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Breakfast links: Cold and white


Photo by Maryland Route 5 on Flickr.
Brr!: It snowed, and now is really cold! There were disabled trains causing delays at Bethesda and Rosslyn, and on MARC. How was your commute? (Post)

Transforming away from crime: Prince George's effort of focusing government services to fight crime seems to be working. The 6 Transforming Neighborhood Inititive communites saw dramatic drops in violent crime. (Post)

The long road of the Bi-County: The Bi-County Parkway has a long and complex history, including an unpopular PR campaign from VDOT in support of the road. A new governor could add more uncertainty to the road's future. (LoudounTimes)

Faster but concentrated?: The DC Housing Authority may sell off some property in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood to jump-start building of affordable units. But the move would concentrate affordable units in one building. (City Paper)

Meet the new CFO: Jeffery DeWitt starts as DC's CFO today. DeWitt previously was Phoenix's CFO before taking over for the retiring Natwar Gandhi. (WTOP)

Metro wants to hear from you: WMATA wants people to take a survey on fares and what priority capital improvement projects, like escalator repair, should take.

The great Metrothon: One man is going to attempt to exit all 86 Metro stations tomorrow. Can he make it before the system closes? (Patch)

And...: 7 Democrats turned in enough signatures to qualify for the mayoral ballot in DC. (City Paper) ... What words and phrases should urbanists stop using? (Atlantic Cities) ... A documentary from a DC bike thief's perspective is in the works. (DCist)

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Steven Yates grew up in Indiana before moving to DC in 2002 to attend college at American University. He currently lives in Southwest DC.  

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Official snowfall at National Airport is 1.9 inches.

The Great Snow Drought still lives. It will be three years come January 27.

by Frank IBC on Jan 3, 2014 8:58 am • linkreport

Good luck to the guy on the metrothon. Most lines will be a 20 min headways this weekend which might get you 3 stops per hour (exiting the station theres no way you get back on the same train you got off) not counting bactrack time to transfer points and finally to his car. He better have some cab fare to get back to his car when he gets stranded at 3am Sunday

by ChrisB on Jan 3, 2014 9:02 am • linkreport

Wow that WMATA survey. Are elevators important, should we replace rail cars, Should we establish customer service standards, lets lower the rates on parking for NATS games.... Pointless. The mismanagement of WMATA always astounds me, lets take time to make a survey that will give bad data and then make decisions based on it.

by TeganAnn on Jan 3, 2014 9:06 am • linkreport

So glad there is $10 million study being funded by the transpo bill to continue to lie about the need for the Bi-County Outer Belt corridor of self-importance. All the while, I have to beg for any funds to be made available to add street lights and renew paint on crosswalks on intersections that carry hundreds every day.

Pretty much sums up VDOT in the 2000s to today

by Navid Roshan on Jan 3, 2014 9:09 am • linkreport

@TeganAnn, WMATA can't address the real issues, so they skirt on these superficial projects to be able to point to them and say, see we fixed it. No chance that survey says, what percentage increase do you think should be provided to payrolls this year (with an options of negative or 0%). They wouldn't have the cohones to let the public weigh in on that.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 3, 2014 9:11 am • linkreport

@Navid, you seem to be really stuck on the wages of the Metro rank and file but never mention the salaries of the management.

Have you corresponded with the your local elected official and/or the WMATA board member(s) appointed by them? Because that is exactly how the public is given an opportunity to weigh in on the union members' negotiated benefit packages.

If it were solely up to you, how much would a Metro rail operator or car equipment electrician make?

by dcmike on Jan 3, 2014 9:26 am • linkreport

How was your commute?

Perfectly fine and quiet.

Fairfax Connector rode surprisingly on time, despite VDOT not having done a whole lot on the local roads in my neighborhood.

Metro was nice and quiet due to all the delayed starts.

The CaBis were all under snow, and none had been returned this morning at the stations where I left and arrived.

Credit to DC and Arlington for salting the sidewalk on Key Bridge. After complaining for years, they seem to have picked it up on their own now.

