Riding the subways in New York City is oftentimes not a pleasant experience. Straphangers wait (for too long) on station platforms that are too hot and too crowded for trains that are too stuffed with fellow commuters. As the MTA had to cut services in June and must raise fares again in January just to maintain service as its current level, some former straphangers are finding other ways to travel.
In amNew York today, Sheila Anne Feeney highlights three travelers who have given up on the subways and, in the grand fashion of The Times Styles Section, tries to turn those three commuters into a trend. These three, she says, are representative of an “underground movement” whose members are looking for stress-free, environmentally friendly and cost-efficient ways of getting to and from work. She writes:
“Being outside and being in control of the destiny in your commute gives you a better outlook on the whole day,” said Michael Auerbach, 26 [of Upper Green Side], who bikes 10 miles from his Greenpoint home to his job on the Upper East Side. He appreciates saving $4.50 a day almost as much as he loves compressing his three-train, 50-minute commute into an invigorating half-hour.
Tracking a boost in walking is elusive, but there was a 221 percent rise in bicycle commuters between 2000 and 2009, to 15,495, with Brooklyn leading, according to the NYC Commuter Cycling Indicator.
New Yorkers resort to a step schlep or pedal push for a variety of reasons: Fare hikes, for example, “always give a bump to bike commuting,” said Noah Budnick, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives. Many people, too, said they resent being held hostage in increasingly crowded trains and buses.
Another attorney Feeney found walks three miles each way to and from her office, stopping at a nearby gym to shower. I’d have to believe these commuters may find their alternate commutes less invigorating as temperatures drop over the winter. Still, that some people are fed up with the service and conditions underground is a timeless tale in the annals of New York’s subway history.
New Yorkers, though, shouldn’t be worried about the walkers and the bikers. For as long as I can remember, my dad, who works a little over two miles from my parents’ apartment, walked when the weather was warm — but not too warm. He enjoys the 40-minute jaunt to the office and did so when subway fares consisted of tokens and a ride cost $1.25. As long as the city encourages biking and sidewalks exist, people will always bike or walk over shorter distances.
The people we should worry about though are the ones who eschew transit for cars. They’re the ones who think their rides are too long, who no longer have direct and convenient bus service to work or a nearby subway stop, who can’t stand how packed the trains are even four or five stops away from a terminal. The riders who switch to cars for the perceived convenience of it and to escape the grind of the subway will contribute to the congestion that cripples our area both economically and environmentally, and a future with more cars on the road is what we must try to avoid.
The MTA is, of course, stuck. As it has done so four times in the past seven years and will again be doing come January 1, the MTA is raising the rates on its fares just to keep service levels constant. To avoid a fare hike in 2009, the authority had to slash service across the board, and as wait times become longer and trains both more crowded and less frequent, the ridership levels will dip. Even an increase of just a handful of cars on the road can prove very costly, and the MTA — that main driver of transit in New York City — is in no position to staunch its economic bleeding.
Those commuters who leave the subway system for bikes contribute to no problems. It’s the people who live far away and can’t tolerate the subways that represent the real underground movement of disgruntled commuters, and the carrots to lure them back to transit are nowhere to be found.