2005-12-07 / Editorials

Major And Local Project Funding Headed Our Way


As Yogi Berra said, it’s deja vu all over again.

Three years ago, the city faced a transit strike, set to begin December 15, the day the contract between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Transport Workers Union Local 100 was due to expire. This year, New Yorkers are faced with the same situation, only this time, according to reports, negotiations to date have proved fruitless, with each side blaming the other for intransigence.

Few things worse than a transit strike could befall New York City, especially now, in the midst of the holiday season. New York City hotels at this time of year are packed with out-of-town visitors, here to view the sights and sounds of the Big Apple in its holiday dress. Last Wednesday, thousands of people crowded into Rockefeller Center to witness the lighting of the 75-foot-tall Norway spruce that is this year’s Christmas tree. Many of them, tourists and area residents alike, got to Rockefeller Center Plaza and their other destinations by subway or bus. The implications are obvious—no buses, no subways, no sightseers.

While viewing the tree or gazing at the animated displays in store windows costs nothing, we think we’re safe in assuming that a large part of the crowd standing in Rockefeller Center Plaza and walking along the city streets spent some money during the course of the evening—at hot dog carts, in restaurants, for souvenirs, at Broadway shows. Tourists, be they from other neighborhoods, other boroughs, upstate, other states or other countries, don’t just look at the holiday lights—they make many and varied purchases, too. A transit strike would drastically reduce the tourist dollars spent on such occasions.

Merchants all over the city, in this borough in particular in commercial districts such as Steinway, Broadway, Austin Street and Jamaica Avenue and in shopping malls such as Queens Center, count on the holiday shopping season to make up for slack times from January thorough November. Many of the shoppers patronizing the stores in those districts use public transportation, either by choice or out of necessity. Faced with a transit strike, many will stay home and do their shopping by mail or telephone or online. Should that be the case, not only will the stores lose the onsite purchase the customer intended to make, but also the impulse buys that come from last-minute realizations that a name was inadvertently omitted from the gift list. Someone who goes into a store intending to buy a sweater for Aunt Suzie may realize that they forgot Uncle Fred and pick up a pair of slippers for him on the way to the cash register. Buying through mail order catalogues can tend to cut down on browsing and therefore impulse or catch-up-at-the-last-minute buying.

Nor would a transit strike affect only tourists and shoppers. Since almost everyone would have to get in a car to go anywhere, without mass transportation, rush hour-style gridlock would choke the city around the clock. Exhaust emissions and noise would beome intolerable.

For many people, public transportation is their only means of getting to work. A transit strike could very well force workers in scores of occupations to quit their jobs—a decision especially cruel at this time of year, when overtime pay is what makes stretching a budget to include holiday purchases possible. What’s more, people who have to stop working because they can’t get to their jobs can undermine the economic stability of the city and state, rather than making contributions to the tax base, something we can ill afford, especially now.

We appreciate the transit workers’ position. We have often inveighed in this space against MTA plans to close token booths, eliminate conductors and make other changes that we feel do not improve the system but instead threaten the safety of riders and transit workers alike. We also can empathize with MTA management. Continually faced with a system that seems to generate 50 new problems for every one solved and knowing that every decision they make will leave at least some of their riders and workers or both unhappy, they do an admirable job in the face of formidable odds.

Our sympathies notwithstanding, as we’ve noted, a transit strike would be a disaster. The deadline for a walkout is growing ever closer—a week away as of the publication of this editorial. We call on Mayor Michael Bloomberg to step in as he did with Radio City Entertainment and American Federation of Musicians Local 802, offering Gracie Mansion as a negotiating site and the mediating skills of Dr. Frank Macchiarola to bring both sides to an accord that has Radio City Music Hall once again echoing to live music for the Christmas Spectacular. The city’s public transportation system is more than entertainment—it is its lifeline. We cannot afford to lose it, especially at this date.

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