NYC Transit Strike: Voting for the Suburbs

Cold New Yorkers think: This is what I pay taxes for? The strike is a sad lesson, both for transit and those who enjoy New York's unique urban lifestyle. It is the lesson of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, writes Wendell Cox.

"It should be clear that this is not a strike against the New York City Transit Authority. It is rather a strike against both the riders and taxpayers of New York City, not to mention taxpayers of the state and nation who provide lavish funding for the system.

...It is similar, with a twist, in New York. Of course, there are many households with insufficient income to have cars and, like in New Orleans, they are dependent upon transit. However, unlike anywhere else in the United States, New York has a large number of households choosing not to have a car even though they can afford it. They enjoy a high-quality urban life, at least in part, because of the service provided by the New York City Transit Authority. But today they, like less affluent transit riders, have been abandoned by a local transit labor movement out of control."

Thanks to wendell cox

Full Story: Stuck by the Strike: Cold New Yorkers Think "This is What I Pay Taxes For?"

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Comments

Irvin Dawid's picture
Correspondent

Comparison of NYC Transit Strike to Hurricane Katrina

"It is the lesson of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, writes Wendell Cox."

I've seen it all, now.
The absurdity of the comparison only dawned upon me when I looked at the NYT photo of a lone pedestrian "enjoying the closure of Fifth Ave. to all but emergency traffic, part of the mayor's plan for coping with a transit strike" 12/21/05.

New Orleans this was not! (The buildings looked just fine!). And this pedestrian was certainly doing better than those driving single-occupant-vehicles who were banned from entering the City.

Unlike a force of nature, this was an illegal attempt by a union to bring a city to its knees. The one redeeming aspect of Cox's column was his educating me on New York's Taylor Law.

Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA
ps: Thank you, Planetizen, for posting "Striking NYC Transit Workers To Go Back To Work" so quickly!

So misguided in so many ways

Mr. Cox only educates you about part of the Taylor Law. Apparently the law also contains a restriction on bringing pension issues to the public employee bargaining table, which is what the MTA was trying to do here, and is what got TWU, Local 100, all upset.

Thus, in lamenting at public servants who break the law, Mr. Cox only places blame on labor, but fails to place due blame on management which, last I checked, was also obligated to serve the public and also which, last I checked, has been an exemplar of corruption, inefficiency, and opacity in its highest ranks.

Continuing with the theme of Mr. Cox's apparent lack of knowledge concerning New York's MTA, a New Yorker upset with the MTA for the strike might choose to vote with his feet and move out the burbs of Long Island, but that won't free him from paying the taxes that support the MTA, because it is a STATE agency. In fact, I point you to this op-ed by former NYC parks commissioner Henry Stern about how much the MTA shortchanges the city, just like our major other public-"benefit" corporation, the bi-state Port Authority, landlord of the fabled Ground Zero, does.
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/20/opinion/20stern.html

In general, Mr. Cox seems quick to turn this strike debacle into another example of how liberalism has had a counterproductive effect on the very cities that it thrives in and claims to champion. Believe me, I have no love lost for Local 100. Though it consists of some very skilled and hard-working mechanics and electricians who work within inches of 900 live volts every night, it also consists of high school graduates who get paid more than the average urban planner to pull a lever and announce a stop.

But Mr. Cox misses the point when he shames the union for fighting to prevent the type of hurt that many red-state manufacturing workers are going through and young adults of all colors will go through soon enough: the threat of losing the safety net you entrusted your employer to guarantee for you in return for years of service, the pension plan.

Pensions are certainly a dying breed, and their increasing rarity and vulnerability have forced many people to turn to defined-contribution plans or to put off worrying about retirement. And of all the entities that cannot now or soon sustain their pension plans, mainly because of their own reckless shortsightedness, I can understand local and state governments' claims about the hurt such plans will put on them. Even I, as a young union member, can understand my city's efforts to curtail its generous pension offerings down the road in order to prevent the crises that GM and the airlines are now experiencing.

Nevertheless, the MTA has gone about addressing its pension troubles in an entirely idiotic way. This is an agency that just used only half of its billion-dollar surplus to pay down its debt and pension obligations, using the other half for dubious holiday fare discounts. It tried addressing an issue (pensions) in an adversarial way when it should have initiated a broader-based, collaborative effort to get the union to go along with its plans before walking with the union to Albany and proposing those plans to the state legislature, which must approve any pension plan changes.

Lastly, Mr. Cox seems to think that the traffic snarls that some New Yorkers were forced to endure when mass transit shut down would disillusion them about the benefits of mass transit and would force them to auto-centric suburbs. But couldn't it also have the opposite effect? Traffic snarls happen in the city strike or no-strike, and they happen in the city and the suburbs. Couldn't the lack of mass transit have made both city-dwellers and suburban communters realize how effective, efficient, and stress-free (on average) a people-mover mass transit can be? You don't have to worry about parking, gas, or accidents; you can get up to an hour's extra sleep on the train; you get to experience the company of other people while listening to your iPod or reading a book; and you contribute to helping the environment a little bit.

Mass transit will never be a self-sustaining venture in the auto-friendly country we live in. Pointing only generally to evidence like the highway spending bills and tax breaks for SUVs, there is little doubt that Americans on average subsidize the motorist WAY more than they do mass-transit riders. In spite of that, mass transit still plays a vital role in our older and newer metro areas, and the fact that one mass transit agency hijacked a union's clumsy leadership into shutting a whole system down should not delude you into believing two points: that mass transit is just a tool of the urban, liberal class, and that there aren't any more labor issues worth fighting for.

Irvin Dawid's picture
Correspondent

They Walked, We Walked: Tales From the Strike (10 Letters)

the 2nd letter down is the best response to "Hurricane TWU", as Cox would call it, and the role of the automobile in urban life - friend, foe, necessity?
Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/21/opinion/l21transit.html?n=
Top%2fOpinion%2fEditorials%20and%20Op%2dEd%2fLetters

"To the Editor:

I walked out into my Upper West Side neighborhood this morning and thought that I was dreaming. Few cars, many cyclists and pedestrians, no horns blaring, clean air for a change. The democratic mix of street users reminded me of European cities I have visited.

It is during extraordinary events like transit strikes or snowstorms that we realize how much the automobile degrades our environment. If we can limit driving during a strike, why not when the subways and buses are running?

Kenneth M. Coughlin
New York, Dec. 20, 2005
The writer is a member of the board of directors, Transportation Alternatives.

Mayor Bloomberg Has Already Answered

The pleasant urban experience Mr Coughlin praises cost the NYC economy $400 million per day according to hizzoner. If Mr Coughlin and his advocacy group can pony up $150 billion or so we can try it for a whole year.

You're missing the point

The lack of mass transit cost the city $400 million per day. Transportation Alternatives is not advocating a reduction in bus and subway service.

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