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Straphangers' revolt surfaces in New York

New York City subway riders are fed up with breakdowns, muggings, broken doors, and shattered light -- and they're organizing to do something about the situation.

Gathering steam is a just-begun drive to turn the mass of grumbling into a cohesive lobbying force.

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In the few weeks since the Straphanger's Campaign popped off the planning board and onto the track, more than 100 friends -- or enemies, depending on your point of view -- of New York's mass transit system have banded together in an effort to make subway improvements a local government priority.

Concocted by the New York Public In terest Research Group (NYPIRG), a student- community activist organization, the campaign -- with very little recruiting work -- has already attracted a mixed bag of New Yorkers. Volunteers include a baker from Washington Heights, a television commercial writer from Madison Avenue, a bank secretary from Brooklyn, and a group of local college students who have taken on the Straphangers as a class project.

"There's so much sentiment out there that people are jumping up and demanding to be part of the campaign," says Marilyn Ondrasik, the NYPIRG staffer who is coordinating the drive. "Subway riders have a lot of fear, anger, frustration -- whatever -- about the mass transit system, and there hasn't been any group getting them together to pressure the city and state."

The strategy is simple. Phase 1, which will carry into the spring, centers on a survey of some 3,000 subway cars.Volunteers devote an hour of their time to a given station, rating the third car of every train that rumbles through. Their checklist includes lights, doors, litter, graffiti, overcrowding, and the presence of transit police.

Based on the survey results, campaign organizers will choose the worst line and zero in on communities all up and down that subway line. Armed with grass-roots tactics such as teach-ins, leafleting, rallies, and local talks, Straphanger strategists say they hope to spur the masses into visible, vocal protest.

At the same time, they say, meetings will be scheduled with top-level officials from the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and City Hall in charge of policy as well as middle-level management authorities responsible for maintaining the system.

"We're going to get them in a cross fire," says Marilyn Ondrasik. "We're going to show them that we as a public are no longer going to tolerate crime, crowds, and broken-down cars."

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NYPIRG, which has proved itself a master organizer of senior citizens and anti-redlining activists, has already received $15,000 from the Fund for the City of New York for the Straphanger's Campaign and is in line for funding from two other foundations. Campaign workers say they expect to raise anywhere from stations.

"Everybody's fed up. I don't know anybody who will say a good word about the subway," says Jerry Mosier, a Madison Avenue television commercial writer who has already surveyed subway cars on the 42nd Street line and who has volunteered his skills to start an advertising campaign.


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