To the editor:
On Oct. 27, 1904, the Interborough Rapid Transit company opened the first subway line. It ran nine miles from City Hall uptown on the east side across 42nd Street (today’s shuttle) to Times Square, and proceeded uptown to 145th Street, and included 28 stations.
More than 150,000 riders paid a 5-cent fare.
The original Brooklyn Manhattan Rapid Transit — many of the lettered lines — and IRT subway systems were constructed and managed by the private sector with no government operating subsidies. Financial viability was 100 percent dependent upon fare box revenues. They supported both the development and economic growth of numerous neighborhoods in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens.
As part of the franchise agreement the owners had to sign, City Hall had direct control over the fare structure. For a time, owners actually made a profit with a 5-cent fare. After two decades passed, the costs of salaries, maintenance, power, supplies and equipment would pressure owners to ask City Hall for permission to raise the fares.
This additional revenue was needed to maintain a good state of repair, increase the frequency of service, purchase new subway cars, pay employee salary increases, and support planned system expansion. Politicians more interested in the next re-election refused this request each year, for well over two decades.
To survive, owners of both systems looked elsewhere to reduce costs and stay in business. They started curtailing basic maintenance, delayed purchases of new subway cars, postponed salary increases for employees, canceled any plans for system expansion, and cut corners to survive.
In the 1930s, New York City began construction of the new Independent Subway — todays A, C, E, F and G lines. This new municipal system — subsidized by taxpayer dollars — would provide direct competition to both the IRT and BMT. Municipal government forced them into economic ruin by denying them fare increases that would have provided access to additional revenues.
Big Brother — just like the Godfather — eventually made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. The owners folded and sold out to City Hall.