Boo to the Marriott at Key Bridge that keeps refusing to clean its sidewalks, despite always cleaning its parking lot perfectly.

by Jasper on Jan 3, 2014 9:30 am • linkreport

I've noted it to my board members (one of which is on the metro task force).

What should a metro rail operator make? Short answer; 8 to 15% less than those in the MTA, as that is the cost of living differential between the DC metro and NYC. Beyond that, as I have hammered over and over, MTA pays more towards their benefits/pensions.

Beyond that, even if we don't actually reduce the salaries, they most certainly should not rise by 8% as proposed in the current budget, which as Richard Sarles said to WAMU "Inline with regional salary increases this year".

Reducing that 8% increase to a standard 2-3% increase would equate to a $50 million windfall for WMATA (hmmm I wonder what we could do with that)

And yes, I think the management gets paid too much too (way way too much), but that is just a posturing issue, it doesn't really impact the operating budget much.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 3, 2014 9:31 am • linkreport

How was your commute?

Slippery. I fell off my bike at the corner of 17th and T street NW. Luckily I was going real slow and was prepared for the fall.

by sk on Jan 3, 2014 9:32 am • linkreport

Yes, "replacing railcars" and "fixing infrastructure" are "superficial projects." Give me a break, Navid. Why the hell do you think things break down all the time; it's because they're mixing car series and running on tracks in need of repair!

by MLD on Jan 3, 2014 9:36 am • linkreport

@MLD... thats my point exactly?

WMATA is a transportation agency, but its for decades been used as a good place to work agency. Thats the BS of it. I'm not sure if you thought I meant to give it back to fares or subsidies or something, but that surely is not what I meant.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 3, 2014 9:38 am • linkreport

That guy should make sure to buy a rail short trip pass before he tries the metrothon. Also he should do it on a weekday so the headways are shorter. Maybe a Friday so you get 3am service.

by Michael Perkins on Jan 3, 2014 9:40 am • linkreport

Sorry now I see what you mean MLD. What I meant was

"establish customer service standards, lets lower the rates on parking for NATS games" and several other very minor items that they have done so that it appears they have made progress.

If they were to, expedite maintenance/replace rail cars faster/etc with the money instead of salary increases and wasting it on PR projects then I would be all for it.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 3, 2014 9:40 am • linkreport

This WMATA survey is appalling.

"Q26. In order to be more competitive in the marketplace, Metro is proposing to lower its parking fees at Morgan Blvd and Largo Town Center during Washington Redskins games from $25 to $15. Morgan Blvd is 0.9 miles from FedEx Field and no tailgating is allowed on Metro facilities.

Which of the following expresses your opinion on this matter?
Its good to be competitive
I think Metro should do everything they can to help the Redskins after this past year
There is always next year"

Ignoring the grammatical inconsistency, what? Are you asking me about parking prices or about the worthiness of the Redskins? Where the hell is my option for "No, I don't think prices should decrease?"

by Kelli on Jan 3, 2014 9:41 am • linkreport

It's an 8% increase in the budget for salary and wages. That INCLUDES an increase due to hiring new people. Painting it as an 8% "salary increase" is incorrect.

by MLD on Jan 3, 2014 9:48 am • linkreport

How was your commute?

Pretty much the same experience I have most days -- easy and without incident. After clearing the sidewalk in front of my house, I strolled to the Metro, took a short ride downtown and strolled to the office. (I mention the sidewalk clearing because apart from age or disability, there is absolutely no excuse for failing to do so; especially in a row house neighborhood, where the time and effort are minimal, even on a corner lot. I have a special level of contempt for those people -- I saw several -- who clear out their car and its parking space but do nothing about their sidewalk.)

by rg on Jan 3, 2014 9:48 am • linkreport

@MLD, that hiring of new people is outside of new services that were already included (it is an increase over already anticipated levels for 2014 with the silver line). It is far larger than the jump that occurred with the start of the Silver Line in fact for 2014.

