Fare Hike ’13: An unlimited bump or a higher base

By · Published in 2012

In 1998, when the unlimited monthly MetroCard made its New York City debut, the MTA priced this item at $63. In the intervening 14 years, the price has risen by $41, and today, that same card costs a cool $104. The MTA has been particularly aggressive in rising the prices for these unlimited ride cards in order to combat declining revenue per trip, but these cards increase subway ridership overall. It’s quite the catch-22, and it’s rearing its head once again.

A few weeks ago, as the MTA leaked word of its looming fare hike plan, it seemed as monthly cards would largely be spared while the base fare would see a big jump and all pay-per-ride discounts would be eliminated. Now, in the face of an outcry over that proposal, a second plan has seemingly emerged that would spike unlimited ride cards considerably. The Daily News, proclaiming obviously that a fare hike will “hit riders hard,” has more:

Bus and subway riders would pay as much as $125 for a monthly MetroCard — a $21 increase — under one of four fare-hike schemes the MTA is mulling, the Daily News has learned. This proposal would increase the price of an unlimited-ride weekly MetroCard to $34 — a $5 boost — and reduce the Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard bonus, sources said. But it would leave the base subway and bus fare unchanged at $2.25, sources said…

The MTA has fashioned four fare-hike scenarios in advance of public hearings set for next month. Each scheme would generate $232 million in additional revenue from bus and subway riders. Two of the proposals would keep the base fare at $2.25. One of these would reduce the Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard bonus from 7% to 5%, charge $34 for the weekly unlimited-ride MetroCard and $125 for the monthly travel pass. The second would ax the 7% MetroCard bonus altogether, increase the weekly MetroCard to $32 (up $3) and jack the monthly MetroCard to $119 (up $15).

As The News reported exclusively last month, the MTA also is considering two other proposals that would raise the base fare a quarter to $2.50. These 25-cent hike proposals would trigger additional fare changes to the MetroCard bonus and the time-based MetroCards.

It’s a bit unclear what the other two proposals look like. Last month, the same Daily News reported that one version of the fare hike would eliminate the bonus entirely while the base fare would jump to $2.50 and unlimited 7-day cards would bump up $1 and 30-day cards $5. It seems as though the MTA is now considering a proposal, mentioned above, to keep the fare at $2.25 while putting the revenue onus on unlimited card users instead.

For personal and policy reasons, I hate that idea. For the past few fare hikes, unlimited card users have gotten the shaft. I understand the MTA wants to recapture what they view as lost revenue from unlimited card riders, but the unlimiteds have also contributed to a marked increase in subway usage over the past two decades. Meanwhile, nearly 47 percent of subway riders turn to unlimited cards, and we shouldn’t be asked to foot the bill every time a fare hike comes along while pay-per-ride users get something of a pass.

It seems likely that the ultimate decision will be made during the fare hike hearings, but the trick is going to be weeding out the noise. Already, the Straphangers, for instance, are saying “enough is enough” when it comes to fare hikes, but short of asking Gov. Cuomo for money that doesn’t exist, they’re not pushing for any other revenue solution. Prices are going to go up; it’s a preordained conclusion. But doing so in a way that spreads the pain is key.

Categories : Fare Hikes

89 Responses to “Fare Hike ’13: An unlimited bump or a higher base”

  1. Alon Levy says:

    “Lost revenue from unlimited card riders”? Really? Try “extra trips in the off-peak when providing them is cheap, and lower collection costs.”

    But as we all know, the MTA refuses to implement any improvement that requires more people to use unlimited cards, like all-door boarding on non-SBS buses.

    • Bushwicked says:

      Yes, unlimited cards don’t really add to rush hour traffic.
      At the new $125 rate, that works out to $4.16 everyday which I suppose is fair. But the card should never pass the cost of two rides each day.
      What about the planned fee for each new card? Is that being factored in with not raising the single fare price? Raise it too!

  2. It’s also worth noting that an increase in the monthly Metrocard to $125 would mark the last increase before the cost would exceed the monthly Federal pre-tax benefit.

  3. Andrew Smith says:

    ‘Prices are going to go up; it’s a preordained conclusion.’

    Or they could control costs.

    “But doing so in a way that spreads the pain is key.”

    How about spreading that to some of the MTA workers, who almost exclusively do minimally skilled work at top 5% per hour compensation?

    How much does the system have to screw riders for you and your readers to revolt rather than just bending over and taking it?

  4. Ed says:

    Only way many people can “revolt” over this would be to basically never leave their apartment.

    In most of the rest of the country it works the same way with gas price increases.

    In outer borough neighborhoods you can opt to get a car instead and I agree this makes sense. Of course then you are vulnerable to gas price and insurance premium increases.

