Winning the Waiting Game

Image courtesy Andrew Hinderaker

T.A.’s Rider Rebellion Campaign hasn’t won the fare-hike war yet, but they’ve just secured a massive victory in the battle for better transit service.

As a direct result of Transportation Alternatives’ organizing efforts and Transit Town Hall events, the MTA Board recently announced that it would improve bus service on 24 lines, add five new bus routes, permanently extend the G Train to the Church Avenue stop and restore service to one of the bus routes that was cut in 2010. Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road commuter-train lines will also see service increases.

“The service investments we are announcing today will give our customers more connections to where they want to go, more options on nights and weekends and more reason to stay out of their cars and take buses, subways and commuter trains instead,” MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota said.

And he’s right. This is a huge win for the MTA’s 8.5 million daily customers, but it’s only a step in the right direction. All told, the service enhancements and restorations will cost the Authority $29 million annually, less than one-third of the $93 million cut from the budget in 2010, and less than seven percent of the $450 million the Authority’s upcoming fare hike is estimated to raise each year.

“Now, it’s time for Governor Cuomo to heed the call for a full restoration of transit service to underserved communities all over the city,” T.A.’s Executive Director Paul Steely White told Reclaim. “The State Government must invest in fair, citywide access to reliable public transportation.”

That’s a sentiment T.A.’s Rider Rebellion Campaign has heard in church basements, community centers, senior living facilities and school cafeterias—from Soundview to Fordham Heights to Sheepshead Bay to Elmhurst all around the city. Neighborhoods deeply impacted by the sweeping transit cuts of 2010 are still hurting, and they’re still rallying to fight the proposed 2013 fare hike.

“We’ve been hosting Transit Town Halls around the city to engage riders and legislators about what they’re going to get in return for these fare hikes,” said T.A.’s Director of Transit Advocacy Ya-Ting Liu. “We want everyone to ask the important question: What are the riders getting?”

Even with these new lines and restorations the answer is “not much,” and the numbers back that up. Three years ago, a budget shortfall in Albany forced the MTA to cut two subway lines, 32 bus routes and 570 bus stops. What’s been restored is a tiny fraction of what was lost.

“Sure the MTA’s recent announcement is encouraging,” said Liu, “But what I find really encouraging is when riders start their own campaigns to improve transit in their neighborhood.”

“Getting off the bus in Crown Heights the other day,” Liu went on, “I met a woman named Jacqueline Carthen with a clipboard in her hand. She was petitioning to restore B48 Bus service, because she needed that bus to get to church and the supermarket. Three weeks later, she had collected over 2,500 signatures and gotten all her City and State elected officials to send a letter to the MTA urging restoration of the B48. Guess what? The B48 is one of the buses that made it on MTA’s recent list of improvements. Because she’s out there, and others like her are working around the city, I know we can do more than win a battle for better service; I know we can win the war for a sustainable and affordable transit system that serves all New Yorkers.”