Tuesday, March 04, 2008

COMMUTERS: DID METRO NORTH/WESTCHESTER REACT APPROPRIATELY TO TRAIN SERVICE SHUTDOWN ON march 4th?

WAS THE COUNTY/METRO NORTH PREPARED AFTER METRO NORTH ANNOUNCED THAT THERE WAS NO SERVICE IN AND OUT OF GRAND CENTRAL STATION ON Tuesday, March 4th? SHOULD THE COUNTY HAVE HAD A PLAN TO SEND MORE BUSES? SHOULD BUSES HAVE HONORED METRO NORTH TICKETS? SHOULD MORE E MAIL INFORMATION ALERTS HAVE BEEN SENT OUT? WAS THE EMERGENCY PHONE SYSTEM ADEQUATE? WHAT DO YOU THINK? IF YOU WERE A COMMUTER ON TUESDAY AND WOULD LIKE TO SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCES...PLEASE POST THEM ON MY BLOG: WWW.PFEINER.BLOGSPOT.COM OR E MAIL ME AT PFEINER@GREENBURGHNY.COM. I WILL SHARE YOUR COMMENTS WITH METRO NORTH, THE COUNTY EXECUTIVE AND OFFICIALS INVOLVED IN EMERGENCY PREPARATION. Paul Feiner

THE FOLLOWING E MAIL WAS SENT TO ME BY LINDA GARFUNKEL, A COMMUTER FROM TARRYTOWN Paul, it is 8 PM, and I am lucky enough to be home. I have just heard on WCBS radio that Grand Central Staition is chaotic, and that trains are still running late.

I am on the e-mail list for Westchester County government and for Metro North. Mid afternoon today, I recieved an e-mail from Metro North saying that there was no service in and out of GCS. I figured that I should find another way to get home. Since the BeeLine bus runs near my office, I decided to look at their website. In doing so, I noticed that one can only use coins or their commuter card to pay for the trip. I figured that in an emergency situation like this, there would be exception to the rule. So I tried callin the BeeLine bus service. It took 15 minutes to get through. When I finally got through to a "customer" service representative, she was quite nasty and told me that I needed exact change and that I should go to a bank to get the change. I went though my wallet, our petty cash plus all the people in my office to try and come up with $5.00 worth of change. She told me that I could not use my Metro North commuter pass, becasuse there was no cross acceptance of those cards on the buses. Seems to me that when something like this happens on LI, there are emergency buses set up to get people from one place to another. No such thing exists in Westchester. I called the County Executive's office, because I was unsatisfied with the response by the customer service person at Bee Line. I left a message, because nobody answered the phone in the County Executive's office. I might add that there was no emergency number set up for people to call to find out what the county was doing to help its residents who were stuck in the city. At about 4:45 PM, I received a message from Metro North alerting its riders that they could take NY transit trains for free from Grand Central Station to various northern stops on three subway lines that would bring us close to Metro North stops north of 125th Street (in the Bronx). Knowing how crowded those subway trains would be and finally scraping up $5.00 worth of change, I was going to take the Bee Line bus home. At about 4:50 or so, a friend of mine called to tell me that the trains were running again. In all this time, not one word via e-mail from Westchester County to offer assistance or provide guidance. So I went to Grand Central Station. On my way, I passed huge lines for the BeeLine bus at 54th Street and Madison. Maybe, they did not get the word that the trains were running again! When I got to the board at the northern entrance, there were only 3 platforms for 3 trains listed on that board. Everybody stood around praying that there train would be on a platform soon! There was no Metro North person there to advise people as to what was happening. Finally, my train platform was posted, and I, like others ran to the train, not knowing when it would leave. When we got to the train, we waited a good 5 or 6 minutes for the doors to open. Then we waited another 10 minutes for the train to leave. Since I had a nice comfy seat, I was ok. The conductor announced that once we passed 125th Street, the train would be speeding to Tarrytown. I knew something was wrong with that, because of all the people who had been directed to take subways! So at some point, the conductor announced that we had to stop at Marble Hill to pick up the people who had taken the subway. It did not take a rocket scientist to understand that. When the train stopped at Marble Hill, and plenty of people got on the train, I asked one person what happened on the platform there. He told me that 4 trains passed Marble Hill w/o even stopping. Apparently, somebody forgot to tell the conductors that they should stop for those people!! At Tarrytown, there should have been police directing the overload of traffic.

