A 1953 $0.15 subway token, good for one fare. Source: Lev Radin (NYC Transit Metrocard Unofficial Site)

THE COMMUTE: In the first two parts [Part I, Part II], we examined the history of free transfers in New York City, discussing types of trips requiring a second fare and how unfair it was. We asked the question if we are moving backwards by not allowing a second bus transfer for those using a local bus to access a Limited Stop Service or Select Bus Service since those who do could be faced with a double-fare. Today we discuss a fairer fare and why the MTA would be resistant to such a change.

Limited Stop And Select Bus Service

Recently, the MTA has been converting-heavily used bus lines into Limited Stop or Select Bus Service (SBS), with more routes to be converted in the future. Both these types of services provide fewer stops than traditional local bus routes. The advantages are several. Fewer stops mean faster bus running times and therefore lower operating costs.

There are also advantages for the bus riders. Local bus travel is notoriously slow, averaging from about four miles per hour (even slower in Midtown Manhattan) to about 12 MPH. A taxi or car, which makes no stops, only travels about 20 MPH on average on local streets. Shortening the running time can cut travel time significantly for those making longer trips. There is a downside, however. Those not able to walk up to a half mile to access a Limited Stop or SBS route are inconvenienced. They are forced to use the slower locals, which do not operate as often as they did before the introduction of the new services, and also wait longer for them. The alternative is to walk extra distances or take a local bus to access the SBS or Limited route.

For those who can walk the extra distances, the extra time involved and the odds of missing a bus while walking to a further bus stop can cancel out your savings if you are not making a longer than average trip. Whatever the case may be, the introduction of Limited Stop or SBS service should not have an impact on the fare you pay. If you merely switch from the local, it will not. However, if you cannot walk the extra distances and still want to take advantage of one of these new services, you will have to pay an additional fare if you use a local bus to access the SBS or Limited Stop and you still need to transfer to a third bus or train to complete your trip.

What Should Be Done

It would make more sense to change the transfer policy so that any change between a local and Limited or SBS route can be made at no charge and will not affect another transfer to a bus or train rather than making specific exceptions, as will be done in the case of the S79 SBS.

When SBS comes to Brooklyn on the B44 in 2013, only one SBS stop is proposed between Avenue H and Avenue U: Kings Highway. Anyone who currently uses the Limited or local bus and gets on or off between those points and wants to use the SBS will be faced with an additional fare if they can’t walk to either Kings Highway or Avenue U if they first take a local to get to the SBS then transfer again to another bus or train. Those living near Avenue K or Avenue R would be especially vulnerable since it is doubtful that those passengers would walk to an SBS stop.

The MTA is trying to keep three-legged transfers to a minimum granting them only to those who speak up. If we say nothing, many who want to take advantage of the SBS will be faced with extra fares or slower trips on the B44 local than they had on the Limited, because locals will operate less frequently once SBS comes to the B44.

The Fairest Fare

The zone system is the fairest. The further you travel, the more you pay. It works best in areas where there are distinctive zones such as a route passing through distinct cities and towns. We have never had a zone system in New York and probably never will because all our neighborhoods run together. Wherever you draw a zone line, someone could always walk several blocks extra into the next zone lowering his fare. That would be just as bad as when some bus routes transferred to others with seemingly no rationale. So what would be the next fairest system that would make sense for New York?

I submit that it would be a time-based fare. Currently, one free bus transfer is allowed if made within two hours of entering the system. An unlimited amount of subway transfers are also allowed regardless of the time it takes to make them. Since no record is kept of when people exit the system, wouldn’t the fairest system be one where you can make an unlimited number of transfers, whether it is to a bus or subway, provided the final transfer is made within a certain time of you entering the system? I propose that other than late at night, when there would be no time limit, that the time limit be either 90 or 60 minutes. That way the only passengers who would require a second fare would be those traveling extra long distances, for example from Coney Island to the northern Bronx, from Staten Island to eastern Queens, or from the Rockaways to The Bronx. That seems fairer to me than charging someone a double fare for a short trip within his home borough just because the trip requires a third bus, as is presently the case.

Why The MTA Would Probably Resist Such A Plan

The MTA and the New York City Transit Authority preceding them have had an irrational fear of riders making a round trip for a single fare, which they feel would be detrimental to their bottom line. They have taken every measure possible to try to prevent this. Yet, it still can be done in some areas where there are multiple bus and subway routes and you are willing to do a little extra walking. For example, what is preventing someone from taking the 86th Street bus in one direction and making their return trip on the Bath Avenue bus for one fare if the trip is completed within the current permissible two-hour time limit? Technically, you are cheating the system if you do this, but it is not fare evasion since such a trip is legally permitted.

