Home Fare Hikes Thinking Out Loud: The MTA should double the fares

Thinking Out Loud: The MTA should double the fares

by Benjamin Kabak

Let’s start with an unpopular premise: The fares for the New York City subways are far too low, and they’re kept at low levels artificially by politicians looking to curry favors with voters.

This isn’t the first time we’ve delved into the philosophy of subway fares. In November, I discussed how a five-cent fare long overdue for a raise still haunts New York City and its quest to fund transit to this day. Now, with the MTA’s calling for a fare hike in 2009 and yet another in 2011, the debate over fares is once again on the minds of New Yorkers.

Today, the base fare for entry into the subways is $2, and due to various discounts, straphangers pay on average $1.38 per ride. That is a paltry amount. Yet, the idea of raising the fare — even in light of what Streetsblog notes are irrefutable facts — is sacrosanct in this city.

On the surface, the fares are low because low fares are popular and make for seemingly sound transportation policy. If the driving forces behind mass transit are environmental — keep people out of their cars — and economic — provide low-cost solutions for people who can’t afford other means of transportation — then low fares are seemingly vital to transit success. Politicians and commuters alike both think they understand this, but when push comes to shove, politicians are loathe to provide the funds our system needs to operate and loathe still to allow for fare hikes.

Low fares, however, are clearly not the only thing keeping people underground. In London, for example, the base fare is £4.00 or nearly $8. Meanwhile, for those using the Oyster Card, the one-zone trip is £1.50 or a hair under $3. Needless to say, the Underground is enjoying record ridership year after year.

I’ll let London keep its zone system and the 19-page brochure they need to explain the various fares. But London proves that relatively high fares an age of even higher gas prices would not drive potential riders away from mass transit. Shocking, I know.

If the MTA were to raise the base fare to $4 and the cost of Unlimited Ride 30-Day MetroCards to $120 — still a meager sum — people would complain, but they would still ride the trains. Under this fare structure, the MTA might make inroads into their budget crisis. But I can see why the Three-Dollar-Fare Platform wouldn’t win me too many votes.

And thus, a key point: Politicians do not want to raise fares. They don’t want to see the fares go up on their watches because constituents will invariably take their anger out on those on the ballot. We didn’t elect Lee Sander; we can’t vote him off the island for raising fares. But we can hold Gov. Paterson responsible for his political appointees who don’t confirm to their expected roles. Sure, Sander may be looking out for the MTA’s best interest and its bottom line. But what about the rest of us who want a good subway system but don’t want to pay?

It’s the same old story with the MTA. They had a budget surplus vanish when real estate taxes tanked and operating expenses skyrocketed — basically the textbook definition of a bad economy. Meanwhile, politicians, falsely claiming populism, opted against congestion pricing, a measure that would have guaranteed the MTA at least $400 million a year annually for operating costs. Noticeably absent from the fare hike coverage is mention of how, with congestion pricing, that $900 million deficit would be cut in half.

And so in the end, it all comes down to sacrifices no one wants to make. Politicians won’t admit that the MTA is not a private company and thus needs state and city subsidies to live. New Yorkers won’t admit that subway fares are low — artificially so — and would still be a good deal even doubled. We want a top-line subway system that’s clean and efficient, but we don’t want to pay. These are irreconcilable differences, and something has to give. So let’s raise those fares until Albany is forced to lay out the big bucks.

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[…] this, I would like to call attention to Second Avenue Sagas’ own Benjamin Kabak who feels the MTA should double fares. Here is a sample of a few of his points: Let’s start with an unpopular premise: The fares for […]

Todd July 24, 2008 - 10:36 am

After much thought, I completely agree. It’s very silly to sit back and watch our vital transportation system go bankrupt because we can’t accept the fact that it needs to be fully funded. There’s enough political bullshit out there with the presidential races and such. We need to buckle down and fix the MTA funding problem now.

nickatdabeach July 26, 2008 - 8:32 pm

If MTA had any guts, this is what they should do: Double fares effective 4am Monday morning. When gasoline prices drop to $3/gallon then an immediate 29% decrease in MTA fare takes effect. Mandatory truth in bidding and a day’s labor for a day’s pay is the new mandate. NYC could have the finest traansportation department in the world, but only with sensible business decisions, and politics put aside as much as possible.

