Henry Grabar is a staff writer for Slate’s Moneybox and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
We'll take a cup of kindness yet, for Auld Lang Syne.
New York has its reputation, but Los Angeles will be the friendlier city to mass transit riders tonight, as the City of Angels again offers free subway and bus rides until two in the morning.
L.A. will be joined in this endeavor by a number of cities across the world that eliminate their fares on New Year's Eve in an effort to discourage driving. There will also be free public transit in Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Durham, North Carolina, and on some lines in the Bay Area.
The European capitals, as is often the case in transit matters, are leading the way. In London, tube, bus, tram, and light rail will be free from quarter to midnight until quarter to five. In Paris, certain Metro lines will run all night, and access to Metro, bus and commuter rail services will be free from 5 pm on December 31st until noon the next day. (Those Parisians mean business.)
In New York City, home to the world's most famous New Year's celebration (and one of its more dysfunctional public transit authorities), nothing will be free. But it once was: on New Year's Eve in 1984 and 1985, the MTA made a number of its systems free to revelers.
Results were mixed. The Long Island Railroad, which participated in '84 and did not in '85, reported that many trains had been transformed into mobile party units, teeming with miscreants with no particular destination. A hundred of the 225 LIRR trains running that night had to be delayed due to a "variety of mischievous activities." The number of felonies and arrests on the subway that night nearly doubled, to 55 and 29, respectively, from 33 and 15 the previous year.
The downfall of free transit in New York was decidedly more pedestrian, though. A budget crisis killed the experiment in December, 1986.
Top image: The London Tube, Dec. 31, 2006. Flickr user Tom Pagenet.