Congestion pricing will not fix our subways
New York is a city of many firsts. It was the first capital city of the United States; it had the first hot dog, first American public brewery, ATM, mobile phone call, and children’s museum.
It also promises to be the first American city to institute congestion pricing on cars driving into its busiest areas. Although these fees are not expected to take effect until 2021, it could cost motorists up to $10 to drive into Manhattan below 60th Street according to a plan expected to be passed April 1 as part of the New York State budget.
It could mean as much as $14 for a car and more than $20 for a truck going into Manhattan. That’s likely going to be on top of heavy tolls already paid to take the bridges and tunnels needed to get into Manhattan in the first place. Cities such as London and Stockholm have instituted congestion pricing and it’s considered a success there, but those cities have more viable public transportation.
New York City has one of the most comprehensive public transit systems in the country, and that’s more of a statement on how sorry the U.S.’s transit system is than a compliment to New York.
The politicians that are advocating for congestion pricing are doing so because they don’t want to do the hard work it would take to fully fund the M.T.A. It means possibly raising taxes and definitely raising fares. It means significantly reforming construction policies to reduce exorbitant costs. Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who despise one another, agree 100% that this is a good idea, which is as good a reason as any to oppose it.
People are turning more to cars because public transit is so unreliable and unpleasant. I once worked with a man who had health issues and had to go to the Bronx every other day from work in order to have kidney dialysis done. He took a cab there because he couldn’t be late and his health issues meant he couldn’t be wedged into a subway car with a few hundred of his closes friends. He was able to get some of his cab fare subsidized, but that’s money that could have been spent elsewhere if we had a reliable transit system, and it’s on the backs of people like my former coworker that this new tax is going to be balanced.
I would rather not spend about three times the regular fare to get to work, but I know I need to be on time to work and not on the cattle car that passes for the 7 train these days, so I splurge for an express bus. It’s still a lot less than a cab but more expensive than a regular subway or bus fare.
Congestion pricing is going to cost the people who can afford it the least: cab drivers or people who have their spouses or friends drive them to work or who are carpooling like good citizens. There will be a significant portion of people who will avoid paying it using the same schemes that work with the now toll-booth-free tolls and red light cameras.
We will fight this out in the press and in the courts until congestion pricing becomes the law of the land or not. But all that will be time wasted building the political capital, civic will, and thoughtful plans needed to truly fix our transit system.
Work from home during our latest transit hell
New York City is entering a deeper level of transit hell this week.
That transit officials are already saying how bad our commute is going to be and begging companies to let their employees work from home wherever possible is significant and should strike fear in the heart of every New Yorker. Our transit authorities are normally presenting a falsely rosy view of how their systems operate. I have no doubt that the official numbers they give for on-time arrivals and such are soundly bogus, cooked up with some noxious bureaucratic justification and presented with a straight face.
Things on our subways have been getting significantly worse. Commuters trapped hours underground on un-air-conditioned subways, a young man stuck in a train so long he missed his entire college graduation ceremony, trains that are more crowded, the list of grievances goes on. Add to this some new Amtrak and N.J. Transit derailments and you’ve got a strong brew of grade-A clusterfuck ready to be served.
So those advisories to let people work from home whenever possible should be taken seriously. For a lot of commuters in today’s working world, the daily commute is an unnecessary exercise in frustration and lost time. Having the ability to work from home takes a lot of worry off your plate and improves morale.
In this day and age, more companies would save a lot more money by letting more of their employees work from home more often. We hold devices in our hand with more computing power than it took to put men on the moon (really). Anyone with a home computer or a work laptop should be able to work from home easily. If I can figure out how to work from home effectively, any desk jockey can pull it off.
One day earlier this year, when the city was threatened with a large snowstorm and the transit systems were closed in advance, our entire office worked from home. It was one of the most productive days any of us have ever had. Without the horrendous commute to take into account, the vast majority of us had an additional two hours of time to dedicate to actually doing work rather than suffering through getting to work.
At a company where I used to work, they have consolidated so much office space that there will not be enough desks for everyone who works there. So people will always be working from home. A former coworker who lives in New Jersey and is still in journalism (I “crossed over to the dark side” of public relations a few years ago), works from home two or three days a week. He’s running a financial magazine all by himself and he holds down a part-time job two days a week, but he’s getting it done.
There is definitely a benefit to a common work area and having face-to-face meetings that can’t be duplicated over the phone and email. But much of what many of us do at work each day can be done just as easily at home. Technology is only going to keep making that easier.
New York’s transit woes will not improve anytime soon. Everyone should work from home if they can. Ask your boss about it if you haven’t already.
Five people you should be allowed to beat senseless on public transit
Recently a mother was charged with beating a 71-year-old woman who criticized her rude manners and child rearing and a man was arrested for kicking a pregnant woman in the belly on a 4 train. Such savage assaults are not surprising, sorry to say. While people join in the moral hate of these accused, it begs the question: who does deserve to be beaten on our subways and busses? We agree that the pregnant and the elderly should be spared violence except under extremely rare circumstances. But there are certainly many for whom swift and destructive violence is richly deserved.
