People often herald New York City as having one of the best public transit systems in the world. These people, to put it bluntly, are idiots.
Compared to a network of rickshaws or a hijacked steam engine, it is great. However, given its large constituency, ever-gentrifying surroundings and continually rising prices, there are major problems. Where is the money going? Who decides what gets fixed? The MTA is becoming less an authority on transportation and instead a Massive Transportation Annoyance.
One of the hardest parts of living in New York City is a general sense of stress and discomfort. A main source of this harried feeling is that the MTA is your only mode of transport unless you have the luxury of taking cabs everywhere. Everyone who lives here knows the unique blend of claustrophobia and rage you feel trapped underground with no clue as to why your train suddenly stops. Your only distractions are the dirty-nailed gentleman to your left whose sweat is touching your skin and the oblong bag of the person behind you lodged between your buttocks.
You expect a realistic update or estimation of your wait time. Instead, you get an unintelligible update from Captain Obvious: There is a train delay, and you will be stuck indefinitely. As you plot a revolution, you remember that this apathetic worker is somehow protected by having the unicorn of careers — a union job with a pension. He can bait you into a fight, and if you clock him one, you go to jail. He can stand in the dilapidated station or sit in his parked bus with no answers to any of your questions and still have job security. Meanwhile, you paid the equivalent of 28 pumpkin spice lattes for a monthly roundtrip to and from work.
Signs all over the city brag about how the MTA is “Improving, non-stop.” but who sets the standard? Also, who decides where these capital changes happen and what they are? Who needs an information kiosk on an abandoned G-line stop if the train isn’t running? Who needs a new train on the E and M line if a derailed F could put the entirety of Queens-bound trains out of commission? It seems like these huge improvements are relegated to gentrified areas like Williamsburg and wealthy areas like the Upper East Side. For example, if someone lives way out in Queens, Brooklyn or the Bronx and takes two or more modes of transportation to get to work, don’t they deserve to know when the next train is coming?
And yet, this service is not universally available and seems relegated to only certain areas. Most stations have digital displays that do not give any information about the constant train service changes or a realistic estimate of when trains will arrive. Rather than focusing on developing elaborate art installations or high-tech improvements to the one station they can manage to fix in a year, the MTA should really focus on making sure its service is at the same level city-wide. After all, whether you take a 10-minute bus ride or a trip spanning three boroughs, it’s still the same price.
It’s unclear why commuting prices are constantly on the rise. There are always threats of price hikes or worse, transit strikes. Has anyone noticed that there’s a monopoly on how New Yorkers can navigate the city? Rather than focusing on raising prices, the MTA should find alternate sources of revenue that actually help benefit straphangers. For example, why not fine panhandlers? As much as it feels a part of New York City “culture,” those days are dead. People work too hard to survive here, and they deserve to not have to hear the pan flute, mandolin or a folk version of “You Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer. Why not find revenue from fining people for breaking the law or being a general public disturbance rather than shaking down the people who have no choice but to commute.
Also, what about soliciting outside money? More New Yorkers would be more likely to quit smoking if their subway was fixed by the NYC Quits campaign rather than its seemingly endless public service announcements that must cost a pretty penny. Also, as horrible as the thought is, who wouldn’t have brand loyalty to McDonald’s or Johnson & Johnson if their commute wasn’t like riding a slow-moving public restroom powered by body odor and frustration.
It’s unclear what’s going on with the MTA, but like so many parts of New York City, it seems hidden behind esoteric bureaucracy with a bunch of sassy, apathetic, unhelpful employees. Whether you need a MetroCard refund, information about your bus not being at its stop or an idea of what delays are affecting your train, employees offer no help, and there seems to be no logic to it all.
Here’s hoping more New Yorkers can take a second, take their headphones off, and ask, “Why is this like this?” and “Where is my money going?”
Christian Cintron is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.
* Editor’s note: TheBlot Magazine is not, of course, suggesting that you actually walk through any subway tunnels. Just needed to get that out of the way.