Monday, May 18, 2009

Doomsday Canceled

Doomsday they called it. The day the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA), bedeviled by a large budget shortfall due to the recession, was set to impose draconian fare raises and service cuts. Back to the 1970s and 80s, when service was spotty, derailments and breakdowns were the order of the day and riders deserted the system - and the city - in droves. Was there no institutional memory at City Hall and Albany? Albany, because NYCTA had long since been made a subsidiary of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA, no relation to the yeshiva), a state agency, in response to a previous budget crisis. The city, especially working stiffs like us, the majority of New Yorkers who do not own cars, was gripped with a sense of impending woe. The fat-cat bureaucrats, who more likely get to work in chauffeured limousines than on the subway, were determined to seal New York's doom for a generation. Against them were arrayed the poor shnooks: the Working Families Party, the Straphangers Campaign, Transportation Alternatives, and similar ragtag advocacy groups. The odds seemed insurmountable, but we triumphed over insurmountable odds before; was it not the month of Iyar? The Internet is free, and emails soon went out to us ordinary folks with phone numbers to call, addresses for email and snail mail, rallies to attend in New York and Albany. My state senator, Carl Kruger, was among the "Fab Six" who were blocking legislation in Albany that would rescue the MTA. The rescue, as nobody tried to hide, would have been at the expense of automobile drivers. Automobiles carrying only their drivers are the least efficient and most environmentally irresponsible way of commuting to work, and making driving a bit more expensive would accomplish a social good transcending the Robin Hood strategy. But - automobile drivers are more likely than subway commuters to have scads of campaign cash. Carl Kruger is a good senator with a strong record of cutting red tape for ordinary Brooklynites. He is also too smart a man not to know on which side his bread is buttered. There are more public transportation riders than automobile commuters in his district, as there are in the City as a whole. And so it was not without some trepidation that I placed a phone call to his office. I got a staffer, and told her that if doomsday happens because Senator Kruger blocked the relief bill, I would hold him accountable at the polls and so would many like me in the district. I also called the office of Congressman Anthony Wiener, whose staffer tried to cut me off by referring me to the state politicians. I reminded her that the federal government has a bottomless pool of bailout money for banks and bankers, and it was time for them to bail out ordinary people. She promised me to relay my views to Mr. Wiener. I don't know if she ever did, but federal assistance proved unnecessary. At the last minute Albany came through. We had exerted enough pressure on the fat cats to make them see that we may not have loads of money but we do vote, and our votes are not for sale. We are aware, we are involved, and we will not take abuse silently. The bailout provides for a reasonable fare increase that will not take effect until June 28. We are by no means out of the woods; the relief is a two-year stopgap and we still need a "Joseph strategy" to save money in good times for bad. But New York has a shot at remaining the greatest city on earth. And we learned again what one of my teachers at Yeshivah of Flatbush taught us: l'olam lo l'hitya'esh. Never give up. If you give up on something you lose it even if it's found. You can fight City Hall. And you can win.

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