Home Fare Hikes Fare hikes in ’11 could include MetroCard surcharge, cap on unlimited rides

Fare hikes in ’11 could include MetroCard surcharge, cap on unlimited rides

by Benjamin Kabak

As the MTA begins to prepare for a 2011 fare hike, the authority is considering a plan to implement a surcharge on new MetroCards and to cap the number of rides available to those who use weekly and monthly cards, The New York Post reported this morning. While the single-ride fare would remain at $2.25, the total fare hike package will result in a 7.5 percent increase.

The news of a fare hike comes amidst a year of cuts and budgetary problems for the beleaguered transit authority. Faced with an initial $800 million budget gap, the authority had to implement sweeping service cuts in June that saw two subway lines axed and numerous bus routes scaled back or eliminated entirely. Still, despite internal cost-cuttings, the MTA has to find $400 million, and with Albany silent on such revenue-generating proposals as East River bridge tolls or congestion pricing, the fare hikes remain one of the MTA’s few reliable sources of revenue. Additionally, Albany granted the MTA the ability to issue a 2011 fare increase when the legislature approved the payroll tax funding plan last year.

Per The Post, the hikes would be put in place or or near January 1, and the proposal looks a little something like this:

  • Riders would pay a $1 surcharge every time they get a new MetroCard from a vending machine instead of refilling an old one.
  • $27 weekly MetroCards would rise by about 4%.
  • $89 monthly cards would increase to just under $100.
  • Number of rides on weekly and monthly cards would be capped.
  • Single-ride fare would remain at $2.25.
  • Elimination of off-peak fare pricing on all LIRR and Metro-North trains.
  • Overall fare hike would be 7.5%.

Tom Namako’s sources defended the need to charge for a new MetroCard, one of the proposal’s more controversial aspects. “When I see what it costs to produce MetroCards, it’s not efficient, and it makes me sick when I see them strewn across the floor at stations,” his source said. For this surcharge to be an equitable one, however, the MTA will have to address the fact that Unlimited ride cards are currently not refillable. Being forced to pay a surcharge because the system is flawed would penalize the 50 percent of riders who rely on those weekly or monthly passes.

Despite these increases, the single-ride fare would stay the same. Less than 10 percent of riders pay the full $2.25 these days, and it’s clear that the MTA is trying to change the fact that, in inflation-adjusted terms, the average fare is lower now than it was in 1996. “We’re very interested in keeping the single-ride fare at the level it’s at now,” a Post source said.

On the record, the MTA cautioned that these rumored plans are just that. Official overall budget numers are not due until later this month, and a specific fare hike proposal would not arrive until the fall. “The rescue agreement reached with the Governor and Legislature last spring called for a 7.5% increase in revenues from MTA fares and tolls in January 2011, and despite an $800 million budget shortfall caused by deteriorating tax revenues, it has always been our intention to try to adhere to this agreement,” the agency said in statement. “As we have consistently said, the amount of the increase must be determined in the context of our overall financial plan, which is not finalized and will be presented to the MTA Board later this month. At that time the Board will be asked to authorize public hearings on the fare increase to be held in the fall. Only after those hearings will a final decision be made on both the level of the increase and how it will be implemented.”

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Dela G July 9, 2010 - 11:57 am

a cap on unlimited rides?? Who do they think they are? AT&T?

Spencer K July 9, 2010 - 12:22 pm

What would it be called then, if there’s a cap? The sort of limited monthly card?

Benjamin Kabak July 9, 2010 - 12:24 pm

The “Unlimited for anyone using it legitimately” card.

Bolwerk July 11, 2010 - 12:55 pm

Between work, library, the gym, volunteer projects, going out for dinner, and visiting my girlfriend, I legitimately use mine 3-6 times a day. My average is probably 4 or 5 swipes.

Andrew July 11, 2010 - 10:16 pm

That depends on how high the limit is.

If it’s as low as 10 swipes or even 20 swipes, it would exclude some legitimate uses. If it’s 100 swipes, then I agree.

Still, in either case, if it has a limit, it’s not unlimited.

If the idea is to reduce abuse, perhaps the current 18-minute “just used” time limit needs to be tightened. One way to do it is to keep it at 18 minutes for the second swipe, but then require an hour wait for subsequent swipes. That way somebody who swipes into the subway and immediately realizes that he left something at home won’t have to wait a full hour to get back into the system, but a scammer won’t be able to hang out all day swiping the same card every 18 minutes.

