Will the Transit-Riding Public Get a Fair Shake?

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Whatever your stance on the Ravitch Commission’s MTA rescue plan, the broad inequities of allowing New York transit service to deteriorate while fares rise 23 percent are stunning. The doomsday budget passed earlier this week would affect vastly more New Yorkers than bridge tolls or congestion pricing, burdening those who can least afford the added delay and expense.

The Regional Plan Association and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign came out with a strong one-two punch yesterday that frames this disparity in no uncertain terms, countering the shopworn drivel we’ve been hearing in defense of the "driving public."

These fact sheets from the RPA chart the doomsday service cuts by borough. The maps are helpful and alarming — visual confirmation that pretty much everyone who rides the train can expect longer waits and more crowded conditions. Bus riders from eastern Queens to lower Manhattan will see routes eliminated and less frequent service. I see that in my neighborhood, Windsor Terrace, the B75 is slated for extinction, shunting more riders onto the F train.

New Yorkers who would bear the brunt of these cuts, of course, outnumber those who would be asked to pay bridge tolls under the Ravitch plan. The gap is cavernous, as Tri-State shows in these fact sheets, updating its earlier analysis of congestion pricing impacts. In the Bronx, where pols balked at the Ravitch plan’s modest Harlem River bridge tolls, car-free households outnumber car owners by greater than 3 to 2. The margin is much larger when straphanging commuters are compared to solo drivers — 5 to 1. Even in Westchester, three times as many people commute to Manhattan by transit as by driving alone.

As ever, the populist "defense" of the driving public is a bunch of hokum that no reporter should let go unchallenged. Households without a car earn, on average, less than half what their car-owning counterparts make. Streetsbloggers know this already. What about everyone who gets their transportation news from the morning paper and the local network desk anchors?

  • “What about everyone who gets their transportation news from the morning paper and the local network desk anchors?”

    You can be sure these people drive to work, judging from their congestion-pricing coverage and their incessant demonization of traffic enforcement officers.

  • Moser

    Mark, I would contend that it is much more a factor of how the editors get around than how the readers/listeners/watchers travel.

  • I don’t see how this makes sense, especially in NY.

    Is there numbers of how many people use the roads compared to the subways (number of riders per day, number of vehicles per day?)?

  • Moser, it was the reporters and anchors I was referring to — sorry, I worded it badly.

  • g

    Can you imagine the uproar is the city or state, due to budget restraints, closed a road or shut down lanes to save on paving costs? The uproar would be huge.

    But shorten, limit, or otherwise shut down subway service and there’s barely a whisper from the powers that be. It’s especially troubling since these service cuts are in lower income neighborhoods.

    This is an outrage.

  • After I was on a Sunday AM tv show a few months ago talking about Ciclovia and showing some Streetfilms, the anchor questioned at one point how Summer Streets could hurt business, but then kind of dropped the subject by the time he asked his next question.

    However, after the session was over and cameras off we were chatting and he beamoned about how hard it is to drive around NYC.

    Just confirmed my long running suspicion that these folks who report tv news allow their bias to seep into their reporting. Frankly, most times when there is a story of fare increases or draconian cuts to transit, I wonder to myself, “Does this reporter ever even ride a subway?”

    The networks should realize they need to change their coverage. NO wonder why more and more people are flocking to blogs like Streetsblog (thank you!) for their news. As we all know newspapers and nightly newscasts are falling behind. Much like the Big Three Auto companies they are dinosaurs. They need to re-invent how they do things.

    Can you imagine the popularity if just of one of the news stations just taking the current transit issue and making it a nightly in-depth story? They don’t even know how much their ratings would soar.

    (One caveat: I would exempt NY1 for the most part from these statements. They do a commendable job and their 9 PM show regularly tackles transportation issues.)

  • g

    I agree. The numbers favor the transit riding public. Anyone who can speak to them will tap into a much bigger market than by just speaking to the few who drive.

  • J. Mork

    Is that on YouTube, Buck?

  • vnm

    g’s points are incredibly spot-on.

    The MTA has been cutting routes “where nearby alternatives exist,” including nearby and/or parallel bus routes and subway lines.

    Imagine what would happen if the DOT said: “Due to budget constraints, we are decomissioning the Brooklyn Bridge. As an alternative, we urge all motorists who currently use the Brooklyn Bridge to use the Manhattan Bridge, which is less than a quarter mile away.”

    Subway lines move far more people than a few lanes of traffic, but when it comes to public outcry over infrastructure, you’d think the reverse was true.

  • JK

    “Imagine what would happen if the DOT said: “Due to budget constraints, we are decomissioning the Brooklyn Bridge.” Nobody made an anouncement, but this already essentially happened during the late ’80’s and through the ’90’s when up to half of the vehicular lanes on the East River Bridges were closed for emergency repairs or rebuilding because of decades of deferred maintenance. The difference being that the pols just let the maintenance slide and never made the explicit decision to let the bridges fall into the River.

  • vnm: “The MTA has been cutting routes ‘where nearby alternatives exist,’ including nearby and/or parallel bus routes and subway lines.”

    Extend this decision-making logic to drivers and we could simply close all of the odd-numbered streets in Manhattan. After all, even-numbered streets are only two blocks apart, so nearby alternatives exist. The borough could cut its paving budget by 50%.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    “the broad inequities” vs. “visual confirmation that pretty much everyone who rides the train can expect longer waits and more crowded conditions”. Which is true? And, can an inequity be broad, isn’t the broadness a sort of equity, and wasn’t that the purpose? I think the latter and that the inequity stuff is just polemic. This budget was designed so everyone got hurt. Equality isn’t really part of the calculation, it is politics not algebra. Fairness is in the eyes of the beholder. It is impossible to slice this issue into little pieces and compare who gets hurt the most and how to equalize it all. It is the same political calculation as the Ravitch plan, spread the pain out. Congestion pricing concentrated the pain with 5% of the drivers, now the pain is spread out. Congratulations, now everyone gets hurt. I don’t see how that will run through Albany.

