Transit strike

by Rob Horning

16 December 2005


Mass transit is one of the main reasons I live in New York City. Mass transit is one of the main things that makes me believe modern life is not a complete mistake. It is one of the last vestiges of shared public space, shared consciousness. The degree to which a city has dismantled its mass transit system is the degree to which they’ve regressed from society’s peak. Then you are left with what a city like Tucson has, a bus system that is a physical manifestation of the class structure—if you ride the bus you are poor, a second-class citizen whose time doesn’t matter and who has no choice but to tolerate inefficiency in public transportation system that has become a kind of de facto charity, or a food-stamps program.

Public transit throws open unexpected possibilities (good or bad), is a launching point not just for your commute but for your imagination. Almost all of my good ideas come to me on the train—something about being around strangers and considering the reality of their existence helps me concentrate, turns my mind in unexpected directions. I like the character in Repo Man who does all his best thinking on a bus and thinks owning a car therefore makes you stupid.

So the thought of a transit strike upsets my whole reason for being. In my mind I have wanted to side with the union in this, but I’m finding it harder and harder, and not merely because the reporting is so biased against them. I haven’t read much about the nitty-gritty of the stand-off, but I find myself asking questions like there:Does a union exist to wish away technological innovation (the replacement of conductors with robots)? Does it exist to extort more taxpayer money (as the MTA is not a for-profit company—it’s not Wal-Mart, but a government entity)? Unions should protect the welfare of its future members, and they are right not to let the MTA divide the union against itself by having a two-tiered benefit structure—I understand that. But the idea that they have the right to strand 7 million people is a bit unacceptable to me.

I’ve been told to see such an event as an opporuntity, as a chance to shake up routines and learn lessons about what we take for granted. No thanks. Having tried to imagine the dystopia life would become under the city’s contingency plan—biking through freezing rain, lining up for hours for a LIRR train, or standing in a slug line at a designated carpool point/refugee camp—I think I’d rather leave those lessons unlearned.

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