If I Were Driving This Train: One N Rider’s Platform for Fixing the M.T.A.

Revamp funding, crank the A.C. and harvest some oysters, stat

The next thing on my platform would be ways to humanize the average commute, turning it away from the sort of shaking, silent anger on the typical F or L train platform to something speedier and as close to serene as a New Yorker could hope. There are ways.

One such way was associated with Mr. Walder’s time in London: the oyster card. Virtually everlasting smartcards that riders wave in front of readers (and the readers read the microchip inside, see?), using oyster cards instead of Metro Cards could drastically reduce boarding times, not to mention cut down on those Metro Card hustles.

And as for boarding times, the M.T.A., under my watch, would enforce the proper boarding and exiting of trains and especially of buses. No more discreet announcements at a bus door’s opening about exiting through the rear. Drivers would be empowered to physically enforce such exiting on all able-bodied New Yorkers over the age of reason (7 or so, depending on P.S. district). Same for spreading out on the platform—the city is dense enough—and for not clustering in ingresses and egresses.

Also, it is time for New York to join the nation’s capital in enforcing cleaner subway platforms through fines and a whistleblower program that puts our ballyhooed Silicon Alley to work for good instead of evil (imagine Foursquare loosed: “I’m at Bedford L stop, watching some dude in a Decemberists tour shirt toss copy of Mother Jones into tracks”), much in the same way that the same lampooned, lamented M.T.A. of today helped clean up the actual subway cars in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is possible, as doable as scrubbing graffiti from the old BMT line.

Once we have the lines up and running, I would move to incentivize use of the nicer areas of the subway and the nicer parts of the trains. Amtrak has its regional and then its Acela. Why not, for a little more, Subway Premium? A quiet car? Something!

And, in closing, why not air-conditioning (remember: we work out the funding structure and increase revenue, we have more money to play with for things that now seem insane); or above-ground Metro Card machines; or having all stations rigged with those clocks that tell you when the trains are coming (or not coming); or a direct rail-link to J.F.K. and La Guardia (the A and the M60 racket just doesn’t work and tosses more cash to the carbon-coughing cabbies)?

If some of this seems implausible, even fantastical, the ramblings of a rider with too many N trips from southern Brooklyn to central Manhattan under his belt of late, know this: Dear reader, he consulted Smart People who know transit in this town, including people on the committee just announced by the governor to advise him in filling the important patronage job of M.T.A. chief (indeed, Mr. Walder was the first transportation professional ever in the role—though, as we discussed at the outset, that’s not necessarily an asset). Every one of these ideas (except maybe Subway Premium) is being or has been discussed by those who might effect real change.

Or we could just abolish it. Trash the whole thing and revert to the Robert Moses days when individual entities like the subway lines and the L.I.R.R. were just that—individual entities, chugging along under different purviews, often at cross-purposes.

Sound radical? A bit meshuganah even? The M.T.A. today is bad, yes; and exhibits so little promise of improving in our grandchildren’s lifetimes. But, believe it or not, here was Governor Cuomo defending abolishment: “It is the simplest notion in the world. All you need is a few lines and a bill to get rid of the authority.”

Mario Cuomo would defend that position repeatedly in his 1982 re-election campaign run by son Andrew (the above came from a New York Times transcript of a Democratic primary debate Mr. Cuomo had against Ed Koch in September of that year). It never happened. The M.T.A. and the Cuomos are still with us. Maybe one can finally fix the other (Mario Cuomo did not respond to a request for comment. Perhaps he’s thought about the M.T.A. enough for one lifetime).

Anyway, I’m standing by, awaiting the call. I live in Brooklyn, five minutes from the N. I might even waive the $350,000 salary.

tacitelli@observer.com :: Follow on Twitter @tacitelli


If I Were Driving This Train: One N Rider’s Platform for Fixing the M.T.A.