"Personal Responsibility Underground"

The New York subway is (slowly) decentralizing and The New York Times editorial board is *gasp* in favor of a potential new system where "subway managers will compete to see which line is cleanest, most efficient and all-round best":

Over the last few decades New York City’s huge subway has become too centralized into a “large, unwieldy system.” The management is one big stovepipe — that is, everybody works for a few people at the top. For example, one person is now in charge of all 468 subway stations across the entire New York City area. So, when it takes more than two years for workers to mend a leak that creates dangerous, icy steps, nobody really gets blamed for it. If it works right,... subway riders will soon have a real live person to blame.

More on the New York subway here.

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  • ||

    Normally accountability goes hand in hand with responsibility. I can't wait for that to occur in NY subway management.

    Just kidding, we all know better than that.

  • ||

    "For example, one person is now in charge of all 468 subway stations across the entire New York City area. So, when it takes more than two years for workers to mend a leak that creates dangerous, icy steps, nobody really gets blamed for it."

    How about blaming one person in charge? When many people are in charge of something, such that no one can really be held responsible, the usual solution is to put one person in charge. How is that logic getting reversed here?

  • Anon||

    Lawsuits, lawsuits, lawsuits. Only way to hold them accountable.

  • VM||

    Jsub and Adam - for years, we've had something like that operating on some hill in Washington... and so it goes.

  • SxCx||

    Open question:

    Can libertarians maintain an affection for public transit?

    Follow-up:

    Could roads and highways be considered public transit, for all intents and purposes?

  • Shannon Love||

    The devils in the details.

    How exactlydo commuters "decide" which line is the best run? Will the people held responsible for the running each line actually have the spending authority to make the decisions needed?

    Frankly, hybrid free-market/command systems scare me. The command attributes tend to feedback into the free-market components causing a runaway loop. (California's electricity "deregulation" comes immediately to mind.) I think that they often work worse than systems that are either fish or fowl.

    Free-market competitive systems work because they integrate all the information and incentives needed to make good decisions, provide the resources necessary to implement those decisions and then objective test that possess. I am dubious that such a system can be duplicated in the New York subway.

    On the other hand, no sense in refusing to experiment.

  • LarryA||

    Normally accountability goes hand in hand with responsibility. I can't wait for that to occur in NY subway management.

    Or the NY Times.

  • Shannon Love||

    SxCx,

    Could roads and highways be considered public transit, for all intents and purposes?

    Like most things its a matter of scale. The degree of state decision-making is way, way,way,way lower in a road system than in a mass transit system.

    Think of it this way: If every government official/employee dropped dead tomorrow, the road system would still work for months or years. Under the same conditions, the mass transit system would fail instantly.

    The major complaint against mass transit is that it requires constant, minute decision making on the part of the government. Everything, not just construction and maintenance, happens on the governments schedule and at the governments discretion.

    A socialize road system isn't an ideal solution but it is orders of magnitude better than socialize mass transit.

  • ||

    It still amazes me that, in an extremely densely city of 8 million, these idiots still can't turn a profit. If theres any place mass transit should be profitable, it should be New York.

  • SxCx||

    Shannon:

    Thanks for the prompt response.

    I ask because I sometimes find myself feeling cozy about my city's transit system (Toronto - namely its subways and streetcars), while acknowledging the entire structure is riddled with problems and exponential overhead costs.

    I'm basically wondering out loud if enjoying a subway ride is libertarian or not.

  • SxCx||

    And thanks for distinguishing between roads and subways, that's the hunch I was getting.

  • ||

    I'm basically wondering out loud if enjoying a subway ride is libertarian or not.

    To use public transit is to accept the socialist premise that transport is a public good. So the answer is NO. Libertarians cannot ride public transport with a clear conscience. You can only enjoy driving on privately funded toll roads.

  • Shannon Love||

    Cesar,

    If theres any place mass transit should be profitable, it should be New York.

    It was profitable back when they built the first subways. Then some mayor decided to subsidize the price of each ride to prevent fares from rising and its been downhill ever since.

