A Letter to the New President of the MTA

8 Oct

Dear Carmen Bianco,

Hello, sir, how are you? As the newly appointed president of the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority, I must say I have a few bones to pick with you.  I understand that your appointment is, officially at least, very new, occurring only on the 18th of September of this year.  However, after doing a small bit of research I found that you have actually been the acting president since this past April and, perhaps even more damning, you served as the Senior Vice President of the Department of Subways, overseeing the entire subway system since 2010.  My gripes, therefore, land squarely in your backyard.

I suppose I would like to start by disputing your predecessor Thomas F. Pendergast’s recent statement that you are an “advocate for the customer.”  How many times in my life have I heard different permutations of the idea that those in power should lead through action?  Too many to count, I suppose.  And yet your words, at least in my years of experience of utilizing the New York City public transportation system, the largest mass transit system in North America, have not been sufficiently proven through the actions of the MTA.  I don’t feel that, on a regular basis, you are much of an advocate for the customer at all.

Let’s talk about the monthly pass, shall we?  When I first moved here to New York City in June of 2005, the monthly pass cost $76, an increase of $6 from the price that had been most recently set in 2003.  I remember that, making barista wages, I balked at the price, and considered the option of walking everywhere.  But then my friend said to me that the investment was worth it.  That deciding not to purchase the card might make me less likely to try and experience all the things the city had to offer.  I took her advice and and never looked back.  As time has gone on, however, I have seen the price of the monthly pass rise again and again, to $81 in 2008, $103 in 2009, finally landing at the $112 that we New Yorkers pay today.  With a single ride costing $2.50, straphangers have to swipe their cards 45 times in 30 days to make it worthwhile.  For me, the cost just is not worth it.  But that isn’t even what I am here to write about.  What I am here to write about is that while the price of a ride has increased, the service we New Yorkers are provided seems to have gone downhill.  Let me give you a recent example.

I work on the weekends.  I understand that, percentage wise, more people work on weekdays than on the weekends and so if you are going to schedule your work during daylight hours, the weekends are simply a better option.  But sometimes I feel as though there is an MTA-wide campaign against getting me to work in a reasonable amount of time.  About a week ago, the F train that I waited 10 minutes for stopped at the Carroll stop due to a switch malfunction.  I sat in the train car for 10 minutes before I decided to give up and hoof it to work.  This past Sunday, I walked to my F/G stop to find, after I had already swiped my not unlimited card through the machine, that neither the F nor the G were stopping at my stop, and that I would have to take the train one stop in the other direction, transfer to a Manhattan/Queens bound train and get to work that way.  I bounded up the stairs to find the doors of the G train slamming shut in my face.  Normally I would have begrudgingly taken the R train but, wouldn’t you know it, the R was running express from Dekalb Avenue to lower Manhattan, effectively bypassing the stop I required to get to work on time.  I was already running behind, angry and sweating.  I called a cab.  Which, when added to the unused $2.50 swipe and the tip for the driver, ended up costing me $12.50.  I feel as though the MTA should be required to reimburse me that amount since you made it impossible for me to get to work in a timely fashion.  This is not the first time this has happened and I fear it is not even close to being the last.

Oh, and while I am at it, I have a few more gripes.  About a month ago I went to my subway stop, again en route to work, and put $10 on my card.  The machine did not give me a receipt.  When I then proceeded to swipe my card at the turnstile is said I had insufficient funds.  Due to the financial cutbacks of recent years, there is no subway attendant at that entrance.  I was forced to cross 4th Avenue to find the remaining attendant at the other entrance, and attempt to explain to him how the MTA machine had just stolen $10 from me.  He swiped my card and told me I had insufficient funds and asked for my receipt.  I told him the machine I used had refused to give me one.  He told me my card has insufficient funds.  This conversation went around in circles for about 5 minutes before he finally relented and allowed me to pass through the turnstile without paying.  It sort of added insult to injury because for years I have kind of felt as though the MTA has been stealing money from me, and then on that particular day it actually stole money from me.

Just to be clear, I want my $10 back and I also want more subway attendants at the entrances.  As a women who often rides the subway home alone at night, the presence of cameras at the subway stops does not make me feel safe.  Few if any of the remaining platform telephones work, leaving someone very few options if something bad is to befall her.

I get it, things cost money.  And I understand that you are trying to expand the subway system.  But why are you expanding the system when you can’t even seem to stay on top of the lines that are already in existence?  Some of the train cars, specifically the ones that stop in lower income areas, could use replacement before you go making some fancy-pants 2nd Avenue line.  And while I am at it, what took so damn long with the Smith and 9th Street station?

And in summation, I know that I am not an economics savant but an average of 7.5 million people ride the subway, bus, paratransit* and Staten Island Railway every day.  At $2.50 a swipe that’s a lot of coin. I understand that the MTA has some budgetary problems, that it is a huge system, that I don’t understand all the ins and outs.  And to be honest, although I would love it if the fares didn’t keep going up, I don’t really know enough about the specific financial situation to make a clear cut and well-argued point.  But what I would really appreciate is that if I am forced to continually pay more and more, that I pay more and more for the same or preferably better service.  It should not take me the better part of an hour to get from my house to work, a distance of less than 3 miles.

Thank you for reading and also, for saving those kittens.


Rebekah, Frankly.

*Just for the record, our transit system is not terribly kind to the disabled.  I am an able-bodied person and I find a lot of the stairways rather treacherous.  Just saying.

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