Home Penn Station Access A fare lesson from Paris as Penn Station Access looms

A fare lesson from Paris as Penn Station Access looms

by Benjamin Kabak

Gov. Cuomo has found $250 million in his budget for Penn Station Access. (Image via @NYGovCuomo)

Last week, I bemoaned the near-total lack of capital funding for the MTA in the New York State budget, but one element of the budget that did include the bare minimum of a fiscal contribution to transit merits a closer look. The grant doesn’t help the MTA close its $15 billion funding gap, but it is earmarked for a specific project — and that is how these projects get built. Gov. Cuomo, you see, has guaranteed $250 million for Penn Station Access, the Metro-North project that will bring trains into Penn Station and four new stations to the Bronx.

In a sense, it’s strange to see Cuomo pushing this project and funding for it now. Metro-North trains won’t operate into Penn Station until some Long Island Rail Road trains are arriving at Grand Central, and as we know, East Side Access isn’t schedule to wrap until 2020 at the earliest and perhaps later. It’s hardly a pressing priority.

According to Cuomo’s budget release, the $250 million will cover a quarter of the project’s estimated $1 billion price tag, and New York expects the feds to pick up the remaining $750 million. Maybe Cuomo’s team feels this money won’t be available down the road; maybe the Governor just wants to cement the status of this plan or encourage the MTA start some work on the Bronx stations now even if the Penn Station Access piece won’t start until next decade.

As we know, the plan includes stations along the New Haven Line at Co-op City, Morris Park, Parkchester, and Hunts Point and will involve some negotiation over the right-of-way with Amtrak south of New Rochelle. For its part, the MTA has called Penn Station Access “a lot of bang for not a lot of bucks.” But I’m still worried about the fare structure.

The MTA has struggled to attract riders to its commuter rail stations within New York City because the fare structure is not aligned with the subway. The City Ticket provides some measure of relief on the weekends, but New Yorkers in solidly working class neighborhoods aren’t going to shell out $6 or $7 per ride. There is though an easy way to solve that problem, and for inspiration, the MTA could look to Paris.

The City of Lights is attempting an experiment in pricing by instituting a flat monthly, universal fare for travel within a region that would encompass much of the MTA’s network were it grafted onto New York. At $76 a card, the price is nice too. Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic penned a long post on this experiment, and he inexorably brings New York into the picture. “Imagine,” he writes, a single monthly fare card for all transit service” within the New York Metropolitan Area.

Freemark opines on the positives and negatives, and I excerpt at length to highlight some thought-provoking ideas:

It is an aggressively pro-transit policy that further reduces the cost of riding the train or bus compared to commuting by car; this effort corresponds directly to the [French] national and regional government’s massive investment in suburban tramway and BRT lines, plus a vast new network of automated metro lines. Perhaps its greatest benefit is that it encourages people to take the fastest services available on any trip, while current fare policies give people discounts for taking slower local services…

Most importantly, the decision to spend hundreds of millions of euros on reduced fares could mean hundreds of millions of euros not being spent on better transit service every year—and some would argue that the best way to improve transportation is to expand service, not to lower fares…The cost tradeoff is certainly not one to scoff at. Last week, New York’s independent Citizens Budget Commission recommended capping the number of rides that can be taken with the (far more geographically constrained) unlimited fare card on New York City’s MTA Subway and bus system, in effect putting a limit on unlimited. Though the cap would affect relatively few people, it would be designed to raise revenues in a fiscally tight environment for an agency that is struggling with quickly growing ridership.

On the other hand, were New York to change its fare policies to allow current monthly pass holders to ride the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad to far-off destinations deep in Upstate New York, Connecticut, or Long Island—in other words, do what Paris is going to allow this fall—the MTA would be left with fewer revenues. But customers would benefit. They’d get faster service on commuter rail lines that many now avoid because of the higher price of travel (a trip from Jamaica in Queens to Penn Station in Manhattan, for example, costs $10 on the Long Island Rail Road for a 19-minute trip versus just $2.75 on the Subway for a 35-minute trip). People in neighborhoods currently only served by commuter rail, both in the city and in the suburbs, would suddenly have a reasonable-cost travel option equivalent to their peers with Subway access. People living in the city would suddenly have a much cheaper way to visit Long Island beaches on weekends, and people living on those beaches would suddenly have a much easier way of working downtown. These are not imaginary benefits.

