Every organization has an end-game. It’s the goal an organization most wants to achieve no matter the costs, and the goal such groups go about pushing directly or indirectly. Right now, the Transport Workers Union Local 100 has two end-games: Leaders want to push the MTA toward a contract solution 13 months after the last three-year deal expired, and they want to ensure that union jobs are maximized.
Enter the great — and terrible — train slowdown idea. As you, dear reader, are well aware, the TWU has latched onto two high-profile subway murders to proclaim an epidemic that doesn’t exist. Despite the odds stacked overwhelmingly against anyone who’s at least showing one iota of care getting struck my a subway train — let alone killed — the TWU has made this their cause du jour. In part to protect union members how suffer the heavy psychological toll when trains they are driving strike someone and in part to get into the papers, the TWU has been promoting a call to slow trains down to 10 miles per hour as they enter stations.
The costs of these slowdowns are well documented. Streetsblog determined the economics of such a move could cost the city over $1 billion annually, and the MTA says a slowdown would add 13 minutes to a 2 train ride from 241st St. to Times Square. In other words, a 50-minute ride would take over an hour, and New Yorkers, who seem to support a slowdown without thinking too much about it, would be a singing a different tune within days.
As this debate has played out, I’ve come to both despise its existence and ponder the effectiveness of the TWU’s campaign. Not known for being particularly media savvy, the TWU has created a call that politicians and the vaunted People-On-The-Street can support without so much as a thought. I’ve been left wonder what’s the TWU’s end-game, and recent comments by the union on Twitter and its leaders at last week’s City Council hearing have me inching toward an answer.
Gothamist’s Ben Yakas has a very thorough report on the TWU’s take on the issue. In speaking with Yakas, TWU officials used particularly strident language to describe something that happens, give or take, to one out of every 10.8 million riders — and a third of time intentionally so. “We’re trying to snap the Transit Authority out of their unconscious state about it, from just ignoring it,” TWU VP Kevin Harrington, ignoring the fact that the MTA isn’t ignoring platform safety, said. “[Change is] going to have to come from the riders, because the Transit Authority is inured to doing anything by years of ignoring the issue. They dont think it’s an issue. They’re just stonewalling until it goes away.”
TWU President John Samuelsen used even more over-the-top language than that. Calling riding the subways “Russian Roulette,” he said the MTA’s claims that slowing down trains would cause overcrowding are false because the MTA could just add more trains: “The truth of the matter is, they have the ability to add capacity in rush hour situations. That’s an economic choice on their part, and a political choice on their part. They can do it. The question for them becomes: is it worth adding capacity to save three [subway] incidents a week. And to save an avalanche of fatalities over the course of a year? So the question for the company is, do we add service, and stop the daily game of Russian Roulette on the station platforms, with folks getting killed on the platforms, or do we add capacity to stop the deaths?”
Never mind the fact that slowing trains down would actually limit the number of trains per hour that could move through the tunnels and never mind the fact that we’d all be getting to work, school and play a lot slower than before. Let’s instead focus on what Samuelsen wants: He wants more trains on the rails. Why? Because more trains lead to more jobs.
Stephen Smith from Market Urbanism picked up this thread on Twitter on Thursday and suggested that that the MTA could implement OPTO as a solution to this pickle. It would lead to more trains but the same number of jobs, and all of a sudden, the TWU had no answer. “No OPTO [is] needed if the point is to provide more service,” the union said via Twitter.
So is this really about customer safety or is this about finding ways to increase the number of trains on the rails and thus the number of jobs to be had? The cynic in me is leaning toward the latter, and I must say that it’s a brilliant PR move by the union. It has politicians and riders advocating against their own interests to push for a measure that would lead to more union members working more train shifts. It’s a brilliant marketing move and a terrible operations policy.