Public Transportation: Can We Own It?

Well, the MTA didn’t go on strike. Yet. That’s a very good thing for the city. Last night, as we watched the news people salivate over any possible new breaks, I couldn’t help but wonder. What if the MTA was owned by the public? What if the money I spent to use it meant I owned a miniscule part of it? Do you think people would care more for the system? Do you think we’d have an input on the hiring? Would we have an input in management? I really wonder what would happen.

Now, this doesn’t only apply to the MTA. It seems that public transportation (at least in the U.S.) could use some help. And some places more than others. For example, I think we could all learn something from the Metro in Washington, D.C. Once you’ve used that system it’s hard not comparing every other system to it. It’s close to perfect. (I realize, however, it doesn’t run past midnight and it’s pretty much brand new in comparison to the Subway system.) The Metro does well even with all the jumpers. The MUNI in San Francisco was a joke. I’m sorry. I have trouble seeing it any other way. The BART is great and all, but it barely covers any ground. I haven’t used the EL in Chicago (Is that what’s it’s called?) So I have no idea if it’s any good or if people use it at all. Detroit’s People Mover makes me giggle endlessly. And unless you’re going to the downtown Casino called “Greektown” I don’t see how this system is much use to anyone. From what I hear, LA doesn’t even really have public transportation. No, really. Does anyone even use it? Judging by the smog I’d guess not. I don’t know anything about Boston’s Public Transportation sytsem. Seattle was great for walkers. I know nothing about the public transportation system. I hear it’s free.

I am told London’s Underground could use a facelift and that the cushions are basically biohazards. (Plastic wipes well, England.) I only experienced the Underground while visiting. So my judgment on it probably won’t prove very reliable. I’d love to hear about it, however.

What would happen if the users owned the system?

31 Comments

  1. Privatized? Tickets would cost more, service would suck more. You’d lose nice features like monthly cards. Companies with monopolies on needed goods tend to suck. The subways used to be individually owned and operated. It was a mess, which is why they consolidated it and made it a public agency.

    What they should do is turn the fucking NYCtransit system into a NYC agency. I’m not tlaking about metronorth and the long island railroad. i’m talking about the city subways and busses that connect the borourghs. they should be a city agency run by people in the city with offices and headquarters in the city for all operational and budgeting concerns.

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  2. Why would we kiss monthly cards goodbye? I thought this would be a great way to know that the people actually live in New York.

    I am not sure I understand what you’re saying in response to what I’m asking. Or maybe I’m not making myself clear enough.

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  3. quoted right from their site…….and this is why the government would never let this get in the hands of the public, they want the monopoly all for themselves! huge money just makes politicians drool……

    Since 1982 the MTA has been carrying out the largest public works rebuilding project in the country. Funded by federal, state, and local government and by the issuance of debt, the MTAâ

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  4. It’s just unbelievably frustrating that we spend a lot of money on this, we rely on it entirely, and our money goes into the pockets of some very rich men and women instead of bettering the system that owns us.

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  5. A few months ago, I had an idea. I wanted to try and get 1,000 people to just refuse to ride the L. I realize this is a fantasy. How else can we get to work? In Brooklyn, the MTA owns us and they know it. But it would be great to have 1,000 riders just refuse to ride. Line up outside on Bedford avenue in protest saying they simple MUST make this train more reliable. It’s a laughable line these days.

    How do I get 1,000 people together? No idea. But in my fantasy, the news shows up and everything. A strike by the users. We’re the people who freaking pay for it.

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  6. Transit strike, huh? You might as well live in Philly! We just had a one-week strike and there are threats every year. About 5 years ago there was a 40-day strike.

    But Philly is totally corrupt and suffers from exceedingly low standards. whee!

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  7. Overall, how is Philadelphia’s public transportation system? I haven’t used it. Is it run by one system? Is it on time? Is it clean?

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  8. ya gotta love it……corruption in government, i can’t believe it! when government gets involved in the public “good”, they just screw it all up! heheh

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  9. It’s ok. The commuter rails are pretty good, but infrequent off-rush hour. There are only 2 subway lines and a system of busses, trollies and an El. For the most part things are clean, with the exception of any subway stop outside of downtown or the university campuses, which are downright scary. Most of them feel like The Warriors.

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  10. Watching these people fight back and forth about the need for higher wages or not paying higher wages makes me feel like a little kid who is stuck in the middle while mommy and daddy fight over what they feel is best for me based entirely on what is really best for them. It’s so frustrating. I didn’t see ONE representative from the public, i.e. the people who actually use the freaking system present. They’re so busy worried about what’s best for them, they completely ignore the people who keep the money in their pocket. It’s absolute bullshit. And they KNOW they have us all by the balls.