Below are modest descriptions of the five people who are worthy of vigilante justice.
People who bring bicycles onto trains. Does anyone have any excuse to bring a bicycle on a train, ever? This is your method of transportation. If you got caught in the rain, too bad. Read the weather forecast before you bring your two-wheeled throne of entitled ineptitude onto our train car. The worse I’ve seen was a guy with a motorized scooter on the train. A motorized scooter! This also applies to people who bring awkwardly large objects onto the subway. I’ve seen people bring all manner of inappropriately large items onto public transit during rush hour. Baby strollers are the most tolerable item since some mothers don’t have a choice as to when they travel. But a bicycle on the subway? With the exception of the rare bike race in town, there should be no such thing.
People who stand in front of doors or enter the subway before everyone leaves. I have often dreamt of investing in some sort of spinning blades on a stick that one can set on fire while pulling into the station. I feel with the right tools we could eliminate much of the population in my neighborhood of Flushing. No subway seat is so precious that you should surrender your dignity.
Rush hour panhandlers and performers. One should never give money to panhandlers at all as a general rule. Even the most sympathetic advocates for the homeless will tell you that the majority of cash you hand over to beggars is used for drugs or alcohol (giving food is another issue). But if someone is trying to walk through a packed subway car to collect money, then they deserve a knuckle sandwich and should appeal to their bleeding-heart suckers during a less-crowded time. I usually go out of my way to give money to performers. Musicians and other people who make our lives richer with their art deserve our support. The sensible performers would not walk through a crowded subway car at rush hour. They know to avoid crowded trains because they are considerate and good at what they do.
People who wear backpacks on trains and buses. If you wear a backpack onto a subway or bus, you are a jackass. Not only are you taking up too much space and making it difficult for people to move around you, you are putting your own personal belongings out of your view and at greater risk of theft. True justice would be to slice open these backpacks and allow the contents thereof to spill onto the floor. This may end up causing a stamped to grab these items, creating a greater disorder and inconveniencing law-abiding commuters. Also the authorities may take issue with a knife being used in this way. A good public prank would be to glue very large and garish dildos to these backpacks. According to the police, such acts are not vandalism and they’ll have no reason to report you to the authorities if you are caught in the act (note: not all police may take the same view as the slacker cops I encountered in Flushing).
Pole hogs and seat hogs. Unless you are a stripper performing in a strip club, you have no business putting any part of your body other than your hand on the subway pole. If you weigh 800 pounds and take up more than one seat, then OK, you’re doing us a favor not trying to stand on the subway and you’ll die of a heart attack soon enough. If you are a more regularly-proportioned individual and you are taking up more than one seat, then you deserve a boot to the face. Your luggage didn’t pay $2.75 to ride the bus or train.
Honorable mentions for New York street justice in transit: people who neglect to wear headphones while listening to music or watching videos, those clipping their nails on the bus or train, and anyone who stands on the left side of an escalator.
Our public transit will never be a cocoon of luxury and good tidings. We don’t need that. But some common decency and courtesy would go a long way. There’s nothing morally wrong with a little bit of “the old ultraviolence” on some of our fellow Big Apple denizens who weren’t raised with the same manners, I realize that these are but fleeting dreams. We cannot visit such extreme justice on all who deserve it. If we did so we would do nothing else. But let us join together in these sweet day dreams and get through our day the better for it.
Happy commuting everyone.
News Flash: New York’s subways are horrible
Presidential candidate and former Secretary of State, carpetbagger Senator, First Lady Hillary Clinton was recently criticized for needing to swipe her MetroCard five times to access the New York City subway system. She rode the 4 train all of one stop after entering, and technically broke the law by campaigning in the subway.
There are a lot of things to criticize Hillary Clinton for, but the media focused on her needing five swipes to get her MetroCard to work. But the MetroCard incident (if you can even call it that) didn’t expose Secretary Clinton as being out of touch, it demonstrated what any New York City resident will tell you in a heartbeat: New York’s subways are horrible and only getting worse.
I’ve been a regular New York City subway rider for nearly 20 years now, I’m a seasoned professional when it comes to riding the subway, and there are times when I will need five swipes or more to get through the turnstile.
And the MetroCards and the turnstiles are only the tip of the iceberg. The entire subway system is unreliable, poorly run, and in need of massive reform reconstruction.
The same week that Hillary Clinton had her MetroCard wielding skills thrown into doubt, I visited the subway system’s newest station for the first time. The 34th St. – Hudson Yards station opened up last September to much fanfare as being the sleek, modern station of the future that the city had been waiting decades to see. I had to ask someone where it was because signs do not lead pedestrians to the station and it is surrounded by the massive Hudson Yards construction project. But once you find it, and this is old news now, the Hudson Yards station is a leaking boondoggle. When I got the station, all but one of the down escalators were out of service.
