Almost every subway line in the city shut down, millions of commuters stranded, several hundred subway passengers evacuated and nonexistent communication—in a word, chaos. The culprit was not a citywide blackout or an act of terrorism but rather a medium-sized rain storm.
What happened on Aug. 8—a complete breakdown of New York’s mass transit system because of a brief weather event—was absurd, and made it clear that we can no longer rely on infrastructure that dates back to the early years of the past century. It also poses a challenge to Governor Eliot Spitzer and Metropolitan Transportation Authority chief Elliot Sander, to see if they have the determination to provide real solutions rather than excuses.
Mr. Sander made a poor showing of it last week, when he tried to claim that the crisis occurred because, well, the storm hadn’t been in the weather forecast. He also raised the notion that global warming was the real culprit: “We may be dealing with meteorological conditions that are unprecedented,” he said. The problem wasn’t the rain; it was the response.
A world-class city should not be brought to its knees by a vigorous downpour. Especially because the very same thing happened as recently as 2004, when a similar rainstorm halted the subways and spread confusion underground. A recent report on the M.T.A. and its subsidiary New York City Transit Authority’s actions during the 2004 fiasco concluded that they had been negligent in basic track maintenance, and incompetent when it came to responding in an efficient and timely manner and communicating with riders. Three years later, nothing has changed.
It’s no secret that the M.T.A. needs cash, and a lot of it, to upgrade its infrastructure. Fare hikes are a necessary piece of the puzzle. This week the Federal Transportation Department announced that New York will be awarded $354 million of financing for a traffic congestion pricing plan. As Mayor Michael Bloomberg has argued, congestion pricing would not only ease gridlock but also raise hundreds of millions of dollars for the mass transit upgrades that are so sorely needed. But that federal money won’t arrive unless state lawmakers change their tune and vote for the plan. Let’s hope this time Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver rallies his members to support congestion pricing, rather than allow the city to get soaked.