The facts on track deaths
The Transport Workers Union won a round last Thursday in its war with the MTA, when the TWUs month-long campaign against subway-track deaths scored it a packed City Council hearing.
Lost in the drama was the fact that riding on the subways is one of the safest things you can do — and what little danger there is comes from the MTAs crushing fiscal burden, an area where the TWU is far from innocent.
Frustrated after a year without a contract, the union has taken a novel approach to labor relations: telling customers that the MTA doesnt care if you die.
At the City Hall subway station, union members handed out "MetroCards" with a message: the "blood"-spattered cards warned "use at your risk" and featured a skeletal MTA exec dressed as the Grim Reaper.
The council ate it up. Transportation Committee Chairman James Vacca intoned, "The cost of doing business is $2.25, not your life. One death on our citys subway tracks is one death too many."
Councilfolk spent two hours grilling MTA brass on why theyre so heartless that they dont take basic steps to save lives, ranging from slowing down trains to putting "life preserver" rope kits on platforms to spending billions to install barriers with sliding doors.
Councilwoman Liz Crowley of Queens left her understanding of physics at home, noting that slower passenger-car speed limits save lives. "These are rail cars," one MTA official explained. That is, theyre heavy enough to kill even at lower speeds.
No one brought up the obvious: Riding the subway (or waiting for one) is pretty safe.
At first glance, its shocking to see that 55 people died last year in some kind of collision with a subway train.
But 291 people died in above-ground car and truck crashes crashes in the city, including 176 walkers and bikers. Nationwide, youre about 71 times more likely (per mile traveled) to die in a car crash than a rail crash.
And the subways not getting more dangerous. While the death total has been as low as 34 in recent years, it was 55 in 2007, just like last year. Plus, its not clear that extraordinary measures would save many of these lives.
People may think that most subway deaths are "pushing" murders — but Decembers two such crimes were the only two that year. In a 2009 academic article studying more than four years worth of New York subway deaths (211 total) two doctors found that 52 percent were suicides.
Sadly, the MTA could spend billions protecting these folk from themselves only to see them jump off the George Washington Bridge instead, as one woman did last week.
And of the victims who didnt kill themselves, nearly half had an average of twice the legal driving limit of alcohol in their blood. Altogether, nearly two-thirds of the accident victims were on alcohol or mind-altering drugs.
To that end, the MTA noted last week that a disproportionate number of deaths occur between 9 p.m. and midnight, not at crowded rush hours.
This is common sense: Drunks do dumb things — fall, fight (which resulted in three falls last year, not including the two pushings) or think its wise to climb down to get a dropped iPhone.
Most telling: Of the 211 deaths the doctors studied, 83 percent were men, reflecting mens greater risk-taking behavior.
Since these deaths are already largely avoidable, its hard to see what we gain by spending billions trying to avoid them — or by slowing down trains, adding to long commutes and creating more crowding on busy platforms.
Speaking of crowding: The biggest risk is that the MTA wont have enough money to grow its transit system as ridership grows — cramming more people onto crowded lines like the Lex, or forcing frustrated riders into cars, where they face more danger.
And the MTAs biggest money drain is its rising pension and health costs for its workers. Such costs will grow by 6.2 percent and 8.2 percent respectively at the subway and bus unit each year, reaching nearly $2.5 billion by 2016.
Too bad no city councilman mentioned that.
Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/the_true_subway_peril_gjq7GuCZPbnkCRCIQ1lRRJ