SEAN July 9, 2010 - 3:19 pm

What the heck is this AT&T reference.

John Paul N. July 9, 2010 - 5:22 pm

AT&T Wireless introduced monthly data download caps for their smartphone data service plans. People are apparently very upset that their plan was no longer unlimited, although AT&T claims most people don’t need the unlimited service levels. iPhone customers can relate more than I, as I don’t have AT&T service.

SEAN July 9, 2010 - 5:33 pm

Oh, OK I get it. Still sounds stupid.

Lawrence July 9, 2010 - 12:11 pm

Is it just me or doesn’t unlimited mean “without a limit” and doesn’t a “cap” = a limit. Ergo, a cap on unlimited rides is an oxymoron.

Wait, no, MTA is just a BUNCH of Morons.

Chris July 9, 2010 - 12:18 pm

Sorry, they’re not morons. Some unlimited cards are being abused… especially by vagrants who “sell swipes.” Even if you use it three or four times a day, I doubt you’ll even come close to whatever “cap” they set.

SEAN July 9, 2010 - 12:34 pm

Believe me I could. On one particular 30-day cycle I road enough times to qualify for 2-weeks of free rides. So don’t say it cant be done.

SEAN July 9, 2010 - 12:27 pm

The cap on unlimited rides will never fly. It’s the cash fare that needs to rise from $2.25 to $3 with a small increase in multi-ride cards.

NJT recently discontinued off peak fares on it’s trains & now the MTA may do the same. Hmm

Marc Shepherd July 9, 2010 - 12:18 pm

@Lawrence, obviously a cap on “unlimited” rides means they would no longer be unlimited. But that doesn’t mean the idea is moronic.

However, I don’t understand the obsession with keeping the base fare at $2.25. Most everyday riders don’t pay this amount anyway. For those who do (mainly tourists and occasional transit users), a 25-cent increase would not be any great burden.

John July 11, 2010 - 5:23 pm

Their argument (not that I necessarily agree with it) is that poorer people can’t afford to buy a multi-ride MetroCard an have to pay for each ride.

Eric July 9, 2010 - 12:29 pm

A $1 surcharge on new cards? I hope that’s waived for the new sort-of-unlimited card- you can’t refill them.

Bolwerk July 11, 2010 - 4:50 pm

It would probably be waived, or included in the price.

A tough new anti-littering statute might not hurt either. $500 fines for anuses who wantonly throw food, bottles, and wrappers around could make the system a lot more pleasant…and reduce maintenance costs.

Jonathan July 9, 2010 - 12:40 pm

The MTA already offers a refillable unlimited-fare product. The only hitch is that it requires continual purchase of unlimited fare packages; you can’t stop your subscription and then restart again with the same card.

Avi July 9, 2010 - 12:40 pm

Who cares about the $1 surcharge on unlimited cards? Those cards are seeing a price increase anyway. Just think about the $1 surcharge as an extra price increase on the card. Instead of increasing the monthly $10, it’s a $11 increase.

Eric July 9, 2010 - 1:30 pm

Um, I care? I already haven’t gotten a raise in two years- I don’t need to be nickle-and-dimed by the MTA to boot.

Avi July 9, 2010 - 2:05 pm

Eric, you’re already being nickle and dimed by the MTA. Thank Albany for that. My point was the MTA is raising the price on a monthly card $10 and adding a $1 charge for issuing a new card which right now would be required. Alternatively they could raise the price $11 and waive the $1 charge on the new card. At the end of the day you’re paying the MTA $11 more and it doesn’t matter how that money is labeled.

Lawrence July 9, 2010 - 12:47 pm

The $1 “New Card” charge doesn’t bother me. It is nominal, and would encourage re-use. Granted, the inability to reuse the unlimited cards would have to be remedied, along with the general flimsy nature of the metro card. I think a smaller surcharge would be more appropriate as I take good care of my metro card, and by the end of the month, it’s getting testy.

Surcharge Away! July 9, 2010 - 12:48 pm

This $1 surcharge is a great idea (well, for pay-per-ride only). Less waste, and will ultimately save the rider a few cents (as there would be less incentive to leave $0.27 on cards all over the place).

