The fact that the metro system in New York City, affecting both the subway and the busses, is in horrible shape has long been known. The roads and bridges aren’t much to write home about either, but the metro lines are really terrible, and I mean far worse than you’d even expect as a pessimist. In the nearly miraculous event that you find a train or bus arriving on time to take you to your destination, they’re generally so overcrowded during normal rush hours that you probably won’t get on. And if you somehow do, you’ll be treated to any number of nauseating sights and smells all the way to your destination, assuming it doesn’t break down on the way there. The NYC system is widely recognized as the worst in the country.

How things got this bad has been debated for years. The only thing everyone can agree on is that something needs to be done. Now, with the deadline for next year’s budget coming up fast, the government has proposed a solution. Unfortunately, in order to get enough revenue to even begin tackling the problem, the Governor has hung most of his hopes for a “fix” on introducing congestion pricing. That basically means surge pricing for the times when the largest volume of people is trying to get into, out of or travel across the city. (NY Post)

State lawmakers on Friday were on the verge of agreeing to a congestion pricing plan for New York City, the first in the nation that would charge motorists for driving into a central business district.

“I think we’re at the finish line,” state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said…

Gov. Cuomo said: “I believe conceptually we have an agreement, but now we have to go through the details.”

The governor added: “I said, it’s not just the congestion pricing, it’s also the MTA reform issues. Because I said I would not support more funding for the MTA unless I feel comfortable that we had a better MTA, more efficient, more effective. So the devil is all in the details, right? So that’s what we are still working through.”

There’s a reason the other major cities don’t do this. Several reasons, in fact. It’s a patently unfair system of revenue collection that passes the cost off to people in other states or surrounding counties. (New Jersey legislators are already crying foul, as many Garden State residents work in NYC and have to commute back and forth at surge hours.) The logistics of being able to collect this congestion pricing without slowing down the traffic even further are a nightmare.

But above and beyond all that, you’re trying to solve your problem by making the problem worse for years. This is more than just an infrastructure issue. It’s also a political minefield. People are up in arms over the horrible, squalid conditions and frequently non-existent service. These conditions are the worst at rush hour each morning and evening. And now you’re going to address their needs by charging them more money for the privilege of sloshing through puddles of human urine on the subway cars and slow down traffic on the surface streets to boot?

The initial step should have been to figure out precisely how things got this far out of control in the first place and find a way to explain that to the voters before undertaking any scheme like this. Yes, the answer will most likely be that you (as the government) chose to ignore the problem rather than dealing with it when it was still manageable. Heads would probably roll on election day, but that’s the price you pay for shoddy management.

Once the accountability issue was settled, perhaps you could implement a plan to shut down one line at a time (while adding extra cars and buses to other lines) and prepare people in advance. Service would be out for months or even years while full refurbishment took place, but you could space out the costs and keep the lines of communications open with the public.

But the last thing you want to do is announce a plan to start picking everyone’s pockets without even having a specific plan to address the problem. Own the shortcomings in the system. Develop a proposal to cure it. And maybe then we can talk about jacking up the rates everyone has to pay.