Moreover, the cost tradeoff is not so simple as a conflict between lower universal fares and better service. Rather, the funding used to pay for the universal fare comes from a revenue source that may not have been politically feasible to raise unless it addressed the issue of equalizing transport access among different areas of the city. In other words, the hundreds of millions of euros being spent on this change may have only generated political support for the improvement of the transit system in the context of standardizing fares.

New York, of course, faces its own challenges as the money to subsidize fares would have to come from somewhere, and that somewhere — Albany — has been reluctant to touch any progressive ideas on transit funding or transit growth. Still, as the governor has clearly made Penn Station Access a priority, for the project to be a success, the governor and his appointees should consider the fare structure too. Even if New York isn’t prepared for a regional one-fare system, better aligning intra-NYC fares would be a step in the right direction. If anything, in Queens, it may be a way to spare the Queens Boulevard lines a capacity crunch, and in the Bronx, it could usher in a successful Penn Station Access project in eight or nine years.

You may also like


Phillip Roncoroni April 5, 2015 - 11:53 pm

San Francisco already does something like this, where a MUNI monthly with BART access within the city zone is only slightly more expensive.


It’s absolutely absurd that somebody traveling from Bayside has to pay $218 a month for an LIRR monthly, in addition to $116.50 for a NYCT monthly.

lop April 5, 2015 - 11:55 pm

From Hicksville to Penn you pay ~35 cents per mile off peak, ~48 cents per mile during peak. From Bayside to Penn you pay ~57 cents off peak, ~78 cents during peak. From Bayside to Penn at Hicksville to Penn charge per mile would be a fare of ~$4.50 off peak, ~$6 during peak. During peak Bayside to Flushing costs $1.61 per mile, $1.15 off peak. Hicksville to Wyandach is ~30 cents per mile peak and off peak. At that price a speedy train from Bayside to Flushing that doesn’t get caught in traffic on Northern Blvd. would run you a dollar.

Maybe instead of a flat fare that benefits the suburbanites who tend to be richer than in Paris (yes?) move to a per mile charge with no NYC premium.

Patrick O'Hara April 6, 2015 - 2:02 am

The LIRR (and Metro-North) already have distance based fare system that, with a few minor exceptions, is evenly applied across the entire system. On the LIRR, the base fare is about $6.92 plus 22.98 cents per mile measured from New York Penn to the midpoint of each zone. Because they use a zone system, people at the western ends of zones pay more than people at the eastern ends of zones. From there, it’s just a matter of which stations you choose to illustrate your point. If you were to compare Rosedale and Great Neck, you would see that the fare for the city station works out to 62.8 cents per mile where it’s 73.2 cents per mile from Great Neck… The stations where that cents-per-mile ratio is the smallest tend to be out on eastern Long Island, where the zones are larger and the distances between stations are greater.

Patrick O'Hara April 6, 2015 - 2:14 am

Transit systems have historically collected fares to not only earn revenue off of their trains, but to act as a deterrent. If the subway was free, we would likely see trains that are much fuller than the packed ones we already see now. The fare deters people from cramming onto the subway when they could reasonably walk, bike, or find some other way to get to where they want to go.

The same thing works for the commuter railroads…resources are limited, so if everything is the same price (or free), then there’s nothing deterring people from cramming onto the commuter trains. For the purposes of intra-city trains, both the LIRR and Metro-North are already over-subscribed during the rush hours, so even if you wanted to lower fares to encourage more intra-city ridership, there wouldn’t be any place to put them. When a train has 1,200 people on it when it hits the city line, there’s not that much more room onboard to take on another couple hundred people at Kew Gardens, Forest Hills, Woodside, Woodlawn, Botanical Garden, or Marble Hill (which is the reason why the intermediate stations in the city see far fewer trains than some stations out in the suburbs).

As long as a some sort of alternative exists (i.e. bus, subway) in these parts of the city, you will continue to see the fares maintained at the level they are at now until capacity constrains are relieved and they can run more intra-city trains. When push comes to shove, it’s better to give a tack slot to a Huntington train, where there is no sort of easy alternative, than it would be to give it to a Bayside train.

