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Congestion by Default: New York's Haphazard Transit System

from the magazine

Congestion by Default: New York's Haphazard Transit System

How the city could make it easier, and more pleasant, to get around Spring 1992

Dick Netzer is a professor of economics and public administration at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Administration.

Aaron Wildavsky once summed up New York’s transportation situation in a single pithy remark: “The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway,” he exclaimed, “is un-American.”

Wildavsky was talking about a limited-access highway that has been built and rebuilt to engineering standards far below those used for nearly all expressways in the rest of the country. The BQE has too few lanes, dangerous and traffic- obstructing entrance and exit ramps, and no shoulders. Moreover, it is indifferently maintained so that, within months, newly rebuilt sections as well as the old ones are pocked with potholes, and refuse is everywhere. The smallest mishap can cause spectacular jams at any time of day.

The BQE is a good example of all that is wrong with transportation in New York. Of course there is much that is right with it. In some ways, compared with other American cities, New York City’s transportation network is unparalleled, particularly in the breadth of its public transit system. Unlike a good many other American cities, New York has a dense network of for-hire passenger transportation services, such as buses, subways, and taxis. It also has the customary grid of limited-access highways. Nearly everyone can travel from any point within the city to any other point swiftly enough to hold down a job, keep health care appointments, get to school, and conduct other personal business. The prices of for-hire services are on a par with those for comparable services in other American cities, lower than in London and higher than in Paris. It costs somewhat more to own or use a car here than in the rest of the U.S., but not startlingly more.

What is different about transportation in New York is the low quality of most services. Other American cities have transportation problems, especially road congestion in outlying sections, but few others have what often amounts to a Third World transportation system. The technical standards for much of New York’s current system were “best practice” fifty or more years ago. Management and maintenance have been poor for many years. Meanwhile, the demands on the system have increased, despite a stable population and slow economic growth. The result is services that are slow even when things do not go wrong, unreliable because things so frequently do go wrong, crowded, and (especially in public transit) uncomfortable, unattractive, and frightening for many citizens.

The system fulfills many of its purposes, as long as those purposes are stated in the most stark, purely functional terms (although for business users even this is often not the case). Nevertheless it makes New Yorkers miserable. When New Yorkers talk about the stresses of life here and wish they could be elsewhere, as often as not they are thinking about the IRT, the BQE, and the like.

Why is the gap between what the system offers its users and what they want from it so great? For the average citizen, the system’s biggest problem has been its low aspirations. For decades, it was an article of faith among New York City transportation planners that as long as the system delivers large numbers of people safely to their destinations, comfort, convenience, and speed do not matter. As late as 1965, the New York City Transit Authority was still ordering new buses without air conditioning. Until the 1980s, the TA insisted that retrofitting old subway cars with air conditioning was technically impossible. When it was suggested (back in 1965) that it would therefore make sense to try to cool stations (imitating the London Underground, which for decades had been using exhaust fans to stabilize the temperature of the deeper stations), officials treated the suggestion as a crank proposal.

It was not always so. When first built, the New York City subway system was the largest, most ambitious system in America. The region’s limited-access highways were also among the first in the nation, and in their day, the great East River crossings were monuments to high aspiration. The original builders of the subway did not willfully slight passenger comfort by failing to install air conditioning; there was not yet such a thing as air conditioning. But over time the city’s public facilities have not kept up with the aspirations or the numbers of New Yorkers. The problem is partly fiscal, but also seems to be partly psychological. We were the pioneers in so much that now we not only have the practical disadvantage of having in place expensive systems that do not meet today’s standards, but also often seem unwilling to learn from the experiences of other cities.

Paris’s subway system, like New York’s, is old. Yet it looks much newer and brighter. Why? Has Paris embarked on a fantastically expensive station-rebuilding program? Guess again: The secret is paint—tough, bright, light-colored enamel paint on the same dreary, gum-smeared concrete floors that make the New York system look so hopelessly old, dirty, and disordered. Parisians chew gum, too, but they paint right over it. And while the New York system paints the roofs over the tracks in dark colors, Paris paints and repaints in bright white, and bounces light off the ceiling to make stations look alive and well-cared-for. It’s not hard to do, but you have to update your aspirations and decide it needs doing.

