Even though it started with a shutdown of service, Hurricane Sandy has probably engendered more love for the MTA then the transit agency has seen at least since the 1960s, before the system went to seed. The subway may well be enjoying more praise than ever in its 108-year history. Unless you live in North Brooklyn, restoration of the transit system came about remarkably fast in a city that had been devastated in every corner. The patience, and the appreciation, has been remarkable for an agency rarely accustomed to either.
But the love-in may well end tonight. That is when the MTA is due to hold its first hearing on the looming fare hikes for all corners of the mass transit system—not just those MetroCards, but also fares on the commuter rail lines and tolls on the bridges and (still flooded) tunnels. The meeting will be held in Brooklyn, at the Marriott at 333 Adams Street starting at 5 p.m. Doors are at 4 p.m., for those who want to get there early to sign up and speak. Another meeting was scheduled for Farmingdale, out on Long Island, but it has been canceled because, you know, they’re still without power.
It will be curious to see how the public reacts at tonight’s hearing. No doubt there will be praise heaped on the agency for its response to the storm, though also probably a bit of frustration, particularly from those North Brooklynites. But hey, at least the G train is running again, so they can get to the meeting.
One thing the hurricane will not do is help tamp down the hikes. This was a thought that had crossed our mind—the storm has shown the importance of mass transit, so maybe it could be used to draw political support to the cause, get Albany to come up with some sort of alternative funding stream for the MTA.
During an interview for our oral history of the storm response, we asked Mr. Lhota whether there was any way he thought that might happen.
“I don’t think that this staves off the fare hike that we’re going to have public hearings on relatively soon, but I do think it positions the MTA—it provides the MTA with more credibility of how important it is,” Mr. Lhota said. “Not only do I have to make this place efficient, I’ve got to tell the world it’s efficient. There are elected officials who don’t run against their real opponent, they run against the MTA. Not all but some, and those some are quite vocal.
Mr. Lhota said that he has to combat those attitudes, and that the storm, in an ironic way, made that a little easier. “I don’t want to make it easy for people to pick on the MTA, I want us to provide the best possible service we possibly can, and I want to be able to prove to everyone how important we are for the economy, because it’s the economy. We’re not the goose that laid the golden egg, we’re like the wing of the goose that laid the golden egg. We get everybody there so they can go to work.”
Indeed, as we saw last week, no MTA, no work, or at least one hell of a traffic jam. If anything, tonight might make us pine for the days right after the storm, when the buses were free.
At least fares will not rise even higher because of the storm. A reporter put the question to Gov. Cuomo last week, and he said he would see to it that the MTA was made whole by FEMA or insurers, whatever it took. Given all the damage to the system, it seems a legitimate concern that somehow fares might suddenly jump to $3 a pop after all this mayhem.