'Straphanger' author Taras Grescoe: MTA is better than driving
In his new book, "Straphanger," (available in stores now), Canadian travel writer Taras Grescoe writes about how people in cities across the globe get around without a car.
The 45-year-old author highlights each city's transit system's strengths and weaknesses, along with a bit of history explaining how it got that way, with chapter 1 focusing on the New York subway.
Grescoe spoke with amNewYork about why he thinks the MTA is good deal for riders and why he doesn’t own a car.
You say in the book that you don’t want a car and don’t think people and cities should focus on them. Why? Basically it’s the romance of the car: it promises freedom and it ended up delivering congestion and social isolation. It’s a bad form of public transit for a city — an inappropriate form. It doesn’t work. We’ve seen what happens when you try to cram cars into cities like New York ... People suffer from long commutes, they suffer from pollution and they suffer from all of these sorts of social isolation that comes from cities where there are no public spaces. Cities built around cars are very bad at creating public spaces.
Does New York emphasize too much on cars?One of the great flaws in New York, in spite of the fact that it’s a city that you think would repel cars because of its narrow streets and high population density, is the fact that so many government employees get free parking at all levels of government. A lot of the lawmakers are in Albany and they live in the suburbs. That’s one huge problem that’s never going to go away. The other problem is parking placards. That creates a conflict of interest, especially in New York, where the lawmakers, the legislators, are the ones who have the greatest interest in having the streets flowing. They want everyone else in the subway so the streets could be free for them.
Is there one city’s transit system you hold above the rest? I guess I’d say Tokyo and Paris. I’d say that because you can get anywhere in those cities using transit — you don’t need a car. And because you’re linked in to a transit system that can take you to the smallest and most far-flung niche of those metropolises.
How do you think the MTA is? People get frustrated about it, but man, you’ve got a pretty sweet subway there. I love riding it. And in spite of weekend closures, in spite of all of the problems, in spite of all of the aggravations, you could live in New York without a car and save a lot of money.
What can the MTA do better? For one thing, get an up-to-date payment system, which would be fantastic. Long term, completing long-delayed replacement lines like the Second Avenue subway is essential. Extensions out to Jersey would definitely be a good idea. You really need to add more track mileage.
What’s keeping them from improving? I don’t think there’s enough money coming in from various levels of government to make it the world-class system it needs to be.
Subway fare used to be a nickel a ride, and now it’s up to $2.25. Is it worth it? Compared to places like London where the shortest trip costs 4 [British] pounds (about $6.50) and Canadian cities it’s pretty expensive, I think actually New Yorkers are getting a pretty good deal.