    • Andrew Smith says:

      A good contract with the MTA would basically eliminate the need for any fare increases.

      • That’s not 100 percent true. The fare increase is needed to cover rising pension costs, and those are set in stone. A good contract would eliminate the need for steeper fare increases.

        And to your point above, the MTA has trimmed nearly $1 billion from its annual operating expenses. It’s doing what it can to cut costs, and obvious savings are being realized.

        • Andrew Smith says:

          My definition of a good MTA contract would probably run as follows:

          — OOPT
          — Split shifts for all bus and train drivers so you could combine efficient use of manpower with the need for more service at morning/evening rush hours.
          — Total compensation freezes (Not wage freezes, where just pay is frozen, but no more money for healthcare either, so when premiums rise, workers pick of the difference and take home falls)
          — No job definitions, so every employee does what bosses need at any moment and there is no wasted time.
          — No pensions till 65

          Not one of those is in any way unfair or outrageous. Even after it was all done, MTA workers would still be making about twice as much per capita as any other group of people with their skills. And yet no one is demanding anything like that. It’s insane.

          • Andrew Smith says:

            All that would entirely eliminate the need for any fare hikes, would it not, Ben?

            • Honest question: What do you with increasing preexisting pension obligations? It might obviate the need for any non-inflation increase for 2015 and beyond but for now, I don’t think it does away with the obligations owed to current retirees.

              That contract would be great for many reasons though.

              • Justin Samuels says:

                Do keep in mind some people have to retire early due to health reasons, and some of these people will have put in 20 or 30 years. In short, you cannot come up with a 100% no pension before 65 rule.

                Basically, people can where possible avoid using the MTA. You save money right there. I stopped using unlimited cards as the price has already gotten to the point where it isn’t worth it. I know a lot of people who bike around town. Or if you can afford to, get a car. If you live in Manhattan, much of that is very walkable.

                • Bolwerk says:

                  I’m actually rather inclined to concur with Andrew on the pension thing. Public employees shouldn’t get special treatment. Either everybody, public employee or not, should get a pension, or nobody should get a pension.

                  We can debate all we want whether the state should be handling pensions/healthcare, but pensions/healthcare REALLY shouldn’t be the MTA’s problem. Let them focus on running trains and buses.

                  • Justin Samuels says:

                    But because they negotiated them, the pensions are the MTA’s problem, and MTA unions won’t let them go away.

                    But there is no law in the US saying that all employees should be compensated equally. It just doesn’t happen under our system. Nothing says that just because some people may 100k a year, everyone must make 100k or just because some people have pensions, everyone must have them. What benefits employees get are those negotiated with their employers. Want better benefits? Then do union organizing, or just get a better job.

                    But just because you don’t have something, doesn’t mean that others shouldn’t have it.

                    And because humans drive and operate those MTA buses and trains ,the MTA is more than in the business of transit . Human resources is a big part of any employer, and the MTA is a pretty big employer.

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      There is obviously no law preventing it, and we are not talking about a private company here. As a matter of basic fairness, if government workers deserve a defined benefit pension, then the citizenry that pays those government workers’ salaries should get one too. Otherwise, the state is treating its own employees as a special, more deserving class of citizens. Constitutional? Probably. Right? No.

                      Also, the state can overrule the MTA, you know. Past pensions are pretty set in stone, but future pensions can be reformed.

                      And because humans drive and operate those MTA buses and trains ,the MTA is more than in the business of transit .

                      Sure, but driving trains and buses is quite literally a secondary function of the MTA.

                      Human resources is a big part of any employer, and the MTA is a pretty big employer.

                      Even if you believe government employees are worthy of special entitlements, things like benefits should be administered by a civil service that specializes in administering such things. That’s light years more efficient than each bureaucracy having its own overhead dedicated to mundane HR stuff.

              • Andrew Smith says:

                Okay, this is going to be long, but you brought it upon yourself by asking.

                I don’t really buy the argument that pensions are morally or legally untouchable. I realize that’s a heretical thing to say, but hear me out.

                The argument for why these must be paid is that democratically elected politicians or their lawful representatives negotiated contracts that obliged them to pay fixed benefit pensions and, thus, the electorate legitimately took this pension upon itself. It must therefore pay its debts for just the same reason that I must pay mine.

                But I just don’t think that’s true. The electorate that incurred the debt isn’t the one that is being forced to pay it.

                In my view, public sector union leaders and voters/politicians/bureaucrats, in making those contracts, knowingly exploited a powerless third party — future taxpayers — in ways that negate the validity of those contracts.

                When all those deals were being struck in the 70s and 80s, governments and the unions found a new solution to a timeless problem: employees wanted more than taxpayers wanted to pony up.