The off-peak periods are a different story, for the most part, as they are not pushed to the breaking point in terms of capacity. And these are the times where programs like CityTicket have been implemented to notable success. However, as long as the rush hours are wound as tightly as they are, you won’t see any measure of fare relief until those constraints are eased.

Brandon April 6, 2015 - 7:43 am

For the purposes of intra-city trains, both the LIRR and Metro-North are already over-subscribed during the rush hours.

Are they? At least on the line im most familiar with its not even that common to stand during rush hour, and the few people who do are all near the doors. The RER trains of course are of a different style where standing is not discouraged, which gives them far more capacity particularly for the last push into the city center where the ride is short so standing is not a big hardship.

Patrick O'Hara April 6, 2015 - 3:10 pm

On the LIRR, at least, there’s about 182 AM peak trains that travel west of Jamaica. About 100 of them will have standees on the typical day west of Jamaica, and 19 of them are close to or already exceeding service standards. Of the 167 PM peak trains that travel west of Jamaica, 65 typically have standees, and 16 are close to or already exceeding service standards.

The seating arrangement of the cars don’t lend themselves to being incredibly favorable to standees on the trains, but that’s a consequence of the service that is operated. Nobody wants to stand for an hour or two-hour ride, so you have to have enough seats to provide seats for anyone who’s commute is longer than 20-30 minutes. The RER can get away with this since service is far more frequent. You could (essentially, probably not practically) cut the number of seats in half and still give everyone a seat, as long as you double the number of trains.

anon_coward April 6, 2015 - 9:43 am

more than enough room at Forest Hills. there would be more room if every train that’s on the local track stopped at the west of jamaica stations to even out the load.

a lot of people actually get off at forest hills because they work in the local schools.

they should go back to having all of NYC in the City Zone to take slack off the subways, but as of now the eastern queens neighborhoods cost a lot more than the western ones

lop April 6, 2015 - 12:57 pm

Queens riders should pay a large per mile premium over riders further out because they can take a bus to the subway? There are buses all over Nassau and Suffolk too. Should Hicksville prices get bumped 50% to match the Bayside fare per mile since they have the N22? They have a one bus ride to the subway, should probably discourage them from taking the train so people further out can take it instead, right?

Patrick O'Hara April 6, 2015 - 3:17 pm

Like I said above, Queens riders don’t pay a larger per mile premium over riders further out. The same $6.92 base fare and the same 22.98 cents per mile fare is applied to all stations on the system, whether or not they’re in the city or out on Long Island.

And Bayside and Hicksville isn’t a reasonable comparison. Taking the bus and subway instead of the train from Hicksville adds an hour and 40 minutes to the trip, as supposed to 45 minutes from Bayside… And it’s not like Hicksville riders are chocking out riders from further out east…

kevd April 7, 2015 - 1:10 pm

“The same $6.92 base fare and the same 22.98 cents per mile fare is applied to all stations on the system”

So, by what you just stated – riders in Queens DO pay more per mile than riders further out.

al April 7, 2015 - 6:54 pm

What about reverse peak travel. Those trains currently carry far fewer riders.

Rather than taking the AM crush loaded E from Manhattan to Jamaica to catch the JFK Airtrain, take the LIRR.

Rather than take the crush loaded Lex Ave Line from Midtown Manhattan to upper Manhattan/the Bx, take the MNCR.

There is also the commute within Nassau and Suffolk County, and north of NYC. The people on Long Island and north of NYC complain about the commuter traffic all the time. Perhaps there is a sweet spot where the LIRR and MNCR can get more intra-suburban and reverse commute riders and more revenue at the same time.

adirondacker12800 April 7, 2015 - 7:42 pm

Why would someone get on the E train, go to Penn Station and get on the LIRR when they can just take the E train to Jamaica?

SEAN April 7, 2015 - 8:40 pm

Understood, but there are two falts with what you are saying…

1. Sometimes E trains have been operating slow between Jackson Heights & Jamaica. As a result, you can miss your connection. So in that case it is sometimes better to go to Penn & not risk it. I’ve learned that the hard way.

2. Remember Port Washington trains don’t serve Jamaica – so the subway connection is at 61st Woodside with the 7.

adirondacker12800 April 7, 2015 - 11:33 pm

No one stopped you from taking the LIRR. You didn’t want to spend a few bucks and lost the bet. Too bad.
People who live along the Port Washington branch are bright enough to call for a cab instead of schlepping to Woodside to get to Jamaica to get to JFK. Or get on bus that gets them to Jamaica faster than zig zagging all over Queens.