In recent years, the TA has begun to make progress. The subways are more reliable, faster, and more presentable. In 1981, the mean distance traveled by subway trains between breakdowns was so low that most subway commuters could expect to be on a train that had to be removed from service at least once a month, and to be delayed by other broken-down trains at least once a week. By 1991, delays caused by mechanical breakdowns happened only one-tenth as often, and other delays were also down sharply. The sporadic shortages of cars and buses that once constricted service have mostly been ended by new equipment and by faster turnarounds in the repair shops. Moreover, the transit system looks much better than it did in 1981. The graffiti are gone. Old cars and buses have been replaced. Station lighting is improved, and vehicles and stations are cleaned more often.

Much of this is the result of more and better capital spending. In 1981, the State Legislature approved the first of a series of massive five-year capital programs for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority systems, designed to make up for the decades of neglect for maintenance and replacement needs. The program, triggered by the apparent impending physical collapse of the subway system, provided for replacement of all the rolling stock with new or rebuilt subway cars (yes, retrofitted with air conditioning); replacement of all the subway track and virtually all the signaling and electrical system; rehabilitation of the elevated structures; and—mainly in the later stages, which are just beginning—a new automated fare-collection system and overhaul of many of the stations.

Still, there are severe problems. The squalor remains. This is partly because so many stations are inherently harsh, ugly, and almost impossible to civilize (such as 14th Street on the Lexington line), but mainly because of the ubiquitous presence of the homeless and their detritus. The filth, squalor, and menace connected with subway residents and panhandlers may contribute as much to unhappiness with the subways as the fear of violent crime, and surely are far more prevalent than actual criminal acts.

The failure to deal with this problem is stunning given how nearly unanimous New Yorkers now are on the subject. Allowing the homeless to live on the subways certainly does not do them or anyone else any good. The subway system can and should be recaptured for riders by evicting—repeatedly, consistently, and without hesitation—people who choose to live on trains and in stations and people who make their living browbeating subway riders. This will require concentrated, sustained effort from city hall as well as the transit police. But the fiscal cost would be modest compared to the general sprucing-up financed by the capital campaign, and the returns in consumer happiness with the system would surely be worth it.

The other great shortcoming of the recent improvement program is that it did not substantially increase the capacity of the subways, mostly because it is both enormously expensive and politically difficult to expand the system by building new facilities. Unless the TA can come up with unconventional strategies, the crowding, which is surely one of the most inhuman aspects of the subway system, will not be relieved.

Increases in passenger volumes between 1977 and 1989 pushed some subway and rail lines in Queens, upper Manhattan, and even Brooklyn beyond their capacity. Other lines had very little capacity to spare by 1989. The demands on the subway system are likely to continue increasing. The consensus of most serious economic projections for the New York region is that after the current recession ends, the regional economy will resume growth over the next two decades, though at a considerably slower rate than in the 1980s. But even that modest rate of economic growth, together with immigration from overseas, will mean population and employment growth throughout the region, triggering a substantial increase in passenger trips on the subway.

To meet this demand, the city must find ways to expand the system’s capacity that fit within its budget. Building entire new subway lines is probably not in the cards, but better management and certain selected investments can make the system effectively bigger without digging a single tunnel. For example, on nearly all the subway lines, the number of trains running at the peak hour is well below the number operated in the mid-1960s, even on lines where overcrowding is now substantial. More passengers could be handled on some lines simply by increasing the number of trains. The only cost would be for additional cars. On other lines, increasing the number of trains would require some investment in signaling and other changes.

Another idea is to change service patterns in order to deliver passengers to their destinations with fewer transfers, which increases capacity by reducing the amount of time trains are stopped in stations. Some such changes would require signal and track work, but not all would.

Using underutilized (or wholly unused) Long Island Rail Road tracks in Queens for subway service, especially to serve the airports, is another possibility. This would be expensive and would require overcoming legal barriers to joint use of facilities by two branches of the same public entity, as well as local political opposition. But the return could be high.

These changes would help relieve current and future overcrowding in the subways. But the most serious congestion problems facing New York are not underground but in the streets. In the clogged arteries of midtown during peak periods, cars, taxis, and buses move (when they move at all) at a pace barely faster than walking. Pathways into Manhattan across the Hudson are operating near capacity and the city has yet to make provisions for the expected steady increase in demand. Express bus service from New Jersey comes close to exhausting the capacity provided by the terminals, tunnels, and bridges that now exist. Even with an increase in private trans-Hudson ferry services, peak-period passenger demand for crossing the Hudson will probably exceed capacity within 15 years.

