Home Fare Hikes MTA Board approves fare hike but avoids a $3 swipe, for now

MTA Board approves fare hike but avoids a $3 swipe, for now

by Benjamin Kabak
The new fares  shown in the table here go into effect on March 19, 2017.

The new fares shown in the table here go into effect on March 19, 2017.

At the last board meeting of his almost four-year tenure atop the MTA, outgoing Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast had the unfortunate opportunity to oversee yet another vote to approve a fare hike. For Prendergast, this was the agency’s second fare increase during his tenure, and he missed a third by a matter of days as Joe Lhota resigned from the MTA nearly moments after voting for the 2013 fare hike. These increases have become a way of life for New York, part of the MTA’s fiscally responsible plan to catch up with inflation by raising rates every two years, but this economic reality doesn’t make them any easier to swallow.

For the MTA, last week’s fare hike vote came wrapped in intrigue. The MTA had proposed a $3 base fare with a substantial 16 percent bonus for pay-per-ride card purchases above $6 which effectively made the fare $2.59. But the public could not stomach a $3 per-swipe deduction, and the agency ultimately approved a deal worse for all but ocassional riders and those who cannot afford to buy fares in bulk. The per-swipe cost will still be $2.75, but the bulk discount bonus will drop to 5 percent for purchases of $5.50 and above. The actual cost of a ride, then, will be $2.62 or three cents more than it would have under the $3 proposal. It is perhaps a psychological victory for riders but not exactly an economic win.

For those who pay time-based passes, the increases were a fait accompli as both fare hike proposals included the same increases for unlimited ride cards. A 30-day card will now cost $121, up $4.50 for its current rate, and 7-day cards will see a $1 bump to $32. For those who ride at least 47 times a month and can afford an initial $121 outlay, the 30-day card is the best deal while the 7-day card requires 13 rides. Express bus fares jumped 50 cents, and Metro-North and LIRR riders will see increases of around four percent, all of which are tracked in this pdf.

The new fares will go into effect on March 19, and I’ll have any details on grace periods for 30-day cards and other sunsetting windows as the MTA announces them. The agency, meanwhile, tried to spin this with good news as this year’s biennial increase is a lower-than-expected hike. “The MTA is focused on keeping our fares affordable for low-income riders and frequent riders, and on how we can keep necessary scheduled increases as small and as predictable as possible,” Prendergast said in a statement. “Keeping fares and tolls down was possible because of the continued operational efficiencies and ways we have reduced costs while adding service and capacity along our busiest corridors, most recently with the opening of the new Second Avenue subway.”

Yet, what was notable about the debate of the fare hike wasn’t really around the details of the MTA’s fifth fare hike since 2009 but rather what it didn’t include: any relief for low-income riders. For months, a coalition of activist groups has been pushing the city, state and MTA on implementing a subsidized fare program for low-income riders who are challenged to find the money for transit fares. Depending upon the income cut-off, such a program would likely cost around $174 million per year, in line with the total amount the MTA spends on subsidized student fares. Groups have targeted both the mayor and the governor, but in the grand tradition of the de Blasio-Cuomo feud, the mayor has pointed to the governor as responsible for transit funding decisions and the governor has done nothing. It’s possible to make a case that either the city or state should fund this initiative, and I’m not sure there’s a wrong answer. But right now, no one is funding this fair fare proposal.

And so our rides will get a little bit more expensive in March. It’s becoming the cost of doing business in an era without congestion pricing or cost controls.

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LordDeucey January 29, 2017 - 11:59 pm

Higher unlimiteds, lower bonus, craptacular service levels and a contract that includes above inflation raises…

Put in some fiscal conservatives on the labor side, and some efficiency minded construction leaders and I might give up my moral opposition to East River Tolls and Congestion pricing since these increases aren’t getting TA any closer to solvency or adequate service.

And INB4Larry Littlefield.

Roxie January 30, 2017 - 4:27 am

As someone on a low income, it’s kind of nice and kind of not to see them stay the pay-per-ride fare hike.
On the one hand, it means I don’t have to worry about pinching even more pennies (or nickels and dimes, really, pennies are worse than useless) in order to get where I need to go in a (relatively) timely fashion.
On the other hand, the bulk reload bonus is being cut in half, and the MTA will probably end up having to go straight to $3.50 in two years or so, and include an unlimited-card hike in that fare increase as well. And on top of all that, if they do, in fact, finally manage to get contactless payment going within the next few years, the fare card will probably have a hefty purchase fee attached to it. Hoo boy.

