Home Public Transit Policy The visual case against zone fares

The visual case against zone fares

by Benjamin Kabak
You can take the A train if you want to see some New York income disparity. (With apologies to Billy Strayhorn and via The New Yorker)

You can take the A train if you want to see some New York income disparity. (With apologies to Billy Strayhorn and via The New Yorker)

In Washington, D.C, in London and in countless international cities, not all subway rides are created — or, more importantly, billed — equal. It costs more for subway riders to travel long distances and, similarly, less for shorter rides. In New York, zone fares are anathema to our very existence. It costs the same to go from the Rockaways to Washington Heights as it does from Times Square to Penn Station. But does that make sense?

As payment systems have become more flexible, zone fares have grown in use, but zone implementations can vary. In London, for instances, fares are based on distance from the central business district (or Zone 1) while in D.C., fares are based purely on distance traveled. But while advocates of such a fare structure fight for it because these longer subway routes cost more than shorter ones, New Yorkers have long resisted zone fares and seemingly with good reason. (And a good reason isn’t the MTA’s excuse that it would be hard or costly to retrofit MetroCard machinery. That technology will be on the way out soon enough, and its replacement should be capable of handling dynamic pricing.)

When I last delved into the issue, I discussed the city’s economic distribution of households. Zone fares work elsewhere because, by and large, the richer riders live farther away from the central business district. Many of the subways that use zone fares travel through inner cities to richer suburbs, but in New York, the richest people live closest to, if not entirely within, the central business district. In fact, many New Yorkers who don’t live close to Manhattan cannot afford to and may also have little say in their housing matters.

In arguing against zone fares two years ago, I explored these issues with a backdrop of an income distribution map:

If you were to overlay a subway map on top of this socioeconomic representation of the city, it becomes tougher to justify a zone fare. Suddenly, the richest folks in the city are the ones who are closest to work and can most afford to pay higher. In Brooklyn, the poorest residents down in the Coney Island area live furthest away, and in Queens, Astoria and its neighbors to the south are richer than those from Flushing who are further away from the city.

Only in the Bronx would a distance-based fare make sense because incomes rise as we head north, but even then, the folks in the South Bronx make around 18 percent of what those who live in the East and West 80s in Manhattan do. If the subway is supposed to be a public good that allows for people of any income bracket to get to their jobs in a cost-efficient way, New York’s socioeconomics seem to make a zone- or distance-based fare highly problematic.

Today, a similar graphical representation of the subway system is making the rounds. In a brief post meant to spur discussion, The New Yorker posted a graphical representation of income by and across individual subway lines. The visuals — intended to show income inequality in New York City — are striking. Subway routes cross the East River and jump by multiple tax brackets.

Let’s take a look at the N train:


Based on recent Census data, the median income around the N’s southern terminus is just $34,000. It doesn’t climb above $48,000 until the Atlantic Ave.-Barclays Center stop at the meeting point of three very well-off Brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods. The media income around 59th St. of $171,000 is over five times higher than it is around Coney Island. The A train is even more dramatic seesaw as it runs from the Rockaways, where media income dips to as low as $18,000, to Tribeca where income peaks at $205,000 a year.

Now, it’s no secret that lower Manhattan is the land of the rich, and the outer boroughs see incomes decrease as one travels to the outer rings of the city. But these visuals are stark reminders of this reality. If the subway is designed partially as a public good that enables people to traverse the distance between work and home while living within their means, zone fares don’t work here. It doesn’t make sense and it isn’t fair to charge poorer people more to ride the subways and rich people less. Until we can reorganize where people can afford to live, the subway fare should remain a flat one.

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Matt April 17, 2013 - 1:18 am

Has anyone ever floated the idea of reverse zone fares?

BBnet3000 April 17, 2013 - 8:06 am

On a per-mile basis thats essentially what we already have. It kind of makes sense because the marginal cost of your trip (riding in the most congested part of the system if you get on in the last few stops before midtown) is very high.

Eric Brasure April 17, 2013 - 10:52 am

Also what I was thinking. The layout of the subway system and the city makes any fare zones problematic to lay out. Like, okay, I think making a case for, say, Manhattan below 86th Street to be the highest fare, but where do you put zone 2? The median income in Long Island City is much higher than the medium income in Greenpoint but they’re literally right next to each other.

Plus making reverse fare zones puts a high cost on tourists.

Okay actually now I like this idea.

Of course reverse fare zones could be introduced and marketed as “fair zones”! 😀

Alon Levy April 17, 2013 - 2:39 pm

No, because the idea creates the same perversity of airline fares in which flying New York-London costs more than New York-London-Nice. Be nice to your customers; don’t stick them with price discrimination or else they’ll do everything to avoid using your services. The tourists can take taxis. The subway is not as necessary for them as flying is for people crossing oceans.

Bolwerk April 17, 2013 - 3:10 pm

Airline economics are pretty wanky, but I don’t think the kind of yield management they exploit transfers to railroads very easily. Certainly tracking discrete user behavior for the purpose of setting each user’s price is impossible on a subway. Maybe it can be weakly pulled off on long-distance railroads.

I think London/Nice works like this: London is in more demand than Nice, so prices can be higher. The monopolistic-competitive higher prices mean a supply-demand equilibrium that doesn’t fill all empty seats, so those can be filled by lower-paying Nice-bound passengers more easily than by risking a fine corporate reputation by publicly offering cheap London seats after so many people paid the premium. (They can still offer price-sensitive regular customers they have a rapport with a discount to London.)

It’s unfortunate for those of us who prefer British food (!), but it’s hardly perverse. OTOH, it arguably does create space for getting to less popular destinations….

Alon Levy April 17, 2013 - 4:47 pm

It’s competition, not demand. A New York-London-Nice flight consumes every service provided by the airline as a New York-London flight, plus some more. The price is lower because there’s more competition because you could connect at many other cities in Europe, and could even fly direct (once a day). In contrast, New York-London has less competition, so companies overcharge.

Bolwerk April 17, 2013 - 9:06 pm

It’s not either/or. Airline flights are heavily segmented into different demand categories (e.g., executives, business travelers, families on vacation, students, etc.) to maximize sales. Each segment has different price points. I would guess that no segment can account for the majority of probable demand on a typical flight, but someone connecting to Nice through London probably has characteristics that aren’t the same as the person who flies direct to Nice (or makes a longer connection through, say, Rome or Dulles or something).

Such is important to airlines because each empty seat that takes off is a lost opportunity (I think the term is “perished”), and even heavily discounted flights are very profitable after they cover their high fixed costs. Meanwhile, a railroad probably always wants some empty seats for whoever gets on the next stop.

Andre L. April 22, 2013 - 5:38 am

On most transatlantic city pairs, travelling with a transfer, sometimes more, is cheaper than any direct flight available because there is a premium on direct flight and an incentive for airlines to charge less for indirect flights.

If airfares were priced strictly on basis of some sort of distance-based fee, nobody would, say, take a flight from New York to London via Zürich or Frankfurt (why pay more and take more time?). But the airlines based in Zürich and Frankfurt which operate from there to both London and NYC can only capture part of the NYC-London market if they charge less than direct options.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that model.

John-2 April 17, 2013 - 1:45 am

Subway zoned fares in New York are the ultimate non-starter, in that no NYC politician would dare even try to justify it.

The other problem, logistically, is the variety of NYC route options make a linear fare increase based on stops from the core business district not easy to calculate (i.e; the zone fare considerations WMATA has to deal with in one situation — Blue Line vs. Yellow Line from Pentagon to L’Enfant Plaza — would be multiplied many times over by New York’s criss-crossing lines.

