Last Call on Commuter Trains?


Egged on by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority is thinking about banning alcohol from commuter trains on the Metro-North and Long Island railroads. "Times have changed and drunk driving is a major concern," says MTA board member Mitch Pally. "People get off the railroad and they get into cars," says  Deena Cohen, president of MADD's Long Island chapter. "Somebody is going to get killed."

People also get off airplanes and get into cars, attend sporting events and get into cars, go to rock concerts and get into cars, eat at restaurants and get into cars, and leave bars and get into cars. As a result, somebody is going to get killed. Does that mean alcohol should be banned from all of these places as well? The relevant question, it seems to me, is whether people can drink on trains and planes, at ball games and concerts, and in bars and restaurants without driving home dangerously intoxicated. Plainly, they can, either by watching how much they drink or by hitching a ride with someone else. Surely it is possible to have a beer during an hour-long commute without endangering other people, even if you do drive home once you reach your destination. So Pally and Cohen's argument amounts to saying that no one should be allowed to drink on commuter trains because some people will abuse the privilege.

It's not hard to predict the unintended consequences of an alcohol ban. Some commuters will decide to drink before boardng the train and may end up consuming more than they otherwise would to make sure they have a nice buzz on the ride home, the upshot being that they are more intoxicated when they arrive than they used to be. Others may decide to drink in the city and drive home instead of taking the train. Somebody is going to get killed.

Notice, too, the evidence used to demonstrate the need for alcohol-free trains:

Pally's proposal follows a recent spate of accidents in which commuters have fallen through the gaps between the platforms and trains. In the most notorious case, a Minnesota teen was killed in August when she fell through a gap on the Long Island Rail Road on her way to a concert. Her blood-alcohol level was 0.23 percent nearly three times the legal driving limit.

I thought we were worried about intoxicated drivers. And what the hell does a drunk teenager have to do with alcohol sales to adults in train stations? 

Since my commute consists of walking down the hall from my bedroom to my office, I frankly don't care all that much about alcohol on trains. But I do fly from time to time, and I can see where this is heading. One day the Mitch Pallys and Deena Cohens of the world will try to take my airborne, five-dollar gin and tonic away from me on the grounds that I might not be perfectly sober when I land at my destination and that I might be driving home instead of taking a cab. Somebody is going to get killed.