Enough Five Cent Pieces Paid the Street Car Companies of Greater New York in a Year to Reach Half-way Around the Earth if Laid in a Line at the Equator.
THE population of the five boroughs composing Greater New York is, according to the last State census, 4,014,304. To the managers of the three great transportation companies operating within the city limits, however, the population must seem infinitely greater than a paltry four million.
During the fiscal year ending June 30, 1905, the Interborough Company, the New York City Railway Company, and the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company carried in the boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn alone 987,015,895 passengers, not including, of course, the millions of transfers. This means that an average of 2,704,153 persons, or nearly three-quarters of the whole city's population, used the street cars, the elevated railroads, or the subway daily.
This year it is estimated that 350,000,000 people have used the lines of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company alone, and when the reports of the two other companies have been made up for the last twelve months the grand total will be far beyond the billion mark.
Americans are accustomed to talk with contemptuous familiarity of millions, but few of us realize just what a billion five-cent fares mean. Paid in nickels and placed in a line, these fares would stretch 12,800 miles, or more than half way around the equator. Swung to the east from New York this line would be long enough to reach Calcutta or Cape Town, passing first through London; swung to the west it would reach Hong-kong, Melbourne, or Synedy.
The 350,000,000 fares collected last year by the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company would form a line that would cross Brooklyn Bridge - where most of the fares are collected - 3,126 times and would cover the entire structure with a double carpet of nickels, with enough left over to provide a third layer for half the structure. In a straight line these nickels would reach from New York fourteen miles into the Pacific Ocean beyond the ruins of San Francisco and in the opposite direction they would fall only a few miles short of Glasgow.
The man who tried to steal the receipts of these three traction companies would find his booty hard to carry off. A billion nickels weigh 10,416,667 pounds, or about 5,280 tons - more than a third of the permanent weight borne by the cables of Brooklyn Bridge. One hundred and seventy-six freight cars would be filled to overflowing with the nickel load and the procession of tracks necessary to transport the treasure through the streets of the city would resemble the baggage-train of a large army.
Americans Have the Street-Car Habit.
Americans use their city railroads more, probably, than any other people. According to the most recent figures available the tramways of Liverpool, for example, carry in a year about 110,000,000 passengers, the city and its suburbs having a population of 763,000. This means that the average resident of Liverpool rides on street-cars, in the course of a year, only 144 times.
The average Brooklynite rides 265 times, nearly twice as often, and as many people cross the Brooklyn Bridge annually as travel in all the Liverpool cars put together. In the "rush hours" of the morning and evening the elevated and surface cars carry over the river between 72,000 and 73,000 persons an hour. On October 19, 1905, an official count showed that 356,976 passengers were carried in twenty-four hours.
Of the persons who work on Manhattan Island, south of Fourteenth Street - the business heart of the whole city - twenty-five per cent, it is estimated, live in Brooklyn. These people have to pay two fares a day, of course, to go to and from their work, but a large proportion have to pay still more if they object to a long walk from the bridge to their offices. In spite of the political consolidation of the five boroughs into the second city of the world, from a transportation standpoint Brooklyn and Manhattan are still as distant as they ever were. Two bridges and a number of obsolescent ferries join the two cities, but the connection is very imperfect.
In order to avoid the extra fare, most of the army returning to Brooklyn in the evening makes its way on foot to the Park Row entrance of Brooklyn Bridge, choking the narrow channel and causing congestion which has long been one of the greatest problems of New York. Something like 270,000,000 persons have to cross the East River somehow in the course of the year, and of these the great majority prefer to go by the Brooklyn Bridge.
The ferries still carry about 60,000,000, but they are slow and hard to reach, and cost a few cents extra. Williamsburg Bridge, also difficult of access from the most important parts of Manhattan, takes about 35,000,000 more. The rest of the huge host passes over Brooklyn Bridge.
Rushing the Bridge Traffic.
With such numbers to handle, traffic moves briskly on the bridge. As many as 327 cars an hour have been sent across the structure, and the railroad officials expect to operate, during the busiest times, 300. Three hundred cars an hour means a car every twelve seconds, which is short enough headway under the most favorable circumstances and is especially so on the bridge, where vehicles are likely to block the track at any moment, and where, on account of the danger of overloading the structure, the cars must always be kept a certain distance apart.
Remarkable as this record is, railroad men say that if the roadway of the Williamsburg Bridge was combined with the terminal loops of the older structure it would be possible to operate 400 surface cars an hour, or one every five seconds. As it is, for a short time in the busiest period of the day the surface cars take across the bridge 36,000 persons an hour.
