New York Political Leadership Forces Another Fare Hike

The New York Post editorialized (October 8) against what it called "Another TWU Fare Hike," blaming the union for the fares that will now rise to $2.50 for a ride. The editorial writer goes on to say of MTA chief Jay Walder, "It's not his fault that straphangers get whacked while the MTA's unionized workers -- whose blue collars come with fur trim -- don't have to make a single sacrifice to meet the MTA's shortfall."

In response, I posted the following comment to the New York Post site:

Not his fault? Well, perhaps not personally. But surely it is the responsibility of the MTA and those in Albany who have skewed law labor and regulation to create this untenable situation. It is about time that public officials, such as those who run the MTA, be held account for what they have given away to the unions. The unions could not have taken it without the agreement of the MTA and other local and state political officials.

The way the Post tells it, you might think that the Transport Workers Union (TWU) had engineered a coup and had forcibly taken control of the Metropolitan Transit Authority. It fact, it was all quite legal. Interests such as the TWU have used their political influence to obtain the expensive contracts that place the riders a distant second, after the employees and the taxpayers an even more distant third. The MTA was not compelled to sign overly expensive labor contracts. Albany was not compelled to insulate transit unions from the economic reality faced by everyone else, including private sector union members. Washington was not compelled to give transit labor unions job protections that would be the envy of European public sector unions. These protections are a considerable factor in driving expenditures up 100% (inflation adjusted) over the past 25 years, while ridership has risen only 40%. The appointed and elected representatives did so willingly, and to the detriment of the people, whom they were supposed to represent.

The Post rightly complains about this, but places the blame in the wrong place. If the MTA, state and federal officials who have so skewed transit economics in favor of unions, had instead served the riders and taxpayers first, then New York and the nation would have much more transit services, its fares would be lower and there would be much more ridership.

The Post also errs in saying "Only in New York could such a perverse equation come to be." In fact, the situation is no different in most metropolitan areas of the nation. Transit agencies have routinely avoided efficiency measures that would have increased transit ridership and reduced costs (such as competitive contracting or competitive tendering of services), raised fares and cut services.

As the process has unfolded over decades, the TWU and other local transit unions simply responded to the incentives that were established by the elected and appointed officials. This has contributed, along with extravagant and in rail transit expansions, to rendering transit financially unsustainable. The problem is that the public interest in transit has been hijacked by special interests.

A more appropriate headline for the editorial would have been "New York Political Leadership Forces Another Fare Hike."