Larry Littlefield January 30, 2017 - 7:24 am

As demonstrated by what the TWU demanded in the latest contract, LIRR workers got bigger raises in the prior contract. They also were paid more to begin with for the same job, and are less productive. And have all kinds of scams embedded in their contract, more than the TWU.

So the question is, are commuter rail fares going up faster than subway fares? And if now, who is covering the cost of the differences mentioned above?

eo January 30, 2017 - 7:35 am

People need to stop demanding from the MTA to provide reduced fares for low income raiders. Doing so represents mission creep for the MTA and will make nobody happy — neither the low income raiders, not the full fare payers. The MTA’s mission is to run public transportation, not to be a welfare agency. They hardly get a passing grade on their current mission. Why add another one that they will be even worse at?

I am not objecting to providing relief to low income raiders, but that should be done by the city or the state via whatever social agencies they already have in place. If the city wants, they can buy metrocards at full price and distribute them to whoever they want for whatever reduced cost they want. But please pay the MTA the full amount! I am ok if the city or the state wants to take a loss, but don’t make my commute worse by cutting even more finding from the perennially underfunded MTA.

Marc January 30, 2017 - 11:50 am

The Riders Alliance and the Community Service Society have been asking the mayor, not the MTA, to fund a half fare program for low income riders.

Shawn January 30, 2017 - 9:24 am

You can’t have a great mass transit system and a cheap system. Either the MTA works for the middle class or it works for the low-income but it can’t do both.

$121 is cheaper per month than most of our middle class colleagues pay in auto insurance alone much less their car payment and gasoline all-in.

The MTA provides the greatest return on what you pay of any transportation system in the USA and if we want it to get better we all need to pay up for that capability.

Bolwerk January 30, 2017 - 10:23 am

The base fare should probably go up to $3.50 at this point, but the monthlies should be lowered.

JJJJ January 30, 2017 - 12:41 pm

Paris, Moscow and Mexico City all work fantastically with low fares. Better than the MTA in almost every way in fact.

ChrisInEngland January 31, 2017 - 9:38 am

But what tax payer support do those systems get to pay for operations / subsidise fares? How does that compare to the MTA?

If you get shed loads of money then you can have low(er) fares.

But what is given can be taken away.

For example by 2018 UK central Government grant to TFL for day to day operations will end.

Tower18 January 30, 2017 - 8:19 pm

You can’t have a great mass transit system and a cheap system.

Strictly, and categorically false.

It would be more correct to say “you can’t have a great mass transit system and a cheap system if you halfheartedly expect said system to put up a facade of covering its costs, reducing subsidies, and basically pretend to be a for-profit private corporation”

As noted, other systems around the world provide better service at lower or similar fares…but those countries have different prevailing views about subsidy and the role of government.

Larry Littlefield January 30, 2017 - 11:55 am

You have to look at what people pay elsewhere in the U.S.


In 2015, the average U.S. household in the bottom decile of the income distribution had 1.6 people, 0.5 earners, 0.8 vehicles, and spent $3,616 on transportation.

The average household in the lowest quintile had 1.7 people, 0.5 earners, 0.9 vehicles and spent $3,559 on transportation.

At $121 per month, the monthly Metrocard costs $1,452 per year. The whole household could use it, though not at the same time. For perhaps $500 per year a second adult could travel by bicycle. That’s still less than $2,000. Kids get 3 rides a day for school if it isn’t in walking distance, and are free during pre-school age.

For another $300, a poor family of four could have 115 pay per ride rises, enough for the whole family to go somewhere by transit 38 times. That’s still only about $2,250, far cheaper than the average poor American family spends on transport.

Even for the poor, transit and bicycles are so much cheaper than the alternative — a motor vehicle — that the quality and avoiding that motor vehicle matters more than the cost.

Ryan January 30, 2017 - 12:01 pm

The “bonus” is an abomination and the next fare hike should simply eliminate it entirely.

al January 30, 2017 - 6:13 pm

Thats a bad idea. Getting rid of the bonus will lengthen lines at MVMs, increase the Monday AM rush wait times, and turnstile area crowding. A better idea is to go with mobile and RFID payment systems. That would boost the MTA bottom line (lower fare collection costs) and enable low income people to get fare bonuses in smaller increments.