Thirty-six thousand more are carried by the bridge cable road and transferred at the eastern terminal of the elevated railroad. Sixty of these cable-trains, of four cars each, are operated an hour, making a grand total of 540 cars, cable and surface, crossing the bridge every hour.
"Take a Trolley to Coney."
The bridge business, heavy as it is, is dwarfed by the holiday travel to Coney Island and other well-known seaside resorts within the limits of the borough of Brooklyn. On one Sunday early last summer 300,000 persons were carried down to Coney Island and back by the various elevated and surface lines, making a total of 600,000 passengers. As two fares are charged for the trip, the Coney Island business alone that day brought in 1,200,000 nickels, 500,000 more than the average daily receipts from all the surface lines and about 240,000 more than the average receipts from the entire system.
Fortunately, the army of pleasure-seekers has more routes at its disposal and more time in which to move than the army of workers who cross and recross Brooklyn Bridge. Nevertheless the problem of transporting this host to and from the seashore is one to tax the best railroad skill.
In fact, the evil that afflicts transportation everywhere in New York City - the concentration of traffic within a few hours and in the same direction - assumes its most exaggerated form in Brooklyn. The result is not only discomfort to the public but expense to the company, for the cars that move in one direction filled to overflowing return empty in the other.
The river of nickels that flows from the traveling public of New York into the pockets of the transportation companies is matched by another stream which flows from them into the public treasury. The taxes and imposts of one kind or another levied on these corporations for the public good present almost as imposing a total as the billion nickels they collect.
The Return Tide of Nickels.
In direct taxes alone on real estate earnings, capital stock, and other possessions, the Interborough last year paid $1,203,734, the New York City Railway $1,003,538, excluding a considerable sum which is still the subject of litigation, and the Brooklyn Rapid Transit about $900,000, also excluding some sums in litigation. This makes a total in direct taxes of $3,107,272, or 62,145,440 nickels.
Sixty-two million nickels is no small quantity, however. Weighing about 323 tons, it would require more than a hundred freight-cars to carry the taxes to the treasury, if they were to be paid in the same form as that in which the public usually pays its fare. Placed side by side these taxes would make a line 641 miles long, reaching farther than from New York to Columbus, Ohio, and nearly three times as long as the distance between New York and Washington. From the Battery to the northern limit of the great city forty-one lines of nickels could be made from the direct taxes.
If the value of the indirect taxes levied in the form of services rendered to the community by the transportation companies be included in the estimate the total is enormously increased. Just what the value of these services amounts to in the whole city is hard to ascertain, but last year, it has been calculated, the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company alone spent about $600,000 in this way.
Of this money, by far the greater part, more than $500,000 in fact, was expended in paving and repaving the streets through which the surface company's cars ran. In other words, although the population of the borough of Brooklyn is only about 1,300,000, the receipts from over a million passengers were devoted to improving the streets of the borough.
One statistician has calculated that, all told, the contributions of the company to the public benefit account amount to $1.09 annually for each person living within the limits of Brooklyn. In Glasgow the thrifty Scots get only $0.44 apiece from their street railways.
But in New York City everything connected with transportation is on a large scale. The building of the Subway, at a cost for construction of $40,000,000, aroused the interest of the whole country as a great engineering feat, while almost unnoticed, on the other side of the East River, more than half as much was being expended on the prosaic task of improving and increasing the equipment and roadbed of the existing lines. Since July 1, 1902, more than $22,500,000 has been spent in this work, the revenue from 45,000,000 passengers.
Nearly $10,000,000 has gone to improve the rolling-stock, new and larger cars having been put in operation on the Subway, and every car on the Elevated Railroad having been brought up to standard. The latter task was a more serious one than it might seem, for in many cases the cars had to be practically rebuilt, which involved the erection of adequate shops in which to do the work.
Human Flood Still Rising.
More than 200,000,000 persons now cross the East River annually, and this number would be indefinitely increased were it possible to crowd any more upon the bridges and ferryboats. The tunnel that is to carry the Manhattan subway into Brooklyn will have a capacity of 45,000,000 annually. The Manhattan Bridge, now building, will accommodate 220,000,000; with proper terminal facilities 165,000,000 will be able to use the Williamsburg Bridge instead of the 35,000,000 who cross it now.
In five years or so there will be means for 600,000,000 persons to cross the East River in the course of a year. That these new facilities will exceed the demand is not believed by any of the many experts who have been trying for years to solve New York's greatest transportation problem.