Congestion in midtown has now reached epidemic proportions. Figure I shows the steady increase in passenger entries into Manhattan’s central business district (the portion of the island south of 60th Street) on a typical working day. The revival of the region’s economy after the dreadful 1969-77 slump, especially the financial and business services boom centered in the central business district, drastically increased road and transit traffic. By fall 1987, employment in the central business district matched the previous peak, reached in 1969, but the number of people entering the district on a weekday was greater than it had ever been (except for a few years right after World War II, before the great waves of suburban population and job growth). The number of motor vehicles was far greater than in the prosperous 1960s.

The number of people entering the central business district during the average 24-hour weekday in 1987 was 3.4 million, or 19 percent more than ten years earlier. An average of 1.5 million people entered the district daily during the morning peak period (7 to 10 A.M.), an increase of 9 percent over the 1977 level. Between late 1987 and 1990, employment figures remained level, but the number of people entering the central business district- continued to rise; the 1989 figures equaled or exceeded the all-time peaks. In 1990 and 1991, employment in the city as a whole declined, and there seems to have been a small decline in entries into the district. But the current levels of employment are similar to those of 1985, when the number of people entering the central business district was very high indeed.

Crowding, and its attendant increases in travel time, seriously detract from the comfort and convenience of people who live and work in New York, and the problem should be attacked on these grounds alone. But overcrowded streets, scarce parking, impassable truck routes, and gridlocked intersections do more than threaten citizens’ pleasures—they materially affect New York’s economic future. For most commuters and consumers, the city’s transportation system is functionally adequate, though often unpleasant. For many business users, however, it is not even that. Taken as a whole, New York’s business transportation system, especially for the movement of goods and services, is worse by an order of magnitude than that of any other large American city. The combination of the enormous personal stress faced by those whose livelihood depends on moving goods in, around, and out of the city, and the terrific costs of doing so—costs imposed especially by delays and unpredictability—surely has a substantial negative impact on the business climate here.

To begin with, street congestion is a major problem for public transit and its users. Congestion in Manhattan appears to have sharply reduced the use of buses in the borough. The number of passengers entering the central business district on express buses declined by about 25 percent between 1984 and 1989 (even as passenger entries by rail increased slightly), and the use of local buses from the north declined by about one-third between 1985 and 1989.

Street congestion slows bus speeds, increases labor costs, and makes buses less attractive. In 1987, during the peak hours and throughout the middle of working days, scheduled speeds for north-south bus routes in Manhattan averaged 5.3 to 6.4 miles per hour for the entire routes and not much more than four miles per hour if the most lightly used outer ends of the routes are omitted from the calculations. (This is not surprising: Within the central business district, weekday speeds for all types of vehicles combined average only seven miles per hour.) For the close-in segments of the routes, buses actually travel at speeds only a little faster than walking speed. Moreover, congestion makes service erratic. For example, on seven representative Brooklyn bus routes studied in 1986, only 78 percent of scheduled bus trips between 8 A.M. and 9 A.M. were actually run.

But the problems of public transit commuters pale in comparison to those faced by people trying to move goods through the city. New York, like many cities, has grossly inadequate road space for goods movement: for truck trips that bypass the city or go from one point to another on the edge; for truck trips that connect inner suburbs to each other and to the rest of the world; and even (unlike most other cities) for delivery and service trips to or within the central business district. Several other factors make New York the worst of American cities for commercial shippers. Its island geography has given it narrow streets and surface roadways, yet there is virtually no provision for off-street loading. Compared with most cities outside the Northeast, only a small proportion of its freight is handled by rail. Trucks are excluded from most of the limited-access highways in the metropolitan area, and city policy favors passenger vehicles over trucks in parking and traffic management. The result is not only that goods move slowly but that trip times are unpredictable, which may be much worse from an economic standpoint. Failure to allow for business transportation needs, moreover, only exacerbates the complaints of other transit users: congestion, air pollution from idle trucks, and blocked traffic.

For more than two decades, it has been official policy not to provide additional highway capacity into the central business district, on the grounds that attracting additional vehicles would worsen the midday circulation problem. This logic, however, does not apply to improvements in the capacity of the street system within the district, or to conventional traffic engineering work in other parts of the city. However, that kind of road work lacks glamour and has always been a low priority in New York. It shows: New York City is un-American not only in the BQE but in the low incidence of left-turn lanes and signals, underpasses and overpasses, up-to-date traffic signal technology, and traffic diverters in residential neighborhoods.

