It’s been nearly seventeen months since the “summer from hell” prompted Governor Andrew Cuomo to declare a State of Emergency for the MTA. In that time, very little – if anything at all – has improved, and now the subway system that six million New Yorkers rely on daily could be on the verge of the most catastrophic crisis in its history.
At the same time, the massive discontent with the MTA and political establishment underlines the potential for a united fightback of straphangers and transit workers.
New Fair Hikes
As service and reliability on the most important transit system in the country has continued to rapidly deteriorate, riders are beginning to abandon the system. Since the early 1990s, subway ridership consistently increased year-over-year. But starting in 2016, ridership has decreased each year.
As recently as July, the MTA was projecting increases in ridership for 2019, but they have now admitted they expect a 1.1 percent decrease. The numbers are even worse for the city’s buses, with a 9.5 percent decrease in ridership since 2016.
In mid-November, the MTA announced their plans to once again increase fares next March. They are currently considering two options for fare increases: one would keep the base fare at $2.75 but eliminate the cash bonus on MetroCards, the other would increase the fare to $3.00 and raise the cash bonus to 10 percent.
The cost for the 30 day unlimited MetroCard would increase to either $127 or $126.50 (a 5 percent and 4.3 percent increase, respectively). If the fare increases are approved, it would mark the fifth straight biennial increase since 2011. The current price of the fares are already too much of a burden for millions of New Yorkers; increasing them even more is completely unacceptable.
It is also potentially dangerous.The combination of collapsing service, increased fares, and a declining ridership could lead to a scenario transit advocates have called a death spiral.
Benjamin Kabak, who runs the website Second Avenue Sagas, told The Guardian, “The subway service and the bus service has become unreliable enough for people to stop using it. If people aren’t using it, there’s less money, and they have to keep raising fares without delivering better service.”
If this cycle is allowed to continue, New York could eventually face the nightmare scenario of a completely insolvent MTA.
Even if ridership does not continue to fall, the current situation is untenable. It won’t be enough to just kick the can down the road. As a public service, the system needs a massive injection of money to ensure quality, inexpensive transportation for New Yorkers.
The MTA has already indicated that they are targeting cutting service in 2020. The transit system has still not recovered from the devastating cuts of 2010; a new round of cuts would put outrageous strains on the working class of NYC. In the past, cuts in service have also led to things like lengthening the amount of time between safety inspections, which has a directly negative impact on the safety and working conditions of MTA workers.
What is particularly galling is that these fare increases and service cuts were proposed just days after Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced they were giving Amazon $3 billion to build part of their new headquarters in the city. The ruling class seems to have no problem finding money when it comes to giving it away to the richest man in the world, yet they plead poverty when the MTA or NYCHA is in desperate need of funding.
What is evident is that the establishment has no real long-term solution. Most recently, the MTA announced they would crack down on fare evasion in a desperate attempt to appear like they are addressing their financial woes. In reality, fare evasion will increase – along with wasted resources fighting it – if the fare keeps rising. Any crack down will likely lead to further targeting of working class youth of color, who can’t be blamed for the MTA’s crisis.
Make Wall Street Pay
Socialists completely reject this approach, which ultimately serves to help Wall Street avoid paying for a crisis they created over decades by pushing their agenda of cuts and tax breaks for the rich. This was decisive to the looting of the MTA by the state.
Instead, we must demand massive tax increases on the rich, Wall Street, and large corporations in the city in order to fully fund the MTA. They all benefit from a transit system that brings their employees to and from work, it’s time that they pay their fair share toward maintaining and improving that system.
The “Fast Forward Plan” proposed over the summer by the MTA has been estimated to cost $19 billion over 10 years or $43 billion over 15 years. This plan could easily be funded by introducing new taxes on Wall Street and the rich in the city and state. If they cry poverty, we should demand a public investigation of their books, including their overseas accounts, to see for ourselves what Wall Street could afford to pay in taxes.
We also need to push for the total cancellation of the massive MTA debt that is held by and profited off by Wall Street banks. And ultimately, what we need to do is challenge the very way the MTA is run by demanding that it be run democratically by a board elected from the MTA workers and straphangers, not by rich bureaucrats appointed by Cuomo.
The only way we can do any of these things is by building a mass movement to put pressure on Albany to enact the reforms that are desperately needed.
The newly elected Democratic majority in the State Senate and Assembly is one of the largest in decades, and has been called the most progressive legislature in the country by some commentators. We need to put that claim to the test and build a movement that will fight to hold their feet to the fire.
But ultimately, we cannot rely on the Democrats in the legislature. A decisive section of them are beholden to Cuomo and big business. The only way to win real change is to build mass struggles and movements that challenge the power of the financial elite who dominate the city and political system.
Critical to this is supporting the struggles of transit workers, who have enormous power through their union, the Transit Workers Union Local 100, as was demonstrated in 2005 when workers were forced to take strike action.
Together, we can fight for a high quality transit system that is accessible, cheap to use, and run efficiently and safely for the needs of working people.