Why shouldn’t all short round trips that are completed within about two hours be permitted? Would not that encourage use of mass transit, a goal we want to accomplish? Yes, some revenue would be lost, but most people who currently use the system do not use it for short errands but for trips encompassing a good portion of the day — to work, school, hospitals, beaches etc.

In fact, the current fare structure discourages such short trips. Is it really worth it to pay $4.50 — soon to be $5 — just to travel a half, or three-quarters of, a mile and return? Don’t many without unlimited passes just choose to walk instead? Would not a fare permitting unlimited trips within a two-hour period encourage new travel, perhaps even add more revenue than would be lost?

Increased revenue would also be obtained from those who currently travel 20 miles or more on a single fare and might have to pay double fare for that long trip if the time period for transfers were shortened from two hours. Determining the actual time limits, so that total revenue would not be lower from such a change, would necessitate further study. Just as free bus-to-subway transfers and unlimited passes added many new trips, I submit that permitting short round trips, within two hours on a single fare, would also greatly increase system usage and revenue.

Conclusion

It just makes sense that the fare you pay should not be dependent on luck, if the routes happen to serve your needs or not. The fare that you pay should not be a matter of chance but based on a rationale. Fare equity is less of a problem today than in years past, but we are moving back in the direction of larger percentages of passengers needing to pay double fares to make one-way trips. A fairer fare structure, based more on distance traveled than on the number of vehicles required, needs to be studied before a fare increase is made. The MTA’s fear of losing revenue by allowing short round trips for a single fare is irrational. They attempt to prevent such trips and, at the same time, have paid little attention to real fare evasion until recently.

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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  • sonicboy678

    I got slightly concerned about the time frame that you proposed for free transfers. Then I read a bit further and quickly erased the concern. Actually, I thought about a trip from where I live to Co-Op City. The trip requires three trains (two if the 5 is running in Brooklyn at the time) and a bus. To make matters worse, the bus must serve Section 5. Thanks to low bus frequencies, many transfers, the fact that Co-Op City is practically isolated, and other possible problems that may arise, people may not feel that it’s fair. I, however, can see your point. It is a long trip, running from Midwood (in a portion that would easily be mistaken for Flatbush) to Co-Op City. It takes well over an hour to travel from Flatbush Avenue to Pelham Bay Park. I could use some other bus routes, but SOME people I know get lost too easily and will even make it seem like you’re trying to get lost; to make matters worse, I actually have general ideas about how the alternative routes operate (as in where their destinations are or what streets to look for them at).

    • Allan Rosen

      I would prefer that no one pays two fares.  It all depends how it works out financially.  Something needs to balance the small number of passengers who now pay two pares for a short round trip that would now be able to pay one, although that may be taken care of by additional trips made.  Those currently paying two fares for a short one way trip that would now pay one fare may not be made up in additional trips.

      I don’t know the economics of how you make these predictions but I am ssuming that someone knows how to do this.  If the time limit is shortened to 60 minutes, for example to make a transfer after entering the system, it still may be possible to make a two hour trip on one fare depending on where your transfers occur.  It may also be two fares one way and one fare for the other way. Actually that really isnt any different than a senior who pays full fare one way and returns home for free.

      The only problem with my idea as I see it since you brought up Co-Op City is that someone should not be penalized farewise for circuitous routing wherein it could take 45 minutes just to get out of Coop City because of the looping, when it should take 15 minutes.  I used to visit my aunt in Section 5 about 30 years ago so I am sort of familiar with the area and share your concerns.

      But generally, I still believe such a system would be fairer than what we have today.  Also, the higher the base fare goes, the fewer people will be using the system for shorter trips and we need a way of keeping those people.  I think my plan would do it.  When the base fare rises to $3.50 which may not be that far away in the future, will anyone take a trip of only one mile in length without an unlimited pass?  We have to start thinking differently, instead od just raising the base fare.

  • http://www.facebook.com/aemoreira81 Adam Moreira

    For what it is worth, S79 customers who will lose access to their service when it is converted to SBS are getting a third transfer if the middle leg of the trip involves the SBS. I would expect that this same solution to be placed here.

    • Allan Rosen

      I think that makes sense, but why shouldn’t that be the policy with all SBS routes?

      • http://www.facebook.com/aemoreira81 Adam Moreira

        You could make an argument that this should have been the case with the M15, which lost a few stops in Chinatown and in Alphabet City. However, the S79 is the first route that had a local route converted to a limited-stop SBS route with significant loss of stops.

