Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Fare Arguments

Governor Spitzer, like Mighty Mouse, has come to save the day; and has seemingly done so by at least temporarily holding the base subway and bus fare at $2. This temporary reprieve has been heralded at the NY Daily News as a testimony to its own circulation-driven campaign to keep the fare down: "Bully to Gov. Spitzer for responding to the clear popular will as expressed in the Daily News' Halt the Hike campaign. Bully to him for searching the netherworld of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's finances for the money to hold the base subway and bus fare at $2 through 2010."

Getting into the team spirit at the News, Mike Lupica, the paper's sports guru turned political savant, also weighs in in his predictably hyperbolic style and lauds the governor for finally standing up for the little guy: "Sometimes everything isn't measured in hundreds of millions for a ballplayer, just the fare for the bus or for the subway. Gov. Spitzer did everything he could to keep those fares right where they are Tuesday...Spitzer stood and spoke up for all those who take those two-dollar rides and need those rides to get them to school and back, to their jobs and back, even to their dreams, who sometimes can't afford a weekly MetroCard or a monthly card."

Lupica's really wearing thin in the front of the paper, and whoever thought it would be a good idea to bring the bantam battler up in weight class should probably begin to re-think the decision. After all, to dramatize the desperate measure of a pol in the midst of a free-fall as the act of a Churchill at the brink of a world war is an indication of a scribe with little historical or political gravitas.

And to top it off Little Mike goes to Mark Green for reinforcing commentary! Green tells us the following: "Eighty percent of New Yorkers wake up worrying about subways or schools or both," Green said. "If this shows anything, it shows that Eliot is beginning to focus on bread-and-butter issues where he can deliver results that matter." Really?

To us, it only shows that the governor, desperately in need of a win, did the easiest thing he could possibly do: pander to what the folks want; a decision that may come back to haunt him unless a serious effort is made to totally revamp the entire transit governance system. As Nicole Gelinas points out, in quit a different take on all of this over at the NY Post, the light at the end of this tunnel is an oncoming train: "Short term, this "good news" may not be as good as it seems. Longer term, the MTA's finances are still a mess, and yesterday's deal likely makes its future problems a little bit bigger - so a future fare hike will be bigger, too."

The MTA's fiscal house is in tatters, and the deteriorating situation demands that the entire system be addressed in a comprehensive way. There is, after all, nothing sacrosanct about the public authority that has been set up to run the region's mass transit apparatus; and was originally designed to insulate elected officials from accountability. It may, after all, have finally outlived its usefulness.

So instead of continuing to call for a congestion tax, the NY Daily News should be calling for a summit meeting to radically reform the dysfunctional transit governing authority. Here's the paper unwise take on the confluence of the fare hike and the congestion tax: "One interesting finding of a Quinnipiac University poll was that most New Yorkers would support congestion pricing to halt a transit fare hike. That's good; congestion pricing is designed to hold fares down. No, Mayor Bloomberg's plan to charge drivers $8 for entering Manhattan (minus tolls) will play no role in holding the line on fares right now. And no, congestion-pricing money would not subsidize subway and bus operations. But the cash would be used to expand transit with projects like the Second Ave. subway and to maintain the system in good repair."

So let's get this straight. The agency that can't be trusted with operating the current system efficiently should be given a congestion tax blank check. What the News conveniently leaves out, is the fact that the Q-Poll found that although New Yorkers might support a congestion tax to keep the fare down, they had little confidence that the money would really go for that purpose. As Mickey Carroll has said: "Big problem: New Yorkers don't trust the MTA. Two thirds doubt that, whatever is promised, the money really will keep transit fares from rising. More than half want an MTA guarantee to hold fares down for a specific length of time."

The people apparently have more sagacity than the editorialists on this issue. The whole system's a mess, one that won't get better, and will only get worse, by throwing more money at it.