In announcing plans for a looming fare hike, the MTA unveiled a complicated slate of options that featured a wide array of potential outcomes. Some scenarios saw the monthly card jump to $125; others saw the base fare boosted to $2.50 with an elimination of the pay-per-ride discounts. In a way, though, those were red herrings, and as MTA head Joe Lhota made clear today, the contours of the fare hike may be a preordained conclusion.
In an interview with WOR on Monday morning, Lhota expressed his belief that the base fare would rise to $2.50, that the pay-per-ride bonuses would remain at a reduced rate and that unlimited card riders would largely avoid the same steep increases they saw a few years ago. “The base fare will probably go up,” Lhota said, “because if it doesn’t go up, it will have a huge impact on the people who take the monthly pass and use discounted fares. I think we should focus on the middle class. We need to focus on those folks and minimize the increase. The majority of people either take a seven-day pass, a 30-day pass or use the discount pass, and I think we need to focus on how to keep the cost as low as possible for them.”
As The Times subsequently noted, such an increase may spare the middle class but would hit the city’s poorest subway riders harder. Nearly 40 percent of riders earning under $25,000 a year use pay-per-ride cards while only 20 percent of those earning more than $50,000 do. It’s hard to assess the impact though because the count of people using pay-per-ride cards and earning under $25,000 hasn’t been released publicly.
While the ultimate decision is up to the MTA Board and Lhota is but one voice, his is a powerful one. Still, there’s time to shape the debate, and that’s what Crain’s New York is trying to accomplish through its editorial this week:
The question at hand is whether single-ride, multiride or unlimited-ride MetroCards should be favored in the new pricing scheme. Although public hearings have yet to begin, popular sentiment seems to be with multiride cards. Even MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota, who at a recent Crain’s forum had frowned on the 7% discount on these cards, is now suggesting that it only be trimmed, not eliminated.
The thinking is that multiride cards are the most commonly purchased and thus should keep their discount to benefit the greatest number of straphangers. But perhaps they are popular because of the discount. It’s illogical to discount a product because it is popular. The purpose of a fare discount should be to induce transit riders to make decisions that are best for the system and the city.
That’s why unlimited monthly and weekly MetroCards should get the biggest break. They empower and encourage people not only to commute but to shop, to socialize, to consume entertainment—in general, to make the most of our vast and diverse city without adding automobile traffic. Unlimited cards are good for the city’s economy, environment and quality of life. They increase ridership, and expanding mass transit’s constituency will translate into more political support for the MTA.
I couldn’t have said it better myself. But this is just one piece of the puzzle. The 800-pound gorilla in the room concerns state support for transit. As has been noted repeatedly by advocates and the MTA, riders are being asked to foot the bill for more and more of the MTA’s budget while state and city contributions do not increase in turn. If mass transit is a public good, that equation should change. To that end, Stefanie Gray of Transportation Alternatives is going to try to set the record for riding to every subway stop on Tuesday in an effort to raise awareness for the issues of funding. She has Joe Lhota’s blessing, some detailed maps of the system, and a Twitter account worth following. If Gray’s ambitious stunt can bring attention to the matter of funding, perhaps we’ll be better off in a few weeks. At least we can dream.