The MetroCard Challenge and thoughts on a fare hike

By · Published in 2008

The anti-fare hike forces aren’t going to like this one too much.

At the end of November, I started the 30-Day Unlimited MetroCard Challenge. My goal at the time was simple: I was going to track the number of times I swiped my 30-Day Unlimited to see how much I pay per ride. Could I afford the fare hike and how much would it impact me? The answers, as you will see, are quite supportive of the fare hike.

For the 30 days surrounding my MetroCard — November 21 to December 20 — I swiped my MetroCard 74 times when I would have needed to pay a fare. Once or twice, I went from the subway to a bus. As that would have constituted a free transfer under a pay-per-ride card, those didn’t count against the monthly total. With the card costing $76, those 74 swipes resulted in a cost to me per ride of $1.04. That’s nothing.

Now what happens to me when the MTA raises the fares in March? To be honest, not much. My 30-Day Unlimited Ride card will suffer the most under the new fare structure. The cost will rise by six percent, going from $76 to $81. At $81, my month would have averaged out to $1.09 per ride. That’s still a miniscule fare compared to any other mass transit system in the world.

The next question, you might ask, goes something like this: Am I representative of a typical 30-Day Unlimited Ride MetroCard user? Anecdotally and numerically, I think so. I would believe that the vast majority of 30-Day card users are workers. They have jobs, sometimes more than one, that demand at least two subways ride a day. If you assume about 20 working days in a 30-day period, a rather conservative estimate in my opinion, we’re up to 40 rides with 10 days to spare. Now, let’s take a trip down mathematics lane.

The break-even point right now on Unlimited Ride cards is 46 rides. At 45 rides, it’s cheaper to use the pay-per-ride discount; after 45, the Unlimited Ride card is a better bet. So all anyone has to do is ride six more times to make it worthwhile, and extra rides are a bonus. Forty-six rides equates to just over 1.5 a day for 30 days, and anyone with a semblance of a social life will take more than 46 rides over the course of 30 days. My 74 rides averages out to just under 2.5 rides a day. That certainly seems about average to me.

Under the new fare structure, the break-even point at an average pay-per-ride fare of $1.74 becomes 46 and 47 rides instead of 45 and 46 as above. So the average folks like me will see their cost per ride go up less than the average pay-per-ride cost, and we would still be paying a very low base fare.

All of this is to say that, for all the hullaballoo, the fare hike will not hit riders as hard as it could or, as some economists might argue, as hard as it should. Even just two rides a day on a 30-Day Unlimited card puts the subway fare as $1.35, and that’s very affordable for a mass transit system.

As the MTA went about selling the fare hike, maybe they followed the wrong path. Maybe it’s better to look at how this will impact the commuter on a trip-by-trip basis, and maybe it’s important to highlight how good a deal frequent subway and bus users can get with their Unlimited Ride cards. I’m happy to pay my $1.04 per ride or even my $1.09 per ride. The subway is well worth it to me. How about you?

Happy now, mom?

Categories : MetroCard

2 Responses to “The MetroCard Challenge and thoughts on a fare hike”


  1. […] organizers want everyone to bring a backpack for storage purposes and a MetroCard. (I recommend an Unlimited Ride card if you’re a frequent […]

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