Home Fare Hikes The Fare Is The Thing: An MTA fare hike primer

The Fare Is The Thing: An MTA fare hike primer

by Benjamin Kabak

Long gone are the days and costs of the blue MetroCard. (Photo via Second Ave. Sagas on Instagram)

The cost of life in New York City will continue its inexorable march upward this weekend as the MTA raises transit fares and tolls this weekend. It’s the third time in the last four years that fares have gone up, and New Yorkers grumble about it each time. We’re paying more for the same service, and riding the subways has always been a bit of a grind. This won’t be the last fare hikes — the MTA has an increase on the books for 2015 — but this one introduces a few new concepts and bonus structures. Let’s dive in.

When do these new fares kick in?

That’s an easy one: The new fares for New York City Transit buses and subways commences at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, March 3. Revelers stumbling home late after a Saturday night out will be the first ones greeted with higher transit costs. Nine-to-fivers will suffer their own sticker shock when the Monday morning commute kicks in.

What are the new fares?

For the first time since 2009, the MTA is jacking up the base fare. A cost of a swipe for pay-per-ride users will now check in at $2.50. Those who purchase $5 or more on pay-per-ride cards will enjoy a small bonus of 5 percent, but all new cards — pay-per-ride and unlimited — purchased via MetroCard Vending Machines will carry a $1 surcharge.

The price on unlimited cards is going up a bit as well. The 30-day cards will cost $112, and the 7-day cards will now cost $30. A 7-day express bus card will set a rider back $55. These unlimited increases are smaller, percentage-wise, than they had been in the past, and that’s a win for daily straphangers who have been shouldering more of the burden during prior fare hikes.

What should I be stockpiling?

While hoarding tokens prior to a fare hike used to one of my parents’ pastimes, the MTA has largely limited that practice due to sunset dates and shorter grace periods. Cards purchased prior to the fare hike must be activated by March 11 in order to make use of the full time period. So, in other words, 7-day cards are valid through March 17 and 30-day cards are valid through April 9. Cards not in service by then must be returned to the MTA for a refund. The Times has a bit more on maximizing value.

On the other hand, pay-per-ride cards don’t run out until the expiration date on the back. Take advantage now of the seven percent bonus to load up those pay-per-ride cards. Plus, it’s not a bad idea to stockpile all MetroCards. Since riders can now put both time and money on their MetroCards and are assessed a $1 fee on new card purchases, it’s not a bad idea to hold onto those MetroCards will expiration dates far into the future. My current 30-day card, for example, runs out of time next week, but the card itself is valid through March 31, 2014.

I’m not very good at math. What are the various key purchase points for pay-per-ride and break-even levels for unlimited ride cards?

Fear not, arithmophobes: The Math is getting easier. The new 5 percent bonus means that a $50 purchase will net the straphanger one free ride. Pay for 20; get 21. No more complicated equations with odd-number purchases. (And yes, the MetroCard Vending Machines should be programmed to give this info to customers, but they aren’t.)

With the new pay-per-ride discount, the per-swipe fare is effectively $2.38, and at certain points, it becomes more cost efficient to use eliminated ride cards. For 7-day cards, that breakeven point is 13 rides, and for 30 days cards, the breakeven point is now 48 (down a few from the current value). In other words, if you plan to take 13 or more subway rides in a seven-day period or 48 or more in a 30-day period, buy an unlimited ride card. And needless to say, a 30-day card is always a better value for frequent riders than four 7-day cards.

What’s this new $1 surcharge and how can I avoid it?

For a few reasons — environmental, cost-savings, because they can — the MTA is instituting a $1 surcharge on all new MetroCards purchased at MetroCard Vending Machines, from a station booth or at a commuter rail station. To avoid the fee, keep refilling your cards, buy your cards out-of-system or enroll with a transit benefit organization, if available. Customers will not be charged to replace cards that are damaged or expired.

Along with this $1 fee comes innovation in MetroCard technology. Cards can now carry both time and money, but with a caveat: When both can be used, time will always be used ahead of money. Still, you can carry cash on an unlimited ride card and use that cash for PATH or the AirTrain. More details are available in my post here.

That’s all well and good, but why are the fares going up? What can we do to stop it?

Pick your poison: The MTA says ever-increasing pension and healthcare obligations are driving fares up, but the agency’s debt obligations and bond pricing deals carry the blame too. I’m not going to give you a full answer to this question but will instead urge you to check out my next Problem Solvers session on just this topic. Gene Russianoff and I will be talking up the ins and outs of MTA finances at the Transit Museum at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 13. Find out where your hard-earned dollars are going while learning if the city can possibly stave off future hikes.

