Wednesday, May 19, 2010

MTA Service Cuts Disrupt the Social Order of Commuters

The service changes approved by the MTA board in late March are not supposed to take effect until June. However, change came early for the LIRR as the organization canceled seven trains yesterday. While it may not seem as though seven is a large number, the effects of the change are certainly being felt by the commuters adjusting to new schedules, new trains, and new commuting buddies.

When I got to my LIRR station on Monday, the Fox 5 News van didn't register as I hurried up the stairs to get to my spot (I'm a camper). However, as more people—strange, new people—crowded around me, I slowly realized that yesterday was the day the new schedules went into effect. New schedules were necessary because the LIRR was canceling some trains.

Today the effects of these changes were clear. I live on one of the affected lines, and there are more people trying to board the trains I take. And unfortunately, they seem to come from trains where discourteous behavior was tolerated. For example, cell phone talkers are abundant, and no amount of sighing or dirty looks seem to get the message across that no one in the car cares that the cousin of your sister's roommate has a strange rash that appeared after a lusty night with that guy she's been stalking at the bar. Really. Not one of us cares—well, perhaps a few people do so they can avoid her, but we know who those riders are. (They're the ones you try not to fall asleep next to.) Seating patterns have been disrupted. My commuting buddy has been sighted entering other rail cars! The man who was alarmed when he had to sit in a different row one day. On the platforms, these new riders are naturally trying to bring their old habits with them. They want to occupy their normal spots on the platform, but these spots "belong" to the regular riders of the train that is accommodating the displaced. They're trying to infiltrate spots long occupied by well-known campersᰬthey jostle and edge around other commuters.

Yes, I realize that these sound like really petty issues, but the social order on the LIRR is shifting. Regular riders of the trains that are accommodating stranded commuters are noticeably more aware of their surroundings (e.g., there are less sleepers), and they are noticeably more irritated by the the disruptions caused by ringing cell phones and blaring iPods (e.g., there is more rustling, clearing of throats, and sighing as calls drone on and on). Given the cost of tickets for these commuter trains, some have asked the LIRR to increase the presence of ticket collectors, and for them to be more active in enforcing courtesy requests. Is this realistic? It's doubtful. I'm sure the ticket collectors aren't too far behind the rest of the service cuts.

A fare increase would have been worse. Monthly passes for the LIRR can run a commuter about $200.00, and it can be more if you live farther out on Long Island. And once the change settles in and commuters have time to adjust, there may be some return to the norms. However, as more people are packed into the trains, the likelihood of discourtesy seems to increase. It's survival of the fittest in this urban environment.

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