Nyland8 April 17, 2013 - 6:06 am

Well put, Benjamin. Promoting zoned fares on the subway is yet another way to make war on the poor, and frankly should never be considered – not even to New Jersey. And pricing should always seek to promote mass transit – never discourage it.

Ryan April 17, 2013 - 7:52 am

Did anyone ever think of putting the highest zone fares in the centre of the city, with the cheaper fares in the outer boroughs?

Benjamin Kabak April 17, 2013 - 7:55 am

Seriously, enough. Enough. You just rephrased and repeated the first comment in this thread without adding a single new thing to the dialogue. Why do you keep doing this? For now, I’m going to hold all of your comments in moderation and approve when I see fit. If you care to discuss it further, you can get in touch here, but I’ve given you more than enough chances to stop. And you haven’t.

JMB April 17, 2013 - 9:26 am

And the crowd goes wild! Seriously, he is the worst. At first I thought he was trolling and would eventually get serious, but weeks have gone by and the quality of discourse on these threads always suffers when he comes around. I’d have more respect for his opinion if he would at least change his handle to ‘Capt. Obvious’

John April 17, 2013 - 12:47 pm

BENJAMIN KABAK FTW! Be still my heart.

Ryan April 17, 2013 - 7:57 am

(With apologies to Billy Strayhorn and via The New Yorker)

Actually, Duke Ellington was the original artist.

Benjamin Kabak April 17, 2013 - 7:58 am

I let this one through so I can tell you how you’re wrong. Billy Strayhorn wrote “Take the A Train.” Do some research.

SEAN April 17, 2013 - 9:34 am


Is there a line by line breakdown similar to the N example above that can be accessed?

For what it’s worth, I also thaught Duke Elington composed Take the A Train as the NYS Museum in Albany once had an exhibit of an A train that ran under the building. The ad for it ran on WNEW-TV & in the ad the voice over says in part “as Duke Elington’s song celebrates the ride.” So please correct me if I’m wrong.

Benjamin Kabak April 17, 2013 - 9:35 am

The originator of the lyrics is up for debate, but Billy Strayhorn composed the song. He was Ellington’s right hand man and composed many of the songs made popular by Ellington and his orchestra.

SEAN April 17, 2013 - 10:05 am

Oh, I see. Thanks for that info.

Hoosac April 17, 2013 - 1:35 pm

The story goes that Strayhorn was coming to see Ellington in Harlem for the first time, and asked for directions. Ellington told him to take the A train, and the rest is history.

SEAN April 17, 2013 - 9:57 am


You braught up an interesting point regarding zone fares on the subway & that is wealth distribution. As you point out, NYC’s wealthiest residents tend to live closer to the hart of the city. This is an atipical arangement as compared to other metro areas, but I can come up with a few others that somewhat fit that profile on a smaller scale.

1. Sanfrancisco’s downtown area / finantial district.
2 Chicago’s loop & north loop. 3. Portland’s Pearl & northwest districts & downtown. 4. Downtown Seattle east along I-90 through Bellevue a distance of 11-miles. I’m sure there are areas I’m missing.

Benjamin Kabak April 17, 2013 - 9:59 am

These days, because of the urban renaissance, most cities actually fit the patterns of New York. Traditional inner cities have become much more desirable places to live, and the suburbs have become comparatively cheaper. Transit inequality mapped against these socioeconomic demographics is becoming a big issue.

SEAN April 17, 2013 - 10:14 am

I’ve read research suggesting what your last comment indicates, but I still wonder why there’s still exceptance of the falicy that most americans are still moving to the suburbs in great numbers.

Tsuyoshi April 17, 2013 - 12:52 pm

Well, most people still do live in the suburbs, and most new people (immigrants and babies) end up in the suburbs. What is happening recently is that the trend is starting to reverse, especially among the middle class.

petey April 17, 2013 - 4:33 pm

this is extremely true in philadelphia.

SEAN April 17, 2013 - 4:54 pm

Oh I know. The city of Philadelphia is offering a property tax abaitment for the various rowhouses & condos in the southwest section near Graduate Hospital zip 19146.

Andrew April 18, 2013 - 12:06 am

Internationally, I don’t think it’s atypical at all. The central city, where land values are highest, are where the wealthiest tend to live. As the distance from the center increases, land values drop and so do incomes.

My gut feeling is that, in the vast majority of cities worldwide with zone fares, incomes roughly follow this pattern.

Nathanael April 18, 2013 - 10:19 am

There’s funny stuff in London like Tower Hamlets (poor) right next to The City (barely any residents at all).

BBnet3000 April 17, 2013 - 8:35 am

This is a reason why it would be very nice to integrate the commuter railroads much better into the fare system. If the wealthier people from far out want to get into Midtown fast, they can pay a bit more (essentially like a higher zoned fare). People do this already to some extent but not having to buy a separate ticket (note that Metrocards just got time+money) would help for impulse trips.

MichaelB April 17, 2013 - 9:00 am

I find it interesting to compare these charts to the census districts (available here: http://maps.nyc.gov/census/). In most cases I doubt it makes a tremendous difference, but the census tracts are generally much smaller than the areas that the subway stops typically draw passengers from. And in some cases there are funny quirks where they aren’t particularly square. E.g. in Long Island City it has residents of the waterfront walking right past Vernon-Jackson to Hunters point because tract 1 wraps around tract 7.

Larry Littlefield April 17, 2013 - 9:16 am

This also shows why the minimum wage should be higher in Manhattan, the richest county in the country based on both the incomes of those who live there and the earnings of those who who work there.

Those who provide services to the affluent cannot afford to live there, and must pay for long transit rides.

The same may be said for Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland and Putnam.

SEAN April 17, 2013 - 10:02 am

I thaught the wealthiest counties in the nation are in DC. Well at least 6 of the top 25 are.

Larry Littlefield April 17, 2013 - 12:05 pm

That depends on if you are measuring by the mean, pulled up by lots of rich people, or the median, pulled down if you have poor people.

There are still enough housing projects in Manhattan to pull down the median below the DC suburbs. Based on the mean, however, Manhattan is off the charts.

I wrote about this, with the data included, recently on “Saying the Unsaid in New York.”

Bolwerk April 17, 2013 - 9:48 am

I say throw the zone masturbaters a bone: the subway can be zone 1, and the commuter railroads can be concentric zones spreading out from there.

Ari April 17, 2013 - 9:59 am

Isn’t that what we already have, more or less?

Bolwerk April 17, 2013 - 10:24 am

I guess, if less coherent, but I was trying to imply that the commuter railroads should be integrated, which they’re not. A trip from Flushing-Main should be the same on LIRR or Subway.

Ant6n April 17, 2013 - 11:35 am

Integration would also mean that within zone 1, the commuter rail should not cost more than the subway.

Theorem Ox April 17, 2013 - 10:59 am

Not by a long shot! The weekend City Ticket program and intra-Bronx travel on the Metro-North comes closest, but those options are available only if it fits a very limited window of time and destination routing.

Compare your $2.50 fare (assuming you already have a valid Metrocard) that carries transfer privileges with:

The “Express Bus” that services communities generally served by the subway on both ends (e.g.: Forest Hills/Far Rockaway to Midtown, many Bronx routes). That’s $6 flat.

The LIRR to Flushing/Jamaica? On weekends, it’s $4. On weekdays, it’s anywhere from $5.75 to $9.50 depending on the time of day. No transfer privileges and penalties apply if you don’t pre-pay your fare.

