Last week, straphangers at a random smattering of subway stations scattered throughout the city found themselves with a free ride. On Wednesday morning, protestors from Occupy Wall Street allegedly in conjunction with some TWU rank-and-file members posted faux-service advisory signs in certain stations and propped open emergency exits so that subway riders could enter the system for free. Five days later, authorities are investigating, and TWU higher-ups are disavowing any ties to this stunt.
The tale begins on Wednesday morning when Occupy Wall Street protestors, posing as MTA workers, propped open the doors at around 20 stations. At around 5 a.m., masked men and women chained open gates at a variety of stations, and while many gates were restored by 8:30, some were left open during the bulk of the a.m. rush. According to The Daily News, stations included 135th St. on the No. 3 and 116th St. on the No. 6 in Manhattan; Halsey St. on the L, Ninth Ave. on the D, Beverly Road on the Q and Carroll St. on the F in Brooklyn, and Steinway St. and 65th St. on the R in Queens.
A few hours later, Occupy Wall Street claimed responsibility for the action. On the group’s blog, they wrote about their reasoning:
This morning before rush hour, teams of activists, many from Occupy Wall Street, in conjunction with rank and file workers from the Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the Amalgamated Transit Union, opened up more than 20 stations across the city for free entry. As of 10:30 AM, the majority remain open. No property was damaged. Teams have chained open service gates and taped up turnstiles in a coordinated response to escalating service cuts, fare hikes, racist policing, assaults on transit workers’ working conditions and livelihoods — and the profiteering of the super-rich by way of a system they’ve rigged in their favor.
For the last several years, riders of public transit have been under attack. The cost of our Metrocards has been increasing, while train and bus service has been steadily reduced. Budget cuts have precipitated station closings and staff/safety reductions. Police routinely single out young black and Latino men for searches at the turnstile. Layoffs and attrition means cutting staff levels to the bare minimum, reducing services for seniors and disabled riders. At the same time, MTA workers have been laid off and have had their benefits drastically reduced. Contract negotiations are completely stalled.
Working people of all occupations, colors and backgrounds are expected to sacrifice to cover the budget cut by paying more for less service. But here’s the real cause of the problem: the rich are massively profiting from our transit system. Despite the fact that buses and subways are supposed to be a public service, the government and the MTA have turned the system backwards—into a virtual ATM for the super-rich. Instead of using our tax money to properly fund transit, Albany and City Hall have intentionally starved transit of public funds for over twenty years; the MTA must resort to bonds (loans from Wall Street) to pay for projects and costs. The MTA is legally required to funnel tax dollars and fares away from transportation costs and towards interest on these bonds, called “debt service.” This means Wall Street bondholders receive a huge share of what we put into the system through the Metrocards we buy and the taxes we pay: more than $2 billion a year goes to debt service, and this number is expected to rise every year. If trends continue, by 2018 more than one out of every five dollars of MTA revenue will head to a banker’s pockets.
If anything, the underlying message is on point. Albany has indeed left the MTA high and dry, and the debt bomb continues to tick. At some point, as bond underwriters continue to profit, straphangers will be left paying an ever-higher share of debt. Some projects should be funded via debt, but most should not.
Anyway, even with this message, fallout has been swift. Occupy Wall Street alleged that TWU workers participated in the fare strike, but union leaders denied this claim. “We knew nothing about it,” TWU Local 100 President John Samuelsen said to The Daily News. An ATU official told amNew York that his union had reason to believe members were involved, and the MTA said nothing.
Nearly immediately, the NYPD, Occupy Wall Street’s main foil, began to investigate, and according to Gothamist, the FBI paid a visit to some of the rank-and-file who work at the targeted stations. This weekend, surveillance videos of the action emerged, and The Daily News noted that investigations have continued into the identities of those responsible.
What a mess, huh? Someone will get in trouble for this move; someone will get too up in arms over this; and someone will blame the Occupiers for the MTA’s budget woes when the March fare numbers come in under projection. That’s the way of things. What should not get lost in this is, as I mentioned, the valid points. The MTA is picking up more and more debt, and riders will pay more and more for services that many think aren’t up to par. Should we take it or fight back? The only people listening are Occupiers, and their message is lost in Albany amongst those who control the purse strings and policies.