Home Fare Hikes Chart of the Day: Break-even points after the fare hike

Chart of the Day: Break-even points after the fare hike

by Benjamin Kabak

What the fare hike means for Unlimited ride MetroCards. (Via Capn Design)

I’ve touched briefly upon the new MetroCard math that will go into effect when the fares go up on December 30, but this chart does the job in an easy-to-understand form. Presented by Matt Jacobs at Capn Design, this chart shows how the change in pay-per-ride discount and the steep increase in the price of a 30-day card should change straphangers’ purchasing and riding patterns.

In essence, the change boils down as thus: Currently, pay-per-ride users enjoy a 15 percent bonus on purchases above $8. This led to a true cost per swipe of $1.96 instead of $2.25. In 2011, the bonus drops to seven percent on purchases above $10, and the cost per swipe rises to $2.10. Under these figures, the 30-day MetroCard currently pays for itself on the 46th swipe, but after the fare hike, riders will have to swipe in an additional four times before the card becomes a good value. On the 50th swipe, the cost-per-ride of a $104 MetroCard drops to $2.08.

Jacobs’ chart, available at this site, is a handy tool to help subway riders navigate this confusing math. The final line allows users to input any number to see the cost savings. For instance, I could easily see that those people who swipe 80 times a month now save $67.80 over a pay-per-ride plan and will still save $64 under the new fare scheme. As always, the 30-day card rewards frequent users even as the break-even point rises.

It’s also worth revisiting briefly a post from October that explores how many riders do not reach the break-even point on their unlimited MetroCards. Based on internal MTA numbers, it appeared as though 25 percent of monthly purchasers do not use their cards 46 times or more. The same chart showed that this figure jumps to 36 if we set the cut-off point at 50 swipes. Thus, as the fares go up, either fewer people will be buying cards or more will be wasting money on unlimited ride cards. I bet the truth will lie somewhere in the middle.

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Christopher November 17, 2010 - 12:39 pm

I respond like Barbie here, math is hard. The issue isn’t about that you save you a fortune. Or even much at all, but convenience. I don’t want to ever have to stop at a metrocard machine. And I don’t like having to worry about how much I have left on my card. I just swipe and go. That’s the advantage of a 30 day card. The difference in cost is negligible to me. Frankly I have no idea how many times I swipe my card. (Well probably 80 so I’m in the clear. But not always. I still wouldn’t go back to a pay for ride card, though.)

Al D November 17, 2010 - 2:00 pm

Nice Chart, but I needed your explanation to understand. Since a number of us use Transit Check, I wonder what the breakeven points are/will be.

J November 17, 2010 - 2:28 pm

Al D – I think you can buy a pay-per-ride card with a pre-loaded amount for most TrasitCheck like companies. At mine, Ceridian Benefits, I have the option of the various unlimiteds (7,14, and 30 days) as well as various levels of value ($25, $50, etc…)

hal p November 17, 2010 - 2:31 pm

I actually feel like Christopher does, but I’m sure I am one who is in the “tweener” group (swipe between 46-50 times per 30 days). I hate going to the MetroCard machines. Then again, if I just $105 on a pay-per-ride instead of unlimited ride, then I’ll actually be going to the MetroCard machines less frequently. Only concern is knowing what day that will be.

drosejr November 17, 2010 - 4:20 pm

For us pay-per-riders who don’t make 50+ trips in a month, the math just became much more difficult with this 7% bonus. Before, one had to kick in $45/month to get a whole number of rides (23 with the 15% bonus). Now, there is no way to get a whole number of rides unless you spend in multiples of $150. So one would have to spend $50 or $75 and keep refilling that card for a few months, or sacrifice part of a ride each time, and pay the extra $1 the MTA will start charging for new rides. I’m sure the math whizzes at the MTA are hoping for the latter, and that the budget item for unused fare media rises even further next year.

Christopher November 17, 2010 - 4:38 pm

Can’t you just refill your card? I don’t understand why that is so hard. There’s also this effort — and I see it from others too — to constantly end up at an even zero.

Now yes, there’s not a transit agency in the world that doesn’t expect people to have cards around the house with small values on them. Mostly from… well, not refilling.

Alon Levy November 17, 2010 - 8:59 pm

On the contrary: some transit agencies encourage people to do everything with monthly commuter passes, using very large discounts – for example, the breakeven point might be in the low 30s. This is how it works throughout the German-speaking world.

And other transit agencies, without attractive unlimited passes, set up the fare chart in such a way that every small amount you have on your card could be useful. For example, the fare could depend on distance, with everything working in increments of one cent or ten cents. This is how it works in unlimited pass-free Asian cities, such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.

Andrew November 17, 2010 - 10:57 pm

I think the opposite will happen: the $1 charge will encourage people to keep refilling their card, so they won’t be throwing away the leftover bits and pieces.

If my calculations are correct, $23.15 will get you 11 rides with 2 cents left over, $27.35 will get you 13 rides with 1 cent left over, and $35.75 will get you 17 rides with a quarter of a cent left over. I think that’s close enough for most people. ($150 won’t help – that gets you $160.50, which isn’t divisible by 2.25.)

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