Skip Skipson July 9, 2010 - 1:16 pm

It would definitely encourage reuse, reduce trash and force people to take better care of their metrocards and most importantly generate $$$ for the MTA (by exploiting riders wastefulness).

If they included this surcharge, I would be forced to use the Easy-pay express option, which isn’t necessarily bad (I would hope this surcharge waived as a poster mentions above.)

Any idea on how many metrocard the MTA produces each year? Tens of millions? Hundreds of millions?

I think this surcharge could reduce the “Fare Liability Revenue”, the leftover fare amounts that people throw onto the ground. Furthermore, some Metrocard ‘stoopers’ will very disappointed if this surcharge occurs, fewer cards available, means less free revenue!

BTW, Ben, when are you going to have your annual metrocard challenge?

oscar July 9, 2010 - 1:21 pm

“Elimination of off-peak fare pricing on all LIRR and Metro-North trains”

Does this mean the new price would be somewhere between the current peak & off-peak fares? Or will everything jump to the peak rate, which is insane? (and which will lead me to drive my car instead)

Joe July 9, 2010 - 2:12 pm

Well, NJT recently eliminated their off-peak rates, while raising the peak rates 25% – which everyone now pays. So it’s safe to say everyone would just pay the peak rate (whatever that is at that point).

Scott E July 9, 2010 - 2:30 pm

This is somewhat true, but even before that, NJT didn’t truly separate Peak from Off-Peak fares. Rather, they had an “Off-Peak Round-trip”, where both legs of the trip were Off-Peak. If even one part was peak, you paid the full (peak) fare both ways. Also, NJT enforced the direction of travel (i.e. a Trenton-to-New York ticket is not interchangeable with a New York-to-Trenton ticket), so you couldn’t save anything by traveling NY-bound during peak time, and Trenton-bound off-peak.

LIRR/MNR does not enforce direction of travel, just number of zones, so a NY-to-Huntington ticket is equivalent to a Huntington-to-NY ticket

Joe July 12, 2010 - 12:26 pm

Yes, NJT did have a non-versatile off peak system. Although I had conductors who would often accept a ticket if it was reversed (NY to Trenton, on a Trenton to NY train). It was a system that still often screwed the rider. Now everyone gets screwed no matter what time of day.

John Paul N. July 9, 2010 - 2:48 pm

If fares all jump to the peak rate, that will be a real disappointment. Discourages off-peak travel, for one, and it is a big jump. (What is it, 30% off the peak rate currently?) And I bet the 4:05 PM from Port Jefferson (rather the 4:17 from Stony Brook) won’t be as crowded on Fridays anymore.

Gary July 9, 2010 - 2:03 pm

I use my Unlimited 30-day Metrocard 4-6 times a day 4-5 days a week, especially in the summer when it becomes unbearable to walk around the city for more than a few blocks. Averaged out and then applied to a 7-day scale, I’d say I use it 25 times a week. Somehow I don’t think the cap will be that high. My guess is that they’d cap it at 3 rides/day for 21 total per week. They’ll save money off those who only use it 2x a day, 5 days a week for work and they’ll make money off those who use it to get around the city a lot.

I blame AT&T for this.

John July 9, 2010 - 2:46 pm

I can’t imagine the cap would be as low as 3 rides per day. I don’t have a guess of what it would actually be, but 3 a day would be insanely low.

Gary July 10, 2010 - 12:25 am

Well, it really depends on what they’re trying to do here. If they’re trying to curb abuses like the sell-a-swipe fellas, then maybe the number will be high but not so high that it makes it worth it to those guys.

Then there’s the other reason – making more $$$. The MTA could conceivably be implementing a 7 or 30-day bulk ride discount Metrocard where you pay up front for x swipes to be used within the 7 or 30 day period. (Obviously x is different for each number of days on the Metrocard.) They’ll still be benefitting from those who only use their swipes to/from work and the occasional 3rd swipe or weekend trip but now they’ll really clean up on those who swipe a lot, forcing them to probably buy a pay-per-ride or another bulk ride discount card. Win-win!

