Once, many years ago, the New York City subways and buses were under City Hall's direct control. Forty years ago, Mayor John Lindsay and Gov. Nelson Rockefeller created the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to run the city's transit system and New York's commuter railroads. Political observers saw it as a move to deflect the blame for transportation woes from the elected leaders of the state and city.
To a large extent it has worked. The MTA has become the target for the things that New Yorkers don't like about their transportation system. And it's the MTA that will bear the immediate blame for what has just happened, a revelation by the MTA that it will raise fares and cut service -- again.
Trains will become more crowded, as fewer trains are run. A couple of lines will be cut completely. In short, even as the fares are raised again, conditions for the poor straphangers aboard trains and buses will get worse.
In the latest episode of a never-ending game of passing the buck, the MTA is appealing again for help from the guys who appoint most of the voting members, the governor and the mayor. If the state or city grants additional subsidy to the MTA, the money will be coming out of the pockets of the taxpayers, the very subway and bus riders threatened with higher fares. So who's kidding whom?
In every decade governors and mayors have been relieved to have the MTA wearing a big target on its back -- to receive the slings and arrows of outraged customers.
We have a magnificent subway system. Somehow, despite a lack of funds, it has run efficiently, the lifeblood of the world's greatest city. That's a tribute, most of all, to the men and women who have manned the trains and buses and kept them in repair.
It's sad that, at a time of economic crisis, the people who ride the subways and buses will be asked to assume a greater burden. There is more talk of putting tolls on the East River bridges and higher taxes.
“I'm not afraid of reasonable, responsible tax policy, plain and simple. I think that both the residents and the businesses of the city of New York, understanding the significance of mass transit in the city, would be understanding of some revenue raises to continue affordable mass transit,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said.
Probably a tax increase would spare the poorest of us from the burden of a higher fare.
"Neither the city nor the state has any money," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "There's not enough money to go around and we're going to have to work together."
Gov. David Paterson said he's waiting for the recommendations of a commission headed by Richard Ravitch, expected early next month.
New Yorkers are waiting, too. Through the financial storms of other years and good times too, the city has survived and grown. We are a gritty lot and that may be our greatest asset.