                Governments agreed to incredibly generous pensions (both in terms of retirement age and income) if the unions agreed to reasonably low wages and astonishingly low present-day pension contributions.

                Everyone knew, at the time, that they were not putting anything like enough money into pension funds to meet their obligations, but no one had any incentive to do anything about it. Taxpayers didn’t want higher taxes. Unions didn’t want lower pension benefits (which they’d have certainly got if they demanded fully funded pensions because, again, taxpayers don’t want higher taxes).

                So politicians signed the deals knowing that said deals would allow them to say they’d achieved good employee relations AND low(ish) taxes and also knowing that, by the time the bills came due, they’d be long retired. Taxpayers agreed too because they knew that by the time the bills came due, they’d either be dead or living elsewhere. Union workers were happy too because they knew that when the bills came due, people like you would say that “pensions benefits are untouchable.”

                What percentage of people now living in NYC and eligible to vote here were eligible voters when the MTA obliged itself to pay all these pensions? 10%? Maybe 25%? For the rest of us, it’s taxation w/o representation. (OK, in this case it’s fare hikes w/o representation, but that doesn’t sound as good. Besides, many of these pensions are going to be paid with simple tax hikes.)

                So do I want to just eliminate the pensions?

                No. I’m well aware that millions of government workers have planned their entire lives around these pensions existing and I’m not mean enough to force them into an old age of dire poverty.

                That said, I do think there should be cuts because I do think many of them were fully aware of what they were doing all those decades ago: forcing me to pay for their retirement before I was an adult who could negotiate.

                My compromise:

                For workers over 65, status quo, except that the yearly increase gets halved.

                For retired workers under 65, back to work. No one gets to retire till 65, but once you do, you get the fixed benefit pension with half the COLA adjustments.

                For workers 40 and under, you go from defined benefit to defined contribution. All the money that has currently been set aside for you gets dumped into an index fund and you get an 8% raise and an 8% match to anything you put in a 401K.

                Do I think any of this is going to happen in a city where the number of public employees far, far exceeds the number of people who vote in local elections? Not until things get very, very painful, if ever.

                I bet you’re sorry you asked.

                • Bolwerk says:

                  Past pension obligations are constitutionally set in stone. These are contractually obligated, and about the only way out of them might be MTA bankruptcy.

                  • Justin Samuels says:

                    An MTA bankrupcy would have substantial costs for both the MTA and NYS bonds. For starters, no one would purchase MTA bonds again, if they tried to avoid paying through bankrupcy. The credit rating of the MTA and NYS would be RUINED.

                    Considering the debt markets is a big part of how the MTA pays for capital projects, can’t have that can we? And of course, no state wants its credit rating ruined.

                    So that really leaves the only alternative of higher fares and otherwise more revenues. The MTA can develop and rent out more of its real estate portfolio.

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      I wasn’t advocating it, I was just telling him what it would take. NYS’s credit rating probably wouldn’t be hurt, though. That was the point of the MTA.

                      So that really leaves the only alternative of higher fares and otherwise more revenues. The MTA can develop and rent out more of its real estate portfolio.

                      Well, it will take decades to stop the bleeding, but one obvious thing we could do is stop stabbing ourselves. Growth of pension obligations should be capped at inflation, at the very least.

                      Carpet bombing Florida so all the cretins who moved there with their NYS pensions die would also be both fiscally responsible and completely morally defensible.

          • Alon Levy says:

            Split shifts are the exact opposite of a good contract. It’s more stressful on the workers (=you need more pay to make up for it). You’d want to make as many shifts contiguous as possible. You’d be able to raise revenue-hours per employee, too.

            • Andrew Smith says:

              I’d certainly want as many continuous shifts as were possible w/o having workers sitting around when less service was needed (or providing unneeded service).

              I’m under the impression that no one has devised a schedule that can provide for continuous shifts and full employee utilization.

              I assume workers would prefer split shifts to part time work, which is why I suggested it. I’m not looking to stick it to anyone for the sake of sticking it to people. I just want the most work for the lowest price, and I’m under the impression that split shift would let the MTA offer current service levels with considerably fewer employees.

              Am I wrong?

              • Bolwerk says:

                It’s probably impossible to devise such a schedule. Peak loads are always the rush hour periods, and even those aren’t consistent. For instance, mornings might be different than evenings because kids are going to school before 8am and workers are going to work before 9am. But kids leave school at various times during the day and parents leave work after 5pm. And loads might be distributed in vastly different ways, depending on various factors (mode, geography, demographics).

                Again, I don’t see why part time shifts here aren’t appropriate.