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  11. Privatization does not necessarily mean trading one monopoly for another. Many rail systems have been privatized, and broken up into several separate companies. Some privitization plans make the track a separate business from the engines/cars, and some break that down further to regionalized businesses. In some places, a small company will own a section of track, or perhaps just a station. Sweden allows private passenger firms to run on their national tracks. Most of these plans were put into place to rescue government agencies from bankrupting their transit systems. So far the results seem to be better service…

    The MTA could try this, but they never will. :(

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  12. they claim to have a 8 billion dollar budget annually, i wonder what their NET profits are and i’d also like to see how much their top paid employees get paid, board chairman, etc. if it’s like most corporations, board members don’t get paid unless they’re in corporate meetings. so everytime the union forces them into a meeting, they get paid big bucks! michele, you asked in your post the other day, why the surplus couldn’t be given to the employees, i’d hazzard a guess that the union can’t allow it. they can only distribute money to their union workers through contract, hence the problem when there is a windfall surplus profit. only in freemarket and privately owned companies can they give the extra earnings to their workers. i could be wrong, but of the union friends i have, they don’t ever see that kind of gift just for that reason.

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  13. a_ your transit user strike won’t work michele. why? because with monthly cards, which it seems everyone on the L uses, the MTA is still making money. In fact, you’d just be alleviating congestion on the train and they’d probably use statistics from that day saying “we don’t need more trains, the ridership doesn’t demand it”.

    b_ privatization means the MTA starts looking for profit, not for widespread service. so who knows – we could see a bunch of fancy luxury trains running on the uptown/downtown lines that go direct from the upper east/west sides to the financial district , while the trains on the inter-borough lines get replaced with cattle cars. we’d see the monthly cards go away, because whats the point? people NEED to ride the subway. they’re not going to stop riding it if you take the benefit of buying 1 month all at once away. privatizing the subway isn’t like privatizing the telephones or electricity – you don’t get resellers and you can’t shop around. its an absolute monopoly on a necissity/staple. the MTA is a state agency run in the public interest – aside from politics/power, the idea is that its beneveolent and loving of the people. it exists to serve them. a privatized system doesn’t exist to serve the people. it exists for profit.

    the surplus should be used for capital improvements and signal the idea “Hey – we took in 1 billion dollars more this year. we could EASILY give our employees a raise and better training, make the rides better for commuters, and lower the fares”

    but nyc transit really needs to split from the mta. the city subway system should be run by the city, not by the state.

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  14. With all due respect, Jon, we see that now and it’s not privatized. The G Train is all but ignored. Trains that run through less “desirable” areas are completely trashed a lot of the time. So, I’m not sure how it could get any worse.

    But I’m still confused. If it’s owned by the people (the shareholders) who use it, how would it become about profit if we’re the ones paying for it? Isn’t there anything like this in existence? What if it were designed like a co-op housing? You buy into using it. Maybe it does cost more, who knows. The amount that goes into your card, each ride, pays the employees, pays to keep it up and running, etc.

    I’m totally naive when it comes to this shit. And I tend to be a bit of an idealist. I know I simply things. I can. I am a mere lowly designer who writes a freaking blog. However, this seems like a possibility in my eyes. We all pay to use the system. We pay more to OWN the system. I’d buy into it. Especially if it meant I could reap benefits thought tax cuts or some other incentive.

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  15. If you own something, don’t you tend to care about it more? I don’t mean own a certain station or whatever. I mean own a piece of the overall system. Level the playing field. No one person profits more than another. Is this concept totally and completely out there?

    What if I pay more money to own a piece of the system and get a discount on advertising on the train or subway platform? Would people be less apt to throw their trash on the floor of something they have a stake in?

    Do I sound like a pinko? haha

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  16. No, you’re starting to sound like a capitalist.

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  17. The sentence above that read: “I’m totally naive when it comes to this shit. And I tend to be a bit of an idealist. I know I simply things.”

    was supposed to be SIMPLIFY things. I apparently like to simply simplify the the word simplify, too.

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  18. embrace capitalism………michele, you’re right. the system at work now is, government owns it but since certain people don’t use the G-train, it gets put asside. my street needs to be paved, but since i live there with the low rent housing and not the high tax citizens, it’s not a priority. if my neighbors and i owned the road, it would be our responsibility and it could get done. the green bay packers are owned/run by their fans. there are ski resorts that are privately owned yet since they are near other resorts accept the other resorts lift ticket and there are connections between several mountains. this gives the skier/boarder so many more options and brings in many customers who want more options. what you’re asking can be done, but it won’t! the government fears monopoly but it isn’t ashamed to be the monopolizer! and yes, with personal ownership comes personal pride. remove that one step further and have the employees work for the union and not directly for the bosses of the MTA, and you’ve got even more problems with…..pissing, spitting, trash, vomit, dirty windows etc…. they work for a paycheck, not for a cause, and not for pride. if you didn’t guess, i’m not very pro-union, but hey, you’ll have that.

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  19. It sounds like you, michele, aren’t proposing a corporation with shareholders, but a sort of club/co-op?

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  20. P.S. Does anything like that exist? I can’t think of anything but I’m sure it does. I’m just sure it’s on a smaller scale.

