It May Not Be the End of the World, but It’s Bad News for Transit Riders

Optimism being our default position, let’s begin with the good news:

The Day

Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.

If doomsday prophesies based on the ancient Mayans’ Long Count calendar prove to be correct, and thus the world comes to an end on Friday, the higher transit fares just approved by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will not go into effect.

There, don’t you feel better now?

Not only that, but if the world is kaput, Joseph J. Lhota doesn’t have to resign as the authority’s chairman, as he said on Thursday that he would so he could devote his energies to contemplating a race for mayor. He could stay right where he is, basking in praise or dodging arrows.

Of course, things could always go wrong. Maybe the end is not nigh. Many governments have issued statements insisting that it isn’t. Even the Vatican weighed in. Its leading astronomer, the Rev. Jose Funes, said the other day that the doomsday scenarios were “not even worth discussing.”

At the risk of seeming unkind, it must be said that the Vatican is not always the most reliable source when it comes to the rhythms of the cosmos. Remember, it waited 359 years, until 1992, to acknowledge that perhaps Galileo had a point and the church was wrong to have condemned him in 1633 for proving that the Earth moved around the sun.

But the Holy See might have it right this time, in which case the Earth will keep spinning beyond Friday. That’s bad news for New York’s mass-transit riders because there is no other visible way to head off fare increases that the transportation authority’s board voted on Thursday, to take effect in March. You can read here how your wallet will be damaged.

Apparently, most New Yorkers had assumed the worst about the world surviving. Their resignation to higher fares was palpable.

In November, relatively few people turned out for the authority’s public hearings on the proposed increases. It was the same on Thursday, with only 15 or so people seizing an opportunity to tell the board what they thought before it voted. Many were regulars at these meetings, their opinions a given before they even said a word.

Fare raises, everyone knew, were as unstoppable as the Earth’s rotation.

So was Mr. Lhota’s decision to leave the authority a mere 14 months after becoming its chairman. Whoever replaces him – at least provisionally, it might be Fernando Ferrer, the former Bronx borough president and mayoral candidate — would be the fourth chairman in a little over five years. Some might well wonder if this rapid turnover at the top is any way to run a railroad.

Despite Mr. Lhota’s insistence that he still has serious thinking to do, it is hard to grasp why he would walk away so soon from such a vital position unless he had pretty much made up his mind to run for mayor.

Received wisdom is that the odds against him are long: He is a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, he has never held elective office and he is (choose one) admirably forthright or heedlessly abrasive. Then again, these were all characteristics of the two men who have run City Hall for the past 19 years, Michael R. Bloomberg and Rudolph W. Giuliani (a political patron to Mr. Lhota). Who knows? Maybe lightning can strike thrice.

A leading Democratic contender, the City Council speaker Christine C. Quinn, has already taken the possibility of a Lhota candidacy seriously enough to fire a shot across his bow. Her campaign left little doubt on Thursday that it would keep reminding New Yorkers of “the Lhota fare hike” they will soon endure.

But what if Mr. Lhota forgoes a race? Or what if he does run, and fizzles. He himself said there was a good argument against his candidacy. “It concerns me,” he acknowledged on Thursday, “that I’ll be leaving in the middle of what should be a campaign on behalf of the entire M.T.A. system.”

That would be a fine legacy should he fail: to be known as the man who left mass-transit riders in the lurch so that he could embark on a lost cause. Like the world, only this time in T.S. Eliot’s vision, his pursuit of glory would end not with a bang but a whimper.


E-mail Clyde Haberman: [email protected]

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