Tower18 January 30, 2017 - 8:35 pm

I don’t see why that follows. If your position is that the bonus makes people want to put more money in larger chunks (thus avoiding the negatives you list), wouldn’t the desire to avoid the negatives you list be enough to incentivize that behavior? The only people motivated to put an extra $20 when they don’t need to is those for whom $2 really makes a difference, and those people probably aren’t giving them MTA $20 either way, and will continue to buy single rides (which is the real problem).

You’re correct in that the MTA should implement better payment systems, but #1 they should *also* remove the bonus, and #2 better payment systems don’t generally solve the “poor people queueing at MVMs to buy single rides” problem (why? the populations you’re talking about, who can’t afford to put money on a card anyway, probably don’t have contactless bank cards, don’t have smart phones, and *still* don’t have extra money to loan the MTA, bonus or no bonus). However, they do reduce the numbers of *everyone else* using the MVMs because they can reload online, or auto reload.

The bonus is dumb. We should have a fare policy that penalizes cash single rides (with some allowance via social program or whatever for the truly poor), and has a lower fare for metrocard/contactless/RFID payment, and then various passes. That’s it. No stupid bonus structure.

Bolwerk January 30, 2017 - 8:39 pm

The bonus should be extended. The more people pay up front, the bigger their bonus should be. The bonus cuts down on transaction costs, cuts lines, and encourages more riding.

TomSchmidt January 30, 2017 - 4:20 pm

Looks like it is time to buy a bunch of single ride value under the current bonus. It’s like buying tokens in the old days and hoping they didn’t make you exchange them for new.

For Ryan, who wants to eliminate the bonus: New Yorkers live for these small victories over “the man.” Don’t take them away, please!

Marsha January 30, 2017 - 8:49 pm

Ah, a man after my own heart. I’m having a 70s flashback when we used to go from station to station buying 10 packs of tokens, and then two tokens, when a fare increase was announced. Now I’ll have to do some fancy math to get the best bang for my subway fare buck.

Billy G January 30, 2017 - 5:57 pm

Raise the fare to $5, stop picking on the bridge users.

Or I could carry my bucket of hammers and saws on the 6, I’m sure everyone would prefer that, including my manspreading amigoes.

Bolwerk January 30, 2017 - 7:59 pm

Do it, buttercup!

Tower18 January 30, 2017 - 8:37 pm

You seem to be unwittingly making a case for toll reform, rather than trolling against subway fares. I think you’d find many people are receptive to reform of our ridiculous toll (and untolled) road policies here.

Roger January 30, 2017 - 9:17 pm

What is the maximum amount of money that a MetroCard can hold? I will be joining the long line of people who will add as much as possible into their MetroCards on March 18.

Anonymous February 2, 2017 - 4:52 am

$100 max (including bonus), with a max refill amount of $80 ($81, if purchasing a new card).

Anonymous February 2, 2017 - 5:08 am

If putting $80 on a MetroCard, with the bonus, it will come out to $88.80 before (32.291 rides), and $84.00 after (30.545 rides, or 1.746 rides less – a net $4.80 difference)

If trying to max out your MetroCard after putting in $80, it will require $10.09 to do so before, and $15.24 to do so afterwards, a difference of $5.15.

Spendmore Wastemor January 30, 2017 - 10:51 pm

The current technology allows for congestion pricing: During rush hour peak direction, have the faregates charge 25% more or take a little time off the unlimited cards. Subways are horribly overcrowded during rush hour; even the subways themselves get backed up.

Or was the proposal for someone other than the MTA rider to pay the congestion charge? 😉

Larry Littlefield January 31, 2017 - 7:35 am

Doesn’t sound like you are riding. The subways are overcrowded much of the time.

Spendmore Wastemor January 31, 2017 - 9:18 pm

I attempted to add a wink icon, not sure it worked. It is true that I no longer make regular use of the subway, when I did i can recall it being crowded up to 10pm on some lines.

Which raises the question: If a mass transit vehicle is crowded, why isn’t it making a profit? Two drivers hauling 500 to 1000 people should be printing money, even at $2.50 per 5 mile average trip. That’s 50 cents per mile. An airline will haul you from NY to LA for under $400, at 500mph.
That’s about 14 cents per mile, and you get an upholstered seat, a window (maybe) and (these days) a free screaming child kicking your seat. But the plane fare pays to run the entire airline, while the subway fare pays half the operating and none of the capital costs to roll you on a fixed guideway, in no particular hurry, while standing.

