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Headed for 'Big Apple'? Put on your walking shoes

So, you're coming to the Big Apple for a holiday? Well, you might bring some pretty good walking shoes -- if you want to get around as swiftly, safely, and inexpensively as possible.

Once the nation's transit paragon, New York City's transportation system is in deepening trouble -- financially, structurally, and in other ways.

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"The chickens -- or should I say crows? -- are coming home to roost," says Evan Lornog, one of Mayor Edward I. Koch's chief mass-transit aides. "A lot of things happened. Essentially, the Metropolitan Tranit Authority [MTA, which runs the subways and buses] was faced with rising costs of one kind or another, and it deferred maintenance. But what other city in the world could have two major acquisitions prove defective and still provide 5.5 million rides per day?"

The two purchases Mr. Lornog is referring to will go down in infamy as new "chickens" which turned out to be "lemons." Some 500 buses the city bought were taken out of service because of structural defects; on the subway front, 70 spanking-new "R-46" cars, aimed at replacing some of the "relics" the city calls transportation, also were found faulty.

On top of delays in getting new buses and cars on the streets and in the tunnels, city officials say the 60-cent, oneway fare will almost inevitably go to 75 cents this summer, and some forecast $1 rides by the end of the year because of the federal mass transit cutbacks proposed by the Reagan administration.

Public opinion polls indicate that most people wouldn't mind a fare increase if they could be more sure of their safety. But major crime increased more than 30 percent from 1979 to 1980, despite the city's well-publicized "war on subway crime." That campaign has included spending some $31 million on overtime for transit police. Robbery on the subways alone was up nearly 25 percent from 1979 to 1980, city figures show.

In an effort to continue this "war," the Koch administration will spend another $4 million for overtime through June, and it may continue overtime indefinitely unless another course of action is prescribed.

Those who don't want to walk or ride subways or buses can always find -- except in rush hour -- plenty of taxis. But this week, taxi fares between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. went up by 50 cents a ride.

The nonprofit Economic Development Council recommends that a group of private sector businessmen advise on ways to alleviate transit woes. It says there is costly duplication of responsibilities and a lack of co mprehensive planning.

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