Be July 24, 2008 - 11:34 am

If Albany would kick in funding at levels even approaching what other subway systems get – instead of having so much of the burden fall on the riders – then this would be a much more manageable crisis. If Patterson wants to get elected he better work his mojo for his hometown.

The Judge July 24, 2008 - 11:40 am

Hear hear! I agree with those thoughts, and have thought that for a little while. I know I would certainly be livid if I suddenly had to pay a greater amount for my transit usage, but I would be understanding. I’m far more angry about the prospect of the system falling apart in some fashion than I am about a fair percentage increase in my fare.
4 quid is a rather large bit for us here in the United States just to get on the Tube and even when you look at the pound sterling inside its own economy (local purchasing power and all that voodoo magic), it’s still more than the NYC Subway fare is for our citizens. And yet London has great transit patronage. As with congestion charing plans, we need to take a page from London for our own sake.

Steven July 24, 2008 - 12:21 pm

Keep in mind the IRS allows employees to deduct only the first $115 of mass-transit commuting expenditures from pre-tax income. Even if politicians were able to step over the third rail of transit politics and raise fares so significantly, it would be prudent for MTA to keep the monthly MetroCard’s price below this limit, (and encourage more employers to offer the benefits programs that allow for the deductions in the first place).

Todd July 24, 2008 - 12:55 pm

Keep in mind the IRS allows employees to deduct only the first $115 of mass-transit commuting expenditures from pre-tax income.,/i>

I can deduct my monthly Metrocard?! Details man, I need details!

Alon Levy July 24, 2008 - 1:01 pm

There are cities in the world besides New York and London. The Métro has the same base fare as NYCT and 15-16% lower pay-per-rides and unlimited monthlies. Except for its outlying areas, the Madrid Metro has less than two thirds NYCT’s base and unlimited monthly fares, and less than half its pay-per-ride fare. The Seoul subway is cheaper than New York’s for trips shorter than 35 kilometers. For trips under 20 kilometers, even the Tokyo Metro is cheaper.

Boris July 24, 2008 - 10:44 pm

Alon, where did you get the information about Tokyo? I’m in Tokyo right now, and I think you are right that for short trips, fare may be below $2.00, but I haven’t seen a fare schedule that also has distances. On one occasion, taking an underground line (that’s not a part of the subway) I paid the equivalent of 60 cents to go one stop. But two stops in the reverse direction was $2.00, so not really any savings compared to New York for any meaningful trip.

I could go on for a while about the awesomeness of Tokyo’s rail systems, but I just want to mention one thing- a number of rail lines are private, which implies that they make money. But they tend to be above half-capacity at all times and only run 5 am to midnight. New York, with its short rush hour and lots of empty trains, wouldn’t fit this model until many many more people stop driving and start taking the train.

Alon Levy July 25, 2008 - 1:16 am

I got it from Tokyo Metro’s English website: http://www.tokyometro.jp/globa.....oupon.html. The PPP rates I use are roughly ¥125 = $1 and €1 = $1.25.

It’s true that Tokyo is better than New York in many ways, as far as transportation goes. Because this involves a lot of national policy, I wouldn’t recommend it as a model for the city region. Instead, I’d recommend Paris, which joined commuter rail lines with new tracks through city center, creating some of the most popular rapid transit lines in the world. New York won’t even have to do any new construction at first; it could just have every New Jersey Transit service continue east of Penn Station onto the LIRR or the New Haven line. This would actually reduce costs, by reducing the number of trains and crews necessary for operation; it would also free track space at Penn Station, making the ARC project cheaper.

Marc Shepherd July 24, 2008 - 1:42 pm

To make comparisons to other cities relevant, you need to state levels of government subsidy and and how they fund their capital programs.

Alon Levy July 25, 2008 - 2:02 am

In Japan, the railways make money.

Wikipedia lists the RATP as having a farebox recovery ratio of 43%. This compares with an overall NYCT ratio of 40% and a New York City Subway ratio of 67%. Which the RATP ratio is comparable to I’m not sure; Wikipedia references a secondary source, which got its data from another secondary source.

I have no idea what the farebox ratios for the Madrid Metro are.

Seoul Metro seems to have a farebox recovery ratio of 83%: http://www.seoulmetro.co.kr/en.....038;dep3=2. Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit’s website gives contradictory information about income, and Korail’s is completely incomprehensible.