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Berk32 March 1, 2013 - 11:21 am

If you want to drive yourself nuts – just take a look at the comments in the NY Daily News article about the fare hikes


Berk32 March 1, 2013 - 2:15 pm Reply
Alex C March 1, 2013 - 3:00 pm

Yellow Journalism: the only type of journalism the capital of the world gets from its two local newspapers. Why would the comments show the slightest hint of intelligence when the readers are being fed sensationalist crap?

DF March 1, 2013 - 12:14 pm

“That’s an easy one: The new fares for New York City Transit buses and subways commences at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, March 2.”

Maybe it’s not that easy – March 2 is tomorrow, Saturday.

Benjamin Kabak March 1, 2013 - 12:16 pm

Er. Helps to be able to read numbers. I’ve fixed it.

Epson45 March 1, 2013 - 12:51 pm

BTW, PATH’s MetroCard vending machine will implemented the stupid $1 fee as well. http://www.panynj.gov/path/metrocard.html

Berk32 March 1, 2013 - 12:55 pm

Why is the fee stupid?

Only tourists will have to pay it…. It’s just a way to get them to pay more than the daily rider.

You can replace an expired card for no fee.

Epson45 March 1, 2013 - 3:05 pm

Guess what, we still have MetroCards that can get scratch and get read errors. Of course, they making money when not everyone is getting their PAY raise.

Benjamin Kabak March 1, 2013 - 3:06 pm

Per my article above:

Customers will not be charged to replace cards that are damaged or expired.

You won’t be charged to replace that scratched, damaged card.

Epson45 March 1, 2013 - 4:36 pm

Ben, Customer Service at MTA… great or “really great”.

D.R. Graham March 2, 2013 - 12:38 pm

I hate to say this but you’re making a simple situation complicated.

Epson45 March 2, 2013 - 12:48 pm

Its not complicated. This is the fact. The average person who is not a transportation geek like this website is gonna get frustrated and pissed. The ridiculous $1 fee is gonna get people’s nerves.

Alex C March 2, 2013 - 4:25 pm

We’ve explained this to you fifty times already on the $1 fee. Just use your current card until it expires. Thirty days before it does expire, an MVM will give a free replacement. Nobody EVER has to pay the $1 fee if they have more than 2 working brain cells.

Epson45 March 2, 2013 - 6:35 pm

Wheres the fifty times?

Explain to me, why is MTA ripping off people, especially the tourist…. Because they need the MONEY!

D.R. Graham March 3, 2013 - 1:51 am

Now we finally got the answer. You must be a tourist because I can honestly say I never seen someone so pissed off about tourists spending money in NY. You must have the fact that Bloomberg has stores, merchants and chains all jacking up the price on items targeting tourists.

Now I understand.

Someone March 1, 2013 - 4:26 pm

Most tourists will only visit NYC for a few days. So a $1 fee would add to the already-low fares tourists would pay on the NYC transit system.

Alex C March 1, 2013 - 2:55 pm

It’s not stupid. It encourages people to just use the damn card they already have until it expires (at which point they get a free replacement).

Epson45 March 1, 2013 - 3:01 pm

Because it is stupid in many ways with this outdated technology. MTA is ripping off people.

Alex C March 1, 2013 - 7:04 pm

You’re making no sense. Are you saying the MetroCard is outdated (we all agree) or the $1 fee is bad (I severely disagree). The MetroCard is outdated, yes. The fee is good because it means the MTA has to buy less of the plastic crap with people using their MetroCard until it expires (vending machine replaces it for free within 30 days). There is no fee if your current card is about to expire. I don’t think you’ve actually read the details.

Epson45 March 1, 2013 - 8:03 pm

You dont even make sense. MTA is screwing everybody with this stupid fare hike.

Berk32 March 1, 2013 - 8:07 pm

The fee doesnt apply when replacing a card… i don’t think this can be explained any clearer…

Epson45 March 2, 2013 - 12:53 pm

The problem is… NO one wants to waste their time to replace their MetroCard by going up to customer service. MTA is greedy. The plastic crap is 5 cents to make. BS on the environmental impact.

Berk32 March 2, 2013 - 1:01 pm

You don’t have to go to customer service… the vending machines replace them.

Epson45 March 2, 2013 - 6:33 pm

Except they dont replace damage MetroCards. Well, I hope MTA beef up their staff and need a lot of protection.

Alex C March 2, 2013 - 12:57 am

1) You’ve still not explained why it’s stupid using any facts.
2) Don’t like the hikes? Complain to your local state politician and ask them to increase funding and reinstate the payroll tax. Otherwise, save us the crocodile tears.