  • ||

    It was profitable back when they built the first subways. Then some mayor decided to subsidize the price of each ride to prevent fares from rising and its been downhill ever since.

    That makes sense. Take out price signals and watch profitability go down the toilet.

    Which idiot mayor decided to do that?

  • SxCx||

    To use public transit is to accept the socialist premise that transport is a public good. So the answer is NO. Libertarians cannot ride public transport with a clear conscience. You can only enjoy driving on privately funded toll roads.

    Believe me, most of the trips to my across-town job are mired in guilt and self-loathing. I usually just keep my eyes closed to better ignore the fact that I'm in the belly of a living metaphor for taxpayer rape.

  • SxCx||

    Wait, you're telling me NYC fares haven't steadily risen beyond inflation over the years? Here in Toronto we see a fare hike every eight months or so.

  • ||

    How about blaming one person in charge?

    Because having one person responsible for every single thing means the other kajillion can sit back and say "not my responsibility."

    Because as a practical matter, the one guy at the top is only really responsible for global performance. He can't even know what the condition of any given set of steps is, nor should he waste him time trying to find out, so it makes no sense to hold him responsible.

  • ||

    I'm basically wondering out loud if enjoying a subway ride is libertarian or not.

    Nah, you paid for it, enjoy it if you can. I've taken Amtrak on occasion and enjoyed it. Trains are a fine way to travel. Standard libertarian disclainer #2 (X should be provided by the market, not government) goes here.

  • VM||

    "To use public transit is to accept the socialist premise that transport is a public good."

    Public Good:
    Nonexclusive and nonrival good. (over certain ranges) the marginal cost of provision to an additional consumer is zero and people cannot be excluded from consuming it.

    public transportation, roads, etc. appear to be, within certain ranges, public goods.

  • ||

    Illiterate joe

    I didn't realize that caves had internet service, 'cause that's where you must be living if you don't use the services of any government controlled public good.

    There simply is no way to be "pure" the way thinks are presently arranged.

  • ||

    It was profitable back when they built the first subways.



    Actually, the city of New York has always been hopelessly intertwined in all NY's infrastrucure, whether public or private, from subways to skyscrapers.

    The Brookly bridge was theoretically built by a consortium of private investors but when you look at it more closely you see a byzantine arrangement that involved politicians from both the city (NYC and Brooklyn - pre merge) and state governments. And, needless to say, of course, glorious opportunities for graft and corruption.

  • SxCx||

    Doesn't profitability hinge on the notion that it's a service the community can "afford" to lose?

    Ex. If the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) was judged to be "not profitable" (true) and closed up like a hot dog stand, the city's economy would crumble, as evidenced by the tumult from the few wildcat strikes we've suffered through over the years.

    I understand the plea for profitability, but find myself wondering if it could ever meet that goal, and if the community should even reasonably care? (meaning waste reduction, efficiency should be the goal, not necessarily much more beyond breaking even)

  • ||

    This is a modification of management technique, not any sea change in philosophy.

    With something like the MTA, you can either organize by functional type (operations, logistics, personnel, etc) or by functional unit (like a franchise). Most large orgs, especially with distributed outputs, have some combo of both.

    It looks like the MTA is shifting some stuff towards the latter, and in general this is a good idea. 'Empowering' the local manager and giving him discretion, responsiblity, and accountablity generally improves that unit's 'deliverables.' (like the type of authority the CO of an afloat naval unit has) But, without a proper framework, you get petty tyrany. And trying to slide too much work down the chain of command can cause you to lose economies of scale and interoperability; forex, if everyone is tasked to come up with their own IT scheme.

  • GILMORE||

    Shannon Love | December 7, 2007, 2:38pm | #
    Cesar,

    It was profitable back when they built the first subways. Then some mayor decided to subsidize the price of each ride to prevent fares from rising and its been downhill ever since.


