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.