Another way to expand capacity would be to convert part of the regional network of auto parkways to mixed use, by trucks as well as cars. This would require the reconstruction of some entrance and exit ramps and the strengthening of some structures. The relatively minor practical difficulties of such changes, however, are not the main obstacle. The main obstacle is politics: Vehicles that move goods are extremely unwelcome users of streets and roads in this city. Opening the parkways to trucks would reduce the road space available to cars, probably increasing travel time for commuters. Actually that might be a good thing since it would encourage them to switch to public transit, reducing the number of private cars in the central business district during business hours. But the political outcry from aggrieved motorists, who in their irritation ignore the fact that they also have a stake in the economic vitality of the city, would be deafening.

Probably the major transportation investment with the highest potential economic payoff would be the construction of bypass highways, designed mainly to handle long-distance truck traffic, to relieve congestion caused by trucks that merely pass through the city en route to somewhere else.

In addition to such physical improvements, there is one simple way to improve the movement of both goods and people, especially in the central business district, that would probably not cost the city a dime and might even bring in revenue: Enforce traffic laws.

The level of traffic enforcement in New York always has been extraordinarily low by North American standards. In nearly all American cities except New York (and possibly Boston), the posted rules and laws mean what they say, and drivers assume that there is a reasonably high risk in ignoring them. In most American cities, standing vehicles are not routinely found at bus stops and in zones marked “No Standing,” right turns are made from right-hand lanes and left turns from left-hand lanes, red lights are construed to mean “stop,” and lines of vehicles are not double-parked for hours at a time on miles of streets.

In other cities, both city hall and the public understand that the purpose of traffic laws is to guarantee safety and improve traffic flow; traffic laws are generally designed with these twin objectives in mind, and the public generally acknowledges that enforcement of these rules is both fair and desirable. If New York’s masses of cars, buses, and taxis are to be freed to move faster than a snail’s pace, New York City needs to adopt attitudes prevalent elsewhere toward making and enforcing traffic laws.

Rampant violation of the rules reduces the capacity of the system, to the detriment of everyone who is not a gross violator. Enforcement now is much more aggressive than has been the tradition in New York. The well-publicized “Don’t Lock the Box” campaign worked fairly well by New York standards. Still, enforcement here is much less strict than in most other large American cities.

Many New York transportation officials believe that little more can be achieved in the central business district by tighter enforcement, and that effective enforcement outside the district is politically impossible. I believe that this represents a failure of imagination, another product of the “New York exceptionalism” that blights decision-making here.

New Yorkers tend to be political conservatives in the literal sense of the term: They don’t believe in progress. Getting by in this city is hard; the simple day-to-day necessities of life—finding an apartment or a parking space, driving from one place to another—are all so difficult that people who have worked out a way to cope fear change more than they hope for improvement. Improvements, after all, have been very rare as life here has gotten steadily more difficult and stressful. Under such conditions, one of the main laws of New York City politics, as Lou Winnick has said, is “avoid pain to those who have a good deal.” Often, of course, the deal isn’t really that good, but in a city of low expectations, a city that has lost the belief in a common good, even some very mediocre advantages can seem worth fighting for.

This means that to make the kind of dramatic changes that are needed in the city’s transportation policy, we must be able to convince people that the entire city will benefit, and in particular that those who lose specific advantages will benefit from living in a saner, less stressful, more prosperous city.

In the case of traffic rules, for instance, rigorous enforcement would not only reduce trip time, accident losses, and insurance premiums. It is also a precondition for a variety of other improvements such as sensible use of curb space in the central business district. It is pointless, after all, to impose more-sensible rules if people are going to ignore them. Better traffic enforcement should not only let existing mass-transit vehicles such as city buses move faster, but also make it possible to increase the volume of for-hire service—for instance, by making private van and jitney service more economically viable. Even drivers should be happier, because good parking and traffic enforcement would make it easier to introduce residential permit parking, a practice common in London and numerous American cities, to most residential neighborhoods outside Manhattan.

Assuming we can get people to obey traffic and parking laws, what should the laws be? At a minimum, we must stop deliberate discrimination against the movement of goods and services. The city should reduce restrictions on the hours during which truck deliveries can be made, allow trucks on high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes at peak periods, and stop giving passenger cars priority access to curbside parking space.

