Oct
20

MTA demographics: A glimpse at who rides and how we pay

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Earlier this week, Streetsblog and I received a PDF of information about the MTA’s demographics. The authority tracks the way people ride, what MetroCards they use and how often they swipe, but the materials aren’t readily available for the public. Check out Noah Kazis’ take here.

Throughout the lead-up to the fare hike, the MTA kept reinforcing the idea that a capped MetroCard would have little impact on the vast majority of riders. As the above graph shows, that would be the case. Only 7 percent of 30-day cards are used 91 times or more. Those passes are used, on average, 107 times, which doesn’t quite lend credence to the fact that fraud is widespread. Interestingly, approximately 25 percent of 30-day buyers don’t reach the breakeven point right now. Those folks are just wasting money.

Interestingly, we see similar trends with the seven-day cards as well. A higher percentage — 13 — are used 23 times or more, and those cards average around 27.5 swipes per seven days. Nearly 35 percent of those using the seven-day card do not reach the break-even point. It appears that a good number of NYC Transit riders should be using pay-per-ride cards but aren’t.

Next up comes a trove of demographics information the MTA collects through Customer Travel Surveys. (For an example, download this PDF.) Click the image below to enlarge.

We see here is a profile of the median transit rider. He or she makes $55,700 a year and is 43 years old. People who use the unlimited fare offerings do indeed make significantly more than those who do not. Generally, these numbers do not present a picture of people who own cars in New York City or make extensive use of autos. It certainly reinforces how Albany fails city residents when they take money from the MTA or force the authority to cut service, raise fares or both.

I have to believe, as Noah does at Streetsblog, that this is just the tip of the iceberg. We don’t yet know the profile of bus riders or bridge and tunnel users. The real issue though concerns what we make of it all. Should the MTA be making fare hike decisions based upon its demographic profiles? Should the authority do more to encourage unlimited card use? Should they better educate riders as to the break-even point of its MetroCard offerings? The possibilities are endless.



16 Responses to “MTA demographics: A glimpse at who rides and how we pay”

  1. Brewster North says:

    One variable I’d be interested to see controlled for in these surveys – how many people buying the unlimited MetroCards do so via TransitChek, and what impact might that have either on exhortations to use unlimited cards more or what the break-even is on unlimited vs. pay-per-ride?

    • Avi says:

      The break even shouldn’t change with Transit Check. You can get either unlimited or pay per ride pre-tax, so the break even ride count remains the same. Of course, once people deduct a fixed amount from their paycheck it may just be easier to get an unlimited card and not think about it.

      • Brewster North says:

        Duh, me brain pretty one day. I meant to say “educating straphangers on the break-even point” etc.

        And yes, I’d be a case in point; there is a lot of peace of mind to be had by paying for an unlimited card, particularly as the TransitChek cards themselves are issued at the same 30-day tempo.

    • Sharon says:

      It has a lot to do with it. Many people take the transitchek card because they can get the unlimited ride feature for about the same as they would pay for pay per ride. Not all employers who offer transit chek also offer the Pay Per ride atm card benefit as my employer does.

      “People who use the unlimited fare offerings do indeed make significantly more than those who do not.”
      As before many have transit chek. Most jobs that offer transit chek are middle class or higher. ALL employers should be required to offer a tax free benefit card to ALL employees. Also more educated people see the benefit of the unlimited ride card. It’s there when you need it.

      ” Generally, these numbers do not present a picture of people who own cars in New York City or make extensive use of autos.”
      Auto ownership is more a function of where you live rather than how much you make. If you live in Manahattan, no matter how much you make you may not own a car. In my part of Brooklyn having a car is needed to live any decent kind of life. The nearest store is 8 blocks away, the nearest super market 3/4 of a mile away.

      • Yes, and whenever anyone tries to make it easier to live without a car in those parts of Brooklyn, the locals scream about “densification!” and “Manhattanization!” and “changing the character of our neighborhood!”

      • I think, Sharon, that your conclusion isn’t correct. People who live in the neighborhoods you mention in Brooklyn where you claim to need a car aren’t making less than $50,000 a year either.

      • AK says:

        Auto ownership is very highly correlated with how much you make, regardless of neighborhood. Analysis shows that vehicle-owning households throughout the region are wealthier than households without access to a vehicle. See fact sheets broken down by various neighborhood at: http://www.tstc.org/reports/cpfactsheets.php (note that the data is from 2007).

        One other thing about Sharon’s post. I think it is a noble thought to make all employers provide tax free transit chek, but transit check can actually reduce efficiency by reupping 30-day unlimiteds automatically, even if the reup date is a saturday/sunday when the individual would not normally use the card (for instance, this past month, my 30-day expired on 10/7 (Thursday) I left the City Thursday night and didn’t return until Monday 10/11. Had I had TransitChek, I would have paid for 4 days of non-use. Because I did not, I waited until I returned to buy a new 30-day, which actually saved significantly more money. You CAN do things like that with TransitChek, but my goodness is it a pain in the behind.

        Setting that aside, the federal Commuter Tax Credit already allows employees whose monthly mass transit fees are less than $230 to deduct the full amount from their paychecks, tax free…

        • ajedrez says:

          “Auto ownership is very highly correlated with how much you make, regardless of neighborhood.”

          Yes and no. While, overall, car-owning households always make more than households without cars, there are many cases where this doesn’t hold true. For example, the average household income for an auto-less household in Manhattan is $67,558, whereas the average income for a car-owning household $64,611 for Brooklyn, $57,224 for the Bronx and $64,955 for Queens. The Upper East Side has one of the highest concentrations of auto-less households despite having a high average income (see this map: http://www.rpa.org/pdf/RPA_tomorrows_transit.pdf) .

      • dale says:

        perfect distances for a bicycle…

  2. Chris G says:

    Along the lines of the above comments, I’d like to know how much the person using the pass actually pays for said pass. I am very lucky in that my work place provides me with an unlimited 30 day metro card. I pay nothing for it and therefore I use this card instead of paying the cash/prepay mc rate for the few trips I take a month. I’d say I average about 20 trips a month. So cost and source do factor in to this discussion, or should.

  3. Ben — you wrote:

    “Generally, these numbers do not present a picture of people who own cars in New York City or make extensive use of autos. It certainly reinforces how Albany fails city residents when they take money from the MTA or force the authority to cut service, raise fares or both.”

    Sorry if I’m dense, but I honestly don’t get what either of these sentences is trying to say. Could you explicate them for me? Thanks.

    • ajedrez says:

      If I understand correctly, I think he is saying that those numbers don’t present a picture of people who own cars, just people who use transit. He’s saying that, when the MTA is forced to raise fares and cut service, it impacts lower-income people the most because low-income people are more likely to be tranit-dependent.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Avenue Sagas and Streetsblog received documents detailing the kinds of Metrocards people use and how often they swipe. On 30-day […]

  2. […] also worth revisiting briefly a post from October that explores how many riders do not reach the break-even point on their unlimited MetroCards. Based on internal MTA numbers, it appeared as though 25 percent of […]

  3. […] represents a market correction. As I explored last October, MTA demographics surveys revealed that 25 percent of 30-day card users did not reach the break-even point. At the time, that point came on the 46th swipe. When the MTA […]

  4. […] in New York City, and while some view public transit for being “just for poor people,” the average New York straphanger makes $55,000 a year, hardly a working-class wage.   Gonzalez says she believes public […]

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