Home Superstorm Sandy More thoughts on Cuomo’s Sandy-related fare giveaway

More thoughts on Cuomo’s Sandy-related fare giveaway

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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Alex C October 28, 2013 - 2:47 pm

A governor who doesn’t care about transit and doesn’t know about transit will make stupid decisions on transit. I find it fascinating that our benevolent governor sees it fit to cut the MTA’s funding and throw away the transit lockbox bill, but at the same time puts his name and face on every positive bit of news from the MTA. Oh, and this hodgepodge of a fare break.

Rob October 28, 2013 - 2:55 pm

It’s long past time to realize that this is what politicians do – take money from the taxpayers to give it to particular groups to curry their favor. So we don’t need to be surprised by this behavior any more.

Nathanael October 28, 2013 - 4:30 pm

This is different. This is *stupid*.

I really have no problem with politicians taking money from taxpayers (preferably evil billionaires like Mitt Romney) and giving them to particular groups to improve things for those groups, and incidentally for everyone else.

But it’s best if the politicians know what they’re doing. Andrew Cuomo apparently simply doesn’t understand how the MTA system *works*, so he proposed a giveaway which is probably not even *implementable*. That’s just a giant advertisement of ignorance and stupidity.

Even if you’re operating a system based on graft and nepotism, you should damn well understand how things work.

Howard October 29, 2013 - 1:08 pm

This is really just par for the course for Cuomo, unfortunately. It sounds an awful lot like his gun control bill that limited magazine sizes to a size that didn’t even exist. He doesn’t let little things like details slow him down on the way to another press conference.

Rob October 29, 2013 - 2:10 pm

If you think it’s taken in any significant measure from ‘evil billionaires’, or that Romney is ‘evil’, it is somebody else who is stupid.

Bolwerk October 29, 2013 - 3:46 pm

Well, Romney is technically only an evil multimillionaire. But, sure, incidentally he pays taxes at a significantly lower effective rate than I do.

Bolwerk October 28, 2013 - 3:17 pm

It’d be a good idea if it came along with a commitment to improving transit or at least some kind of tourism promotion for the areas affected. Instead it’s just hollow grandstanding that starves the beast just a little more.

Thanks, Governor Norquist!

Josh October 28, 2013 - 3:59 pm

He’s a “car guy” except when there’s low-hanging transit fruit that doesn’t cost him anything, I guess.

Herb Lehman October 28, 2013 - 4:29 pm

I agree with your post completely, and I don’t think any free rides are necessary in this situation. Better to spend the money on prevention and not on some cheap political gimmick.

But just for the record, if they’re going to give away any free rides, the 1 train at South Ferry should be free, too. That station was closed for six months following Sandy. (It may be a moot point if what’s said in the last paragraph of the post is interpreted so that any place where the R also stops is technically free.)

Chris October 28, 2013 - 4:40 pm

The free fare for a day is a meaningless gesture for many. How many riders already purchase unlimited weekly or monthly metrocards? For these riders, there is no benefit to the free fares – especially when it is only in one direction – towards Manhattan.

Given that the entire city was affected, it would make more sense to make the entire subway system free for a day (fat chance?), and even then, the unlimited metrocard users would get screwed out of their $5.00 freebie.

Phantom October 28, 2013 - 9:52 pm

I will be happy to accept a free ride on my R train tomorrow,

But we in Bay Ridge did not suffer from Sandy at all. We never lost power, and no houses here were flooded. The new need to connect at Atlantic / Jay / Court St is not even close to being a major problem.

My buddy who lives in Sheepshead Bay was flooded out of his house for months. He will pay full fare tomorrow,

Cuomo is a fraud, and tomorrow’s gesture had no thought in it at all.

Patrick @ The LIRR Today October 28, 2013 - 10:56 pm

Just did some quick calculations, if fares are waived at any station at which the (R) train stops, the MTA would stand to give away approximately 1.187 million free rides tomorrow (and that doesn’t count the people who would be more than happy to hike over the extra avenue to Broadway to take advantage of this).

Good thinking!
~ Patrick

Phantom October 28, 2013 - 11:16 pm


The dopey R train free ride is only in Brooklyn, but your general concept is valid. Esp in downtown Brooklyn, where the R is smack dab by many other lines, there will be many new riders to the R for ine day.

Completely stupid. As when the MTA decided to celebrate the 2000 Subway Series by giving ” free rides ” at Yankee Stadium, which in reality caused long delays

No working person wants any free rides. Make the trains run better, fix the tunnels. Thats what we want.

LLQBTT October 29, 2013 - 10:43 am

After a take no prisoners first few months in office, our beloved Governor has fallen into mediocrity. He must really be reaching for this 1. Of course it’s always nice to say ‘thank you’, but what of the weekend G riders? Shouldn’t they get a free weekend out of the deal? And will this repeat after each and every Sandy related tunnel closure?

katre October 30, 2013 - 12:27 pm

Is that what was going on yesterday? I was annoyed because they’d blocked the turnstiles and opened the exit gates, and so everyone was crowding into about half the space trying to get in and out. Lines were even worse than usual.


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