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US mass transit cuts leave passengers stranded

Big wheels unmoved.

US mass transit cuts leave passengers strandedby Tom Robbins

May 11, 2010: Mass transit is democracy on wheels. It is the great equalizer that lets lawyers and waitresses, messengers and professors enjoy equal-opportunity jostling aboard buses, subways, and trains. It is the backbone of every great American city, the lifeline upon which jobs, commerce, and education all depend. It is the surest antidote to global warming, a long-term remedy for that sinister oil gusher now fouling the Gulf Coast. And right now - just when we need it the most - mass transit is taking a nationwide pounding the likes of which has not been seen in a generation.

Already this year, San Francisco has cut its service by 10 percent; Chicago by 18 percent; Atlanta sliced 30 percent of its buses and trains; Detroit slashed almost a third of its entire system. Here in New York, we are losing two entire subway lines and a couple dozen bus routes. Some 1,300 station agents and cleaners are due to be laid off. They are even giving pink slips to bus stops these days: Last week, bright pink signs appeared along many city streets. "This is no longer a bus stop," they read. Buried in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's service reductions is a change to what is called "Maximum Loading Guidelines". This is transit-speak for the number of riders that can be squeezed aboard trains.

The guidelines are being hiked from 100 percent of a "fully seated load" to 125 percent during off-peak hours. Translation? Fewer trains, with some 10 to 18 more people standing in each car, are coming your way. The MTA's $800 million deficit has met with helpless shrugs in both Albany and City Hall this year. Mayor Bloomberg, who once cast his congestion pricing plan as a moral crusade on behalf of children strangled by asthma, has said only that we are lucky the transit cuts aren't worse than they are. More than a half-million city schoolchildren are looking at the loss of transit fare subsidies. This rates more shrugs of the "What do you want from me?" variety.

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Posted: May 13, 2010

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