Source: paulmmay / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: Most likely $2.50.

But the real question is: What will happen to the bonuses and unlimited passes? Those discounts have been decreasing with each fare increase and the MTA is now proposing to eliminate the modest seven percent bonus when paying for at least $10 in rides. Also, last time the MTA tried to cap the unlimited passes but, instead, chose to steeply increase their cost, making them less useful for some.

Several months ago, MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota postponed the next fare from January to March 2013 because the MTA’s finances were in better shape than previously thought. So it came quite as a surprise when he announced on September 12 that eliminating the bonuses or discounts should be considered because the MTA only receives $1.63 for each $2.25 trip made.

Most of that reduction is due to unlimited seven- and 30-day passes. It is unclear if he is counting senior and student fares in that calculation. The seven percent bonus only lowers the base fare from $2.25 to $2.10 (Currently, the price for a one-way subway ride is already $2.50). The original reason for these discounts was to encourage riders to switch from paying in cash or tokens to the MetroCard. But aren’t there other reasons to maintain these discounts? Of course there are. The more passengers buy in bulk, the shorter the lines at station booths and vending machines. Also, if someone has already pre-paid for their trip, the greater the likelihood to make that trip by mass transit instead of walking, thus increasing revenue for the MTA. Besides, the MTA also benefits since they receive more money in advance that they can invest sooner and earn interest on.

A $2.50 base fare and elimination of the bonus represents an increase of nearly 18 percent for anyone who currently buys at least $10 worth of trips at once. That is quite substantial, especially when the city’s and state’s policy is to encourage the use mass transit. But that still is not the entire story.

Possible Elimination Of Unlimited Ride Cards

Lhota’s statement opens the door for a discussion about elimination of unlimited ride cards. However, according to the New York Daily News, the unlimited ride pass would only jump from $104 to $109 per month, after a much steeper increase in 2011.

Nevertheless, a possible elimination of the payroll tax currently being considered by Albany could very well threaten the future of the unlimited pass. The MTA might hold unlimited passes hostage if Albany takes that step or else threaten more service cuts. Riders would certainly care — but would Albany?

The MTA dislikes unlimited passes because of the small numbers of people who abuse them. Messenger services buy unlimited passes in bulk that they then transfer between employees. Fare scammers buy as many as 10 passes and sell swipes at a reduced cost at the turnstiles, keeping track of the number of minutes that have elapsed since the last time a pass was used since they cannot be used more frequently than every 18 or 20 minutes.

But is that a reason to punish those who legitimately need to take 10 or more trips a day, such as my friend who uses her pass to make numerous stops during the course of a workday because she is in sales. Forcing those like her to pay for each trip individually could increase her mass transit expenses by well over $5,000 per year. For some, it may make more sense to buy or lease an automobile, putting more pollution guzzlers on the road when our national goal is to encourage the use of mass transit. The MTA could also cap unlimited ride cards at four or six trips per day, which still could double someone’s transit expenses who makes multiple trips during the course of a workday.

Unintended Effects

When unlimited ride cards were introduced in 1998, the number of mass transit trips soared. If they were eliminated or capped at a limited number of trips, ridership would plummet. Subway riders would see little change other than less crowded trains as more riders would choose to walk one stop rather than taking the train. However, the changes on buses would be dramatic. If ridership plummets 20 percent as a result of a fare increase and elimination of unlimited passes, service would be cut dramatically. On a route running every four minutes, service could be cut to every five minutes for a several hours a day. However, on routes with less frequent service, a 15-minute headway could become a 20-minute headway if the reduction in patronage triggers a service reduction according to the service guidelines in use.

The real effects on service would even be greater due to the percentage of buses that bunch. A wait that was previously 30 minutes could increase to 40 minutes, thereby reducing someone’s choice to use that route in the first place, if alternatives exist, threatening the very existence of part or the entire route. That, in effect, could spur another round of service cuts. Regardless of what happens with the fare, we must make certain that unlimited ride passes are maintained.

