Infrastructure and Class

If you were fortunate enough to have internet during the Frankenstorm, you probably saw pictures of the massive flooding of New York City’s subway system–which averages around 5.3 million rides per day (probably 2 million people). If it were a state, it would larger than fourteen different U.S. states. The effect of losing the subway for an extended period of time could be devastating to some riders, especially the lower-middle and working poor (boldface mine):

Some are commuters within the more affluent parts of Manhattan (Upper East or West Side to Midtown or downtown) who can in many cases use busses or cabs as an alternative, but a lot are from Brooklyn, Queens, or parts of Manhattan (Harlem, Inwood) where walking is impractical and income levels make cab or livery service out as an alternative. And even if the city gooses up bus service in the interim, it simply can’t move enough people to compensate.

What is going to happen to these people for the week or more while the subway is put back into service? The five boroughs has income disparity as high as China. Many of these people are modestly paid hourly workers, and some will be hit hard by the loss of even a week of income. These are the people you might or might not notice, yet are critical to the functioning of the city: the janitors, the cooks and delivery men, the people who run newsstands and dry cleaners and cobblers and food carts, the people who do secretarial and clerical work in businesses large and small throughout the city. And some are in more obviously important support roles, such as hospital orderlies, private duty nurses, home health aides, nurses and dental hygienists. And if the owners of some of these small business owners can’t get into the city and have to leave their shops shuttered or on reduced hours, they still have to pay the rent. There will be distress that will, as always, strike people who are not well placed, and here it will be by virtue of depending on the subway. The New York Times no doubt will deign to notice, particularly if the subway isn’t largely back in service relatively soon (after all, the limited availability of the service class will be visible to the upper income types that are the core of the Times’s readership; the really rich have live-ins and drivers and will be, as always, largely insulated). But will the real impact on this group be measured well and treated as a serious cost of this disaster? Pretty unlikely.

Atrios points out the obvious (to sane people anyway, which excludes the bulk of the Republican Party):

New York can’t really function without the mass transit system working. I’m not sure if the Galtian Overlords who profit from that city understand that.

If they do figure this out, the tragedy is that it will have taken a massive disaster so they can grow as people (or whatever the current business speak bafflegarb is). Though, tragically, it never hurts to put money on stupid.

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1 Response to Infrastructure and Class

  1. Iaato says:

    http://www.resilience.org/stories/2012-10-31/sandy-and-digital-snow-days

    Opening up the NYSE only heightens the visibility of the inequities between the haves and have nots, which is now defined by the presence or absence of the defining line of electricity.

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