Oct
01

All’s fare in love and subways

By

As the details and inevitability of the upcoming fare hike have come to light, New Yorkers on the whole haven’t been too thrilled. No one wants to pay more when the MTA isn’t providing adequate service — a C is hardly a stunning grade — and is projected an economic windfall this year.

But we know that the MTA is facing tough economic times, and we understand that the MTA needs to draw in more revenue in order to meet the demands of a growing city and the desires of demanding riders. We can’t expect those C-/C grades to improve if the MTA doesn’t put a little money into the system.

Meanwhile, the MTA isn’t the only agency dealing with fare hikes and hazy economic outlooks. The WMATA in Washington, DC, will soon be raising their fares by as much as 40 cents per ride. The WMATA charges fares based upon how far a rider travels, and as you could guess, those folks living in the suburbs are none too thrilled about the prospect of bearing the brunt of the fare hike. This debate sure does sound familiar.

Anyone, with all of these fare shenanigans going on, let’s take a step back for a minute. As mass transit has become one of those things that everyone expects in thriving urban cities but no one wants to pay for, today is as good a day as any to appreciate the New York City subways. Considering the fare, we’re getting one of the better bangs for our buck around the world. It’s time for a fare comparison.

New York City: Counterintuitively these days, one of the greatest aspects of the MTA and New York City subways are the fares. For a base fare of $2, a rider can go from Far Rockaway to Pelham Bay Park. As the crow flies, that’s around 20 miles. Via the subway, it’s a long trip through Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Meanwhile, as the average amount paid per rider is only $1.31, that $2 fare is higher than reality. It’s hard to beat that deal.

Washington D.C.: With a tiered fare system, the further one travels in the WMATA, the more one pays. The 7.68-mile trip from Silver Spring, Maryland, to Dupont Circle costs $1.85 at off-peak hours and $2.35 most of the day. A trip to the airport can cost over $3. Considering that the New York subways run 24 hours a day and the WMATA’s do not, we’re getting the better deal here.

Boston: Late in 2006, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority unveiled the CharlieCard, a discounted fare card similar to our Metrocard. With the advent of the CharlieCard, MBTA instituted a discounted fare of $1.85 for card users and a $2 fare for all others. Again, this system is charging more per fare than the MTA with all of those discounts and Unlimited Ride Metrocards, and again, the MBTA operates a system that doesn’t run 24 hours. New York wins.

London: Considering how weak the dollar is these days, this one isn’t fair (Hah! No pun intended). Transport for London, which has to print a nine-page PDF to explain its fare structure, is no bargain. Much like the Metrocard, TfL offers a discount card called the Oyster card. With the Oyster card, fares within a single zone in London are ?1.50 while a cash fare is ?4. The card fares jump to as high as ?3.50 depending upon how far one is traveling. Talk about expensive. Those fares come out to $3 to $8 in U.S. currency for a single ride. Wow.

Now, of course, this is a fairly unscientific study, and I cherry picked a few of the American and international subway systems. My point, however, remains the same: For all the moaning and hand-wringing that is going into this fare hike, the New York City subway systems are a fantastic deal. Those other systems have the same problems as ours: They are overcrowded; they are unreliable; and they don’t reach as far as everyone living in those metropolitan areas would like. But when push comes to shove, our system is cheaper than the others, just as fast and open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. With that in mind, I’d even be willing to pay a higher fare.



7 Responses to “All’s fare in love and subways”

  1. Chaim says:

    I am a lover of public transportation, and have had the benefit of riding many systems in this country. New Yorkers have a tendency to get a little over-zealous when it comes to criticizing the MTA. I’ve even had to fight it out with people who, usually after admitting they haven’t ridden many other systems, insist that the one here in NYC is one of the nation’s worst.

    The MTA has its problems, but the subways are great. $2 is a fantastic deal. Even if they raised the monthly to $100, it would be a steal. You didn’t mention the San Francisco BART, but if you look at the system, much of it coveers simliar distances as the NYC subway, and for a HECK of a lot more dough.

    Yes, yes, we do have rats, urine smell, and obnoxious, constant delays, but we also get 24 hour service and amazingly thorough geographical coverage.

    I think that people in the US become less-enamored with their cars, they will become more willing to spend money on Public Transit. As far as New York goes, I like to think of it this way: Just sitting down in a cab during off-peak hours is more expensive than a subway ride as far as you need to go. It’s hard to even find a piece of pizza for less than it takes to ride the subway…

  2. Eric says:

    Chaim mentioned BART, so just to chime in with further details about Bay Area transit fares, which you didn’t mention your post:

    A trip on BART from San Francisco to an East Bay suburb about 20 miles away would cost about $4.00 in each direction. What’s worse is that BART has nothing analogous to the MetroCard. You have to pay for each individual trip. Purchasing a high-value ticket gets you a very small discount, e.g. you pay $60 for a $64 ticket, but that’s about it. If you’re commuting to SF for work from a suburb 20 miles away, a $64 ticket won’t even last you two weeks. And even with these expensive fares, BART still cannot offer 24-hour service due to track limitations.

    The situation is much better if you’re traveling only within the San Francisco city limit, because then you can buy a $45 monthly pass (for adults) that gives full access to all vehicles run by Muni, a separate agency from BART. An individual trip on Muni is only $1.50, with a free transfer that lasts a couple hours. However, SF is a compact city (7 miles by 7 miles), so Muni’s geographic scope is also much smaller than that of the NY subway.

  3. Marc Shepherd says:

    I think you’d have trouble finding any major subway system with an average as low as $1.31 per ride. Ours is cheap, and still will be even after the fare increase. I’m glad that Ben has pointed this out.

    But Ben places the blame for under-investment in the wrong place. The current capital program is funded below levels that the MTA had requested from the legislature. It’s the legislature, not the MTA, that is responsible for the under-investment.

    It may be that more persuasive lobbying would get better results in Albany. With a new team in charge, we’ll see how well they do as the next capital program comes up for review.

  4. wayne's world says:

    The London Transport fares would be extraordinarily high even if the pound were trading at $1.50. Instead of $8.00 for a single ride, it would be $6.00.

  5. Victoria says:

    The T is $1.70 if you use a plastic card, not $1.85, though when I got to Boston two years ago, it was $1.25 for all, and when the differentiated fares started about a year ago, the lower one was $1.40 and the higher one was $1.70. Those are some pretty big percentage increases.

  6. Yuri Fyochelvskry says:

    Victoria, the MBTA never had a $1.40 fare. You’re making it up.

    Before January 1, 2007, the T’s subway fare was $1.25. On that date, they raised it to the current $2.00, with a reduced fare of $1.70 for fares paid with a CharlieCard.

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