It’s cheaper and quicker to catch the bus – if you can get on it – if you’re out and about in the New York area this weekend. That’s because all those bargain-hunting tourists who queue every day for $30 seats on the No. 7 train won’t bother to travel this Saturday and Sunday. On the North and South lines, only a limited number of tickets will be sold at face value; it’s all about limited-quantity sales and taxes on sales of food and drink. On the New Jersey Transit Rail Lines, too, the longer you’re out of Manhattan, the more likely you’ll have to pay your own way.
“Generally, the lines (i.e. mass transit) are all packed,” said Lauren Booth, a spokeswoman for the New York Transit Authority. “Travelers have pretty much just hunkered down – there’s just no way for them to travel.”
Perhaps the best solution? That is, to restrict everyone from traveling at all.
All too often, New York is reduced to a sort of nanny state – a place where customers are expected to count their pennies instead of cracking open a bottle of Perrier and then swilling their way through the mile-long Grand Central line’s marble halls. “You can think it’s patriotic for other governments to address the socio-economic issues of their citizens, but most people think that’s ridiculous for a democracy,” says Joan Morello, a tourist from New York City, fighting traffic on the New Jersey Transit line.
“We’re just here to take advantage of the cheap fares – take advantage of it while you can,” adds tourist Lily Wong, standing on a platform about halfway down Manhattan’s Grand Central line, hunched over and sipping her tall iced beverage with a straw.
As New Yorkers, Ms. Wong and Ms. Booth should be thankful for the commute. Instead of jetting around the world, they can log in, use their smartphones, or simply blow off some steam in the coffee shops or coffee bars that line the train line. They can also catch a show on Broadway.
“It’s just a little more peaceful here. It’s safer. It’s going to be less crowded,” Ms. Booth says. “I always think people are up to something.”
People don’t like being around long lines and crowded trains. Last year, when New York saw a ten percent rise in tourist numbers, many New Yorkers suggested that they just didn’t like being seen as selfish, preoccupied, and smelly.
Even New York’s Transportation Commissioner Thomas Prendergast, one of the more optimistic of New York’s big thinkers, has weighed in, saying that current gas prices and the severe weather necessitated long lines. It could be a double-edged sword.
“[I am] very concerned about the increasing number of coalitions that are now forming that advocate against mass transit and just very much for foot traffic,” Mr. Prendergast told the New York Daily News.
Still, compared to having to try to ride the subway at rush hour with hundreds of other people, or to fill up your mini-van with gasoline, there’s clearly a lot of money at stake when the weekend begins.
There is a group for every kind of traveler, from business people and bloggers, to recovering griefers, to mothers with children in tow. New Yorkers just have more bus- and subway-centric lives; people in Europe and Asia use their long weekend of leisure to buy smaller, more affordable cars. In fact, nowadays, says Barbara McCann, a New Yorker flying to Chicago, “If I want to go on holiday I think I’ll drive.”
New Yorkers aren’t the only ones bothered by the warm feelings of sentimentality. Mary Mercurio, a busload of US Army reservists from Washington DC who were on their way to a Vermont bar for a big baseball game, noted that the police force wasn’t as friendly as it used to be.
“You see the lines down there,” Ms. Mercurio says. “A lot of things haven’t changed.”
But now that the Army is out of Afghanistan, Mercurio’s fellow Americans have fewer reasons to feel sorry for themselves.