Kristen July 24, 2008 - 4:58 pm

London is a rather convenient example. Most other European have a lower farebox recovery ratio. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F.....very_ratio

Also while doubling transit fares may be slightly inconvenient for you, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers struggle to keep up with current fares, let alone such a drastic increase. You might as well start taxing bread and milk while you are at it.

Besides the 67% that comes from fares most of the money that the MTA gets is federal and is related to Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Our Governor and Senators should be pushing to get more Federal Money. The MTA is what keeps NYC a viable financial center of the world.

Marc Shepherd July 24, 2008 - 5:08 pm

Federal funding comes only very slowly. For instance, the process of getting federal funding for the SAS literally took years. Meanwhile, the MTA is required by law to balance its budget every year.

Besides, one of the ways the federal government measures the worthiness of transit projects is by looking at how much local officials are investing in them. It is unlikely that the federal share would go up unless the level of local subsidy went up first.

As a matter of public policy, I am not particularly interested in sending tax dollars to Washington, so that Washington can send them right back again. The responsible decisions need to be made by New York politicians, not by those from other places.

Ivy July 24, 2008 - 6:30 pm

Your article is idiotic. Are you a billionaire like Mayor Mike? High fares are tough on working people. And also on people who have to go somewhere with kids who are too big to duck under the turnstile. All I expect is decent service at a price I can afford. We are the good guys– we leave our cars at home! How about a little love? And do you really think the MTA would make good use of all that extra money? I don’t, not for a moment.

Benjamin Kabak July 24, 2008 - 7:06 pm

Ivy, You’ve pretty much missed the point, and while this is something of a think piece — hence, the headline — it has a point.

The first point is that New Yorkers can’t have it both ways. They can’t have fares that very low while still demanding billions of dollars in system upgrades and service.

The other — the more important point — is that if the fares were doubled, perhaps politicians would start noticing and start contributing more funds to the MTA as they should be doing right now. That’s hardly an “idiotic” suggestion, now is it?

Ivy July 25, 2008 - 11:09 am

But I specifically said “decent” service– that is enough. I am not demanding any upgrades. I think, in fact, that the MTA wastes way too much money and madpower making over stations that just need a good scrubbing.

Over the years people have made more valid arguments that public transportation in this city should be free. If you have to DOUBLE the fare to get beaurocrats’ attention, we need better beaurocrats. But I knew that already. This is just silly.

Don’t be so condescending.

Benjamin Kabak July 25, 2008 - 11:11 am

I’ve long advocated for free transit. I think the Kheel plan is great. But our elected officials aren’t willing to think that far out of the box.

Damian July 25, 2008 - 4:22 pm

Benjamin, let me just make sure I understand you right: if we raise fares to provide more revenue to the MTA, the politicians will decide, out of the goodness of their hearts, to kick in more funding to match that farebox revenue? I’m sure they’d never dream of diverting money to other aspects of the state budget, right? If you believe that, you have a pretty naive understanding of how state politics and budgeting work, my friend.

On top of your flawed understanding of politics, you obviously have a callous regard for the working class of the city, and an inability to understand how doubling fares would impact working-class families.

As to whether your article is “idiotic”, that depends on your goals. If you want to make it onerously expensive for poor and working-class folks to get around the city, while building and maintaining a transit system only for those who can afford it, then your proposal could be viable.

I happen to find that goal, and your defense of it, completely repugnant.

Graham July 24, 2008 - 8:15 pm

I think you’ve got it spot on. New York needs higher fares, a congestion charge and to expand advertising space across the network.

Coming from London myself, the high fares and congestion charge do hurt some people, but that’s mostly because London has a silly charging system that penalises people who can’t afford to live centrally, whereas New York has the flat fee for your journey.

The congestion charge wasn’t popular at first, people thought it was a huge waste of money, but everyone has seen the improvements since. The Mayor of London managed to buy an entire fleet of new buses, refurbish trains, tracks and stations (still on-going), plus (with a bit of help from Olympic funding) expand the network.

Londoners wouldn’t be paying so much in fares if the network hadn’t been neglected for so long, New York needs to avoid making this mistake, otherwise you’ll be in for a big shock in the future.

