Home Fare Hikes Coming soon, a $104 monthly MetroCard?

Coming soon, a $104 monthly MetroCard?

by Benjamin Kabak

Now that the MTA’s fare hike hearings have ended, the waiting game begins. We wait for the MTA Board to meet; we wait them to vote on the fare hike; we wait for the fare hike to go into effect. From the sound of things, New Yorkers will also be waiting not so expectantly for the first triple-digit MetroCard in subway history.

According to MTA CEO and Chairman Jay Walder, public sentiment is firmly behind maintaining the MetroCard status quo albeit with higher prices. As City Room reported, Walder discussed the fare hike hearings earlier this week while speaking with the New York Building Congress. “It’s safe to say there hasn’t been a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for the capped pass,” he said.

As part of its fare hike offerings, the MTA had put forward two proposals — a capped and an uncapped one. Under the capped proposal, the more expensive offering would cost $99 and would be valid for either 30 days or 90 rides, whichever came first. According to the MTA, only a very small percentage of subway riders swipe their cards 90 or more times a month, but the MTA’s justification for the capped proposal, as I explored last week, has seemed sparse.

Under the more traditional fare hike, the MTA would retain the 30-day unlimited card, but the costs would shoot up even higher. The 30-day card could cost $104 while the seven-day card will cost $29. Under both proposals, the little-used one- and 14-day cards will be eliminated entirely.

According to Walder and the MTA’s analysis, the fare hike, which would send the cost of 30-day cards up by nearly 17 percent, impacts those who can better afford to pay. “One of the points about the 30-day pass is that the median household income for the 30-day pass is nearly double the household incomes for some other products,” Walder said.

But many transit advocates dispute the MTA’s assertions on the dueling fare hike proposals. Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign has been hammering the MTA on its rationale behind the hikes and believes the authority has not answered his questions to the fullest extent possible. “What will it mean to cap the ride? Will it discourage people from buying the pass? Will more people move to pay-per-ride? Will ridership go down? I’d like to know the answers to those questions,” he said to NY1’s John Mancini.

Even MTA Board members, says Mancini, want “to learn more on the fare hike options.” This tidbit about the Board is part of a larger narrative about the MTA’s proposed fare hike. Although Walder continues to insist that the fares must go up because money isn’t flowing in from elsewhere, transit advocates are calling for better solutions. The Straphangers, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and others have called for tolling solutions, and the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA has done the same.

While PCAC recognizes that the MTA is in dire financial straits, it also objects to “shifting of the burden of support for MTA services increasingly onto the backs of the riders.” The group has called upon the MTA to fight for the restoration of $143 million the state legislature moved from the transit fund to the state’s general fund last year and has asked the MTA to push through East River bridge tolls before trying to raise the fares. These solutions do not appear to be politically palatable right now even as they remain more practical than yet another steep fare hike.

And so we wait. We wait for solutions that do not come. We wait for politicians who do not answer the call. And we wait for the inevitability of higher fares over and over again.

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John September 23, 2010 - 9:12 am

It seems somewhat obvious to me. They wanted to raise the 30-day card over $100, but they wanted to soften the blow, so they at least offered a second option that kept the cost (for most) under $100. They didn’t expect people to like the second option, but if they did they were willing to go forward with it.

Nesta September 23, 2010 - 9:29 am

$104 still seems cheaper than it should be to me. I think the unlimited card should be in the $120-125 range if the base fare goes up again.

John September 23, 2010 - 12:02 pm

I think you’re probably right, but they missed the boat on that by not increasing it enough when the economy was good. Then the money dried up and the unlimited fares were too low. I don’t think under any circumstance would they consider a 25-30% increase at one time, whether or not that’s where it probably “should” be.

Al D September 23, 2010 - 9:39 am

I would say that raising the subway fare is more practical because the fare payemtn/collection system is already in place, and therefore the cost are negligible. It is less practical to institute East River bridge tolling because the entire fare/toll payment structure needs to be put in place as it certainly does not exist today.

AK September 23, 2010 - 10:04 am

The tolling “structure” wouldn’t actually be a “structure” at all, Al. If East River tolls or congestion pricing were actually put in place, it would be enforced by cameras/EZ Pass alone– i.e. if you have an EZ Pass, you’d be charged on teh spot, and if you do not, a picture of yoru license plate is snapped by high speed cameras and a bill sent to your address (EZ Pass would have a steep discount (25%) as well).

Al D September 23, 2010 - 2:15 pm

As you pointed and if I may modify my original word to mean as intended, the infrastructure is not currently there to support collecting tolls/tax on the bridges. It IS already there however to collect subway fares.

patrick C September 23, 2010 - 9:59 am

well, look at the alternative to an unlimited card with no respect to distance travelled. It is the zone based and distance based pricing like found in all the other major world capitals. that system would make areas where property value and rent expenses lower (populated by the lower income class) more expensive because of a greater distance travelled to the CBD and make NYC less business friendly and raise living expenses therefore slowing growth and hurt those who are more income inelastic. a flat fee does not allows for discrimination based on geographic distances. so even a $125 unlimited metrocard is cheaper and more efficient for the city’s economy

Alon Levy September 23, 2010 - 11:11 pm

Patrick, there isn’t a single thing in your comment that’s true. There are more alternatives to unlimited flat-fare travel than zone and distance pricing (which are two completely different things), many global cities have flat or nearly flat fares (Paris, Toronto, Berlin minus a few outer stations), the New York lower class does not live the farthest out of the CBD or travel the longest distances, and shifting the fare from one group of riders to another has nothing to do with living expenses.

