The fare remains the same, at least for 2010


Twenty ten has been very unkind for the MTA. The year started out with Albany robbing the authority of over $143 million, and it’s been one bad piece of economic news after another. The payroll tax has fallen around $300 million short of expectations. The MTA has to go through the charade of public hearings to cut station agents. Now, Albany might outlaw OPTO and station agent reductions until 2013 all without providing much-needed funds for these unnecessary positions.

Through it all, the MTA has implemented a sweeping series of service cuts that has left bus commuters reeling and has restructured subway service patterns throughout parts of three boroughs. The agency won’t, however, seek to raise the fares until 2011 when it has legal permission to do so. In speaking with John Gambling on WOR radio yesterday morning, Jay Walder reiterated that position. “It will not come earlier,” Walder said. “We’re going to hold to the schedule.”

That’s the good news. The bad news, says Walder, is that the fare hikes will be far greater than the 7.5 percent increase the agency’s four-year plan had stipulated in 2009. “We’re grappling with an exceptionally difficult financial times and that requires tough decisions,” the authority’s chairman and CEO said. “It requires things that are painful for our employees and our customers, and we have to recognize there’s no easy way out.”

I can’t even begin to speculate on the size of the next fare hike. The agency still has, by most accounts, to fill a budget hole of nearly $300 million and will propose its solution later this month when it unveils its financial plan. We could see an increase of 15 percent or more. I wonder if this is the right approach.

I’ve long espoused the theory that the MTA should raise fares as much as it can before cutting service. It boils down the simplicity of the authority’s mission: It is supposed to be supplying a service to the public in the form of efficient, fast and frequent mass transit to meet rider demands. As Section 1264 of New York’s Public Authorities Law says, the MTA’s purpose is to provide for the “continuance, further development and improvement of commuter transportation.” Service cuts seem anathema to that goal.

One of the problems lies in the MTA’s approach to the fares. The authority isn’t required to hold down fares or artificially deflate them, and yet it has. With unlimited-ride MetroCard programs and pay-per-ride discounts, we are paying less per ride on average in real dollars than we did in 1996. As deficits grow, that the fares haven’t kept pace with inflation is just a bad business practice.

Another problem is one of priorities. Perhaps I’m unique in this sense, but I’d rather pay more for the same service today than pay the same for less service today or pay more for less service tomorrow. We know the MTA won’t restore the service cuts when they raise fares in January, but had they chosen to raise fares by five percent this year, the increase in revenue would have been more than enough to stave off the cuts. If that’s the price for a public transit network that doesn’t shudder under the weight of demand, then so be it. My 30-day MetroCard costs me approximately $1 per ride as it is; I can withstand a fare increase.

In the end, this discussion is one of policy. Would the MTA rather incur the wrath of riders and politicians over the third fare increase in as many years or through service cuts? For now, the answer is service cuts, but the authority should make sure that their customers know the service cuts — and the eventual fare hikes — were brought about through inaction in Albany. The state has refused to provide adequate funds for Student MetroCards; the state has refused to enact congestion pricing or East River bridge tolls. Instead, the state has stolen money earmarked for the MTA, and then the same representatives who voted for that measure slam the MTA for its budget gap.

A pawn because of its status as a creature of the state, the MTA can’t speak out against Albany as those who fight for better transit in the city do. What the MTA should do though is raise the fares before it begins to cut service. Without providing ample service, what role does the agency serve anyway?

Categories : Fare Hikes, Service Cuts

27 Responses to “The fare remains the same, at least for 2010”

  1. nycpat says:

    What would be the immediate capital costs of implementing OPTO? 100s of millions of $. They don’t have the managerial ability to implement it efficiently, that’s why they’ve never really pushed for it.

    • Alon Levy says:

      What would be the immediate capital costs of implementing OPTO?

      Moving the CCTV screens. Pre-recording announcements, maybe. Even the people in charge of MTA Capital Construction can do it cheaply.

      • nycpat says:

        Also rewriting the rule book and operating procedures and then the lawyers have to go over it and then the feds and then the lawyers again. Of course this does’nt fall under capital costs. And then they will have to hire more TSSs and technicians.

        • Alon Levy says:

          Okay, so what you’re saying is, “We’ll make it as difficult as possible by forcing litigation, so it’ll be too expensive.” And even that doesn’t cut it because rewriting a rule book doesn’t cost $160 million, not even in New York.