In theory the station is supposed to be ready in a few years to welcome thousands of people who work there and see off thousands of residents who will live there during the workdays. It can barely handle the small amount of traffic it gets now. In fact it proved to be a disaster even before it opened.
And the 7 train is the most overloaded train line in the system (though there are several other leading candidates for this honor, the L train being one of them). Even if the Hudson Yards station is the dream station it was meant to be by the time the construction on Hudson Yards is completed, there are no plans to double the tracks or the capacity of the trains, so the transit authority thinks that a few extra thousand users a day can be absorbed by the 7 line with no problem. That idea is absurd.
And as bad as the 7 line service is, there are actually train lines with less reliable service. Almost every workday, as I’m on my way to work. Emails from workers in the small office I work in arrive on my phone. Just about every day at least one or two people are emailing that subway or commuter train lines are messed up and they may be late for work. My first day back in the office this year after the holidays, it took me two and a half hours to travel 13 miles, and that was after I gave up and got out of the subway at Jackson Heights and took a cab the rest of the way to work.
Here is what New York City’s subway system desperately needs:
Infrastructure overhaul: New York’s subways are running on an antiquated switching system that in some places is more than 100 years old. There’s no excuse for that in a city as modern as New York.
More trains: No one should wait more than fifteen minutes for a train or bus anywhere in the system anytime. Am I unrealistic? No. It’s a matter of public safety at night as much as it is a matter of decent public transit.
Faster trains: The trains were made to run slower after an accident in the 1990s. Let’s reverse that and let the trains go at the speeds they are able to move. The way to avoid accidents is to avoid accidents, not degrade the service to mitigate risk.
More passenger capacity: The Long Island Rail Road has some trains that are doubled decker and can handle more passengers. There’s no reason we can’t have that for the city. The same applies to busses. If the tourist busses can be double decker, there’s no reason that some of our transit system busses can do that as well.
New York City is the greatest city in the world. It deserves to have a transit system that reflects that. We are far from that today.
New York Means Expected Excellence
A recent report from the New York City Comptroller found that New Yorkers work the longest weeks and have the longest average commutes in the U.S. What makes the report so disturbing is that the two top cities with the longest commute times: New York and San Francisco, are cities that have some of the most extensive public transportation infrastructures.
And not only do New Yorkers have long commute times for the many millions who live outside the five boroughs and commute in every day, New York City residents who live and work in the city have long commute times.
I am one of those New York City residents that have a long commute. I live 12 miles from where I work. Google Maps tells me it takes 24 minutes to drive that distance without traffic. It takes me over an hour to get to my office each day even when things are running properly (which is rarely).
New Yorkers tolerate these long commutes (which are getting worse and more expensive at the same time) not because we are suckers for punishment but because New York is worth it.
We expect a certain level of excellence in New York. Things that are acceptable or even considered excellent in other parts of the country just don’t make the cut here. That’s not being snobby or cruel, it’s just the cold hard truth. New York excels at smashing people in the face with cold hard truth at every opportunity.
I definitely notice that borderline New York snobbery creeping up on me in certain circumstances, especially at restaurants when I’m traveling. I’ve been to enough good restaurants in New York that when I go outside the city and stuff just isn’t right I notice right away. I know I wouldn’t have noticed if I had been living elsewhere.
The reputation for New Yorkers as being rude is tired and not entirely true. There are plenty of rude people in the city, absolutely, but what many people take for rudeness is actually just a brusque sense of not having time to waste. As the numbers show, New Yorkers are in a hurry and have less time to dawdle. That’s a testament to people being at the top of their game and playing for keeps.
There are reasons the city is teeming with people, many of whom were born elsewhere. It’s because New York is a symbol of the very top of everything: music, art, culture, dining, literature, you name it. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere—the adage holds as true today as it ever did. Our homeless are even better than other cities if for no other reason than they have to be smart enough to survive the cold weather and that weeds out the extremely feeble-minded.
And, while it certainly is not justified, city residents almost always feel a twinge of schadenfreude when a friend or acquaintance leaves the five boroughs. Just the act of staying and surviving in the city gives you a feeling of accomplishment all on its own, no matter how dreary the circumstances of your life might be. That can be a destructive attitude as well – staying in one place at all costs just to prove a point can be just as harmful as habitually moving all the time. No other city carries that same emotional baggage with it. No one pats themselves on the back for eking out a living in Jacksonville, Florida.
Which is why the public transit system is going to have to change. It has never run well and it has run with minimal competence for decades. This latest report by the New York City Comptroller illustrates in raw numbers the fact that New York’s transit system is operating far below New York standards.
The latest data is proof that New Yorkers are getting the shaft (again) from our own transit system. The silver lining is that New York is too good a city to let this slight go unchanged.