Home MetroCard Video of the Day: MetroCard commercials

Video of the Day: MetroCard commercials

by Benjamin Kabak

As the MTA prepares to read the MetroCard its final rites, the Transit Museum has made available online a series of old TV spots promoting the blue and gold cards. Imagine the novelty of transferring for free between buses and subways. It was, they said, the “beginning of a whole new transit system.”

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Jerrold August 13, 2010 - 6:04 pm

I remember how the most frustrating aspect of the transition from tokens to MetroCards was the long time that they took to fully implement it.
Wasn’t it something like three or four years between the introduction of the MetroCards and the time when ALL the subway stations, and the buses, were accepting them?

John Paul N. August 13, 2010 - 6:27 pm

Yeah, it did take some time to replace all the token booths, the HEETs, etc.

But once the MetroCard Gold was introduced, the dual fare zones were eliminated and all the lost revenue that came with the conversion can never be brought back easily again.

SEAN August 13, 2010 - 6:54 pm

Do you really want to go back to duel fare zones just to recapture what revenue may have been lost?

Wouldn’t it be better to do what ever it took to capture as many passengers as possible even if the fare is raised to keep the same level of service?

John Paul N. August 13, 2010 - 7:09 pm

Not really full dual fare zones, but at least a nominal surcharge to transfer between subway and bus, say 25 or 50 cents. I’m also talking about what should have happened in 1998, not now. The shift toward fare zone elimination should have been more gradual and not as sudden as it was then. Implementing dual fare zones or surcharges now would cost more than what it’s worth.

The initial pricing of the unlimited card had also set the tone for revenue projections for the future. The unlimited proved to be too popular compared to the base fare.

SEAN August 13, 2010 - 10:02 pm

Perhaps, but you don’t wan’t to piss off current or future riders.

If you need to generate revenue, the best way is to have distence based fares, but still offer the unlimited option in some form. You can moddle this on the DC Metro formula with there Smartrip card.

Jerrold August 13, 2010 - 10:55 pm

One reason why distance-based fares have always been rejected here is that some of the poorest neighborhoods are among the farthest areas from midtown Manhattan, and therefore would have the highest fares under a distance system.
Examples of such areas are Far Rockaway, Coney Island, and Jamaica.

Andrew August 14, 2010 - 11:55 pm

That may be true at a very general level, but there are so many exceptions that it’s pretty meaningless. Harlem is poorer than Riverdale. Jackson Heights is poorer than Forest Hills, which is poorer than Whitestone. And Staten Island is the wealthiest borough of all, with its poorest sections closest to the St. George.

Furthermore, Manhattan CBD workers tend to be wealthier than people who work outside the CBD and who may have short trips that don’t even take them into Manhattan and would probably have very low fares in a zone system.

If you want to help poor people get around, issue free or discounted MetroCards based on income. Then establish a rational fare system.

Jerrold August 15, 2010 - 6:55 pm

How do the exceptions make it meaningless?
Note that I said “SOME of the poorest neighborhoods…………..”.

Andrew August 15, 2010 - 10:06 pm

The usual objection, which I thought you were referring to, is that poor people in Far Rockaway shouldn’t be paying more to commute than wealthy Upper East Siders.

The flip side, though, is that poor people in Harlem shouldn’t be subsidizing the long commutes of wealthy Staten Islanders. Which is how things work out with a single flat fare.

ajedrez August 16, 2010 - 6:42 pm

If you look at page 20 of this map: http://www.rpa.org/pdf/RPA_tomorrows_transit.pdf (page 18 has a discussion, you see a pattern as to the location of poorer neighborhoods. They tend to be within a certain radius of the CBD. Not too close and not too far. Therefore, these types of arguments work both ways. You could argue that people in Downtown Brooklyn are richer than people in Bedford-Stuyvesant as a reason against zoned fares, but you could argue that the people in Bedford-Stuyvesant are poorer than the people in Marine Park as a reason for zoned fares.
You can see some exceptions to this rule-as many people often say, Far Rockaway, Queens is all the way across the city from Manhattan, as Arlington, Staten Island and the Lower East Side is right near the CBD.
The problem is that, no matter where you go, there are always going to be people that can’t afford a zoned fare and people that can.

