THE COMMUTE: As the second anniversary of the largest service cutbacks in New York City History quietly passed on June 27th, the MTA hinted at its monthly board meeting for the first time that they were considering the restoration of some cuts. The New York Times has the story. No specific mention was made as to which cutbacks were considered for restoration, but it does not hurt to be optimistic that restoration of the B4 and B64 are being considered.
Let me bring you up to date on some other stories I have neglected due to my first hand reporting of the B1, B49 and B64 over the past two weeks. The MTA finally decided to take action regarding fare evasion with a fare increase looming overhead in 2013. After long insisting that fare evasion was at acceptable levels, 1.1 percent, just .1 percent above the industry standard, and insisting additional enforcement is not necessary, they finally admitted that their previous estimate of $14 million lost annually to bus fare evasion is inaccurate. The new estimate is a staggering $50 million, almost enough to restore all the bus service cuts, if fare evasion could be cut to nearly zero.
The Wall Street Journal reported: “The issue of fare-beating made headlines this week, when the MTA estimated it could lose roughly $100 million this year due to fare-beaters on buses and subway lines.” They also discussed how a large portion of the fare-beating problem results from adults who do not pay for all of their children. Just the other day I witnessed this at the Voorhies Avenue end of the Sheepshead Bay Road train station, where you have a choice of using the turnstiles or the high wheels to enter. There was no agent on duty and a woman and her daughter chose the high wheels, and I wondered why since the turnstiles are so much easier. They both went through for one fare and I had my answer.
The Staten Island Advance estimates that the MTA could lose as much as $328 million annually if you base losses on an average fare of $2.25. That estimate may be too high since the average fare with discounts and transfers is in the vicinity of $1.80. Also, not all fare evaders would ride if they knew they had to pay. Nevertheless, taking those factors into account, even an estimate of $200 million would be twice the MTA’s revised estimate and more than three percent, three times the acceptable industry standard. Therefore, since mid-May, undercover police officers have began cracking down on fare evasion by first targeting fare-beaters on Staten Island buses after years of lax enforcement.
One concern I have is that innocent riders are not fined. In southern Brooklyn, for example, where there is a heavily elderly population, I often notice riders, especially ones who are not steady on their feet, first sit down near the driver, then stumble into their wallets for their MetroCards before getting up to pay. Some even give their card to the person next to them to pay for them. It may take several bus stops for this to be accomplished. They always pay and should not be treated as having intent to evade the fare. They certainly cannot afford a $100 fine and are in no physical condition to fight a summons. I hope the MTA and police officers use some discretion in this regard. However, I am not optimistic after reading stories about fare enforcement on Select Bus Service routes.
That is not to say that seniors always pay their fare. A typical fare-beater may not be a student entering through the bus’ rear door. Several months ago, I witnessed one elderly man duck under the turnstiles at Borough Hall station where there was no station agent on duty. It took him about 30 seconds just to get himself upright after entering the paid area. One wonders how much the reduction in station agents affected fare-beating. Did the MTA take that into account when making its decision to close fare booths?
- MTA Chairman Joe Lhota went public in a New York Post op-ed piece asking union members to forego raises for the next three years. He claims the MTA is doing all it can to be efficient. Can we take that statement seriously when we read about irregularities at Metro-North in the state comptroller’s latest audit [PDF].
- The MTA refused to sign off on the purchase of cameras for Select Bus Service enforcement until the city agrees to share the revenue with the MTA. They are correct in taking that position.
- By now you have all probably seen the video of the MTA’s stairway to heaven, where you might end up if you are not careful. If not, you can find it and the story how the MTA plans to do address the problem on this stairway in Sunset Park here. My questions are:
- How long has this been going on?
- Why was this problem not discovered when the stairway was built or repaired last?
- How many other stairways are affected?
- How much has the MTA paid out in lawsuits from injuries from people claiming to be injured on defective stairways?
- Another topic we discussed before — transit in the outer boroughs — made the news again two weeks ago when the City Council held a public hearing on the need for a greater focus on improvement outside Manhattan, where all the MTA’s major capital projects are currently focused.
- Finally, there was a story that the MTA would be starting a program in which managers ride MTA buses and speak to the drivers and passengers in order to ascertain problems (Unfortunately, I am unable to find the link.) This is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, the MTA will use the information they learn in a positive manner to improve service. As I indicated last week, they cannot address problems if they are unaware that they exist. Only a very small portion of transit riders will bother to file a formal complaint when there is a problem, while the MTA assumes that if no one is complaining, no problems exist. If your problem is not addressed satisfactorily after you notify the MTA, you should keep good records and complain to all your local elected officials.
The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).
Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.