Volume 23, Number 7| The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | June 25 - July 1, 2010
Thank Albany while you wait longer for that bus
By Josh Rogers
Descend to the depths of the Chambers St. J-M-Z station and it’s a trip back in time, although I doubt anyone feels nostalgic for the subway stations of two and three decades ago. There’s peeling paint everywhere and the tiles that have not fallen off yet are blackened with filth. The only sign of the 21st century is that you can get cell phone reception at Chambers, unlike most subway platforms. The station looks as if it were abandoned many years ago — if you ignore the thousands who use it every day.
Most of the “M” signs have been taken down because the line will stop running in the Financial District, Civic Center and Chinatown as of Sunday. The M is being re-routed on the V line, which is being axed to help close the M.T.A. budget gap.
Another of the large cuts coming to Lower Manhattan is to the M9, which will no longer stop in Battery Park City, cutting the southern neighborhood from the East Side.
“I’m a big fan of Chinatown,” said Dee Imberg, who takes the bus often to shop for foods she can’t find elsewhere. She sees plenty of senior citizens doing the same thing, but Imberg is less concerned about her shopping opportunities than she is about her daughter and at least dozens of others in B.P.C. whose children will have a longer trip to school.
Imberg’s child is starting at the Manhattan Academy of Technology in September and will have to walk an additional 10 minutes to the new bus stop to get to the Chinatown middle school.
Students at least won’t have to worry about costs as the state Legislature last week did manage to approve enough money to save the MetroCard student discount program. But that’s about all of the help that is coming from the state, which may be able to finally approve a budget by next week, almost three months late.
Albany is really only able to not deal with one crisis at a time. The subway and buses will have to suffer through the “doomsday” cuts.
The governor and Legislature are on safe ground giving short shrift to transportation because straphangers seldom blame them for fare hikes and service cuts. Sure the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is at fault too, but regardless of the authority’s shortcomings, it would be on much sounder financial footing if the state hadn’t repeatedly forced it to take on more debt to keep the trains running. Albany also said no to many billions of dollars in transit money when it dithered twice over the last two years on traffic pricing.
If the state passed the mayor’s congestion pricing plan in 2008, it would have also received $350 million in federal money. Legislators felt it was much more important to let drivers come into Manhattan for free, clog the streets and pollute the air than it was for lower income subway riders to pay for better service.
It was framed as as a choice between drivers paying more or not, but in reality, giving them a free ride amounts to all of us paying for their pollution while losing billions for subways and buses.
Even though most people take mass transit instead of driving, no one suffered at the ballot box because opposition was passionate and support was lukewarm. Many were skeptical whether the transit system would really expand with the new tolls.
The way around that may be to use some of the drivers’ money to reduce fares, as transit advocate Charles Komanoff has argued on these pages. A real, immediate benefit like that might be enough to pressure lawmakers into helping most of their constituents.
Until then, we can all wait longer for buses and squeeze into more crowded trains. Oh, by the way, the M.T.A. said this week it needed to reduce bus service a little more.
Josh Rogers is a contributing editor to Downtown Express and is on Twitter at joshrogersnyc.