Readers Write: A look back at the 1966 transit strike

The Island Now

Dear Letters Editor:

Jan. 1, 2022, represents the 56th anniversary for the 1966 transit strike. which shut down New York City for days. It was the first of many municipal crises to face incoming Mayor John Lindsay, who ran on the Liberal and Republican Party lines. winning 1,149,116 (45 percent) votes and defeating Democrat Abe Beame with 1,046,599 (41 percent) and Conservative Party National Review editor William F. Buckley garnering 341,226 (14 percent).

Rush hour began at 4 a.m. with many arriving home as late as midnight. The Long Island Rail Road added extra Queens service. Both Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal were mobbed with thousands of new customers. Transit Workers Union President Michael Quill went to jail, suffered a heart attack and subsequently died. He did not live to see his successor winning a record 15 percent wage hike. The subway fare was raised by 33 percent from 15 to 20 cents.

It was a time most subway stations had clean, safe, working bathrooms with toilet paper. Revenues generated from the 10-cent hike helped cover the costs. It was still common to find both penny gum and 10-cent soda machines dispensing products at many subway stations. Most people respected authority and law. That generation of riders did not litter subway stations and buses, leaving behind gum, candy wrappers, paper cups, bottles and newspapers. No one would openly eat pizza, chicken or other messy foods while riding a bus or subway. Homeless people riding or occupying subway stations was a rare occurrence.

Bus drivers had to make change and drive at the same time. Air-conditioned buses were just being introduced in limited numbers. It would not be until 1967 that NYC Transit introduced the first 10 air-conditioned subway cars operating on the old municipal built and financed Independent (IND) system (A, C, E. F and G lines). You had to pay separate fares to ride either the bus or subway. There were no MetroCards affording free transfers between bus and subway along with discounted weekly or monthly fares. Employee transit checks to help cover the costs didn’t exist.


Larry Penner

(Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads, MTA Bus, NYC Department of Transportation along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ).

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