  • “What about everyone who gets their transportation news from the morning paper and the local network desk anchors?”

    An excellent social commentary not just on the top-down style of government we have been subject to endure in the recent past, but the longer established institutional top-down structure of big media, which supposedly represents the people’s interests, but in effect, only represents its own commercial and political ones. And the importance of blogs and other forms of new media as the real representatives of democratic, civic life.

    So how do we get to the point where it is these interactive forums that lead the discussions on civic life?

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The difference being that the pols just let the maintenance slide and never made the explicit decision to let the bridges fall into the River.”

    The decisions politicians make are sometimes bad. But the non-decisions they make, and the hidden deals they make, are far worse. The political ideal is a special deal to help the privleged few, followed by a non-decision with no footprints to screw everyone else which is “no one’s fault.”

    THAT is Albany.

  • Of course it is easy to argue that there should be some sort of pricing mechanism and that service shouldn’t be cut (which is true), but I’m tired of arguing on behalf of people that otherwise can’t find their voice. The fares should have been a lot higher a long time ago. Let us not forget that it is Albany’s negligence that has prevented the MTA from raising fares to even keep close to inflation over the last few decades. Much like the broader economy, even the poor have demanded something that they refuse to pay for. Perhaps now is the time to pay our collective balances?

  • Rhywun

    > The fares should have been a lot higher a long time ago.

    The other day, a driver was complaining here about how it’s “cheaper” to drive than take transit. I disagreed because I felt he wasn’t taking the total costs of driving into consideration, yet… transit fares are still popularly equated with just “gas”, and fare increases always drive riders away.

  • Ian Turner

    Solution: Make drivers pay more.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Much like the broader economy, even the poor have demanded something that they refuse to pay for.”

    The evidence suggests that it wasn’t the poor, who were cracked down on in the early 1990s, who did so. It was everyone else. It was entire generations. Including not only those who refuse to accept the contribution of fares falling drastically relative to inflation (and MTA labor costs) to the problem, but also those who use their vehicles to occupy scarce street space without paying a dime.

  • vnm

    Potential shoe-tosser Stephen Millies got all the media attention at last Wednesday’s MTA board meeting, but that attention should have been given to Mary Barber, who presented the following spot-on remarks. There is great language in here for all of us as we contact our elected officials about the Ravitch Commission, the Kheel Plan, or other alternatives to fare hikes and service cuts. (These are transcripted from the MTA’s webcast, beginning at 0:50:51 out of 2:26:12.)

    Douglas Sussman, MTA Public Hearing Officer: “Thank you, Mr. Henderson. Next speaker, Mary Barber, followed by Marvin Holland.”

    Mary Barber: “Good morning. I’m here today actually representing many groups. And I’d like to go through the names of those groups and then read a brief statement. The groups today to present this joint statement are:

    The Campaign for New York’s Future
    Citizen’s Committee for New York City
    Environmental Defense Fund
    Clinton-Hell’s Kitchen Coalition for Pedestrian Safety
    General Contractor’s Association of New York
    The L.D.C. of West Bronx
    Natural Resources Defense Council
    New York City Apollo Alliance
    New York League of Conservation Voters
    New York State Laborers
    Pratt Center for Community Development
    Regional Plan Association
    Straphangers Campaign
    T.I.M.E. To Improve Municipal Efficiency
    Transportation Alternatives
    Tri-State Transportation Campaign
    Urban Agenda, and
    The Women’s City Club of New York.

    “Our buses, subways and rails are the life blood of this region. Vital to our economy, our environment and our quality of life, this transit network moves more than nine million workers, customers, tourists and students each workday. The MTA is in crisis, but clearly the budget being voted on today must not stand. If it does, the results threaten to propel our city and our region into an economic, social and environmental tailspin.

    “Now is the time for leadership that recognizes the enormity of our problem and inspires us all to be part of the solution to this crisis. We applaud the Governor’s Commission on MTA Financing for their recommendations, which continue a 30-year tradition of asking those who benefit, whether directly or indirectly, from our transit system, to contribute to the maintenance of this vital network.

    “The Commission’s recommendations are marked by a fundamental fairness. All riders, commuters, drivers, and businesses will contribute to the support of the region’s transit system, including the repair and maintenance of bridges and roads. The recommendations eliminate the fundamental unfairness of sharply raising transit fares and some tolls, while allowing other drivers to not pay any tolls. The recommendations reduce the pressure to raise tolls even more at currently tolled bridges and tunnels. Motorists will take on the burden of maintaining bridges that they use, as part of the revenue from new tolls will be dedicated to bridge repair and maintenance.

    Mr. Sussman: “Please summarize your comments.”

    Ms. Barber: “Yes.

    “We, the organizations that stand here today, support these fundamentally fair recommendations presented by the commission. We acknowledge this is a difficult choice for elected officials, to implement these changes that will spread the burden of helping to fund our transit system to some who benefit from our region’s transit network and are not accustomed to contributing. But we ask our leaders to consider the stark unfairness of placing a disproportionate burden on only some of the millions who benefit from our transit system, as well as the nightmare scenario of a transit network whose services and maintenance are drastically reduced due to a lack of support. Thank you.”

    [Applause.]

    Mr. Sussman: “Thank you, Ms. Barber. Our next speaker is Marvin Holland. Marvin Holland. . . . “

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