The MTA wants to bring subway riders back, but if it’s just about the fares, a rocky road lies ahead. How well can the agency handle rejection?
by David Stone
Special to the Roosevelt Island Daily News
A New York Times article M.T.A. Postpones Fare Increase as It Tries to Lure Back Riders suggests that’s the one card they have to play. Or, at least, the main one.
But it’s the wrong tool and emphasizes the agency’s detachment from riders’ real concerns. Sure, a howl erupts every time a fare increase looms, and politicians stand tall, “fighting for my constituents.”
Yet those are all reactions stirred from the bottom after proactivity served as a red-headed stepchild for decades.
That is, the MTA subway rider experience stinks, and nobody does much of anything about. Fares at $2.75 for a ride that can take you from one end of the city to all the others and back are incredible bargains, and a variety of discount programs for the needy make them even better.
Now that pandemic adjustments gave subway riders a taste of life without the constant filth, stink and crowding, the MTA mst convince riders that that bargain is worth the ugly experience.
And the ugly experience? Seems they don’t even know it’s a factor.
Subway riders’ experience
Once you slide or tap your way into the system, what’s it like, taking advantage of this great bargain? I’ll use my own home station on Roosevelt Island as a main example.
The Roosevelt Island experience for subway riders begins even before you enter. The station looks old and weatherbeaten, but it’s, in fact, a youngster in the system. Just 30 years old, the MTA built it long after the tired street level stairways first guided riders underground.
The lack of reliable maintenance, a hallmark of public works projects, renders what was an innovative approach into an eyesore.
Think about it this way. If you live Jersey and must drive, how eager are you to get behind the wheel of a car looking like that?
Bloomingdales and bust…
What shocked me most about the subways when I came to New York City in 1990 was the contrast between the elegance of a Bloomies upstairs and the filth and degradation below.
It was true at Rockefeller Center, Herald Square and Brooklyn Heights as well. Still is. Well-kept public spaces above, degraded facilities below.
You’d think the owners at Macy’s or Bloomingdales would protest, but then, you finally realize it’s consistent with a city sharply divided between rich and all the rest of us.
For subway riders, it’s stark.
If they can send a man to the moon, how come that can’t figure out the mysteries of underground water flows? Or seal a tunnel?
Is there anything more depressing than waiting for the next train after an overcrowded one passes on a winter morning?
Roosevelt Island subway riders appeal, but the MTA can’t figure out how to get a few more rush hour trains through the station. At Rockefeller Center, F Trains meet up with half-empty Ms serving the same Queens neighborhoods.
How does the fare bargain sit with subway riders confronted with trash tossed or kicked from platforms onto rails? It’s even worse when the trash floats in standing water.
While it’s not usual seeing all three escalators out at the same time, it happens. Non-working, unreliable escalators and elevators exist throughout the system. A factor making Roosevelt Island worse is that lower level escalators work, sending passengers up to this level, leaving them here without forewarning.
If you’re frail or physically limited, what do you do now?
Subway Riders and Fares Conclusion
After years of neglect, maybe blindness, it’s unlikely that the MTA will ever awaken to the poor experiences of everyday subway riders or begin fixing them.
And now, with riders awakened, they won’t bring people back underground by freezing fares alone.
Guess who’s pockets they’ll pick to cover the losses…
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