I lived through 9/11 and getting out of the city. I comandeered an empty school bus on 101st Street and Madison Avenue during the power outage a few years ago to take scores of us to Westchester. At that time, I complained to the county that they had no plan for a disaster. You would think that after all these years, that the county would be prepared to send more buses, honor Metro North commuter tickets, add police to spots where they should be needed, send out an e-mail informing people what is being done, set up an emergency phone number for people to call to dispense information. Unfortunately, none of this was done, and there should be some accounting and some explanation.

Thanks.

Linda R. Garfunkel
Tarrytown, NY 10591

15 comments:

Angelo & Diana from Hartsdale said...

We believe that this incident was really disorganized and that Metro North should have made arrangements to get people home. My spouse for example, was stuck at Grand Central like everyone else, had to get back on the Subway (pay another fare) and try to find out how to get home, as there were few officials and Police in that mass crowd and information was impossible. Officials should have made helpful announcements. She finally figuered out that the #4 Train (subway) will take her to the upper Bronx, where I drove down to pick her up. I happened to be available at the time, but if I were not, she would have to get home by other means. Neither Metro-North or NYC Transit offered any assistance or guidance. Something should be done about this for the future. Prices keep going up, and services keep goind down. Thanks for the chance to speak our piece.
Angelo & Diana Ponzi

Anonymous said...

I don't think this is any big deal for town management to get involved with. Service was out for less than two hours, and it was resumed before rush hour.

Given the situation, I'm pretty impressed with Metro North's response. Sure, there were inconveniences for a couple of hours after that, but hey, these things happen sometimes.

Westchester buses run every 10-20 minutes between 3-6pm from Manhattan, and they're rarely crowded, so there probably wasn't a need to add more buses. Even if it were possible, it would have been wasteful to send additional buses. (By the way, buses and subways do not have the ability to accept Metro North cards; totally different system. I'm just happy that MetroCard - NYC subways and NYC buses - can now be used on Westchester buses.)

Town management has so much on its plate that it doesn't handle as is. This particular situation does not merit follow up by the Town.

Anonymous said...

Metronorth's response was pretty dismal. Their website was not updated and I could only find a service advisory by listening to the radio or, strangely, clicking on a link through nytimes.com (not through the metronorth site). But, in the end it was no big deal, I got home an hour later than usual. I do not see why this is the county's responsibility. The last thing we need is more bureaucracy and a tax hike to fund a county office to oversee Manhattan commuter problems.

Linda Garfunkel said...

Why is it Paul Feiner's concern? He answered my call; the County Executive did not!! Paul believes, as Richard Ottinger did when he was in Congress, that constuent service is an obligation of elected officials. It seems that Westchester County has no disaster plan and is non-responsive to its citizens. Paul Feiner is responsive. What else is a person to do, but to contact the elected official who will listen to a problem and then try to get some answers. The riders of Metro North yesterday deserve some answers as to why there was such poor communication from Metro North and from Westchester County. I am still waiting for a call back from the County Executive's office with my questions from yesterday. Surely, I was not the only one inconvenienced!!

hal samis said...

A secret hiding in plain site is the Beeline Bus' (run by the County) express bus, 4C.

There are two routes, one services downtown and one originates on Madison Avenue at 26th Street, making stops on Madison to 99th Street and then expresses to Central Avenue, making limited stops until ending at the County Center. Yesterday, the bus was rerouted to extend its run to the White Plains train station. This was a responsive measure.

Not as responsive was the refusal to allow for riders to stand in the aisle, limiting entry to vacant seats. The last time I took the bus, over the summer, limited standing room had been part of the landscape, I believe each bus allowed around 9 standing passengers. Yesterday, on my bus, the standing capacity was an enforced 0. This was not a good thing.

The fare is $5.00 one way and includes a subway or bus transfer (nyc or Westchester).

