New York City subway commuters were offered free passage on Wednesday, thanks to activists affiliated with Occupy Wall Street and members of the Transport Workers Union. The group, which identified itself as the 'Rank and File Initiative,' propped open numerous gates across the city with tape and chains and posted official-looking MTA signs that read 'Free Entry: No Fares Collected'.
The action, according to a press statement by the group, was intended to draw attention to rising commuter fares and falling services within New York's public transportation system. Because of out of control 'debt service,' the group argues, more and more of the system's revenue is going into the pockets of big banks and bondholders and less and less going to services, upgrades, and employee wages and benefits.
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According to the Village Voice:
A group calling itself the "Rank and File Initiative" claimed credit yesterday for opening up more than 20 subway stations throughout the city for free entry.
Chaining open emergency gates at stations on the F, L, R, Q, 3, and 6 lines during rush hour yesterday morning, the anonymous activists posted signs designed to resemble MTA service-change announcements that read "Free Entry, No Fare. Please Enter Through The Service Gate."
A press release claiming credit for the action said it was carried out by activists affiliated with Occupy Wall Street, as well as by rank-and-file members of Transit Workers Union Local 100, which is currently in negotiations with the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
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From the group's press release:
For the last several years, riders of public transit have been under attack. The cost of our Metrocards has been increasing, while train and bus service has been steadily reduced. Budget cuts have precipitated station closings and staff/safety reductions. Police routinely single out young black and Latino men for searches at the turnstile. Layoffs and attrition means cutting staff levels to the bare minimum, reducing services for seniors and disabled riders. At the same time, MTA workers have been laid off and have had their benefits drastically reduced. Contract negotiations are completely stalled.
Working people of all occupations, colors and backgrounds are expected to sacrifice to cover the budget cut by paying more for less service. But here's the real cause of the problem: the rich are massively profiting from our transit system. Despite the fact that buses and subways are supposed to be a public service, the government and the MTA have turned the system backwards--into a virtual ATM for the super-rich. Instead of using our tax money to properly fund transit, Albany and City Hall have intentionally starved transit of public funds for over twenty years; the MTA must resort to bonds (loans from Wall Street) to pay for projects and costs. The MTA is legally required to funnel tax dollars and fares away from transportation costs and towards interest on these bonds, called "debt service." This means Wall Street bondholders receive a huge share of what we put into the system through the Metrocards we buy and the taxes we pay: more than $2 billion a year goes to debt service, and this number is expected to rise every year. If trends continue, by 2018 more than one out of every five dollars of MTA revenue will head to a banker's pockets.
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And the New York Daily News: Occupy Wall Street gives straphangers free ride on NYC subway:
“No housework. No shopping. No banking. No school. No work,” one flier declared, using the symbols of the numbered lines to make a list.
The posters were professionally made and were designed in the style of MTA notices to riders. [...]
Police and transit sources said thick chains with padlocks were discovered on the gates at the following stations: 135th St. on the No. 3 and 116th St. on the No. 6 in Manhattan; Halsey St. on the L, Ninth Ave. on the D, Beverly Road on the Q and Carroll St. on the F in Brooklyn, and Steinway St. and 65th St. on the R in Queens, sources said.
Police are investigating but have not made any arrests. They are also probing whether transit workers were involved.