Hanging Public Transportation by the Neck until Dead
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.
Though 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.
In the more than 100-year history of the subway, the fare has gone up in consecutive years only once before, in 1980 and 1981.
On 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, and 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 drift.
The 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 projection.
The 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 lunch?
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 Europe.
“We’re 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?
Mayor 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.