The Metro North to the City Line in the Bronx? On weekends, it’s $3 (intra-Bronx travel only) or $4 (from Manhattan). On weekdays, it’s anywhere from $3 to $8.25 depending on where you board and the time of day. No transfer privileges and penalties apply if you don’t pre-pay your fare.

Nathanael April 18, 2013 - 10:18 am

“the subway can be zone 1, and the commuter railroads can be concentric zones spreading out from there.”

That would be OK. It would eliminate the weirdness of high “commuter railroads” fares on lines in the city.

Ari April 17, 2013 - 10:06 am

Logistics and politics aside, I like the idea of zoned fares. When practical, people should pay the true costs of products/services. Progressive policies should be left to income taxes, etc.

Bolwerk April 17, 2013 - 11:13 am

Most bad policy ideas aren’t so bad until you throw in logistics and politics. :-\

I don’t see the appeal though. Some kind of distance-based fare makes sense over long distances, sure, mainly because the logistics are different. For a subway ride, the point is moving crowds of people over relatively short distances (in the vast majority of cases, probably less than a mile) in a short, efficient manner. This can be done more easily without zones.

Meanwhile, there isn’t really a downside to not having zones. Letting people who live further away ride for the same price doesn’t have the negative externalities – economic or environmental – of paying them to drive, which is what we usually do. At most, it imposes a physical constraint on people closer in – who arguably need the service less anyway.

Nathanael April 18, 2013 - 10:16 am

Overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue line from people boarding in the Bronx, creating inferior service for those trying to board in Manhattan.

I rest my case. There is a downside to not having zones.

AG April 18, 2013 - 10:42 am

“Overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue line from people boarding in the Bronx, creating inferior service for those trying to board in Manhattan.”

wow – what a statement… one of the most arrogant I’ve read on here.
so the ppl of the Bronx are “inferior” to those in Manhattan??? how about the ppl in Manhattan walk and not crowd out the ppl from the Bronx?

BenW April 18, 2013 - 11:54 am

Seriously? You’re getting from “inferior service because of crowding” to “service dragged down by inferior people?” That’s not a small jump. And on the subject of arrogance… I used to commute from W 134th to midtown east, and subsequently from 134th to Brooklyn, on various combinations of the 1 and the west side IND lines (thankfully, less crowded than the 4/5)—I am young and healthy and perfectly able to stand up for the first half of my ride, but telling me that I should walk 4.5 miles to work isn’t exactly on, and I don’t see why people in East Harlem would feel any differently about that.

AG April 18, 2013 - 2:27 pm

yes – because that is exactly how it sounded…
guess what happens to Bronx riders in the evening going home? Most have to stand up through Manhattan. That’s life.
Next you’ll tell me that it’s not fair ppl in southern wWstchester don’t get comfy seats because of all the ppl from Connecticut on the Metro North New Haven line… Or does that not matter since they are not Manhattan-ites?

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 2:35 pm

I can’t see how you can stretch the comment to imply anything about the nature of the people period. He adjective “inferior” was followed by the noun “service,” not “people.” All Nathanael was saying was, if the crowds from The Bronx weren’t there, Manhattan riders would have a better ride. That’s true, though it is more an argument for building more capacity to The Bronx than for zones.

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 10:47 am

Inferior -> having to stand.

OK, guess that’s a downside, but it’s not a very important one until there is literally no room to board in Manhattan.

BenW April 18, 2013 - 11:55 am

So it’s not a problem until the train gets to Grand Central, in other words. :-/

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 1:11 pm

I get that the amount of crowding sucks, but there is still room north of GCT. And of course the SAS will help….

addicted April 17, 2013 - 11:15 am

“True Cost” – Biggest bit of BS that has been perpetuated.

#1) There is probably no such thing. Anyways, there is no way to determine such a thing.
#2) What about benefits? Pricing based simply on “true cost” completely ignores benefits. The people who are taking the subway are not taking a car into the city. How (and will?) you pass the benefits of removing a marginal car from trying to enter and leave Manhattan during rush hour who is taking the subway in instead? Or do you want Sandy style, “Only cars with >3 passengers are allowed over bridges” restrictions to be imposed?
#3) Massive, massive external benefits of the subway. Who is benefiting from those? Not just subway riders. Everyone. Forget the environmental benefits. This city cannot run without the subway. I mean, I find it amazing that after Sandy we are discussing increasing MTA fares, instead of having car riders pay toll for the bridges they use into the city.
#4) Why aren’t we talking about “true costs” of cars? Again, ignoring all the geopolitical and environmental costs of driving cars, how about the fact that we are giving cars basically free leases to some of the most expensive real estate in the world through Free PArking on streets? And what about the bridges and roads that they use?

addicted April 17, 2013 - 11:15 am

@Ari – Apologies for the rant. I know you meant well, but you just happened to trigger one of my biggest pet peeves 🙂

J_12 April 17, 2013 - 11:47 am

A rider traveling on the A train from Far Rockaway to midtown doesn’t cost the system more than one getting on at 14th street, at least not in any meaningful sense.
Peak time riders are what cost more.
If anything, a time-based system of peak and off-peak fares makes the most sense.
This would also be easy to implement and understand, even for tourists.
I guess the unlimited metro-card might need some massaging (all access card vs. off-peak only card), but the ability to store both time and value on the card should allow people to carry cards that are unlimited off-peak and pay per ride during peak hours.

alen April 17, 2013 - 12:07 pm

you can do what LIRR does. monthly tickets ride peak with no fare increase. charge more for the pay per use cards during peak hours at some stations.

Tsuyoshi April 17, 2013 - 1:04 pm

Yes, higher peak fares would be something worth doing. Although to a certain extent, the unlimited card already performs something of the same role, because if you already have an unlimited card for commuting use, it’s “free” for you to use the subway on evenings and weekends when it’s less crowded.

You could (less plausibly) take this idea further and charge more to go on the most crowded routes (all of Division A, plus E and L, as I recall). But then you get into the problem that less crowded routes often use the same platform as crowded routes (e.g. the M uses some of the same platforms as the E).

Nyland8 April 17, 2013 - 1:49 pm

One man’s peak is another man’s off-peak. Should we be subsidizing night shift workers?

Eric Brasure April 17, 2013 - 2:46 pm

That’s a side effect and not a very meaningful one. You’d also be subsidizing college students who go out and get drunk on a Wednesday night. Peak fare pricing would be about making concrete the greater cost to the system that peak time riders place on it.

Nyland8 April 17, 2013 - 4:05 pm

“You’d also be subsidizing college students who go out and get drunk on a Wednesday night.”

Thanks for making my point. I’m not the one advocating different fare rates – you are.

Eric Brasure April 17, 2013 - 4:10 pm


I understood your point. It’s just not a valid concern because it’s not the point of peak fare pricing. The load issues involved at peak times are real.

Eric Brasure April 17, 2013 - 4:11 pm

Oh, you’re the same poster who posted the nonsensical “what if rider refuse to leave the system” comment. Okay, nevermind!

Bolwerk April 17, 2013 - 9:15 pm

They’re every bit as worth subsidizing as tourists and people catching late shows.

Alon Levy April 17, 2013 - 2:43 pm

A rider traveling on the A train from Far Rockaway to midtown doesn’t cost the system more than one getting on at 14th street, at least not in any meaningful sense.

Here’s a totally meaningful sense in which you are wrong: if there’s very little ridership at the tail and a lot of ridership in the core, then they can short-turn trains.

J_12 April 17, 2013 - 3:17 pm

Ok, granted that is true.
I should have qualified that under the current operating paradigm, in which the entire run gets served, the marginal cost of a rider does not scale with distance traveled.

If you want to talk about short-running trains to respond to demand, skip-stops, etc, then it changes the picture.

