Decade Retrospective: Subway fare increases


Over at amNew York today, Heather Haddon takes a look back at the decade that was in subway news. She hits on all the big stories from the debut of the V line in 2001 to the major ongoing construction projects along Second Ave. and the 7 line to the 9/11 impact on the subways to the transit strike and the MTA’s economic woes. Her number one story is of course the numerous fare hikes we’ve lived through this decade.

She writes:

The MTA’s mountain of debt finally caught up with it this decade. As new funding fell through in 2000 and revenue declined in the later part of the 2000’s, the agency turned to straphangers to bear part of the burden with four fare hikes, including back-to-back increases in 2008 and 2009. “The system is always starved for money. That’s not the right way to run a transit system,” said MTA board member Andrew Albert.

NYC Transit riders now pick up the tab for 43 percent of operating expenses, the second highest rate in the nation. Fares will increase again in 2011 and 2013.

The recent fare hikes are fresh in our minds, and as the MTA struggles to close a gap, the specter of future hikes loom. Even without the upcoming 2011 hike, the fares could become the latest casualty in the MTA’s fiscal crisis. But just how far have they come since January 1, 2000 when the decade dawned? Take a look:

Dates Base Discount 30-Day 14-Day 7-Day 1-Day
1/1/00-5/3/03 $1.50 10% min. $15 $63.00 NA $17.00 $4.00
5/3/03-2/21/05 $2.00 20% min. $10 $70.00 NA $17.00 $4.00
2/22/05-3/1/08 $2.00 20% min. $10 $76.00 NA $24.00 $7.00
3/2/08-6/27/09 $2.00 15% min. $7 $81.00 $47.00 $25.00 $7.50
6/28/09-?? $2.25 15% min. $8 $89.00 $51.50 $27.00 $8.25

What is notable about these fare increases is how the Unlimited Ride cards have far outstripped inflation. The 30-Day Unlimited card cost $63 in 2000; that’s the equivalent of $79 today. The $4 Fun Pass, a good deal in 2000 but nearly useless today, would cost just $5 now if the fares were adjusted only for inflation. Even the base fare — $1.50 in 2000 — would be just $1.88 if the MTA adjusted fares to count for inflation.

In the end, we know that the MTA has few choices when it comes to raising revenue. The authority can cut services or they can raise the fares. For the last ten years, the agency has avoided service cuts while boosting fares by around 40-55 percent. With the current service cuts threatening to slice and dice our transit network, we may be telling a different tale in ten years. Personally, I’d take the fare hikes over service cuts in any decade.

Categories : MetroCard

15 Responses to “Decade Retrospective: Subway fare increases”

  1. John says:

    “NYC Transit riders now pick up the tab for 43 percent of operating expenses, the second highest rate in the nation.”

    I’d be interesting in seeing this listing, both to see which cities were covered and what the various percentages are.

  2. Jerrold says:

    The link to amny does not work, at least as of right now.

  3. SEAN says:

    I’de be careful when contrasting fare increases against the true rate of inflation. The numbers quoted in the mainstreem news are artificially low. True inflation today is running about 6 to 7% & not 3% or so. You can read sites like or for mor information.

  4. Niccolo Machivelli says:

    I’m more interested in average cost of a swipe to the passenger. As I remember $1.299 as of last spring, curious as to what it is now and has been historically. That more accurately tracks the cost of a ride and can provide a yardstick against historical costs against inflation as well as comparative values to the two-fare zone era.

  5. Andrew says:

    Of course the fares have risen faster than inflation – fares were absurdly low in 2000. Remember, the nominal fare hadn’t gone up since 1995, and in the interim, unlimited cards, free bus-subway transfers, and a 10% bonus were introduced (so the effective fare had gone way down).

    I think it would be more interesting to compare today’s fares with 1995 fares. People in two-fare zones paid $3.00 (in 1995 dollars) back then but only pay $1.96 (in 2009 dollars) now – or less, if they ride frequently enough to make use of unlimited cards.

    • Alon Levy says:

      On one of the “Fares aren’t that high” posts, I wrote a comment about the city’s recent fare history. The summary is that if you plot the real fare from 1994 to today, the graph will look like a V, with the cusp at the 2003 fare hike.

  6. Niccolo Machivelli says:

    Thanks for looking that up Ben, I really wasn’t trying to make the point that no matter how you construct the graph fares on a per ride basis are somewhere near a historic low in real money. Even if you buy that it doesn’t mean that fares are fair or unfair. I think if you believe that income differences are much higher among our citizens than they have historically been then the the fairness of fare increases is problematic. The MTA may have less of a welfare character than it did historically as more upper class and middle class people have moved with gentrification to neighborhoods they previously shunned. Wealthier people could conceivably prefer higher fares to the extent it will secure a seat for them. Poor people, or the increasingly poor outcasts from the middle class, probably prefer a cheaper ride even if they have to stand.


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