Source: CoolVintage / Etsy

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).

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.

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  • http://www.brucebrodinsky.com Bruce B

    Most interesting history….  if you had the time and desire, I’d love to see an article or series on the history of the subway system especially into our area. I’m finally reading that well-known book “Coney Island Lost and Found”, where the author briefly touches on the origin of rail routes (and other transportation) into Coney (and the whole island, including Manhattan Beach), but it’s pretty barebones.

    • Allan Rosen

      I’ll consider your suggestion but I don’t want to bore people since I don’t know how much interest there is among the general population regarding transit history.  I might do a very general article with a lot of links where you can go for additional information.

      • NeckRoadWarrior

        Oh, trust me, it’s interesting, and especially since it can spur younger readers to ask “why aren’t we using this infrastructure?” Look at the High Line, almost razed but for some getting info about it
        out there to those who didn’t even look at it twice (I think it should have been used as a subway extension, but
        at least it was SAVED).

        More asking things like that, and the Bay Ridge Branch might become a subway within our lifetimes.

        • Allan Rosen

          No one ever gave me a satisfactory answer as to why the 14th Street line could not have been extended via the High Line instead of extending the #7.  It wouls have cost a fraction of what it costs to build a subway, and the High Line would have virtually disappeared from view because development could have been built above and below with the High Line occupying the second story of high rises which could have been constructed similar to one of Robert Moses’s proposal for a Mid-Manhattan Expressway with the road being the second floor and high rises above it. 

          • LLQBTT

            I believe your answer is as follows:

            Mayor Mike believes in economic development through real estate development.  It was likely the conclusion that a park would send surrounding values higher in an already developing area than a subway extension.

            Plus, we know how he feels about the MTA and probably couldn’t be bothered with their dithering and engineering to build the connector from 9th to the High Line and then to build out the High Line.

          • Allan Rosen

            I don’t know if I fully agree with you.  I think a new transit line I believe would increase surrounding values far more than any park would.  Also, although the mayor provided the funding for the 7 extension, he still had to rely on MTA engineering. 

            I think the reason had to do with people thinking of the High Line as a decrepid old el that needs to be demolished until the park advocates came along.  Heaven forbid if we allow another unsightly el in Midtown after we demolished all of them. The thing they failed to realize is that although the High Line is above ground, it is not blocking the sunlight from any avenue since it is between blocks and there was no visionary in power such as Robert Moses who advocated highways, to advocate fpe keeping the High Line and converting it to mass transit. The MTA isn’t exactly known for being innovative or finding a least costly alternative.  In their eyes, extending the #7 was free although they will have to pay the cost for operations and maintenance.  Had someone suggested reusing the High Line for mass transit at one third the cost of extending the 7, the MTA would still have chosen the #7 extension as long as someone else was paying for it.

          • Andrew

            Running an active subway line through buildings would have made those buildings extremely undesireable places to live or work, while simultaneously increasing maintenance costs. Subway trains make noise and vibrations. The goal of the 7 extension is to increase property values (in fact, the anticipated increase in tax revenues is what’s paying for the line); an L extension as you propose would more likely decrease property values.

            You give the analogy of the Mid-Manhattan Expressway, which was (thank goodness) defeated, in part for similar reasons.

  • sonicboy678

    See? This is why S79 SBS is a bad idea.

    • Allan Rosen

      I don’t know enough about Staten Island to really say if the S79 is a bad idea or not. The problem with the transfers occurs with all SBS routes unless the MTA reconsiders its transfer policy.

      • gustaajedrez

        The S79 is basically going to become an all-limited route like the M101. It’s not an actual +SBS+ route.

        As for the third transfer, we don’t know if it’ll only apply to the subway or if it’ll apply to the other buses. It’s just that the bus is known for ending at the subway, so the newspaper mentioned the transfer to the subway. (The S53 has that third transfer programmed in. I’ve only used it to reach the subway, so I don’t know if it applies to the buses).

        BTW, it ends at 86th Street, not 95th Street.

  • winson

    hey, Staten Island residents need to start paying their fair share of the fare. The SIR is still free except at St. George and Tompkinsville! This is a basic trade-off for them, ride the trains for free, but pay double for the bus.

  • NeckRoadWarrior

    Allan, I won’t cross-post, but since Pt. 1 was more about transfers, I just posted something there I composed here regarding how the disabled and elderly are penalized by the current bus, and bus transfer, structure. I hope you’ll give it a look.

