Will New York City Die of Stupidity?

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by Robert Weissberg, American Thinker:

Since the 1960s many of America’s foremost cities, notably Detroit, Newark, St. Louis, and Baltimore have exhibited sharp declines in population, economic vitality, and overall quality of life. Today, other major cities such Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and even New York City may soon join this list. Our urban failures cannot be explained by the usual destructive forces. No foreign invader sacked them or bombed them into rubble; no earthquakes or plagues made them unlivable nor have economic depressions rendered them irrelevant. Their decline is entirely man-made, so as Pogo famously said, “we have met the enemy, and he is us.”

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Like carbon monoxide poisoning, urban decline comes slowly, often barely noticed and decades may pass before a tottering-on-the brink city must be rescued by Washington. If one word explains this slide toward disaster, it is stupidity and, particularly, stupidity month after month, year after years and is the barely noticeable nature of insanity that makes it so difficult to reverse.

This “death by a thousand stupidities” is currently occurring in New York City with its attempts to rescue its public transportation from bankruptcy. The city desperately needs to upgrade its aging subway, bus, and rail system and without these vital improvements (estimated to cost $51.5 billion annually), the city risks paralysis from automobile traffic. Moreover, until very recently, there was a financial solution in the form of a $15 tax on all cars entering lower Manhattan to raise $15 billion, but at the last minute, Governor Hochul cancelled it due to public outrage. The state legislature may recuse the city, but this remains uncertain.

The situation is dire since lacking affordable, efficient public transportation, businesses will hire fewer workers, and thus be forced to cut back, close, or leave the city, and this may devastate the already struggling office building market while destroying the retail that depends on these daily workers. Foreclosures and bankruptcies will soar, and reduced taxes mean less money for police, schools, social services, sanitation and all else that makes the city livable. The doom loop may begin.

Central to this impending financial shortfall is the system’s declining use. Currently, subway ridership is about 71% of what it was pre-Covid, bus use is down about 60% and commuter rail at about three-quarters of previous usage.

Crime drives this decline. In January of 2024 felony crime was up 47% compared to the previous year, grand larcenies also increased and there were older women randomly pushed off platforms into the tracks and incoming trains. Uncounted is the rational fear of crime — crazy-looking men sleeping on benches, the deranged wandering the platforms loudly talking to themselves and aggressive, disheveled panhandlers strolling car-to-car,

The one offense that goes directly to the city’s potential insolvency is fare evasion,  at theft of Services, a violation of New York Penal Section 165.15, a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail though nobody ever serves jail time. It is estimated that the city has recently lost some $700 million thanks to people refusing to pay — 46% of bus riders and 13% of subway riders and these fare evaders disproportionately commit crimes and otherwise deter riders. While police have recently cracked down on these crimes, it remains rampant and, critically, enforcement effort is often dilatory as many police officers just stand around talking or reading their cell phones. Tellingly, the police ignore the scary people whose presence may also lower ridership.

Nevertheless, as observant public transportation users will attest, not paying remains rampant at 900,000 per day, and public officials have just announced a new approach. Will offenders be arrested and incarcerated?  After all, these tactics have proven records. Rest assured, a new plan is in the making, and the piêce de resistance of this new approach is allocating  between a half million and $1 million for experts to analyze the motivation of those who refuse to pay their fare. According to the city, “historic approaches” such as punishment have had “limited” success so we now must probe what motivates these miscreants so the city can get its $700 million annually.

Experts with “behavioral change experience” across multiple social science disciplines will be hired. They will analyze the motivations and socioeconomic background of fare evaders to develop “avant-garde” solutions. Almost guaranteed, these “findings” will reveal that that those who skip paying are poor, feel marginalized, and suffer from exclusion from the economic mainstream. So, fix the environment and the city will get its $700 million.

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