With only a few exceptions, curbside parking in the central business district and other commercial areas is now metered for passenger cars. The city should provide spaces especially for trucks. These spaces would have higher meter charges, and would be legal only for vehicles with commercial license plates. That would dramatically ease delivery and pickup and effectively abolish the informal tax, amounting to tens of millions of dollars a year, now paid by deliverers in the form of parking fines.

The most effective solution to crowding is even more controversial than eliminating some of the discrimination against trucks or enforcing the traffic laws. It is called congestion pricing. It means that people who wish to use parts of the transportation system that are crowded or overused must pay a fee for doing so; the more demand there is for the part of the system they want to use, or for the time that they want to use it, the more they must pay.

When this idea is occasionally floated in the press, it usually appears under a big headline shouting CHARGE TEN BUCKS TO CROSS RIVER, SAY EXPERTS, or something like that, and of course car-loving outer-borough dwellers howl in pain and all Queens feels unloved. But once again, although some people would be inconvenienced, the goal is to serve the common good, and if common areas like the streets and bridges were used more sensibly, most New Yorkers would be more satisfied.

The principle behind congestion pricing is that the city should make the transportation costs to the user proportional to the costs of providing the services—including the additional congestion generated by each trip. It is a way of making people think twice about how they use the system, to the benefit of all.

I live on Clinton Street in Brooklyn, near the Brooklyn Bridge. Although nearly every medallion cab in the city operates in Manhattan, about four thousand of them spend the night in parking yards in Brooklyn, and it seems like most of them pass my front door on their way to the bridge every morning. Almost always they are empty. They don’t turn down hails, but they don’t make a serious effort to solicit business in Brooklyn. Why should they, since crossing the bridge is free? But if there were a $5 toll for crossing the bridge, most of those cabbies would try much harder to pick up a fare to pay the toll. Those four thousand cabs could be carrying four thousand or more commuters each way every day. Preventing waste in ways like this is what congestion pricing seeks to do. Add up a lot of small but significant economies, and soon the city is much less crowded.

One advantage of congestion pricing becomes obvious even from this example. It automatically favors vehicles that carry lots of people over those carrying few because the congestion fee can be spread over many passengers. A $5 toll would probably encourage people to double or triple up, so those cabs might move far more than four thousand people every morning. And even if vans or buses were charged more than $5 to cross the bridge, they would still have an advantage because they carry more people yet.

This is not to say that charging cabs a $5 toll on the East River bridges is necessarily the right policy. We might discover that letting cabs cross free, but charging private cars the toll, would be the critical change that would persuade some drivers to use cabs. Most important, the toll need not be the same at all times. Raising prices to relieve congestion means prices should be lower when demand is less. Evening frolickers and weekend visitors might not have to pay the toll at all.

Until recently congestion pricing could only be used for systems with definite points of entry, like bridges, tunnels, or railroad stops (thus peak and off-peak fares). There was no practical way to charge people more for being on a certain city street at a particular hour. But today vehicles can be electronically scanned by automatic vehicle identification (AVI) systems that are already in use in some places. With such systems we could charge significant tolls for taking a vehicle through the busiest streets at the busiest times of day. The result almost certainly would be to discourage people from using those streets unless they really wanted to be there at that time. Such a system by itself would greatly ease both goods movement and bus travel at peak hours in the central business district: If road space were allocated by price at the peak periods, a large proportion of the time and space in and near the central business district would be bid away by buses and trucks. Sensible pricing favors trucks and service vehicles because as congestion is reduced, trips become shorter and cheaper and the savings easily offset high tolls or fees.

Differential or congestion pricing should encourage people and businesses to shift from private to public transportation, to change the timing of trips, to shift routes, or simply to put more people in fewer cars. Differential public transportation fares for peak and slack times would encourage marginal changes in trip timing.

Most of these recommendations would cost little. After all is said and done, however, both the subways and the surface system of roads and highways are too small, too old, and too worn down. We also need some improvements and expansions of the sort that would cost real money. The capital improvement program for the subway, after all, has already cost more than $10 billion, and that did not fundamentally expand capacity, though it did notably improve the quality of service.

We can hope for continued funding for the capital program. But beyond that, where will the money be found? Much of it can be found in the system itself. But to free up the money the city’s transportation bureaucracy needs to rethink some of its core strategies. Too often, scarce funds go toward coping with long-established customs and political protocols of the system itself, rather than toward the real needs of the city.

