Home Fare Hikes Questioning those who cover the subway

Questioning those who cover the subway

by Benjamin Kabak

Whenever the MTA raises subway fares, the city’s newspapers — or at least those that decide to write about — cover it with a faux-populism outrages as expressed through the riders the reporters choose to interview. Instead of focusing on the whys and wherefores of the fare hike, instead of explaining how Albany has left the MTA out in the financial cold, it’s far easier to find people outraged than it is to educate.

Take, for example, Irving DeJohn and Stephanie Gaskell’s piece in the Daily News about rider reaction to the fare hike. It is chock full of quotes bemoaning the price increases, and the statements of the riders are, frankly, ignorant.

Take the first one in the article from Emmanuel Louis of Brooklyn: “You shouldn’t raise the fare if you’re not going to increase service. It’s just not fair.” This is where a reporter should challenge Louis and ask him how he feels about raising the fares if the alternative means worse service and significantly less of it. After all, to the cut the budget gap without raising fares, the MTA would have had to scale back service to unusable levels on those lines they could justify keeping open.

Louis isn’t alone. “The increases don’t make sense,” Najla Netus, of Brooklyn, said. “The service isn’t that great. The trains are always running slow.” That’s right, Najla, blame it on the slow trains. Where are these slow trains, by the way? When I ride, the trains run fast. The wait times are often far too long though, but hey, more service costs a lot more.

How about this one? “It’s ridiculous,” Trimette Roberts, also of Brooklyn, said. “It’s bad budgeting and bad management. To have a fare increase every year, year and a half – that’s the part that’s frustrating.”

We Brooklynites sure are opinionated. Anyway, actually, Roberts is dead wrong. To have a fare increase every year that’s tracked with inflation would make far too much sense. The history of low fares along with government subsidies that diminish each year and don’t make up for the gaps due to artificially low fares is what got the MTA into this mess in the first place.

On Friday, in a companion piece to this one, I took transit activists to task for their inability to fight in Albany. All of us work hard online to get our opinions heard, but in the end, those listening are those who are already educated. The Trimette Roberts’ and Emmanuel Louis’ of the city aren’t actively reading StreetsBlog or Second Ave. Sagas on any sort of basis.

What they are reading, though, are the papers. The Daily News covers the fare hike by taking an uninformed but outraged populist approach to the MTA because it sells papers. At OTBKB, Leon Freilich notes that The Times Sunday Metropolitan section had nary a word about the fare hike.

It isn’t, of course, the city’s reporters’ jobs to educate the masses. They’re in the business of selling papers. A responsible press though should be part of the job. As I criticized transit activists on Friday for not getting the message out, so must I look at the transit coverage with a raised eyebrow. Maybe the activists need to be getting the message and the talking points out to the reporters, but faux-populism is irresponsible no matter the issue.

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rhywun June 29, 2009 - 7:28 am

I am reminded of the MTA’s recent ad campaign bragging about how much lower the fare is, in real dollars, now than it was like decades ago. Not to say that the media aren’t also stoking the public’s rampant economic ignorance, but the MTA is hardly helping matters with that ad.

nycpat June 29, 2009 - 11:48 am

Those ads should be in every bus and subway car. The fare has never been cheaper and free transfers. What are people whining about?

Alon Levy June 29, 2009 - 2:03 pm

In inflation-adjusted dollars, the fare bottomed in 1948, just before it was raised to 10 cents. More recently, the real fare decreased from 1993 to 2003, as the MetroCard gave people discounts and as fare increases didn’t keep up with inflation, but since 2003 the real fare has risen rapidly.

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Ed June 29, 2009 - 8:25 pm

I think these newspapers have a story in the their morgue, with the exact same quotes, that they can bring out and print every time the fare is raised. They only have to change the amount of the fare. No need to do any additional reporting.

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