Back in November, when The Daily News first reported on the looming three-dollar fare, I figured someone in a position of power would act before things got that desperate. But as the New York state legislature and City Council continue to deliberate or ignore the implications of inaction on the Ravitch Report, the MTA took another step closer toward a $3 base fare for the New York City subways and buses.
In a pdf file announcing upcoming public hearings scheduled for January and February, the MTA detailed how it will attempt to generate a 23 percent increase in fare revenue across all MTA fares and tolls. While the language is convoluted, the news is decidedly grim.
First and most prominently is the news that base and cash fares could go up to as much as $3, and Pay-Per-Ride MetroCards may feature a $3-per-swipe deduction as well. Alternatively, the MTA could go with a $2.50 charge on MetroCards while the base cash fare and single ticket rides stand at $3. The discount bonus for pay-per-ride cards, if it survives this fare hike, would not kick in until a user reaches a $12.50, and the MTA proposes that the bonus range from as high as 35 percent (unlikely) to as low as 0 percent (not ideal but likely).
The Unlimited Ride MetroCards, preferred by around 46 percent of subway riders, would see marked increases. The one-day pass could cost as much as $9.50; the seven-day pass could be $32; the new 14-day card could cost $60; and the 30-day unlimited would be as much as $105. While that 30 percent increase for the 30-day card pales in comparison to the 50 percent base fare hike, crossing that $100 barrier is a significant psychological blow to New Yorkers.
Elsewhere the hikes would be significant with drivers paying a lot to cross over and through the MTA’s bridges and tunnels. Seniors would enjoy fewer discount hours and paratransit fares could hit $6 per ride. But this is all avoidable if the state can pass a sensible MTA bailout plan.
Instead of bailouts though, let’s talk about another idea not mentioned. What if the MTA adopted a Washington, DC, or a London style fare structure? Right now, it costs $2 (or less) to ride from Coney Island in Brooklyn to Riverdale in the Bronx, a distance of nearly 27 miles driving. It also costs $2 to ride from 14th St. and 8th Ave. to Grand Central, a distance of about 2.2 miles driving.
Various other subway systems aren’t so generous. In DC, an off-peak 14.1-mile trip costs $2.35 via the Metro while a three-mile ride costs $1.35. At rush hour, the fares increase so that the 14.1-mile trip is $4.30 and the three-mile ride is $1.60. A variable pricing structure would certainly do a lot to increase the MTA’s revenues.
There are, as I see it, two major problems to this proposal. First, the MTA’s antiquated MetroCard system isn’t set up to allow for entry and exit fare swipes. The MTA would have to refit the entire system with newer and better SmartCard technology. While the day should come when the MTA does just that, a time when money is tight and fares may need to be jacked up just so the agency can meet its operating budget is no time for an enormous technological investment.
Second, this proposal basically fleeces people who can’t afford — or, in some cases, choose not to — live close to Manhattan. Unlike Washington, D.C., and London, two cities with variable fare structures, New York City isn’t really a suburban city. People in D.C. commuting in from Franconia-Springfield generally choose to live in the suburbs and take Metro into the city. Folks in New York commuting from Coney Island to Manhattan aren’t enjoying the same luxury. At that point, we’re taxing the people who can least afford to pay.
Anyway, as the MTA gears up for public hearings, we’re going to need some out-of-the-box solutions to combat this potential fare hike. We can imagine a world of variable pricing; we can imagine a world of East River tolls. But unless imagination becomes reality, we’re going to soon be facing a New York City with significantly higher mass transit fares.