Epson45 March 2, 2013 - 12:49 pm

Did that and you see MTA loves taken your money away. HAHA.

Alex C March 3, 2013 - 12:56 pm

So you’re just a troll, then? Thanks for wasting our time.

asar March 1, 2013 - 7:17 pm

Oh, farehikes, so much bs

Corey Best March 1, 2013 - 11:03 pm

For all those saying the PATH & NJT should be run by the MTA heres one of the reasons why it shouldn’t. Thanks to the MTA the Northern NJT network is hiking to match the MNRR system. Ridiculous , so on top of NJT hikes we have to deal with your hikes aswell….our system is half the cost of the MTA….but slowly the MTA through these hikes is changing that. At least NJT as a whole won’t hike intill 2016 , and the PATH is same hikes compared to what the MTA is doing…. Even both agencies have issues at least there not bleeding as bad as the MTA. So I don’t really understand why New Yorkers insist on the MTA taking over or investing into a line into NJ…. But then again its part of the New York mentality to want everything and take over everything….

Alex C March 2, 2013 - 12:58 am

Did you miss the part with millions upon millions of dollars in damage to NJT equipment during Sandy? They kind of *have* to get any extra money they can right now.

Corey Best March 2, 2013 - 1:30 am

Federal $$$ will cover that an insurance , they said they wouldn’t be hiking for a few years. There even adding service back which they cut in 2010….. Same with the PATH , Feds will cover the damage , they also will be getting money for upgrades to prevent damage to critical substations and equipment…

D.R. Graham March 2, 2013 - 12:46 pm

Greatly exaggerating the facts. The hikes on that line are only being implemented because that line supports MNRR West of the Hudson River across the NJ/NY border. Unlike NJT the MTA is a much bigger entity supporting many different agencies all sharing a great deal of capital costs that go unfunded and underfunded by the state of NY and the city as well. NJT is it’s only system that receives much more focus from NJ, unlike PATH under the Port Authority which gets shafted by both NY and NJ.

Stu5 March 2, 2013 - 3:26 am

I definitely agree , the fare hike is bs especially with $1 donation. The government is so full it.

D.R. Graham March 2, 2013 - 12:41 pm

I agree, but I would like a little more in-depth take on why you feel the government is full of it?

Alex C March 2, 2013 - 4:28 pm

Because FOX News told him so. Regardless, the $1 fee is only if you stupidly throw away a MetroCard. You will never pay one in your life if you just use a MetroCard until it expires; at which point a vending machine will replace it for free. You can thank your state politicians for the fare hike.

Wilson March 3, 2013 - 10:08 am

You guys don’t know how good you have it with even a $2.50 fare to travel as far as it gets you. $3.50 would be a bargain.

-a guy from somewhere else who spends a lot more for worse transit

D.R. Graham March 3, 2013 - 11:42 am

So true and for the distance able to be traveled without zone pricing it’s still beyond a bargain.

Someone March 3, 2013 - 4:02 pm

$3.50? A bargain? Do you live in Hong Kong?

~ a guy who used to live in Hong Kong and abhorred the high fares of the MTR

Someone March 3, 2013 - 4:06 pm

A key difference between the New York City Subway and most other large metro systems around the world is that it has a flat fare. Most others—and the MNR/LIRR/NJT—charge by fare zones.

Alon Levy March 3, 2013 - 7:29 pm

Of the world’s top ten subway systems (ex-commuter rail, even if fully integrated into the subway), five have flat fares: Beijing, Moscow, New York, Mexico City, Paris.

JJJj March 4, 2013 - 9:41 pm

And almost every US non-commuter-rail system charges flat fares.

Its easier to list the exceptions; BART and DC.

Patrick March 3, 2013 - 2:55 pm

Are those MetroCards with the value printed on the back, instead of travel tips or ads, refillable? Those are the only cards I throw away.

D.R. Graham March 3, 2013 - 3:53 pm

Any card that’s not a single fare and has an expiration date can be refilled.

Someone March 3, 2013 - 4:01 pm

But aren’t the single fare MetroCards called “tickets”?

Alex C March 4, 2013 - 8:47 pm

All MetroCards refillable. Don’t throw any away. A vending machine will offer to replace any card that’s about to expire for free.

Skip Skipson March 4, 2013 - 1:35 pm

Now that the $1 new card fee is in effect, will this figure start declining?

2012 Fare Media Liability = $82 million (est $56 mil)

Fare media liability was above both the estimate and the original budget due to an unanticipated increase in residual values on expired MetroCards, believed to be a short-term effect of the December 2010 fare increase.



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