Doc Barnett July 24, 2008 - 11:02 pm

Whether it’s congestion pricing or raising the fare, it’s unfortunate that New Yorkers find common cause in know-nothing opposition to funding transit AT ALL (unless the money comes from a suitably abstract source like the federal government, which we are so good at controlling with our decisive two out of fifty votes in the Senate). But if funding wouldn’t help, what exactly would be the solution to our second world public transportation in NYC? Cynicism doesn’t move five million people daily. Costly human and material resources do—it’s time for New Yorkers to cut the whining and accept that reality. With the right mix of progressive income taxes, congestion pricing, and fare adjustments, we can indeed have world class transportation without leaving anyone behind. As a fare payer, I’d be happy to lead the responsibility charge.

Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog » Blog Archive » NYC Transit service upgrades just like Christmas in July July 25, 2008 - 1:04 am

[…] earlier this week. It’s been a rough week for the MTA and New York City subway riders. With two fare hikes on tap over the next few years and only a balanced budget to show for it, the public is grumbling […]

Gary Taustine July 25, 2008 - 6:30 am

Sorry, but paying $2.25, much less $4 to stand in a boiling hot, humid station that smells like urine is never something I will support.

Filthy cars, homeless drug addicts, slow service, unreliable schedules and indistinguishable loudspeaker announcements have been the norm in NYC for as long as I can remember. They keep raising fares yet nothing ever changes.

I can’t help but think that if the MTA tightened their belt and cut some of the fat from their administrative pool they could continue to provide the magnificent service to which we are all accustomed without increasing fares.

JP July 25, 2008 - 9:08 am

Filthy cars, homeless drug addicts, slow service, unreliable schedules and indistinguishable loudspeaker announcements have been the norm in NYC for as long as I can remember. They keep raising fares yet nothing ever changes.

Really? I ride every and see fewer homeless people than ever in the system. And the subway is reasonably reliable, most lines are running trains every 5 or so(or more than that on the Lex). The passengers bear fault with the fact the cars are so filthy, dispose of your trash properly. I agree $4 is silly, but our subway service is much better than we give credit for.

jp July 25, 2008 - 10:49 am


I’m not sure which subway line you ride, but I find your impressions to be out of line with my daily experience on the subway. I’ll grant you that the stations are stifling and stinky, but the cars are usually clean. Homeless drug addicts are the exception.

First you say that poor service “has been the norm in NYC for as long as I can remember,” then go on to say they can “continue to provide the magnificent service to which we are all accustomed to.” Which is it?

Jason A July 25, 2008 - 9:28 am

I could support a dramatic raise of the fare if 1. we got congestion pricing, too 2. the federal government stopped ripping off NYC to build bridges in Alaska and 3. (and this is the most important point) Pataki, Spitzer, Silver, Bruno, 9iu11ani et al… were all rounded up and publicly flogged for bankrupting the MTA during a time of unprecedented regional prosperity.

If you hike the fare and don’t address the above 3, we’ll hear nothing but more carping over the “corrupt,” “bloated,” “over-paid” (blah, blah, blah…) MTA.

Marc Shepherd July 25, 2008 - 11:59 am

Your second and third points are silly. New York’s congressional delegation can’t stop Congress from funding dumb projects in Alaska. We need to focus on what we can change, instead of whining about what we can’t.

Of the five politicians you named, four are no longer in office. You’re right: those politicians mismanaged the subway, but so did “Red Mike” Hylan, Robert Moses, and plenty of others. Complaining about past mistakes doesn’t solve the problem either.

Ed July 25, 2008 - 10:08 am

Simple: Impose an $8 toll on all bridges and tunnels around the island of Manhattan, including the East River crossings. Not only will this offset the need for a fare hike, it may actually decrease the fares AND provide funding for system upgrades, more service, better maintenance, etc. Plus the reduced pollution and congestion will be a godsend.

LeeC July 25, 2008 - 10:09 am

I’m an English teacher, so you can imagine what my salary is like. There are tons of people in NYC that have salaries like mine. I can’t afford to live in Manhattan, so I depend on public transportation. I’m really opposed to a graded fare for this reason. Why should I be penalized for not being able to live closer to my job?

In order to support public transportation, I think a fare increase would be fine. However, there should also be an increase in minimum wage in NYC so that poor people aren’t penalized by the fare hike. The person who said $120 is not much money obviously has no idea what the wages are for the working class. (For a minimum wage earner, that fare would require almost 3 days of work.)

