Friday, September 9, 2016

Happy 84th To The A Train



By Larry Penner

Photo by Robby Schwach Photo by Robby SchwachOn Sept. 10, 1932, service started on the A train which originally ran between 207th Street in upper Manhattan and Chambers Street in downtown Manhattan. This was the first city owned and built IND subway line.
At the time, it was considered state of the art with rattan seats, metal straps and overhead fans providing speedy service. The subway cars were so well built, many ran over 40 years into the early 1970s. The basic design of these cars served as the foundation for future generations, right up to the present day. IND stations on the A line were built to accommodate up to 11 car lengths. During the 1930s, NYC began building and financing construction of the new IND (Independent Subway - today’s A, C, E, F and G lines). This new municipal system completely subsidized by taxpayers’ dollars would provide direct competition to both the privately owned IRT (Interboro Rapid Transit - today’s 1,2,3,4,5,6 and 7 lines) and BMT (Brooklyn Manhattan Transit - today’s B,D,J,L,M,N,R,Q and Z lines).
The original base fare of five cents was established in 1913. Municipal government forced both the BMT and IRT into economic ruin by denying them fare increases in future decades that would have provided access to additional badly needed 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 in 1940.
The A train became famous in the 1940’s when jazz musician Duke Ellington wrote “Take the A Train.” The A line was extended in 1936 known as the “Fulton Street branch” running thru Brooklyn terminating at Lefferts Boulevard in Queens. When the Long Island Rail Road abandoned the Rockaway Beach Branch in the 1950s, the A line was extended to provide new service to the Rockaways which began on June 28, 1956.
In 1953, the old NYC Board of Transportation passed on control of the municipal subway system, including all its assets to the newly created New York City Transit Authority. Under late Governor Nelson Rockefeller in the ‘60s, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority was created. The governor appointed four board members. Likewise, the mayor four more and the rest by suburban county executives. No one elected official controlled a majority of the votes. As a result, elected officials have historically taken credit when the MTA or any operating subsidiary such as New York City Transit would do a good job. When operational problems occurred or fare increases were needed — everyone could put up their hands. Don’t blame me; I’m only a minority within the board. Decade after decade, NYC mayors, comptrollers, public advocates, City Council presidents, borough presidents and City Council members would all play the same sad song — if only we had majority control of the board – things would be different. All have long forgotten that buried within the 1953 master agreement between the City of New York and NYC Transit is an escape clause. NYC has the legal right at any time to take back control of its assets which includes the subway and most of the bus system as well. Actions speak louder than words. If municipal elected officials feel they could do a better job running the nation’s largest subway and bus system, why not step up to the plate now and regain control of your destiny.
Many are too young to remember that up until the 1970s — NYC Transit extended E line service which ran express in Brooklyn providing supplemental service to the A line during rush hours to the Rockaways. Riders up until the early 1970s had to pay an extra fare when traveling beyond Broad Channel to any other station in the Rockaways. For off peak and late night service, there was the old HH local shuttle from either Rockaway Park or Far Rockaway to Euclid Avenue Station which was the first stop in Brooklyn.
Larry Penner is a transportation historian and advocate who previously worked 31 years for the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration New York Region 2 Office. His letters to the editor appear regularly in The Wave
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