What Will Probably Happen

It is no coincidence that Lhota made his announcement when he did, six months before a proposed fare increase. He gets to test the waters to determine how the public feels about eliminating bonuses. If there is no public outcry, then he can suggest the possibility of eliminating or capping unlimited passes. Proposing all fare and toll increases at the same time would undoubtedly spark a huge public protest. By unveiling the increases a little at a time, he can suggest alternatives to see which sparks the least protest so as to least hurt Governor Cuomo’s chances of reelection.

Once all the cards are on the table, he announces that he doesn’t want to go back on his promise to restore some of the service cuts, so the public will have to choose between or a combination of raising the base fare, eliminating bonuses, eliminating the unlimited passes, raising their cost or capping them, or just raising the base fare to $2.75 instead of $2.50.

The final result will be a compromise the politicians and MTA claim everyone will be able to live with. This strategy makes everyone focus only on the choices that the MTA has given them and eliminates any possibility of other discussions such as a switch to a time-based fare instead of a vehicle based fare, as I suggested in my series, “What Is A Fair Fare?”

Conclusion

  1. The MTA should be made to justify any proposed fare increase by clearly spelling out all the alternatives, including switching to a time-based fare;
  2. There should be enough citywide hearings so that you shouldn’t be required to wait two or three hours late into the night to speak, as with the service cut hearings;
  3. There should be separate hearings for toll increases as these are unrelated to the transit fare and;
  4. The MTA should not be allowed to hold combined hearings for 2013 and 2015, as the Port Authority did before raising its tolls the last time.

The purpose of public hearings should be to determine if a fare increase is necessary and by what amount. Instead, the MTA first announces the increase and then holds hearings only because they are legally required. Most believe their attendance would be futile and do not even show up since they believe the decisions have already been made. To some extent they are correct. However, an unusually large turnout lets politicians know that voters will hold them accountable in the following election if they do not allocate the MTA the funding it needs to operate and which MTA proposals are the most unpopular.

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.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10512175 Benjamin Griffel

    I fear the inevitable day when they let you pay with credit cards.  Then they can charge whatever they want and people won’t even notice.

    • Allan Rosen

      I just got double billed for my hotel stay in Chicago.  You are correct. How many people even check their credit card statements?

      I forgot to mention that the savings from eliminating the bonuses are overestimated if they didn’t take into account the odd amounts left on MetroCards that are currently thrown away.  That revenue would be lost and needs to be subtracted from the additional revenue from eliminating the bonuses.

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

      I don’t know, it would be one less card to carry in my wallet…. I keep track of all my charges. I balance going back to 1989!

    • Andrew

      That’s a problem with the MetroCard system as it exists today. If your fares get charged directly to your credit card, you can look them up afterwards and make sure everything’s in order. That looks like a step up, not a step down.

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

        Andrew, I have the easypay card that keeps charging your credit card when it runs down. you can look up your fares on it. Maybe this is for you.

        • Andrew

          Good point. I’ve thought about signing up for it but haven’t taken the plunge yet.

  • Peppertree5706

    I want to state here that an unlimited Metrocard is essential for me. I spend my summers in Brooklyn and ride frequently. If there were no unlimited cards, I would seriously consider spending my summers elsewhere. 

  • Andrew

    What will happen to the bonuses and unlimited passes? Those discounts have been decreasing with each fare increase

    Not true. The initial bonus, in 1998, was 10%. When the base fare went up from $1.50 to $2.00 in 2003, the bonus was doubled, to 20%. It wasn’t until 2008 that the bonus dropped (to 15%, then in 2010 to 7%).

    Several months ago, MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota postponed the next fare from January to March 2013 because the MTA’s finances were in better shape than previously thought. So it came quite as a surprise when he announced on September 12 that eliminating the bonuses or discounts should be considered because the MTA only receives $1.63 for each $2.25 trip made.

    I think it would make sense for some sort of bonus to remain, but I don’t see what’s wrong with the agency considering its elimination. In the end, I doubt it will be eliminated, since (as you point out) it helps to reduce demand on the machines and agents by encouraging large purchases.