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  21. it’s sorta exclusionary if it goes that way. elitist on the lines of golf club or country club. priwate swimming clubs. you get in to trouble because now you have to include everyone on that line to buy in…… the reason we have representative government and corporations is we need a few to make the decisions, not everyone(imposibility) private ownership exists everywhere, collective ownership of something everyone would use does not except when it deals with the government.

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  22. I thought of something a little similar but not entirely. Zip Car. It’s a much, much smaller scale, but it works. You pay a yearly fee. You pay to use the car hourly or daily. You use it more, you pay more. We were members in DC. The service was superb. But the problems did pop up because people still didn’t think of the car as their own. They were merely borrowing it. Which was frustrating, still. (One time, someone had vomited in the car and didn’t clean it very well.)

    It became bad enough that they started asking that the users call those sorts of incidences in. Since you’re using the car, if you don’t call it in on the person who used it before you the person after you might turn you in as the culprit. So, it actually worked for the most part. If you were the bad guy, you’d get a phone call.

    They’re not exactly similar, because there would be no one person who would be made rich from it. Instead, everyone involved would somehow benefit.

    Let’s say at the end of each year, I have the option of buying the car out when they receive a new fleet because I used it the most and therefore spent the most money on it. And then let’s say I could write it off somehow in my taxes for that year. That would be a reason to keep it clean while using the car and also caring about who uses and how badly they return it. I dunno.

    Wow, I am rambling. Because I’m no longer certain how this has to do with owning the Subway. :]

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  23. Where I grew up, there was an electric cooperative. As I recall, the members paid a reduced fee for electricity and when the cooperative made money the members voted on how to spend the money at an annual meeting in January. The company threw a huge members meeting/party. Usually it went to higher savings for the following year or one year they created credit union for members. It looks like it’s no longer a cooperative, so I guess it didn’t work out in the long term. It sounds like a great idea though.

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  24. OK. So I haven’t read all of the other posts as of yet but I just wanted to add my piece….and yeah maybe it is already mentioned but, oh well.
    Anyway, I would like to agree that the Muni out here sucks. But I am kinda partial to the Metro system in Paris. It is really efficient if you can get past the urine smell. But I am very impressed with the Metro in Madrid. It is really clean.
    I have heard there is a subway in Amsterdam although I haven’t been on it but the tram system there is really nice. They now have TV’s in them, at least the one I rode did.

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  25. Ah, the London Underground. Pretty reliable if a bit manky as you say (some bits are new and nice). The downsides are presumably common to all transport systems, though: a forty five minute commute with your head wedged in someone’s armpit. Luckily, being British, no-one complains!

    Service industries are always best in the hands of the government, as then they should place public accountability before the profit motive. I’d worry about getting nationalised health services before transport, though.

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  26. BIG DIFFERENCE between privatization and a CoOp. I’m all for CoOps. I’m dead against privatization. My comments above were based on the way stockholders ‘buy into’ and ‘invest’ into privatized corporations. They don’t give a shit about the service, they care about financial returns and appreciation on their investment—and management strives to increase that at any expense, including the public expense (ie Enron causing blackouts in CA to drive up energy prices). Our society is wholly unable to protect citizens/consumers from that sort of thing – it happens every day and no one gives a shit about it – throwing public transportation into that minefield would be a nightmare.

    But CoOps are different. I don’t know how you could swing that. For the record though, I disliked ZipCar. Maybe it was different in DC, but in NYC it was WAY overpriced. You could rent a car for 2 days for 6 hours with a zipcar, and it would have been cheaper to just get VAN service to/from anywhere you needed to move boxes.

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  27. Yeah, your prices are way off for the zipcar thing. Either that or you have some ghetto car rental rates.

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  28. NY RATES:

    Drive by the hour
    Personal driving – From only $8.50/hr
    Rates include: gas, insurance, parking (yes parking!) and 125 FREE miles*
    Or by the day (for each reservation in a 24 hour period)
    Personal driving – From only $65/day

    That’s much cheaper than any car rental. Especially when you tack on insurance and gas (both of which you don’t pay for using zip car).

    Rental cars for a weekend run us about 200.00 dollars. So, like I said, I’m not sure where you got your information from or who you’re renting from.

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  29. There is no difference at all between a co-op and a corporation. A co-op IS a corporation. I live in a co-op, and it functions exactly the same. Also, not all corporations are Enron. Stockholders can (and do) vote however they choose. It isn’t always about investment appreciation, profit, and screwing the little guy.

    I own a substantial stake in my company, and I’d like to think that we provide good service, and are good to our employees. We also donate to charities, do pro-bono work for good causes, and support philanthropy. So it’s a bit insulting to me, to say that all shareholders of private companies are out to screw people in order to get rich.

    The fact that you read about Enron and Big Oil and all these other pricks in the newspaper doing horrible things, does not mean that there aren’t tens of thousands (probably more) of private companies in this country doing decent things.

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