City Transit Commuters: A Modest Assessment

Given some of the unfathomable declarations floated in the name of opposition to congestion pricing ("We have to do something about the pedestrians"), it’s hard not to wonder what goes on in the minds of those who so passionately reject any perceived infringement upon their "right" to clog the streets and poison the air for "free."

Enter one Ken Klinger, whose recent letter to the Queens Gazette features probably the most generalized and bigoted characterization of New York City transit riders this side of John Rocker — pablum so awesomely over the top, you’ve almost got to wonder if it’s satire:

Next, there’s the commuters themselves, who make bus and subway rides
additionally unbearable by yelling into their cell phones or cranking
up the volume on their iPods so high that you feel like you’ve got on
headphones too.

Commuters’ manners are typically atrocious too. They cough without
covering their mouths, wipe their runny noses on their hands and
sleeves, and engage in a whole bunch of disgusting habits like picking
snot from their noses, wax from their ears, and dandruff from their
scalps, and then holding up and examining the nasty stuff, especially
if you happen to look their way for a moment.

For it almost seems as if commuters engage in these stomach-sickening
behaviors as a means of getting nearby commuters not to look at them,
in order to maintain a level of privacy, as I’ve begun to suspect,
partially in an effort to explain how they could possibly behave so
disgustingly, on average, without exhibiting any shame.

The author, who calls mass transit "the most miserable and unpleasant mode of transportation on Earth, outside of being shot out of a cannon," continues:

Contrast this hellish environment to the comforts of commuting in a
car, with cushy seats, either by oneself or in company with an equally
civilized and reasonably sane passenger or two. Sure, there are
annoyances, too, associated with driving autos, like traffic jams and
radio DJs who never play any music, insisting on hogging the airwaves
with their high-strung, bigoted rants instead.
Still, all things
considered, traveling into Manhattan by car is infinitely superior to
going by mass transit, and will continue to be so even when congestion
pricing goes into effect, as it most likely will.

What do you think? Is Ken Klinger for real? Or did the Queens Gazette — and Streetsblog — get taken for a ride? 

Thanks to reader "d" for the Onion link. 

  • Can we be sure that wasn’t Cpl. Maxwell Klinger, of the 4077th?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxwell_Klinger

  • Ken sounds like he’d like a supporter of Personal Rapid Transit…

    http://www.naparstek.com/2004/12/gadgetbahn.php

  • ddartley

    I just want to say hi to him, cause he’ll find his name here after googling himself.

    Mister Klinger, click through these pages and learn how transporting oneself in a contraption that uses outrageous amounts of energy per person transported (as well as in its manufacture and distribution); that generates impressive amounts of thermal pollution (to “turbocharge” the global warming that it generates with its air pollution); that damages the roads whose repair we all pay for, that takes up outrageous amounts of public space; that can be operated recklessly and lethally by anyone; and can, when operated recklessly, do way more human damage than other common means of urban travel; and whose particulate airborne exhaust contains numerous toxins–guess what–HURTS ONE’S FELLOW MAN, and therefore ain’t exactly “superior.”

  • v

    Uh, the public transit experience in NYC is pretty bad. I mean, compare it to other cities. I just came back from a trip through three world cities…in each the transit was fast, clean, reliable, comfortable, easy to use, and hella cheap. The moment I pulled my suitcase into the subway for that last hour ride home, I felt truly disgusted.

    The subways are dirty and loud, and the signage in stations is inconsistent and often totally unhelpful. People don’t use handrails and don’t pick up spilled drinks…why? Maybe subway riders avoid, litter and deface (and, yeah, we do) because the digs don’t exactly inspire mutual respect and community care.

    A huge network has high maintenance costs, eh? I love having so many stops, too, but I’d walk a few blocks farther every morning if I knew my ride to work would be quick and clean. Ken’s for real, and in spite of his ridiculousness, I think he has a point. Instead of lambasting him, I’d rather spend my time figuring out how to put that congestion pricing money to the best possible use, and then explain to Ken how his experience is likely to improve.

  • Gelston

    It is a well documented fact that more motorists pick their noses than subway riders.

  • fattsmann

    I agree with parts of the article: As a commuter in NYC and born and raised in Queens, I give points that the commuting experience is convenient… but it definitely is not as pleasant as sitting in one’s own car with one’s own family or friends. Though clearly the article is exaggerating what happens during a commuting day, I’m pretty sure that at least one time during the commute we can all say we witnessed someone coughing without covering their mouths, or picking their noses, or being loud, or vomiting on to the floor/tracks, etc.. Sure, it doesn’t all happen every day, but it happens. We as commuters are only lying to ourselves if we over-glorify it as an absolutely pleasant experience.

