Fixing Commuter Lines Is Like Fixing Gun Violence: We Need Someone in Charge.

My friend Mitchell Moss is Professor and Director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy at New York University and he can best be described as a pain in the rear end. And the reason he’s a pain is because he’s one of those guys who really believes that trains should run on time – not because he’s a follower of Mussolini, but because he knows that with proper planning and execution, services like public transportation on which we all depend to get through our daily lives, can be made to work and run the way they are supposed to work and run.

nycentral              The problem is that we take public services for granted until the moment they break down. When was the last time you thought about the 12 billion tons of solid waste that’s collected each day in New York City except on the day that the garbage truck that’s supposed to come through your neighborhood doesn’t show up? How about what to do if you turned on the tap in the kitchen sink and the water that came out was brown? And worst of all, how do you feel when you squeeze into a commuter train or subway and the train just sits, and sits, and sits. Or maybe you can’t even get into the train. Or maybe the train that you’re riding suddenly goes off the tracks.

Which is what has been happening during what Andy called the ‘summer of agony’ in a letter he sent to Donald Trump begging for federal funds. But the commuter mess in New York City isn’t just a question of replacing tracks and tunnels which are 100 years old. As Professor Moss describes it, the problem begins at the very top because, simply put, there’s nobody in charge.  When Amtrak took over the management of Northeast corridor railroads from the bankrupt Penn-Central back in the 1970s, nobody really gave much thought to the crumbling infrastructure – tracks and tunnels – which links the massive Pennsylvania Station commuter platforms to the lines which carry millions of commuters in and out of the city every day, along with the interface to the city’s subway system which has always been plagued by lack of repairs and lack of infrastructure funds. Last year I was in Chicago and as I was sitting on the subway that runs from the Loop out to O’Hare, a man came through the train with broom, sweeping up the floor. In the thirty-odd years I lived in New York City I never saw anyone cleaning a subway car while the train was in service – not once.

Now why would a guy like me who writes about guns and gun violence write a column about subways and commuter trains? Because sometimes I think that when it comes to figuring out what to do about gun violence we react in ways that somehow leave certain important things undone. And what I am going to say now should not be taken in any way as the slightest criticism of the good faith, hard work, commitment and energies of anyone who is involved with gun violence prevention; a.k.a. GVP. But it needs to be said nonetheless.

The GVP community has to develop some kind of messaging venue which competes with the NRA in terms of timeliness, reach and effectiveness. There’s a reason why a majority of Americans believe that keeping a gun in your house is less of a risk than not having a gun, and that’s because the NRA has been pushing the phony ‘armed citizen’ message for years. But you know what? Say it enough times and sooner or later it gets through.

I don’t think a week goes by without the boys in Fairfax mounting a video which repeats the ‘guns are great’ argument again and again. And I don’t see anything on the other side – our side – making the honest argument about the risk represented by guns.

Isn’t it high time GVP got together and began firing back?  Pardon the pun.

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One thought on “Fixing Commuter Lines Is Like Fixing Gun Violence: We Need Someone in Charge.

  1. For years people have bought ponderous SUVs because they allegedly made you safer on the road. Meanwhile, they were more likely to roll over and harder to stop in an emergency. They made everyone less safe too due to their body on frame design that would crush my little cars and subject their own owners to more g-forces on impact. Slowly, design improved but we are still stuck with the bigger is better idea.

    I am not sure what message needs to be sent. As we found out on Election Day, facts matter less than emotions. I see Miranda posted something yesterday. As one of the leaders of NMTPGV, she has been very innovative in creating emotional messages fighting gun violence, including having high school kids in at-risk areas painting anti-GV murals and doing guns to gardens. I somehow think those are more important at the grassroots level than statistics, since, as we know, people respond to value stuff, not data stuff. I guess those of us who do data stuff are important as resources,though.

    I like the plaque idea. Its visceral.

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