Nabe News: July 9 - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle July 9, 2010 - 2:14 pm

[…] new MetroCard surcharge might be in the works for the planned MTA 2011 rate hikes. ¬†Also, limiting the number of rides for weekly and monthly […]

John Paul N. July 9, 2010 - 2:40 pm

I hope the “Sir Charge” is waived for a defective or damaged card.

From the Post article, 49 employees were laid off from the Madison Avenue headquarters yesterday. I hope the unions get wind of this news.

Clarke July 9, 2010 - 3:20 pm

I thought the MTA hired the old head of Travel for London to help them deal with this fare situation. They’re wasting so much money on their stupid credit card “pilot” program when they really just need to install tap sensors at all turnstiles and make it necessary to tap in and out with an Oyster card-style farecard. This would allow one-stop travel to be cheaper than, say, riding from one end of a line to another. London’s been doing this for over five years and they’re still using these cheap plastic Metrocards here? It’s an embarrassment.

Benjamin Kabak July 9, 2010 - 3:23 pm

Oyster Cards aren’t technology of the future. Why would you invest hundreds of millions of dollars into something that’s already obsolete? The PayPass trial makes a lot of sense.

Christopher July 9, 2010 - 5:12 pm

Well the PayPass is exactly the same as an Oyster card technology wise just with the free advertising given to MasterCard… and without control over the technology. And unless MTA can figure out away to make some of the unique features of Oyster card’s pricing available to PayPass then Oyster card is still more advanced, or at least smarter.

Andrew July 11, 2010 - 10:22 pm

No, many if not most transit riders, and potential transit riders, in New York already have MasterCards, and by the time this is rolled out to the entire system, many more of those MasterCards will be PayPass-equipped. That means that the MTA doesn’t need to worry about issuing cards, maintaining accounts, and providing payment machines for most of those people. That saves the MTA money. It also makes things easier for riders.

There’s no reason that Oyster-style pricing can’t be applied to a PayPass system if that’s what’s desired.

Alon Levy July 12, 2010 - 10:55 am

Issuing cards was never the main problem of any of the FeliCa systems. Implementing the back-end payment system was. And payment machines cost laughably little; Sony sells a top-up machine for home use, using online transactions, for about S$40.

The advantage of using an off-the-shelf product instead of reinventing the wheel is that other people had to deal with the associated headaches of new technology. Alas, it doesn’t provide the MTA’s consultants with enough work…

Andrew July 16, 2010 - 12:25 am

You’re missing the whole point. The MTA wants to get out of the (costly) business of issuing cards to everybody who wants to ride the subway or bus! If people already have cards compatible with a particular smartcard standard, why not latch onto that standard and let them use their cards?

I’m glad there are inexpensive ways to let people transfer money from their MasterCards to their transit cards, which they can then use to pay for transit rides. But why not let people just use their MasterCards directly on transit? I ate at McDonald’s today, and I didn’t have to transfer money from my MasterCard to a special McDonald’s card first.

The thousands of retailers across the globe (no, by “across the globe” I don’t mean “in one region of one continent, with a few scattered exceptions”) that accept PayPass are using an off-the-shelf product. I don’t know why you keep claiming otherwise. The only piece of the puzzle that isn’t off-the-shelf – and can’t be off-the-shelf, regardless of smartcard technology – is the integration with the internal communication network.

Josh H July 9, 2010 - 3:29 pm

More or less what I was going to say. (Though I’m not sure that charging more for longer rides will fly here, as a matter of practicality and politics; you’d be increasing the commuting cost from lower-income neighborhoods further out in Brooklyn and Queens.) I just don’t see why there’s any reason we need to be using crappy disposable cards; if PATH can make RFID-based farecards work then there isn’t any reason why the MTA couldn’t do the same. (Well, OK, maybe there are reasons, but it’s still what they should be striving for, rather than getting an extra buck out of consumers because they’re stuck on outdated technology.)

Alon Levy July 9, 2010 - 8:02 pm

Oyster is just a brand name London cribbed from Hong Kong. The name of the technology is FeliCa, and it’s an emerging global standard for rail fares and electronic money, despite what Ben (or Walder) will tell you.

Roy Berman July 10, 2010 - 11:12 am

The Hong Kong card is the Octopus card, metaphorically alluding to its tentacles reaching throughout the territory.