SEAN April 6, 2015 - 9:01 am

A few things…

1. Although the Marble Hill station isn’t far from the 1 at 225th Street, north of there the distances between the lines are greater. In addition, Riverdale is an area that is dense & off the subway network so MNR service is essential.

2. By contrast, the 2 train runs pretty close to the Harlem Line. As a result, transit riders north of Fordham have choices.

3. If MNR runs service to penn station, another platform may need to be built at New Rochelle & there’s room for it without disrupting current opperations.

AG April 6, 2015 - 8:01 pm

Curious… Why would there be need for another platform at New Rochelle.

SEAN April 7, 2015 - 7:58 am

The platform serving tracks 4 & 6 receives two way traffic from not only Metro-North, but Amtrak as well. If this new service from Pen Station is implemented with high frequency service, it will overwhelm the current platform witch is rather narrow.

I should note that at least one other commenter made the same suggestion regarding ESA.

AG April 7, 2015 - 10:54 am

I could see people from Mt. Vernon and Pelham going to New Rochelle (or Co-Op City depending on where they live) – but I don’t think it will overwhelm. Unless they make everyone on the New Haven Line change at New Rochelle to go to Penn… I doubt they would – but if they do – then yes – they would need to expand New Rochelle. My thinking is ppl from CT would be made to change in Stamford (as they do in many cases already)… I’m assuming everyone in Westchester (except Mt. Vernon East and Pelham) would get direct service to Penn. We’ll see how it plays out.

kevd April 7, 2015 - 1:12 pm

I believe that only New Haven and Hudson lines will serve Penn Station, while Hudson, Harlem and New Haven lines trains will still serve GCT.

AG April 7, 2015 - 2:08 pm

I know – but the question was in how commuter rail operates overall… But as of now only some New Haven trains will go to Penn. Originally Hudson line trains were to also but I guess lack of money is why we don’t hear it anymore. It only gets 1/3 the riders as the New Haven and the bridge Amtrak uses between Manhattan and The Bronx needs replacing. I think before they even worry about Penn – the whole Hudson line needs electrifying. It’s ridiculous you still have to switch to a diesel train at Croton. Even Caltrain in the Bay Area is getting electrified.

SEAN April 7, 2015 - 2:37 pm

Not anymore – nearly all upper Hudson trains are through service. As for electrifying the upper Hudson is concerned, yes they should have done it a decade & a half ago.

With New Rochelle, there have been occasional conflicts between Amtrak & Metro-North. Not so much with the trains them selves, rather it’s between passengers on the narrow platform for tracks 4 & 6 when passengers from a Harrison or Stamford bound train disembark at the same time as an NEC train has passengers boarding & disembarking. Keep in mind that track 4 serves bidirectional Amtrak service.

AG April 7, 2015 - 4:34 pm

Not sure what you mean…. Every time I go up to Poughkeepsie I’ve had to transfer…Same coming back down. Maybe it’s the times I’ve travelled – I dunno…?

Yeah true… I still don’t see a mass influx of new passengers north of Co-Op City. Those people don’t drive now. They take the train to GCT and then take the S to Times Square or the #7… Then they go to the points on the westside.

adirondacker12800 April 7, 2015 - 7:35 pm

If they take the train to Penn Station they don’t have to get on the shuttle to Times Square. There are a few people who will be able to walk from Penn Station and the rest will have a two train commute instead of a three train commute. Every passenger they get to switch to Penn Station is a space freed up on the train to Grand Central that someone else can use.

AG April 7, 2015 - 10:08 pm

Yes – but my point was that there would not be any great influx of new riders… It will be just that some will be switching.. The exact same thing as East Side Access for the LIRR. There are people who take the Met North now how go to the west.. Ppl who use NJ Transit and LIRR both go to the east as well.

adirondacker12800 April 7, 2015 - 11:41 pm


The problem is that ridership goes up a little bit every year. And being able to get to the West Side easier is going to induce ridership.

Billy G April 6, 2015 - 9:36 am

Pure idiocy.

If the ride is faster, it IS WORTH MORE!