    Nevertheless, a possible elimination of the payroll tax currently being considered by Albany could very well threaten the future of the unlimited pass. The MTA might hold unlimited passes hostage if Albany takes that step or else threaten more service cuts. Riders would certainly care — but would Albany?

    Anything is possible, but why do you think the MTA would link the payroll tax to unlimited cards? I see a number of more likely scenarios – a greater fare increase overall or more service cuts, perhaps targeted at the counties that have most strongly fought the payroll tax.

    The MTA dislikes unlimited passes because of the small numbers of people who abuse them.

    The MTA most certainly does not dislike unlimited passes!

    Yes, there is some abuse, and that’s a problem. But unlimited passes have promoted the robust growth in off-peak ridership that we’ve seen in recent years.

    When unlimited ride cards were introduced in 1998, the number of mass transit trips soared. If they were eliminated or capped at a limited number of trips, ridership would plummet. Subway riders would see little change other than less crowded trains as more riders would choose to walk one stop rather than taking the train. However, the changes on buses would be dramatic. If ridership plummets 20 percent as a result of a fare increase and elimination of unlimited passes, service would be cut dramatically. On a route running every four minutes, service could be cut to every five minutes for a several hours a day. However, on routes with less frequent service, a 15-minute headway could become a 20-minute headway if the reduction in patronage triggers a service reduction according to the service guidelines in use.

    I highly doubt unlimited cards are going away.

    But if they did go away, and ridership dropped as a result, subway service would be reduced in accordance with guidelines – just like bus service.

    The real effects on service would even be greater due to the percentage of buses that bunch. A wait that was previously 30 minutes could increase to 40 minutes, thereby reducing someone’s choice to use that route in the first place, if alternatives exist, threatening the very existence of part or the entire route.

    Fortunately, the policy headway for NYCT buses is 30 minutes, except at night and on express buses, so what you describe will not happen.

    The MTA should be made to justify any proposed fare increase by clearly spelling out all the alternatives, including switching to a time-based fare;

    Switching to a time-based fare would require even more of a base fare increase than would otherwise be necessary. Would a base fare of, say, $2.75 be worthwhile if it were offset by a time-based fare? As with any other change to the fare structure, there would be winners and losers.

    There should be enough citywide hearings so that you shouldn’t be required to wait two or three hours late into the night to speak, as with the service cut hearings;

    The bulk of the blame falls on the practice of allowing elected officials to speak ahead of everybody else and to speak for as long as they wish. To add insult to injury, not only do they delay the proceedings, they typically leave the room before their constituents have said a word. Elected officials should be subject to the same rules as their constituents and should wait around to hear from their constituents.

    Speakers can also expedite the process by sticking to constructive comments. “I hate the MTA” or “Don’t raise the fare” aren’t very helpful, but a suggestion of how to tweak the fare policy may well bear fruit. The public hearings I’ve attended have been heavy on the generic MTA-bashing and light on the specific suggestions.

    Also, don’t forget that comments can be submitted online and by mail.

    Public hearings are expensive and tedious. The more of them there are, the less likely it will be that the board members will be awake and attentive while you give your testimony.

    There should be separate hearings for toll increases as these are unrelated to the transit fare and;

    How are they unrelated? They serve the same goal and there’s no reason for them not to be considered as a single package.

    The MTA should not be allowed to hold combined hearings for 2013 and 2015, as the Port Authority did before raising its tolls the last time.

    Why not?

    The purpose of public hearings should be to determine if a fare increase is necessary and by what amount.

    Absolutely not! The purpose of public hearings should be to obtain public input on the details of a fare increase and/or service change once it is deemed necessary. Most members of the public are not budgeting experts who have familiarized themselves with the gory details of the MTA budget; the public simply isn’t in a position to make the determination you suggest.

    Of course, if you’ll ask them, they’ll say it isn’t necessary. That doesn’t mean that it really isn’t necessary.

    However, an unusually large turnout lets politicians know that voters will hold them accountable in the following election if they do not allocate the MTA the funding it needs to operate and which MTA proposals are the most unpopular.

    On the contrary, elected officials spend the first hour or two of the public hearing bashing the MTA, setting the tone for the evening, and then leave the room before their constituents have spoken.

