Worthier Targets than the MTA for Protesting Fare Hikes
Whenever the MTA institutes a fare hike, New Yorkers are rightly frustrated and upset. We get equally angry when the trains don’t run as efficiently as we want them to and this, too, is understandable. Personally, I grew up riding the D.C. Metro system which, though New Yorkers are fond of pointing out is much cleaner than NYC’s, is closed for several hours at night, operates implicitly as a regressive tax charging more for longer distances traveled (up to $5.90 each way), and reaches only a fraction of number of locales reached by our system here. Furthermore, as much as we love to hate the MTA, most daily commuters in New York City can manage to get anywhere they need to go in the city for substantially less money than it costs to own and maintain a car, keep the tank filled, and keep up with insurance payments.
That said, the fare hikes are true hardship for a lot of New Yorkers — one of a great many unfairnesses heaped on the backs of New York’s lower economic strata with all the care and consideration given by the growth machine operators as is given by the roadrunner in dropping another anvil on Wile E. Coyote (important disclosure: though I’m not a fan of fare hikes, I’m privileged to be able to weather them with little more than a wince). So, the cost of a monthly MetroCard has gone up — how many percentage points has rent gone up since 1998 in Brooklyn’s “hot” neighborhoods? Is it even a real number conceivable by humans? Especially considering the skyrocketing cost of every other aspect of living in this city, action needs to be taken. A pin in that, for a second.
People are, above all, suffering from the suffocating crush of overzealous real estate development and most of what’s wrong with the MTA is a symptom of that. In exchange for the help of developers in “revitalizing” so-called “blighted” neighborhoods, the city and state government extract expensive promises from the MTA to enhance transit service such that it will be acceptable to early-stage gentrifiers. Thus, resources for improvements are concentrated in new money neighborhoods like Williamsburg, but the cost burden is shared equally by MTA users throughout the city, who are less able to absorb this burden and may not even receive any tangible benefit (L Train riders saw a boost in the number of rush hour trains last year, but how many times a week does the train still stop running after Rockaway Parkway?) In a city where almost everybody relies on public transit, this is a de facto flat tax.
But, who can fix it? The answer is probably not benevolent real estate developers and it’s probably not the MTA who, despite their constant fare hikes, are not especially flush with cash. New York City’s public transit is one of the most egregious examples of Albany politics creating problems downstate that would be more smoothly resolved in the City’s own unusually (relatively) accordant legislative body. As this great article explains, it is not a total pipe dream for the government’s role in overseeing the MTA to be returned to the City’s control without losing all of our state funding.
The macro goal of reversing the trend of ruthless and indiscriminate gentrification and the micro goal of swelling pressure via protest by MetroCard swipe are both valid and important pieces of the complicated puzzle that is how we solve the problem of pricing fairness in our public transit system. A middle road consideration to ground those looking for something both meaty and tangible to focus on might be advocating for a combined strategy of strengthening Mayoral control and, in turn, lobbying City Hall to use it’s increased discretion to achieve more robust and more carefully considered transit subsidization for in the city’s budget allocations.