JJJJ April 6, 2015 - 10:30 am

Absolutely, thats why cars who use avenues are charged more than cars which use streets, and the tolls on the west side highway dont stop increasing

Hank April 6, 2015 - 11:43 am

More accurately, this is why the Battery Tunnel has little traffic, while the Brooklyn Bridge gets backed up.

Where multiple options exist, a faster ride IS worth more money.Where options do not exist, the fare should be more reasonable. I like the idea of a fare card that is good on all services in a metro area, but in the NYC region, where income disparity generally makes a big jump at the Nassau and Westchester borders, such a pass should be good ONLY within the five boros, and NOT at any station that is within a certain distance of the subway system. The idea being that thew commuter from Fordham or Jamacia will not choose the LIRR or MNCR over the Subway, but the commuter from Little Neck, Douglaston, Riverdale or Spuyten Duyvil pays the same as a subway fare.

adirondacker12800 April 6, 2015 - 12:58 pm

The Battery Tunnel has so much traffic that they use a “zipper” lane on it approaches in Brooklyn.

ajedrez April 6, 2015 - 9:31 pm

But the thing is that Little Neck, Douglaston, Riverdale, and Spuyten Duyvil are more-or-less at the same income level as many suburbs. As a matter of fact, Riverdale & Spuyten Duyvil are significantly wealthier than South Yonkers over the border.

kevd April 7, 2015 - 1:14 pm

While true, those are exceptions to the wider pattern.

John T April 6, 2015 - 10:01 am

It’s not just the fares – if trains run at less than 15 minute intervals then it isn’t “rapid transit” and you can’t just wait at the platform for the next train.

JJJJ April 6, 2015 - 10:26 am

Only slightly off topic, whats the reason all these giant commuter rail access projects didnt include an extension of GCT south into a Penn Station East style deal that would allow connections to all lines?

Not everybody wants to terminate all the way at 8th Avenue.

eo April 6, 2015 - 10:55 am

The simple answer is: engineering. If people think that ESA is disruptive, expensive and over budget, then connecting the two stations would have been over a trillion dollars, be completed in 2120 and involved demolition of about 20 blocks of this city. There is just too much stuff in the way such as the subways (in some locations), a water tunnel, foundations of various buildings (at “shallow” level), the existing GCT and Penn tunnels. Certain people (for example the Lackawana Coalition) still clamour for connection between the two stations, but the reality is that it will never happen because one needs to gut everything in 20 block radius and start from scratch to do so. For example, first the water tunnel needs to move somewhere else — they will need 20 years to just do that. Then approaching the existing Penn and GCT (not Penn South or the future deep LIRR GCT concourse) pretty much requires demolition and rebuild of the whole stations — give or take 50 years. And then you are still not done because the Park Avenue tunnels cannot take catenary or most bi-level cars, the East River Tunnels cannot take the traffic out west (unless you get at least 2 more) and LIRR, NJT and MNR all have to agree on the same power system and change to it — at least 20-30 years will be needed to do this even if they agreed to all switch to catenary. So that is why at a high level — history is path dependent –each decision to build something leads to constrains which one needs to account for in later decisions, so what New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroads did will influence the regions not for centuries, but practically forever. The unfortunate thing is that the nobody plans for so far in the future, hey we are lucky if they plan for 2 years ahead …

Bolwerk April 6, 2015 - 11:28 am

Penn<->GCT access is probably pointless. It could be a cheap surface light rail circulator, if it’s needed at all.

But access to NJT access to GCT’s lower level was estimated at something like $3B a decade ago, as an alternative to ARC. ARC may have been the more expensive choice.

adirondacker12800 April 6, 2015 - 12:57 pm

In addition to ARC sometime after Water Tunnel 3 is completed. Instead Amtrak is going to build something with less capacity for more money that will not be able to access Grand Central.

JJJJ April 6, 2015 - 2:21 pm

I see. So essentially they should have done it 80 years ago but now the train has departed

George April 6, 2015 - 11:07 am

I believe there was an estimate somewhere of 2.75 trillion USD with a 60-year construction horizon; I’ll look if I can find the source.