          • nycpat says:

            $160 million: is that the figure you imagine that will be saved? My only point is that the figures positted for OPTO savings are over optimistic. They don’t even take into account increased pay for T/Os.
            I will concede that OPTO would lead to long term savings, but the upfront costs are always understated, the near term savings exaggerated.

            • Alon Levy says:

              The total compensation of C/Rs is about $160 million a year.

              If you want more pay, you should spend more than 500 hours a year operating a train in revenue service. Toei’s T/Os spend an average of 700. I’m almost certain there are higher numbers out there, on private Japanese railroads that just don’t post as much data in English.

              • nycpat says:

                What on earth are you talking about? Even with paid lunch, four weeks vacation and eleven holidays I operate NYC Subway trains over 1500 hours a year. That doesn’t include put ins or lay ups. I refuse all avoidable OT. You must be looking at minimum hours for RR engineers.

                • Alon Levy says:

                  So you’re more productive than the rest, what can I say? It’s a public fact from the NTD that NYCT operates about 17 million car revenue hours, i.e. 1.7 million train revenue hours, and another public fact that there are about 3,600 full-time T/Os. It works out to about 500 revenue hours per T/O.

                  • nycpat says:

                    TOEI figures include work train T/Os? Does their monorail have T/Os? If not are they counted as revenue hours? I’m sure their monorail does’nt have work trains. There are many hundreds of NYCT work train and switchman T/Os. They don’t operate in revenue service, skewing the figures.They would’nt get an OPTO premium.
                    You’re not going to double the work load of revenue T/Os by fiat, the trains won’t move.The OPTO premium currently$2 will have to rise and that has to be figured into the cost/benefit analysis of OPTO.

                    • Alon Levy says:

                      Toei’s figures are just subway trains in revenue service – no monorail, no buses.

                      They used to provide a breakdown of their number of employees. For revenue train-hours, anyone can go on Hyperdia, get timetable data, and add up the total length of all train runs. I don’t remember the numbers now, but Toei has 50% more revenue train-hours per T/O than NYCT. (Bear in mind that Toei is only 50% OPTO; I’m comparing T/Os to T/Os only, without C/Rs.)

                      The OPTO premium just comes from directly adding up all C/R payroll. T/Os don’t figure into this.

                    • nycpat says:

                      Not all 3,600 T/Os work revenue service jobs and you don’t know the # of TOEI work train T/Os, so you see the problem with your figures. They’re not really useful for what we’re talking about. If I had a job where I spent 500 hrs a year on the road and 500 in the car wash and 500 in the yard I would still count as a parasite in your book, not deserving of any additional crumbs..
                      By OPTO premium I mean the additional wages paid to T/Os. So if you fire all C/rs you don’t save $160,000,000. You have to subtract at least $2(current contract) for every hour of revenue service, and more likely $10-12(what MTA originally offered when OPTO first came about. TWU took $2 and something else of supposed equal value.).

                    • Alon Levy says:

                      I believe Toei’s figures include all train drivers, on both work and revenue trains.

                      If you had a job where you spent 500 hours at the carwash and 500 at the yard, I wouldn’t call you a parasite, but I would have a lot of nasty things to say about the schedule manager’s competence. (Just to clarify, the total train driver salaries are such that it’s much more justifiable to go to 700 hours per T/O by adding service than by laying off workers. Ditto commuter rail, where OPTO should be bundled with large increases in off-peak service.)

                      At $10 per hour of revenue service, NYCT would have to pay T/Os an extra $17 million per year. If I were Walder I’d concede that and even more in exchange for OPTO.

                  • levitra says:

                    Gee willikers, that’s such a great post!

  2. tsuyoshi says:

    One problem is that, to many people, public transit is for poor people. Raising fares is counterintuitive to them, as they think if you have more money to spend, you should buy a car or take a taxi.

    Another problem is that cars are so heavily subsidized here, it’s difficult for transit to raise the price very much and still compete.

  3. Larry Littlefield says:

    “The authority isn’t required to hold down fares or artificially deflate them, and yet it has. With unlimited-ride MetroCard programs and pay-per-ride discounts, we are paying less per ride on average in real dollars than we did in 1996. As deficits grow, that the fares haven’t kept pace with inflation is just a bad business practice.”

    But good politics. And that’s why the MTA should keep eliminating service until Gene Russianoff and the Straphangers demand fare increases.

    Money was borrowed to offset those big fare cuts, tax dollars diverted elsewhere, and unfunded pension sweeteners. I’d rather have transit service collapse now to what we face going forward, while Generation Greed is still around to feel the consequences, then allow it to continue sweeping the problem under the rug.