    • guest

      You don’t give a damn about your fellow New Yorker who continues to get nickeled and dimed by the Money Thieving Authority do you?

      • Andrew

        Wow, what an intelligent response!

    • Allan Rosen

      As I told you last time, because you saw no need to apologize for your unwarranted attacks, I will no longer engage you in conversation that will go around in circles with you never admitting you are wrong ultimately ending in personal attacks.

      • Flatbush Depot

        Ouch, and I thought this was over (not putting anybody on the spot, just saying)…

        • Allan Rosen

          It’s over as far as I am concerned. I asked for an apology after he implied that Ned puts a disclaimer on my articles because they are so inaccurate. I pointed out that it is a standard disclaimer which is used for all opinion columns. Instead of apologizing, he stated none was necessary and tried to backtrack stating that was not his intent and he never implied that.

          I gave fair warning that without an apology, I will no longer converse with him and that’s where it stands. My time is too valuable for conversations that lead nowhere, only in circles or to new subjects or personal attacks.

          • Andrew

            You are welcome to believe what you’d like to believe, but, as I said back then, I was only pointing out that Ned’s lack of correction did not imply that he didn’t consider it worthy of correction.

            You took that as a personal attack. I certainly did not intend it as such.
            (But if it makes you happy, go on believing that I attacked you.)

      • Andrew

        As I told you last time, I apologize when I deem an apology appropriate and I don’t apologize when I don’t deem an apology appropriate.

        And as I told you last time, you are free to reply or not reply to whomever you choose. For the record, I do not believe there is anything in this comment that could possibly be construed as a personal attack.

        • Allan Rosen

          When someone only consistently points out inaccuracies even when there was none because the reader misread the statement and takes every opportunity to discredit most everything I write, implying nothing i write can be trusted by stating how do I know if anything is correct when I found this error, that indeed is a personal attack. You have done that numerous times and rarely if ever admit any of your mistakes, you just change the subject and sometimes we just go around in circles. I have no time for that nonsense. But when you stated that my articles are so inaccurate that Ned places a disclaimer on them because he does not want to be responsible, that was the icing on the cake. When I pointed out it is a standard disclaimer, you tried to change what you stated rather than apologize.

          • Andrew

            I’ve asked you several times to point out these supposed errors that I’ve made. I assure you that I am quite prepared to own up to my mistakes. If you are aware of any factual errors in my comments, please give me links. I can’t apologize for something I don’t know exists.

            I’ve now explained many times why I brought up the disclaimer. You’ve chosen to believe that I’m lying. There’s not much I can do about that. I can say that I’m sorry that you misunderstood, but of course that’s not an actual apology. You’re asking me to apologize for a perceived slight that was never intended, and I can’t honestly apologize for something I didn’t do. (It’s as if you were asking me to apologize for stealing $20 that had simply fallen out of your wallet.)

  • Microshock

    I save a lot of money riding my bike to college and back. Since I go 5 days a week, that’s 4.50 x 5 = 22.50 per week not spent on transportation.

    It’s also about twice as fast and gives you a workout so…there’s that. 

    • sonicboy678

      Do you bike through red lights and stop signs, down the street against the flow of traffic, and/or on the sidewalk?

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

         You’re pretty assumptive.

        • sonicboy678

          It’s better not to. The problem is, many bike riders have little respect for bike rules. I want to make sure that they can be separated. Don’t forget that Microshock’s description sounds suspicious of the actions that I mentioned earlier. Again, this is because of those that don’t respect the rules.

          • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

            Microshock is using a bicycle because of practical considerations. The reference to the time difference concerns the total time in traveling, including getting to and from public transportation. A direct route by bicycle can be quicker if one has to walk a distance to a public transportation source, or use both buses and trains.

            And riding a bicycle is good exercise.

          • sonicboy678

            Whatever floats your boat.

          • LennyM

            Your conclusion is that because riding a bicycle is faster than public transit/driving he must be guilty of breaking the law?