I took the 4C yesterday from 39th Street around 4:20 and got to "four corners" around 6:00.
The advice (without charge only to bloggers who sign their names) is to take it as close to the point of origin as is possible because once the bus fills, it does not make stops going north.

Likewise, going into the city, get off at 96th street, walk to the subway and use your free transfer because during rush hour, the ride down Fifth Avenue can be endless.

However, the travel time is at least an hour longer than the train however, the regulars are mostly from Yonkers or those working at Mount Sinai.

Still it is a way home during such events as yesterday or the occasional blackout.

You need a metro card with $5.00 or a lot of change, no bills allowed (this is never a good thing) which is the downside. And, there are few outlets which sell bus fare denominated metro cards in Greenburgh. Also, the multi-trip tickets are not available at Metro North stations, only at subway vending machines and you have to know to select "other amount" to get satisfaction.

The problem yesterday was, of course, the lack of information; those that tried to board at 47th street or further north were turned away by a full bus. What I am going to do shortly is ask for reimbursement for my $5.00, something that I don't have a receipt for because I used my existing metro card which now has a useless $1 balance. However, without service, I have overpaid for my monthly train ticket. The response to this request will be reported.

Should the County or Town be involved? The Bee Line (the 4C is part of the countywide bus system) are just as much a mandatory obligation to residents as is low income or affordable housing. And, fyi, the actual opertion of the Bee Line buses is contracted out to Liberty Bus Lines which operates the bulk of the other bus lines that service the metro area.

Being able to get to and from work during normal conditions is a key ingredient fueling the wage earner engine that also pays taxes to the IRS, State, County and Greenburgh.

If such situations invoke only the elistist view that it is not my problem, this prejudice suggests a a "cleansing" of the population that no one wants to see happen here. So, if any government sees fit to throw its weight behind solving commuter problems, I can see no downside and the upside is that one day there will be something bigger than a breakdown or a mishap and the mass transportation systems will be unprepared to cope with it. If a simple, temporary shutdown can cause chaos, consider the effect of a major catastrophe.

This type of situation is just as important as spending money to study the proposals to replace the TZ bridge.

Anonymous said...

I think Metro-North handled the situation perfectly. Minutes after the incident the website stated that trains were temporarily suspended. What panned out was exactly that...they were temporarily suspended and running again before rush hour. At or about 6pm when I arrived to Grand Central Metro-North staff were waiting at the departure info screens, which I have never witnessed before, assisting commuters and explaining that the trains were close to getting back to schedule but there would be a very large volume of commuters on the train due to the 2 hour delay from earlier.

Yes, there were delays but in a city that has such a large volume of commuters that rely on the Metro-North and to only get home one hour later - I would not complain, I would be grateful.

This was not a disaster or a crisis and hence did not need that sort of response. These delays are prevalent in our airports everyday – should our township offer residents held up in an airport delay an alternative means to get home?

Linda Garfunkel said...

It is more than 24 hours since the trains originally stopped running. I called the County Executive's office today at 1:30 and was told that there should have a disaster plan, but the person with whom I spoke did not know what it is! My questions were referred to the transportation department. I await a response from them. Some people, obviously had better experiences than others lsat night. At the northern terminals, there were no MetroNorth employees in sight. For those of us who normally take the train, don't have $5.00 worth of change in our pockets, don't have a Metro Card, work north of 47th Street, etc., one would have expected a bit more of an effort by county government to respond in a timely manner to what could have been a really bad situation. And should there be a fire in a tunnel, a suspicious package left on a seat on a train, a power outage, etc., is it too much of Westchester citizens to ask their government what plans are there in place? We have warnings when Indian Point is testing its system; we have fire drills in public buildings and schools; and we still do have aConalrad (sp?) warning on the radio, but we in Westchester don't know what to do if there is a major meltdown, and we can't get out of the city. Pressure should be put on Westchester government to come up with some answers. I am not one to say that I am willing to take things as they are and just except them as such. Don't we pay enough in county taxes to get an answer to the question - What are Westchester's disaster plans to get its citizens out of Manhattan in the event of a catastophe? You might call Janet in the County Executive's office at 995 2127 to get you some answers. Maybe, you will have better luck than I in getting a timely response.

hal samis said...