So explain to me again how its because of the new people.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 3, 2014 9:56 am • linkreport

Feel free to read the following summary of the numbers in the budget http://thetysonscorner.com/wmata-2015-budget-shows-preference-for-employees-over-riders/

by Navid Roshan on Jan 3, 2014 9:57 am • linkreport

@rg
I agree, especially when those people that clear off their cars don't even do that well. They leave all that snow on the top or on the hood to fall off on some unsuspecting car or biker or whoever as they drive.
My commute takes a lot longer if I don't bike. Biking is a 15 minute affair whereas today I took the 43 to the Circulator and it took me close to an hour :-(

by dc denizen on Jan 3, 2014 10:03 am • linkreport

@Navid, basing WMATA employees' wages on those of MTA's completely disregards many other variables and simply doesn't make good business sense.

I'm not entirely clear where your 8% figure comes from. WMATA's largest bargaining unit, ATU Local 689, has a 4% contractual raise this year which is offset by a 2% compulsory pension contribution. That equates to an effective 2% pay raise, which falls in line with your expectation.

by dcmike on Jan 3, 2014 10:09 am • linkreport

@DCMike 2015 budget proposal

by Navid Roshan on Jan 3, 2014 10:12 am • linkreport

It is exactly my point that in 2014 WMATA had a ~4% increase in salary and wages; 2% to employees and 2% towards new employees for silver line operation. No such upgrade to the system is coming for 2015, and yet 8% increase in wages/salaries.

And when specifically asked about the jump Sarles responded that the increase in pay is inline with cost of living adjustments in the area, which is a flat out lie.

It is simply a decision on whether paying employees more is what WMATA needs, or more money on maintenance and capital improvements. I happen to think the latter outweighs the former by strides.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 3, 2014 10:17 am • linkreport

My commute this morning was fine. Metro was running a bit slowly but I still got in on time and uneventfully. This is why I love public transit.

by CyclistinAlexandria on Jan 3, 2014 10:21 am • linkreport

How was my Commute?

It was fine, actually faster than normal, if you don't count the time cleaning off the car.

What I did see was a guy on the W&OD on a dog sled being pulled by two dogs as the trail crossed Gallows Rd.

He was headed outbound, so does that make him a reverse commuter?

by MikeH on Jan 3, 2014 10:24 am • linkreport

How was your commute?

I was shocked that my MARC Camden line train to Baltimore was actually on-time today, considering the train before was cancelled.

There was about a 20 minute delay outside of Camden station-it seemed like the driver picked the wrong track. We had to let 2 trains pass, then reverse. But whatever, at least we weren't out in the cold. Can't complain at all.

by Paul on Jan 3, 2014 10:28 am • linkreport

@The great Metrothon

Reminds of a man who went to all the starbucks in Manhattan, pointless, but a great timewaster, like the vast majority of
internet use.
171 Starbucks

by Bill the Wanderer on Jan 3, 2014 10:38 am • linkreport

Navid...if Metro employees are overpaid and it is such a "cushy union job" then I recommend that instead of begrudging what other people make, you go join them. Easy right? I mean, if it is such an awesome job for awesome pay, I assume you will be the first to jump in line to apply for a job opening.

by ArchStanton on Jan 3, 2014 10:38 am • linkreport

Had metro been a public company, they would have declared bankruptcy to void themselves of the enormous pension liability, or switched to a standard 401K program long ago.

Metro’s pension has been fully funded by WMATA since inception. No union worker has had to contribute 1 dollar towards their eventual retirement, or $1 dollar out of any paycheck for their health benefits until this year, and now it’s a symbolic pittance Total insanity. Even K streets wealthiest law firms force their highest earning partners to contribute to their health and retirement benefits.

Good for Metro Union employees I guess, but that isn’t remotely realistic for anyone else, anywhere and we can see via WMATA’s yearly budgetary issues, solely due to their uncontrollable pension costs that WMATA will soon have to join the land of common sense in that regard as not even the mass transit system with the highest fares in the nation and second highest ridership can make enough money to cover those obscene costs. The excess pension costs were 33 million in 2009, and 37 million in 2010 (don’t have the recent numbers), and the scary thing is, Metro is an incredibly young system that’s only dealing with its first generation of pensioners.

The pension benefit cost at retirement (per employee) for WMATA is an astounding $400K.

For comparison to other local union pension benefits, the average pension benefit for Montgomery County is 220K. The cities of Alexandria and Arlington are 250K, and pensioners who worked for these jurisdictions aren't exactly destitute and living in the street.

