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New Yorkers Should Hike, Not MTA

By Judd B. Kessler

Traveling within the beautiful City of New York is becoming more expensive and more irritating.

On May 4, the city’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) will be raising subway and bus fare from $1.50 to $2. But last Wednesday, New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi charged that MTA officials kept double books in order to justify the hike—raising commuter rail rates by around 25 percent, MTA bridge tolls by 50 cents and bus and subway fares by 33 percent. Hevesi said that $512 million in surplus was moved by MTA into the revenue column of later years. Another audit of NYC Transit found $850 million was mislabeled as operating expenses. These numbers are relatively large compared to MTA’s now quite dubious claim that it is looking at a $1 billion deficit over two years.

With this possibly unnecessary rise in subway and bus rates, many New Yorkers will seek refuge in the city’s yellow taxicabs. And in early February, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg rightly decided to eliminate the voices that urge taxi passengers to buckle up when they get into the cab and take all their possessions when they leave. Despite reminders from such celebrities as Beverly Sills, Chris Rock and Elmo, the number of items left in cabs had not decreased since the voices were added in 1997. And, out of 4,000 surveyed patrons, 12 percent said they were so irritated by the voices that they did not don their seatbelts, specifically because of the request.

Bloomberg’s change would have been great, except that in the meantime, many taxicabs have had television screens with ongoing advertisements installed into their backseats. Since the start of 2003, riders have been subject to these advertisements in hundreds of cabs. While having Isaac Hayes ask me to be concerned with my safety can be considered annoying, it is not nearly as frustrating as being urged to visit a trendy downtown bistro when I’m on my way to the dentist. Mute buttons on the screens can cut the noise, but having cute announcers bouncing around my knees during the ride is not as enjoyable as it might sound.

The MTA must be made safe from dubious bookkeeping—the fare hikes should be postponed until its financial situation is more accurately scrutinized. And Bloomberg should act to keep taxicabs a sacred place, safe from both celebrity voices and television advertisements. But in the meantime, New Yorkers should break-in their walking shoes.

Judd B. Kessler is an editorial chair.

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