This morning before rush hour, teams of activists, many from Occupy Wall Street, in conjunction with rank and file workers from the Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the Amalgamated Transit Union, opened up more than 20 stations across the city for free entry. As of 10:30 AM, the majority remain open. No property was damaged. Teams have chained open service gates and taped up turnstiles in a coordinated response to escalating service cuts, fare hikes, racist policing, assaults on transit workers’ working conditions and livelihoods — and the profiteering of the super-rich by way of a system they’ve rigged in their favor.
For the last several years, riders of public transit have been under attack. The cost of our Metrocards has been increasing, while train and bus service has been steadily reduced. Budget cuts have precipitated station closings and staff/safety reductions. Police routinely single out young black and Latino men for searches at the turnstile. Layoffs and attrition means cutting staff levels to the bare minimum, reducing services for seniors and disabled riders. At the same time, MTA workers have been laid off and have had their benefits drastically reduced. Contract negotiations are completely stalled.
Working people of all occupations, colors and backgrounds are expected to sacrifice to cover the budget cut by paying more for less service. But here’s the real cause of the problem: the rich are massively profiting from our transit system. Despite the fact that buses and subways are supposed to be a public service, the government and the MTA have turned the system backwards—into a virtual ATM for the super-rich. Instead of using our tax money to properly fund transit, Albany and City Hall have intentionally starved transit of public funds for over twenty years; the MTA must resort to bonds (loans from Wall Street) to pay for projects and costs. The MTA is legally required to funnel tax dollars and fares away from transportation costs and towards interest on these bonds, called "debt service." This means Wall Street bondholders receive a huge share of what we put into the system through the Metrocards we buy and the taxes we pay: more than $2 billion a year goes to debt service, and this number is expected to rise every year. If trends continue, by 2018 more than one out of every five dollars of MTA revenue will head to a banker’s pockets.
This much is clear: the MTA’s priorities are all out of whack. This fare strike is a means for workers and riders to fight for shared interests together — but this is just a first step. All of us — the 99% — have an interest in full-service public transportation system that treats its ridership and employees with dignity.
From Gothamist, posted March 28, photo by Natasha Lennard