Alon Levy April 17, 2013 - 4:54 pm

Short-turn and skip-stop are very different, because short-turns save a lot more operating hours.

It’s actually quite common to do short-turns. In New York they do something like it a lot near yards, e.g. some rush hour 1s turn at 137th or go directly from 238th to the yard. Because there’s more inner-urban than outer-urban demand, there has to be some way of avoiding empty trains at the outer end. New York employs a couple – branching (more frequency in the inner neighborhoods), short-turns (ditto), building rapid transit only as far out as can support very high frequency (leading to overcrowding entering Flushing and Jamaica), etc.

Andrew April 18, 2013 - 12:17 am

J_12’s example has short-turns at present: the Lefferts branch, while not a pure short-turn, is much shorter than the Far Rockaway branch, and the C short-turns at Euclid.

If a large number of Far Rockaway riders were to move closer to Manhattan, some Far Rockaway trains could be turned into Lefferts trains, reducing costs, or turned into C trains, reducing costs even more.

ajedrez April 18, 2013 - 1:43 pm

The C likely wouldn’t be any cheaper than the Lefferts A, because it makes more stops (causes more wear-and-tear), and the runtime is a little longer (at least I think. I haven’t checked the schedules).

Andrew April 24, 2013 - 9:04 pm

Ignoring the segment of the A north of 168th, the running time from 168th to Lefferts on the express is 63 minutes and the running time from 168th to Euclid on the local is also 63 minutes. (That’s based on a quick glance at two midday southbound trips – I haven’t done a detailed study, and there may be some variation.) So it’s a wash.

The C has slightly more wear and tear on the doors and brakes, but the A has greater mileage. I don’t know which has the greater impact on maintenance costs.

In any case, both the C and the Lefferts A are clearly cheaper to operate than the Far Rock A.

Bolwerk April 17, 2013 - 9:10 pm

You can get the advantages of peak and off-peak fares by careful discounting. If someone buys 30 round trips in a month to cover their 9-5 work habits and gets a lot of off-peak trips as a bonus (the bonus being represented, as the MTA does, in extra $ on the card), you basically get the same thing – the caveat being, maybe you have to cause the card to expire at the end of the period.

Andrew April 18, 2013 - 12:15 am

Of course it does. How much is the MTA spending to rebuild the line to the Rockaways? That work is only of benefit to people riding to or from the Rockaways. Contrast that to the work after Sandy of pumping the water out of the Cranberry tunnel, which benefited everybody who rides the A or C between Manhattan and Brooklyn. More generally, the closer a piece of fixed infrastructure is to the CBD, the more valuable it is to the riders – the cost to maintain a piece of infrastructure far out, divided by the number of riders who make use of it, can be quite high.

A rider getting on at 14th Street doesn’t pass through the peak load point, while a rider traveling from Far Rockaway to Midtown does. The rider getting on at 14th Street effectively doesn’t cost the system anything, because the space he occupies on the train was previously occupied by somebody else who got off in Lower Manhattan.

alen April 17, 2013 - 12:31 pm

how would the MTA enforce zoned fares? some of the trains are so full there is no way a conductor will walk through it?

swiping a metrocard on the way out is just as dumb as it will create mass confusion and wait times at busy stations.

Tsuyoshi April 17, 2013 - 1:11 pm

Having to swipe on the way out of the system is standard practice on every passenger rail system in Japan, from municipal subways to long distance high speed trains.

It works fine there, although I guess you could make the argument that there would be more confusion here (many, many more tourists and immigrants).

alen April 17, 2013 - 4:08 pm

bad enough i have to wait for the retarts that take 5 seconds to swipe. i will have to wait for those that will only start to look for their card when they get to the gate. then its take it out, carefully swipe like its some achievement and only then go.

and on busy stations you will have people trying to enter the platform area causing chaos. people already push the emergency exit gate so they don’t have to wait to exit.

Benjamin Kabak April 17, 2013 - 4:13 pm

This is a most ridiculous counterargument because we’re clearly not talking about using swipe-based MetroCards. We’re talking about a next-gen tap-based fare payment system that somehow manages to work in zone-based transit systems throughout the world.

alen April 17, 2013 - 4:21 pm

go ahead, if having to fight people just to get on the E train goes up in price i might just start driving into manhattan a little more often. i’m already planning to do it once a week. i’ve been checking traffic on my phone the last week and some days its faster to drive than take the subway.

i’ll just up my parking benefits from work

Benjamin Kabak April 17, 2013 - 4:24 pm

Leave New York for a little bit and tell me if you’re fighting to get through crowds to enter the subway as people exit. Spoiler alert: You’re not.

But honestly, my entire point is that we should not have exit taps or zoned fares. So you’re creating a straw man to argue against.

alen April 17, 2013 - 4:30 pm

i split between LIRR and subway. on mondays or tuesdays if i have to work on the west side and my wife has to work in manhattan i’m looking at driving in from queens.

the trip back home is not bad, but after 8am on roosevelt ave the E trains come so packed that sometimes you can’t squeeze in. and if you do its very uncomfortable. or i have to take the F and walk an extra 5 or 10 minutes.

google says the same commute driving will take 30 minutes. if i have to pay more i won’t give it a second thought.

Nyland8 April 17, 2013 - 4:46 pm

There’s an unexpected upside. When the laser reads the UPC bar code tattooed on the backs of our necks to debit our accounts at the exiting station, it will force everyone in the subway system to drop their hoodie for a close up picture.

Crime will drop


SEAN April 17, 2013 - 5:05 pm

Take off your tinfoil hat, it’s too tight. You sound like Alex Jones or Glen Beck.

Now take a deep breath, now exhale, welcome back to reality. Repeat as nessessary.

Nyland8 April 17, 2013 - 5:11 pm

Still “never-minding” I see.

Oh. Now I get it. You took that comment seriously. I guess the smile at the end of it eluded you.

That often happens with people who take themselves too seriously. Be sure and let me know when you grow out of that.

Or not.

SEAN April 17, 2013 - 7:07 pm

Unfortunately I’m legally blind, so as a result I missed the smiley face. That’s why I reacted that way. That’s a big problem with blogs & other online communication. sometimes you miss criticle nuances of language.

Nyland8 April 17, 2013 - 8:46 pm

Hmm. One would think that going through life missing smiley faces would make you more tolerant, less reactionary, and less inclined to assume you knew who was serious and who wasn’t.

But I totally agree. It is often difficult to know where the commenter is coming from. And quite often folks are writing tongue-in-cheek, smiling as they post – never putting a smiley face on their comment.

Blogs are an easy place to be misunderstood. I’m sure I do it all the time. They are not for the thin-skinned. And most of the posters here don’t seem to be.

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 7:41 am

He told you why he misunderstood. Is it really necessary to take a dump on him?

SEAN April 18, 2013 - 8:43 am

Thanks Bolwerk.

Trust me I’m not thin skinned at all as I LOVE to pull a good old fashend practicle joke every so often.

Now with Ryan’s anoying posts, I’m more alert to what seme to be crazy comments. Hense me missing the humor above.

Nyland8 April 17, 2013 - 5:13 pm

Or was I thinking of someone else?

Nyland8 April 17, 2013 - 2:02 pm

That is correct. And what if the riders simply refuse to pay going out, remaining in the station until there is no room for the next train to empty out. What will the TA do? Extradite them? Force them back onto a train from whence they came? They can’t arrest them – they haven’t done anything wrong. They can’t just keep them there. It would be unlawful imprisonment.

They’d have to let them exit – in which case the fare-to-exit system collapses.