Dear 1:30,

Good worker that you are you didn't plan to leave your office early so the "crisis" was over before you sought to make alternative plans.

I guess you didn't intend to attend the Town Board meeting so you weren't in a rush.

However, if you were IN Grand Central Terminal at 4:00, the picture wasn't so crystal clear because the PA system was announcing things like no service in or out, a police action on 125th street, a building collapse etc. and those who, had free will, wondered how they were getting home and not facing the situation when you did, after the problem had gone away.

As Linda, points out, if this were another practice run like a fire drill in school, the MTA has failed to apprise its customers of what to do other than to leave passengers stranded in the terminal with the hope that the delay would become temporary.

I suppose that if you were of the persuasion, you could just go to a nearby watering hole and get soused but that it certainly not the official stance come a more serious service disruption.

If the 9/11 terrorists had more of a long lasting and disruptive demonstration in mind, they would perhaps have chosen to knock out the bridge over the Harlem River which the railroad lines cross over entrancing and exiting Manhattan. 600,000 daily riders would no longer be able to get to work and millions would panic and try to leave Manhattan Island by whatever means possible.

What would the MTA do in light of such a regretable real world problem? Would you be content to wait around your office or Grand Central awaiting "developments"?

No sweat, just send your family an email, "honey, I'll be home sometime".

RPJ said...

Hi Hal Samis,

I thought the purpose of this blog is to get the reaction from fellow residents on Metro-North's response.

Let’s call Tuesday's event what it really was….a disruption. I think Linda is completely right when she says some had better experiences than others Tuesday night. Like her, at 4PM, I did consider making alternative plans; fortunately, there was no need. Since, I was not IN Grand Central (some of us do not have the pleasure of leaving early) during this disruption I had to rely on NY’s media outlets and metro-north’s website for my information. There was not much detail as to what time the train service would resume but there was without a doubt assurance that this was not terrorist related or something to panic about. I do not understand why you were hoping the situation “would become temporary”. But as I must reiterate from my previous blog the website stated that the delay was temporary. I am not sure what more information you required at the moment the building clasped and they stopped service? Even the most perfect response plan requires time to assess the magnitude and appropriate response to the situation.

Also, do not mistake my opinion on the Metro-North’s response to think I do not want an emergency evacuation plan in the event of a real threat. Westchester gov't in collaboration with NYC gov't should have an action plan that can be put into place immediately, if necessary. I would tend to doubt that such plan does not exist especially since every NYC public school had to draw up an emergency evacuation post-9/11. But for the skeptics, put the pressure where it belongs and have Paul Feiner assure us that a plan does exist.

I guess you missed my original point - Is it necessary to waste tax payer's money because some people do not want to be inconvenienced?

hal samis said...

Dear rpj,

Some of us don't depend on the MTA site as a source of information. Perhaps for the reason that if you go to it today and search for the building collapse story, even looking at their archived news stories and press releases, you will find no mention of any "inconvenience", building collapse, service disruption -- or apology. It simply never happened.

Obviously, service was likely to be restored at some point, absent a disaster. The later you intend to leave for home, the more likely that service is going to be restored by then.

The point is not one about a relatively minor inconvenience but one about how the MTA would handle a disaster, i.e. a bridge collapse or a loss of a section of overhead track or the necessity to evacuate Grand Central Station. What is the plan beyond "keep away"? How do commuters get home, where will they be lodged if not, fed or treated medically if the streets above ground become jammed with pedestrians or traffic.

As I work across the street from Grand Central I am conscious that the Police Department conducts almost weekly staging operations with police cars parked from Sixth Avenue to Third Avenue. However they arrive during normal traffic conditions, when there is no panic and no hordes of pedestrians fleeing office buildings.

The point that I think Linda has made is that what would happen in an actual emergency when people act in fear and are less polite than even the rowdiest Town Board meeting. How and when would 600,000+ Metro North/Harlem/New Haven line commuters get home?

And, what does Westchester and Fairfield County anticipate doing about reverse commuters who would share the same problem.

Assuming that government is all-knowing and has made preparations in anticipation of events is a bet that residents would be foolish to make.

