Fare Hikes Hurt People; We Can Do Better

There is a fundamental pillar of economic truth that the administration of the City of New York seems unable to comprehend: ordinary people, actual citizens, the people who make the city what it is, require increased mobility in order to take advantage of a wider range of economic opportunities. When you surround people with higher fees on all fronts, you impede their freedom of movement, and that is never an insignificant policy failure.

To a man whose combined accounts add up to an estimated $25 billion, a jump in price from $104 to $112 for a monthly fare card may not seem like a big deal, but then he would not be privy to the conversation of a hard-working woman who devotes more than full time caring for someone else’s kids, raising them, saying she will have to visit her own family less and buy less economical passes that cost less per purchase. She will be paying at least 7.69% more for a fare card that is integral to her way of life and her personal independence, most likely more as she goes about buying lower priced but higher cost passes, and that is for a system that already consumes hours of her time every day.

In 2013, we have seen tolls on bridges and tunnels jump by 8.33% (GWB) in some cases and by as much as 15.38% (Throgs Neck) in others. At the same time, Subway fares have jumped by 11.11% and the LIRR has seen fares for roundtrip tickets jump by 8.57%. So, we can say with a brief snapshot glimpse of the transit landscape of New York City that, at a time of historic crisis, in the aftermath of a natural disaster, with tens of thousands still homeless, the average New Yorker is being forced to pay between 7.69% and 15.38% more to get around.

And remember, the lowest of those figures is the one that we know will cause at least one hard-working eminently decent long-time resident to see less of her family and to waste more of her income on still less fairly priced tickets.

No one except the most fortunate of the most affluent is seeing income increase by anything comparable to 7.69%, let alone 15.38%. In fact, median household incomes are lower now than when Mayor Bloomberg took office. We can be sure, however, that the added cost burden from across-the-board transit cost increases will reduce the mobility of most New Yorkers and limit either their time with friends and family (community and quality of life) or their opportunity to work (economic expansion, resilience of communities).

The sky high, economically unjustified, regressive fare hikes are degrading to most New Yorkers’ quality of life, economic opportunity, strength of community and long-term resiliency. It is difficult to comprehend on what grounds these policy choices were actually made, as literally no service improvement of any kind will accompany the changes.

On any given morning, a teacher living in Queens who works for a city school in the Bronx, may be forced to pay between 7.69% and 15.38% more to commute to work, while having to spend between 40 minutes and 120 minutes, in one direction, for a commute that is exemplary of failed urban planning and for the improvement of which no substantial plans have been made.

Officers working for the NYPD may find themeselves spending more than 3 hours in transit, for a job that requires them to put their lives at risk for a system that considers the value of their humanity and their time more or less as explained above. The casual observer has to wonder if any economic analysis of any kind was done, or which economic luminaries would have been consulted in the planning and implementation of this flagrantly degrading policy change.

The more astute observer must wonder whether Mayor Bloomberg, the MTA, the Port Authority and other agencies of local government, are willing to consider the vast improvement to quality of life, economic opportunity and community life at the human scale, were the city to adopt a smart transit-overhaul plan.

The conventional wisdom dictates that we eschew any consideration of any system-wide improvements, because New York City is too densely populated, too overbuilt and too costly as it is, so improvements are a last-order consideration. But there are simple, cost-effective things that can be done to revolutionize transport in the “outer boroughs”, and the next mayor should begin talking about and planning for them, even before winning election.

So, today, FreeClearNYC challenges every candidate for Mayor of New York City to formulate a plan to bring most New Yorkers free and clear of the crippling and degrading conditions the current administration has left for city-wide transit. They should consider each of the following and come up with plans for how to make change happen, on the ground, in our communities, for real people, within their first four years in office:

  • Move big trucks off the Interstate Highways that pass through the city, at least during high-traffic hours;
  • Keep at least one lane free of buses and big trucks at all times, everywhere;
  • Reduce fares for mass transit, to incentivize the transition to mass transit, away from automotive;
  • A network of smart, electric green tramways (more on this below)…
  • Point-to-point monorails where trains and trams are not workable, to both reduce congestion on existing transit and to open the sky above areas where the new trains will pass;
  • Replace elevated Subway tracks with monorails where this will not slow the commute;
  • Bring monorails and green tramways into underserved areas within the existing Subway and rail network;
  • Incentivize as much electric-powered transport as possible, with a network of low-cost fast-charge EV stations and EV-only lanes on major thoroughfares and highways…

The green tramway plan benefits from maximum flexibility: it is possible to establish green tramways along and in the middle of existing boulevards and highways, to rebuild embankments and use the empty spaces around highway interchanges to facilitate the passage of trams. Trams can enjoy their own dedicated railway and/or pass through and along roadways shared with automotive vehicles.

Trams can replace buses and function like a proliferation of the Subway system, with minimal disruption to the existing built environment, and capacity can be added or reduced, as needed. Neighborhoods that currently see only a relatively long walk to a bus stop where the wait can be brutal in winter or summer can expect to see quiet, electric, efficient, affordable trams passing every 5 minutes, running like a 21st-century metro system.

This kind of transformation empowers individuals, small businesses, and communities, and creates real opportunity, both for economic and for personal flourishing. That might seem like an esoteric consideration, if one cannot imagine $8/month being meaningful, or if one is unaware that most people cannot afford to live on a symbolic $1/year salary, but it is the centerpiece of what people hope for from government: let us live free and with opportunity for economic and personal flourishing.

New York City is at a crossroads: we are living in the 21st century, and public officials are talking about a bold revival of the urban landscape, but we are told that infrastructure maintenance and upgrades are too costly, and expanding the mass transit system will take decades. The Barclays Center was built, with taxpayer funding, and old elevated train platforms in Manhattan have been converted to parkland, yet the kind of construction that could justify fare hikes and improve the lives of actual human beings has hardly been considered.

The next mayor of New York City has an obligation to lead the city into the 21st century, to wrest back from Oblivion the many hours lost by citizens condemned to poorly planned mass transit and overcrowded highways. If time is money for public officials, such that they do not even make their phone numbers available to the public, and for corporate bosses, then time must be a top-line consideration when planning how to provide services to the public.

There is no area of life at the human scale where value is not expanded or degraded by the way we, as human beings, interact with time. Services that rob us of time cannot be said to provide real value, and services that rob us of time while being made increasingly unaffordable are simply a degradation. Our public officials have an obligation to do better, and at least to use changes in the cost of transit to incentivize a more efficient, fair and economically generative transit culture.

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