THE COMMUTE: Last week, I briefly discussed the history of free transfers in New York City, expounding on types of trips requiring a second fare and how unfair it was. It was a simplified discussion, omitting reduced fare bus / subway transfers offered by the Board of Transportation, some free subway / bus transfers offered by the NYCTA and by some privately operated lines in the 1950s, and special programs such as half-fare on Sundays or the Shopper’s Special in Manhattan. (More detailed information is available here. We continue the discussion below).
Bus / subway transfers began in 1997 with the introduction of MetroCard Gold. One year later, discounts and unlimited ride cards were offered. It took more than 20 years of complaints from transit consumer groups and elected officials to make the fare policy fairer.
Today, most local trips can be made with just one fare and, if you use the system often enough to be able to afford an unlimited pass, you are in an even better situation as long as the MTA continues to offer unlimited ride passes. However, there are many trips that still require an additional fare. They are trips that require the use of more than two buses to reach your destination.
Also, when free bus transfers became the norm, the MTA quietly discontinued virtually all of the three-legged transfers created to serve past generations, who were since long gone. The programming needed to allow these transfers to continue with MetroCard was not worth the effort. Eliminating them also reduced the possibility of making a round trip on a single fare. MetroCard replaced paper transfers and add-a-rides, which enumerated the transfers that were allowed. For those still paying by cash, bus transfers can now be made by presenting by a plain paper card in the same shape as a MetroCard to the transferring bus.
A few three-legged transfers, which were created within the previous 20 years, were left in place, such as the transfers between the B11, B6 and the B46. That transfer was created around 1980 when the B11 was cutback from Rockaway Parkway to Nostrand Avenue after being extended from 18th Avenue two years earlier.
New three-legged transfers were also put in place in 2009 when the B61 was split into the B61 and B62 in Downtown Brooklyn. These three-legged transfers that remain are lot listed or publicized. You just have to know they exist. Today, few even realize why certain extra transfers do not cost extra, probably attributing not being charged extra for a third bus as a mistake or a glitch in the system.
Are We Moving Backwards?
After huge simplifications to the fare structure in 1994 and 1997, it would seem the fare is becoming more complex once again. Bonuses are becoming more difficult to calculate, additional three-legged transfers are being added — and are not publicized — in certain cases, but not in others, and some have to pay extra to take advantage of limited stop or SBS services. Prepayment on some, but not all, SBS routes are further complicating fare paying.
Although the base fare steadily rose once the line could no longer be held at 15 cents, which was in effect for 13 years until 1966, the percentage of trips requiring more than one fare has decreased between 1994 and 2010. Free bus transfers became the norm, additional bus-subway transfers were created and double subway fares to the Rockaways were eliminated. (In retrospect, many believe that the 15-cent fare was held artificially too low for too long a period and that today’s fare is a bargain compared to the rate of inflation, transfers offered, the unlimited card option and bonuses offered lowering the base fare, etc. Those subjects are beyond the scope of this discussion.)
However, in recent years, the number of passengers required to pay a double fare to complete a trip is increasing once again. The MTA abandoned a fare policy in existence since the beginning of mass transit in New York City, that a change or discontinuation of a route, which may involve taking an additional bus or trolley line to complete your trip, should not result in the user having to pay an additional fare.
The introduction of Limited Stop and SBS services did not provide for additional transfers to allow for transferring between a local bus and these new services. Instead, such a transfer counts as the one bus transfer allowed. Therefore, if you make such a transfer, you must now pay an additional fare for the transfer to another bus route you used to make for free. Your alternative is to walk further to a bus stop to use a Limited or SBS bus, which can be a hardship for those who have difficulty walking.
Additionally, the service cutbacks of two years ago also increased the percentage of trips requiring additional fares. In other words, you now had to pay more for less direct service. To some extent, the service restorations to take effect next January will undo some of those extra fares.
Transferring from one bus to another on the same route in the same direction was never counted as a transfer and is still allowed when a bus does not operate to the end of the route. The same should be true when transferring between a local and a limited or SBS route. Riders who take a local to access a limited or SBS route are paying extra to make a second transfer only because they have accepted the additional charge without complaining. Most are probably walking extra to avoid the additional fare or else have just stayed with the local, although the SBS or Limited would be faster.
Staten Island Riders Did Complain
The MTA is now planning to convert the S79 — which operates along Hylan Boulevard from the Staten Island Mall to Bay Ridge over the Verrazano Bridge — to SBS. Unlike existing SBS routes, there will be no prepayment of fares or an S79 local. Instead, local service will be provided by the S78, which terminates at the St. George Ferry. Riders who currently use the S79 to change for the R train at 95th Street in Brooklyn complained that if they will have to take the S78 to get to the S79, their transfer to the subway will now cost them a second fare. The MTA has agreed to program in a second transfer to prevent an extra fare because of these complaints.
So the question remains: What about those who will have to take the S78 to the S79, and then transfer to the B1, for example? Why should those riders be faced with an additional fare while the subway riders would be spared? By providing specific exceptions to additional fares rather than guaranteeing that no one should have to pay an additional fare due to a service change, the MTA is once again returning to an irrational and unnecessarily complicated fare structure, in existence from the 1940s until 1997. That complicated fare and transfer structure took us nearly 60 years to simplify and make fairer, and now we are moving backwards once again.
Next Week: in the final part of this series, we look at a one-fare solution.
The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).
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