        • Allan Rosen

          B44 SBS also will lose a significant number of stops which is why this should be standard policy

          • http://www.facebook.com/aemoreira81 Adam Moreira

            Are there any other proposed changes in routes with respect to the B44 SBS introduction? Because I can tell you that Rogers Avenue will be overserved; it would not be a bad idea to have the B49 run via Bedford Avenue in both directions.

          • Allan Rosen

            None that I know of. Moving the bus to Bedford is not great idea because of heavy congestion between Empire and around Beverley.

            Moving it to Ocean all the way is better in my opinion.

          • Flatbush Depot

            Why not move the 49 to New York/Brooklyn and put all the 44s on Rogers? The 49 would use New York in both directions between ENY Ave and Ave “D”. North of ENY the SB 49 would use Brooklyn while the NB 49 uses New York. I know Ocean is denser and busier than NY Ave, but Ocean is still closer to transportation (BMT, B41). I do like the Ocean Ave routing since Ocean is so dense, but do you not think it would be better to put bidirectional north-south service on a block other than Nostrand or Utica within East Flatbush, since New York Ave and East FB in general are not as well-served by transportation as Ocean Ave and FB neighborhood in general? Just asking.

            Also, regarding the low number of stops on the 44 SBS, let me just give you some food for thought. It is not uncommon to see any of the following occurrences, during PM rush mind you, south of Junction on the B44:

            -LTD leaves “U” a minute or so before the local, yet the local manages to pass the LTD at around “R” or Kings Highway

            -Local bus gathers people at “R” or “L”, LTD bus bypasses either of these stops due to the fact that nobody on the LTD bus has requested those stops and the people who were waiting at either stop have boarded the local bus, leaving literally nobody for the LTD bus to gather.

            Also I would much rather have three-legged transfers than more stops on the 44 SBS. The only way it should make more stops is if it becomes a Light Rail line or a BRT line using a physically separated ROW south of Junction

          • Flatbush Depot

            Just to clarify, I have observed all of those occurrences while riding the 44 LTD

          • Flatbush Depot

            Also the LTD tends not to catch up to the local until Junction when those things happen.

            I guess that if the 49 were the NY Ave bus, MTA could perhaps restore the B23 when it is financially safe or appropriate (or whatever) and run it up Ocean from Cortelyou. Then send it via Empire to create a route via upper Ocean Ave and Empire. I know you wanted the 49 to run along the length of Ocean and then along Empire, but if the 49 did that and the 23 were to be the New York Ave bus, the 23 would have to turn down Flatbush to get to either Foster, Farragut, or Glenwood and then go across to New York. That does not sound too bad either, since another bus would serve the Junction and bus service between Junction and New York Ave would continue to operate despite the removal of all B44 service from there. My only problem with it is that the 23 would be a little circuitous, but still and all, it sounds like it could work

  • Andrew

    Most cities and regions around the world with zone fares don’t have sharp zone boundaries. In fact, New York has obvious sharp lines in the rivers. If some people choose to walk across a zone boundary to pay a lower fare, I don’t see the big deal. At the risk of increasing the system’s complexity, implementing a lot of small zones minimizes this concern.

    A regional zonal or distance-based intermodal fare structure would undoubtedly be the most equitable system, but don’t hold your breath. Zonal fares would likely require exit swipes, which would seriously delay bus service and would require rebuilding most subway stations to provide adequate exit capacity. Perhaps even more challenging would be satisfying elected officials in districts which would see increased fares. But if I’m going to dream, I dream for a zonal system that encompasses all operators and virtually all modes in the region.

    I’d love to see unlimited transfers, but they’d obviously result in lost fare revenue as multiple trips would be covered by a single fare. What do you propose to replace that lost fare revenue? (The MTA certainly doesn’t object outright to round trips for a single fare – when MetroCard transfers were first introduced, they explicitly invited short-haul riders to take the subway one way and the bus back with a free transfer between the two.)

    Meanwhile, cutting the transfer period to 60 or even 90 minutes would hurt a lot of people who use infrequent buses. Missing a connection to an infrequent bus can kill 30 minutes, during which time the clock is ticking.

    Would not a fare permitting unlimited trips within a two-hour period encourage new travel, perhaps even add more revenue than would be lost?

    I sincerely doubt it. Simply lowering the fare would also encourage new travel, but it also wouldn’t add more revenue than would be lost.

    Just as free bus-to-subway transfers and unlimited passes added many new trips, I submit that permitting short round trips, within two hours on a single fare, would also greatly increase system usage and revenue.

    Free bus-to-subway transfers and unlimited passes certainly added many new trips, and the increased ridership triggered major bus service increases. From 1996 to 2004, ridership was up 36.9% while fare revenue was up only 5.2%; operating expenses were up 53.5% while operating revenue was up only 7.4%.

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