Alon Levy April 6, 2015 - 11:22 am

Agency turf battles. Metro-North doesn’t want to share because it thinks 40-something tracks aren’t enough. NJ Transit doesn’t want to integrate operations, either. The LIRR is the worst. This forced ESA to be a multilevel cavern, and sandbagged ARC Alt G, leading to the move to Alt P, another multilevel cavern. The caverns incurred huge cost blowouts. A vanilla pair of tunnels from Penn Station’s southern platforms to the Grand Central lower level wouldn’t be outrageously expensive, but would require the agencies to cooperate more.

adirondacker12800 April 6, 2015 - 12:56 pm

Metro North doesn’t want to share because the Park Avenue tunnel is at capacity. Silly silly Metro North assuring their passengers are able to get to Manhattan. So well utilized that they want to shift passengers to to the West Side. Silly silly Metro North.
Generations of people who get paid to examine the options for the LIRR have all said it’s not possible to send LIRR trains to the existing platforms at Grand Central. But foamers the world over know better.

lop April 6, 2015 - 1:24 pm

The 63rd street tunnel can have 24 tph? How many platforms would you need for that? Four tracks? Six? Eight? So MNR loses at most eight peak hour trains in the AM because they lose some parking spots and the LIRR gains twenty four. Make sure those eight are only hudson or New haven line trains and send them plus a few new ones to Penn.

So it has less peak hour capacity than the massive caverns. But those caverns are supposed to be the majority of the cost overruns. With the savings, you can start work on sending some LIRR trains to lower Manhattan, making more room at Penn for MNR.

adirondacker12800 April 6, 2015 - 4:48 pm

Yes it can have 24 trains an hour. They are contemplating 20 an hour to start. No trains can’t go from the 63rd street tunnel to the existing platforms at Grand Central. Generations of people – the tunnel was completed in 1972 – have determined that it can’t be done. People who have experience with railroads and draw paychecks. Many many many of them. Over generations.

Alon Levy April 6, 2015 - 3:21 pm

You keep saying that, and I keep referring to people who have asked questions (Stephen Smith himself, or people he’s quoting, I forget which) and never actually heard your explanation from people in charge – the people in charge talk about keeping the two railroads separate.

adirondacker12800 April 6, 2015 - 5:06 pm

There was life before 1996.

The tunnel was completed in 1972. 11 years before there was a Metro North. It’s very difficult for an agency to have a turf war with another if doesn’t exist yet.
The tunnel was completed in 1972. Which implies it was planned well before that. While the New York Central was busy going bankrupt. So desperate for cash they were contemplating tearing down Grand Central just like the Pennsylvania Railroad had done to Pennsylvania Station. If the state had made them – the New York Central – an offer they would have jumped on it. Sorry for the tasteless pun, a landmark lawsuit worked it’s way all the way to the Supreme Court over it’s landmark status.

Two bankrupt railroads were busy trying to suck as much marrow out of the carcass as they could. They didn’t. And generations of people who earn paychecks examining it, concur, that it’s not feasible.

AG April 6, 2015 - 9:18 pm

Simple answer – too much money.

Don April 7, 2015 - 3:48 am

Actually, the design and underground ROW exist, at least in design, even the tunnel portals were built in GCT. The main problem with the design isn’t that it can’t be built, its clearance would only allow single level, short cars that were built around the turn of the 20th century. The portals are located just east of tk 11 in GCT if anyone wants to check them out.

Jerrold April 6, 2015 - 11:11 am

A bit of irony in your use of the word “unsound”.
Did you intend to say “a UNIVERSAL fare card”?

Alon Levy April 6, 2015 - 11:19 am

Ben, what’s required here isn’t necessarily a single fare for the entire metro area, but mode-neutral fares. Paris already has that: if you ride the RER within the city, you pay the same fares as on the Metro, and the transfers between the systems (and the buses) are free. So do German-speaking cities. The Netherlands has national integrated fares, and sells annual passes that you can use on any train nationwide. Metro Vancouver has a three-zone system with mode-neutral fares between buses and SkyTrain and free transfers. All of this is compatible with zonal fares.

The common thread to all of these systems is that they have reasonable operating costs. American commuter rail systems do not. They have multiple conductors on every train except the shortest ones, and even those have a conductor. Most systems still punch tickets, but even the ones that don’t, like Caltrain, retain assistant conductors. Turnaround times are long, so equipment utilization is low. It’s not 1937 anymore: computers exist, the German leader doesn’t have a weird mustache, and conductors are obsolete. Let them go and run trains at high off-peak frequency, with integrated fares.

