Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Metro Mess

MetroCard Fare Collector
Written by Nicole Richards-Sharpe

Have you noticed the metal metrocard boxes installed on New York City sidewalks lately?  These Sesame Street-colored eyesores are the MTA’s solution to the problem of overcrowded subways, congested streets and slow bus speeds - a direct result of a rapidly-growing city.  Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) or Select bus service tickets are bought at these kiosks which, according to the MTA, will improve the transit’s speed and reliability in the following ways:

  • Frequent service: on high readership BRT corridors buses arrive every five to ten minutes or more frequently.
  • Station spacing: BRT stops are spaced about every half a mile, reducing travel time.
  • Off-board fare payment: riders pay their fares at stations before boarding, reducing stop time.
  • Traffic Signal Priority (TSP): BRT buses receive an extended green at traffic signals.
  • Bus lanes: BRT buses operate in their own bus lane or busway, bypassing congestion.
    I have ridden on four of these buses on the Lexington Avenue line in the Upper East Side of Manhattan and on the Nostrand Avenue line in Brooklyn, New York.  Many problems punch holes in the MTA’s claims for improving bus service. 

  1. Discrimination – The two times I rode the Select Bus in Brooklyn, MTA cops boarded and took their time checking everyone’s tickets to make sure they paid.  In Manhattan, this never occurred. Does “Select” really mean discrimination?  Are the poorer people in South Brooklyn being selected out to make sure that they are not fare beaters, while the more affluent riders in the Upper East Side of Manhattan enjoy a smooth ride without a planned search from the Transit Gestapo?  How is a search by police supposed to help you get to your destination faster?  Is this truly a part of Bus Rapid Transit?
  2. Slower Ride -The second time I rode the B44 bus on Nostrand Avenue, the driver actually crawled, slower than I would if I decided to walk.  Anyway, when I finally got to my destination (which was only one express stop away and took about 13 minutes), I realized the driver did this to meet up with not 1 but 4 Transit police officers.  They boarded the back doors and the front.  I felt like we were under attack.  It was pretty weird.  Although I was walking down the steps of the bus, one officer demanded that I show him my ticket.  I told him I needed to step out in order to find it.  I stepped out onto the sidewalk so I could leave the narrow stairwell of the bus and get some elbow room so I could search for this golden ticket which already skipped its way to the bottom of my woman bag along with some paper clips, crumbs and old bank receipts. When I finally found it, I told him he could keep it, but after examining it, he gave it back to me and said, “You keep it.” What will happen in the winter when snow is piled halfway up these machines and everyone is lined up, shivering in front of them for a chance to get a receipt? The  commute will undoubtedly slow down.
  3. Killing Trees – If you already bought a metrocard in advance as most strap hangers do, be it unlimited or what have you, you will still have to feed it to the magic Select Bus Service, Sesame Street box and get a ticket to show to the Gestapo. “Here. Look. I paid. I really, really paid.” How many trees have died and will die in the future so we could fill our bags with these extra pieces of paper?
    Can we come up with some better ideas for improving the commute in New York City?  I honestly believe that this Select Bus Service/Bus Rapid Transit system has been put in place to crack down on people who ride the bus for free.  Not once does the MTA list this as a reason for this new system but it is there between the lines.  Why aren't the MTA police searching riders in the Upper East Side too?  And if they do, it doesn’t seem as often as in poorer neighborhoods. If the MTA keeps raising the fare and people keep losing their jobs, what do they expect people to do when the money dries up?  Something has to be done about our community which is so lopsided, in favor of the rich. 
    When I was searching for my metrocard receipt, I wondered, ‘What would they do to me if I didn’t have it?’ The MTA website, cited below in the FAQ’s portion, states clearly that the penalty is a fare evasion summons. Now, I have not witnessed this but might it entail having the rider present their ID for the officers?  What if they don’t have an ID on them? Doesn’t this process take time during Bus Rapid Transit?  Will we soon have to wear immovable bar code tattoos to be identified?  This reminds me of the film, In Time, starring Justin Timberlake. A movie depicting a city, just like New York, where Time is Money and Money is Life.  Timberlake’s mother in the film did not have enough time/money for the bus and the driver refused to let her ride.  She died on the sidewalk as a result.  You might see this as a stretch but every oppressive law has a beginning.


Anonymous said...

I didn't even know you could do this - what next??

by Lisa and Nicole said...

That's the question. What's next? This is why we have to nip injustices in the bud before they grow. Write letters, start petitions, protest...