Home Fare Hikes Post: MTA leaning toward base fare hike while keeping pay-per-ride discount

Post: MTA leaning toward base fare hike while keeping pay-per-ride discount

by Benjamin Kabak

After years of constant fare hikes, the straphanging public in New York seems immune to the looming increase set to descend upon the city in a few weeks. Instead of anger and protests, mass resignations rule the day, and the fare hike hearings last month were pro forma gatherings for the same old nothing. Still, the MTA has a decision to make, and according to reports, the agency may be leaning toward raising the base fare again while maintaining a pay-per-ride bonus.

The latest word comes from Rebecca Harshbarger of The Post. She reports that MTA Board members would prefer to maintain the incentive discount — a good idea if only for the psychology of it — while upping the base fare again by a quarter. In either fare hike scenario, the seven- and 30-day unlimited cards will increase to $31 and $116 respectively.

Harshbarger writes:

MTA officials are backing the hiking of the MetroCard’s base fare and increasing the bonuses on pay-per-ride cards in March– rather than keeping the fare the same and ditching the bonuses, the Post has learned. The MTA board will vote on fare and toll increase proposals next Thursday, but its members are overwhelmingly leaning towards raising the MetroCard from $2.50 to $2.75, sources said. To ease the pain, the hike will be accompanied with a 11 percent bonus if riders put $5.50 or more on their cards — an increase from the current 5 percent they would get.

The other proposal that had been under consideration was keeping the base fare the same, but eliminating the bonuses. Cards with bonuses are more popular among subway riders than single-ride tickets, which are used for less than 1 percent of trips and typically in stops with a lot of tourists…

“Only way we’ll know how the board votes is to attend next week’s board meeting,” said MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz.

When I put the proposals to a vote in November, what is reportedly the MTA Board’s preferred option lost by around six percentage points. Still, I think this is the right way to go. It hurts to see the base fare increased for the second consecutive fare hike, but the pay-per-ride bonus is an important drive for transit ridership. It incentivizes bulk purchase which, in turn, incentivize more riders to use the system. Anyway, we’ll know for sure next week. Stay tuned.

You may also like


Alon Levy January 14, 2015 - 9:17 am

the pay-per-ride bonus is an important drive for transit ridership

No! The important drive for transit ridership is the discounted season pass, i.e. monthly or longer-term. This incentivizes bulk purchase in ways a bonus that kicks in at $5.50 does not, which allows the MTA to get away with buying fewer TVMs… you know the drill. Plus, should the MTA join the first world and institute systemwide POP on buses, it’s the monthly pass holders who would board without swiping, and the pay-per-ride holders who would still have to swipe at the farebox.

eo January 14, 2015 - 9:39 am

I agree that POP works better if the environment in which it is implemented allows for it, but unfortunately experience tends to support that the right environment is a “rich society”. You tend to be much more informed than I am on the various aspects of public transportation in the world, but how many systems in “poor” countries (think India, Vietnam, Mexico, even Brazil, Russia, Turkey) operate as POP and come anywhere close to say less than 3-4% fare evasion? I do not know the answer, but I would think not many if any.

The US, and specifically New York, is closer to the socioeconomic situation in the “poor” countries, not the rich ones such as Denmark, Sweden or Switzerland. So I remain sceptical POP can work systemwide in NYC at this time.

Brandon January 14, 2015 - 10:15 am

San Francisco has POP and from what data they’ve gathered, fare evasion has gone down.

To qualify that a bit, I’ve never seen someone board a bus in New York without paying but it was common before POP in San Francisco.

Jonathan R January 14, 2015 - 10:32 am

Brandon, you must not take the bus in the Bronx. I would estimate that of the 100 people on the bus the last time I took the Bx40, at least 25% of them had entered through one of the two back doors.

Bolwerk January 14, 2015 - 10:36 am

And any research I’ve seen into the topic suggests wealthier people steal more than poor people. Perhaps you’re worrying about the wrong segment of the “poor” countries’ population.

