Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The MTA should be dismantled....

... not because they do their job so badly, but because they do it so well.

The MTA is unelected, but that does not mean they're not accountable to anyone. If you doubt that, just look at what happened last year. We had a new Governor, and the old Chair and ED of the MTA stepped down, to be replaced by new Spitzer appointees. Just like a government agency.

How would the MTA be different if it were the New York State Department of Metropolitan Transportation ("for a city of over one million people"), a regular old department appointed by the Governor? First of all, the MTA board would probably not exist, meaning a lot less formal influence for real estate executives.

Most importantly, of course, everyone would see that it was the Governor choosing whether to raise fares or cut bus service, and that it was the Legislature (more precisely, the "three men in a room") choosing whether to adequately fund transit or not. The Post and Channel 5 wouldn't be able to muckfake by stirring up dirt on the MTA execs without implicating the Governor - who in turn would probably string them up for making a big deal out of nothing. And people like this numbskull might actually have a clue where to direct their anger.

Oh yeah, there's something about bonds, but can we just put that to rest? The standards for municipal and state bond issuance are there for a reason: public funds are at stake. Allowing an "authority" to pretend to be a private corporation when it's still public funds at stake is at best an unjustified gamble, and at worst a disgusting swindle.

Finally, there's the often-told story about how the city was politically unable to raise fares from the initial 1904 nickel fare, with the exception of a deal that Mayor Bill O'Dwyer made in 1948 with his friend, TWU leader Mike Quill, to raise it to a dime. The nickel fare bankrupted the privately-owned IRT and BMT, and many have implied that the city - and in particular Mayor "Red Mike" Hylan - deliberately kept the fare low out of malice.

Once the NYCTA was formed in 1953, they were able to raise it to fifteen cents, and then thirty. The TA was taken over by the state-run MTA in 1968, and was able to boost the fare to thirty cents in 1970, and then in fairly regular increments up to the present day, through a charade known as the "token dance," where the Governor and the Mayor put on a sad face and talk about how if it were only up to them we'd ride the subway for free, with complimentary back massages, and then sternly admonish the MTA for all its waste, fraud and abuse.

Overall I've been impressed with Governor Paterson so far. If he forgoes the token dance this round, but instead stands up and says that it's his decision and the fare needs to go up, I'll personally campaign in a big way for his election to a full term. If he shows still more courage and gets his former colleagues in the Legislature to do the right thing and shift the subsidies from cars to transit, I'd say he's qualified to be the 45th President of the U.S.

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