Alon Levy July 25, 2008 - 11:26 am

Most of what you say I agree with, especially the part about increasing the local minimum wage, but one part ticks me off:

I’m really opposed to a graded fare for this reason. Why should I be penalized for not being able to live closer to my job?

This is really backward. If you travel a greater distance, you get more service: the system carries you for a longer time, and on top of it you’re likelier to get a seat. Car-related costs scale with distance traveled: gas is figured in dollars per gallon and miles per gallon, repairs occur every set number of miles, etc. It’s only transit where the grade is shallow or level.

jared July 25, 2008 - 11:54 am

A graded system might be “fair’ in terms of service you are getting for dollar spent, but it would be completly unfair from an egalitarian sense that can’t be ignored.

The rich of NYC live in Manhattan and travel short distances. The folks with less money live in the outer boroughs and travel greater distances. While not the intent, a graded system would perfectly penalize the poorer folks.

Alon Levy July 25, 2008 - 2:11 pm

Ben said it elsewhere this thread: is the subway a transportation system, or a welfare system?

There’s another point there, though. The richest people have very short commutes, but the poorest have the next shortest commutes. The terminals and other faraway stations are often located in fairly well-off neighborhoods: Riverdale, Eastchester, Pelham Bay, the section of Jamaica served by the F, Bay Ridge, Astoria. These are no Upper East Side, but they’re no Harlem, either.

Damian July 25, 2008 - 3:43 pm

Yours really is an argument Ronald Reagan would have loved — stick it to the poor! The benefits of better transit will somehow “trickle down” to them, even if they can’t afford to use it, right?

The subway system is a service. It benefits everyone to have a system that lets people of all economic classes circulate to work, spend money, reach their health-care and child-care providers. This isn’t just about individuals “paying their share”, it’s about a city providing its population with the means to commute without impoverishing everyone for whom a $160/month Metrocard is not “a meager sum”.

Make all the cost/benefit calculations you want, but if my daughter’s teachers can’t afford to travel to school, the school is going to have fewer options. If the guy who works the bagel shop has his transit bill double, they’re going to have to bump up wages to attract labor.

Your blanket statement that an additional $80/month is not important truly shows your lack of empathy with anyone making less money than you.

Alon Levy July 28, 2008 - 3:58 am

Your blanket statement that an additional $80/month is not important truly shows your lack of empathy with anyone making less money than you.

There aren’t that many people in New York making less money than I do, and most of those who do live in places like Harlem and have relatively short commutes. The areas whose residents’ commutes are the longest tend to be middle-class NIMBYville, like Staten Island and Eastern Queens.

You also ignore my point about service use. Subway service should be subsidized. You can also argue that it should be subsidized more for heavier users, such as those who travel greater distances. But why does the subsidy have to be exactly proportional to distance traveled? What’s the compelling interest in having Riverdale residents pay the same as West Harlem residents?

Reagan did a lot of bad things for the US. One was shafting the poor. Another was cutting revenues even as debts spiraled out of control. The supply-side economist is always sure he can recover all revenues by trimming pork or boosting the economy; so is the populist, who always thinks taxing the rich can provide indefinite revenue. At the moment of truth, both have drowned whatever they ran in red ink.

Susan Donovan July 25, 2008 - 10:20 am

I agree. I would be for $120 fares if we could know that the 2nd ave subway would REALLY get built. And I want congestion pricing too. The MTA makes our city great FUND IT. It’s one of the most important things we have in the city and it should be world-class and well funded. I’m not rich. I’m a grad student, and I would not like to pay $120. But, frankly it’s still much better than having a car. For people who live in poverty, perhaps we can think of some other ways to help– we already help older folks.

We need our politicians to be braver, we need then to be the ones who help explain why these changes are needed rather than leading the chorus of whining.

Max Rockatansky July 25, 2008 - 10:34 am

It’s an interesting idea, but I have to agree that to many working people the additional fare would be way too high. How is a guy who washes dishes at a restaurant going to afford the extra fees? Now the idea of raising the toll on the bridges sounds like a winner.

Ivy July 25, 2008 - 11:50 am

I agree with you. The working poor simply cannot afford another hike. I am surprised at how many posters here don’t understand that or think it matters.

