Earlier this year, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority deeply reduced transit service, including eliminating several useful bus routes across Brooklyn. The agency’s reaction was, basically, “Tough luck, commuters.”
To its credit, the city tried to find a way to bridge the chasm between poor MTA service and New Yorkers’ sometimes unreasonable expectations. The plan called for van operators to service the killed bus lines, making continuous loops and charging $2 per ride — a privately run shuttle service, if you will.
Our initial coverage of this proposal exposed its inherent flaws: van operators are not required to stay on the routes, are not required to pay their drivers respectable wages, are not required to provide any base level of service and, indeed, not even required to keep a set schedule.
As a result of these predictable deficiencies, van operator Sulaiman Haqq, whose Brooklyn Van Lines “won” the right to service the former B71 route between Columbia Street and Crown Heights, now says he’s “bleeding money” on the pilot program — and is calling for a city mass-transit subsidy to keep his business afloat.
It’s hard not to be sympathetic to hard-working guys like Haqq, who wants to do what capitalists have done for generations: provide a service and make a profit from it.
But Haqq quickly discovered what we have been saying all along: mass transit is not capitalism.
For any public transportation system to work, it needs to be subsidized properly. And this is where government has consistently failed us.
Whatever the MTA’s flaws, its inability to provide sufficient transit service is mostly a function of gutless Albany legislators with skewed or parochial priorities that siphon away mass-transit funding into pet projects or upstate boondoggles.
New York City transit riders pay a much higher portion of the operating expenses of their public transportation system than do riders elsewhere — and it’s because our lawmakers lack the courage to fight for transit funding formulas.
But rather than bail out guys like Sulaiman Haqq — who, frankly, is in over his head — taxpayers need to demand that legislators make mass transit a bona fide priority, not a hollow campaign talking point.
We live in a day when the airwaves are filled with anti-government bile that suggests that less government is the answer to all our problems.
But we believe otherwise; government-provided services — parks, roads, schools, libraries — enrich our lives every day.
The challenge is for voters to demand more services, not less — and for lawmakers to do their job and provide them rather than hide under a right-wing rhetorical rock.