Labor costs are very high in the public transportation systems, and much of that money goes to waste because of excessive staffing levels, inefficient work rules, and exorbitant rates of compensation. Token booth clerks, for example, are paid more than bank clerks. If we had a sensible token distribution system, we would need many fewer. The Transit Authority at present is not permitted to sell tokens at a discount to off-site vendors. As a result, only a few private businesses sell tokens, at some cost to themselves, as a public relations gesture. If wholesale discounts were permitted, the standard venues for token purchases would soon be newsstands, delis, coffee shops, and token machines. Similarly the system could hire part-time bus drivers instead of paying 12 hours’ wages to many drivers who work six hours a day (because of premium pay for split shifts).

There are other ways to save. At present the transit system provides a great deal of very lightly used service, at very high costs. This is especially true of the Transit Authority bus services and the subsidized private bus companies in Queens. Outside Manhattan, most buses run less than half-full except for a very small part of the day. In the subway system there are many stations where the turnstile receipts during night shifts are less than the labor costs of the token booth clerks. Even where the passenger volume is substantial, service is often arranged inefficiently. Many heavily trafficked routes have parallel service, both buses and subways going to the same places. But bus service on those routes is often quite slow. Dropping or reducing the bus service and compensating by increasing the frequency of subway service can be a real money-saver.

In the past, eliminating lightly used bus routes has provoked a public outcry. It may seem that the TA is only responding to public demand when it maintains such routes, but the TA also bears some, responsibility for the public’s unhappiness, for it has consistently stood in the way of the obvious solution: allowing services such as vans and gypsy cabs to fill the vacuum created by cutbacks in public service. If the TA dropped its opposition to such services, it could save huge amounts of money by abandoning routes that are uneconomical for its large buses. Without regulatory constraints, privately provided bus, van, and car services would emerge, anywhere the demand exists.

Hostility to private vans, buses, and car services is one of the most deeply ingrained and most destructive impulses of the public transportation bureaucracy. Federal, state and city subsidies to TA and TA-franchised bus services cost almost $500 million per year. Letting other providers do some of the TA’s work would save money and expand capacity.

During the 1980s, there was some increase in the volume of privately provided transportation services. In part this was because of regulatory reform, but it was also the result of deregulation by inaction, the failure to regulate newly developing enterprises and services. The for-hire van industry, for instance, has grown despite the objections of local and state transportation officials. It is not regulated because officials believe that regulation would legitimate and perpetuate the service. But it is also not prohibited for fear of the voters who use it. In the 1980s, car services and gypsy cabs, which had long been treated as vans are now, were legitimated in exchange for fairly mild regulation. Private express bus service earlier had undergone the same evolution for the same reasons.

The federal deregulation of interstate motor carriers also marginally increased unregulated, privately provided transportation in New York City. Now lightly regulated and easily chartered, interstate operators, such as bus companies whose main business is charter service to Atlantic City, use their operating authority to provide intrastate bus service as well. Finally, both the city government and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which historically had raised severe barriers to would-be private ferry operators, reversed their positions and encouraged new operators to launch whatever services they thought feasible. The ferries, however, are the only recent example of local government deliberately encouraging private initiatives.

Instead of harassing private transportation services, the city should encourage private operators to provide new services, with appropriate regulatory, licensing, and (where necessary) subsidy arrangements. The mayor’s recent proposal to create “second class” medallions allowing car services to cruise for passengers in the boroughs is a step in the right direction.

The authorities could encourage this trend by welcoming van and jitney services and making arrangements for their needs (such as permitting vans to use marked bus stops as van stops); ending subsidies to private bus companies in Queens as soon as legally possible and doing away with exclusive franchises; spinning off the bus operations from the Transit Authority and splitting them into smaller enterprises, each serving a subset of the city, ideally owned and managed by employees; and investing some public funds in a major effort to provide consumers with adequate information about services and fares in this newly decentralized system.

The reforms suggested here are not radical or unheard of, nor even prohibitively expensive. Even in hard times, there is no reason New York’s roads and subways must be tortuous obstacle courses. The biggest change needed is a change in attitude: By raising our sights, we can raise the quality of life for all New Yorkers. The results of these reforms would be a better, faster transportation system, encouraging economic growth and making the city an easier and more enjoyable place to live and to work.

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