In any case, POP isn’t about trusting riders. Anything but. If the fare is $2.50 and you catch 1% of your evaders, you probably want a fine of $250 plus whatever overhead costs are incurred for the trouble of having inspectors. (If an inspector costs $40/hr to employ and catches an average of one evader an hour, that probably comes to wanting a fine of close to $300.)

A real problem for an effective POP system could be having too little evasion!

Ajedrez January 14, 2015 - 2:40 pm

It wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, because you would still have the ridership gains and labor savings resulting from the quicker service.

Alon Levy January 14, 2015 - 4:39 pm

In Berlin, fare inspectors work on consignment.

By the way, about wealthier people stealing more than poorer ones: Stockholm has a collective of fare evaders, who pay money to an informal insurance scheme that covers their fines if they’re caught fare-dodging on a bus. (The subway has faregates.) From what I’ve gathered, they’re anarchists who believe transit should be free.

johndmuller January 14, 2015 - 9:42 pm

Alon Levy says:
In Berlin, fare inspectors work on consignment

If by consignment you mean that they personally get to collect the fare and fine right there on the spot (presumably giving a percentage to the MTA), it might have a chance of working in NYC. It might even skew the enforcement in a bit of a ‘progressive’ direction, where the inspectors might target those most likely to have the money while the poorest people might be more likely to get a free ride; on the other hand, the least threatening people would be quite likely to get ‘inspected’ and the biggest bullies would likely get a free ride.

These inspectors might need some sort of police powers – which could also be a good thing if they had an incidental effect of keeping down misbehavior – but could also be easily abused if they turned out to be bad seeds.

Of course, if you mean something else by consignment …

Christopher January 15, 2015 - 7:08 am

Or that could end up like Chicago back before they instituted pre-boarding tickets (up until the 2000s or late 90s, the L still had conductors that you could buy tickets from onboard a train). One of the reasons for getting rid of it is a study found that white conductors didn’t collect from white passengers and black conductors didn’t collect from black passengers. Far too many people just weren’t paying at all.

Alon Levy January 15, 2015 - 7:32 am

I mean something similar, but less shakedown-prone. Berlin’s inspectors get paid based on how many fare dodgers they catch, but I doubt they get to pocket the money and just kick some of it up to the transport association.

JJJJ January 14, 2015 - 2:39 pm

Systems in poor countries dont operate as PoP because hiring more employees to collect tickets is a feature, not a bug. It’s a labor program.

IE, in Curitiba’s famous BRT system, riders have been using tap cards for many years. However, there’s a paid employee at every stop who oversees the tapping and is available to collect cash fares. Aside from providing employment, that also helps improve safety, especially for female riders. I believe the same is true for Mexico Cities BRT system.

On the other hand, Greece, essentially a poor country, operates PoP, or at least did last time I was there. Their labor costs are much higher.

Alon Levy January 14, 2015 - 4:49 pm

Eh. New York is actually richer than nearly all European cities. It’s about as rich as Paris, which is one of Europe’s richest, and not far behind Munich, which is the richest in the EU. It’s far more unequal, so it has more poverty than Paris, but the average income gap with the less rich cities, like Berlin, may be enough to put their poor behind New York’s poor. New York has a huge black and Hispanic underclass; Berlin has a huge former East German underclass.

sonicboy678 January 14, 2015 - 6:22 pm

Really? Not everyone benefits from paying for a monthly Unlimited. Unless you really like to travel or have many errands to run which require more than a Pay-Per-Ride card would offer, it’s not practical to shell out >$110 for a card you won’t use to its full potential.

Monthly pass holders would require specific tickets which need constant replacement to remain updated. Pay-Per-Ride users would not need such a system. Given that it would be impractical for the MTA to change the fare medium without uniformity. In order for the MTA to institute systemwide POP on buses (which I believe is a terrible idea at this point), it would be all but imperative to alter the entire structure to essentially undo the decision to have local buses and the entire subway system (and the small SIRT fare zone) share the same fare with a free transfer.