    Not true

    http://www.mta.info/mta/centennial.htm

    Decline = The Depression brought bankruptcy to the private subway companies. By 1940 New York City had taken over the IRT and BMT and become owner-operator of all the subway and elevated lines. But it too was unable to maintain the system. For the 42 years since the first subway opened in 1904 the fare had remained a nickel, and the nickel fare was inadequate for maintaining trains, stations, equipment, and aging infrastructure. Now ridership was declining: after World War II, enormous sums of money were poured into highways rather than mass transit. Customers moved to the suburbs, service began to falter, and more customers left.

    really, this is good news...the breakup that is. Most of you who have theoretical opinions about the good or bad of public transit in NY can kiss my ass until you've lived here for 10 years. Seriously. Your opinions are noted, and noted as irrelevant. The subway sucks, the MTA sucks, but attempting to fix it (somehow) might help improve life for the people who live here.

    as an aside, last night an L train froze up at 1rst avenue, brooklyn bound, and tied up the whole system about an hour. (the L is a loop with just 1 line each way) it sucked balls. There was no coordination explaining to the 1000s of passengers heading home what the fuck was going on. At one point they told people to take busses...then 3 mins later, they got the line cleared. a painful fucking joke.

  • ||

    I'm basically wondering out loud if enjoying a subway ride is libertarian or not.

    SxCx-
    A link for you to enjoy.

  • SxCx||

    I was in Manhattan in February, and while the 1/2/3 trains were pretty efficient, the one bus I rode from the Upper East to the Upper West Side was laughably slow. It stopped at nearly every block and took nearly three minutes to load in and out. Walking seemed much more reasonable.

  • SxCx||

    Kenny:

    That's one of my favourites. Thanks for reminding me.

  • Shannon Love||

    Cesar,

    Perhaps website explains why private companies voluntarily chose to keep the fare price at a nickel?

    For 42, freaking years?

    Sounds unlikely to say the least. A better explanation is that the state mandated the nickel fare and then began to subsidize the private lines in compensation. However, they did not provide enough subsidy and the private companies went out of business and the government stepped in to rescue the people of New York from the "failure" of the "free-market."

    Seriously. Your opinions are noted, and noted as irrelevant.

    Most of us here have a lot of experience with many, many types of organizations and systems which we can bring to bear on the question of how the New York subway is run. Asserting that only people who ride it understand it is like saying that the best judge is the bum who ride 6 hours a day to stay out of the rain.

    Come to think of it, he might have a better perspective than most of the managers.

  • SxCx||

  • ||

    If the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission)...



    Is that what it stands for? I thought it stood for Take The Car (as in - if you want to get where you're going).

    Actually until sometimes in the 60s orearly seventies the TTC was supposed to be a "self-sustaing" public authority, ie it was not supposed to receive a public subsidy.

    The Progressive Conservative (god, how I love that) changed all that by ramping up all kinds of public expenditures (Provincial money to the Separate - ie Catholic - schools eg) around that time. It was quite a sight when the floodgates opened.

  • ||

    I'm basically wondering out loud if enjoying a subway ride is libertarian or not.

    "Enjoying" a subway ride seems like an unlikely outcome. But, hey, you're paying for a service -- your desire for that service to be privately provided shouldn't preclude you from using it, otherwise you wind up living off the grid in some unpopulated wasteland to minimize government involvement. Voting for a politician who enthusiastically wants to expand the reach of public services, not so libertarian.

  • SxCx||

    Damn, I wasn't around for any of that.

    I'd agree with the car thing, except with rush hour, especially in the downtown core. I'd much rather be compressed into a subway car than traverse Bloor in a car at 4pm.

    The bus service, on the other hand, is completely indefensible.

  • SxCx||


    "Enjoying" a subway ride seems like an unlikely outcome. But, hey, you're paying for a service -- your desire for that service to be privately provided shouldn't preclude you from using it, otherwise you wind up living off the grid in some unpopulated wasteland to minimize government involvement. Voting for a politician who enthusiastically wants to expand the reach of public services, not so libertarian.


    When I say enjoying, I'm mainly talking about the perks of being chauffeured to your destination. I know many libertarians consider the car to be the ultimate embodiment of self-determination, but in dense or hectic scenarios, I'd much rather kick back with a book and forget about it.

  • ||

    They are spending a lot of money on upgrades. Station renovations, new electronic message boards and they a have added many, many, many new surveillance cameras and equipment to switch and monitor those cameras.