                • Andrew Smith says:

                  My assumption was that would be a much, much greater fight than split shifts because we tie benefits in this country to full time work and that so much of the total compensation for MTA workers comes from benes.

                  I would be more than happy for a contract that exchanged the efficiency of part time workers for a clause that gave benefits in proportion to hours worked: 20 hours a week gets you half the healthcare money and banked retirement eligibility that 40 hours gets you. (I’m not quite sure how you’d buy someone half a healthcare policy but there has to be a solution that makes life more fair for part time workers if not totally fair.)

                  • Bolwerk says:

                    One of the reasons we should get a bloody light rail system already is we can overstaff more efficiently. Running peak-ish service levels at off-peak times isn’t as incrementally more expensive as it is to hire literally dozens of extra bus drivers for the two hours you need them. (One 4-car LRT train probably carries 6-7 busloads. And running them relatively empty during the day at least is better than paying a few people to sit in the depot during off-peak hours, so the labor costs saved in a place like New York are pretty obvious.)

                    Anyway, since we prefer to spend more for less, the obvious thing is to sell out the future. Let current workers keep their full time jobs, and future workers be hired according to need. Or give full timers the option of a split shift or part time, and accept the risks.

                    As for healthcare, at least those problems should be somewhat mitigated by Obamacare.

              • Alon Levy says:

                What you’re missing is that many of the more senior union members are not really interested in continuous shifts and full utilization. They make extra money from overtime, and they get to pick shifts that maximize overtime and inefficiency so that they can make more money. If you assemble a 12-hour day followed by a 4-hour day, you get 4 hours of overtime.

                When management tries to implement a more rational scheduling – the managers choose rosters of shifts for the week and the workers pick entire rosters – the unions fight it.

                The other issue is that because split shifts are less comfortable than continuous ones, the marginal cost of adding peak trips is higher than that of adding off-peak trips. I don’t know if the MTA models for operating costs account for that, but this should favor more off-peak service. It’s probably not a big deal on the subway, but is a huge one on commuter rail.

                • Bolwerk says:

                  Don’t know if it’s a model, an assumption, or just plain laziness, but aren’t they currently just paying people not to drive off-peak? It’s possible that is more efficient than paying the incremental costs of off-peak driving (fuel, bus wear and tear) but seems pretty unlikely. Off-peak ridership would need to be almost non-existent, probably low teens per bus per hour, to make that make sense.

          • Bolwerk says:

            Unfair or outrageous? Maybe not, but (2) is probably impractical for the reason Alon mentioned (though part time shifts make more sense), (3) should be on a case-by-case basis, and (4) is a great idea if you want to accomplish having a really, really unqualified workforce.

            • Andrew Smith says:

              I’m very curious about the level of conviction you express on point 4.

              A. Where do you think the current workforce would go? What options do you see as being better for people who make so much more than the market clearing wage for their skills, particularly when basically all private employers they could flee to expect employees to retire at 65 and then don’t pay any pension whatever? Have you seen a study I should know of a government that tried this and lost all its workers?

              B. Even if the current workforce did flee for greener pastures, I’m under the impression that the vast majority of the MTA workforce is essentially unskilled so I’m not sure how they can have a really, really unqualified workforce. I mean, the huge premium they pay over other unskilled work would seem ample to me to weed out folks who can’t motivate themselves to show up for work on time every day or folks with obvious substance abuse problems. Beyond that, what do you need? What would even make for a an unqualified bus driver? Vision problems?

              • Bolwerk says:

                Where do you get that idea? About the only necessarily “unskilled” labor at the MTA operational level might be at the cleaning/token booth workers. Drivers, conductors, motormen, maintenance (track, signals, blah blah) workers, etc. are all trained, and many have spent years acquiring their skillsets. They should be selected based on myriad other criteria too. Do you want a motorman, engineer, or track worker who isn’t selected for conscientiousness?

                Also, selection and overcompensation (at the individual level) seem to be a secondary problems at the MTA. The primary problems seem to be overstaffing and rigid work rules. I think these should be reformed, but the “do what the boss wants” (reality check: the boss wants a padded check too, and he won’t get much overtime if he’s not bossing) is going to leave those problems intact without even being checked by rules. And, sure, increased authoritarianism will probably cause workers who have other options to bail. They’re probably going to be the ones that are hardest to replace, too.

                (Really, though, “do what the boss wants” seems like a terrible idea at any organization with more employees than you can count on two hands.)

                • Larry Littlefield says:

                  Right, if there is really bad excess compensation at the MTA, it isn’t at NYCT.

                  What skills do bus drivers and train operators have? They have to be absolutely on time. They can’t come in a little late and leave a little late, or vice versa. The employer determines their life schedule to the minute. Not everyone can deal with that.

