Mayor Adams’ Subway Safety Plan

If anyone thought that Mayor Adams’ “Subway Safety Plan” would be slipped back in the drawer after a brief burst of press conference rhetoric and some follow-up gestures, it was dispelled by more than a half dozen knifings in trains and stations last weekend.

Just as the killing of Michelle Go, who was pushed into the path of an oncoming train in January sparked the call for safer subways, it will be the ongoing crime and homelessness that will force officialdom to respond and keep responding until the situation improves.

The new campaign is focusing on homelessness. (Go’s killer was a homeless man with a history of mental illness.) The understanding is that the two are linked. If homelessness in the subways cannot be mitigated, they will continue to be crime-ridden, unhealthy and unwelcoming places.

The Mayor framed it well, stressing that ridding the subways of homeless people is good not only for the general public but for them as well:

“It is cruel and inhumane to allow unhoused people to live on the subway, and unfair to paying passengers and transit workers who deserve a clean, orderly and safe environment. … It will take time, but our work starts now.”

And so, the Subway Safety Plan went into action on Monday night. The New York Times reported, “On Friday, Mr. Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that the over 1,000 people who shelter in the nation’s largest subway system would be removed.”

Details were sparse, though. What exactly happened to those first hundred was not immediately known. Were they, for instance, escorted to the “drop-in” shelters we’ve read about? Nor has the Mayor’s campaign committed to specific goals and estimated costs. There is no timetable; only an acknowledgment/warning that the thing will take time.

However, that open-endedness may be a point in its favor. The Mayor is not proclaiming ambitious benchmarks that won’t be met, not making promises he can’t keep.

Indeed, the problem is complex, involving economic, social and political factors that have stymied every major city in the country from Los Angeles to Boston. We are witness to scenes of human misery in our cities that we once associated only with the streets of Calcutta, Buenos Aires or Manila.

If the causes, such as lack of low-cost housing and lack of mental health care, are well known, they are not easily addressed. We are horrified and frightened by what we see, and dismayed by the abysmal failure of government to change it.

And needless to say, homelessness is not the only cause of crime in the subways, which plagued New York’s underground transit long before homelessness became a major issue.

Adams hasn’t been using the term “zero tolerance,” but much of what he’s saying conveys the same message. As he said at the Friday press conference, in response to a question by a Hamodia reporter:

“I think it’s a big mistake not enforcing fare evasion. We saw that during the mid-’80s — people didn’t pay their fare [and] they were participating in criminal behavior.” Not enforcing fare payment “sends the wrong message, and it does not create the environment that we need. And when I meet with the DAs, I’m going to share that with them.”

“No more smoking. No more doing drugs. No more sleeping. No more doing barbecues on the subway system. No more just doing whatever you want,” Adams said last Friday as he announced the plan.

“No. Those days are over. Swipe your MetroCard. Ride the system. Get off at your destination. That’s what this administration is saying.” Ah, a city that aspires to be law-abiding.

The zero tolerance approach is, of course, not a new one. But what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in the fact that it’s an old idea that worked. And even if some sociologists are of the opinion that other factors, like changing demographics, and not zero tolerance, were responsible for the dramatic drop in crime back then, it’s worth conducting an “experiment”:

Try it again. And if crime in the subways once again falls dramatically, credit what you wish, but make sure everybody pays their fare.

What is new, perhaps, is the sense of determination. To work at the problem steadfastly, and not give up until there are real results. Until the subways once again belong to the people of New York, to ride in safety and security.

That way lies the economic recovery we all seek. It will take time, but with determination, b’ezras Hashem, it will come.

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