    They keep cutting service too. It wait longer for a train at 11 PM now, than I did at 4 Am in the early 90s.

  • subway rider||

    A few years ago, certainly less than 10, every two or three subway stations on the 1 line all had a manager. This person would occasionally greet the commuters in the morning with a cheery hello, and were supposed to make sure the stations were clean. I guess that program quietly ended.

    I don't see how this initive will do any better than that one.

    (rant)
    I think it's initives like that which makes the subway uneconomical. Supposedly 3 million people ride to subway to and from work. That's 6 millions rides at $2 a pop. Even if equipment and power cost 6 million a day, the additional 6 million would pay the 10,000 workers $600 per day. How can they be broke?
    (/rant)

  • ||

    SxCx

    I would love to live in a building within walking distance of any subway station in Toronto. I wonder how much that would cost now.

    And work in another. I believe that you would the be within a gopher ride of just about anything you needed.

    The busses do indeed suck. Especially in winter. The Red Rocket* was always cool though.

    They probably don't call the streetcars that any more. I don't think they're painted red now are they?

  • GILMORE||

    Shannon Love | December 7, 2007, 3:08pm | #

    Perhaps website explains why private companies voluntarily chose to keep the fare price at a nickel?

    For 42, freaking years?


    Actually there was a perfectly good reason - it subsidized the expansion of working class poor to move out to the boroughs, and provided them an economical way for them to commute to/from the small factory type operations that filled manhattan 1890-1930+. It contributed to the massive expansion of the city, the creation of 'greater new york', and helped turn lower manhattan from a lower-class slum to the center of the economic world. the return in tax reciepts during the first 40 years vastly compensated for the system up until the depression. Then they went broke.

    There's tons of stuff on this out there... do some freaking reading already. You have repeatedly come on this board and said stupid, uninformed things about NYC and its getting tiresome to have to set you straight.

  • Reilly||

    Good god, privatize it already. I lived a year in Hiroshima, a city probably 8 times smaller than NYC and privatized transit worked extremely well. There's no way that private transit couldn't be profitable in NYC.

    By the way, it's nice to see a thread that hasn't entirely devolved into the typical car-loving transit-hating that seems so prevalent around here.

  • ||

    Link to the MTA budget from their webpage.

    http://www.mta.nyc.ny.us/mta/budget/

  • GILMORE||

    FWIW - I consider the MTA scum on a level that makes international terrorists seem like UNICEF. The mafia is cuddly by comparison. They have been extorting money from NY'rs for decades, and dont even have the decency to take out the fucking trash. Once this year i saw 2 MTA 'platform guys' (what else do you call them when all they do is wander around and wave to drivers when the doors are clear) grabassing, while right next to them there was a pile of human poop in the middle of the floor. I pointed it out to them and asked if they'd do something about that. They explained that "maintenance" comes at night.

    I was prepared to kill them both. I would dance with joy if they privatized the motherfucker, but the chances of that in this city are a billion to one. At least make it harder for them to be so goddamn disgustingly corrupt and ineffective. Just SLIGHTLY less corrupt and ineffective is a step in the right direction.

  • ||

    In the Philly suburbs, fares were remarkably stable from 1905 to 1935. The Public Utility Commission kept them down by denying fare increases, and traffic kept increasing. Eventually, however, traffic went down and the trolley lines resorted to one man operation to keep fares down. They prospered during WWII, then traffic fell. Union wage demands went up faster than the PUC would allow fares to go up.
    But the killer was the high property taxes imposed by every township the car lines ran through. Some taxes on stations were higher than the value of the fares lifted at those stations! So the government ended up running the transit systems and the townships get nothing now.

  • ||

    "I would love to live in a building within walking distance of any subway station in Toronto. I wonder how much that would cost now. And work in another. I believe that you would the be within a gopher ride of just about anything you needed."

    I live in Toronto, about 150 yards from a subway station at Yonge & Wellesley. I also live about 750 yards from my office, so I actually walk to work every day.

