While the good folks in Queens are still trying to figure out the whole 7 train mess, Theodore Kheel’s recent call for a higher road tax that would subsidize free subway rides has found an unlikely ally among the City’s religious community.
Writing in The Jewish Press, Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum has expressed his support for the free subway rides on religious grounds:
With increasing permitted use of automation and technology on Shabbos, such as halachically acceptable elevators and escalators, the possibility of using fare-free subways on Shabbos and Yom Tov would be of great interest. The majority of poskim in the past have leaned towards disapproval. The ability to use the subway on Shabbos was inhibited due to such considerations astechum Shabbos (measured distances prohibited outside a city) and maaris ayin (appearance of transgressing Shabbos). Should the entire NYC subway system become fare-free fulltime, the question of subway usage on Shabbos could be more clearly defined.
Since many very observant Jews do not believe in spending money on the Sabbath, free subway rides would enable these religious men and women to utilize the City’s rapid transit system without breaking the Sabbath.
My only issue with Tannenbaum’s article is his reliance on the same misinformation being promulgated by the media as they attempt to describe Kheel’s plan. Tannenbaum wrote, “Questions whether the subway system would be able to carry the increased number of passengers can be answered by a review of the subway’s history. In 1943 the NYC subway system carried eight- million passengers daily. Today’s passenger load is less than four-and-a-half million daily.”
As I’ve pointed out in the past, that information is incorrect. The 8 million figure was a one-day high set in 1946 and not an average daily total. Here’s what I wrote two weeks ago in clearing up this misconceptions:
But the most accurate ridership information I could find (in [a] PDF presentation) showed an annual ridership of slightly more than 2 billion in 1946, largely considered the busiest year in subway history. That amounts to an average daily ridership of around 5.5 million people. Recently, in September of 2006, just over 5 million people a day rode the subways. We’re not that far off from those records.
Overall, it’s a small bone to pick. I wonder if Rabbi Tannenbaum’s thoughts will gain more traction as the Institute for Rational Urban Mobility continues its Kheel-funded study of a free subway system.
MetroCard photo from Triborough’s flickr stream.