Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Lesson in Incompetence: The Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Harking back on Nate's post from last week about transit cuts and their long-term unsustainability, I want to quickly point out the MTA here in New York and its woefully pathetic state. The drama of heightened subway fares and decreased service continues, as even more cuts are expected this year. What is frustrating is that the additional cuts are a result of state auditors miscalculating how much revenue the new payroll tax would bring in for the mismanaged agency.

To add insult to injury, Mayor Bloomberg had a message for subway riders. He said, "So save your anger for the next round [of cuts]. Just say thank you that it isn't any worse with this one." Translation: Despite your government and public agencies failing you, you should be thankful for us. Here's what Bloomberg is missing: when something costs extra, you expect to get something more from it. When you put the money up to buy a Mercedes, you expect to get certain perks that you would not find in a cheaper Honda. But what the MTA has done has taken that Honda, stripped it down (no A/C, no radio, etc.) and are making the people pay the Mercedes price. It is now more expensive to ride a service cut-laden subway system. And Bloomberg wants us to be thankful?

But it doesn't end with service cuts. A recent stabbing on the 2 train this past weekend has highlighted the gaping security holes in New York's subway system. CCTV cameras, a simple and effective safety measure employed by everyone from the highest federal offices to your local bodega, either are non-existent (as in the case of Christopher Street, where the assailants from this weekend's stabbing fled) or simply don't work (as is the case with almost half of the system's 4,313 security cameras). Why? Depends on who you ask, but there's plenty of blame being thrown around as the MTA is using its time and resources to sue Lockheed Martin, the winner of the $212 million contract to outfit the system with cameras, after the military contractor sued the authority. It's unclear if ongoing security work is continuing through the litigation (an email to the MTA has not been answered yet).

I don't expect the subway to run perfectly, nor do I expect it to be free of crime. I do expect that a raise in fares will correspond to one of two things: better service or, at the very least, the same service. To have fares raised, massive service cuts implemented, and then be told to be thankful it's not worse is insulting. Security-wise, subway systems are vulnerable in general, but to learn of New York's subway system's vulnerabilities specifically is worrisome. It just highlights the misguided priorities of the MTA, which is plagued with incompetence and mismanagement at nearly every level. They can't stand up to the unions, they can't run the system without massive problems, and they can't even get CCTV cameras installed properly. That's not a lot to be thankful for.

Photo - An overpriced piece of plastic (The Village Voice Blog)

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