Bolwerk April 6, 2015 - 12:16 pm

Some say she wouldn’t be too out of place with a weird mustache, but I think that’s mean.

Still, most European mainline passenger rail seem to retain conductors and even paper tickets that are punched or stamped. If the role is turned more POP-like, would that be so bad?

JJJJ April 6, 2015 - 12:42 pm

MBTA does have the zone 1A fare, where commuter rail is the same as subway (before ballooning at a magic invisible line).

Does anybody else do this?

Alon Levy April 6, 2015 - 3:22 pm

Indeed, but the commuter trains don’t accept CharlieCard.

JJJ April 6, 2015 - 4:59 pm

No cash penalty though

Alon Levy April 7, 2015 - 9:24 am

Kind of, sort of. The CharlieCard fare is a bit lower than the Charlie Ticket fare, to give people an incentive to get the card.

The saddest thing is, Worcester and Boston are moving toward fare integration: either Worcester recently started accepting Worcester-Boston commuter rail tickets as valid fare media on its buses, or it has plans to do so in the very near future. But full integration of commuter rail and local transit fares in Boston itself is still elusive.

adirondacker12800 April 6, 2015 - 12:51 pm

You don’t pay extra to ride the A train instead of the C train or the D train instead of the B train or the 2 or the 3 instead of the 1 or 4 or the 5 instead of the 6 or….

lop April 6, 2015 - 1:03 pm

Or the EF over the Q60. Or the J over the Q56. But you do pay extra from East NY to Jamaica if you take the LIRR instead of the Q24.

adirondacker12800 April 6, 2015 - 4:43 pm

Before Metro Card if you used a bus and the subway you paid two fares. The Staten Island Ferry wasn’t free.You had to pay to exit stations in the Rockaways. Why should everything be the same price?

Alon Levy April 7, 2015 - 9:27 am

Because transit works best as an integrated service, in which, based on traffic demand, the best way to get between two points may be the subway, bus-to-bus, bus-to-subway, commuter rail, etc.

The extra Rockaways fares are a different category altogether. The subway had two effective fare zones then, and the Rockaways were the outer zone. That’s perfectly fine. It exists in some integrated fare systems – in at least one German city, I think Munich, nearly the entire subway is in the inner zone but a few stations are one zone farther out. But the fare is still mode-neutral and offers free transfers.

Bolwerk April 7, 2015 - 1:08 pm

You’re not the only one who remembers life before 1996. Seems to me making everything the same price was the “duh” moment that turned NYC transit into something people actually wanted to really use, perhaps more than any other single factor. Transit unlinked trips have increased 56% since that year. In that year alone, they jumped by 862k (~12%) over 1995.

If you price-discriminate, do it based on some rational metric like cost-per-passenger-mile.

adirondacker12800 April 7, 2015 - 2:02 pm

Crime is much lower than it was in 1996. All those hipsters in Brownsville wouldn’t want to live there if the crime was a bad as it was in the past.
Congestion is much worse than it was way back when too. I stopped taking the bus into Manhattan in the late 70s. It was too unreliable. Parking sucks too.

Bolwerk April 7, 2015 - 2:25 pm

Going back to usage since 1991 – total usage, not just subway – 1996 and 2007 are the only two with double digit percentage increases.

Non-police crime started its downward trend somewhere between 1990 and 1992, and that’s despite the Giuliani era efforts to keep the numbers up by making ever more tenuous arrests. Transit took an obvious upward lurch in 1996. It was was roughly flat or in decline before; some of that may be recessionary decline (big 9% drop in 1993). but 1991 numbers weren’t even recovered in 1995. In 1996 an explosion of use happens. Either hundreds of thousands of people collectively hit their foreheads and decided crime isn’t scary anymore, or MetroCard hit the ground running.

The only transit numbers I have handy go back to 1991 though. I don’t know what happened in 2007.

Jumper April 6, 2015 - 12:22 pm

London does something like this, but with their 6-zone (plus zones 7,8,9,B,C,&W) system inside London. You can get on any train–underground, overground, national rail, DLR, whatever–and pay the rate of that zone within London. So national rail trains passing through London, like the Bedford to Brighton train, will also have commuters on it (paying with their Oyster Card) as it passes through London. This makes it easier for people living in far-off neighbourhoods to get home/work faster.

