14 January 2009

Just Because We're Ignoring Your Opinion Doesn't Mean We Don't Value It

Every time the MTA decides to raise fares or cut service on New York City subways or buses, they have to go through the charade of holding hearings at which the public is invited to come give its input. As they prepare their present round of wreaking havoc on one of the nation's only functional public transportation systems, a new series of hearings has been announced.

Not that it makes the slightest bit of difference: I can't remember a single instance when the MTA was about to raise fares and then changed its mind because the public showed up and said, "No, we don't think that's a good idea." The normal course of events is this: MTA announces fare hike, thousands of people attend hearings and denounce fare hike, MTA proceeds with fare hike. People grumble and pay it.

Apart from the fact that it's probably required by law, why do they bother? Do they seriously expect members of the public to show up and say, "Yes, MTA, we think it's a great idea to raise fares and cut service! In fact, maybe you're not raising fares enough, and while you're at it, why don't you shut down the subways from midnight to 6 am? That could save even more money!"

Seriously. It's as if your local supermarket put out a flyer asking the neighborhood, "Oh, by the way, how do you folks feel about our plan to raise the price of everything by 25%? Not that we care, because we're going to do it anyway, we just thought it would be nice to know what you think."

There is some behind-the-scenes horse trading on this issue, though, that does involve the public to some extent. If the State Legislature can come up with some more - a lot more, actually - funds for the MTA, some of the price hikes or service cuts could be eliminated. Minor difficulty: the State Legislature, like most legislatures these days, doesn't actually have any money. Some new taxes on automobile commuters and a slice of that federal bailout/stimulus money might do the trick (yes, I know that technically the federal government doesn't have any money either, but that doesn't seem to be stopping them from printing more).

So if you have more faith in democracy than I do, go to one of these hearings and yell at the bureaucrats; maybe the legislature will get the message (oh, and thanks again, Sheldon Silver, for killing congestion pricing last year and losing hundreds of millions in federal funds for NYC. It's nice that you have a limo to chauffeur you around, and too bad about the rest of us, eh?).

Of course you might suggest that the city and state might change its mind about doling out hundreds of millions in public money to the New York Yankees for their new stadium (especially considering that they already had a perfectly good one right across the street), but since the Yankees (the Mets got a similar deal, but playing, as always, second banana in this town, not nearly as much) have already doled out those hundreds of millions to buy new ball players, we're not likely to see much of that back.

Not that I was about to pay the massively inflated prices the Yankees will be charging at their new park, but now chances are there'll be no train to take me there anyway.


Joseph said...

You write, "The normal course of events is this: MTA announces fare hike, thousands of people attend hearings and denounce fare hike..."

I would wager that dozens of people attend the hearings, not thousands. If I'm wrong, I'll buy your next monthly pass.

Larry Livermore said...

If you hurry, you can purchase that monthly pass at the current rate of $81 rather than the increased one, projected to be as much as $103. WNYC's account of last night's hearing reports that 800 people showed up, and this was only the first of eight hearings.

Joseph said...

I should know better than to doubt your wisdom. It appears MTA riders are a bit more engaged than their BART-riding brethren. I've been to BART public hearings. It’s not unusual for staff to outnumber members of the public. Well, that is until BART cops started killing dudes on the Fruitvale platform. Protestors have jammed the hearing room and the streets of Oakland the past couple of weeks.

You win, Larry. I’m not sure how to convey a pass to you, but I will.

What is it with New Yorkers? It’s mindboggling that they would endure freezing temperatures to protest a little fare hike. Not to rub it in, but it is currently 72 degrees (F) in Berkeley and there are no airplanes in the Oakland Estuary.

Freezing NYer said...

Yay for you