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.