Today the Times published a good article by Kimberly Matus telling the story of how she was groped on a crowded subway train. In that particular case there were undercover police officers who noticed her facial expression and arrested her attacker, but the experience was upsetting nonetheless.
What I found striking is how limited Matus's choices were in the whole situation. As she wrote, "I tried to evade him but couldn’t move an inch in any direction." What a horrible feeling. Even when I was a young man I never had an experience like that, but what little hassle I've had is bad enough. I've been yelled at, pushed, and even sent flying into another passenger by some prejudiced jerk. And that's not counting the normal crush conditions, sermons and bad music.
After this incident, Matus recognized that her only choice was simply not to participate. She says she told her husband that "I wasn't planning on taking the subway anymore, at least during peak hours." I've done the same thing. I choose hours that give me a more comfortable commute. I also live a bit further out and take jobs even further in Queens. Of course I'm fortunate that we have these options. There are many New Yorkers, especially in this economy, who consider themselves lucky to have a job at all, and if that job means they squeeze onto a number 2 train at 8:15, that's what they do. And whatever happens, they put up with it.
Matus also has a couple of alternatives. She could ride a bike, which means dealing with a lot of the same jerks, but instead of squeezing on the train in sweat pants they're in control of deadly machines (barely in control). She could take the M57 bus to the Q60, but that would take a long time, and many of those buses get packed too. Since she works for her family's taxi business, maybe they just send a taxi to pick her up. (But I do appreciate the irony of even a taxi family seeing the value in traveling by subway.) That would cost her family money, just as it costs me money to take lower paying positions to avoid the Manhattan rush hour.
What I would like, and I bet Matus would like it too, is another option. An option where we get a seat, but we don't have to pay for a whole taxi for ourselves. I'm willing to pay more for a slower ride, if I knew I would be a little more comfortable.
What I'm talking about is the Death Valley of Commute Options. You're sick of squeezing into the subway, and you might be willing to pay more for a more comfortable ride. But you can't afford to buy and keep a car (assuming you even want to put people's lives at risk and heat up the planet). So you're stuck on the IRT with the sexual predators.
I'll talk about some solutions in a future post.