Bolwerk September 25, 2010 - 12:05 pm

Patrick’s comment was so analphabetic I couldn’t even really parse it. Still, enough of the lower economic classes of NYC live far enough out of the CBD that any type of variable fare collection wouldn’t fly. Geographic distribution by socioeconomic status probably roughly means that the poorer people would automatically pay more based on longer distances traveled, while those upper middle class on up in Manhattan would pay the lowest fares.

Andrew September 25, 2010 - 11:22 pm

That distribution is incredibly loose (Harlem isn’t upper middle class, at least not yet, and Staten Island is certainly not poor). And it ignores other elements of potential price variability, such as time of day (peak vs. off-peak, with the poor less likely to be riding during peak hours) and entry into CBD (with the poor more likely to be traveling between non-CBD points).

If your goal is to reduce the burden on the poor, then give the poor vouchers for discounted transit rides. Then set prices in a way that roughly approximates the agency’s costs to provide the service.

Otherwise you end up with Harlem subsidizing Staten Island.

ajedrez September 26, 2010 - 12:49 am

I think the peak/off-peak fare is the best one to implement. The problem with vouchers is that it creates more bureaucracy to manage it, and, also, it will create resentment among people just above the cutoff (for example, if the cutoff is $30,000 for an indivdual, people making $35,000 or $40,000 will feel upset that they don’t qualify for any discount). Also, there is always a good chance that some people will sell off the rides that they don’t need.

Bolwerk September 26, 2010 - 1:21 am

I get the logic of peak/off-peak, but why waste the time screwing with things that aren’t going to fly? It’s perfectly fair to expect people to pay a percentage of their transit fare, and to have the rest government subsidized. What isn’t fair, and what is truly unaffordable, is this massive labor glut and its accompanying costs. And what’s unaffordable is the ridiculous amount of debt Sheldon Silver & Co. are permitting to proliferate while they pretend they don’t have to do anything about it.

Bolwerk September 26, 2010 - 1:14 am

From a transit perspective, Harlem already subsidizes Staten Island. Who gets the free ferry service and probably the lowest farebox recovery on the system?

I agree it’s a “loose” distribution, but it’s tangible enough so it won’t fly politically. Also, I wasn’t really considering SI or other middle class areas without much access to subway network (e.g., vast swaths of Queens). And, if you consider Manhattan below 96th Street as its own unit, it holds pretty true when you consider that rides from the farther reaches of uptown aren’t so much different than trips in from poorer areas of Bushwick or Bed Stuy – never you mind Jamaica and the 45 minutes or so of stations that come before on the J.

Sure, there are middle class outliers (Bay Ridge, Coney Island, Ridgewood, Kew Gardens) and maybe fewer upper middle class ones (Park Slope, Riverdale, Fort Greene?). Thing is, they’d probably complain too. Higher fares can actually hurt the middle class, and the upper middle class probably has hired help that needs a public transit.

wayne's world September 23, 2010 - 11:34 am

I vote for the capped pass.

oscar September 23, 2010 - 5:06 pm

i agree

tacony palmyra September 23, 2010 - 12:53 pm

$104/mo in total transportation costs is still relatively low considering that, despite all the complaints, it’s still easy to live a good life in New York City without a car. Compare that to the vast majority of the rest of the country where auto insurance, loan payments, maintenance costs, gas, and tolls are necessary. $104/mo is a bargain.

Al D September 23, 2010 - 2:17 pm

If I may append, it’s easy to live a good life in certain select sections of NYC without a car.

Anon256 September 23, 2010 - 3:04 pm

Obviously there are places in NYC (e.g. the bottom of the harbor, the middle of a JFK runway) where it’s hard to live a good life, car or no. But people choose where to live, and in NYC if they don’t make that sort of obviously broken choice then it’s easy for them to live a good life without a car.

Andrew September 25, 2010 - 11:23 pm

Most New York households don’t have cars.

ajedrez September 26, 2010 - 12:52 am

Actually, autoless households are only a slight majority. 55% of all households don’t own cars, which means that 45% do. See this site for the breakdown by borough: http://www.tstc.org/reports/cpfactsheets.php (and car owners make up a majority in Queens and Staten Island, at 61% and 81% respectively.)

ajedrez September 23, 2010 - 3:25 pm

But in a lot of parts of the country (like Buffalo and Albany), the fare is lower for their transit system. But I guess that is because, in those cities, transit is mainly used by lower-income people, whereas in NYC, transit is used by everybody.
I do see your point-that the extensiveness and frequency of the service in NYC means that we get a better product for our money.

Bolwerk September 25, 2010 - 12:06 pm

Without writing a long rant, a lot of it has to do with how many government subsidies are available from the respective city or Albany.

In NYC, it’s proportionately low.

Alon Levy September 26, 2010 - 8:30 am

New York has a bigger tax base than Buffalo, though.

I think Ajedrez’s explanation is correct. In lower-income, lower-ridership cities, a fare hike recovers very little in extra revenue, so it isn’t used as much when the agency faces budget cuts or a revenue shortfall.

Bolwerk September 26, 2010 - 11:04 am

Maybe, but proliferation is a big part of it too. Buffalo has a stubby light rail line with a budget probably in the tens of millions. NYC has hundreds of miles of track with a budget well into the billions. Even with a bigger tax base, it’s a big deal to dip in and grab another $5B to cover a shortfall – and forget about help from above.

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