Previous Page First Page Next Page

Page 6

     La Guardia contended that by combining the IRT, BMT, and IND into a single unified system, he would achieve a great economy of scale. The unified system would then be fiscally self-sustaining even while continuing to charge riders just a nickel. To accomplish Unification, however, the city would have to buy out the private companies. In 1939, New York City reached agreements to acquire the IRT and BMT, for a total cost of $326,248,000.
     La Guardia hoped that the unified system would not run deficits, that would have to be covered out of tax revenue. He therefore had an incentive to discontinue service on unprofitable lines, including the money-losing Second Avenue el. Unification also created an incentive to tear down the el soon. Rather than purchase the els as part of the Unification deal, it actually was cheaper for the city to condemn the structures while they were still private property, and issue assessment bonds to the owners as compensation. Plans were thus drawn up to condemn both the Second and Ninth Avenue els immediately prior to Unification.

The New York Times
Puts In Its Five Cents
The New York Times printed an editorial about the condemnation and demolition of these two els. The piece began with the recognition that many people still relied on the Second Avenue el for transportation. "There will be little jollification" when the Second Avenue el closes, because "too many persons will be inconvenienced." The line "could have serviced the public usefully a little longer," The Times added.

One reason was that it was locked into contracts that prevented it from raising the fare. Because of inflation over many decades, the fare, fixed at five cents, declined in real value. The nickel fare, however, was not the real source of trouble for the IRT elevated division. Rather, it was the Great Depression, and plummeting ridership that accompanied it. Ridership on the IRT's Second, Third, Sixth, and Ninth Avenue els peaked in 1921 at 374,000,000 passengers annually. By 1931, in the nadir of the depression, ridership had fallen to 327,000,000 passengers annually. As the depression wore on, el ridership continued to sink. In 1938, 200,000,000 passengers rode the els. The very next year -- in which there was no service on the Sixth Avenue line -- only 169,414,000 passengers rode the IRT's remaining three els. The Manhattan Els had lost more than half the business in 1939 they had eighteen years earlier.

The Els Drained the IRT's Coffers
The IRT lost a lot of money on its els. From a financial standpoint, the Second Avenue el was no better than the rest. The three post-1938 IRT els (Second, Third, and Ninth Avenues) carried 169,414,000 passengers in 1939. Assuming that the Second Avenue el carried an average of 82,000 passengers a day, the over the course of 365 days, it carried about 30,000,000 passengers. That means that the Third and Ninth Avenue els carried the remaining 139,484,000 passengers in 1939.

The Third and Ninth Avenue els together thus carried nearly five times as many passengers as the Second Avenue el. The IRT's els were a money-losing business, and of them. the Second Avenue el was especially unprofitable.

LaGuardia Pushes to
Take Over the IRT and BMT
and Pull Down the Els
The First Avenue Association had its reasons for tearing down the el, including the desire for increased property values, and improved traffic flow. Some Second Avenue residents wished to see the el down because it was noisy and ugly. Mayor La Guardia and other city officials shared some of these sentiments, but had other motives for tearing down the els -- among them the desire to save money.
     The IRT was losing money and in bankruptcy. The city's IND system also lost money -- about nine cents for every fare collected -- the difference coming out of municipal tax revenue. Only the BMT showed a small profit, but like the IRT, its share of service on the rapid transit debt had to be covered by the City, again as a result of the fixed five-cent fare.
     La Guardia did not dare authorize a transit fare increase -- he knew that the nickel fare was popular, and than any attempt to raise it would amount to political suicide. He needed to find another solution to transit's financial ills. His answer was pursue former Mayor Hylan's goal of Unification.

Next Page

Updated Tuesday, June 26, 2001

©2001 Alexander Nobler Cohen. ©2001 The Composing Stack Inc. All rights reserved