Today I am writing about an action that made me really angry.
According to Adbusters:
“Last week, occupiers in New York City chained open subway entrances and posted official looking notices inviting the public to ride for free. Their innovative action caused an immediate sensation in the Occupy movement suggesting that similar jams will be carried out worldwide in May.”
The “I Don’t Pay” movement, started in Greece, to protest the mismanagement of public funds by governments who they say do not “care” for their citizens. They show their anger by shutting down the revenue streams of public transit systems and letting everyone ride for “free”:
To give full disclosure, I have done a fair share of transit advertising, including campaigns against fare evasion. But apart from professional interest, I am personally affronted by what these actions really do.
Public transit is essential for the sustainability of large cities. It is also depended upon by people who cannot afford or access other forms of urban transportation. People depend on public transit to get to work, to go shopping, to access healthcare, and simply to have a normal social life. Who are these dependent riders? They are “the 99%”.
I understand that the Occupy movement is attempting to state that public transit should be free of charge. As a transit rider and advocate, I’d love that too.
But I also know that even with paid fares, public transit systems struggle to make ends meet. They fight for public funding with every other priority, and provide services at a net loss. Systems are constantly having to reduce service because of economic downturns.
Could city governments decide free transit is their #1 priority, and make it happen? Of course they could, at the expense of other services such as waste removal, street maintenance, public health and other services that equally struggle for funds. And in a democracy, citizens would have to vote in a city council willing to make such a bold move. Short of this ideal transit world, however, systems will continue to depend on user fees in the form of fares to remain functional.
So who does Adbusters, Occupy and I Don’t Pay hurt by sabotaging fare collection on a large scale? Riders. Because if the system loses a big chunk of money, it will not be rescued by an increased tax on the 1% of affluent people. It will instead result in further cuts to public services, the very services that the other 99% depend on for their everyday lives. Meanwhile, the affluent will continue to ignore transit and drive to work.
I cannot understand how this action is supposed to anyone. It can only hurt the very people who need transit most. And that sucks.