Editorial Roundup: New York

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:

Keep the Trains and Buses Running

The New York Times

Jan. 21

The coronavirus pandemic is jeopardizing the long-term health of the public transit systems that provide a crucial circulatory system for major American cities — particularly for lower-income residents who depend on trains and buses to get to work, the market or the doctor.

Transit authorities have tried to ride out the pandemic, which has sharply reduced ridership and farebox revenues, by curtailing service. In New York, where the subway famously runs through the night, the subway no longer runs through the night. Metra, the Chicago area’s primary commuter rail service, has suspended roughly half of its daily schedule. Atlanta’s regional transportation agency has stopped running buses on more than 60 of its 110 bus routes.

These transit cuts are yet another area in which affluence has shaped the experience of the pandemic. Many well-to-do commuters are able to work from home, or to drive to the office. The changes amount to an inconvenience. Millions of lower-income Americans, meanwhile, work in jobs that require their presence, and they cannot afford to get to work in other ways. They must leave home earlier, wait longer, walk farther and return later. What once took half an hour may now take two hours. A direct commute may now require two transfers.

At first blush, it may seem logical to calibrate service to current ridership. “Running empty trains and buses, as a general rule, is bad public policy,” Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts said in December, defending plans for sharp cuts in Boston-area transit services. “Making sure that you have a system that actually serves the people who want to ride it when they want to ride it — and the way they want to ride it — is the right way to go.”

In the context of the pandemic, that reasoning is small-minded and shortsighted. Officials are making a profound mistake by allowing transit to atrophy. Service cuts punish those who need public transit the most, and while most Americans don’t ride transit regularly, they depend on people who do. Service cuts also are self-perpetuating. People who can’t count on transit will tend to reshape their lives in ways that do not require transit. As the availability of transit contracts, people will tend to use it less, which leads to further cuts in service.

Public transit is a key part of the egalitarian infrastructure in urban areas that allows people to maximize their potential. Reducing car trips reduces emissions. Transit also underwrites the density of cities, which is central to their success as economic and cultural engines.

The public interest requires large-scale investment by the federal government, as well as state and local governments, to restore and maintain robust service. The federal government already has provided two rounds of emergency aid. The first big coronavirus relief bill, last spring, included $25 billion for local transit agencies. In December, Congress provided an additional $14 billion. The most recent round was enough to persuade several major agencies, including in New York and Washington, to shelve plans for deeper cuts in service.

But it was not enough to reverse existing cuts. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, for example, is operating at about 70 percent of its precrisis capacity. Its top official said after the new round of aid that it would maintain that service, postponing plans to lay off 1,200 workers, but it has no plans to restore full service. In Boston, officials said they still planned to suspend weekend service on most commuter rail lines starting this month.

More money is needed. President Biden’s plan for a new round of coronavirus relief includes an additional $20 billion for transit, which would help to restore this critical public service.

The scale of the challenge should not be understated. Even as the pandemic wanes, agencies do not expect ridership to recover quickly or completely. Some people will continue to work from home. Some have found new ways to commute, and won’t return. New York’s M.T.A., by far the nation’s largest transit agency, projects that ridership will rebound to 90 percent of its precrisis level by 2024. That’s a long and slow climb back to something short of normalcy, and it means transit agencies will need supplemental public funding for years to come.

In transit, as in other areas of American life, there will be no immediate end to the lingering effects of the pandemic. Policymakers need to make choices now that will serve the public interest in the long term. They need to ensure the trains and buses keep running.

Before the pandemic, Brenda Dubose could get to Walmart in about 15 minutes from her apartment in downtown Decatur, Ga. It was a straight shot on MARTA’s 36 bus. For Ms. Dubose, 69, who uses a motorized wheelchair, the easy access to shopping was a lifeline.

More than 1,100 people rode that line on an average day.

In April, as ridership plunged, the transit authority suspended service on 70 of its 110 bus lines, including the 36 line. Almost a year later, MARTA’s bus service remains skeletal.

It now takes Ms. Dubose more than an hour to get to Walmart. She rides the subway to a station where she catches a different bus that stops near the store.

“It’s a lot of wear and tear on my chair and on my mentality,” she said. “They’ve left us elderly and disabled people out here struggling to get around.”

Andrew Hocking rides Bay Area Rapid Transit from his home in Orinda, on the east side of the San Francisco Bay, to his job at a chocolate factory on the west side of the bay. The trains now run on half-hour headings, which is particularly painful if he misses his train on the way home. He sometimes has to sit and wait 25 minutes. But the ride still costs just $5 each way. The alternative is an Uber ride that costs about $40, and he can’t afford that. “If BART wasn’t there, I wouldn’t be able to put food on the table,” he said.

