MTA approves modest hike; fares to rise in March

By · Published in 2015

We love New York, but New Yorkers don’t love fare hikes. Photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit

The MetroCard, still at least five years away from retirement, will live through at least three more fare hikes, if the MTA sticks with its current schedule, and the first of the three is officially set for March 22nd. At its meeting on Thursday, the MTA Board voted to approve a modest fare hike that will bump fare revenue — and most fares — by approximately four percent, and although some New Yorkers grumbled about the higher transit costs, most advocates focused their post-hike comments on the MTA’s gaping capital budget hole.

The details didn’t come as much of a surprise as the MTA opted to raise the base fare for the second hike a row while maintaining a pay-per-ride discount. The unlimited ride cards went up only a small amount while tolls and commuter rail fares saw similar increases. Beginning March 22, a swipe will deduct $2.75 from a MetroCard while the pay-per-ride bonus will jump from 5% to 11% on purchases above $5.50. Effectively, then, the per-swipe cost will be $2.48, up just ten cents from $2.38. The optics are bad, but the fare hike is modest.

For those of us who use the bulk/unlimited-ride options, this year’s hikes are smaller than recent jumps. The 30-day card jumps from $112 to $116.50 while the 7-day option hops up a dollar from $30 to $31. The four percent hike for the 30-day card is significantly smaller than recent fare increases, but it’s hard to ignore how the cost for a 30-day ride has gone from $70 at the star to of 2005 to $116.50 ten years later. Even in a shorter time frame, the jump is significant as a 30-day card cost $89 as recently as December of 2010. The $1 surcharge on all new MetroCard purchases remains.

“The MTA has been able to limit these fare and toll increases to the equivalent of 2% a year thanks to our continued aggressive cost-cutting, while still adding service and improving service quality for our growing number of customers,” MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast said after the vote. “Our Financial Plan assumes modest biennial fare and toll increases, and the Board has chosen options with lower increases for our most frequent customers.”

In a way, New Yorkers have come to accept these fare hikes. Some people were grumbling about higher fares without a corresponding increase in service, and the MTA has seemingly settled into a pattern of offering service that’s good enough. Generally, the subway works well, and although it’s very crowded, with nine individuals days in December witnessing over 6 million riders, we’ll deal with crowds and delays. Improvements are just out of reach, and that remains a big concern.

As many MTA Board members pointed out during the meeting and as many transit advocates noted following the vote, if the $15.2 billion capital budget gap isn’t filled, we could be in for much steeper fare hikes in 2017 and 2019. “Today the MTA Board voted to raise fares on more than eight million subway, bus and commuter rail riders. But the real scandal may be yet to come. If Governor Cuomo and members of the legislature don’t decide on new revenue sources to fund the MTA’s five-year capital plan, larger fare increases are lurking around the corner,” John Raskin of the Riders Alliance said. “Paying for public transit with fare hikes is a regressive way to fund a public service that the entire region relies on. We urge Governor Cuomo and the legislature to act quickly to fund the next MTA Capital Plan, instead of passing on the cost to overburdened riders.”

Cuomo, of course, is too busy plotting an airtrain to address real funding concerns, and few people are paying attention to the way in which the fare structure seems to favor those with money who afford the $116.50 outlay. WNYC’s Matthew Schuerman analyzed the socioeconomic breakdown of the MTA’s fare structure, and it’s something I’ll revisit in a future post. Needless to say, although the MTA is on sounder economic footing today than they were five years ago, the agency is on the precipice of steep fare hikes that will make this year’s seem negligible if the capital gap is not closed. That would be bad news for New Yorkers.

Categories : Fare Hikes

32 Responses to “MTA approves modest hike; fares to rise in March”

  1. Scott E says:

    So if the base fare is $2.75 but the bonus jumps from 5 to 11 percent, passengers on the PATH (where Metrocard is accepted and the base fare is already $2.75) just got a modest fare cut.

    Something tells me there will be more to the story.

    • Phillip Roncoroni says:

      I’ve always wondered how these payment arrangements work out. Perhaps Ben can get more information and post an article in the future?

      For example, if one uses a weekly/monthly on NICE, how much does NICE actually get per dip? What about on transfers off the subway using a PPR? Bee Line accepts Metrocard as well, doesn’t it? How do those payment arrangements work?

    • Anybody who uses a MetroCard to pay for PATH trips is pretty silly… PATH sells 10 SmartLink trips for $21, that’s $2.10 per trip. Aaand, SmartLink trips are ‘immune’ to fare increases, so when the fare goes up (as it has every year for the past few years), you continue to pay an equivalent of $2.10 per trip until you use up all of those trips (I still have maybe 40 $1.70 trips left on my SmartLink card).

      The SmartLink card itself is $5, but that pays for itself in 8 trips.

      • Phantom says:


        I take PATH maybe every 6 weeks and always use Metrocard. For infrequent users. Its not worth it to have yet another card to carry and deal with.

  2. BoerumHillScott says:

    Only occasional PATH users get a fare cut, since most regular riders use SmartLink, which is $2.10 a ride.