Alon Levy July 10, 2010 - 5:12 pm

Yep. It also refers to the number eight, which connotes “every direction” in Cantonese.

What London stole was the animal reference (why an oyster, anyway?). Singapore’s FeliCa implementation is called ezLink, Shanghai’s is called Shanghai Public Transportation Card, and the Japanese cities’ are some short abbreviation followed by “ca” or “ica.”

Bolwerk July 11, 2010 - 1:00 pm

Why an oyster? Maybe it’s a reference to the London Tube’s penchant for causing claustrophobia.

Andrew July 11, 2010 - 10:33 pm

Oyster is based on MIFARE, not FeliCa.

FeliCa is used widely in Asia, especially in Japan. Outside Asia, its use appears to be limited to Philadelphia and Honolulu. An emerging global standard? More like an emerging Asian standard.

Alon Levy July 12, 2010 - 11:10 am

Most rail ridership in the world is in Asia, as well as almost all smart-card rail ridership. The West isn’t special; what works in Japan and China would work in the US and Europe, too, if Americans and Europeans weren’t too smug to adopt Asian technology.

And Oyster is compatible with the Octopus standards. Oyster readers do interact with Octopus cards – the cards make them beep loudly and stop working.

Andrew July 16, 2010 - 12:35 am

I question your ridership statistics. Not that it matters, since an emerging global standard implies that the standard is employed globally – which this one is not. PayPass, the system the MTA has chosen to latch onto, is far more widespread internationally.

(Are R160’s an emerging nationwide car class? No, because they’re only used in New York. It doesn’t matter that most U.S. transit riders are in New York – the cars aren’t used nationwide.)

FeliCa and MIFARE are in direct competition. They are not compatible in the slightest. That your FeliCa-based Octopus card breaks a MIFARE-based Oyster reader doesn’t mean that the two standards are compatible!

Really, this is getting silly. Are you really saying that the standard commonly used in Asia is superior to the standard commonly used in the rest of the world, simply because it’s Asian? Come on.

Jay July 9, 2010 - 4:55 pm

I must be very blessed, for the past 4 years i have been in the Transitchek program and am issued just 1 metrocard per year.

Though it may get worn down in appearance, i have never had it fail on me. Thats right, just one a year.

Perhaps transitchek cards are more durable? To me, they seem to be the same as any other card.

Just thought i would share that with you all who are complaining of your unlimited cards wearing out every month.

SEAN July 9, 2010 - 5:45 pm

I have been using EasyPay for the past few years & outside of a rare glitch it has been flawless. Every so often the turnstyle or farebox will reject the card, so I keep trying till it does or get a free ride after enough atempts fail.

Andrew July 11, 2010 - 10:36 pm

Presumably the $1 fee would be waived if a malfunctioning card is exchanged for a new one.

I also hope it would be waived if an expired card is traded in.

Alon Levy July 9, 2010 - 8:22 pm

I’m not so sure about the $1 surcharge. The idea is good, but I suspect that the bulk of the cost of fare collection is the transactions, not the physical cards.

In line with what’s done in cities that care about saving money, the best thing to do would be to increase the unlimited monthly discount, by hiking the unlimited monthly fare less than the single-ride fare. The $1 surcharge partially achieves this, but provides no incentive to use unlimited cards instead of refilling pay-per-rides four rides at a time. Unlimited cards offer many benefits beyond card savings: fewer transactions, fewer TVMs needed at each station, fewer opportunities providing an incentive to dodge the fare.

ferryboi July 9, 2010 - 10:16 pm

Heading toward my car as we speak. It’s actually getting cheaper to drive, and with less of those pesky buses blocking my way, traffic is smoother than ever. Thanks MTA!

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Brian | BK Southie July 10, 2010 - 4:13 am

Instead of adding a dollar surcharge to the pay-per-ride MetroCards, why don’t they just end those dollar bonuses on adding $10 or more to the card? Duh. That took rocket science.

Also: Keep weekly MetroCards, stop selling 30-day MetroCards. Hey, look, I just solved their budget problem without raising fares. I’m a genius!

John July 10, 2010 - 6:20 pm

You did raise the fares because people get less value for their money.