People who take public transportation are part of the solution and should be given a break for that reason alone. I used to oppose the idea of tolls for all on the East River because we boro people are NYers too. But in fact, you rarely NEED to drive into the city. (Actually I have that argument with my husband all the time– he’s from So. Cal.)

A toll raise would accomplish the same goal as the congestion pricing with fewer problems, it seems to me.

Benjamin Kabak July 25, 2008 - 11:54 am

One of the goals of congestion pricing was to identify and ensure a dedicated revenue stream for the MTA. Toll increases wouldn’t accomplish this unless a few very unlikely provisions were put in place.

For one, the Hudson River crossings aren’t under the jurisdiction of the MTA. The GWB, Lincoln Tunnel and Holland Tunnel tolls are collected by the Port Authority, and there’s almost no way that the PA is going to turn over revenue from higher tolls to the MTA without giving something back to the New Jersey drivers paying those tolls. As you said, the idea is to make sure people understand that you rather – if ever – need to drive in NYC and thus congestion pricing should be NYC-based.

Second, the issue of free river crossings still exists. The congestion pricing plan would have penalized every means of entry into the Manhattan CBD. By raising tolls, you’re simply shifting traffic from tolled routes to those crossings that don’t have tolls. Local streets become more clogged and bridges that aren’t designed to handle high traffic volumes will be severely overtaxed.

Boris July 28, 2008 - 10:41 am


I think that for all practical reasons, congestion pricing is equivalent to putting tolls on the East River bridges, which is what Ivy used to oppose but does no longer, it seems to me. Of course, the tolls should be congestion-based. As for Hudson river crossings, most congestion schemes would not charge an additional fee to those drivers coming in from New Jersey, so the effect of the congestion plan here is minimal.

A toll on the few bridges that are still free, which all happen to be East River bridges, would right a historical injustice that, as you mention, shifts the traffic burden from the tolled routes to the free routes. As a side effect, it would remove a lot of traffic from Manhattan, and the toll revenue can go to fund the MTA.

Alon Levy July 28, 2008 - 5:42 pm

Ben, what you say about shifting traffic isn’t true. Reducing traffic through one street or highway doesn’t increase traffic through neighboring streets; it just reduces traffic, period. There was no additional congestion on neighboring streets after 5th Avenue was closed to car traffic through Washington Square Park, for example.

This is especially true for the bridge tolls Ivy suggests. I think bridges over both the East River and the Harlem River should be tolled, but tolling just the East River crossings can’t increase Harlem River traffic. Who would drive from Queens to Manhattan through the Bronx, when the toll is the same as the toll from Queens or Brooklyn to Manhattan directly?

Alon Levy July 28, 2008 - 5:31 pm

Tolling the East River crossings would be a good start. I’d also add tolls on the Harlem River crossings, in order to reduce both congestion and pollution. East Harlem has severe levels of asthma, because of both the Triboro Bridge and the FDR; reducing traffic from the Bronx and Westchester will also reduce through traffic onto the FDR.

These tolls should generate about the same amount of money as congestion pricing, i.e. 400-500 million a year. That’s enough to avoid a fare hike until 2010 at least, but not enough to completely balance the MTA’s budget.

anonymous July 25, 2008 - 12:12 pm

So is the subway a transportation system, like the highway system, or a social program, like food stamps? Should it really trying to be both? Why not have the city and/or state provide low-cost transit passes to those working people who really can’t afford a fare increase, and let the MTA manage its own fares. Maybe they’ll get to 100% recovery of operating costs and then could actually plan their service without having to depend on the whims of politicians and voters.

Graham July 26, 2008 - 2:33 pm

I think this is a good way to go.

The majority of subway users in New York can easily afford a much higher fare than it is now, the minority that can’t should be able to apply for reduced fare travel cards (although the MTA would probably waste a lot of money in admin costs).

It shouldn’t just be about reducing the deficit, it should be about pouring money back into the system to improve it, instead of just keeping things ticking over. New York still has a very 20th century transit system with fares to match, whilst the rest of the world is leaving you behind and reaping the economic and social benefits.

RidestheFive July 25, 2008 - 12:51 pm

A true $0.05 per ride increase would take care of the MTA’s immediate operating deficit; however, that’s not the problem. The Authority is completely unaccountable to its customers and chooses its management based solely on political considerations.