                • Andrew Smith says:

                  If you think “driver” or track maintenance is a skilled occupation, then I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on that point. Most labor surveys would agree with me, but I don’t expect that to change your mind.

                  You, likewise, haven’t done anything to change my mind. You haven’t given any reason why I should expect current MTA employees to flee if the retirement age is raised to 65. (Have you a single example of a similar exodus? Can you suggest a single obtainable job that would suddenly become better than working for the MTA if the retirement age were raised?)

                  You also haven’t convinced me that getting qualified workers would suddenly become hard with a higher retirement age. Do the buses crash all the time for want of qualified drivers in Atlanta or Dallas where (I assume) they have defined contribution benefits and thus no official retirement age?

                  • Bolwerk says:

                    I also didn’t say most of that stuff. I don’t think they’d flee if the retirement age were raised. I think the ones with options (not just skills, but transferable skills) might flee if the place turned into a wet dream of Movimento Sociale Italiano–Destra Nazionale.

                    However, I think you are missing the point about retirement ages. Not to say the ones we offer are a good thing, but the bigger problem with them is they’re a subsidy to move to Florida. Any pension should be contingent on keeping that money in the New York economy.

                    I don’t know what surveys you’re talking about, but TOs, track workers, and engineers (glorified TOs for the railroads) all take pretty extensive selection and training. Included in a survey or not, the positions are rather categorically different from hedge trimmer or burger flipper. And by that, I don’t just mean training-wise, but also that the selection criteria probably preclude much of the population from doing the job.

                    Do the buses crash all the time for want of qualified drivers in Atlanta or Dallas where (I assume) they have defined contribution benefits and thus no official retirement age?

                    Did you miss the rant I made against public employee pensions?

                    • Someone says:

                      Yeah, of course I did. I was working this morning

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      Thanks for sharing, Mr. Siegel!

                    • LLQBTT says:

                      ‘Any pension should be contingent on keeping that money in the New York economy.’

                      That’s just ridiculous.

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      @LLQBTT: any reason to think it’s ridiculous? Is requiring state employees to live in-state ridiculous? Didn’t think so.

                    • Alon Levy says:

                      100% of the in-state requirements are ridiculous.

                      Ditto in-country requirements. If someone takes state funds and decides to spend the money on Chinese imports, the solution is to figure out how to make better, cheaper goods, not to ban Chinese imports.

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      I actually think in-state employment requirements are bad – though I see the logic to them – but not pension requirements. The difference? Jobs add value, and we should get the best person to do the job no matter where they live.

                      The comparison to goods seems disingenuous. Proscribing out-of-state spending is silly, but if you live in Florida then Florida should be providing your government services. It doesn’t mean you can’t live in New York and use the pension you earned to vacation in Florida. Or buy goods wherever they come from.

                      Of course, if there were an actual level playing field (state-to-state reciprocation or federalization), my opinion on the matter might be different. At a minimum, we should require defined contribution plans, at least if the recipient leaves the state. As it stands now, we’re literally paying our Eric F. types to move to Florida and Arizona and vote for for incompetent neocons who will do to us in Washington what people like Silver and Skelkos do in Albany, all while blathering about what a bunch of lazy/indigent/unamerikan negroimmigrants we are. Eff that.

          • Larry Littlefield says:

            Your solution has MTA workers making all the sacrifices as a result of the sins of the past, and riders making none.

            But the TWU has the opposite idea. And it is being implemented.

            Just remember, they didn’t get 20/50 — although they did strike for it. Their pension situation is bad, but not as bad as the cops, firefighters and police.

          • Spendmore Wastemore says:

            This proposal merits the SW stamp of approval.

            Other than split shifts, it’s pretty much how everyone not on a municipal payroll works.

          • petey says:

            “– No job definitions, so every employee does what bosses need at any moment”

            this is unfair and outrageous.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Where in the outer boroughs does a car cost less than $125/month to maintain?

      • I don’t think that’s quite the question to ask. Although 54 percent of NYC households do not own cars, that still leaves 46 percent with cars. A lot of people who take the subway daily also own a car but choose not to use it for commuting purposes. The real question to ask is “where in the outer boroughs does a car cost less than $125/month to use on a daily basis for commuting purposes?”

        I still think the answer is “nowhere,” but it’s not as clear cut as that.

        • Bolwerk says:


          Maybe I took him over-literally when he said those in the boroughs can “get a car” (as if everyone in the boroughs automatically can drop that kind of money) but the finances still work out the same way. Almost any subway option is cheaper than the expense of driving.

          I agree there are reasons to get a car in the outer boroughs, but subway fares probably ain’t one of them.