  3. joe shabadoo says:

    Ben, I get 2.4475 for the new fare net discounts.
    but i’m terrible at math.

  4. Larry Greenfield says:

    “Today the MTA Board voted to raise fares on more than eight million subway, bus and commuter rail riders.”

    The fare was raised on more than eight million rides, not riders. Isn’t the number of riders about half of that?

  5. JJJ says:

    Why is the 7 day card such a bad value compared to 30 days?

    Why isnt there a 1 and 3 day card for tourists?

    • Andy says:

      There used to be a 1 day card. I think it was removed about 5 years ago. Would be nice if they’d bring that back. Another idea that I wouldn’t hold my breath for is to implement a daily charge cap. I think that there are a couple systems that have that.

      • R2 says:

        Heck, there was even a 14-day card for a hot minute. The reason the fun pass (1 day) was eliminated was to sock the tourists. So think of it as a tourist tax.

        • Phillip Roncoroni says:

          It was removed because a small, but statistically significant volume of people using the day pass had a very outsized number of swipes. Those likely being the $1 swipe sellers, and messengers.

          • Ryan says:

            It’s worth noting that, if I recall correctly, at the time the 1-day pass existed, it was $4 and the cost of a single ride was $2.

            At that kind of discrepancy, there’s basically no longer any point in paying for a single ride – if you’re going anywhere, logic dictates you’re getting back somehow, which means there’s no cost difference between paying for the round-trip or paying for the entire day and every ride you take after the first two is free.

            What you need is for the day pass to cost something on the order of 5 or 6 rides – enough so that you have to work to break even but not so high that it would never be a good value for anyone. Consider the WMATA, which charges $14.50 for their one-day rail pass. Due to the distance-based fare, we’re forced to resort to the average single-ride fare cost instead of a hard number. At last check, that cost averaged around $3, bringing the one-day pass in right around 4.83 rides. Now, consider the MBTA one-day pass: $12 for a day, $2.10 for a ride, or just under 5.72 rides. (The MBTA, of course, has its own shitty fare structure problem re: 7-day passes being $7 more than 1-days but this isn’t uhub so I digress.)

            If we were to bring back the 1-day pass, the appropriate cost would likely be on the order of $14 – slightly more than 5 rides worth, and conveniently in line with the cost of one-day passes elsewhere on the Corridor.

    • Avi says:

      Because tourists should pay more. They’re already having their rides subsidized by tax dollars, the least they can do is pay a little more per swipe when they’re in town for a couple days.

    • BoerumHillScott says:

      One reason the 1 day was eliminated was that it was the favorite tool of people selling swipes, who would also often vandalize MVMs to increase business.

    • Ryan says:

      $116.50 / 30 = ~$3.88/day.
      $31 / 7 = ~$4.43/day. Difference of $0.55/day in favor of 30-day passes, which can also be stated as a 14.17% premium on paying for 7-day passes instead of the 30-day pass.

      It’s not a great deal, but it’s not a bad value either. Actually, it’s entirely in line for what you’d expect a bulk discount to clock in at, in my estimation.

      The real losers are, once again, the poor who pay $2.75 each ride and begin losing money relative to the bulk passes they can’t afford after the very second ride they take. The people who likely spend $160~$205 on single-ride fares throughout the month, but never have the $116.50 on hand to pay in bulk.

      But hey, who cares about them?

  6. Eric Brasure says:

    30-day went up 4%, not 3.5%.

  7. Ryan says:

    Of course the pricing metric favors those who can afford to pay in bulk. We have people in places like this arguing that it isn’t favoring bulk payers enough.

    The premise advanced was something to the effect of “we want people to use the TVMs as little as possible” – because they’re outdated and outmoded pieces of 20th century technology that shouldn’t have survived into 2009 but yet here we are, talking about paying with Metrocard in 2021. Rather than expedite the MetroCard phase out, say, by taking advantage of technology which already exists in America and is proven to work right now, we need to break the fare structure and throw away millions in potential revenues because, oh my gosh, if we priced unlimited-ride passes appropriately, less people might buy them and the TVM lines would get longer! Oh, noooooo!

    People talk about soaking the tourists all the time, but really, you’re soaking the poor. The guy who can’t afford a 30-day pass but needs to take the 1 down to his less-than-min-wage service industry job 20 days out of the month is paying just $6.50 less than the cost of the unlimited ride pass and he’s not getting anything other than his ride to work and back, but because he doesn’t have the kind of liquid cash to add $116.50 to his budget, he’s taking it in the ass every single day so that some people can feel really good about “getting those damn tourists back” and some other people can say “well at least Jimmy from Stamford who would rather be driving his Jag isn’t clogging up the TVM every morning because he pays once and forgets about it.”

    The honest thing to do would be to restructure the fares more equitably, so that Joe Q. Waiter doesn’t take it up the ass every night he goes to work, and if Jimmy from Stamford decides it doesn’t make sense to pay once for an unlimited pass anymore, maybe he can spend a few more minutes standing in line at the TVM with the rest of the schleps.

