The campaign was founded in 1979 by the New York Public Interest Research Group at a critical time for New York City transit: By the late 1970s, the city's subways had become unreliable and decrepit. Graffiti covered every car and station. Transit fires and derailments hit record levels. Crime steadily worsened. Ridership plummeted to the lowest level in 80 years. Businesses cited poor transit as a leading reason for moving out of New York. The system had become a symbol of the decline of the city itself.
There's been great progress since then. Today, trains are nearly ten times more reliable. Ridership has bounced back. Transit crimes, fires, derailments—all have been greatly reduced in the last two decades. In 1997, the transit system started offering free transfers between subways and buses. In 1998, riders received the first fare decrease in the history of the system in the form of unlimited-ride transit passes. As a result, ridership has soared. By 2007, ridership was at its highest level since 1952!
These improvements didn’t happen by accident. The Straphangers Campaign played a leading role in building a consensus for scores of billions of dollars in new investments in metropolitan transit—through our rider organizing, coalition building, research, reports, and media savvy. (More detailed histories can be found at: www.straphangers.org/25th/essay.pdf or www.straphangers.org/exhibit/.)
At neighborhood forums, we ask whether people think the transit system has gotten better, worse, or stayed the same. The majority always respond "better." How many New Yorkers would say that about our other key institutions, from schools to health care? Although much more remains to be done, the campaign is proud of our role in turning around transit. The campaign had many achievements in our advocacy for decent, safe, and affordable transit. Through our presence in the media, scores of reports, millions of leaflets handed out in the subways, and our coalition work, we have helped win:
New Yorkers interested in becoming involved in NYPIRGs Straphangers Campaign should contact us at 9 Murray Street, 3rd Floor, New York, New York 10007, call (212) 349-6460 or e-mail us.