Barcelona does the same, but all of Barcelona and some of the close-in suburbs (including El Prat de Llobregat, where the airport is) are in zone 1. This would be like putting NYC and much of Westchester, Nassau, and Hudson counties in one zone, and moving out from there.

It really disincentivises driving when it’s that cheap/quick to get into town from the far neighbourhoods and the suburbs.

Christopher April 6, 2015 - 3:46 pm

In SF, the monthly transit pass also covers BART within the City. Not sure how that works out with all region Clipper Card so there’s precedent in the U.S. And BART and Muni aren’t the same system so it was somewhat more impressive.

Jonah April 9, 2015 - 4:59 pm

There’s a $12 upcharge for the Muni monthly pass that includes in-city BART access

Kyle April 6, 2015 - 5:07 pm

I would rather see a universal city monthly fare that can be used on all modes of Transit, including the LIRR, Metro North, Air Train, and Express Buses sold within NYC. Then for thos people who choose to live beyond the borders on NYC, make them pay by Zone, radating out from NYC because obviously the trains on the LIRR and Metro North go much further distances and the cost per mile given the significanly smaller number of people at the locations is grows person. At that point Sell Zone cards that as long as it goes into NYC they gain the same access we have in the city.

lop April 7, 2015 - 3:46 pm

Not sure what you were trying to say about cost per mile, but the commuter railroads don’t cost a fortune per passenger mile compared to other transit in the city.


System wide metro north has operating costs of 43 cents per passenger mile.


LIRR is 56 cents.


Subways are 44 cents.
Buses are $1.25-1.54


Including capital costs the average express bus trip costs about as much as the average commuter railroad trip.

AG April 6, 2015 - 7:55 pm

I personally think City Ticket should operate at all times… However even if it doesn’t – riders from Co-Op City and Morris Park can afford to pay Metro-North fares. Parkchester is more borderline – but they have easy access to the 6.. I think you’ll see more reverse commuters there… Hunts Point – well they won’t be going downtown – those will be reverse commuters. Remember the Bronx has the highest reverse commute percentage of any urban area in the country. Morris Park (Pelham Bay) is now a very large job center and is growing (see Hutch Metro Center and all the hospitals).

As to why they think the feds will pick up the tab…? Resiliency.
Remember they appealed this project for post Sandy funds… It gives another way in and out of the city for the rest of the region.

wise infrastructure April 7, 2015 - 1:15 am

There has to be a balance between revenue and costs, yet most of us want more and cheaper service – apparently contradictory goals.

There are a few solutions to make it happen:

1-Congestion/road tolling done in such a way that those who do pay benefit from less congestion as do the users of improved transit
2-Elimation of non-productive rules including:
-higher commuter rail operating costs
-FRA vehicle requirements – have computer controlled vehicle separation segregate freight trains from commuter trains to allow currently prohibited cheaper to buy and cheaper to run lighter commuter trains
-break the unions while ensuring fair wages for a full work day
-integrate of different transit systems and eliminate archaic rules
-reduce construction costs
-allow the airport usage tax to be used for systems that serve the airports even if such systems include stops not serving the airport

LLQBTT April 7, 2015 - 9:12 am

Aren’t these stations as much to benefit reverse commuting? New Haven line trains into Manhattan are already SRO, so picking up in the Bronx at an increased fare and having to stand isn’t much of a compelling draw from the nearby subways.

AG April 7, 2015 - 11:01 am

Very true… Though in The Bronx – the only stop New Haven trains make is Fordham. Harlem and Hudson line trains do make a lot of stops in the BX though.

tacony April 7, 2015 - 4:14 pm

The first step to experimenting with this thesis that 1) lower in-city ridership is due to high fares and 2) there’s excess unused capacity on the trains should be to simply implement CityTicket on all off-peak trains. Why isn’t the MTA already doing that? I’d assume that 1) and/or 2) aren’t true. or the MTA is just leaving money on the table.

adirondacker12800 April 7, 2015 - 7:32 pm

Lower in-city ridership comes from people going places not Penn Station or Grand Central. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to get on a bus to get to a commuter rail station, go to the terminal and then get on the subway when you can just get on the subway and be there with a one seat ride or a two seat ride.


Leave a Comment