Working New Yorkers are off to a very rough year, and the looming closure of bus and subway lines across the city may prove the cruelest cut of all. Just yesterday, riders woke up to the news that 611 bus stops would be eliminated as part of the MTA's austerity plan. Let there be no doubt: the burden of deteriorating transit falls disproportionately on the most vulnerable. Today there are 1.4 million workers who use public transit to reach their jobs and earn less than $49,000 a year. Worsening service is stealing time from children and elderly parents, recreation and exercise, and the civic activities--tenant associations, PTAs, religious institutions--that build strong neighborhoods.
Take Sadiqeh Agah, for example. She lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant and needs to travel two hours to reach her job as an administrative assistant at a tutoring company in the Bronx. She would like to spend more time with family, but her grueling commute prevents her from doing much more than working and riding the train. She's not alone. Three-times as many straphangers face hour-plus commutes compared to solo drivers (ACS 2008, US Census).
But what's coming down the tracks will steal more than time from working people. The elimination of student Metrocards would cost a four person family $2,300, roughly the equivalent of a month of full time childcare.
There are solutions out there for those willing to look.
First, Mayor Bloomberg can reverse the City's practice of starving the MTA of proper funding. Such an investment could go a long way towards alleviating the burdens of service cuts and fare hikes on students and low-income people.
Second, a toll on the East and Harlem River Bridges--equal to the cost of a subway fare--would bring in enough to stave off the cuts that would overwhelm students and working people. Had the toll been enacted last spring, the MTA would have likely raised $450 million a year, meaning we wouldn't even be talking about service cuts and fare hikes right now.
The burden of this toll would fall on those who can bear it. Drivers who commute by car over the East River Bridge earn approximately $14,300 more per year than commuters who don't. And the MTA could implement a system in which the expenses of those who needed to make multiple daily trips, such as plumbers or electricians, were capped.
Lastly, the MTA could speed up buses by installing bus lane enforcement cameras. Bus lanes are plagued by cars and trucks: a recent report by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer found that one bus lane on 42nd and Madison was blocked an average of 11.5 times per hour, slowing almost 3,000 people. There are precious few ways to improve transit without spending a lot of money, and this is one of them. The State Legislature sidelined cameras in its budget proposals, and they need to do right by transit-taking New Yorkers by making sure cameras for existing and new lanes are included in the final package.
Public transportation is an equity issue, plain and simple. It's time to stop the drain of time and income that make New York such a tough place for working families to live. Our recovery from recession depends on restoring a just, vibrant infrastructure of transportation.