There isn't much room left in New York City. It is no longer a metropolis (from the Greek for "crowded")--it is the center of a megalopolis (from the Greek mega, "impossibly over-crowded"). Traffic conditions are partially responsible for the city's slow death by strangulation, and in recent weeks, people who have been saying so all along have been heartened by the intelligence and energy of the City's new Traffic Commissioner, Henry A. Barnes.
But this good news has been pushed off the front page by the saga of Harry Weinberg, new president of the Fifth Avenue Coach Lines, and his one-man war against traffic sanity in New York. Weinberg, who took over the line several months ago from a management that confessed to its own incompetence, has proved an impossible man to deal with. His intransigence has resulted in the present strike of the Transit Workers against his line, and a new political struggle over the line's future between Mayor Wagner and Albany Republicans.
The problems which Weinberg's cabal was called in to solve affect every aspect of New York's present crisis. For a really adequate system of public transportation is the only alternative to increased private traffic on the city's streets. And, as Paul Goodman in a recent book of Utopian Proposals suggested, any final solution of the transportation problem must strictly limit--if not eliminate--the use of private automobiles, at least during certain hours.
An adequate system will involve a far-reaching reorganization of the City's transportation network, ultimately including take-over of the West chester and Lower Connecticut branches of the New Haven and perhaps the Long Island Railroad. The question of rates and fares will be a vexing one, but its introduction into the present controversy is a little misleading. For the real issue here is not a possible fare-rise; New Yorkers would grumble and pay, if they got in return a comfortable ride and a better-ordered city. What is at stake in the Weinberg-Wagner donnybrook is the City's right to secure those two desiderata for its citizens, if necessary at a loss.
No one who has either studied the problem or ever tried to get cross-town takes issue with this view--no one, that is, except Mr. Weinberg. After taking charge, he not only requested a price hike (from the present 15 cents to 20 cents); he called for a drastic cut-back in personnel, and suggested sharply reduced service (nothing after 11 p.m., little on Sunday). In protest against the dismissal of twenty-nine employees (which it interpreted as the beginning of a real purge), the TWU struck Mr. Weinberg, and the Mayor demanded fast action by the State on legislation enabling him to take over the line for reassignment.
There is no end in sight for the strike: Mr. Weinberg is not any more agreeable at the bargaining table than anywhere else. But the "go-slow" stand Governor Rockefeller and State Senate leader Walter J. Mahoney (R.) have taken on the legislation Mayor Wagner has requested can and should be rapidly reversed. Yet the pontifical Mr. Mahoney stated yesterday, "I will not be a party to any hastily contrived and poorly disguised effort by Mayor Wagner to sacrifice the passengers and the employees of the Fifth Avenue Coach Lines in preparation for a 20-cent fare on all the subway and bus lines operating in New York."
Mr. Mahoney's solicitude for the welfare of New York's citizens comes late, and is woefully misplaced. He has no record as a champion of the city's rights, which he has long helped bury in the dung-heap of rhetoric and red-tape which is Albany. In the present case, he has misjudged the Mayor. For the Mayor has recently learned at great expense the responsibilities of a real politician, and is not likely to support a fare-rise, even if he is worked on by whatever survives of "the boys" after last November's election.
But Mr. Weinberg has no real support even among these men; he offends everyone he talks to. In any event, the fare-rise is not the crucial problem, as noted. So Mr. Mahoney, with a crudity no one outside Albany could possibly imitate, is simply trying to make political hay out of the discomfiture of about one million New Yorkers. One hopes, after Tammany's defeat, that the Mayor will prove able to foster that political renaissance the city so desperately needs; but it will not be matched upstate for a while. The present struggle will be just another chapter in the long history of New York state's troubled "town-gown" relationships.
Big things were expected of Governor Rockefeller when he was elected. He has his problems, and he hasn't been able to produce all one hoped for. But he ought now to step on Mr. Mahoney and give Mayor Wagner the power to take the Line away from Weinberg. For Weinberg's history in other cities where he has taken power does not suggest a happy future for New York's bus lines: in Dallas, for example, he carried through the measures he has so far only threatened for New York. The results have not been good. In New York they would be little short of catastrophic. New York has no room--or time--for the likes of Mr. Weinberg.