I repeat my concerns and think that residents are entitled to such assurances as it may be sensible to make. Emergency Plans, while vulnerable to compromise if they are known, also depend on the ability to spread the word quickly. In the last blackout, which also saw me on the Beeline Express bus, people who expected their cell phones and pda's and ATM's to work were disappointed. If you were evacuating your work station in haste, it might be in recognition that your PC wasn't working without power and your MTA lifeline wasn't there to comfort you.

Finally, if "(you) cannot understand why (I) was hoping the situation would be temporary" it is because that was not what I wrote. Perhaps if you read what was written, it would be clearer:
"If a simple, temporary shutdown can cause chaos, consider the effect of a major catastrophe".
Perhaps, sitting in your office working hard but visiting the MTA website, you knew that all's well that ends well. However, if you were among the people in Grand Central (from 3:15 on) who heard the PA system announce no train service, building collapse, police activity... no statement when service was expected to resume, you might take a different stand.
If you were standing at the bus stops watching buses passing by because they were already filled with passengers from previous stops and you still didn't know when train service would be restored, this might be a concern, even to you. If Grand Central were shut down (disaster) then not only would train, subway service (boroughs, Times Square shuttle) would also cease.

This early AM "someone", probably an idiot, set off a bomb in Times Square. It is not so unlikely that "it couldn't happen here".
If it does, than let's see what a quick study you are when instructions are given in the midst of smoke, fear, emergency lighting, sirens, barked commands and panicked civilians -- together altering learning environment. Do you really believe everyone is going to stand around quietly waiting for instructions? New Yorkers?

Think, if you will, what happens when speakers at Town Board meetings speak into microphones and can't be heard in the back of the room.

I think you would agree to that knowing the "Plan" in advance, makes sense. Of course, you need to have this demonstrable plan and that may be the problem.

Anonymous said...

Hal Samis-

He has hit the nail on the head again. Meanwhile, isn't it always the cry "why waste my tax dollars?" If a phone call from the Town can put pressure on the County Exec and the MTA to put something together other than press releases, so be it. The cost of a call, the cost of a letter doesn't raise one's taxes!

rpj said...

Hal Samis,

Are we the only two residents of Westchester still talking about Tuesday's event? Maybe not, but by next week we certainly will forget about this incident.

You say we need a plan...I agree.
I say that we need to be careful about a when to call the plan into action....Do you agree?

I agree with you that New Yorker's should know the plan in advanced. Using my last example; when the NYC public schools drafted their post-9/11 evacuation plan, school admin were and still are required by law to inform the parents of the protocol at the beginning of every school year.

If Tuesday's disruption caused people to worry about what would happen in a real emergency then let us have Paul do his job and get to the nitty gritty of this.

Again, the purpose of this blog was to share your opinion on whether or not the Metro-North responded to TUESDAY'S EVENT appropriately - not to hypothesize about the Metro-North's reaction to a real eminent threat.

With all due respect, you sound like a bit of an activist. I think you are barking up the wrong tree - Go get Paulie!

Anonymous said...

I was living and working in Manhattan on 9/11 and had moved to Westchester by the blackout, when i was stuck in Manhattan overnight. The lesson I learned was to not sit around waiting for someone else, government or otherwise, to tell you the plan - they will tell you go back to your desk and wait patiently. In the event of true emergencies, infrastructure and plans inevitably collapse - remember, the bus drivers have families too they are concerned about. Face it, by now you should have your own Manhattan escape plan in place - even if it involves walking. If there is a true emergency, like a dirty bomb, and you are waiting for Bloomberg, Spano, or Feiner to mobilize- well intentioned as they may be - you'll still be sitting at your desk, patiently as the building comes down around you.

Concerned citizen said...

C'mon Linda, the only thing paul can do is pick you up in his Finer Mobile. He needs to get a handle on running the Town first before we make him mayor of New York.

Anonymous said...

It was no big deal; just an inconvenience to be expected as a commuter every now and then. I see it as my own responsibility to know alternatives. I simply took the subway to Jerome Ave and then got on the Central Ave express bus; I got home only 35 minutes later than usual.