OPINION: Class War, Local and Express

What a Twitter spat says about how Gov. Cuomo and his minions run the MTA.

The governor's lone 2020 subway trip. Photo: Governor's Office
The governor's lone 2020 subway trip. Photo: Governor's Office

Gov. Cuomo and his satraps in the state bureaucracy are rarely subtle about the fact that the policies they pursue are specially crafted to benefit the ruling class that underwrites their political careers, not the everyday New Yorkers who make our city what it is. But sometimes, they’re more obvious about it than usual.

Zohran Kwame Mamdani
Zohran Kwame Mamdani

Over the weekend, Clayton Guse, a New York Daily New transit reporter, tweeted abut how he found not one working MetroCard machine at a station, and then how he asked the police officers patrolling the station if he could pass through the turnstile without paying. (The cops let him.)

In a single tweet, Guse had managed to capture a number of crises now confronting the subway system. Its decaying infrastructure includes not only tracks and signals, but also the vending machines that distribute MetroCards (stations with no working machines are not uncommon). Meanwhile, a growing police presence surveils riders and indulges in selective enforcement against poor, Black, and Brown New Yorkers, often through spectacular violence.

Both problems are immediately apparent to a reader even passively familiar with the state of the subway. But NYC Transit President Sarah Feinberg is no such reader.

Her takeaway was that Guse was being an insolent clout-chaser for conveying his experience, rather than being a good citizen and simply walking to the next station, or to the closest ATM, then returning to the original station to pay in cash, to make sure the MTA got its $2.75.


Would she also advise disabled riders with limited mobility to hike to the next station? Would she tell poor riders to pay double for their swipe by tacking on an ATM fee? Does she think it reasonable to ask riders to give more of their own time to accommodate her agency’s failures? Was she troubled by reports that the cops she wanted to discourage fare-beating are letting White professionals jump turnstiles while Black teenagers are arrested, sometimes brutally? 

She didn’t say — but she definitely would prefer you not tweet about it.

Many were shocked by Feinberg’s callous detachment, but the real problem isn’t Feinberg’s attitude. It’s that the nature of her job is to oversee the underground front of the class war against the poor and working people of New York.

The subway’s structural maladies are symptoms of a deeper affliction. Decades of financial mismanagement, underinvestment, and political inertia have saddled the system with unsustainable debt, the service of which consumes growing portions of the budget every year. A dense network of patronage and graft drives up maintenance and construction  costs to internationally scandalous heights in order to extract wasted billions for private firms. The state’s refusal to raise revenue from other sources forces much of the fiscal burden of the subway’s upkeep on its riders in the form of regular fare hikes, despite plummeting quality.

When user fees inevitably fail to generate enough funds to keep pace with the system’s growing problems, it’s the users themselves who are blamed for cheaping out. A major piece of the rationale for last year’s decision to hire 500 more police officers to patrol the subway at a price tag of $250 million over four years was to discourage fare evasion. The fact that savings from the increased police presence are projected to be a mere $200 million is beside the point.

The cops are harassing riders in person for the same reason that Feinberg is harassing them on Twitter: to give the appearance of action where none exists. Cuomo has decreed that nothing can be done about the system’s debt burden; that maintenance and construction costs are impossible to reduce; that taxes on the rich are impermissible, but fare increases on the poor are necessary; and that the subway’s most pressing crises are fare beaters and a largely fictitious crime wave that require a paramilitary force to combat.

So Feinberg hires the cops to crack skulls in the subway and trolls anyone they might miss on social media, admonishing them for their lack of civic mindedness. It’s all she can do when real solutions are permanently delayed.

Zohran Kwame Mamdani (@ZohranKMamdani) recently won the Democratic primary (tantamount to election) for an Assembly seat representing Astoria.