SEAN January 14, 2015 - 8:56 pm

NYC is the only city I can think of where monthly passes are considered a problem. Why is that.

Alon Levy January 15, 2015 - 7:39 am

Yes, really. You say not everyone benefits from a season pass, but ignore the fact that this depends on the ratio of season pass cost to single fare. In New York, after pay-per-ride discounts, this ratio is 46 on the subway (on commuter rail it’s about 28). In the German-speaking world, ratios beginning with a 3 are common, and this encourages people to use season passes. Already with the ratio of 46, the majority of subway rides are with unlimited monthly tickets; in some German-speaking cities, the proportion is 70%.

As for constantly updating the monthly ticket: this is not actually required. In Tokyo, the stored-value smartcards can also store a season pass. London’s Oyster system is based on stored value, but once you tap the card enough times on one day for a daily pass to be cheaper, the system automatically decides you actually bought a daily pass and stops charging you.

eo January 14, 2015 - 9:25 am

I dislike having to pay more as much as everyone else, but I dislike not investing in our transit system even more (I know that the money is not going to the capital construction budget, but that is a separate topic). I would gladly pay $4 per ride if the extra money went to well executed capital projects.

I also believe that a higher price is a good thing in making people appreciate what they have in terms of transit. We all complain about various issues with the system (and more often than not we are right), but the reality is that we need people to respect what we have (by not trashing, breaking, stealing equipment, throwing trash on the tracks or otherwise degrading the system) and one way to achieve that is by having it cost a meaningful amount.

anon_coward January 14, 2015 - 9:32 am

$2.75 each way? maybe start telecommuting more instead of going into the office

Avi January 14, 2015 - 9:38 am

Anon, I can’t imagine any job that would allow you to telecommute where an extra 19 cents(the actual effective round trip increase after considering bonuses) a day in commuting costs will make a difference in how often you want to go into the office. Even 50 cents wouldn’t make a difference.

anon_coward January 14, 2015 - 9:46 am

we already have a lot of people telecommute where i work. at the point where the office is starting to become somewhat deserted on some days.

and i actually prefer to work at home because i can’t stand the fluorescent lights and i can make the temperature/humidity to my liking or open the windows for fresh air

Brandon January 14, 2015 - 10:18 am

Or biking if you live close enough (which can free up more space for people who don’t).

anon_coward January 14, 2015 - 10:21 am

citibike memberships are plunging. biking isn’t going to take off in NYC except for a tiny minority of people doing it

JJJJ January 14, 2015 - 2:40 pm

Thats due to a terrible operator and a series of bad planning decisions, not because new yorkers dont want bike share.

Avi January 14, 2015 - 9:35 am

I’d say raise the base fare higher and offer bigger bonuses at larger purchase prices. Let the tourists pay more while keeping the effective fare lower for commuters.

Larry Littlefield January 14, 2015 - 9:55 am

As I’ve said, I’d eliminate the bonus. It is deceptive, as it gives the false impression of something for nothing. I don’t think anyone is fooled by it anymore.

Instead, here should be a surcharge, where the fare is $2.00 but you pay the equivalent of $2.75 or $3.00. Put in $30, get a $20 Metrocard and pay a $10 “Generation Greed surcharge.” That would be a more accurate representation of where the money goes.

anon_coward January 14, 2015 - 10:10 am

or being that most of the money on the subway is being spent on manhattan and it’s minority of NYC population, raise the cost of any metro card purchased in manhattan to pay for the Second Ave Subway and the 7 train enriching the developers building up the west side

Bolwerk January 14, 2015 - 11:05 am

It makes perfect sense to encourage larger transactions. I just think they’re probably too small. Give a bonus for a $50 buy rather than a $10 one.

sonicboy678 January 14, 2015 - 6:30 pm

False impression? What are you talking about?

Christopher January 15, 2015 - 7:12 am

I think most people are “fooled” by it. I certainly am. I often consider: do I need a full month or should I just go with a ride bonus? Most transit users do not put as much effort into pondering the intricacies of pricing as transit-geeks do. They pay what they can afford at that moment (considering how much they might ride soon) and when it looks like you’re getting a little extra bang if you can stretch to afford it, you do.

