Long Island’s commuters have all been through it. The fares go up and the service gets worse. Disruptions come when you can least handle them. When your train arrives, you can’t find a seat. Or, if you can sit down, your shoes stick to the floor because the car hasn’t been cleaned in days. You wonder how much more of this you can take. The answer? Get used to it.
Our mass transit system is running out of time and money.
The signs of the coming calamity are everywhere you look. About a month ago, weekend riders of the Long Island Rail Road had to endure the worst planned service delays in almost 20 years just so a new computerized signal and switching system in Jamaica could replace the one from 1913 that caught fire this summer. That’s right, we’re relying on equipment nearly a century old. The service upgrade, part of a $56-million project, was planned; the blaze in August and the resulting week-long service interruptions was not. But it came very close to shutting down the largest commuter rail system in the nation, which transports more than 82 million people a year on 275,000 train rides.
Passengers on the Nassau County’s Long Island Bus, which carries 100,000 riders a day, are caught on a collision course between the county government and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The MTA complains that it’s been giving Nassau a free ride for a decade and can’t afford to subsidize the service anymore. The two sides are millions of dollars apart, because the MTA is coping with the largest debt in its history ($28 billion) and the county is fighting desperately to close its budget gap and avoid any further lowering of its bond rating.
But without new revenue, taking our trains and buses will become a real drag.
“The professional class of Long Island has kind of had it,” says Maureen Michaels, head of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council, a citizens’ advocacy group set up by the MTA under a state statute to be an independent monitor.
“It’s not worth it anymore. My family has been on Long Island for over a hundred years. Every single member is contemplating: ‘How soon can I get the hell out of here?’ I’ve been commuting since 1982 and the service is the worst I’ve ever seen it.”
The MTA’s unhealthy condition affects commuters on both the LIRR and Long Island Bus. But the bus riders are also at the mercy of Nassau County’s feverish budget politics.