The MTA: Inaccessible Transportation Amidst Crumbling Infrastructure From fare hikes, to signal issues, to ADA inaccessibility, the MTA is a crumbling piece of New York City infrastructure in dire need of funding and attention. In 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for the state funded MTA, calling to speed up repairs and replace outdated infrastructure (governor.ny.gov, 2019). Throughout 2018 and 2019, many news outlets reported on the decrepit state of the MTA, to the frustration of commuters across the five boroughs. Many New Yorkers also took to social media (Twitter, in particular) to express frustration and outrage at the delays in their daily commutes, despite rising fares. In 2019, New York Times reported frequently on commuter outrage from fare hikes to signal delays, often including social media in their reportage. One such article from September 2019 explained that delays could be attributed to a signal system that had not been updated since the 1930s (Fitzsimmons and Liebson, 2019). Another article from February of that same year titled, “Subway Fares Are Rising Again. But That Won’t Solve the M.T.A.’s Crisis,” explained how the price of weekly and monthly MetroCards were rising, as were commuter rail and toll prices (Fitzsimmons, 2019). In 2017 through 2020, both Gothamist and New York Times reported on the shocking lack of ADA accessible subway stations throughout the city, with detailed maps, and even a NYT 360 Video chronicling the point of view of a wheelchair handicapped person’s journey through the subway. This media coverage revealed that a mere 25% of the MTA’s 472 stations were ADA accessible, despite the MTA’s “Fast Forward,” program to make the system “100% accessible by 2034.” Data published in these news outlets additionally revealed that two thirds of New Yorkers with mobility issues live “far from an accessible station.” This data points to the inequities of transit deserts, areas which are critically underserved by public transportation, and often located in outer borough, low income neighborhoods of color (Diaz 2020. Patel, 2019).
Reportage following the 2017 MTA state of emergency exposes the frustration of commuters who are expected to pay more for a malfunctioning and inaccessible service. Further, data from this reportage also sheds light on the likelihood of marginalized New Yorkers to already live far from a subway station, at which an on time, accessible, and affordable commute cannot be guaranteed. Factors such as race, ability, income, housing, or work status not only affect the access of the commuter to the infrastructure itself, but also contribute significantly to the likelihood of that commuter facing punitive measures, should they evade the fare or engage in other behaviors deemed unacceptable by the police. Data from a 2017 report from the Community Service Society, The Crime of Being Short $2.75: Policing Communities of Color at the Turnstile, reveals that one in four low income New Yorkers often cannot afford the subway. At the same time, 2016 data from Brooklyn alone reveals that young Black men ages 16-36 represented half of all fare evasion arrests, despite being just 13.1% of poor adults. Again in 2017, out of 4,600 fare evasion arrests that were made in New York City, 90% were of Black and Latinx individuals. Arrests and fines for fare evasion cost the city around $50 million and counting, and arrests often occur when commuters are without identification, have outstanding warrants, or have evaded the fare in the past. Data also reveals that in Brooklyn alone, Black low income neighborhoods are more likely to have a heavily policed subway station than white and Latinx low income neighborhoods (Stolper and Jones, 2017).