            Let me explain why you should revisit your idea of what efficient transportation is. The exact distance from my house to the classrooms at KBCC is 3 miles. When I went there it took me 45-60 min by bus (b49) to get to a classroom including walking time to/from the bus stop. It took me 35 min to drive there which includes 20 minutes to find parking and then walk to class. It took me 60 minutes to walk from my house to a class. It took me 15 minutes by bike including the walk across the Ocean ave footbridge and locking up the bike.

            The drive averaged 5mph, the bus ride 3-4mph, the walk 3mph. That bike ride including stopping at reds, going with
            the direction of traffic, and riding only on the road averaged 12mph and was between 2 and 4 times
            faster than any other mode of transportation.

            Just because your cars are causing traffic doesn’t mean that more maneuverable vehicles are affected or are breaking the law.

          • Allan Rosen

            You made some very good points. One you neglected to mention was that bus travel times coud be cut by at least 5 minutes if buses terminated on college property instead of at Mackenzie or Kensington Street where many students are forced to get off the bus. Reliability is also a big problem.

            Also, as pointed out below, both drivers and bikers break rules. But the percentage of bikers who run red lights far exceed drivers who do so.

          • LennyM

            I’ll address the second first: Anecdotal arguments against cyclists breaking the law are as sound as arguing against jaywalking. Unless you want to take up that cause, to curb jaywalking, then I’d recommend you avoid equating the damage a two ton car can do to a cyclist. But then again, you always wait at a crosswalk on red light don’t you?

            As for the buses terminating on kbcc property, I’m not sold. There isn’t enough room for them to maneuver on campus even if you make significant cuts to the pedestrian sidewalks and there wouldn’t be enough space for all the buses that can accumulate outside. All it would do is make the walk from the bus to class shorter but the problem isn’t where they terminate, the problem is that they bunch up and are, like you said, unreliable. It also doesn’t help that B49s have to drive through the entire length of Sheepshead bay road which for practical purposes might make sense as a one way street, but I digress. Terminating on kbcc property would not cut 5 min from the commute and even still 5 min would not address how wildly inefficient the b49 is.

          • Allan Rosen

            Also I never equated the damage a two-ton car can do as compared to a bicycle. Cyclists also have a responsibility to make sure they can be seen at night by wearing reflective gear and putting reflective decals on their bikes as well even if it is not required by law. Subchat has a picture of a drunk bicyclist riding on the BQE. Whose fault would it be if he were hit by a car? The driver is not wrong in every single instance as bicycle advocates woud like everyone to believe.

            Several years ago my friend hit a cyclist at 10 mph. The cyclist was going faster and coud not be seen at night in black clothing on a black bicycle when the street light was out

          • Allan Rosen

            Anecdotal arguments against cyclists are sound. Just stand on any corner where there are frequent cyclists and see what percentage go through red lights as compared to the percentage of cars that do the same. Comparing cyclists to pedestrians jaywalking just says two wrongs make a right.

            A five minute walk would be saved if buses terminated within the college. The MTA believes there is enough room, but KCC doesn’t want to sacrifice the land needed. I suggested avoiding Sheepshead Bay Road for some trips at dismissal time and the MTA told me they woud look into that.

          • sonicboy678

            You know, Lisanne! accused me of assuming. My concern is about exactly how the trip is being made that much faster, especially due to how bikes are built. They’re narrow, so they can slip through tight spaces and pass in manners that should never be performed. Some people look at the sidewalk and think it’s an appropriate place to ride a bike instead of walking it. I have seen many people biking down a street against the flow of traffic and even turning from one street onto another to do the same. I have also seen people ignoring red lights, sometimes to perform the aforementioned illegal turn.

            Now I apologize if I came off harshly with that one comment; however, I have seen too many of these things (and could have been hit by a few people doing those irresponsible things, at that). As long as you obey the traffic rules, then you’re okay with me. By the way, I take the train to and from school. I find it impractical to use a bike for several reasons that I really hope I don’t have to get into.

          • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

            I haven’t ridden a bike in close to 20 years, but did quite a bit until I was in my late thirties. There were then, as there are now, individuals who do not show enough respect for the idea that a bicycle is serious vehicle, and not a harmless toy. But I assure you that I, as well as countless others, were aware of the responsibility we had to exercise safe practices while riding.