    Rent here is way cheaper than New York. My 800 sqft 1 bedroom 2 bath hi-rise apartment costs me $1600/month and includes a parking space. Can't imagine what that would cost in Manhattan.

    I was seriously considering moving to NYC, until I saw what it would do to my disposable income.

    And yes... the Red Rockets are still red.

  • ||

    Gilmore-

    My sister has lived in Manhattan for six years and she seems to like the Subway well enough. Of course she commutes entirely within the confines of Manhattan, and only gets off the island to occasionally see her husband's in-laws on Long Island. So, maybe the system is good in Manhattan and shit in the boroughs?

  • GILMORE||

    Cesar | December 7, 2007, 6:31pm | #
    Gilmore-

    My sister has lived in Manhattan for six years and she seems to like the Subway well enough. Of course she commutes entirely within the confines of Manhattan, and only gets off the island to occasionally see her husband's in-laws on Long Island. So, maybe the system is good in Manhattan and shit in the boroughs?


    Har har.

    No, its shit all round. Minor disturbances screw things up royally at times. Some stations on the island are still constantly filthy. Some have been on the mend for a decade (e.g. Canal st - used to be a scary dungeon, now looks better but still smells), some get more attention than others (e.g. if you live on the upper east/west side and commute only to midtown, then you might never complain too much)... but overall, the system is a slightly-improved version of the nightmare you could see in the 70s in movies like 'the Warriors'. few lines have any reporting on when the next train is coming - only short lines like the L have a sign that says, 'next train = 4 mins eastbound'... most others, you can stand there for 10-15 mins and wonder whats going on. They still are horrible about reporting changes to schedules due to trackwork or emergencies or whatever. There are leaflets posted on walls the same day the systems change, often. Very helpful when you have a meeting, head out, then see that the train is running one-way that day. It can be maddening at times. Then there are the employees, who are the TWA people who basically can't be fired even if they arent needed. Go to a token booth and ask them what they actually do. They sit in the booth all day. They are useless as far as security, maintenance, information, or even helpful tips on how to navigate the routes based on current conditions. My perspective is also partly based on working 1/3 of last 8 years in London, where (even though everyone there bitches about the system) they at least are a) clean, b) tell you when the train is coming, and c) are staffed by pretty responsible professionals rather than non-responsive welfare careerists who could care less about the riders.

    Really, to have any perspective on the whole thing, you need to ride the system for 10yrs all around the city. The disparities across regions and neighborhoods is striking. A lot of manhattanites are 'job' people. Meaning, they come to the island, spend 5 years at a gig, rarely traveling far from home or work, and get a limited impression of what the broader life is like. If you were born in the city, lived through the 80s and 90s, and have ranged from cony island to the cloisters, yankee stadium to jamaica queens, you get more insight into how neglected the whole infrastructure is. I think 2 years ago a substation on the A train exploded, and the story revealed the equipment hadnt been replaced since 1930s. Thats really what the deal is. When you look at that, and then the gaargantuan budget of the MTA system, it boggles the mind where all this money goes. It certainly isnt planning for the future, or aiming to improve conditions beyond some cosmetic repair of aged stations that sometimes are barely usable.

    An example = one morning, I came into the station, and there was a horrible odor. around the middle of the platform, a pipe had burst, and was basically dripping someones septic system into the station. Liquid shit was running down the walls. It was like something out of a David Lynch movie.

    They didnt get around to adressing the problem for 3 days. Why? They claimed they didnt KNOW. No one in the station figured it was worth mentioning up the ladder. I dont think any of the booth people cared. They dont go down on the platform for any reason. Thats 'maintenance'. Maintenance are the guys who take out the trash. Did maintenance tell anyone that shit was running down the walls? No. They only take out the trash.

    The TWU/MTA basically are an organization totally unresponsive to the needs or concerns of their riders. They only negotiate with the mayor and the governor. Riders have 0 recourse to the system basically. thats more the problem than whether or not some stations are up to snuff and others are not

  • SxCx||

    Signs that tell you when the next train is coming? Sounds classy. In redneck Toronto, we just edge the platform and stare down the tunnel.