  • LLQBTT

    I never understood why transfers are not permitted between Limited and local buses. I always viewed this like an express and local situation on the subway.  Can you please explain?

    thanks!!

    • Allan Rosen

      Exactly.  That’s the way I look at it too. It is even more important for buses however, since in the subway system there are unlimited transfers as long as you don’t leave the system as well as a few walking transfers where no physical connection exists.

      One can only guess why buses are not treated the same.  I have my own theories. The major reason, I believe, is unlike unlike subway transfers which are automatic, thr MetroCard system is set up to only allow one bus transfer. Any additional transfers you allow requires additional programming work and that requires extra work which the MTA desperately tries to avoid when it doesn’t have to do it.

      Since there was no public outcry after the first Limited bus was put in place, the MTA decided to leave the system as is with only one transfer. Logic is never a determining factor when the MTA is involved.  If that were the case we wouldn’t have had to wait so long for universal free transfers with them first providing add-a-rides.

      There was also the disincentive that more free transfers may mean less revenue. The MTA shuns three legged bus transfers because heaven forbid if a rider conducts business at a transfer point like buying something at a local store, because in the MTA’s eyes you re cheating them out of a fare if you do.  You should only change buses at a transfer point and nothing else.

      The MTA rarely initiates anything on its own other than fare increases and investments in new equipment or facilities.  Most things it does is the result of public pressure, providing air conditioning, buying articulated buses, providing free transfers, etc.  It took them over a decade to realize that it is better to provide preventative maintenance rather than waiting for subway cars to break down before making repairs.

      When the public complains loud enough that bus transfers between local and limited should be treated just like ones between local and express subways, then they will do it.  Fairness has never been an MTA priority.  Maximizing revenue and looking for easy solutions that avoid extra work are.

    • Andrew

      Limited bus stops are a lot more similar in spacing to local subway stops than to express subway stops. Look at the Manhattan bus map, where it’s easy to compare stop spacing on the 4/5/6 train and the roughly parallel M15 SBS. The subway has 23 local stops (including the 3 stations south of Brooklyn Bridge) but only 9 express stops (also generously including the 3 stations south of Brooklyn Bridge, which are closely spaced even as local stops) between 125th and the Battery, and M15 SBS has 20 stops.

      The vast majority of subway riders, once they’re above the subway line they need, can walk to the nearest station without difficulty (and, in fact, would rather put up with the walk in exchange for not having their train stop every 2-3 blocks). Similarly, the vast majority of bus riders, once they’re on the street served by their bus line, can walk to the nearest limited or SBS stop without difficulty. Local buses are still available for those who are unable to walk those distances or would prefer a shorter walk to a bus that takes longer. The (very very few) who transfer from a local subway to a local bus use up their one and only transfer in the process and can’t transfer to a second bus.

      Riders with unlimited cards can freely transfer between limited/SBS buses and local buses. That provides NYCT with data on how much demand there is for such transfers. Aside from cases like the S79, where the SBS (or limited) goes somewhere entirely different from the local, I suspect that the reason three-leg transfers aren’t offered is because revealed (as opposed to stated) demand is virtually nil.

    • Allan Rosen

      Andrew conveniently ignores the fact that when given a choice the elderly and anyone who has difficulty walking or is carrying anything bulky will sacrifice time and choose bus over subway. Those people don’t count in his opinion and we need not serve them. A local bus is good enough for them. They don’t need a faster SBS or Limited. With absolutely no data he asserts there is very little demand for a subway and two buses or three-legged transfers. He is telling you that everyone who currently rides the B44 will be able to walk to an SBS stop at Avenue H, Kings Highway, and Avenue U, although those stops will be spaced from 3/4 to one mile apart. Thats an average walk of a half mile plus the quarter mile to access Nostrand Avenue or three-quarters of a mile. Try doing that on crutches. Oh yeah they can always take a cab. (I will no longer answer Andew directly.)

      • Andrew

        Andrew conveniently ignores the fact that when given a choice the elderly and anyone who has difficulty walking or is carrying anything bulky will sacrifice time and choose bus over subway. Those people don’t count in his opinion and we need not serve them.

