Monday, July 19, 2010

MTA Looking To Limit Unlimited Metrocards

The unlimited Metrocard is a godsend for New Yorkers, many of whom do not have cars and rely on the transit system to get around town and to go to work. It's enabled riders to get around the city and pushed usage of the transit system to levels not seen in decades.

All those riders would presumably be a boon for revenues, but the unlimited rides means that the MTA sees a declining percentage per ride for those who use those unlimited cards - especially among those who use their unlimited rides to the fullest extent. At least, that's how the MTA perceiving it. Let's just ignore the fact that there are some people who buy unlimited cards and don't use them to the extent that it makes it worth obtaining in the first place (which inures a benefit to the MTA).

So, the MTA is looking at slapping limitations on to unlimited cards. The proposals would do away with the incentives to use mass transit altogether, and would likely lead to increases in car and other modes of transportation (especially cab fares). As Second Avenue Sagas points out:
The problem is simply one of economics. By charging people a flat rate for a week’s or a month’s worth of subway and bus rides, the MTA is both encouraging use and fiscal abuse. All of a sudden, rides that we wouldn’t make — a two-stop ride to avoid the rain or midtown crowds — are worthwhile because those trips lower the per-trip cost of an unlimited MetroCard.

While more New Yorkers are taking the subway now than at any time since the automobile age, the MTA is making less per ride than they were 15 years ago. In fact, in April 2010, the average non-student fare across subways and buses — and accounting for higher express bus rates — came in at $1.48. In nominal dollars, that’s just ten cents higher than the average 1996 fare of $1.38, and in constant 1996 dollars, the April total was $1.02, a whopping 36 cents less per ride than we paid in 1996 when tokens were the currency of the subway.

Now, as The Times and the Wall Street Journal both detail today, the MTA is trying to combat this money lost to inflation. Andrew Grossman of The Journal uses a messenger service to make the point. Once, messenger services used bicycles to navigate New York, but as the cost of a subway ride decreased and worker’s comp insurance increased, these messengers turned to the subway. Some use as many as 20 MetroCard swipes per day, and they average around 20 cents per ride. Under the new scheme, they would go through a 30-day/90-ride card in under a week.

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