The Year of the Train

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I love our ferries, but what we need is not token pet political projects but functioning buses and trains

There is growing consensus that 2019 will be a “make-or-break” year for the subway – by which I think people generally mean New York’s remarkable, but ailing mass transit system more broadly. We all know how staggering in size and complexity are the interconnected networks of commuter trains, subways, and buses that serve the more than 20 million residents of Greater New York; that perhaps nothing more symbolizes the spirit of New York City than the subway; and that mass transit is a central democratic institution of our metropolis, so I will cut right to the chase: While there has been a great deal of hand-wringing and Twitter groaning about the state of the crisis; while the #FixTheSubway Coalition is doing admirable work to improve rider experiences; and while Governor Cuomo has made great symbolic shows of his commitment to action on mass transit, he has had eight years to give the people of New York substance rather than show, and all we’ve witnessed and experienced is steady deterioration of the quality of service and the state of our essential transit infrastructure.

Hollow words from our elected representatives are not enough. We need a mass people’s movement to demand restoration and renewal of New York’s mass transit systems. We need to make 2019 the year of the train.

Premises

1. New Yorkers are confused and upset about the state of our mass transit. Fares and tolls keep going up, and obviously a lot of money is being spent (speaking of token pet political projects, just look at the 2nd Avenue Subway!), but overall, the quality of services has declined sharply in recent years.

2. Politicians – especially Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio, as well as their respective predecessors – have passed the buck and blamed the MTA, but we know that the MTA was actually created (in 1968) for the very purpose of allowing politicians to pass the buck and avoid taking blame and responsibility for mass transit! And that it is the Governor and the Mayor who have outsized control over our mass transit systems and their budgets. They are disproportionately responsible for the current mass transit crisis and should be held accountable for it.

3. For the first time in a long-time, we have a Democratic Governor, State Senate, and State Assembly in New York State, plus a progressive Democratic Mayor and City Council in New York City, and an incoming Democratic United States House of Representatives spearheaded by young, new progressives who are prioritizing (green) infrastructure. Mass transit is a climate, social, racial, and environmental justice issue; the time is now to act such that every year going forward, the subway, commuter trains, and buses will improve, and by 2030, we have the world-class mass transit system that we – and the city we love – deserve.

Demands

1. Fully implement congestion pricing as soon as is possible (there’s backstory on congestion pricing on page 28 of the Fix NYC Advisory Panel Report from January 2018 for those who are interested).

2. Reorganize the MTA per the recommendations of the Metropolitan Transportation Sustainability Advisory Workgroup Report, and begin to implement the Workgroup’s additional recommendations as soon as is possible.

3. Fully fund the Byford Plan (a.k.a. the Fast Forward Plan) and commit designated (“lockboxed”) funds to the immense task of restoring and renewing our mass transit system by 2030.

Action Steps

1. Call the Governor (1-518-474-8390; and no harm in submitting a webform while you’re at it!) and demand that he accomplish the three steps outlined under Demands above.

2. Call the Mayor (may be necessary to call 311 to reach the Mayor’s Office; and ditto on the webform) and demand that he accomplish the three steps outlined under Demands above.

3. Call your State Senator and demand that they accomplish the three steps outlined under Demands above.

4. Call your State Assemblymember and demand that they accomplish the three steps outlined under Demands above.

5. Call your City Councilperson and demand that they accomplish the three steps outlined under Demands above.

6. If you’re feeling especially inspired, take to social media to demand the accomplishment of the three steps outlined under Demands above using #CuomoDeBlasioFixTheSubway.

All told, this should take you about 15 minutes. (Still itching to make more phone calls? I wouldn’t hesitate to reach out to your United States Senator and Representative either, although they’re somewhat remote from this.)

Thank you for taking action. Happy New Year!

If you need any additional motivation to get and stay involved with this struggle for the future of New York, here are words from the tireless Aaron Gordon – if you aren’t already, I encourage you to become a (paid) subscriber to his weekly newsletter, Signal Problems:

“It is for these reasons I suspect 2019 will be the most important year in this city’s transportation history. Never before have so many issues culminated at once. Congestion pricing, MTA reform, the L shutdown, the legality of for-hire vehicle surcharges, the Fast Forward Plan’s future, and on and on. 2017 was the year we recognized we had a problem. 2018 was the year we got a prognosis. Now what? It’s make it or break it, put up or shut up.”

And the Workgroup itself:

“Failure of the public transportation system is the single biggest threat to the continued livability and prosperity of the New York metropolitan region.”

I’d argue that climate disruption is actually “the single biggest threat” to New York City (and most of the other great cities of the world) but while climate change can feel daunting, abstract, and impossible to grapple with, transit is an everyday reality for many of us. It’s time we broke through our fatalism and the cynical obfuscation of our political leaders to demand:

#CuomoDeBlasioFixTheSubway! Transit (and therefore, climate) action now!

Postscript: Apologies to readers outside Greater New York that calls to action here are geographically specific! And note, as the congestion pricing lawsuit makes clear, these issues are (obviously) very complex. For sake of popular accessibility and immediate actionability, some simplification of demands felt necessary, but that simplification was by no means meant to obscure the political nuances at play here.

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