  4. Sharon says:

    Implementing OPTO correctly will cost some money. The cost of not implementing it is far more. The cost of conductors on train is far more than the $160+ millions Ben estimates due to the $30k plus a year in benefits that are going up every day. The pension system for instance estimates that they will make a 12% return on their investments when the risk free rate of return on the 10 year is less than 4%. To run OPTO correctly you need to install lcd screens inside the cab to reduce dwell time. Such a system needs extensive testing. A better approach would be to roll it out overnights on many lines that already have cameras and screens on the platforms using shorter trains at shorter intervals. This would improve service and save money on energy and maintained costs. This would also allow the mta to negotiate a no layoff clause in exchange.

  5. Alon Levy says:

    Completely off-topic: Josh K, if you’re reading this, could you please go to The Transport Politic’s thread about Barcelona and say there what you’ve said here about the contracting process?

  6. Clarence says:

    I used to be about a 50-50 commuter. 50% bike, 50% bus/subway. Now unless the weather is horrid, I always bike. And if fares go up, more will continue to leave the system. Instead of 50-50, I am probably now down to 80-20. When you are looking at a nearly $5 round trip, and you can get a good workout in too, the bike is becoming more attractive to New Yorkers.

    And I say this with my commute having gone from 9 mile round trip to 21!

    • john b says:

      $5 is assuming you pay for each ride separately rather than buy a monthly card or even purchase rides in bulk. if you commuted by subway everyday you would definitely buy a monthly, if you commuted just once a day you would still buy 40-rides at a time. while i am a biker and i think its great to commute by bike there are so many positives to it that there is no need to sensationalize the costs of the subway.

  7. John says:

    Personally, I would rather see modest service reductions before a fare hike. For example, the S60 cost $6.83 per passenger to operate on a weekday. There are a few other examples of inefficienies in the system, such as the B75 route that should’ve been combined with the B57/B61 long ago.
    I don’t resent buses running if they get a decent amount of people. I do, however, have a problem with my $2.25 (or $1.96 with a pay-per-ride discount) subsidizing my own ride, which may cost somewhere in the $1.75-$2.00 range plus a portion of an S60 rider’s $6.83 cost. (You even stated in another article that that was one route that actually should be eliminated) I understand that the bus system as a whole doesn’t even recover all of its operating costs (The average route covers about 79% of its operating costs and about 42% of its total costs), but I just can’t stand to see such inefficiencies.
    I still stand by the theory that there is a balance between service reductions and fare hikes to balance the budget. I would rather a fare hike be used to restore some particularly inconvenient reductions (like the elimination of Q76 weekend service, elimination of the B64 in Coney Island, and the elimination of the B4 in Sheepshead Bay) and only those reductions rather than just restore all of the service reductions.
    Personally, the good thing about service reductions is that they provide more efficient service for years to come. For example, on the S66, although riders lose weekend service on Grymes Hill, they now have more frequent service with more connections available on weekdays, while the MTA still saves $250,000 annually.

  8. rhywun says:

    A zoning system would help alleviate some of the vast disparity in subsidies across this huge city. Of course it would be politically impossible to implement but it’s certainly a widespread in other cities around the world.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Not just politically – the turnstile area is unusually narrow in New York, so requiring people to swipe on exit would clog the turnstiles.

      It’s quite normal to have one-zone subways. It’s commuter trains that need to vary fares based on distance. Sadly, the FRA makes it impossible to operate commuter trains at reasonable cost, and even within the FRA regime the New York-area railroads splurge.

      • Jon says:

        Zoning would be terrible. I’ve seen transit at many cities with zoning (Buffalo included) and all it does is discourages those who travel far to take the subway, and especially buses. The beauty of New York’s mass transit is that i can go from Rockaway to the tip of the Bronx for the same cost. If I’m a tourist, I don’t have to think about zoning to confuse things even more. If I’m not mistaken, fares increased dramatically when the MTA removed zoning from the system. (not sure since I don’t think I was alive back then, or I was too little to know)

        • John says:

          I think you are referring to the removal of the double fare in the Rockaways, which is the closest thing we have ever come to a “zoning” system on the subway.
          When the fare was raised from 35 cents to 50 cents, residents in the Rockaways complained that that would unfairly impact them. Their fare would go from 70 cents to $1.00, while everybody else’s would go from 35 cents to 50 cents. The MTA agreed and eliminated the double fare, so their fare decreased from 70 cents to 50 cents.


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