In any case, I agree with the $1 surcharge, but only on the condition that you can exchange your old MetroCard for a new MetroCard.
As far as eliminating the bonus, that would be “shooting themselves in the foot”. The reason being is that the bonus is what encourages people to put all of their rides on one MetroCard. If you eliminate the bonus, people have less of an incentive to buy in bulk, meaning that the MTA would have to print out more SingleRide Tickets on the subway and process more coin payments on the bus.
Think of it this way, when I go to the supermarket, a gallon of milk is $2.49 and a half gallon of milk is $1.79. The reason is that there is an expense to the additional packaging and processing that the half gallon of milk requires. Therefore, they pass the savings onto the consumer and make the extra profit in the number of gallons of milk sold. If they raised the price of a gallon of milk to $3.58, or twice the price of a half gallon, they would spend more on the packaging.
As far as eliminating off-peak fares, that is also shooting themselves in the foot because now there is less of an incentive to travel off-peak, or even reverse peak, where the additional cost is much less than for rush hour service. (You have a whole bunch of service during rush hour, but the crew and vehicles would be sitting idly off-peak.

BrooklynBus July 10, 2010 - 7:49 pm

While I don’t like to see all those discarded cards, one dollar for a new card seems excessive when the actual cost of the card is approximately two or three cents. They might actually lose money if everyone refills without throwing away the partial trips, which now nets them millions.

I also don’t agree with eliminating off-peak discounts for the railroads. I thought the whole idea of that is that people can schedule their trips if possible during the off-peak to reduce the number of trains needed during the peak. Peak trains will become more crowded and off-peak service will be reduced.

What will happen is the next time they raise the fare, they will only raise peak fares, and in essence return the off-peak discounts. It’s all a game to make it seem like they are doing the least evil possible. In the end, everyone just pays more. Same thing with capping unlimited fares and raising monthly rides. They want to show that they are keeping the fare at $2.25. Then in eight months they are short of revenue again, and they raise the fare to $2.50 after first requesting $2.75 and leave the monthlies the same (which they just raised the year before) to show that not everyone will pay more.

Then right after the fare is raised, they spend the money by awarding managers a 3% (or 4% pay increase for their favorite employees making over $100,000) instead of the 10% cut they spoke of but never implemented) and justify it by saying that managers haven’t had a raise in four years. Then they claim they have no money for any union increases when their contracts come due. Frankly I’m sick of all these games.

And while they are doing all this, the Planning Department has been secretly preparing their next round of service cuts while no attempts are made to improve the system other than SBS and subway extensions which continue to move forward at a snail’s pace.

Mike HC July 12, 2010 - 1:14 am

On the bright side, they have managed to maintain an underground railroad system that can take you anywhere in one of the most expensive cities in the world for under 3 dollars. Not bad.

Alon Levy July 12, 2010 - 5:31 pm

Start comparing NYCT fares to fares of comparable world cities and the picture won’t look so nice. If you look at the average fare, or at each equivalent fare class separately (single-ride, pay-per-ride, unlimited monthly), you’ll see that NYCT in fact charges one of the higher fares. Once you control for subsidy figures, NYCT has the highest per-rider operating costs, except possibly for Transport for London.

Mike HC July 12, 2010 - 1:09 am

Who could have ever predicted this? ha. I mean, all this stuff was clearly coming down the pike the second the MTA brought in that new crew to run things.

The way I see it, the subways are still a super cheap method of transportation compared to other methods, so it is still a good deal. These are not drastic price hikes, or changes as I see it.

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JC Frank July 12, 2010 - 7:20 am

By making the monthly over $100 will force commuters, who only use cards 40 times a mo, to move to a pay per ride. Not real logical since it makes it tough to use transit checks.

herenthere July 12, 2010 - 10:41 pm

well, charging for buying a new metrocard seems like a long-overdue item. i mean, that is a good way to encourage people to refill their metrocards and not create more trash. also decreases operating costs for the MTA to not have to fill up machines as frequently.

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seth July 19, 2010 - 4:23 pm

Doesn’t the MTA make money by selling advertising on the back of (some) MetroCards? Encouraging people to keep reusing the cards by imposing a $1 surcharge will mean the end of that.

(And it will make collecting such cards – yes, there are hobbyists who do – more difficult).

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Alline Spasiano December 13, 2011 - 8:48 am

Well, up to a certain point, I guess it’s true.

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