  • SxCx||

    I'll say one good thing about the TTC: our monthy Metropasses are thick and sturdy, could be mistaken for a credit card in a blind pocket rifling. I remember being frustrated by NYC's flimsy cardstock that was too impotent to swipe properly.

    That, and being unreadable around 50% of the time.

  • ||

    Gilmore--

    I'll make sure to relay this to my sister. Shes a n old-school liberal and gushes about how great the public transit system in New York is. (IIRC she takes the "green" line primarily, numbers 7,8,9 I believe).

  • ||

    Russ R

    Holy crap!

    Yonge & Wellesley....$1600/month



    You're making me homesick!

    Actually my Bro-in-law did a whole number a few years back on me about how much money I could make in TO. Somehow I still prefer the Florida sunshine.

    Now if it was still like it was forty years ago when there were gunshops on Yonge St between College and Bloor I'd think about it. :)

  • ||

    I'm glad to hear the streetcars are still the rocket though.

    Is the subway still the "gopher"?

  • SxCx||

    I personally have never referred to the subway as a gopher, or the streetcars as the rocket. But maybe I'm just unimaginative.

    And man, I've having a hard time validating $1600 as much of a bargain, considering I pay half that for a 1-bedroom in the west end that's 30 seconds from a subway station.

    But I know NYC eclipses all of this...

  • SxCx||

    No gunshops on Yonge between College and Bloor, just tacky tourist stores and other urban blight. Sadly, probably one of the first things visitors check out.

    "Wow, the famous Yonge street. Hey look, a toy beaver than farts out the national anthem!"

  • GILMORE||

    Cesar | December 7, 2007, 8:39pm | #
    Gilmore--

    I'll make sure to relay this to my sister. Shes a n old-school liberal and gushes about how great the public transit system in New York is. (IIRC she takes the "green" line primarily, numbers 7,8,9 I believe).


    You mean the 4/5/6

    Its great if you ride it back and forth to 2 points every day during rush hour more or less. I rocked that line for 5 years and enjoyed the quick transit from home to work and back. Once i passed out on the 4 (or the 5 i forget) and ended up in bowling green... had to walk home miles during early morning through "bad" neighborhoods. Luckily even thugs sleep. But there were times like 96 when it rained so hard that the lines flooded and there was chaos in the system. Or smoke in the tunnels. (trash fires) I once shook rudy's hand outside of the 86th street station when he was doing a reelection campaign and had got there at 6AM for TV shots meeting commuters. Its nice if thats your world. but thats like 1/20th of the whole subway world, and its the most financed (more or less - competing with the A/C/E) because of the affluence of the ridership. I didnt really start complaining until the post 9/11 crapola strikes and slowdowns and general shithole management of what is a major element of most people's lives here.

  • GILMORE||

    AS a final caveat -

    i love living without needing a car (although i have one), and love the subway system overall. My frustration is borne of watching a citywide system fail to keep up with the pace of economic growth of the city through the 80s and 90s...and basically remain a 'cash cow' for a public authority that milks the public for $$ and then goes as far as to strike during christmas, killing billions of dollars for working people, retail business, restaurants, etc. they (MTA/TWU) lost whatever respect they might have had from many people because of their crass extortion, and continued mismanagement. I happen to be an anti-MTA fanatic. Many people dont think about it much because they dont have any frame of reference. But an asset this important should be handled with far better resourse allocation...other cities can do it, there's no reason we cant be best in class either

  • GILMORE||

    SxCx | December 7, 2007, 8:20pm | #
    Signs that tell you when the next train is coming? Sounds classy. In redneck Toronto, we just edge the platform and stare down the tunnel.


    Thats the M.O. in 99% of NYC as well. I was just contrasting the london vs NYC systems... the L line (which I ride every day) is the first test case of this kind of info management thing in NY.

  • Ayn Rand||

    Hah! Some libertarians you lot are, talking about taking the subway. I remember in my day I used to drive my F-150 pickup on the Manhattan sidewalks and run over abandoned puppies! That's how real individualists roll!

  • SxCx||

    Gilmore, thanks for all this. I really dug NYC when I was there, but it's cool to hear about the city's less obvious problems from a long-time resident.

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