December 20, 2005,
One of the principal elements of civil society is the rule of law. Society depends upon most people obeying the law most of the time, together with tough sanctions for violation. In this spirit, the full strength of any and all sanctions of the Taylor Law should be imposed upon the leadership of New York's illegally striking bus and subway workers.
At the height of the holiday shopping season, the strike by bus and subway workers could not be a more ill-timedand antagonistic affront to its customers. Under New York's Taylor Law, enacted specifically because of a previous transit strike, it is illegal for public employees (sometimes called public servants) to strike. But these are not public servants. Public servants do not violate the law.
It should be clear that this is not a strike against the New York City Transit Authority. It is rather a strike against both the riders and taxpayers of New York City, not to mention taxpayers of the state and nation who provide lavish funding for the system. By any reasonable standard, NYCTA and its unions have been stiffly resistant to the types of reforms that have contained or even lowered the operating costs of transit systems from Stockholm and Copenhagen to London and Tokyo. New York's transit workers are hardly among the poor and downtrodden though many of the customers they today victimize are.
The strike is a serious inconvenience for city residents, and commuters from the suburbs who need to transfer from their buses and trains to get to their final destinations in Manhattan. But crippling New York and Manhattan is no longer enough to cripple the New York metropolitan area. Now, nearly two thirds of the population and 60 percent of the jobs are in the suburbs, outside New York City. Residents of Mount Vernon commute to their Stamford jobs, in confidence that Interstate 95 is not on strike. And no one needs to fear that the entrances to Interstate 287 in New Jersey or the Cross-Westchester will be closed.
The Taylor Law was enacted because the state leadership realized how important transit is to New York City. There are no close parallels anywhere else in North America. But laws are of little use if they are not followed and of even less use if they are not enforced.
There is a sad lesson, both for transit and those who enjoy New York's unique urban lifestyle. It is the lesson of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. Those who suffered most in New Orleans were dependent upon transit to get out of town, because, generally for want of income, they did not have the cars that provided the avenue of escape for almost everyone else. This large population of the forgotten poor learned that their incompetent city administration was not there when they most needed it. Throughout the New Orleans area, it was those fortunate enough to own their own cars that got out.
It is similar, with a twist, in New York. Of course, there are many households with insufficient income to have cars and, like in New Orleans, they are dependent upon transit. However, unlike anywhere else in the United States, New York has a large number of households choosing not to have a car even though they can afford it. They enjoy a high-quality urban life, at least in part, because of the service provided by the New York City Transit Authority. But today they, like less affluent transit riders, have been abandoned by a local transit labor movement out of control.
For decades, households have been leaving the crowded urban cores of American, Western European, and Japanese cities, moving to the suburbs. There are many reasons, from crime and taxes to the quality of life in the suburbs, that this is so attractive to most people. New York City has done better, having gained one out of every ten new residents in the metropolitan area. The transit unions have just given New Yorkers another reason to vote with their feet.
Wendell Cox is principal of Wendell Cox Consultancy, an international public-policy firm in the St. Louis metropolitan region. He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission and serves as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers in Paris.