Another serious problem is that Metro’s base return assumptions do not reflect reality. Benefit costs expensed vs incurred are a great example. Funding of the absurdly rich pension plans assume such things as a base 8% yearly return on investment (a total fraud since the plans have never come close to half of that on a sustained basis) and other items. Who gets a sustained return of 8% per year, every year in perpetuity? No one, and Metro’s return has been short more than not and when that happens we have to kick in the difference.

Also, determining ones pension based on ones overtime, and not base salary is just a recipe for flagrant abuse, which “surprise surprise” happens all the time. Calculating your pension based on your 4 highest years including overtime is just a massive incentive to, hmm, rack up overtime

And Archstanton,

Considering the demographic of the standard Metro Union employee, and WMATA's long role as "employer of last resort", these jobs are an absolute gold mine for the average quasi illiterate highschool drop out Ward 9'er without any other job prospects. Having said that, I will certainly go sleep in a Metro station booth for what comes out to an average of ~$45 an hour (pay/pverhead), and then treat everyone with such great annoyance when you "gasp"
have to wake up.

by Anons on Jan 3, 2014 10:46 am • linkreport

@ArchStanton - Ah yes the classic retort (one I actually have given out before). Again, you take me as if I am some right wing nut job here. I am not anti-metro workers. I didn't say that they should even have a pay cut. I said they should have benefits inline with MTA (a very union led transit authority that used to be a benchmark for union power) and that 8% pay increases at the same time that fare riders are seeing hikes and subsidies are being raised (which instead could go towards improving the system) are outrageous

You can continue to try to make me out to be a bogeyman of sorts just for pointing out the logic that 8% pay increases is absurd.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 3, 2014 10:52 am • linkreport

@MikeH

Dogsled guy is a regular fixture on the W&OD, even when there's no snow. He only has 3 dogs I think, so I guess he just does it to exercise them, and not for any type of dogsled training.

by MM on Jan 3, 2014 11:07 am • linkreport

@Navid, maybe it's because you continue to spread blatant misinformation. No bargaining unit members at WMATA are receiving 8% pay increases.

by dcmike on Jan 3, 2014 11:10 am • linkreport

The survey is crap. No where to put comments and the questions that are asked are rubbish.

Metro could do a lot more with it's notifications and communication. It should do a lot more with it. But just bland "improve" in the survey leads me to believe we are just going to get 50 plasma screens displaying elevator outages and still not have any place displaying that the red line is out of service until further notice.

My position on fare increases is that 3% every 2 years tracks inflation so it is a non issue.

My position on revenue in general is make parking more expensive but make the train cheaper.

The bus should be $2.00 cash with a discount for smart trip. It could be 1.76 for all I care.(once you are using smart trip, exact change no longer matters)

by Richard on Jan 3, 2014 11:12 am • linkreport

@dcmike then please explain why an 8% wage/salary increase was included in the 2015 budget compared to 2014 numbers? I would love to apologize if there is a logical explanation.

See Adam Tuss's picture of the budget at the presentation
https://twitter.com/AdamTuss/status/408612081274195968/photo/1

Thank you

by Navid Roshan on Jan 3, 2014 11:15 am • linkreport

I hope, eyes closed and hands clinched like the kid in the movie Tiger Town, that the bike theft documentary has enough information in it for the police to find and convict the bike thief subjects. Oh, that would make for the best 2014 imaginable.

by David C on Jan 3, 2014 11:16 am • linkreport

@Richard, again, I am not disagreeing with COL increases. Stop strawmanning, I specifically am against the proposed 8% uptick in the 2015 budget. It is most certainly an issue as that equates to tens of millions more in cost than the standard 2-3% (which btw outpaced inflation over the past decade for your information).

by Navid Roshan on Jan 3, 2014 11:16 am • linkreport

@Navid,

For one obvious thing (and I don't have time to look deeply into anything else), that is an 8% increase in the budget for ALL salaries/wages. That statistic alone tells us nothing about each employee's salary or wage. In fact, if they had a 10% increase in workforce, the average pay per person would have gone down. Or, maybe they plan to hire people with more experience (who will therefore be paid more than the average employee) in areas where experience/quality is needed.