Andrew August 19, 2010 - 12:06 am

That’s exactly my point. I like SEAN’s idea: people who can afford it should pay a fare appropriate for the distance traveled, and people who can’t afford it get to pay reduced fares.

SEAN August 15, 2010 - 7:21 pm

You can administer such a program in a similar way to section 8 or SSI. The grater the need, the lower the fare. One of the biggest issues for lower income families is transportation afordability. Here’s a way to lower the berdon & create a new fare structure.

Alon Levy August 14, 2010 - 2:09 am

Charging for transfers is brain-dead. Transferring is the cornerstone of any transit system with more than one line.

Seriously. Do you see Paris do it? Berlin? Munich? Zurich? Tokyo? Where are all those competent cities that charge for within-system transfers?

SEAN August 14, 2010 - 10:38 am

SEPTA has the most conviluted fare structure I’ve ever ssene.

base fare $2
Transfer .50
Each zone boundry .50 equal to about 5 miles.
That would make a trip between center city to King of Prussia plaza an enormus shopping mall in suburban Montgomery County, $3.50 each way. That is a 17-mile ride in one direction.

There must be a dozen monthly pass options to choose from. Yet they still use tokens & flash passes instead of some type of farecard system.

Alon Levy August 14, 2010 - 4:12 pm

Well, I did qualify that by saying “Competent.”

But I thought SEPTA had a FeliCa smartcard nowadays…

ajedrez August 15, 2010 - 12:57 am

I believe Miami does that as well. Transfers between buses are free (with an EasyTicket/EasyCard, which is their equivalent of a MetroCard), but transfers between their MetroRail (which is equivalent to our subway) and local buses cost $0.50.
You could make the argument that free transfers allow any transit system to suit levels of service to the density of the neighborhood. The transit system saves money by running a bus instead of a train in a lower-density area, and by running a train instead of 4 or 5 buses in a higher-density area.

Andrew August 15, 2010 - 12:10 am

Paris doesn’t have free transfers between buses and Metro. In fact, the current Paris transfer model is very similar to New York’s pre-MetroCard transfer model – transfers from subway to subway are free, transfers from bus to bus are free, but transfers between the two cost an extra fare.

And isn’t there an extra charge to transfer between Tokyo Metro and Toei lines? (I’m not sure what the deal is with buses.)

Alon Levy August 15, 2010 - 1:20 am

In Tokyo, separate railways charge for transfers. But within each system, transfers are free, including bus-train transfers.

In Paris, subway-RER transfers are free, even with single-rides. Even subway-RER-subway transfers are free. And if, like most non-tourists, you carry an unlimited Navigo card, then all transfers within your zones are free anyway.

What this has to do with the idea of nominally charging for transfers I don’t quite get.

Andrew August 15, 2010 - 10:17 pm

You said that “Charging for transfers is brain-dead” – and went on to list five cities that don’t charge for transfers.

Except that at least two of them do charge for transfers. Paris charges two fares for bus-Metro transfers, just like New York used to do before MetroCard. (Metro-RER transfers aren’t a big deal – they’re roughly akin to local-express transfers in New York. I don’t think the non-RER commuter rail lines don’t have free transfers with Metro.) And from what I’ve read (I’ve never been there myself), Tokyo has a transfer fee for transferring between “systems” – sounds like the way things were in New York before unification in the 40’s!

(Of course transfers are free with an unlimited card. It’s an unlimited card, so of course transfers are free. That’s beside the point. Note that Paris makes it particularly inconvenient for tourists to buy unlimited cards – they’re not listed on the non-French-language versions of the website, and at least when I last visited, nonresidents had to purchase a smartcard, which is nontransferable and expires in 10 years.)

Most of us would probably agree that the ideal fare structure would be uniform across all modes, and would allow as many transfers as necessary, for free, both within and between modes. But many, probably most, systems fall short of that ideal due to historical, organizational, political, or financial considerations.

