This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
O. Roy Chalk, who took over the Washington, D.C., transit system a year earlier, talks about why he wants to buy New York City's Transit System.
Jay Nelson Tuck moderates the panel discussion. Bill Larkin, of the Fordham Student Bar Association, and Bernie Lufkowitz, of City College, question Chalk.
Chalk: There are many areas for improvement, many areas that haven't been explored. Start with the human element: make employees happy by showing an interest in their welfare. Convince the public to use public transit. The transit system in Washington has been improved by painting buses in pastels and white to reflect sunlight, making it safer late at night. Cost of ride for school children. Children going to school should be subsidized, but not by the transit system. Any increase in fares requires a hearing. Assurance the system wouldn't be broken up and sold off. The system has been operating under "inherent handicaps." No plan to reduce the number of employees. The city must maintain a transit police force and allow for reduced fare for children. Suggested 5 cent increase. The public isn't getting a good 15 cents worth of service currently. The city would be better off allowing freedom of enterprise.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 71610
Municipal archives id: LT8326
This is a machine-generated transcript. Text is unformatted and may contain errors.
Good evening a week Gulf you New Yorkers and heard the name of the man who was our guest tonight on campus price conference but today he is one of the most talked about man in the city he is all Roy chalk the man who wants to buy the subways and not only the subways but the city's entire transit system what's more he has some radical notions on the subject he thinks it can be made a pleasure to ride the subway was to chalk has experience in the field three years ago he took over the transit system of Washington D.C. And he's made many changes there while almost all other systems have been losing passengers Mr Chalk's D.C. Transit has been gaining them most of chalk is a lawyer who was born in England but raised here in New York as a young man who made a fortune in real estate and he now heads a successful airline trans Caribbean Airways here tonight to question Mr Charke with me is Belloc and of the Fordham student bar association critic and most chalk one of the things I think we all want to know is how would you make riding in the subways of pleasure. I'd say there was loads of room for improvement there are many vacuums areas that haven't even been explored I think that. You can start with the human element. Make your employees happy by showing an interest in their welfare an interest in how they conduct themselves how they can improve their themselves and how they can improve the relationship between employees and the general public the riding public this is one of the areas I think I would get started on I feel that a sales program convincing the general public that they should ride transit and preference to other means of conveyance is another area that we can utilize I think a little imagination a little innovation and a little of real interest in the welfare of the writer will bring about the results we talk about can you tell us some of the concrete things you've done in Washington to make it more pleasant to ride the city's buses Well we've cleaned them up number one we've made the most attractive I think that instead of painting vehicles the color of dirt which is the common custom of financial companies we like to. Make them attractive we paint them white on top like airplanes first of all it says a very practical purpose I'm not talking about surface transportation a light top to a vehicle during the hot summer days will reduce the temperature at least ten degrees on the inside so besides being attractive it's it's functional by reflecting the sunlight that is correct then of course you can continue the attractive appearance with pastel colors and really make them nice looking and keep on reminding people that they're just as nice inside I saw one of the papers said you had sightseeing by. Says in Washington with pretty hostesses you're going to give us stewardesses in the subway Well we're we'll reserve that for a more detailed program on making it interesting to ride the subway system I think there's a lot can be done and point of view of making it safer and making it giving the average writer more assurance that when they go into the subway particularly late at night that is just the safest bang in their own living room there are ways to accomplish this and I have very definite ideas so that people won't be afraid to ride the subways at night and look at your I don't think there's any question but that your D.C. transit system has certainly been a greater financial success than Mr Wilson's capital transit for example I understand you've substantially off a thirteen million dollars mortgage on the property and I understand that the investors in the system have received dividends amounting to one hundred ninety thousand dollars in excess of their nine hundred fifty six investment but Sir I also understand that at the moment you want seeking a concession from Congress to assist you in making up a deficit caused by the carrying of schoolchildren I understand the cost eighteen point eight cents to carry a school child on the system and of course you have a school failure of time since now sir do you really think that the public in Washington D.C. has benefited greatly from your management that have a creditors and the investors in the system. I'd say that the public basically has been the greatest beneficiary of the improvements in Washington you have an entirely different attitude today that has swung completely from left to right in the two and a half year period that I've taken over in Washington you've got the passengers happy they're smiling they're they're giving Tranter a chance of a fair chance to improve itself and straight down the line we have air conditioned equipment today we have the largest fleet of conditioned buses in the country and we're getting more and more of this type of improved a modern means of conveyance I see but and Incidentally I'd like to correct you we were not asking for any subsidy. As far as Washington is concerned we're operating as private enterprise without the benefit of any subsidy story you're not getting a subsidy now but there is a bill before Congress to give you an appropriation equivalent to the revenue that would be obtained You know that's I think you're putting the shoe on the wrong foot here we presently are subsidizing the education of a lot of children and we subscribe to the idea that children are going to school should be subsidized but they shouldn't be subsidized by the transit company if anybody feels that that children and I do too should be taken to school at less than the actual cost of transportation this is a responsibility that belongs with the general taxpaying public and it is this bill in Congress which has been introduced to place the responsibility. Where it belongs on the public yes just happened here in New York but Chuck exactly you have the same a done ticklish situation here in New York the Board of Trade I tried to make up a deficit for school children that is correct this is not subsidy to the Treasury copy this is taking away from that is correct taking away a burden that has been placed on the tragic company on fairly I mean it's not their responsibility to pay for the education. Well sir liking this subsidy if we can call it that this proposed subsidy you will have to raise the fare to twenty five cents in Washington is I correct I did not say that this is a possibility but at the moment it seems unlikely and Sir if you did operate the New York transit system. Would we not have a similar problem would you not ask the city to take over what you call a subsidy of schoolchildren by private enterprise and if the city failed to give such a subsidy No that would not be necessary in New York sense as the regulation presently stands there is no