I don't know the details, but it certainly doesn't mean that employees are seeing an 8% raise.

by John on Jan 3, 2014 11:23 am • linkreport

Hi, I'm Doug Duvall, otherwise known as Maryland Route 5 on Flickr, the fellow that took the black and white shot of last night's snowfall that's featured on your home page. I'm honored that you chose my photo today......thank you so much, and belated happy new year!

by Doug Duvall on Jan 3, 2014 11:34 am • linkreport

@Navid Roshan @Richard, again, I am not disagreeing with COL increases. Stop strawmanning, I specifically am against the proposed 8% uptick in the 2015 budget. It is most certainly an issue as that equates to tens of millions more in cost than the standard 2-3% (which btw outpaced inflation over the past decade for your information).

I was talking fare increases, not wage increases. in my opinion fares must go up as money becomes less valuable. Electricity, materials, and yes labor all become more expensive over time.

by Richard on Jan 3, 2014 11:36 am • linkreport

Kind of sad, but for the metrothon, it would probably be faster to run between downtown stations, entering and exiting each one and ignoring the train for the longer halls.

by Richard on Jan 3, 2014 11:37 am • linkreport

@Richard, sorry for misreading. I agree with 2-3% inflation on fare as well (as the COL for employees).

@John, you still aren't facing the facts.

In 2014 that big shiny new rail system called the Silver Line started. At that time WMATA said they needed 30 million specifically for salary/wages in its operation. That was the addition of several DOZEN new employees, many of which are higher level. That was a 4% increase over 2013 numbers.

In 2015, without any such expansion or major employment push that has been publicly noted, WMATA increases 8% over 2014 numbers, which already included those dozens of new employees.

Am I stupid enough to believe that every employee is going to receive 8% increases. No of course not. The point is, that too much money, without any plausible rationale, is being funneled and added towards employment and operations without any signs that it is even needed to attain good employees, all the while the agency begs that there is no money to help expedite repairs and real services (which btw are not part of that salary/wage number either).

We can go around and around this several more times, but no one has given a good explanation as to why a brand new metro line = $30 million more in expenses, but in 2015 without any new metro line + new employees we have to see a $66 million increase in salary and wages.

What is this rush of new employees that will cost so much in 2015? What will they be serving? Are they gonna start giving piggy back rides between Farragut West and North

by Navid Roshan on Jan 3, 2014 11:50 am • linkreport

And for clarification that is 66 million ON TOP of the added 2014 numbers going into affect this year (which includes the 30 million specifically for Silver Line wages/salary)

by Navid Roshan on Jan 3, 2014 11:52 am • linkreport

@Navid

The answers are probably contained in this slim 405-page document:
http://wmata.com/about_metro/docs/Proposed%20Fiscal%20Year%202015%20Annual%20Budget.pdf

by MLD on Jan 3, 2014 11:53 am • linkreport

http://wmata.com/about_metro/docs/Proposed%20Fiscal%20Year%202015%20Annual%20Budget.pdf
Page 101 or IV-30

Railcar miles are increasing 10% over 2014 - probably need to pay someone to drive those miles I would assume. There's your salary increase right there.

by MLD on Jan 3, 2014 12:04 pm • linkreport

@MLD,

Considering Metro has been over reporting their rail miles since 2009, I have a hard time believing it.

Metro still reports the actual amount of service to the NTD, and the shortfall has grown to 18% of the proposed service level as of 2011. If Metro was only providing 82% of the rail miles they sold to the Board the year before (which then also determines its budget), why was't there a coresponding budget surplus?

Metro is a big, hot mess from top to bottom and useless as a transit system which is why I (and a lot of other people by the numbers) have stopped using it.

by Anons on Jan 3, 2014 12:19 pm • linkreport

We can go around and around this several more times, but no one has given a good explanation as to why a brand new metro line = $30 million more in expenses, but in 2015 without any new metro line + new employees we have to see a $66 million increase in salary and wages.