Bolwerk April 17, 2013 - 2:46 pm

I don’t see the legal problem. You let people exit either with an invoice or, in extreme cases, a summons. It’s more or less what commuter railroads do when you can’t pay your ticket.

Zones wouldn’t work in New York because the system wasn’t designed for zones, point blank. And that’s before considering politics.

Eric Brasure April 17, 2013 - 2:47 pm

What? Would would do that? You may as well ask, “why charge fares, some people will farejump.”

Nyland8 April 17, 2013 - 4:15 pm

I assume you meant to write “Would you do that?”

It depends on the circumstances, the degree of victimization of the poor, and the extent to which it discourages mass-transit use.

But yes – of course I would. I’ve publicly protested things potentially less significant than that.

And no, challenging unfair pricing is NOT the same as asking “Why charge fares … ” at all.

Eric Brasure April 17, 2013 - 4:29 pm

I haven’t seen anyone here in favor of traditional zone pricing, in fact, this entire comment thread started with the assumption that such a system would never work in New York precisely because it would be a regressive fare increase on poorer New Yorkers.

Your original nonsensical comment was in response to someone who stated that exit swiping would cause “mass confusion”, not because of any political or economic considerations.

Nyland8 April 17, 2013 - 4:40 pm

To which I responded, “That is correct. And … ”

What’s the matter? You didn’t like my response to your question? Now you’ve hurt my feelings.

Whatever happened to, ” … OK never mind.” I guess you have a short attention span to observing your own editorial positions.

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 9:40 am

I don’t really get your point either. I realize, and I think Andrew realizes, that it isn’t a simple change to make. I don’t really think it’s worth it to see it happen, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work if the technical changes needed were accomplished – in the end, they would just be very expensive for little in the way of added benefit.

Nathanael April 18, 2013 - 10:14 am

The added benefit would be substantial even if you retained the flat fare structure. It allows the MTA to actually figure out the traffic patterns — where people are connecting between.

Nathanael April 18, 2013 - 10:14 am

(Added benefit of “swipe in swipe out” that is.)

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 10:51 am

That’d be nice, but I suspect fairly accurate patterns can already be established with statistical analyses.

Meanwhile, spending perhaps billions$ for swipe-in/swipe-out without even getting revenue for zones seems even dumber. :-p

Andrew April 18, 2013 - 12:20 am

What happens on the Washington Metro or on BART or on the London Underground or on the Paris RER or on AirTrain, to name but a few systems that require exit swipes?

Nyland8 April 18, 2013 - 6:47 am

Non sequitur. This is not Washington, or London, or Paris and the AirTrain is a completely different system under a design/build/operate contract.

Andrew April 18, 2013 - 7:01 am

Brilliant argument. I forgot that New Yorkers who ride the subway are a different species from Washingtonians and San Franciscans and Londoners and Parisians and New Yorkers who ride AirTrain.

Nyland8 April 18, 2013 - 8:20 am

I don’t recall characterizing New Yorkers as a different species, and feeble straw man arguments are a waste of time with me.

But thanks for the “brilliant” complement.

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 9:41 am

Somehow I accidentally put my reply to this in the wrong thread.

Andrew April 24, 2013 - 9:25 pm

Then why do you assume that riders would refuse to pay going out, when that’s exactly what they do at plenty of other systems around the world, including two others right here in New York?

(The second, which only occurred to me today, is the Staten Island Railway, where nobody seems to object to having to swipe out at St. George, even though an entire trainload at a time has only a few minutes to catch the ferry and bus connections.)

Nyland8 April 25, 2013 - 8:45 am

Assume? The only thing I assume is that most people will continue to be sheep. My question was a hypothetical. You can tell by the words ” … what if … ?”

Many working mornings I’ll exit the 2,3 platform at Penn Station, descend the stairs, and watch 75%+ of that staircase’s exiting riders race through the “Emergency Exit” door. The evening rush toward Penn Station is even more desperate. Everybody rushes toward it as if their life depended on not missing their homeward bound commuter rail – or maybe it’s just to get their choice of seats.

I think every station in the system would have to more-than quadruple the number of turnstiles for a swipe-out system. Once the E exit is open, you can’t even get the homeward bound to use the turnstiles in the most remote stations – unless you plan to have enforcement there – which is yet another expense.

Andrew April 25, 2013 - 10:18 pm

Ten years ago, there were no emergency exits, and guess what – everybody managed fine. People take advantage of the emergency exits now simply because they’re available. If they cease to be available, people will figure out what to do.

I agree that there aren’t nearly enough turnstiles at present to handle exit swipes, and I’ve pointed that out as a serious practical barrier to zone fares in New York. But even if they can’t be practically implemented right now in New York, the idea of zone fares is still a good one.

AG April 18, 2013 - 10:11 am

Ummm – I think he was talking about the systems and not the ppl. NYC subway only operates in NYC… it doesn’t serve the suburbs like many other systems if different cities.

Andrew April 24, 2013 - 9:31 pm

What difference does an arbitrary political boundary make?

Besides, both AirTrain and SIR fall entirely within New York City, and nearly all of the London Underground, at least six zones’ worth, falls within Greater London (the area under the jurisdiction of the Mayor of London).

Ant6n April 17, 2013 - 12:54 pm

So I found all this clicking about a bit cumbersome, so I hacked at it a bit and out fell a single graph of all the lines:
(at the bottom of the post)

John April 17, 2013 - 1:02 pm

Did anyone else notice that the New Yorker piece doesn’t include stops east of Rockaway Blvd toward Lefferts on the A? They also don’t include the stops on the Prospect Park or Rockaway Park shuttles.

A bunch of my friends were curious about the sharp drop at Montrose Av on the L, which is where we live. We were wondering what that’s about, and I was thinking that maybe it’s due to the large amount of NYCHA developments nearby, but the Grand St and Montrose Av stops have the Williamsburg Houses sandwiched between them, and this doesn’t appear to be affecting Grand St. Just curious if anyone else had thoughts about that.

ajedrez April 18, 2013 - 1:56 pm

They do it by census tract. If the PJs are in a seperate tract, and that tract isn’t included in the calculations (because they only use one tract, which is a problem when a lot of stations are on the border between two or more tracts), then the income will be higher.

I think in general, Bushwick is a poorer neighborhood than East Williamsburg anyway.

Billy G April 17, 2013 - 2:15 pm

Well, the cost of maintaining that outer track should be borne by those that use it.

Also, if all of you socialists REALLY want to soak the rich, just change the fare gate price at the stations in Manhattan to a much higher amount. The poor outer-borough users only have to pay it once to get out of Manhattan.

Eric Brasure April 17, 2013 - 2:49 pm

If we were going to do reverse fare zone pricing, it would have to be based on where you enter, not where you exit.

Billy G April 17, 2013 - 4:15 pm

Bronxite #1 gets on at Woodlawn 2.25
Bronxite #2 gets on at 138th St. 2.25
Manhattanite #1 gets on at 86th St. 3.50
Bronxite #2 gets off at 86th St, no cost
Suburbanite gets on at GC, 4.00
Bronxite #1 gets off at GC, no cost
Manhattanite #1 gets off at 14th St, no cost
Suburbanite gets off at BBCH, no cost

Suburbanite gets on at BBCH, no cost (hey, it’s government, they’re better than us, amirite?)
Manhattanite #1 gets on at 14th St, 3.50
Bronxite #1 gets on at GC, 4.00
Bronxite #2 gets on at 86th St, 3.50
When they get off, no cost

So, breakdown:
Bronxite #1: 2.25 + 4.00 = 6.25
Bronxite #2: 2.25 + 3.50 = 5.75
Manhattanite #1: 3.50 + 3.50 = 7
Suburbanite #1: 4.00 + 0 (gotta love subsidies!) = 4

That seems PERFECTLY fair and equitable 😉

Nyland8 April 17, 2013 - 4:19 pm

I appreciate the effort you took to compose that …

Rob April 17, 2013 - 3:55 pm

1. of course, it was not always a flat single fare to the Rockaways.

