As the city’s newspapers cover the latest in MTA political theater, a few have taken the bold step of interviewing New Yorkers to get their views on transit issues. Instead of grandstanding politicians and crusading advocates, Metro commissioned a poll to find out what 280 New Yorkers felt about service hikes, fare cuts and the state of the transit system. The results are presented in full in this infographic, but I wanted to break it down a bit.
For the poll, Metro led with my favorite question: Fare hikes vs. service cuts. A majority of those polled preferred a 7.5 percent fare hike to service cuts while 44 percent said the fares are already too high. Those people would prefer less service for their too high fares, an odd compromise indeed. Considering that the fares are lower today than they were 15 years ago, New Yorkers either hate paying or don’t understand how much they pay for a subway ride.
The next question is the one with the most comforting result. Only 13 percent of respondents believe the MTA should be paying for student transit, and 87 percent of New Yorkers think the city, state or parents should foot the bill. Someone should tell that to our politicians who won’t pay for student travel and continue to slam the MTA for threatening subsidies it should be expected to cover.
Here’s where things start getting interested, and I’d love to see how these questions further break down. Even though 44 percent of respondents were willing to take service cuts over fare hikes, the biggest complaint people have about the system are the crowds. It will only get worse as service is decreased. The 21 percent who say cleanliness is a problem should think about starting a movement to convince others to use the proper garbage bins, and 24-hour service remains a hallmark of the MTA. That only eight percent appreciate how cheap the subways strikes me as too few, but perhaps that total would rise if people could pick a second choice.
After presenting the info on people’s views of the system overall, the poll switches gears to discuss straphangers’ opinions on those who work in the subway. The TWU does not currently have public sentiment on its side in its battle to convince New Yorkers that its guaranteed raises are good for the city and its transit system. Still, with the law on their side instead, the TWU doesn’t need much public sympathy.
I’m intrigued to see people’s views on station agents. Clearly, as I’ve mentioned before, they serve a psychological purpose even if they can’t actually observe platform before and aren’t legally required to stop crimes in progress or assist victims. Their mere presence at station entrances is enough to convince New Yorkers that they are safe. The truth is that in a deserted station, passengers can be waiting the equivalent of two city blocks away from station agents and on another level of the station. The agents are only as useful as they can be as a deterrent factor and as a calming influence on nervous riders. Considering that the city has lost numerous station agents since 2008 and crime has not risen in the subways, it remains to be seen if those 60 percent of riders who predict a decrease in safety will see their fears come true.
What the station agents are not, however, is all that useful. Less than a quarter of all riders think the station agents are instrumental in keeping the system most. Most want these employees to both friendlier and more knowledgeable. That too is an unsurprising finding. We want station agents as a safety blanket, but when we need something out of them, they become less helpful.
So as the MTA conducts its final New York City-based hearings tonight, these views are something to consider. The authority should begin to consider a fare hike as an alternate solution for its budget crisis, but opinions are decidedly mixed on most MTA issues.