Welcome to the day of fare hike reckoning. Some time after 9:30 a.m., the MTA Board will vote to approve the fare hike. By all accounts, the rate increase is a foregone conclusion.
While straphangers may enjoy some service upgrades with the fare hike, two city councilmen and a whole slew of rider advocates want the City Council to adopt a Subway Rider Bill of Rights. Modeled after the Taxicab Rider Bill of Rights, the subway equivalent calls for better and more reliable service, among other benefits. Take a look at the ten rights — or “yeah, rights,” as I like to call them — the council members Bill de Blasio and John Liu want the MTA to endorse. (Click the photo for a larger view as well.)
- Fares that are affordable and attract riders to use mass transit.
- Regular, on-time subway service.
- Immediate and real-time notification of service changes and advisories available to passengers on platforms, in train cars, and via internet and ext message with accurate information.
- Accurate and user-friendly assistance for riders to find alternative means of transportation in situations where service is interrupted.
- Trains and platforms that are kept clean.
- A working and understandable public address system on all platforms and in all trains, with in-car announcements alerting passengers to upcoming train stops and platform notifications informing riders of the arrival of the next train.
- Well-trained, helpful station and train personnel to provide information and directions, as well as establish a human presence in the subways.
- Working payphones in all stations and access to cellular phone service while on platforms.
- An MTA website that is user-friendly and can support heavy traffic such as that which may be experienced during an emergency.
- An environment as safe and secure as possible from crime and terrorism, with such features as an increased presence of uniformed police officers and bright lighting.
It’s hard to argue with these rights really. We all want fair fares and reliable service as well as a certain level of customer service, but with the MTA’s history, do you understand now why I call them “Yeah, rights”? The public address systems both on trains and in stations are nightmares; the cell phone idea is hundreds of dollars away from a reality; and don’t get me started on those helpful station personnel.
The council members speaking out for the plan were vague about what they expect from the MTA, but they do want a more concrete devotion to customer satisfaction. “It is unacceptable to the New Yorkers who ride our subways every day that these basic levels of service are not already provided,” de Blasio said. “If the MTA sees fit to stuff riders’ stockings with higher fares this holiday season, they should also agree to give those riders the gift that is actually on everyone’s wish list: decent mass transit service.”
Liu chimed in with an apt appraisal of the current leadership situation at the MTA. “With the new MTA leadership, much of the spirit and letter of this Bill of Rights is already embodied in many ways,” he said. “Recognizing this document would serve to formalize the already existing intent and commitment on the part of the new MTA leadership to truly provide customers with utmost service.”
While I’m all in support of a better commitment to customer service, I have to wonder if a largely symbolic Bill of Rights is the best way to achieve those ends. The MTA, to lay it on the line, needs money to accomplish those goals, and ironically, one of the supporters of the Bill of Rights wasn’t too keen on the MTA’s getting more money. If we want to see better PA systems, the MTA needs the funds to install one. If we went the MTA to wire stations to ensure a means of delivery for real-time service updates, show them the money. A Bill of Rights can only go so far.
For its part, the MTA was quick to note recent customer service initiatives. In a press release issued yesterday, the MTA discussed its recent $70-million improvement efforts. “Responding to the needs of subway and bus riders throughout the city, MTA New York City Transit has budgeted nearly $70 million for enhancements in the areas of quality, safety and security,” the release said. “Additionally, NYC Transit has received approval to begin working towards implementation next year of 32 separate proposals for new and increased services, with an annual value of $46 million. We hope that city and state legislators will help secure additional funding so that we can make further improvements to the system.”
Clearly, the answer lies not in a Bill of Rights but in more funds for the MTA. Gary Reilly, Brooklyn transit advocate and fellow supporter of the F Express Plan, beat this drum yesterday during the announcement in support of the Bill. “If we’re to preserve our status as one of the greenest cities in America, we need Governor Spitzer to commit to state funding for mass transit that will reverse the tragic legacy of neglect left us by the Pataki administration,” he said. Hear. Hear.