2. by Ben’s logic, should the commuter rails also have a flat fare? After all, the more affluent communities are close in [eg Great Neck, Scarsdale], and lesser one farther out.

Benjamin Kabak April 17, 2013 - 3:58 pm

I’m making a distinction here between services provided solely within New York City and those that cross county, town and city lines. The commuter rail network isn’t comparable here.

Alon Levy April 17, 2013 - 5:01 pm

Why not? Rail is rail. Don’t let agency and political boundaries define things too much.

Ant6n April 17, 2013 - 8:23 pm

Once you go just outside of the city boundaries where there’s commuter rail, the median household income probably rises quite a bit, and then falls off as you go far away. Poor people are probably priced out of the just out of city areas by a combination of higher transit fares + relatively high living expenses. As you go farther away, you get a similar effect with more and more shitty It’s a similar effect as what happens inside the city, but the commutes lowering housing costs. But then again there are zoned fares, so maybe those areas end up still being less poor than the ones in the Bronx etc.

One could probably create a simple model that given commute times and commute cost predicts median household income of an area fairly well.

Ant6n April 17, 2013 - 8:24 pm

typo: …effect with more and more shitty commutes.

Nathanael April 18, 2013 - 10:11 am

Yonkers is not well-to-do.

If we’re really designing fares on some kind of equity basis, Metro-North from 125th St. to Yonkers should cost the same as the subway.

AG April 18, 2013 - 10:36 am

Actually it’s only southwest Yonkers that is poor. Also – why should the fare be the same as the subway when it’s a much faster ride on the metro north???? I know ppl in Yonkers (and Mt. Vernon) who take the bus and use the free transfer to get on the #1 or #4 trains in the Bronx (#2 and #5 for Mt. Vernon). A trip on the Metro North from either location to 125th St. is a much faster trip… so if you want “fairness” in the fare – then it should cost more!

SEAN April 18, 2013 - 8:51 pm

Correct regarding Yonkers & Mount Vernon. As you move northward towards Hastings, Greenburgh, Bronxville & Eastchester, also eastward to Pelham & beyond Wealth jumps with exceptions in parts of New Rochelle & Port Chester.

The MTA has the power to block bus service that may take riders from the rail network even if such service could be beneficial. Compare this to NJ where almost every rail station has a corrasponding bus route, some of wich are opperated by private carriers such as Academy, Decamp or Coach USA.

AG April 18, 2013 - 10:43 pm

yeah – Yonkers and Mt. Vernon are the poorest parts of Westchester – but they are not all poor. In that regard – they almost mirror the Bronx which they border. They have southern sections that have poverty – but other corners of both There are areas of solid middle class homes (like a Woodlawn or Pelham Gardens in the BX)…and even portions where you find affluence (like Country Club and Riverdale in the BX)

not sure what you are saying about the MTA having power to block bus service. I was saying I know ppl who specifically take Bee-Line buses to the subway. They accept Metrocards and offer free transfers to the subway.

SEAN April 19, 2013 - 8:01 pm

That was exactly my point in regards to both Yonkers & Mount Vernon. As you travel through both cities north northeast, income rises substantially. Look at such areas as Tudor Woods in Yonkers or the Fleetwood section of Mount Vernon. Both areas have income levels that are way above there respective city averages. Infact Fleetwood often feels & behaves like it’s not part of Mount Vernon at all. Take a walk around there & you’ll see what I’m refering to, with numerous large homes on quiet streets like many nearby villages.

The MTA remark I made was ment to be a tie in between comments made up thread relating to the distance based fares & the perceived benefits that Westchester has vs areas within city limits. Part of that benefit is MNR’s speed, but there are areas of Westchester where access to the train isn’t practicle. So you would think the MTA would allow bus service in those areas. NJT opperates in that manner, but the MTA can prevent bus companies & counties from providing such service. That is why Bee-Line & NICE opperate to subway stations for the most part, although there are noted exceptions in Yonkers, Yorktown & on Central Avenue From White Plains as they don’t compete.

I should have been clearer, my bad.

AG April 20, 2013 - 10:25 pm

Well when I was comparing the similarities of Yonkers and Mt. Vernon to the Bronx… I was speaking from knowing all three from experience – not from looking at data. It’s not just Fleetwood – but also Chester Heights in Mt. Vernon…. or Crestwood in Yonkers (and parts close to Hastings that pretend they are not Yonkers)… it’s similar to Riverdale/Fieldston in the Bronx… I even recall watching a high end real estate show… and they showed a historic house on City Island listed for about $900k on City Island. They refused to mention “the Bronx” even though City Island is without a doubt a part of the borough. The said “historic City Island – only 30 minutes from midtown Manhattan”. Sad sad sad. In all fairness – that was the real estate company – because City Island ppl themselves are glad to say they are a part of the Bronx – (and so are neighborhoods like Country Club, Silver Beach, and Pelham Gardens).

As to the Bee Line buses… umm I think it depends on where. All of the major towns in Westchester has bus service that stops close to Metro North trains. You mentioned Yonkers and White Plains… but Mt. Vernon and New Rochelle both have several bus lines near the station(s). Even look at the #7 on the Bee Line… it runs literally from the Metro North in New Rochelle… passes both Mt. Vernon East AND West stations… and goes all the way to the Yonkers waterfront near the Yonkers Hudson line train. Off the top of my head – I also recall a few buses that stop right at the Port Chester station on the New Haven line as well.

ajedrez April 21, 2013 - 9:03 pm

I’m not seeing what you’re saying. Most parts of Westchester have some Bee Line route that connects them to the nearest MNRR station. Either they’re specific shuttles or just regular routes. Or are you referring to direct service to Manhattan?

@AG: That’s the #13 & #61 that go to Port Chester, plus the Stamford #11. The #76 used to go there, but was merged into the #13. The #61 goes from the residential part of Port Chester down to Fordham Plaza.

Andrew April 24, 2013 - 10:09 pm

The MTA doesn’t operate bus service in Westchester and doesn’t dictate bus routings in Westchester. Westchester County is free to route its Bee-Line buses as it sees fit.

AG April 25, 2013 - 10:54 am

Very true… and note that Bee Line uses Metro Card and gives free transfers to NYC subways.

Andrew April 24, 2013 - 10:07 pm

The fare on the A is the same as on the C, even though the A is faster than the C.

How is it rational to encourage people to take the bus to the subway when they could simply ride the railroad, probably at lower cost to the MTA?

AG April 25, 2013 - 10:49 am

Well I don’t know all of the figures involved… Though I personally think City Ticket should be all the time…. there is probably a reason it’s not. I’m not the MTA so I can’t answer. If ppl are talking paying more travelling distance – then speed should also count. If that’s the case all express trains should be more expensive. Personally – I don’t think it makes sense.
Keep the subway as one fare and make City Ticket permanent at all times (even though it’s $1 more).

Andrew April 25, 2013 - 10:33 pm

Why should speed count? If an express service is available, why should its potential riders be encouraged to ride the slower local, which has its own captive rider base at the local stations? I’m afraid I don’t see the benefit.