            There were far less of us back then. But the bad examples still created a stereotype. Hence my specific annoyance with the questions you asked Microshock. Additionally, Microshock appears to me to be a responsible individual.

            Yes, bicycles are narrow, and can slip through narrow spaces. But I assure that when I did such things I was walking, not riding the bicycle. Others did likewise. Perhaps they still do.

            I have seen in the recent past seem both responsible and irresponsible behavior from cyclists. I have also seen that the average occasional cyclist is far more aware of proper bicycling practice than when I biked. So many who act without concern for the results of their behavior do so knowingly. The consequences of their disregard results in the continued general contempt shown for bicyclists. With much larger numbers now, this negative impression has the impression of being reinforced far more than occasionally, as was the case in the past.

            We do tend to quickly forget the nonincidental. Which is unfortunate for all the people who quietly go about their business without intruding on others. They deserve acknowledgment.

          • guest

            Our cars are causing more traffic because more lanes are being lost and converted to a mode of transportation that is not in use for the entire year. More traffic lights and stop signs are being placed causing more cars to have to stop and more pollution to fill the air. Also because we have a mayor and commissioner who are anti-automobile of any kind and enjoy wasting tax payer money.

          • LennyM

            Did you just try to argue that stopping is responsible for pollution instead of your choice to drive when alternate forms of transportation exist? There’s also no loss in space. There is space being repurposed for the safety of cyclists from the dangers of negligent or incompetent drivers, and sheepsheadbites alone has a massive archive of such drivers: http://www.sheepsheadbites.com/tag/accidents/
            That’s 22 pages of articles where someone was negligent enough to put convenience over safety. They make the case quite well for safety being a priority.

          • Andrew

            Some bike riders have little respect for bike rules, and some car drivers have little respect for car rules.

            Given that drivers are responsible for hundreds of deaths per year across the city while the most recent fatality caused by a cyclist was in 2009, I personally think it’s not worth focusing our energy or resources on cyclists until we’ve tackled the driver problem.

            And I’m not sure what you found suspicious in his post.

          • sonicboy678

            I already stated it. It’s unfortunate that many bikers do at least one of those things. Actually, it’s unfortunate that anyone that operates some sort of vehicle (even horses are considered such, though this can be discussed on a completely different site) can and sometimes will break rules that are laid out for them.

            Let’s not forget that some incidents involving cars and bikes (together, obviously) could have been prevented not just by the driver being more careful but the cyclist as well. So many of the incidents involving car doors slamming into bikers, for example, could have been prevented by staying just off of the center of the bike lane and looking at parked vehicles carefully. Some bikers are bold (translation: stupid) enough to jump in front of cars without warning. Ironically, to help reduce the number of people that get hit by cars while riding their bikes is to outlaw them unless in places such as parks and dedicated bike paths like the one that runs beside 9A. (I know people will hate me for that, but think about it. If we do that and focus on maintaining more strict enforcement of rules for heavier vehicles, then we may be able to properly enforce rules for bike traffic after allowing them to return to the streets.)

            By the way, I actually forgot about this fact. Bikes can travel pretty quickly. They can hit speeds of 62 miles per hour; the fact that they are considerably lighter than cars doesn’t help any. Granted, you have to pump it up to hit high speeds; however, the fact still remains that a biker could end up speeding and not even realize it.

    • Andrew

      One small quibble: If you buy a card for $21.05, the 7% bonus will bring that up to $22.52, enough for ten rides. So you’re saving $21.05 per week, not $22.50. (Spending $22.50 would give you a balance of $24.07, or $1.57 left over at the end of the week.)

      But if the bike works out better for you, go for it!

  • nolastname

    A royal screwing.

  • sonicboy678

    LennyM: Stopping does add slightly to the pollution; however, you’re right about the absurdity of the statement. The only reasons I can think of for using your own car are long-distance trips (Brooklyn to Manhattan, for example, is NOT one of those) and bulky items (example: normal purchases at BJ’s).