          • Henry says:

            The more car-dependent areas of the outer boroughs may switch to cars for more trips – probably not commuting, because it’s expensive to park in Manhattan, but for pretty much everything else (which could decimate bus ridership)

            • Bolwerk says:

              Maybe, but I rather doubt it. The people who depend on buses for their trips by and large already can’t depend on cars for other reasons (often economic). Or, if they only commute with them, they probably aren’t using them for much else anyway.

      • al says:

        A car costs at least $3500 a year, but you might be able to get by on a Class A moped at $125 a month.

  5. BrooklynBus says:

    Other fare alternatives need to be considered like unlimited riding for two hours instead of only allowing one transfer between a bus and train. My opinions are here: http://www.sheepsheadbites.com.....w-fare-be/
    In the MTA’s typical ways of misleading, they try to show the fare is a bargain by comparing the fare to items that have increased by a higher percentage, like a gallon of milk, a slice of pizza, a taxi fare, and a seat in the bleachers of Yankee Stadium. The fallacy in that argument is that most don’t ride a taxi, buy a gallon of milk or go to Yankee Stadium everyday, but they do ride the subway and buses several times a day.

    They do a meaningless satisfaction survey also to justify their capital expenditures and prepare you for a fare increase, not to find and fix problems.  http://www.sheepsheadbites.com/2012/10/subway-and-bus-satisfaction-survey-results-are-mostly-meaningless/

  6. Debbie says:

    If it does rise to $125 I’ll switch to the pay-per-ride and cut away extra travel. Staying home on weekends sounds good, and limiting my regular trips will save me $25. a month, or, $300. a year.

  7. BBnet3000 says:

    Raising the price of the unlimited should be the last resort. Obviously its going to be raised but hopefully as little as possible after the other options are done first.

  8. TP says:

    Increase the base fare to $2.50 and state that from here on out the fare for both pay-per-rides and unlimiteds will be automatically adjusted every 6 months based on inflation/CPI-U/whatever measure/”or x%, whichever is lower.” Maybe round to the nearest 5 cent increment so the dwindling number of cash people don’t have to fumble with pennies. Take the politics out of it and make it dependable, automatic adjustment.

    Yes, I understand that fare increases have bested any generous measure of inflation over the past decade, but at least you’d then divorce the two concepts when you hold hearings to increase fares beyond the automatic adjustment. The average rider says stuff like “The MTA is a ripoff, when my parents were kids a token was 10 cents!” as if the fare they paid when most workers made $2/hr is relevant.

  9. BoerumBum says:

    Wouldn’t it be advantageous to steer people towards unlimited cards, whenever possible? They raise overall ridership and lock in revenue without the liability of keeping track of stored value. Higher ridership means more political clout (i.e. leverage to try to obtain more funding from Albany)… or am I missing something here?

    • Jeff says:

      I’d think it would depend on people’s actual usage rates… I.e. how many trips an average person with Unlimited Card use per month and how the cost per trip compared to the typical pay-per-ride fare rates.

  10. bgriff says:

    Ben, I suspect what you are saying is, “I don’t like the hassle of having to figure out whether I am going to need an unlimited card,” which has indeed gotten to be more of a hassle over time — but it is hard to argue that truly prolific unlimited card users shouldn’t have to pay more. After all, many people could save money by switching to pay-per-ride, they’d just feel the “pain of paying” more often.

    Perhaps one solution would be to implement something like London has, where you can never go over a daily spend cap, so that you don’t have to worry in advance whether or not you’re going to need an unlimited card. But that doesn’t necessarily solve the MTA’s need for more money.

  11. Nyland8 says:

    I think the jumping-off point should be how we fund the MTA. As long as those decisions continue to come from Albany, they might just as well be coming from some other country. Upstate politics uses the subway to bash NYC with no regard for how much state revenue comes from the boroughs. It’s time for a fundamental rethinking of all the sources of revenue for the subway – not just the cost of fares.

    • SEAN says:

      I agree.

      What transit system can you think of that would discourage it’s regular passengers from purchasing a fare card that maximizes the riders benefit? Remember it’s much easier to lose passengers then it is to atract & keep them. This could be a hard lessen for the MTA to learn. However as gas prices rise, demand for transit service in cities around the US continues to flurish despite minissipal government budgets & political backlash.

      • BoerumBum says:

        Well… there always is the cable subscription pricing model: As a reward for being a loyal customer, we will double your rates.

  12. alen says:

    $2.50 base ride means i either take the LIRR on the weekends or just drive into manhattan. usually i try to avoid even looking at manhattan as much as possible

    • Bolwerk says:

      People like “alen” here are the best case for tolls.

