The NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign fights for safe, reliable, accessible, and affordable New York City mass transit, offers critical information to the public, and empowers riders.
The NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign serves as a voice for New York City’s eight and a half million daily subway and bus riders. Since 1979, we have organized the riding public to speak up for affordable fares, more attractive service, and the continued rebuilding and expansion of public transit.
In a city like New York, mass transit defines where you live, where you play, and where you go to school. It is the “great equalizer” of opportunity and why accessible, affordable, and safe transportation is so important. When the Straphangers Campaign was founded in 1979, New York City's mass transit system had deteriorated to a point that seemed almost beyond repair. Track fires, delays, broken doors, graffiti, and buses in marked disrepair were a regular occurrence. The subways were viewed as dangerous and unreliable. Ridership plummeted to the lowest level in 80 years. Businesses cited poor transit as the leading reason for moving out of New York. The system had become a symbol of the decline of the city itself.
Today, just like in 1979, we are at an inflection point: As we emerge from the isolation of the last several years, New Yorkers are looking to reconnect and start afresh, but they are feeling like the city, state, and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) are failing them. New York City is not a car city – it is a mass transit city facing a crisis in confidence in the public service that is the lifeblood of our city, and as such it is critical that our public transit system represents the future and not the past.
Over the last 40 years, our organizing efforts have brought massive improvements, including billions of dollars in funds to buy new subway cars, fix stations, repair tracks, and expand the system. We also helped to win unlimited-ride MetroCards and fare discounts for low-income New Yorkers. Most recently, won a commitment from city and state transit agencies to redesign and improve local bus service, as well as an over $15-billion-dollar investment in funding for transit infrastructure over the next decade with the implementation of congestion pricing.
Despite our many victories, our advocacy is needed now more than ever. The pandemic drove half the city off of public transportation and into personal cars amidst a climate emergency, contributing further to air pollution and street congestion. The cost of living has skyrocketed, as the MTA votes to hike fares while cracking down on fare evasion. Our buses are still the slowest in the country, moving at an average speed of seven miles per hour. Transit accessibility is in a complete state of disrepair, with less than a quarter of all subway stations ADA accessible.
There is still much work to be done to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to the reliable, affordable, and safe public transportation that they deserve. If anything, we have consistently demonstrated that we can push city and state and MTA officials to meet rider needs when we organize and hold them accountable. It is possible for New York City to have a world class public transportation system, but New Yorkers need to believe in it – and they need to see results.
Bus Turnaround Campaign
New York City’s subway system is one of the largest in the world, with 472 subway stations across the boroughs and enough rail to reach from New York City to Chicago. Yet despite the size of New York City’s vast subway network, less than two-thirds of New Yorkers live within walking distance from a subway.
Subway and rail “deserts” particularly affect more marginalized communities, many of whom depend heavily on bus service for travel. In New York, 75% of bus riders are people of color, 12% are foreign-born, and over 15% are over the age of 65. The average salary of a New York City bus rider is $28,455, compared to that of the average subway rider, which is $40,000.
The best way for the transit gap among communities to disappear is for more frequent and effective quality bus service to exist where there are transit deserts. Building new subways or other rail is simply too slow and too costly to be the only immediate solution, or even the main solution. For instance, the first phase of the Second Avenue subway – three stations – cost over $4.5 billion and a considerable amount of time.
Connecting communities by bus service is a far more viable option. Yet as bus riders know from bitter daily experience, bus service currently is unacceptably slow and unreliable. While bus ridership has dropped dramatically in recent years, there is still a considerable number of New Yorkers for whom taking alternative transit is simply not an option.
Prior to the pandemic, daily ridership on New York City buses was about two million trips. Relative to the population as a whole, these riders are more likely to be people with low incomes or people of color. Following a pattern seen in other cities, bus ridership continues to rebound faster than subway ridership, and we must make bus riders a priority. For decades, transit has faced severe challenges. The MTA and New York City Department of Transportation must respond to these challenges by prioritizing the needs of Black and brown New Yorkers, otherwise the longstanding disparities magnified by COVID-19 will be exacerbated.
As a leading member of the New York City Bus Turnaround Campaign, the Straphangers Campaign has taken a multi-year approach to fixing the city’s long-ailing bus service. By building a constituency broadly and deliberately, we hope to develop a base of riders who are willing to share their story, advocate for better bus service, and engage in a lengthy political process that is historically ambivalent to riders’ wants and needs.