Buses no longer stop at the bus stop just down the street from Sohna Jeanty’s Atlanta home, so she now needs to walk 10 minutes uphill to catch a bus “at the very top of the hill.” The trip to the public library branch where she works is less direct, too. What once took 30 minutes now takes about an hour and a half. Because of the cuts in bus service, she’s cut back on shopping trips and pulled back from some charitable work. The problem, she said, is that city leaders treat bus service as a luxury. “It’s a necessity,” she said. “When people look at it as only a convenience, you have an issue like this that happens.”

Konner Ezra, 21, said it’s simple, really: Public transit makes it possible for him to live in New York City. If service stops being frequent and reliable, he will leave the city. Mr. Ezra, a psychology student at Pace University, rides the train every weekday to classes or to an internship. He said he worries about his health, and he tries to be careful, wearing a mask and gloves and washing his hands, but he said he has no real alternative.

Jeston Smith used to ride the “T” every day to his job as a security guard in Boston. But last year, he bit the bullet and bought a car. “I didn’t want to get a car,” he said. “But I felt like I had to because of how poor train service is.”

Kandley Val, 31, rides Boston’s Orange Line subway from his home in Mattapan to his job as the dean of enrollment at Roxbury Community College. Classes have gone virtual, but many students still come to register in person. His commute has become a little slower, and train service has become a little less predictable, but that’s OK for now. What he really worries about is the prospect that classes will return to normal without a full resumption of transit service.

Mr. Val estimated 70 percent of the student body relies on public transit. Many have jobs and child care arrangements. If they can’t count on reliable service, they’re less likely to graduate. “Community college students, they’re the students who need the access the most,” he said. “And adding any extra hassle or burden, that stops the student.”

Kathalene Kilpatrick, 78, was one of the first women employed as a bus driver by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in the 1970s. She is now retired and lives in Maryland, but still uses public transit to come into the city, often to participate in protests. One of her favorite signs reads, “Fear Less and Love More.”

Ms. Kilpatrick said she worries about people who need transit to get to their jobs. On the bus she took home from a protest against the Trump administration last week, she said her fellow passengers included a Post Office employee, a house cleaner and an off-duty bus driver. She said she also worried about those who work for the transit system. “If they cut this transit back, then people will lose their jobs.”

Online: https://nyti.ms/3pCJwi9

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New York is right to seek testing waiver for students

Newsday

Jan. 27

Imagine public school students on Long Island taking standardized tests this year.

Some of them would fill out answers in familiar classrooms where they’ve been studying every day since fall. Others would puzzle out the answers at school desks they’ve had access to for just a couple of days a week, sporadically.

And yet another group, whose schools have no in-person learning, or whose parents have not felt comfortable sending them with COVID-19 rampant, would likely take their exams at home.

Some of those homebound children would face tests after a fine breakfast, in a cozy and well-lit room, in a calm environment. Others, though, would work on exams with hiccuping computers, at uncomfortable tables with other children or adults making noise nearby. And many children, no matter how comfortable their surroundings, would be unable to give the test their full focus.

They, too, are enduring the heartache and fear this pandemic has brought.

This week, the state Education Department asked for a waiver from the federal requirement that states administer the 2021 tests, citing the pandemic. That waiver ought to be granted to New York’s students, as it was last year.

For a decade, parents and teachers and education activists have argued that the state standardized tests administered to measure the academic achievement in English and math of children in the third through eighth grades don’t properly do so. It’s also been claimed that for some students, even the traditional state Regents exams on which high school students generally must get at least a 65 to receive a standard diploma, aren’t accurate reflections of mastery for some children.

Generally, we have argued that the data standardized tests do provide is more meaningful and useful than gathering no concrete, standardized and objective information at all. The test results are also the most direct way to drive resources to struggling schools, by objectively highlighting their challenges.

But this year it is clear that these tests would provide results so uneven, garnered via testing conditions so diverse and challenging, that the data would often have little meaning. Tests taken in impossible conditions won’t reliably tell us what students have learned.

This year, many school superintendents say the tests the local districts buy and administer are sufficient. Some of those are better than the mandated state exams. Adaptive tests, in particular, that get harder in response to correct answers and easier in response to wrong ones, can measure mastery and growth on one single scale over a student’s entire career, pinpointing shortcomings and shining a light on the path to progress.

In the best light, this two-year hiatus is an opportunity to find and adopt better tests while creating more support for them from teachers and parents.

But this year, measuring learning in such disparate environments would be as effective as measuring a waterfall with a strainer, putting pointless pressure on students and teachers for no good reason.

Online: https://nwsdy.li/2KTbZAU

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School Areas Should Be Patrolled During Pick-Up, Drop-Off Times

The Post-Journal

Jan. 25

If Mayor Eddie Sundquist and the Jamestown City Council want to do something to keep school children safer during school hours, they should make sure school areas are patrolled during major pick-up and drop-off times.