If the MTA is supposed to be run in some sort of business-like manner, it should have an independent board with the right to choose its executive. You could follow the public utility model and set a fixed rate for return on investment with fares subject to administrative review. For political reasons this or any other form of privatisation will never happen.

The politically possible would be to recognize that public transit cannot in this city be a quasi-business and should be treated purely as a public service. Make the MTA a city agency and let it fight for its budget dollars like everyone else. If the fortunes of elected politicans were tied to the success of transit, subway riders would have some leverage.

BTW, I wish transit advocates would get off congestion pricing. CP popped up in Plannyc 2010 principally for its environmental reasons. It was only later in the process that CP was touted as the savior of the MTA. In the final days Bloomberg promised every dollar from CP ten times over and even Sander admitted in one candid moment that the MTA did not have the capital resources to handle the projected increase in ridership.

Jedlev July 25, 2008 - 1:35 pm

Comparing NYC to London is ridiculous. Have you seen the streets of Central London? They don’t have the roads and highways we have here. Most Avenues in Manhattan are 5-6 lanes across, Most of London’s streets have 2. Londoner’s simply don’t have the alternatives that New Yorker’s do.

Even in dense NYC, the rate of car ownership (and thus, a viable alternative to public transit) is high (as compared to Europe). All those people in the outer boroughs who don’t want to take the 100% increase, will start to think about commuting via automobile. Most of those Londoner’s you speak of don’t have that luxury.

I’m not opposed to some fare increase, but I think your logic is flawed. Fare increases don’t necessarily lead to improved service. What’s to stop the city from re-directing all those saved tax dollars to other projects? Who’s to say that all that new revenue won’t just replace future cuts in tax subsidies to the MTA?

ScottE July 25, 2008 - 2:07 pm

We hear so much about the MTA, and everyone always immediately makes the association with NYCT, the division that runs the subways and city buses. Lets not forget about all of the other agencies.

I really wonder how the fares coming in are allocated. It seems highly inequitable to me that an 8% across-the-board hike (or as the original article suggests, 100%) is justified. Are people crossing bridges paying for the Fulton Steet Transit Hole? Do Metro-North riders cover the costs of Long Islanders falling in the gap and tearing their pants on the LIRR’s armrests?

The LIRR just raised $3 million for recycling scrap metal. NYCT’s been dumping hundreds of subway cars’ worth of scrap metal in the Atlantic Ocean. Who gets rewarded, and who gets punished in this scenario?

If the agencies who spend the money had a larger stake in how much of it is collected, then maybe there would be more accountability. Then, some of these foolish and careless decisions (or non-decisions) would be scrutinized more closely.

Christina July 25, 2008 - 8:08 pm

There is so much waste in the MTA – and we’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars, plus lost opportunities, like taking lower bids for multimillion dollar projects (Atlantic Yards, etc.) – that an increase is not justifiable.

Gary Taustine July 26, 2008 - 6:17 pm

JP – I was being sarcastic about the magnificent service. As for the homeless drug addicts, I didn’t mean they were in the cars, the cops have been doing a better job of keeping them away, but they’re all over the stations.
The subway is NOT reliable – NY times: “delays were up 24 percent as of May over the previous year. On-time performance was down 1.64 percent over all, and as much as 5.5 percent on some lines”

Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog » Blog Archive » With state audit on the way, MTA’s spending under fire July 28, 2008 - 12:55 am

[…] on the heels of last week’s fare hike announcement, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has announced an upcoming audit of the MTA’s […]

Brian July 28, 2008 - 8:39 am

First, I agree with the premise that we, as users of the transit system, must pay for the service. We must also may for the maintenance and expansion of the system. I am willing to pay more if we end up with a better, cleaner, more efficient system. My struggle with increased funding is that, whenever the MTA gets a cash infusion, Roger Toussaint and his minions are the first in line with their grubby paws out. While MTA employees definitely keep the system moving (for which I am grateful), I have never seen an example of an MTA employee making the system better. So, if we pay more, how do we ensure that the increase benefits the riders, not the union?

Boris July 28, 2008 - 10:52 am

I don’t think anyone so far has mentioned inflation. Accounting for inflation and the various discounts we’ve grown accustomed to since the MetroCard appeared, we actually pay less for service than we have in many years. That’s why I no longer expect better service as a result of higher fares. Better service will come as a result of major transformational changes in the MTA that will make it accountable, lean, and efficient. Doubling the fare while keeping everything else the same is probably just enough to balance MTA’s budget and keep service levels the same in the long run.

