It’s become so familiar to some residents by now, it almost feels like a twisted Kantian cliché of sorts — the hassle of getting around the city on its sputtering public transit system — crawling subways, bunched buses, no end in sight.
Or so it seems.
Given how bad it is, it would appear mass transit has hit rock bottom. But apparently it hasn’t. In fact, riders could soon see even worse service that might actually cost more.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is scheduled to vote this month on raising fares — and maybe tolls, too — while reducing subway and bus service. Not surprisingly, some riders aren’t keen on the prospect.
“No good,” said Pablo Campos, who leaves his Jackson Heights home in Queens around 1 a.m., to get to his early-morning gig at the Garden Gourmet Market in Kingsbridge. Taking the M60 bus can be a nightmare, although the 1 train has been decent of late.
Political scientist Stephanie Alvarez — who grew up in Riverdale but moved to Colombia two years ago — waited for a downtown 1 at West 231st Street on Dec. 20, in town visiting family. The subway is “an essential part of New York life,” Alvarez said. For there to be cuts to outer borough service could have “catastrophic” effects, contributing to “wider marginalization” of lower-income residents who rely on public transit to travel to central economic hubs.
“Honestly, I think it’s ridiculous,” said Aly Borges, who lives in Kingsbridge, adding she couldn’t understand how raising fares would help an already floundering system.
Aside from the fact getting around town can be prohibitively costly for the average rider, too many stations sorely lack basic maintenance, said Ruth Villega, riding a Bx7 from Kingsbridge up to Riverdale Avenue.
Kerstin Cupid — studying psychology and early childhood education at the College of Mount Saint Vincent — rode the Bx7 toward the North Riverdale campus Dec. 20. She relies on public transit for visiting family in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights on weekends if she’s not working her resident assistant job at The Mount.
Cupid wasn’t aware of potential service cuts, but says affording a MetroCard already is an issue for her and other cash-strapped students, even without fare hikes. She recognizes how much work is required to maintain the sprawling, aging transit system.
Still, “there has to be another way” without hitting riders hard in the wallet, which seems unfair, considering the system is “already broken.”
Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who chairs the transportation committee, says he feels Cupid’s and other struggling riders’ plights.
“I’ll fight as hard as I have to (in order to) stop any fare hikes, which means another tax on working-class and middle-class” residents, Rodriguez told The Riverdale Press.
A plethora of city and state elected officials already have called on the MTA to identify other ways of generating funds to fix subways and buses. The councilman is particularly partial to congestion pricing, which asks drivers to pay a surcharge to enter certain heavily trafficked zones — typically a central business district — during particular times.
Raising fares is “unfair and unacceptable at a time we’re working to bring in other sources of revenue,” Rodriguez said, while urging state lawmakers to move on making drivers — not public transit riders — pay more. Other potential revenue streams include a so-called millionaire’s tax, which would raise taxes by about half of 1 percent on residents making more than $500,000, or couples hauling in more than $1 million annually.
“It should not be only one or two” new sources, Rodriguez said. “Everyone is at a point where they realize the crisis of the MTA is real.”
But a congestion pricing scheme and millionaire’s tax would be a healthy start Rodriguez believes could help the beleaguered transit authority start chipping away at colossal work ahead.
Yet, it’s not just fare hikes the councilman is up in arms against. He’d like to see the MTA submit to an independent forensic audit — to reveal how they’ve been spending their money for the last decade — as well as reorganize themselves to gain better control over how funds are allocated.
It seems Gov. Andrew Cuomo agrees. “Congestion pricing is the most viable option to fund the overhaul of the MTA,” Cuomo spokesman Patrick Muncie said. “There should be no fare increase until riders get the service they deserve.”
While fares tend to go up every couple years, raising them now would be more than some Kingsbridge and Riverdale riders could afford, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz said. Making matters worse, however, they probably wouldn’t qualify for the so-called “fair fares” program city leaders agreed on last June. That will provide half-priced MetroCards to residents living at or below the federal poverty line — a household income of about $25,000 for a family of four — beginning in January.
“A lot of people live from one check to the next and will have trouble affording increased costs,” Dinowitz said. “For a significant number of people, it’s too much.”
While some residents may be downright infuriated with the MTA, the agency finds itself in a difficult position with no clear-cut answer — yet — to gnawing problems plaguing its rickety fleet of trains and buses.
“We’re going to have to think about what the options are,” said MTA board member Charles Moerdler. “Clearly, it is a fact that service is not what it should be — on any of the lines. You have to consider that in terms of whether or not you do anything by way of (fare) increases, and if so, how much. On the other hand, there are costs. Just like milk, everything keeps going up, and that’s a factor.”
Yet, there also are repairs and maintenance challenges facing all of MTA’s agencies, Moerdler said.
“There’s nobody in this world I think is fool enough to say that the subways don’t need a major overhaul. Each of us (have) our own thoughts as to what is the best way, and we’re going to go down that road.”
But not all residents are quite as irked at the transit authority as some subway and bus riders who weather its shortcomings on a daily basis.
“There’s a way to contact (MTA officials), and they’re trying,” especially when it comes to providing transportation help to older, as well as some disabled, residents, said Beverly Fettman, a senior citizen living in Skyview-on-the-Hudson.
“I’m glad that they keep looking for ways to become more efficient, save money and be more available. It’s a humongous effort, and I appreciate that they are continuing to work to improve service.”