Home MTA Absurdity Overreacting to a Green MetroCard program

Overreacting to a Green MetroCard program

by Benjamin Kabak

When the Blue Ribbon Commission on Sustainability and the MTA unveiled its 148-page draft recommendations last week, the news coverage was decidedly mixed. It’s no small feat to digest and present a report that William Neuman in The Times aptly described as being “filled with colorful, head-scratching, tongue-twisting gobbledygook.”

When both The Times and The Post opted to lead with the story about the Green MetroCard proposal, then, I wasn’t too surprised. William Neuman aptly summarizes this idea:

The authority said on Thursday that it was considering a “green MetroCard” program that would let riders make donations to help pay for making its operations more environmentally sustainable. The program would also apply to commuter rail tickets and E-ZPasses.

The idea was among dozens of proposals in a $1 million report by a commission appointed by the authority to recommend ways to lessen the adverse environmental impact of its operations.

Under the program, whose details are still being developed, riders buying MetroCards or commuter rail tickets at station vending machines could tack on an extra charge in the form of a tax-deductible contribution for green projects, said Ernest Tollerson, the authority’s policy director.

Now, as someone writing a news blog with a background in journalism, I can understand why a newspaper would latch onto this idea. At a time when the MTA is gearing up to raise fares by as much as 23 percent and cut service, even the simple idea of a voluntary contribution comes across as out of touch and just plain bad PR. But on the flip side, the suggestion is one sentence in a report of 149 pages, and it has garnered far more attention than it should have.

While the newspaper’s attention to this program is defensible, the latest news out of Staten Island is not. Lou Tabacco, a Republican from South Shore, has decided to attack the MTA for this innocuous if misguided one-sentence proposal in a document chock full of new ideas. Here’s the story from the Staten Island Advance:

Tobacco called the idea, which was among about 100 suggestions that came out of a $1 million sustainability report, “an insult to commuters and lawmakers who are being asked to bail out the MTA.”

“First, the MTA calls for higher fares and tolls on commuters during these difficult economic times. Now they’re contemplating asking for donations from the same people whose pockets they are already trying to pick,” said Tobacco. “Enough is enough.”

“Surely, environmental considerations are an important aspect of any transportation plan, but wasting taxpayer money on bogus commissions is the last thing commuters need.”

Come on, Assemblyman Tobacco. You’re making a mountain out of a mole hill, and while this may be a bad idea, it was put forth by a Blue Ribbon Commission tasked with identifying all potential sustainability programs. Furthermore, this is the first draft of their recommendations; it’s not even a finalized product. The odds of this Green MetroCard contribution program coming to fruition are slim to none.

In the end, this latest development out of Staten Island shows why the public is skeptical of the MTA, but it also shows why elected officials don’t fund the MTA. They just don’t get it, and it almost seems like an uphill battle just getting any of these officials to pay attention to transit in any way that makes sense.

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Kevin January 13, 2009 - 1:53 am

I would prefer if the money went to developing sustainable smart card technology, which would make life just a bit easier and reduce the amount of disposable plastic MetroCards.

Benjamin Kabak January 13, 2009 - 2:04 am

I was really disappointed that the Blue Ribbon Commission made no mention at all of SmartCard technology as an environmentally superior option to the MetroCard.

Alon Levy January 13, 2009 - 12:58 pm

One quibble: a full railcar keeps way more than 75-12 cars off the road. New York has 6,400 subway cars, and 4.5 million fewer cars than it would have if it had had the same car ownership rate as the rest of the country. This translates to a subway car keeping 700 cars off the road, at a given time. (The subway car will also last five times longer, so make it 3,500 cars Detroit Toyota doesn’t have to make).

Anthony January 13, 2009 - 10:24 pm

Alon, not all 4.5 million people are riding at the same time. They mean if a car was filled to full capacity at a given time. the designed capacity of a subway car is about 75, and they add the 125 because everyone knows most trains are packed above design limits during rush hour.

Alon Levy January 13, 2009 - 10:33 pm

No, but a subway car can be used multiple times, carrying multiple batches of 75-125 people.


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