Thursday, February 03, 2005

Our pressure worked

Thank you for all you did to let the MTA know our demands that service be restored quickly on the A/C subway lines. People I have spoken to who are close to the agency tell me that the countless calls and emails they received from outraged riders were heard loud and clear. Thanks to this pressure--and some engineering feats by the MTA technical crews--the worst of the service disruptions are now behind us.

Many questions remain. Now that the original theory that the fire was started by a homeless person has been retracted, will we ever know the actual cause? What new security measures will be taken to offer greater protection against what we now know is a potentially devastating vulnerability in the system? (Let’s hope the MTA comes up with something better than it’s current security proposal: banning photography underground.) Why is it that 6 years after a similar fire in a signal room in the Bergen Street station in Brooklyn, the room that caught fire on the A/C line did not have even so much as a smoke detector, and no less than FORTY such vital nerve centers throughout the system still have no fire protection at all?

The real story of the January 23rd fire is the exposure of decades of underinvestment in New York’s subway infrastructure. It turns out that the billions spent in recent years in new subway cars and upgraded stations came at the expense of much less glamorous (but no less important) needs like modern switches and signals. A system that relies on Depression-era technology for such critical functions will never be more that a small fire away from disaster.

And how did Gov. Pataki respond to the urgent unmet needs of our subway system in the State budget he proposed two weeks ago? By promising to give the MTA $2 billion LESS than it asked for to cover basic system maintenance! (But don’t worry, Pataki still found room to extend an income tax cut for the wealthiest 1% of New Yorkers.)

We can all breath a sigh of relief now that service on the A/C is mostly restored. But the fight for fair funding of our subways is only just beginning. And on that paramount issue, we here in Upper Manhattan are going to make sure our voice is again heard loud and clear.

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