    • Tower18 says:

      Why would you take the LIRR? It costs more than $2.50. And why would you drive? It CERTAINLY costs more than $2.50, even if you don’t place a value on your time (time wasted in traffic, time wasted taking the free bridges, because given your attitude, I bet you’re not taking the Midtown Tunnel w/the toll).

      Seriously, there are arguments why MTA is forcing people into their cars on the weekends (if they have cars), but a $2.50 base fare isn’t a good argument. If you were talking about F train shuttle buses, or 7 train shuttle buses, or something, I would maybe see your point. Or how, for half a day a couple weeks ago, there was no way from anywhere west of Jackson Heights into Manhattan, because the 7, N, and R were all either down, or running express. That would be making reasoned arguments for car ownership or LIRR. But not a $2.50 fare.

      Even then, I’m starting to think about owning a car in Brooklyn (near Church Ave), but I still wouldn’t take it into Manhattan…just to get around Brooklyn on the weekends, which is hard enough normally…nigh impossible during construction.

      • Jeff says:

        LIRR costs $3.75 in the weekends if you get on in Queens and Brooklyn, which is getting too close to the $2.50 rate.

      • alen says:

        try taking the subway with kids from queens to brooklyn

        for me i share the LIRR with my wife since we telecommute a few days a week on different days. buying the unlimited metro card means my wife still has to buy a few LIRR tickets a month at $7.25 each way

        shopping? there is nothing in manhattan i can’t buy somewhere else. i rarely go into manhattan other than for work. my wife works everywhere but manhattan except for once a week.

        they can put all the tolls on bridges into manhattan they want, people will just drive some place else.

  13. Nora says:

    I am angry at the idea of putting the whole onus of fare hikes on unlimited card users. It would make more sense to cut out the 7% bonus on pay per ride cards for starters. But the idea that getting a car as a viable alternative to paying $21 more in Metrocard fees a month is ludicrous, for those of us who can’t or don’t drive for many reasons (and cars cost a lot more than $125/month). Living in Manhattan is not a viable option for everyone either. I agree with Bushwicked that the cost of an unlimited card should never exceed 2 trips/day; so long as that’s the case, I would pay for one, though not be thrilled about the price increase.

  14. Nora says:

    (And I know Ben did not suggest getting a car; this is in response to the comments.)

  15. LLQBTT says:

    Here’s a better idea: Have Albany restore the money they ‘re-appropriated’. It’s basically the same amount. Otherwise, this is effectively a back door tax increase to fund the $ that was ‘re-appropriated’.

  16. AK says:

    This is a great conversation, but I am surprised that nobody has brought up the fact that unlimited card users are much wealthier than pay-per-ride/cash users (http://online.wsj.com/article/.....24742.html).

    Ideally, the MTA wouldn’t have to worry about social justice issues like that and could focus on running a railroad. But we all know that isn’t the case– that the MTA needs to look out for the poor, because the elected branches of government are unlikely to do so (see, e.g. the minimum wage).

    • Joe Broadway says:

      Sorry, brah. Not every unlimited ride Metrocard user is wealthier than every pay-per-ride user. For some of us, the $104/month is a massive cross to bear, but less than two one-way fares a day per month – roughly $115 for 55 rides, counting the current 7% bonus.
      For daily riders, the unlimited card is the best option, but that doesn’t mean that unlimited card riders are cash cows who can always be relied on to dig ever deeper with every fare increase.
      It sucks that those who can’t afford a weekly or a month will be affected, but unlimited card riders have bore the brunt of every fare increase over the last five years, whereas the $2.25 fare hasn’t budged since June 2009. And, should we really be expected to subsidize tourists and infrequent visitors as well?
      We’re all gonna have to bend over and spread ’em yet again next March, but the least the MTA can do is spread the pain a little more equally.

      • Someone says:

        That means that pay per ride is actually cheaper

      • AK says:

        “Not every unlimited ride Metrocard user is wealthier than every pay-per-ride user.”

        Obviously not. But the average user of the unlimited is significantly wealthier than the average user of the pay-per-ride. This doesn’t mean that the unlimited should necessarily bear 100% of the fare hike, but it should be a major part of the conversation about how to distribute the burden.

        • nyland8 says:

          ” … the average user of the unlimited is significantly wealthier than the average user of the pay-per-ride”

          I’d like to see the data on that. It stands to reason that the working poor need the bargain price of the monthly much more than the wealthy do – and the wealthier riders are less likely to use the unlimited enough to make them pay off – because they can often drive, grab a cab, take more vacation time, etc.

          It would seem that raising the monthly unlimited can hurt both ends of the commuter spectrum.

    • Bolwerk says:

      It’s hardly a surprise to me. Still, unlimiteds almost certainly provide a great deal with incremental revenue and system usage. You can only increase their costs so much before you lose those benefits.

