I keep coming back to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s free-fare giveaway to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Sandy tomorrow. I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth, but what if that gift is more of an empty promise? What if that gift shows not compassion but an easy out for a governor who hasn’t taken much interest in the state’s most important transit network? What if that gift is just a throwaway?
The story broke on Friday when the Governor — supposedly without really consulting with the MTA — announced the free fares. R train riders in Brooklyn and A train riders in the Rockaways would enjoy a day with no fares. “These free rides,” Cuomo said in a statement, “are a thank you to the MTA riders in the Rockaways in Queens and those who use the R train in Brooklyn for taking the hardships of the storm in stride and for their understanding in the months since.”
A better thank you would be to invest in the system so that it won’t succumb to another storm and has the resources to run more constant service today, but that’s neither here nor there. Rather, it’s easy to see the flaws in Cuomo’s plan. Approximately 50 percent of all riders use Unlimited Metrocards and that total is likely higher for people who live in residential areas along the R and A corridors and who commute via subway every day. Again, as with the subway shutdown during Sandy, unlimited ride card holders are actually losing out on these benefits as Cuomo isn’t extending these cards by a day.
Today, The Times has more on this odd giveaway:
The arrangement, devised by the governor’s office about two weeks ago, has proved to be somewhat complicated. The R train connects with 12 other lines in Brooklyn, making it difficult for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to prevent other subway line riders from capitalizing on the free rides at hubs like Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center and Jay Street-MetroTech. The solution, officials said, will be to open the gates at entrances for the R train shortly after midnight on Monday and hope that only R train riders find their way through. There will be no other measure taken to prevent riders on other lines from taking advantage. The Cuomo administration predicted that few riders would seek an undeserved free ride.
…A spokesman for the governor said at one point on Friday that to avoid logistical hurdles, fares would be free in Brooklyn only along the southern tail of the R train, which includes few transfers between Bay Ridge-95th Street and Union Street.
The spokesman later clarified that the train would be free for all R train riders, adding that the transportation authority was working on an “implementation plan for those stations” where transfers could allow anyone to ride without paying. But some possible solutions — a temporary barricade or using security personnel to ask riders which train they were seeking — were perhaps unworkable. There are an estimated 65,000 daily R train riders in Brooklyn and 30,000 on the A train in the Rockaways. The authority has said that its average fare — accounting for those with unlimited-ride MetroCards and other discounts — is $1.76, meaning that the idea will cost about $167,000 even before including other Brooklyn passengers who might ride for free.
In a city where people will wait on line for upwards of 45 minutes for a free $3 ice cream cone, the governor expects everyone to adhere to the honor system while paying subway fares. The Onion couldn’t write a funnier joke if it tried.