Alon Levy August 16, 2010 - 12:30 am

The RER is not like express subways; it’s a subway-commuter rail hybrid. It’s treated as a separate system from the Metro, and the Metro-RER transfers range from unpleasant to nightmarish.

Trust me, I know that it’s hard for tourists to get unlimited cards in Paris. That’s annoying. However, the biggest problem is that the cards are only available at booths and only at some stations; the cards are in fact transferable, if you get the anonymous version with the one-time 5 Euro deposit.

And trust me, I know that Tokyo has multiple operators. But within each operator’s network, multimodal transfers are free.

This is part of what I’m getting at with the not-invented-here problem. Europe and Japan refuse to adopt each other’s innovations, which means that many stupid ideas American consultants come up with exist in otherwise competent systems (though the badness of BRT and commuter rail is North America-only). They even refuse to adopt American innovations on social issues where the US does better, like coming to terms with a racist past. The solution is always to learn from the best of the world, not the worst.

A regional Verkehrsverbund is one of those best-of adoptions, yes. So are many other things that do not exist in a few well-run systems but still make the system better. Generally speaking, the best systems in terms of operational

Andrew August 16, 2010 - 8:42 am

I know what the RER is, and I agree with your assessment of the nightmarish transfers. But Paris is much smaller than New York, and the suburbs served by the RER are more akin to the outer boroughs of New York than to the suburbs served by LIRR and Metro-North. There’s no precise analog to RER in New York, but I’d argue that express trains come closest.

The rules must have changed since I visited. When I bought my card, I had to attach a photo to it. Is that no longer required?

I think you overplay your not-invented-here syndrome. The reality is that having a good idea doesn’t make it easy to implement. Implementing the perfect transfer system often comes with major institutional challenges – one agency or company doesn’t want to cooperate with another, or a liberalized transfer policy would reduce fare revenues, or a politician is worried that the new policy will hurt his constituents, or the existing fare collection system can’t be easily tweaked to accommodate free transfers.

Alon Levy August 16, 2010 - 9:58 am

The suburbs aren’t exactly like the outer boroughs. Some are, but all RER lines go deep into true suburbia, with densities similar to those that can be found on the North Shore of Long Island or along the Hudson. A few lines even go slightly outside Ile-de-France. Only the inner parts of the RER are really like express subway trains.

It’s expected to attach a photo to a card, yes, but you can also get an anonymous card. Though, if you don’t visit for a whole month, it’s probably cheaper to get the 10-ticket bundles, if more annoying.

The NIH syndrome is not just about agency politics. Sometimes it is, but often it’s just protective cluelessness. Many NIH innovations have zero or negative cost, for example shortening commuter trains’ turnaround times, implementing a clockface schedule in the off-peak, and going POP with just one conductor. The excuses then have to vary: agency politics is a good one, even on issues (e.g. schedule integration) that are no more difficult than other things already planned or in effect (e.g. farecard integration). Other times, NIH takes the form of FUD about new innovations – see for example what the unions say about OPTO. And sometimes it goes way deeper: New York literally had no idea it was building subways for an order of magnitude more money the rest of the developed world until it was too late. It just didn’t bother to look. Even now, Walder has plans to combine hotlines to reduce administrative costs, but no plans to propose a bidding reform to allow the MTA to select the most reliable contractors.

Andrew August 19, 2010 - 12:15 am

The A train crosses Jamaica Bay. The RER doesn’t go anywhere nearly so desolate.

When I was in Paris, there were two types of cards. One was only available to local residents. The other, presumably the “anonymous” card you mention, was available to anyone, but required a photo to be attached. Is there a third option now?

I don’t understand your obsession with turnaround times.

Clockface schedules are great if they’re compatible with the appropriate service frequency. Sometimes they’re not. At short headways, it doesn’t really matter.

POP is great, but in addition to work on the agency’s part, it requires cooperation from the union.

Of course the unions do everything they can to oppose OPTO. The TWU represents conductors. The average New Yorker doesn’t know or care what’s done elsewhere, and the TWU wants to convince him that he’ll be unsafe without a conductor.