WMATA's fiscal years run from July 1 to June 31. The FY14 budget (which started in July 2013 and runs through June 2014) included some funds for a partial year of Silver Line operations - which still is yet to happen.

The current proposed budget for FY15 will start on July 1, 2014 and run through June 30, 2015. It assumes a full year of Silver Line operations, which is why you see an increase in cost over the partial year of operations assumed for FY14.

by Alex B. on Jan 3, 2014 12:52 pm • linkreport

Since they are projecting against past over-reported numbers, I would still expect that they are increasing service.

by MLD on Jan 3, 2014 12:53 pm • linkreport

Whoops - June 30, not 31.

by Alex B. on Jan 3, 2014 12:54 pm • linkreport

Alex B gets it.

Also, in order to start the Silver Line in FY14 they are reducing service on the Green Line because of car shortages. The FY14 budget includes a little less than half a year of Silver Line ops (which won't happen though) and the FY15 budget includes a full year of Silver Line ops AND increased service on the Green Line when new cars are delivered.

by MLD on Jan 3, 2014 12:56 pm • linkreport

Alex B, is the first person to actually address the discrepancy, and to that I applaud you explaining it. Thank you. I will read more into the specific timing of it (it makes me wonder why Sarles didn't respond as such)

by Navid Roshan on Jan 3, 2014 2:03 pm • linkreport

The WMATA survey was clearly written to get a specific result and I fully expect that in a few months WMATA will issue a flurry of press releases saying "Overwhelming Majority of Riders Support Our Proposed Fare Increases" since there was basically no way to say otherwise. I might take the results of this survey seriously if it offered options like "Should Executive Pay and Bonuses be Linked to Measurable Performance Standards?" and "Would You Support Renegotiating Pay and Pension Contributions with the Union Even if Doing so Risked a Strike?" but things are so much easier for Dan Stessel when you can just conduct a push poll.

by Jacob on Jan 3, 2014 3:27 pm • linkreport

I foolishly started Metro's "survey". You're very right, Jacob, the questions are VERY directional and misleading, along the lines of "Killing is bad" Well, nearly 100% of the population is going to say "yes, it is bad!"

To top it all off, you're asked to rate customer service and reliability of service--but in a general sense, not against each other. Again, everyone says, "yes, I want good customer service" "Yes, I want reliable service". Hands down, weirdest survey I have *EVER* taken. These things should be what Metro is founded upon--not 'great ideas we got from a survey'.

Looks like bus fares are going up, too. Metro is cheap, Look, in NYC and SF, it's over $2.00, you're getting a great deal. Yes, but the cost of living is higher there. DUH.

I don't know what to say, but what a bunch of horse hooey.

by Bob Smith on Jan 3, 2014 3:43 pm • linkreport

METRO Survey FAIL. Nobody seemed to notice the best joke of them all.... No, please don't provide me with your "excelent" service

After completing the survey: "Thank you for taking the time to respond to this survey. Your feedback is very important to us. We look forward to the continued opportunity to provide you with excelent [SIC] customer service."

by Bob Smith on Jan 3, 2014 3:52 pm • linkreport

Word that urbanists should stop using: Vibrant. I don't know why but I truly hate it.

by Watcher on Jan 3, 2014 6:43 pm • linkreport

"It vibrates a lot." Or something.

Yes, I hate it too, passionately.

by Frank IBC on Jan 4, 2014 1:25 am • linkreport

"Q26. In order to be more competitive in the marketplace, Metro is proposing to lower its parking fees at Morgan Blvd and Largo Town Center during Washington Redskins games from $25 to $15. Morgan Blvd is 0.9 miles from FedEx Field and no tailgating is allowed on Metro facilities.

Which of the following expresses your opinion on this matter?
Its good to be competitive
I think Metro should do everything they can to help the Redskins after this past year
There is always next year"

Most questions had four choices while this question only had three, suggesting that management cut one of the possible answers as bring to risqué without noticing how lame the question looked with the edit. Most likely the choice they cut was that wmata should allow tailgating, but possibly it made reference to Pennsylvania license plates, the owner, or the team name. That is, management deleted the punch line choice that would have gotten the most votes.

by JimT on Jan 4, 2014 9:14 am • linkreport

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