drink so it’s a great way for people to come together through that.”

A taste of some of the returning vendors for this year are Empanada Papa, Arepa Lady, Dua Diva, Nacho Libre, Knot Of This World, Baba’s Pierogie, In Patella, Home Frite, D’Abruzzo, Danny Macaroons and Vaccaro’s Bakery.

Ticket prices are at their lowest point currently, but will go up as the date gets closer.

General admission tickets are on sale for $19; $49 passes will give you general admission access along with a free mug to taste 12 different kinds of beer plus one specialty cocktail.

General admission prices will jump to $29 in January, $39 in March and $45 in April. General admission including beer tastings and a specialty cocktail prices will move to $55 in January, $59 in March, and $69 in April. Children’s tickets will change from $5 to $10 in January.

VIP tickets cost $199 and offer VIP lounge access with unlimited select beer tastings, a free souvenir mug and two specialty cocktails and an additional 16 tastings from the beer garden. This price will not change, however, and tickets do not include food.

The World’s Fare will occupy the Citi Field parking lot, and is accessible by the nearby 7 train at the Mets-Willets Point station. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit worldsfare.nyc.