We’re not asking for speed enforcement, though. Something should be done about illegal parking during school hours, particularly around schools that are asking parents to park on side streets to avoid large groups of people near main entrances to schools.

At Fletcher Elementary School, for example, parents are asked to park on a series of narrow side streets if their children are entering the Cole Avenue side of the building. But when some people refuse to follow alternate parking rules and park on both sides of narrow streets, it is difficult to load and unload children safely — particularly after a snowstorm that leaves some streets even narrower than they already are. A hearty thumbs up, by the way, to the homeowner on Jewel Place and Cole Avenue who snowblows part of his yard for parents and children to walk in so they don’t have to walk in a sometimes-chaotic street.

The council approved a school speed camera program at Sundquist’s request in December, but there are doubts whether that program will do anything other than bring in revenue to the city’s coffers. Keeping some semblance of order on side streets when parents are picking up and dropping off their children would go a long way toward actually keeping children safe.

Cameras can’t solve that problem. Regular patrols — and tickets for violators — will.

Online: https://bit.ly/2Yi5GtU

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Don’t twist what national unity means

The Auburn Citizen

Jan. 24

Given the state of America’s union — less than three weeks removed from a violent insurrection pushed by the former president of the United States during his final days in office with help from many of his party’s congressional members — calls for national unity are wholly appropriate.

Our leaders must demonstrate that they share common ideals, and they must denounce common foes. We, the people, must also resolve to see the humanity in each other and restore our ability to engage in civil discourse.

That’s why the concept of unity was the dominant theme of President Joe Biden’s inaugural address on Wednesday.

But for all the attention that his bigger theme received, it’s just as important to focus on what Biden didn’t say. He didn’t call for monolithic thinking. He didn’t say we all must agree all of the time.

“To all those who did not support us, let me say this: Hear me out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart. And if you still disagree, so be it. That’s democracy. That’s America. The right to dissent peaceably, within the guardrails of our Republic, is perhaps our nation’s greatest strength.”

We urge everyone to keep that message at top of mind, especially in these early days of the Biden administration. This president, like all presidents before him, is making a push to put campaign policy promises into action. Many of the promises have healthy opposition, but Biden is the candidate with the support of the majority of the voting public. A phrase we’ve heard before still applies: Elections have consequences.

That doesn’t mean Biden shouldn’t be questioned and challenged. But it also doesn’t mean he must have the complete blessings of both major parties’ leaders in order to act.

In the first of what we expect will be many statements critical of Biden, central New York’s congressman, Rep. John Katko, R-Camillus, expressed his disagreement Friday afternoon with some of Biden’s executive orders. In general, the congressman was being consistent with his own track record on economic and national security policies, a record that has now won him four elections.

We did have a problem, though, with one phrase in Katko’s statement: “President Biden’s actions have not reflected his unifying tone.”

That part of the congressman’s statement has appeared frequently in these first few days as a broader Republican Party strategy to blast Biden’s commitment to unity while pointing out disagreements with his actions. It’s an unreasonable approach for anyone truly concerned about repairing the damage done to our nation by the rise of political extremism.

If we are to truly lower the temperature in America and restore productive civil discourse, rhetoric that bastardizes the concept of unity needs to stop.

Online: https://bit.ly/3pol6sk

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Presidential reliability is a relief

Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Jan. 21

It struck us early Wednesday afternoon, shortly after Joe Biden had been inaugurated as president: Nothing unexpected had happened.

That alone qualifies as news in the United States of America these days.

For the last four years as president, and for almost two years of campaigning before that, we never knew what Donald Trump was going to say next, which friend or foe he was going to bash, which rules or traditions he was going to break, which true things he would say were false and which false things he would say were true. The only predictable thing was that he would do something unpredictable, which meant we always had to be ready for it. Some actual work got done in the White House, but far too often the priority there was feeding the fire of public outrage and adoration, stringing out the soap opera.

We will see what happens under Biden, but it is safe to say he is interested in governing, not in drama. He says, and his long track record in Congress supports this, that while he is a Democrat, he wants to do the job for all Americans, and that he operates in the real world, not the world of lies.

That is a huge relief.

We wish Trump well in his new life. Although he is still vigorous for now, he is getting older, and a peaceful retirement might be just what he needs after the strain of being president.

And as with every new president, we send Biden and his team congratulations and best wishes. We hope they work hard and conscientiously to serve us, the American people, in all our variety. We can’t all agree, but hopefully we can live with each other. Hopefully we can open ourselves up to trust each other a little more. And hopefully we can accomplish a few things most of us agree is for the best — like beating the COVID-19 pandemic as quickly and effectively as possible.

We also invite Biden and his team to follow in the footsteps of many previous presidents — from George Washington to Barack Obama — and visit us here in the Adirondacks. It’s full of natural beauty and real, good, independent people who manage to balance private freedoms with state environmental regulations. We think he’d like it.

Online: https://bit.ly/39kVY06

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