    That’s not going to happen in this fare hike, but maybe we could push for it to happen in the next one? No? We’d rather just keep fucking over the poors and the tourists so that Jimmy doesn’t rethink his decision to leave the Jag in Stamford or something? ‘Kay.

    • adirondacker12800 says:

      Or you could do like they do in New Jersey where you train ticket is good for as many bus zones as it is for train zones. Your monthly Metro North ticket is what you use to get on the subway and go one zone.

    • Alon Levy says:

      I could point out that there are TVMs in Stockholm, where you can’t buy the smartcard because why would they make it easy to get the smartcard?

    • sonicboy678 says:

      ‘The guy who can’t afford a 30-day pass but needs to take the 1 down to his less-than-min-wage service industry job 20 days out of the month is paying just $6.50 less than the cost of the unlimited ride pass and he’s not getting anything other than his ride to work and back, but because he doesn’t have the kind of liquid cash to add $116.50 to his budget, he’s taking it in the ass every single day so that some people can feel really good about “getting those damn tourists back” and some other people can say “well at least Jimmy from Stamford who would rather be driving his Jag isn’t clogging up the TVM every morning because he pays once and forgets about it.”‘

      This is a bad argument for quite a few reasons (and this isn’t even close to the whole argument!).

      Firstly, does he really want to go anywhere most of the time? Not everyone goes out for leisurely activities. If he has regular business which requires him to take the bus/train on days when he doesn’t work, then he is getting screwed; however, there is a good chance that this is not the case. Things may not necessarily interest him, either, so he may have less reason to go out.

      Secondly, the Unlimited-Ride cards are specifically for those who take more rides than Pay-Per-Ride cards justify. Unless he truly needs the extra rides, he’ll only be taking on more losses than is justified, thereby screwing himself more than you let on.

      Thirdly, you’re disregarding one very important thing. He would not be spending the $110 you claim he is. The PPR bonus was increased from 5% to 11%, so he’ll be able to get that $110 value without actually spending $110. He would be able to stay within $100 in order to get the desired $110. If he simply purchased the Unlimited and failed to take the number of rides required to break even (meaning the approx. $100 he would spend on the PPR, the bonus achieved from said expenditure, and the difference between the new value and the $116.50), he would end up wasting money each month. Let’s say he retained his current travel pattern. He would literally waste around $16.50 every month purchasing a card he didn’t really need.

      Fourthly, last I checked, working in a service industry requires employees to be paid at least minimum wage unless you are strictly classified as a voluntary intern.

      Lastly, this is incredibly reductive for some odd reason. If you’re frustrated with how the bonus causes paying $100 to result in being just shy of $116.50, then that’s not a big issue; however, trying to simply create stereotypes in order to justify why you hate the difference is utter bullshit.

  8. Marc says:

    I don’t understand why the base fare must go up by increments of 25 cents but the but the bonus can be a nightmarish 11 percent. It should have been ten percent with the fare increase starting in April or May the next one extended to July 2017. I wonder how much more money the MTA will be making on riders, particularly occasional one or tourists, who end up with odd amounts on their cards they will never use. In the very least, MVMs should allow for adding multiples of $11 to cards for $9.91.

    • Ryan says:

      That’s not a bug, that’s a feature.

      By making it impossible to put some amount of money into the vending machine so that you get an even number of rides, the MTA has guaranteed one of two things will happen to you if you’re not able to buy unlimited passes:

      1) You overpay for the amount of rides you’re taking, and the MTA pockets the odd change you didn’t need to load to the card. Multiplied by six-digit figures of people, this hidden tax on the poor nets the MTA thousands of dollars.

      2) You stop treating the bonus like a bonus, and pay the full $2.75 per ride. The MTA gets your extra quarter each time.

      It’s actually devious in how shitty it is. As long as they don’t allow you to put $9.91 on a card they’re guaranteed some amount of spillover funding. The lowest amount you can load to get an even fare assuming they allow nickles is $49.55 (20 rides), with 11% never working out to an even value at single-pay price points assuming they continue to disallow pennies.

      Your only real choice is to pay $2.75 each ride and give up the quarter, or pay $10 every 4 rides and give up nine cents.

      • adirondacker12800 says:

        Or refill the card instead of getting a new one. Which recaptures the odd amount. Eventually you will get a ride out of it. IIRC if your Metrocard gets so tattered it needs to be replaced you can do that with a booth attendant, for free. And put all the odd change on multiple metrocards onto one card.

        • Dave says:

          Well said. I got my first MetroCard back in October of 2013 and didn’t replace it until this past December because the MVM told me it was about to expire. It makes sense to keep reusing the MetroCard until it expires because otherwise you’d pay an extra $1.

      • Simon says:

        You can already hit “Other Amount” and put in whatever you want.

    • Sunny says:

      Because for those who ride buses and without access to MVMs immediately, it’s much easier to pay the cash fare with quarters than a combination of quarters and nickels/dimes.

      • victor says:

        Very true and overlooked point.

        I don’t think the bonus amount is very devious. Keep using the same metro card, and you won’t be leaving any money behind.

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