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Trainspotter

Restoring Trust in Mass Transit

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The City

Restoring Trust in Mass Transit

August 12, 2007

NEW YORK TIMES

 

Residents, commuters and visitors showed a tremendous amount of grace and forbearance last week when torrential rains closed much of the subway system. Despite uncomfortable heat and humidity, they piled into overburdened buses and found other ways to cope. Now that everyone has had a chance to cool off, officials need to work overtime to regain the public’s confidence in mass transit.

 

That’s especially critical now. The federal Department of Transportation is expected to announce this week whether New York will get necessary funding to relieve traffic congestion. For months, the Bloomberg administration has been selling the benefits — including cleaner air and less gridlock — of charging a fee to use the city’s busiest streets. But if people are to be persuaded to forget the car and use mass transportation, they’ll need more than the financial disincentive of the proposed $8 fee for cars.

 

At the very least, commuters will need to believe that there will be adequate numbers of express bus and ferry routes that do not now exist, and that subways will be dependable. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs mass transit, will also need to do a better job communicating with the public. Of all the indignities suffered last week, among the worst was feeling that no one cared enough to keep riders informed. It’s past time to move the system into the 21st century, to figure out ways to send text messages to people who sign up for such a service, and to borrow ideas from other systems like the Paris Metro — which is just about as old as the New York system, but offers riders electronic signage on platforms that informs them precisely when the next train will arrive. Parisians are thus disinclined to mob trains, knowing another is just behind.

 

If Washington comes through, state and city elected leaders, including Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, will begin assembling a commission to come up with a plan that relieves gridlock. The inclination will be to load up the panel with the usual suspects. We hope they fight that urge, and include independent voices who can speak for New Yorkers who want a daily commute they can count on and timely information when things go wrong.

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