Walder thinking about off-peak discountsBy
As Jay Walder gets more comfortable in his role as the new CEO and Chairman of the MTA and as he realizes what kind of power he might wield while relying on his Golden Parachute, he has spent much of this week discussing his future plans for the MTA. He knows that the agency needs to improve its construction efforts and wants to speed up the bus system as well.
Today, he spoke with Michael Grynbaum of The Times about a departure from the single-fare scheme New Yorkers have enjoyed for the last 105 years. While he has no plans to raise the fares (beyond the biennial adjustments for inflation), he is considering a new fare payment system that would allow for lower off-peak and weekend fares. This time-of-day pricing would be a big break from New York City subway past where a ride from the Rockaways to Inwood costs the same as one 42nd St. to 14th St. no matter the time of day.
This is, yet again, another transit innovation that Walder would bring with him from across the pond, and it is one in place already in Washington, DC, where the Metro is far more commuter-based than New York City Transit’s system is. Still, Walder sees off-peak discounts as a way to spread the commute for those who enjoy job flexibility and, thus, ease system congestion. “We have an infrastructure that is set for the capacity of the peak,” Walder said to The Times. “What we really want to do is use that infrastructure all the time.”
Grynbaum had more on this proposal:
The chairman ruled out charging higher prices for longer trips, a system used in cities like Washington and London, saying such a move in New York “would be a mistake.” But he said a frank discussion of changes to the pricing structure “will be an important part of what we’re doing.” A transit spokesman said later that Mr. Walder was not considering higher peak fares.
In a wide-ranging interview with reporters at The New York Times, Mr. Walder — who wore a pair of subway token cufflinks — shared his plans to overhaul the technology of the nation’s biggest transit system. He plans to introduce so-called smart cards equipped with computer chips, digital arrival-time clocks at subway stations and GPS devices that would let passengers know exactly when the next bus was arriving…
Mr. Walder was emphatic when discussing the prospect of a revised fare structure, noting with a hint of excitement that “you can see creative and innovative things that would happen with this.” He said an off-peak pricing plan could “generate the revenue we need and get more people to be using the transit system at different times of day.”
Interestingly enough, in the past, Walder has called off-peak pricing a “revenue neutral policy.” As Grynbaum reports, as a speech at City College forever preserved on video, Walder spoke about using pricing to “improve the efficiency of the transport system we have, to allow people to make their choices about what they want to do.” Now, it’s about revenue.
Already, though, the MTA’s old guard is showing some resistance to the idea. Andrew Albert of the New York City Transit Riders Council practically dismissed it off-hand. “You really already have some crushed loads at off-peak periods,” he said. “London is not necessarily the same as New York.”
Despite the inherent pessimism in his statement, Albert might have a point. Would daytime discounts make as much sense for Times Square as they would for, say, the Brighton Line in Brooklyn or a 4 train at Woodlawn? How would the MTA avoid discriminating against more popular stations? Or should the agency be charging less based on station use depending up on the time of day?
I appreciate Walder’s outside-the-box thinking. Variable fares would be a major break from the norm for New Yorkers, and it could help spread out the pain of a congested commute. As long as he keeps thinking outside the box, the MTA will be in good hands.