Jonathan R January 14, 2015 - 10:36 am

Twelve rides for $30, same as before pretty much.

Herb Lehman January 14, 2015 - 12:22 pm

Stinks either way, but as someone who works with low-income people every day, I’d have preferred to see the lower base fare. Bonuses are nice, but there are many people in this city that can’t afford to spend enough at one time to trigger one.

The number that affects me personally is the $116 monthly, which is the same in either proposal. That’s starting to become a big ask to ride a train that, half the time, skips the station I use anyway due to delays and overcrowding (68th Street).

msf January 14, 2015 - 2:26 pm

While the net cost per ride comes out about the same either way, having a bonus decreases the effective fares on other systems that accept Metrocard (JFK AirTrain, PATH).

If the fare were really structured as a discount, then you wouldn’t have this distortion. That is, if you add at least $5.50 to a card, the fare deducted from the card on each swipe would be “just” $2.48 instead of $2.75. But riding the AirTrain would cost you an “honest” $5, regardless of how little or how much money you put on your card.

Prepaid phone cards manage to handle this, where the more you add, the cheaper the charge per minute – for the new money only. Certainly MetroCards could handle a two-tiered system (cheaper fares for money loaded with $5.50+ purchases only).

So right now, I’m rooting for the 11% bonus – it will make the occasional ride on other systems cheaper.

JJJJ January 14, 2015 - 2:43 pm

Meanwhile, NJTransit is now at year 5 of stable fares, including $1.50 for the River Line (the best transit value in the region) and the same fare for the Newark subway system.

Christie > Cuomo *

*Not an endorsement of Chris Christie.

Larry Littlefield January 14, 2015 - 2:59 pm

If you like the model of “saving the fare” while the system deteriorates, followed by a massive hike like the one Christie did when he first came in, good for you. I don’t.

If Christie is running for President, NJ is screwed. The future of the state, what’s left of it, is something he can sell to look good in the present.

In NY we know this, based on deals cut by President Pataki, President Bloomberg, Senator Giuliani, Governor McCall, President Lindsay and President Rockefeller.

I can imagine the mess the next Governor of NJ will inherit. It will be the mess Christie inherited squared.

JJJJ January 14, 2015 - 3:23 pm

Actually, I’m a fan of the model where we keep the fare the same and invest in the system using tax monies obtained elsewhere. You know, like how the national (and Jersey) gas taxes havent gone up but they sure keep finding money for the road system in all sorts of places.

eo January 14, 2015 - 3:50 pm

Like it or not the gas tax will go up by a lot. Probably not under Christie while he still has a shot at the White House, but once that is gone he might have to do it anyway. If not, the next Governor will need to do it. They just don’t have the money, so the hike is coming. People should enjoy the cheap gas while they can.

As for the transit fares, they will go up by a lot too. I will venture to guess that the next hike will be 40% if it happens at the same time as the gas tax. If it happens while Christie is still vying for the White House it could be smaller, 7-8% followed by another hike by the next Governor.

As for roads, the state is messed up. They built too many of them, then people got too many cars, requiring even more roads which bring more cars and so on. It is interesting case of mismanagement because so much of the state is covered in concrete and asphalt and they continue to add more while constantly complaining about flooding and lack of drainage. Even though other states have built a lot of roads too, the density in NJ is probably unmatched anywhere.

JJJ January 14, 2015 - 4:32 pm

Raise Jersey gas tax by 50 cents. Transit fares stay the same, roads get fixed.

anon_coward January 14, 2015 - 4:44 pm

tolls for driving on the turnpike?

Alon Levy January 14, 2015 - 4:52 pm

NJ Transit eliminated the off-peak roundtrip discount. Christie > Cuomo if you’re a peak-hour commuter into Manhattan.

SEAN January 14, 2015 - 9:05 pm

Mixing the two names sounds like a gender switch.


Leave a Comment