On Sunday, the MTA will raise the fares. A single ride will cost $2.25, and the various MetroCard offerings will increase by a few dollars. For those of us watching, it won’t come as a surprise, and we’ll know that the MTA almost had to raise the fares by a much greater percentage than they did. We’ll also know that the MTA’s finances — just one set of books — is not too far from the edge of a disaster, and we’ll know that the MTA would rather not have to raise the fares at all.
The sad part is, though, that the vast majority of New Yorkers don’t know and don’t care to find out. They don’t care to invest time to educate themselves about the mass transit system. They would rather complain about fictional charges — two sets of books, the MTA wants to cut service, yadda yadd yadda — than educate themselves about transit and find out how a true commitment to transit investment would radically improve life in New York City.
A series of articles by Heather Haddon that appears this week in amNew York drive home this point. For the most, these articles are anecdotal. Haddon staked out a bunch of subway stations, asked various straphangers their views on the upcoming fare hike and picked some of the most ludicrous answers to highlight.
On Monday, Haddon focused on the fact that some riders did not know the fares were going up. Never mind the front page news coverage or the lead stories on the local newscasts about it. “Get out of here. Nobody’s going to pay that,” Richard Tillman said. “It just went up.”
No one, Richard? Really? I think everyone will pay it, and it will remain a relatively cheap and easy way to get around the city.
The best quotes from Haddon’s articles though are from those who say they will turn to their cars. “Now I know what I’m going to do next week. I’m going to pull out the car,” Angela Pacheco of Brooklyn said because the 30-Day Unlimited Ride is going up the cost of a whopping three gallons of gas. Another rider in another Haddon piece echoed Pacheco. “Might as well get a car,” Marcia Roberts, a Queens resident, said.
This is the attitude that explains why our mass transit system doesn’t have political support. This is why people are going to be fighting with MTA employees over the new fares. This is why politicians refuse to toll the East River bridges, refuse to allow the city to implement camera-enforced bus lanes. This is why the agency that runs our subway system — a system that transports over 5.2 million people per day — is struggling to keep it in a state of good repair.
On the eve of yet another fare hike, transit advocates have themselves to blame. We haven’t united behind the proper message; we haven’t overcome a powerful auto lobby; and we haven’t made our voices heard by those who hold the purse strings. One day, that will change. For now, we’re left with higher fares and a transit authority on life support.