Simply making City Ticket available at all times would yield a significant revenue loss. What do you propose to offset it? And do you not see the great advantages to a unified fare system? If I normally ride the subway between the Bronx and Manhattan, I can buy an unlimited pass, but it’s only valid on the subway and bus. If one day Metro-North happens to be more convenient, I have to pay the full fare. Conversely, my neighbor, who normally rides Metro-North, has to pay full fare when she rides the subway. How does that make sense? If we paid for a ride between two points, we’d be able to choose whichever mode worked best for each trip – subway, commuter rail, or a combination thereof.

This isn’t something I’m dreaming up out of nowhere, by the way – it’s the standard fare structure in European cities.

AG April 26, 2013 - 7:33 pm

Well why should express fares be more? Well the same reason connecting flights are cheaper than direct flights. If the logic of distance is to be applied – then so should speed.

Why are you so sure there would be “significant revenue loss”? Did the MTA say so? PPL said that about discounts on Metro Card – and all it did was increase ridership. BUT – if it did… my solution would be congestion pricing as was proposed for cars and trucks below 59th Street (which should happen anyway).

Using your comparison for someone who rides the subway to Manhattan from Bronx versus using the Metro North – even if Met North is more comparison. Well in most things in life you pay a premium for convenience. Same logic as express fares. Though I’m not understanding what you are saying. Metro North and LIRR are both more expensive than the subway… so which fare should change? Should the subway fare in the city go up – or should the commuter rail come down to the cost of a subway fare? For the first part – that would go back to the “unfair” problem…. the second part would potentially do what you said and cause “substantial revenue loss” for the commuter rails.

This is not Europe (notice congestion pricing passed there but failed here in NY)… in the same way what is done in NYC doesn’t easily translate to Dallas.

Andrew April 18, 2013 - 12:21 am


Edgar April 17, 2013 - 7:12 pm

that’s pretty arbitrary.

Alon Levy April 17, 2013 - 5:28 pm

1. Yep. A reasonable zone fare should put the Rockaways in Zone 3, not Zone 2. (Zone 1 should be Manhattan only, just like in Berlin Zone A is the inner city, Zone B is the outer city, and Zone C is the suburbs, so that AB and BC tickets are both cheaper than ABC tickets.)

2. That’s… not exactly true. Long Island’s wealth pattern is more a north vs. south matter: Great Neck, Manhasset, and Oyster Bay are rich, while Hempstead, Long Beach, and the South Shore in general are much less so. In Metro-North territory the pattern is that Yonkers, New Rochelle, and Mount Vernon are working- to middle-class while the suburbs farther out are rich; Bridgeport and New Haven are the major exceptions, but New York-Bridgeport and especially New York-New Haven are practically intercity travel. (New Haven has the same ridership on a Saturday or a Sunday as on a weekday, and is the busiest MTA commuter rail station outside New York on weekends.)

SEAN April 18, 2013 - 9:01 pm

You are right regarding LI, but you are missing parts of Norwalk & Stamford wich are working class.

Parts of New Rochelle are quite wealthy including areas to the northwest towards Scarsdale & some areas off of Shore Road/ Pelham Road near Five Islands Park.

Kevin P. April 17, 2013 - 5:02 pm

The map is flawed and misleading. Take Canal Street on the R: they’re showing $136K probably because they picked a census tract in SoHo. But that station is heavily used by Chinatown residents, who tend to make a lot less — the median income at Grand Street is $43K. Also, many commuters at Kings Highway on the Brighton line earn enough to buy single-family homes in neighborhoods like Marine Park and take buses to the station. There’s all sorts of distortion in areas where the housing right near the station is more or less desirable than that of the surrounding neighborhood. It would have been far better to sample the actual users of each station.

Alon Levy April 17, 2013 - 5:32 pm


Let me also note that the richest census tracts on some lines tend to be in Lower Manhattan, which has very low residential population.

Edgar April 17, 2013 - 6:02 pm

This is silly. Inequality and transit fares are orthogonal issues. If you’re concerned about income inequality, there are better ways to return that money to the poor than having a one-zone fare. For instance, an income credit or rebate for riding the subway.

Poor people are also more affected by cigarette taxes. Is the right answer to not tax cigarettes, or to improve health coverage for the poor with the cigarette tax money?

The truth is, there are lots of riders the MTA is leaving on the table by not having reduced fares for shorter rides. In Hong Kong I might make a short 20-block trip within Kowloon for 50 cents, while in NYC I might decide to walk it instead of paying $2.50.

Benjamin Kabak April 17, 2013 - 6:04 pm

The MTA captures those short-ride passengers through unlimited ride card offerings.

Edgar April 17, 2013 - 7:09 pm

It doesn’t capture me that way, not by a long shot. It’s too expensive for the sort of short trips I make.

Edgar April 17, 2013 - 7:18 pm

You’re conflating two orthogonal issues again. Not all people who want to take short trips have to do so frequently enough to justify an unlimited.

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 7:36 am

20 blocks? The alternatives not involving biking and walking are all much more than $2.50.

Why would we want to clutter the subway with people only going 20 blocks anyway? If there is a place that might deserve a discount for such a short trip, it should probably be the surface transit system.

Andrew April 18, 2013 - 7:53 am

Because a short trip that doesn’t go through the peak load point essentially costs the system nothing, since that same train has to run anyway to handle the heavier loads elsewhere.. If it can bring in 50 cents or $1 of fare revenue for an unoccupied seat (or standing space) at no cost, why pass that up?

Bolwerk April 18, 2013 - 9:57 am

Fair point, but (1) he didn’t specify where or when and (2) the context of my comment was the NYC subway where that kind of discrimination is virtually impossible right now for reasons I’ve seen you mention in the past. I suspect it would be more plausible to achieve on the bus system, or at least SBS.

That said, I don’t necessarily have anything against the idea, though, depending on demand, it still might be more “profitable” to take the full $2.50, even if it means losing some riders. (Goes back to the difficulties of yield management on the subway….)

Andrew April 24, 2013 - 9:34 pm

A long trip from the outer reaches of the city to Manhattan almost certainly passes through the peak load point. A short 20-block jaunt most likely does not, and the cheapest fares on a well designed zone system would be for rides that don’t enter Manhattan at all.

Andrew April 24, 2013 - 9:37 pm

And my objections to implementing zones in New York are entirely pragmatic: the stations aren’t set up for them and the politics would be vicious. But do zones make sense? Absolutely, and in a perfect world we would have them.

Bolwerk May 7, 2013 - 2:40 pm

I understand. My point was a practical one too. If it were possible, I would not object to your idea.

The only cheapish way I can see to do it is with POP, which might be practical on the surface transit system and maybe SIRT. Cologne kind of does this, offering reduced fairs for going a few stops. The funny part is they rarely if ever inspect anyway.

AG April 18, 2013 - 10:27 am

That would only open a can of worms.

AG April 17, 2013 - 8:59 pm

who exactly is the MTA “leaving on the table by not having reduced fares for shorter rides”?? Taxis are more expensive – whether yellow in Manhattan or livery in the outer boroughs… The subways are packed to the gills for a reason… I don’t think ppl are being “left” unless there is no subway coverage near them.
If they choose to walk rather than buy an unlimited and only need a single trip – well that’s good for them because walking is good exercise.

Andrew April 18, 2013 - 12:22 am


Andrew April 18, 2013 - 12:02 am

There are several serious flaws in this argument:

1. The visualization is based on the census tract immediately surrounding each subway station. It ignores everyone who doesn’t live in immediate proximity to a subway station, including a good number of well-off neighborhoods. Large swaths of Brooklyn and Queens, and all of Staten Island, are simply excluded. Where lines are elevated, the census tract represented in the diagram is the particularly undesirable one adjacent to the noisy el. Meanwhile, stations in largely nonresidential areas are skewed by the small number of residents in the census tract.