  • Hilary

    The relative pleasure of the driving alternative should make it easier to charge for the privilege.

  • Jmc

    v is right…

    Instead of attacking the assessment by Klinger, the proponents of the congestion charge should talk about how the congestion charge money will go into improving mass transit.

    Metro-North is highly civilized and very clean , mostly because it gets Sooo much more money to maintain the system. The new commuter rail stations in the Bronx and E Queens financed by PLANYC should enable the same type of commute for more city residents.

    An express bus with upholestered seats and limited stops, AC, and air conditioned waiting stations seems pretty civilized as well.

  • Jmc

    v is right…

    Instead of attacking the assessment by Klinger, the proponents of the congestion charge should talk about how the congestion charge money will go into improving mass transit.

    Metro-North is highly civilized and very clean , mostly because it gets Sooo much more money to maintain the system. The new commuter rail stations in the Bronx and E Queens financed by PLANYC should enable the same type of commute for more city residents.

    An express bus with upholstered seats and limited stops, AC, and air conditioned waiting stations seems pretty civilized as well.

  • Dan

    Um. This guy isn’t directing the brunt of his criticism towards the general nature of trains or the time it take to commute, he’s complaining about the OTHER PEOPLE on the train. AS much as I’d like to read this as some kind of ran that would be best addressed by better transit options or faster trains I can’t help but think that someone who feels so put upon by spending any time with other people isn’t going to like anything. No matter how good transit gets in this city people are still going to take the train with their fellow citizens.

  • t

    If I have to pay $2 to ride the subway with the types of people Klinger describes, then surely $8 is a relative bargain for traveling alone.

  • v

    in his full letter, ken lists quite a lot of reasons why the subway is unpleasant.

    regardless, large numbers of people are going to act, to some extent, in symphony with their surroundings. ex: social costs of littering in a park that’s not maintained are very low, so the grime persists and grows.

    so maybe ken doesn’t care much for his fellow citizens? declaring that he doesn’t have the right attitude isn’t going to change that. other improvements just might.

  • v, your “broken windows” reasoning would acknowledge that subway riders are in some way as bad as described in the letter. That is ridiculous and insulting to everyone. The point is that “Ken” and his ilk are a hostile and parasitic minority that we have for some reason subsidized, until possibly soon. Even (uninformed) subway riders have opposed congestion pricing in some polls, perhaps with sympathy for their neighbors who drive. Knowing that these drivers pretty literally regard them as the scum of the city might help break up that unhealthy alliance.

    It would be nice to magically change Ken’s mind and make him stop hating New Yorkers, but his driving minority’s unlikely support is not necessary to see congestion pricing through. (And, hint: faster, better carpooling with their “civilized” friends of the same social group is the only pitch with a chance.)

  • v

    it’s ridiculous and insulting to acknowledge that the subways are gross and people do crazy stuff on them? cry me a river.

    ken’s letter is over the top, but there are plenty of all-too-common subway activities that nobody likes. littering, solicitation, forcing everyone else top listen to your music, gumming up seats, scrawling on the windows. not to mention personal grooming that nobody else really wants to see, and the occassional puddle of vomit. it’s insulting to acknowledge this stuff? a reactive “well he’s the scum, not me” response is productive, useful, or accurate?

    it isn’t just foes of good planning and congestion pricing that notice these things.

  • Nobody’s crying, v, unless it’s losers who can’t handle the “do your own thing and nobody will look twice” culture that defines this city. People come here from all over the world so they can do just that. You can talk about grooming or whatever you think is universally disgusting, but it comes down to good old fear of the other. YES the subways should run predictably, yes there should be some indication of when trains are coming—the MTA lets all of us down in too many ways. But if you have a problem with the people that ride it you’d better get over it, as we aren’t changing just to make a few borderline suburbanites more comfortable.

    I didn’t say Ken was scum, I said drivers with his attitude are parasitic and hostile. But anyway yes I think that is accurate, and I’m not sure what you’re talking about with the “useful” and “productive” stuff because we are actually commenting on a blog post here!

  • v

    i think it’s disgusting to treat transit like a trash bin and bathroom. you don’t? you think other people should pick up after you?

    unless you can afford (and want to pay) lower manhattan rent, you’re a “loser”? that kind of me-first, dish-it-but-can’t-take-it, i-count-you-don’t mentality sounds exactly like..hmmm..ken.

    yeah, doc, it’s worthless to dump on other people while pretending it’s in the name of “breaking up some unhealthy alliance” or, you know, whatever else feels good right then.

  • This has been fun, you making up things no one said and all. Let’s do it again sometime! Maybe you’ll use the shift key and I’ll pretend to relate to car commuters.

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