N.Y. Drivers’ Unexpected Ally: The New York Times Metro Desk

So the Times’ William Neuman went out to interview subway and bus riders about implementing tolls on East and Harlem River bridges to help fund the MTA. Here’s what he found:

While straphangers who opposed tolls were in the minority of those interviewed, far more common in the interviews last week were transit riders who feared the looming fare increases and supported bridge tolls.

No surprise there, right? Thing is, that little nugget above was buried halfway into an article headlined, "N.Y. Drivers’ Unexpected Allies: Transit Riders." And here’s how Neuman (or his editor) chose to lede the article and sum up their man-on-the-subway findings:

Interviews with residents in these districts revealed that the holdout legislators have tapped into a concern shared by many of their constituents, even among those where it might be least unexpected: transit riders. And while toll opponents made up a spirited minority among straphangers interviewed in recent days, their views stood out, because they were both unexpected and passionately held.

As one Streetsblog commenter put it this morning:

Why doesn’t Willie Neuman just write an op-ed stating his personal
opposition to bridge tolls instead of hunting out a few subway riders
with contrarian and illogical positions on the matter?

  • Larry Littlefield

    The next question a fair minded reporter should have asked.

    “If you don’t think it’s fair that the currently free bridges be tolled, shouldn’t tolls be removed on all the bridges and tunnels that have tolls now?” And if no, “why not?”

    Because if you ask someone about change, they are opposed. And yet massive change — all negative — is happening and will continue, because of deals in the dark no one was asked about. And because they are in favor of something for nothing, so politicians (and investment bankers) who pander to that tendency have been able to fleece them.

  • Seems appropriate that this story is flanked by car adds…

  • I’d bet that if the question were posed: “Do you think that your subway fare should be increased to $2.50 or $3 for service that is cut dramatically, or do you think that there should be tolls on the now-free bridges,” the title of the article would then be, “One Hundred Percent of Transit Riders Endorse Bridge Tolls.”

  • Ken Coughlin

    Journalists can always find people willing to voice positions against their own interests (after all, 20 percent of Americans still think Geo. Bush did a fine job as president). But the space the Times wasted on this “man bites dog” story at a critical point in the deliberations would have been far more productively allocated to an inquiry into why a handful of legislators, who presumably should know better, would be voting against the interests of the overwhelming majority of their constituents. It just goes to show that when it comes to taking a privilege away from motorists, all bets are off.

  • A further irony to this NYT story about some straphangers’ false consciousness is that the headline of this otherwise excellent post betrays a similar, though subtler, failing: Many drivers will actually be made worse off by the transit fare hikes and subway service cuts.

    That’s certainly the case for motorists who already pay tolls at the Queens Midtown and Brooklyn Battery Tunnels and the Triboro Bridge and who, like the rest of us, will be injured by the jolt to the city and regional economy from the hikes and cuts. It’s also true of drivers and truckers who use streets and highways near the East and Harlem River bridges, since they’ll be denied the reduction in gridlock that the tolls would have provided by diminishing usage.

    Still, with the denouement evidently fast approaching, we should start to consider whether a different plan might have managed to garner greater support.

  • living in new york i am still amazed by the dominance of car culture in the media. who knew even here, the most transit friendly city in the US.

    -anita

  • Jesse

    I hated reading this article. It made me think there hasn’t been enough visible organizing around this issue. Who’s up for a last minute rally?

  • Rootboy

    I’d like to see how the straphangers quoted in the article would answer if they knew how much the subway would cost if fares alone covered the operation of the system.

  • Ashcan Sam

    Well, the subway fare and advertising covers 67% of the subway’s operating costs.

    So, for the pay-per-ride fare, that’s $2.98. For the monthly, it’s $120.

    I guess we’re about to find out what it’s like to have the fares cover operating costs.

  • Barnard

    I don’t understand Willie Neuman. Can someone try to explain?

    Mr. Neuman, if you’re reading this, can you please explain why your writing is so pro-driver? From this article to you finding the 1 person sitting on a bench along Broadway who doesn’t like the new plazas and bike lanes, I don’t get your seemingly purposeful contrarian attitude about the changes to NYC streets.

    Jesse #7, Transportation Alternatives is holding a rally in Union Square on Wednesday from 8am to 12pm. Watch the video Streetsblog posted this morning. Info at the end.

    And, Neuman, if you are reading this, maybe you’d like to come to Union Square and talk to some straphangers who DO support bridge toll funding for the MTA…

  • I see the article not as some sort of editorial against bridge tolls on Neuman’s part, but rather as a valuable education in the woeful ignorance of NYC voters. I have long suspected that many subway commuters would vote against their own self-interest merely out of spite against the hated MTA; here is the proof.

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