On Oct. 15, New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority announced the fourth round of fare hikes in four years. During that time the MTA has also been on a cutback frenzy. Dozens of station booths have been demolished. The transit agency has made it harder for people with disabilities to qualify for Access-A-Ride.
Charged with running public transportation, the bank-owned MTA has become a poster child for how drastically capitalism is unable to provide people with the most basic services.
One of the things making a fightback campaign on this issue difficult is that after four years, the fare hikes and cuts seem inevitable, an impression the MTA and its allies in the New York media are only too happy to promote.
At fare hike public hearings in 2009, politicians lined up to take the microphone and denounce the hardship that increased fares would impose on people.
At the last round of fare hike public hearings in late 2010, the politicians were gone. And while this gave activists and transit workers the ability to dominate the hearings, the fare hikes and cuts went through anyway.
Fightback campaign exposes MTA’s racist politics
However, a fightback campaign against the MTA has already begun — against the racist ads targeting Muslim people that the MTA ran on behalf of arch-racist Pamela Geller.
The deliberateness with which the MTA promoted war and racism highlights how thoroughly public transportation has been hijacked by the 1%. And it obliterates its spokespeople’s protestations that their “hands were tied” by a court decision ordering the ads to be run.
That order gave the MTA board 30 days to do two things: one, review its “appellate options,” meaning decide whether it would appeal the ruling; and two, revise its own guidelines governing noncommercial, that is, political ads. The board of bankers and real estate players refused to do both. The MTA’s hands were not “tied” but “sat on.”
Thus the ads went up in the New York subway system on Sept. 24, during the second week the U.N. was in session and at the height of the media hysteria against Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York. The placement of the ads begat another media flurry in which the racist language of the ads was repeated over and over.
By the end of that week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held up a cartoon of a ticking Iranian bomb before the U.N. General Assembly.
The MTA board’s complicity in the pro-war, anti-Muslim media campaign was then underscored by the new steps it adopted for future noncommercial ads. At its Sept. 27 board meeting, the board adopted new guidelines which would “untie” the MTA’s hands in prohibiting speech.
But the new guidelines did not prohibit speech of the Geller variety on the basis of being racist and/or offensive. The new guidelines prohibited ads that “would imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace.”
In other words, in the wake of the rebellions against U.S. embassies sparked by the crude anti-Muslim YouTube trailer, the MTA used, as the basis for future prohibitions, the media’s racist caricature of the Muslim community as volatile.
The MTA has long played a role in the bogus “war on terror,” as SWAT teams armed with submachine guns and accompanied by attack dogs regularly patrol the subway. Since 2001, the New York Police Department, recently joined by the airline industry’s Transportation Security Administration, has conducted racist-profiling spot checks of people’s bags and backpacks.
And when the anti-war International Action Center recently attempted to buy ad space for anti-war messages of solidarity, the MTA reneged on the agreement it made, pushing back the date several times and insisting on ridiculously large disclaimers. The MTA’s stance could not be more consciously political.
Make banks pay for public transportation
Another factor helping the new struggle against fare hikes could be the new subway station the MTA opened at Barclays Center, Brooklyn’s new basketball arena. After closing stations all over New York, somehow a new $76 million station was opened by what the media refer to as the “cash-strapped MTA.”
This shows the domination of the MTA by the banks. The new stadium is named after the scandal-ridden Barclays Bank, which financed it through Forest City Ratner Companies, run by real estate developer Bruce Ratner, who razed people’s homes so he could build 16 skyscrapers.
If Barclays can finance a new station, Wells Fargo can finance a reduction in fares. Citibank can finance the expansion of services for the disabled, and Chase Manhattan Bank can finance the rebuilding of station booths.
As the Republic Windows and Doors workers did in 2008 — when they got Bank of America, the true power behind their bosses, to cough up the cash they were owed — New York riders can demand that the banks, the true power behind the MTA, pay to rebuild public transportation. The MTA is not “cash-strapped.” The money is there.