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Vol. 81/No. 26      July 17, 2017

(front page)

Bondholders line pockets as mass transit crumbles

NEW YORK — The growing frustration and anger of working people with the dramatic increase in delays, breakdowns and daily abuse in the subway system here shifted to concern for passenger safety with the derailment of two cars on the A train during morning rush hour June 27 that injured 34 people, sending 17 to hospital.

Deteriorating conditions — coupled with increasing fares — in one of the largest subway systems in the world, has reached crisis proportions, reflecting the disregard of the bosses and their politicians for the lives of working people.

“I’m not going to use the MTA again,” 31-year-old Harlem resident Sheena Tucker, a homemaker with two children who suffered a back injury in the derailment, said at a June 29 press conference.

“This was a serious derailment, with quite a bit of damage to signals and some structural damage to the walls,” said Tony Utano, vice president of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union. “Our members worked as fast and safely as possible to bring the system back to normal.”

The problem for working people is that the daily “normal” in the subway and commuter transit system, managed by highly paid Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials and their Democratic and Republican political masters in the state and city governments, is the crisis conditions.

The MTA, a state-run agency that operates the city subways and buses, the Long Island and Metro-North railroads and area bridges and tunnels, carries one-third of all mass transit users in the country. The 112-year-old system has been deteriorating for decades. Worsening service and safety problems are accompanied by countless other indignities — lack of adequate seating on station platforms, no escalators at most stations, oppressive heat and lack of air, and near constant unannounced changes in routes and schedules.

As the transit bosses try to keep up with aging cars, signals and tracks, capitalist politicians in Washington, Albany and New York have cut funding. The burden — directly and indirectly — falls more and more squarely on working people.

The system’s capital budget is hermetically sealed from its operating budget, which covers the wages, health care and pensions for 67,000 workers and, increasingly, the cost of the soaring bond debt to Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and other banks and profiteers. This accounting scheme lets the bosses claim that the debt can only be paid for by cuts to workers’ jobs and wages, and fare increases.

The alternatives they propose all hike costs for workers — from a “congestion fee” on drivers who come to Manhattan and tolls on East River bridges to increased taxes on gas.

The MTA bond debt load is now greater than that of 30 countries — a whopping $35.7 billion. Interest payments to the bondholders eat up 16 percent of the operating budget, and the percentage is growing. Meanwhile, the system degrades daily.

“What is needed today, immediately, is more financial resources for regular, ongoing maintenance to ensure that the system can handle today’s record ridership,” Local 100 President John Samuelsen said.

In 1990 ridership was 4 million a day, today it’s 6 million. But in that period the fleet of subway cars has only increased by 27. Total track mileage has been reduced by five miles. On-time performance for almost all 24 lines has fallen dramatically. Today there are more than 70,000 delays a month, up from 28,000 in 2012.

The horse-and-buggy signal system that keeps the trains running was installed in the 1930s. Ten years ago the signals were checked every month, management has now cut signal checks to four times a year.

Over the past 25 years capitalist politicians have diverted billions of dollars from maintenance of the system into unnecessary and costly pet megaprojects, such as a $10.8 billion tunnel to connect Long Island Rail Road trains to the Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan that will serve as few as 162,000 riders a day. A much ballyhooed extension of the No. 7 line from Times Square a handful of blocks to the west costs $2.4 billion and carries less than 25 percent of the projected 32,000 daily riders.

State and city officials are battling to shift blame for the indignities and dangers back and forth, and each claims the other should pay more. Two days after the June 27 derailment, in response to the rising anger of working people, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is unofficially campaigning to be the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential candidate, suddenly declared the subways face a state of emergency and need billions in new funding. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio took a well publicized subway ride June 15, his first in two months, saying if Cuomo’s MTA can’t fix the problem, “I’d rather have the city of New York run it.”

In contrast to these capitalist politicians, Osborne Hart, Socialist Workers Party candidate for New York mayor, explains that low cost, safe, efficient public transit is a necessity for working people. Hart says workers need to fight for a massive, nationwide government-funded public works program to expand mass transit, rebuild aging infrastructure such as roads and bridges, and bring the New York and other subway systems to safe and comfortable operation — a program that would put millions of unemployed workers to work at union rates of pay.
Related articles:
NY subway derailment shows crisis of capitalism
Expand public transit, fight for workers power!  
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