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How high could the MetroCard fares go?

by Benjamin Kabak

On July 4, 1998, New Yorkers enjoyed independence from the pay-per-ride subway fare. That day witnessed the introduction of the unlimited ride MetroCard, and for just $63, straphangers could swipe as many times as they wanted over the course of 30 days. On December 30, 2010, that 30-day card is going to cost $104. This spike represents a 12-year increase of 65 percent in nominal dollars, and it has led many to wonder just how much a 30-day pass could cost in the future.

In a piece in Metro on the future of the New York City subways, Carly Baldwin posits that the fares could continue to go up, up and up. At the current rate, fares in 2022, when the 7 line extension and Second Ave. Subway are in service, a 30-day card would cost $171. It seems inconceivable today that the fares would go that high, but it also seemed inconceivable in 1998 that we would be paying over $100 a month for our 30-day cards.

Of course, if the MTA figures out a way to implement a contactless system that significantly reduces the costs of fare collecting, the agency could pass those savings onto consumers. Furthermore, $63 in 1998 has the same buying power as $84.43 today. Fares, therefore, are outpacing inflation by only 23 percent over 12 years. If that rate holds, we should be paying only around $130 for the monthly card in 2022. The prices though will only keep increasing as time goes by.

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NYCHiker November 4, 2010 - 2:37 pm

Do you really think the MTA would pass on savings from contact-less payments to customers? Either the state will swoop in and steal the money, or fares will remain the same. I don’t think we’ll ever see a fare reduction.

Benjamin Kabak November 4, 2010 - 2:40 pm

Not a reduction but less of an increase. I’m cautiously optimistic, perhaps foolishly so.

NYCHiker November 4, 2010 - 2:48 pm

I hope that’s what the savings are used for too. I suppose time will tell.

Older and Wiser November 4, 2010 - 3:16 pm

Somehow I suspect that condo prices, rent and milk have gone up as much or more since 1998. The national CPI means nothing at all in New York.

Sharon November 4, 2010 - 11:24 pm

Rent rises are largely tied to the increases in taxes to pay for the ever rising public sector salaries and health care costs, not for profits that steal money and provide poor services, union cleaners in buildings, union construction contractors and lax building code laws, section 8 that rises rents in lower income areas. Operating costs of apartment houses have more than doubled in the last 10 years.
rents are way up in bad areas due to the above.

NY SOCIALIST PROGRAMS are the reason it cost so much to live here. Of course highly desirable area’s have other forces but un desireable areas are stuck with out of wack costs. These programs in the end drive more people into the poor house than save them. At the top of the list is the MTA operations that in some cases are run for the union and not for the riders. How can you justify running full length trains at 20 min waits when you could save money running half length train OPTO

samsam November 4, 2010 - 3:59 pm

transit should be free
driving & parking should be very expensive

Sharon November 4, 2010 - 11:18 pm

And all you would have left is the rich and the poor. Almost there now. Some people fail to realize that most of the city is not transit friendly and does not have a rite aid on every corner

Benjamin Kabak November 4, 2010 - 11:26 pm

Some people fail to realize that most of the city is not transit friendly and does not have a rite aid on every corner

Sorry, Sharon, I need to call you on this. You’ve said this before, and you’re just flat-out wrong. Except for isolated pockets of the city, most of it is indeed transit-friendly. In fact, according to recent data, 70.3 percent of all residential units are within 1/2 mile of a subway entrance. The number increases when you consider buses as well. That’s the very definition of transit-friendly.

Andrew November 4, 2010 - 11:48 pm

If Sharon would prefer to live in the typical American car-friendly, transit-unfriendly setting, there’s nothing stopping her from leaving one of the few transit-friendly cities in the country.

Alon Levy November 5, 2010 - 7:18 pm

New York is the most unequal metro area in the US. But Miami is a close second, followed by Memphis, Birmingham, New Orleans, and Houston.

It’s not socialism that kills the middle class and it’s not transit.

Cullen November 5, 2010 - 1:33 pm

The annualized fare incrase rate from 1998 to 2010 is 4.27% per annum.

If it keeps increasing at 4.27%, in 2022 it will be $171.68. $63.00*((1+0.0427)^24)

If it’s only 23% of above inflation…. who knows since we’re approaching deflationary times.

Alon Levy November 5, 2010 - 9:21 pm

And the annualized fare increase rate from 1993 to 1998 is negative, counting the introduction of the MetroCard and various discounts.

Alex Benn November 6, 2010 - 11:20 am

This is an interesting question. What is the long-term trend of fares, adjusted for inflation? How does that compare with the change in cost-of-living in NYC? 4.27%/yr is no worse than some other industries that have been going up in cost at the same time, like education and health care.

Also, how has the mix of income to the MTA changed? If it was more heavily subsidized in the mid-90s than it is now, perhaps costs haven’t been going up as quickly as this? I’m interested in the total cost of the MTA including taxes, since most of us pay those as well.

Chris November 8, 2010 - 4:27 pm

It’s also worth pointing out that this analysis assumes the real value of a single unlimited ride card is fixed. But that’s not really true as I at least would assert that quality has generally increased in the last 12 years, when factors such as cleanliness, security, reliability are considered all together. And over the next decades, the real value of the unlimited card will clearly increase as new lines come into play.


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