The Subway Should Be Free

moving_forward.jpg
George Haikalis of the Institute for Rational Urban Mobility, with microphone. Environmentalist Theodore W. Kheel, seated next to him, at far right, would reduce the subway fare to nothing.

On December 23, 1943, the New York City subways carried more than 8 million people, said the labor relations arbitrator and environmentalist Theodore W. Kheel last night at a reception celebrating an exhibit promoting greater integration of the region's rail systems. Then the nickel fare was raised to a dime and ridership plummeted. Now it is $2, he noted, and the record ridership of December 1943 has never been achieved since. 

Think the subways are crowded now? No way. We're operating at about half that all-time record, despite more than a decade or more of increasing ridership. "The people haven't gone away," Kheel noted. "They're still here. They've gone to the automobile."

Kheel would like to lure those drivers back to the subway by raising the cost of driving and making the subway free to the riders.

Why raise the cost of driving? "We should make the drivers pay for the cost they impose on the public through the strangulation of movement and the pollution that they bring about."

kheel.jpgWhy make the subway free? First, Kheel said it would save the city money overall. (He didn't elaborate on how, but I imagine that savings would come in terms of reduced costs for road maintenance, fewer vehicle accidents and hence emergency services, reduced asthma cases, etc.) Second, the city is in the habit of offering public goods for free. Fire and police protection come at no cost to their beneficiaries, for example. Why should safe, efficient transportation?

Kheel, the president of Nurture New York's Nature, Inc., put his money where his mouth is last night. He presented George Haikalis of the Institute for Rational Urban Mobility with a $100,000 check so that the institute can conduct a study that Kheel hopes will show that a free subway fare would indeed reduce taxes on the general public.