In New York, Riders Are Indifferent to State of NYCMTA

It’s
the largest transit system in the United States, moving millions of
people daily throughout New York City and beyond and serving as the
lifeblood of one of the largest economies in the world. Unfortunately,
writes Streetsblog Network member Benjamin Kabak on Second Avenue Sagas,
those who depend on the MTA — and those whom the MTA depends upon —
are often ignorant of its plight and seemingly indifferent to its fate.

subway_1.jpgPhoto: Jennifer Aaron

As fares are poised to rise this weekend — following the painfully short-sighted last-minute doomsday deal
— Kabak lays responsibility for the region’s transit woes at the feet
of an apathetic public and disjointed advocacy efforts. Citing a series
of recent interviews with straphangers by reporter Heather Haddon of
amNewYork, Kabak writes: 

The best quotes from Haddon’s articles are from those who say
they will turn to their cars. “Now I know what I’m going to do next
week. I’m going to pull out the car,” Angela Pacheco of Brooklyn said,
because the 30-Day Unlimited Ride is going up the cost of a whopping
three gallons of gas. Another rider in another Haddon piece echoed Pacheco. “Might as well get a car,” Marcia Roberts, a Queens resident, said.

This is the attitude that explains why our mass transit system
doesn’t have political support. This is why people are going to be fighting with MTA employees

over the new fares. This is why politicians refuse to toll the East
River bridges, refuse to allow the city to implement camera-enforced
bus lanes. This is why the agency that runs our subway system — a
system that transports over 5.2 million people per day — is struggling
to keep it in a state of good repair.

On the eve of yet another fare hike, transit advocates have
themselves to blame. We haven’t united behind the proper message; we
haven’t overcome a powerful auto lobby; and we haven’t made our voices
heard by those who hold the purse strings. One day, that will change.
For now, we’re left with higher fares and a transit authority on life
support.

All
of which begs the question: If New York City doesn’t recognize the
value of a healthy transit system, who will serve as the much-needed
role model for the rest of the country?

In happier Network news, Streetsblog San Francisco reports progress toward lifting the bike infrastructure injunction. Meanwhile, World Streets talks up shared public spaces, Hard Drive advises a reader on motorcycle noise, and Bike Portland bids farewell to Michael Jackson with — what else? — a bike ride.

  • DJB

    People’s frustration with fare hikes and service cuts is understandable. In a way it should make us happy, since it means people value inexpensive and convenient public transportation in NYC.

    It would be nice if there were more of a willingness to sacrifice, more of a recognition that transit is worth supporting because of its environmental benefits and such.

    I guess we should just remember that riding transit is probably about self interest for most people. When you treat your customers badly, they go elsewhere.

  • Spokker

    “On the eve of yet another fare hike, transit advocates have themselves to blame.”

    Great for those of us who aren’t necessarily against fare hikes. You can’t fund an expanding transit system with $1.25 fares. Something has to give, especially when the economy goes to shit and tax revenues are down. The only part of Measure R I did not support was freezing fares for a year. LA should have a $1.50 fare at the very least. I’d bump it up to $1.75 or even $2.00 if the stigma wasn’t there.

    Public transit should stand on its own merits, not because it’s less expensive than driving. It’s less expensive than driving but it sucks. Let’s pay our fair share and really foster good mass transit networks across the country.

    If Marcia Roberts thinks she might as well get a car, in New York mind you, it’s going to cost a hell of a lot more than the thousand bucks per year it currently costs her to get around on her 30 passes. These people are bluffing or insane.

  • DJB

    I don’t think fare increases are the best way to raise revenue for transit in most cases. According to Metro LA’s latest financial report, fares and advertising cover something like a third of their operating costs. For NYC transit it’s something like 2/3s. Capital costs for upgrades all come from taxes.

    You have to think about the elasticity of demand for transit rides. If you raise fares by say 10% by what percentage does ridership decrease? If you decrease your ridership, you also decrease your best argument for more public transit funding.

    It’s especially problematic to raise transit fares in LA, which has strong political support for low fares to reduce traffic and air pollution. Fare increases also probably function like a regressive tax here, because the average income of a transit rider in LA is probably lower than the average income in LA county.

    I say build a movement to increase transit funding through taxation, and only raise fares when you’re backed into a corner.

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