Hanging Public Transportation by the Neck until Dead

Nyctransitbus Public transportation (in the true meaning of public, instead of road-worthy) is in its usual stage of self-flagellation and it ain’t a pretty thing to watch. New York City’s no more guilty than most of running like mad after the wrong goal, but it’s recently in the news and makes a convenient target.
(NYTimes, William Neuman) July 22, 2008

So Soon? Fares and Tolls Rise in M.T.A. Plan

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will propose a substantial increase in transit fares and bridge and tunnel tolls next year to help close a widening budget gap of nearly $900 million, according to an official at the authority.

the precise amount of the fare and toll increase has yet to be determined, the
authority will seek to increase the revenue it gets from those sources by 8
percent. If approved by the authority’s board, the increase would take effect
next July and would follow a toll and fare increase in March of this year.

the more than 100-year history of the subway, the fare has gone up in
consecutive years only once before, in 1980 and 1981.

Wednesday, the authority will unveil a preliminary budget plan for 2009 that
calls for the fare and toll increases and outlines other measures to balance
its budget, including more than $300 million in additional financing that the
authority hopes to get from the city and state.

Contemplate (if you dare) a city that owns and operates the New York City Subway, Staten Island Railway,
Long Island Rail Road,
Metro-North Railroad
plus a network of 4,500 busses running across 200
routes. Make your head swim? Is there any reason why instead of looking at this
mélange as an alternate to choked traffic, board members ought not just throw
up their hands and raise fares?

The answer is a resounding yes!

MTA is the largest (and all-time champion) public transportation
provider in the Western Hemisphere. 14.5 million people in the pool of actual
and possible riders, already sitting on MTA seats almost 3 billion times a year. If, like me, you blur at the shaking of a billion
in your face, that’s three thousand
million rides a year.

Where do these 8 million a day go?
Why are they on buses, trains and metro in the first place?

For the most part,
they go to work (and home), shopping (and home) to school (and home) or out to Aqueduct
Race Track to watch the ponies run. So, they actually go and come primarily
from businesses
. Yet business—in the grand, multi borough, 5,000 square
mile circumference-of-commuters sense—pays not a dime to get their cleaning-lady or
CEO to work.

Well, actually they may send a limo for the CEO, but you get my

authority faces steadily rising costs, particularly for fuel, as well as
sharply declining tax revenues due to a slowdown in the real estate market.
Just six months ago, the authority predicted that its shortfall for 2009 would
be slightly more than $200 million, less than a quarter of its latest

budget plan, which the authority is required to produce in July, puts new focus
on a state commission created by Gov. David A. Paterson to recommend long-term
solutions for the authority’s chronic financial difficulties. The panel, which
is headed by Richard Ravitch, a former authority chairman, is to make a report
by November. The authority must pass a new budget for next year in December.

Long-term solutions are not the stuff of boards. Boards are good at
meeting four times a year, looking at budget shortfalls, raising ticket-prices
and adjourning to lunch at GILT over at The New York Palace Hotel. Having $10
billion income and $11 billion in expenses is a slam-dunk. Raise fares, defer
capital expenses, reduce maintenance, cut services—meeting adjourned—what’s for

That’s no doubt unfair to the MTA board, but I’m willing to be
unfair to make a point.

The answer to public transportation is not reduced services and
increased fares. Crappy rides at more cost is only OK if you live somewhere
other than a strap-hanger world. And, let’s face it, every single board member lives in that other world.

Ponder this; there’s $21 billion in retail clothing sales in NYC,
another $29 billion in wholesale. It’s almost impossible to find out what the
total business take is in NYC and surroundings, but a 20% tax on just the
clothing business would run the whole pub-trans system. So, what would it be as
a business tax? One percent? One half of one percent? These people are coming to clean your toilets, run your businesses, buy
your products

Nationwide, there are (and have been) two solutions to
deteriorating infrastructure;

  • Ignore it and hope it
         goes away, until collapse occurs on someone else’s watch
  • Privatize, selling it to
         the Arabs or Chinese

Bill Clinton isn’t the copyright holder of record when it comes to ‘a third way.’ We have got to find a
third way out of infrastructure collapse—particularly public transportation—as oil
crisis after oil crisis shuts down our ability to rely on automobiles. Cities
that can be delightful places to live and work are becoming uninhabitable due
to gridlock, grime, diesel fumes, and parking dilemmas. The way forward is not
to take a common solution and put it beyond the reach of all but the affluent.

The affluent are not on the bus, metro or light rail—except in

not fans of fare hikes,” said Gene Russianoff, staff lawyer for the
Straphangers Campaign, a rider advocacy group, “but my view about the hikes
will turn largely on how much the city and the state will pony up to pay their
fair share.”

City and State? That’s another word for the strap-hangers. What
about business? How ‘bout GILT over at
The New York Palace Hotel, or Madison Avenue, where world-wide advertising revenues grew by $22 billion last year?

Michael R. Bloomberg’s chief spokesman, Stu Loeser, said in a statement that while
the city recognized the authority’s financial problems, “City taxpayers aren’t
in a position to increase our subsidy over the billion-dollars-plus we already
provide each year.” He added, “That’s why we are looking forward to hearing the
Ravitch commission’s findings about how the M.T.A. can find new revenue sources
on both the expense and capital sides.”

Anybody want to jump on the bus and go for groceries . . . ?

. . . and pay $4 for the pleasure?

I thought not. And yet isn’t it strange how when tobacco companies
are fined hundreds of billions, they just add that to the price of a pack of
cigarettes and go on their merry, profit-producing way—and we can’t find a way
to provide decent public transportation by similar methods? Make no mistake,
the grocery or ad-agency or private university s going to have to pass on that
transport cost to you and me and Aunt Mabel.

But the result will be to move closer and closer to the goal of
free (in the sense of no-fare) public conveyance, bicycle friendly city
streets, outdoor cafes, cleaner air, way less noise and a sense of empowerment
over the forces of crud.


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