2. Zone fare systems often, though not always, grant the lowest fares to trips entirely outside the CBD. While the high-paying jobs tend to be in Manhattan, the working class is more likely to travel within the outer boroughs (and is less likely to do so by car).

3. Peak period pricing, while not necessarily linked to zone fares, often go hand-in-hand, and they, too, would benefit the poor and working class, who are most likely to have off-hour commutes.

4. Zone fares set the stage for uniform pricing across modes. A ride from the Bronx to Grand Central on the Harlem line would cost no more than a similar ride on the 4 or 5 train.

5. A median household income is merely a median. Half the population in question makes more and half makes less. There are poor people who use stations in census tracts with high median household incomes and there are wealthy people who use stations in census tracts with low median household incomes. If you want to subsidize subway rides for the poor, then give the poor vouchers for discounted subway travel. (Think about how we provide food to the poor. Do we lower the prices of food at supermarkets in poor census tracts? No, we give the poor EBT cards, which they can use wherever they go shopping, and the rest of us pay full price.)

AG April 18, 2013 - 9:59 am

2) a woman who works in a cafeteria 9 to 5 and has to take a bus to a train to her Manhattan job… or the man who has to do the same to get to his mailroom job in Manhattan… explain to me how they would benefit….???

3) ummm – not necessarily… the poor and working class tend to be more stuck to the 9 to 5. High income earners have MUCH more flexibility and freedom in when they work.

4) commuter rails are not the same as the subway so they should NOT cost the same. That said – “City Ticket” is the most sensible plan not expanded (still trying to figure out why).

5) using food as an example is not a good idea. The price of food in the U.S. is GREATLY skewed by a myriad of agricultural subsidies…. and in case you didn’t know – food DOES have different costs in different neighborhoods…. not to mention quality!!! Lastly – the EBT system is GREATLY flawed also.

ajedrez April 21, 2013 - 9:08 pm

Of the ones that do work 9-5, they’re stuck, but a higher percentage of working-class jobs are likely during off-hours, compared to higher-paying jobs.

AG April 21, 2013 - 10:51 pm

That still doesn’t justify changing the system…

Andrew April 24, 2013 - 10:01 pm

2) I said “tend.” The working class are far more likely to have jobs outside Manhattan, and to commute outside rush hours, than their wealthier white collar neighbors. They would, on a whole, benefit from fares that vary by zone and by time of day. That doesn’t mean each and every individual would come out ahead. As I said, if you want to subsidize transit rides for the poor, then subsidize transit rides for the poor. Don’t make assumptions about wealth by where people get on the train, because they’ll often be wrong!

3) Take a look at the ethnic makeup of the riders on your favorite subway line entering the Manhattan CBD at 8:45 am. The next day, go out two hours earlier and take a look at the ethnic makeup. Which do you think is the wealthier crowd?

4) The A train is not the same as the Q train, yet they cost the same. Why shouldn’t the subway and commuter rail charge the same fare between the same points? Why does the fare structure encourage someone who lives close to a commuter rail station to take a bus to the subway rather than just hopping on the train?

5) You missed my point entirely. If we want to subsidize something for the poor, then we should subsidize it for the poor. I have no problem with that. I have a serious problem with making blanket assumptions about who’s poor and who isn’t based merely on where they happen to board the subway!

Nathanael April 18, 2013 - 10:08 am

How about congestion fares? This may sound dopey, but there’s a problem with overcrowding on the Lexington Line; not so much on the West Side lines.

I suppose all the free transfers make that difficult to implement.

Andrew April 24, 2013 - 10:03 pm

The West Side IRT is quite crowded! Not as crowded at the East Side, but still pretty bad.

Nathanael April 18, 2013 - 10:09 am

Oh. And if subsidy for the poor is the argument for this, then *Metro-North and LIRR should cost the same amount as the subway, flat fare, until they hit the point at which incomes start going up as you get further out.* This is probably somewhere past Yonkers.

Nathanael April 18, 2013 - 10:24 am

Benjamin, consider this possible zone system. The strongest incentive in London’s zone system is the “stay out of zone 1” incentive. Last time I checked, a travelcard for “everything but zone 1” was cheaper than a “zones 1 and 2” travelcard.

The equivalent in NYC, if it could be implemented, would be a subsidy to people who stayed entirely in the “outer boroughs”. So, keep the “standard fare” the same, but anyone who swipes in outside Manhattan and swipes out outside Manhattan gets a discount.

This would use the capacity on the outer branches more effectively, and please the G train advocates. Also, it would help people with lower incomes preferentially, and I think it’s politically completely viable.

In short, there’s nothing magical about flat fares: you can do better, and you don’t have to give inter-Manhattan trips a discount.

david vartanoff April 18, 2013 - 1:15 pm

The fare has NEVER covered the total capital and operational costs of the system; thus it is merely a user fee which is low or high as incentive or disincentive to use. We have seen that the large discounts associated w/Metrocard Passes have sparked greater off peak ridership. This is a good result not only because the capacity was underutilised but it also fosters greater economic activity and increases safety at otherwise lightly used stations. So, raising the fare in a Quixotic quest to eliminate the need for subsidy from tax sources is ultimately a drag on the economy. In effect transit fares like sales taxes regressively effect those whose discretionary income is slim or none.
As a further note, BART does have crowding issues on AM exit at the most used stations as each rider must dip or tag out. This sort of delay is only feasible in a low volume system such as BART (400k riders/day system wide).

AG April 18, 2013 - 2:31 pm

very good points…. especially about delays exiting the system.

Chris C April 18, 2013 - 3:22 pm

Yet London hasn’t ground to a halt by people having to touch in and out at both Underground and Over Ground railway ticket gates.

I’ve been using the underground for 25+ years and in all that time people have had to touch in / out with their Oyster Cards – and the equivalent with paper tickets with no ill effects.

Nathanael April 25, 2013 - 6:26 pm

“thus it is merely a user fee which is low or high as incentive or disincentive to use. ”

Well, then, we want to disincentivize people to use the crowded parts in the middle of Manhattan and incentivize them to take not-in-Manhattan trips on the less-crowded outer boroughs lines. How do you suggest we do that with fare policy? Hint: flat is not the answer.

AG April 26, 2013 - 4:48 pm

Fact remains that no matter what midtown and lower manhattan are the most densely packed biz districts in the country. they will also howl at any change to pricing structure of the subway system.

Congestion pricing on the roads was supported by many biz groups and for good reason. A crowded transit systems is preferred to crowded roads. Congestion pricing would have provided funds for the expansion of transit.

Nathan April 18, 2013 - 4:08 pm

This comment is about the New Yorker analysis rather than the idea of fare increases. They literally took the median income level of the single census tract in which the station coordinates happened to be. Census tracts are small: usually less than 2000 households, so each of these numbers is the 1000th household’s income. In many IND station with an exit at each end of the tract, the “station” is actually in more than one tract, but the New Yorker only used the tract for their station coordinates. In some cases, this can make a difference. The Ft Hamilton F/G station crosses underneath the Prospect Expressway, with one exit on each side. The New Yorker used the northern “Windsor Terrace” ($82k) side rather than the southern “Kensington” one ($46k). The next station up, 15th St, the tract they use has an income of $72k, but one of the exits leads into a tract with $108k household income.

Overall, the graphs might be largely the same, but it would be interesting to see an analysis that used more tracts with some sort of “decay function weighting” from 100% at the station to 0% a half mile away or so.


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