        I’ve asked you before, and I’ll ask you again now, to please not put words in my mouth. I explicitly said, “Local buses are still available for those who are unable to walk those distances or would prefer a shorter walk to a bus that takes longer.” Those people most certainly do count, and they should be served, and in fact they are served.

        A local bus is good enough for them. They don’t need a faster SBS or Limited.

        If they’re unable or unwilling to walk to the nearest SBS or limited stop, then, yes, they’ll have to make do with the local. If a limited made every stop, it wouldn’t be a limited anymore.

        With absolutely no data he asserts there is very little demand for a subway and two buses or three-legged transfers.

        What data have you presented that indicates that there is more than a negligible demand for transfers between locals and limiteds? Do you really think that many people who have trouble walking or who have their hands full will transfer from bus to bus to bus if they don’t need to?

        If this isn’t plainly obvious to you, then go ahead and file a FOIL request for transfer data.

        You claim that there’s a problem. You’ve explained what the problem is in theory, but you haven’t shown to what degree, if at all, it’s a problem in practice. Personally, I don’t think we should waste time worrying about problems that exist in theory but not in practice.

        He is telling you that everyone who currently rides the B44 will be able to walk to an SBS stop at Avenue H, Kings Highway, and Avenue U, although those stops will be spaced from 3/4 to one mile apart.

        I never said anything of the sort. Local service isn’t being discontinued, and anyone who can’t walk to the nearest SBS stop will be accommodated by the local.

        On most of the B44, proposed SBS stops are spaced similar to local (not express) subway stations. I agree that the spacing between Flatbush and Avenue U is somewhat wider, and if it proves to be a problem, additional stops can be added (much as Bx12 SBS got a new stop at Sedgwick Ave. when its omission proved problematic). Nothing’s set in stone – a stop has already been added at Newkirk/D.

        Oh yeah they can always take a cab.

        Why wouldn’t they just take the local?

        (I will no longer answer Andew directly.)

        No, you’ll just speak of him in the third person. I find it quite amusing – almost the reverse of the “royal we.”

      • Andrew

        Andrew conveniently ignores the fact that when given a choice the elderly and anyone who has difficulty walking or is carrying anything bulky will sacrifice time and choose bus over subway. Those people don’t count in his opinion and we need not serve them.

        I’ve asked you before, and I’ll ask you again now, to please not put words in my mouth. I explicitly said, “Local buses are still available for those who are unable to walk those distances or would prefer a shorter walk to a bus that takes longer.” Those people most certainly do count, and they should be served, and in fact they are served.

        A local bus is good enough for them. They don’t need a faster SBS or Limited.

        If they’re unable or unwilling to walk to the nearest SBS or limited stop, then, yes, they’ll have to make do with the local. If a limited made every stop, it wouldn’t be a limited anymore.

        With absolutely no data he asserts there is very little demand for a subway and two buses or three-legged transfers.

        What data have you presented that indicates that there is more than a negligible demand for transfers between locals and limiteds? Do you really think that many people who have trouble walking or who have their hands full will transfer from bus to bus to bus if they don’t need to?

        If this isn’t plainly obvious to you, then go ahead and file a FOIL request for transfer data.

        You claim that there’s a problem. You’ve explained what the problem is in theory, but you haven’t shown to what degree, if at all, it’s a problem in practice. Personally, I don’t think we should waste time worrying about problems that exist in theory but not in practice.

        He is telling you that everyone who currently rides the B44 will be able to walk to an SBS stop at Avenue H, Kings Highway, and Avenue U, although those stops will be spaced from 3/4 to one mile apart.

        I never said anything of the sort. Local service isn’t being discontinued, and anyone who can’t walk to the nearest SBS stop will be accommodated by the local.

        On most of the B44, proposed SBS stops are spaced similar to local (not express) subway stations. I agree that the spacing between Flatbush and Avenue U is somewhat wider, and if it proves to be a problem, additional stops can be added (much as Bx12 SBS got a new stop at Sedgwick Ave. when its omission proved problematic). Nothing’s set in stone – a stop has already been added at Newkirk/D.

        Oh yeah they can always take a cab.

        Why wouldn’t they just take the local?

        (I will no longer answer Andew directly.)

        No, you’ll just speak of him in the third person. I find it quite amusing – almost the reverse of the “royal we.”

        • Andrew

          Sorry about the double-post – when I tried to delete the duplicate, Disqus merely changed it to a guest post!