Riders say, ‘No fare hike, Bezos can pay!’
The New York Metropolitan Transit Authority is asking riders to pay more for a subway system that has become a daily exercise in frustration, with constant service disruptions, a shocking lack of elevators and harassment of riders of color.
At the same time, the city is rolling out a red carpet worth billions of dollars to lure Amazon to the borough of Queens — so that CEO Jeff Bezos, already the richest person on the planet, can get even richer.
You’d think subway leaders would be embarrassed to raise fares. It was MTA President Andy Byford who boasted to Amazon’s executives this summer that Queens, home to the already overburdened #7 train — whose riders will face even more overcrowding when the L train shuts down in April — was a “transit wonderland.”
Protest at fare hike hearing
That’s why on Nov. 27 people from the disability rights community and supporters protested the fare hike in front of a Manhattan fare hearing. Some had placards reading, “Make Bezos Pay for Accessible Subways!” Afterwards, some rally participants went inside to address the MTA board.
The protest was called by The People’s MTA and Rise & Resist. Six wheelchair users spoke, making it clear that the last thing the MTA should be doing is raising fares when three out of four stations lack elevators, and the elevators that do exist constantly break down. Some protesters held placards reading, “Elevators Are for Everyone,” making the point that accessibility is also needed by older riders, parents with strollers or anyone who can’t navigate stairs.
“Just yesterday, I was traveling from Fulton Street to Union Square,” rally speaker Dustin Jones said. Jones uses a wheelchair and is on the board of the Center for the Independence of the Disabled. “Byford goes on TV and YouTube videos and talks about station agents and station monitors. I took the A train from Fulton Street to 14th Street and 8th Avenue, trying to transfer to the L. There’s no elevators. There’s no signs. There’s no attendant. I looked and looked and looked, and nobody knew where any MTA official was.”
People of color targeted
Rally placards also demanded that riders of color should not have to pay more for racist harassment at the hands of the New York Police Department. The clearly racist pattern of subway summons and arrests for fare evasion — 90 percent of those arrested are Black or Latinx — is about to get worse with the MTA’s new blame-the-poor campaign.
Popping up in the subway are signs that read, “Fare Evasion Will Cost You.” That will likely accompany an increase in collaboration with the NYPD to arrest African-American and Latinx youth.
That is on top of incidents like the one that happened just last month, when an African-American woman at Brooklyn’s Atlantic Terminal was abused and arrested by four cops — not for fare evasion, but for speaking up when she was falsely accused of fare evasion.
That happened within days of a white supremacist assaulting and stabbing Anne Marie Washington. At a demonstration the next week, protesters noted how slowly the NYPD — which was hesitant to call the assault a hate crime and seemed to have no video footage of the incident — moved in contrast to its swift arrests of Black riders.
The pattern of racist profiling will only intensify as the MTA focuses on what it calls “fare-beaters.” Byford’s announcement on Dec. 3 of “fare evasion strike teams” is a signal that the reduction in arrests, won by anti-racist campaigns like Why Accountability and the Coalition to End Broken Windows, was a brief pause in an epidemic of arrests that is sure to spike again.
The response to this by Mary Kaessinger, a wheelchair user and leader of The People’s MTA, was: “Amazon paid no federal taxes in 2017. The biggest fare-beater is Jeff Bezos!”
Wall Street is the real looter
Even in the big business media there is already skepticism about the fare evasion figures claimed in a study by the MTA. “The MTA did not respond to a request asking for a list of the transit agencies used for its comparative analysis and did not provide exact details on which stations and bus routes were surveyed as the basis for the study,” reported the free daily amNewYork. “Having 208,000 daily turnstile jumpers would equate to roughly 18 fare evaders at every subway station each hour.”
In fact, the truly criminal looting of public transportation takes place on Wall Street. That helps explain why MTA heads are compelled to raise fares — whether it’s embarrassing or not. The banks are ordering them to.
Byford is claiming “fare-beaters” cost the transit agency $215 million a year. That number pales in comparison to the debt service owed by the MTA to Wall Street: about $40 billion. If you break that down, the transit authority pays interest at the rate of $83 a second. That adds up to $7.1 million a day, or $2.6 billion a year. (“In the best of times, the worst of rides,” New York Times, Nov. 16, 2017)
Since then, the transit authority’s bond rating has been downgraded twice by Standard & Poor’s for “weaker debt-service coverage” — meaning the banks aren’t satisfied with the huge amount of debt the MTA is already paying.
At the fare hike hearing, protester Taryn Fivek took the microphone to make what she called a “modest proposal to the board.”
“I hear that Jeff Bezos has a lot of money, more than $100 billion. So I thought we could make a giant net and catch him — like a rabbit — and take all his money to fund the MTA.
“If you think this sounds crazy, just think what it sounds like when the MTA is hiking fares while Albany gives Jeff Bezos and Amazon a $1.5 billion handout. When only 20 percent of our subways are accessible. While people are being gentrified out of their neighborhoods. Tell me which sounds crazier.”