The New York City transit fare went up a full 10 percent on March 22, the fifth hike in eight years. This is just the latest installment in an endless story of rising fares, rents and other costs, coupled with widespread service cuts. Such is life in the center of world capitalism, a city that promises so much to so many but delivers so little to most.
Like sadistic sports spectators, the ruling class (whose members do not ride the subways) sit on high and watch the rest of us negotiate their obstacle course. We struggle to stretch a dollar to pay more for public transit on top of everything else, while squeezing for a square foot of standing room on an overcrowded train or bus.
It is hard to bump into anyone on a bus or subway who is not raging against the transit bosses, the Metropolitan Transit Authority. The single fare rose from $2.50 to $2.75 per ride. That affects the poorest riders the most, those who pay day by day. If you can afford weekly and monthly cards you got a smaller hike, 3 or 4 percent. Suburban rail fares, lke bridge and tunnel tolls for drivers, also rose 3 to 4 percent.
To add insult to injury, the City Comptroller’s office recently released a report pointing out that New Yorkers face more work-related traveling time than residents of any other major U.S. city, taking into account both hours at work and commuting time. The average weekly commuting time for a five-day-a-week worker in New York is over 6 hours, compared to under 5 hours for most other cities. (Chicago averages 5.25 hours, Philadelphia 5.01.) Major factors are the distances and public transit’s rush-hour delays.
Despite the widespread hatred of the hikes, there was no significant resistance. This is because union bureaucrats, Democratic Party politicians and other “progressive” leaders saw no need to mobilize their constituents. The silence around this measure was deafening. Even the leaders of TWU Local 100 (subway and bus workers) didn’t bother with their usual rhetorical denunciation.
There will be opportunities for resistance down the road. The MTA promises a new fare hike every two years. And it probably won’t be that long before a new struggle against police brutality breaks out. Police brutality and fare hikes most impact the same people: workers and poor people of color. Had the bosses dared to raise the fare during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement in New York last summer and fall, that might have sparked an even bigger fightback.
The MTA’s justification for fare hikes is that they need more funds for operations and improvements. This is hard for many to swallow, given the widely reported boom in ridership (confirmed by overcrowding), the previous hikes and the lack of visible improvements. A factor the authorities do not publicize is that much MTA funding comes from offering bonds to banks and investment firms. Thus Wall Street gets guaranteed interest payments and profits off the fare hikes imposed on working people.
The financing of public transport in New York City is a lesson in how capitalism operates – through exploitation of the working class in general and oppression of the poorest in particular. Working people will have to reject the ever-greater sacrifices that the crisis-ridden capitalist system demands. That is key to opening the road to powerful struggle. The only real and lasting alternative requires rejecting both the Democratic and Republican parties and building a revolutionary workers’ party, the leadership we need to fight the attacks raining down today – and to convince more and more people of the need for working-class socialist revolution to overturn the capitalist system.