subsidy paid for by the tragicomic this has been placed upon the city I think by recent the regulations of that were enacted in the city of New York so you do not have that problem New York it has been solved. Chuck as I understand it you made the city to offer to sell for the first one was free Office three. They have a choice of three alternatives and one of them was no guaranteed return to you a tall but you would have merely a right to fashion try and earn six and I had. Already six being born by the operator Now this was my first proposal in other words we asked no subsidy we asked no wait and we'll try and keep the fans as low as possible we set certain limits at the start. And may I call your attention to the fact it's been said that the lid would be off on fares this is not so this could never be sell any fare increase when as and if asked must be approved by the Public Service Commission I think people have overlooked this fact you just can't Aba trembly walk in and say I'm right raising the fares to twenty cents or twenty five cents or thirty cents or whatever it might be any increase in fare requires hearings the public will have a fair opportunity to come in and participate give vent to its opinions on this and then the Public Service Commission or whatever authority has the. Responsibility of passing on it will make the final judgment it isn't the tragic company that can do this well I think one of the things that perhaps worries many people is the analogy with the commuter railroad lines who have been asking for fare increases and pretty much getting them with great regularity the FAZ of continued to go up at a pretty high rate in spite of the Public Service Commission ultimate control do you think that would happen with the subways to. I do not think so I think that in the manner which I proposed to operate it is very likely that the fares will come down I feel that I can fill during the off peak hours most of the V.. Because in this town and once I have succeeded in selling empty seats here to my long known and established policy of always wanting to to sell transportation the thought that I'd rather have a low price on a full seat than a high price of an empty one. Mr Charke I understand you want to reserve the right to sell the subway system or any part thereof at any time now would the public of the city of New York have any guarantee that they are trying to system will not become a speculative football and pass into the hands of persons with less experience in operating such systems as yourself we are prepared to give such assurances as the city needs that it would not be broken up sold off or splintered off as a matter of fact this very subject was discussed at length the other day and of course I assured them that whatever protection or restriction the city felt was necessary to assure that there would be a normal operation that this was not a speculative move it's a matter of fact I might say I'm not a speculator rarely in my business career have I sold anything to chalk Lefkowitz or so the colleges joined us and I think he's asking a question Mr chalk has the New York City subways are a transitory been operating so waited impatiently in the past. I would say they were operating them under inherent handicaps the intent of course is to operate efficiently as fish as efficiently as they can operate under public ownership I think it's that sort of characteristic of the beast and I referred to the beast Army first public ownership in a business area. Mr Patterson. Well. I'm not referring to individuals I'm rather you are into the system where where. In the area of selling service and that's what you're doing here this is a private function a function I think that private enterprise can do a better job at than publicly we feel that under under my thinking the incentive. To keep the score by earning more money is so strong. As compared with the lack of incentive that you have under public ownership that I have no doubt that with the right management and the right motives we can do a tremendous job and not only give the public a better subway but give them more cent for cent for their money but short do you think that a private privately owned trying to system can more effectively deal with the. Pressing labor problem in the New York City transit system I have no doubt that we can I know from my own experience that I've been able to get along with labor and I think here we run into a province that is a. Matter of setting policy and that would be determined by the management in this particular case I have through my entire business career never had a strike I've only made friends with the people that work for me every man that works for me feels that I'm his precious friend and this goes straight up the line up to and including the. Events of the unions that I deal with were on a fresh name basis I know their problems they know mine we get along do you plan a significant reduction in the number of employees No sir I might say that I plan an expansion program rather than a contraction program I will say this that too often labor is used in the wrong places so that if you put the effort and the labor in the right places you'll find many more things to do most struck a moment ago you touched on what I suppose is the real problem of most. Transit lines when you talked about ways of filling the subways between the rush hours I doubt you have peak hour yes I'd say the transit authority makes money at the rush hour an hour when they pack people in like sardines but what would you propose to do to get people to ride more during the middle of the day I and before and after the morning and evening rush hours. Well that's a problem that has to be attacked from many different facets from many different angles first I'd start with the greatest competitor the public transit system that would be the automobile today traffic has has not progressed in the city of New York I think if you take a look at the speed with which the vehicles traveled through the streets of New York in the eighteenth century and that is be right back in the old horse and buggy days and even before that they will probably find that they travel better than twelve miles an hour. Progress through the years has brought us to the stage where where because unlike moving from four to six miles an hour or less is the number one problem in my opinion that can be solved and in solving that you will get more and more people to ride tragic during the off peak hours this is merely one class that I could think of a dozen I think that with the application of practical imagination the problems one by one time be determined and disposed off. Burning Mr chalk and you I New York Times headline in April thirteenth reads boy hostile to transit print is New York City's officials in this hostility decreasing I'd say that that hostility never really existed I think that was merely a newspaper interpretation of the reluctance to understand a man who they didn't know too well but I do feel that since I've been able to speak with them they've developed or appear to have an open mind and I have every confidence that I will be able to convince them it's in the best interest of the riding public and the city to accept my proposal there is no hostility that your optimism have a time limited choice. Well I never abandon a project and I'll be knocking at the door of the day after they decline to start all over again if they decline I'm going to chart your plan provides for the six and a half percent profit to yourself and your fellow investors it also provides that the city must maintain a transit police force that the program of carrying schoolchildren to reduce rates must continue and incidentally that certain parking lot speed built on the fringe areas of the city now even granting that the public will be happier and the more improved physical surroundings of a transit system itself the only thing financially the average subway rider will be any better off. He's going to have to pay an increase ferreting out or he's going to have to pay an increased fare whether he's going to pay it to private enterprise o