  17. Roy says:

    I find the MTA’s belief that unlimited ride tickets = lost revenue bizarre. In London, where I’m from, Transport for London and the railway companies have for decades encouraged buying season tockets by offering increasing levels of discount up to annuals where you get twelve months of travel for around the cost of ten. They see it as getting an interest-free loan up front from their commuters which they gradually pay back in travel over the year. Many employers offer an annual season-ticket loan paid back each month as a deduction from pay. I wish Metro-North offered annual commutation tickets!

    • Kai B says:

      In Vienna the annual ticket was recently reduced from 449 Euro ($581) to 365 Euro ($472) and the monthly ticket was lowered by a few bucks to $58.23. All shorter fares were raised, including the single ride, which went from $2.33 to $2.60.

  18. Henry says:

    I’d feel more comfortable paying more for pay-per-ride if it got me more for my money.

    My proposal: Have City Council establish a setup similar to Transport For London, comprised of a board with one member from NYCTA, MTA Bus, Metro-North, LIRR, and PATH each. (Break up the MTA into an in-city division and the railroads.) The board would establish a single, flat fare for the five boroughs which would cover unlimited riding within a two-hour period. Initially, the fare would be set at $2.75, and a price would be agreed upon for the unlimited fare. However, any fare increases would require the approval of all board members, so that fares wouldn’t rise uncontrollably (and Metro-North and LIRR wouldn’t be able to successfully hike fares to pre-board levels.)

    That being said, I would mind less about a fare hike for pay-per-ride, except I live approximately 45 minutes from the nearest Metrocard TVM and I occasionally need to pay cash fare when I don’t have an unlimited Metrocard (9 quarters actually gets very heavy).

  19. Frank says:

    In my opinion, I think the base fare should rise by 25 cents every 5 years to keep up with inflation. I think the base fare should’ve been raised to $2.50 back in 2010. The base fare is symbolic but most people in NYC don’t even use the pay-per ride cards. Most use Unlimited Metrocards. So the pay-per ride cars don’t matter to them.

    I’m not going to jump on the anti-MTA bandwagon because attacking the MTA don’t solve anything. The reasons for the MTA’s financial problems are varied and many.

  20. Someone says:

    Beware of Inflation Alert.

    That was a sign I made.

  21. Duke says:

    It’s all perception over reality. When the signs that say “Fare: $2.25” change to signs that say “Fare: $2.50”, that shocks people a lot more than reducing bonuses or raising unlimited prices because those numbers are less visible. Most people don’t do math and don’t understand what they’re actually paying, but do get emotionally vested in what the base fare is. So, a fare hike in which the base fare stays the same doesn’t seem as bad as one in which it goes up.

    Consider as well that even if 47% of rides are with an unlimited card, there are plenty of people out there who use the subway infrequently and so the number of individuals who pay the base fare is much higher than the number who have unlimited cards.

  22. Magnifico81 says:

    I just read 72 comments, mostly just bashing the MTA or public employees, and NOT ONE PERSON thought to mention that perhaps Governor Cuomo or the state legislature should help out us urban transit riders and find a new source of dedicated transit funding.

    How many people even know the MTA is a state agency? Are you angry about the idea of paying $125 for a MetroCard? I hope you write and/or call your state legislators and governor!

    • mike d. says:

      It is really not the employees fault. MTA has been mismanage since it was existed.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Simple explanation: the current issue is not about total MTA funding, but about how to structure the fares. And the way the MTA is thinking of unlimited monthlies suggests severe hatred of its passengers.

      • AK says:

        Does it? An alternative possibility: Transit realizes that poor people use pay-per-ride cards in far greater numbers than unlimiteds and seeks to redistribute burdens within the structure of the fare. Should the MTA have to do this? No. We should have a far more progressive tax system that makes up for these inequalities through credits and other mechanisms. But Transit has to take the world as it is…

    • Bolwerk says:

      Almost nobody bashed anything. Most of us here have a fairly clear idea of what is wrong, and it largely goes back to unfunded and growing pension obligations. Misallocating labor resources is probably secondary. And I think the reason most of us haven’t mentioned Cuomo is because we know he’s not going to do anything about it unless his hand his forced.

    • Henry says:

      We were on a pretty good start with that unanimously passed transit lockbox bill, but then Cuomo basically gutted it.

      Until we can guarantee that all “dedicated” MTA funding is actually dedicated, what would be the point of asking them to give the MTA more money if they could just take it all away next year?


  1. […] the MTA once again go after unlimited ride card users or try to bump up the pay-per-ride costs? I looked at this issue last week, and it’s not an easy one. The claims that a pay-per-ride bump would negatively […]

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