This is not a 1:1 comparison, as it’s long distance vs local travel etc, but there’s something wrong when traveling in a freakin’ jet aircraft costs less per mile than being packed into a subway car.

Bolwerk February 1, 2017 - 3:45 pm

Revenue on the subway is about $.28/passenger-mile. They don’t make anywhere near the fare in revenue per unlinked trip. They make closer to $1.16. A typical Metrocard fare involves multiple unlinked trips and discounts. (2014 numbers.)

I’m pretty sure airlines have not, over the years, paid all their own expenses either (especially given some high-profile bailouts). In any case, the comparison is not very good. A jet travels a few miles a minute on average, while a subway can take several minutes to go a mile. Of course per-mile expenses are higher on the subway; the biggest expense is usually labor, and planes manage trivial per-mile labor costs based on the speeds and distances they travel.

Spendmore Wastemor February 3, 2017 - 9:47 am

“Revenue on the subway is about $.28/passenger-mile.”
K, thanks for that stat, it’s helpful. That appears to average miles where the train is full and other mileage where the train is sparsely occupied. There’s a big difference in revenue per mile between a packed train and one with 20 bodies per car.

Obv, a jet and a subway are very different, but I think the contrast needs to be noted. Going fast is better service than going slow, you’d expect better service to cost more. US public subways cost too much for the product delivered, but they are monopolists with a captive market.

Perhaps reworking at least some of the subway to move faster (for example, less braking between stops, some construction/change work) and use of OPTO on some lines are in order. Seems to me that MTA/TWU want to stay stuck in 1930 to inflate their costs and size.

btw, I -still- don’t see running updates for these threads so I don’t know when someone responds. I’ll have to see if there’s a way other than getting an email for each + every post.

Roger January 31, 2017 - 8:49 am

But most New Yorkers who take subways during rush hours have no alternatives.

Tower18 January 31, 2017 - 10:55 am

UGH, NO! The purpose of transportation policy is to encourage mass transit ridership, not suppress it. If trains are crowded, run more trains, do not raise fares to suppress ridership.

The obvious retort is about congestion charging for automobiles, but to the extent policy has choices, the choice that provides the greatest social good should be chosen. Transit usage is a net positive whereas private auto use is a negative. Ergo, charging to suppress private automobile demand is good policy, but charging to suppress transit demand is bad policy.

Meyer January 31, 2017 - 11:43 am

The LIRR charges more for peak usage, maybe the subway should follow.

It would also help the low income riders if they would stop blowing so much money on lottery tickets.

We’ve all been behind these people spending 20 bucks on the daily #.

Jeff January 31, 2017 - 4:19 pm

If they increase rush hour fares and tolls across the board then? Perhaps it will drive adaptation of flexible work hours, which would help decrease congestion and overcrowding across the board, whether it’s the train or the car.

Duke January 31, 2017 - 8:06 pm

Except that flexible work schedules are a decision made by employers, not employees, and employers do not pay for commuting costs – employees do.

Could motivate more people who have flexibility to use it, though.

Spendmore Wastemor January 31, 2017 - 8:54 pm

Well, in a city like NYC, private car usage maxes itself out pretty quickly. There’s almost nowhere to park, and if one adds just a few more vehicle there’s nowhere to move. But there are few cities with the density of NYC.

Subways do move massive numbers of people without street-level intrusion, but they, or at least this subway, also moves people in nasty conditions. New Yorkers get accustomed to it and can’t imagine any other way, but being jammed like animals isn’t a great way to move around. Try carrying your dry cleaning items back on the subway.

Ackshully, I believe cattle are not allowed to be packed that tight while live, and they don’t stand on 110 degree platforms. IDK if they stand around in each other’s urine, but normal humans don’t.

Yes, the NYC subway is one of the world’s notable public works, but one doesn’t look forward to another 19mph subway shuffle to roughly one’s destination.

Transportation policy should not be to force people into one or another mode of transit, but to attract them to one that is broadly agreed on to be right *for their city*. Here, the only physically possible way to move 9M people in/out of Manhattan and western BK/Qns is via subway/El. Go much distance from this super-density Megopolis and that no longer applies.


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