What’s your source for this? “New York literally had no idea it was building subways for an order of magnitude more money the rest of the developed world until it was too late. It just didn’t bother to look.”

Public agencies are generally required by law to select the lowest qualified bidder. That’s not something Jay Walder has the power to change.

Jerrold August 13, 2010 - 8:51 pm

The slogan of that time, “One City, One Fare”, said it all.
It was “about time” that everybody in town should have to pay only a single fare to get to Manhattan, no matter where he lives.
If worst comes to worst, it would be the lesser of evils to get rid of the commutation MetroCards, rather than to get rid of free transferring between subways and buses.

Andrew August 15, 2010 - 12:12 am

Why? Doesn’t it cost more to transport people longer distances than shorter distances? (And what about people not trying to go to Manhattan, or people already in Manhattan?)

ajedrez August 15, 2010 - 1:01 am

But you might be making a longer trip on a subway than by taking the bus to the subway. A person who is taking the A train from Far Rockaway into Midtown is using more services than a person taking the B44 to the Nostrand Avenue station to take the A to Midtown. Not all people transferring are taking long trips.

Andrew August 15, 2010 - 10:22 pm

You’re right, and zone-based fares with free transfers would make more sense. But most people who transfer between bus and subway make longer-than-average trips, so in the absence of zone-based fares, charging for transfers from bus to subway at least has some long-distance riders paying more.

It’s a very rough approximation, and I’d much prefer to see zone fares with free transfers, but I think it was a mistake to institute free transfers while maintaining the flat fare.

Alon Levy August 16, 2010 - 12:50 am

Don’t be so sure about this. There’s a large volume of passengers who transfer from the Manhattan crosstown buses to the north-south subway lines, potentially canceling out the passengers from Eastern Queens who transfer at Jamaica Center.

Andrew August 16, 2010 - 8:45 am

I doubt the numbers are even close.

If you’re talking about Far East Siders transferring to the 4/5/6, they used to walk to the subway.

If you’re talking about people going longer distances across town, they used to transfer to north-south buses to avoid the extra fare.

In either case, they certainly didn’t pay two fares!

Alon Levy August 16, 2010 - 10:10 am

Merely saying they could take buses is actually an argument for free transfers, because the higher operating cost of buses means that the MTA actually gained from allowing people to use the subway. To say nothing of the fact that the subway is about three times faster…

The numbers shouldn’t be too lopsided – try to compare ridership on the Uptown crosstown buses (about 80,000 per weekday from 66th to 116th) with ridership at Jamaica Center and Jamaica-179th (about 60,000). Not all crosstown bus riders switch to the subway, but by the same token not all riders at Jamaica Center are transferring. (The MTA almost certainly has precise numbers for how many people are in each group. In 2049, when SAS Phase 1 is ready for the initial testing, it might actually release them.)

Andrew August 19, 2010 - 12:19 am

I agree that free transfers to the subway are a good thing, but crosstown bus riders weren’t paying two fares.

The numbers are very lopsided. The Jamaica buses primarily serve as feeders to the subway. The crosstown buses don’t. A large number of crosstown bus riders are simply going across town. And if they do transfer to the subway, they may only be going a few stops. (If they’re going more than a few stops, they probably would be using one of the crosstown subway lines instead.)

Jerrold August 15, 2010 - 7:04 pm

What difference should it make if they already are in Manhattan?
It’s still “One City, One Fare”.

That’s also why they made the Staten Island Ferry free.
Your MetroCard gives you a free transfer between the SIR train or a bus on the Staten Island side and the subway on the Manhattan side.

Alon Levy August 15, 2010 - 9:20 pm

They made the ferry free because Staten Islanders wanted it free. The one-city-one-fare-except-the-LIRR rule was just an excuse; if they wanted to, they could charge for the ferry but allow free transfers at both end.

Andrew August 15, 2010 - 10:29 pm

You’re quoting a political slogan used by Giuliani to garner support among outer borough Republicans, not a piece of sound fare policy.


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