Jeff July 30, 2008 - 12:19 am

For people living inside the city, your point about inflation might be true. For those of us living outside the city and commuting in – which is about 9 million people per day – it’s not true at all.

Every discussion of fare increases seems to begin and end with the subway, because that’s all most New Yorkers ever have to deal with. The problem is a large number of subway riders are not New Yorkers, yet they still have to pay the fare – on top of their other transit fares. For example, I live just outside of the city (in Valley Stream) and my total monthly fare is $281. My commute is no shorter or more pleasant than someone who rides the subway alone from parts of Brooklyn or Queens, yet I pay about $200 more per month than they do.

You can get righteous about it and say that’s the price I pay for living in the burbs, and I don’t disagree with that, but the point is once you start getting close to that $400 per month mark, then it actually becomes cheaper for me to drive – even with the higher gas prices. (I can park for $10 per day, 20 days per month.) That’s the last thing you want to happen, is for 9 million commuters to start abandoning trains for their cars.

And if your solution to *that* problem is congestion pricing, well, then a lot of us will just find jobs outside the city. I mean, if it’s going to cost me $500 a month to commute no matter what I do, then I may as well get a job closer to where I live, even if it pays a bit less. Or move. Nobody’s chained down to this area. Hell, why not move to Oregon and pay nothing for transit, no tolls, no parking fees, no sales tax? That’s starting to sound pretty good from here.

There are economic consequences to raising fares that go well beyond what’s being considered here so far, because there are more people that use the subways than just New Yorkers.

Alon Levy July 30, 2008 - 5:29 am

Hell, why not move to Oregon and pay nothing for transit, no tolls, no parking fees, no sales tax?

On cost of living alone, there’s no reason anyone would want to live in first-world cities. The reason they’re still growing is that they’re where the jobs are located. You can’t randomly decide to start an engineering firm, publishing house, or biotech research facility in Syracuse; the company’s suppliers and business partners will all be located in New York and maybe Toronto, and the local talent pool will be too small. That’s why Downstate New York is growing faster than Upstate even though on all indicators you cite Upstate looks more attractive.

Feel free to move to a more developed place than Syracuse, like Texas. Other people have, congestion pricing or no congestion pricing. For what it’s worth, the period of greatest emigration from New York, the 1970s, was brought about by low investment and a recession, rather than high cost of living or taxes.

Also, I don’t know where the 9 million figure comes from. There are about half a million people who work but don’t live in New York.

Boris July 30, 2008 - 10:49 am


Yeah, 9 million sounds like MTA’s total daily volume, including all subway riders. But you are absolutely right about suburban transit prices. Taking NJ Transit into Manhattan and back at off-peak hours costs about the same as driving (if I account for the fact that on average, parking in Manhattan is pretty cheap- I can often find a spot on the street). Peak hours are more expensive with or without congestion pricing. Congestion pricing would simply quantify what a headache it is to drive into Manhattan at rush hour.

But your figures don’t justify lowering suburban rail fares; they justify raising subway fares because they are so cheap by comparison. As for finding a job closer to where you live, that’s always a good thing. It’s unfortunate that everything is so centered on Manhattan. The other boroughs are big enough to have their own downtowns, yet transit’s focus on Manhattan perpetuates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Boris July 30, 2008 - 10:53 am

Oh, and in addition to all those things Oregon doesn’t have, it also doesn’t have suburban sprawl. It’s land use laws force all non-farm construction into urban zones of each town, which means very clear divides between urban and rural. It would be very easy to have excellent mass transit in Oregon.

Alex Engel July 31, 2008 - 12:56 am

Maybe $3 is reasonable. You have to realize, though, that the cost of driving, using a cab, etc is also MUCH higher in London than here, making the tube a relative bargain there. Increasing the fare substantially would make the subway still cheaper, but not quite as much comparatively.

Zunauris G. July 16, 2009 - 10:51 am

well, i’m speaking out for all New Yorkers. Maybe not alot of New Yorkers can afford to spend that much money each day. All that money adds up. So, i disagree with the fares being doubled. Raised, perhaps. But not doubled.


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