A Fare Discussion

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Dear Editor:

There has been recent discussion regarding providing reduced fares for low income residents. However, some middle-income residents for whom unlimited passes do not make economic sense or who take short trips or require multiple fares to complete a trip also need relief from the MTA’s fare hikes every two years.

Three dollars to travel less than a mile and another three dollars to return home is too expensive. The fact that those traveling from Tottenville to Pelham Bay Park pay the same amount makes little sense and is unfair.

Zone systems do not make sense either for dense urban areas. So, what is the answer? It is a timebased system where you pay a flat amount for traveling within a certain time-period. Since we do not have to swipe when exiting, the time element can only be measured from when you enter the system until when your final transfer is made.

We do not have such a system because of the MTA’s irrational fear of losing too much revenue due to riders being able make a round trip for one fare. The amount of revenue that would be lost would be far less than estimated. The reason being that estimates do not include additional trips that would be made such as a quick 15 minute errand which could be made for $3 instead of six.

It is this same fear that allowed an unfair bus transfer system, allowing a free transfer for a second bus while having to pay an additional fare for another route on a parallel street, to exist for an additional 50 years after it no longer made any sense. The BMT refused to change that system in the 1930s when it acquired virtually all the bus routes in Brooklyn from a half dozen private companies. The Board of Transportation, the New York Transit Authority and the MTA kept this unfair system in place until the 1980s.

Extra fares were required to transfer between buses and subways until MetroCard Gold was instituted. Again, it took far too long to add these transfers because of a fear that too much revenue would be lost. After each major fare change it was learned that the estimates for lost revenue were too high.

It is time we eliminate the final element of an unfair fare system which gets more unfair with each fare increase. That is not permitting short round trips within a short time frame for a single fare and one-way trips requiring three buses and two fares. There are only a handful of locations where three buses are allowed for a single fare but those are kept secret.

It is not as if some round trips cannot already be made for a single fare. Where the network is dense, with a little ingenuity, all it takes is traveling home on a different bus route with a little extra walking or traveling one way by train and returning home by bus, if you do it within two hours. So why not allow that for everyone?

Why should someone requiring three buses to make a short trip be punished further with an additional fare because an outdated route structure that doesn’t happen to serve his needs? He is already punished by having to wait for three buses.

What about those who take a long bus ride using two buses when a bus to the train and another one from the train would be quicker, but would cost an extra fare? How much extra bus service is provided because of this unfair fare policy? No one knows, because this has never been studied.

There used to be a policy that no service change will require additional fares. However, the MTA abandoned that policy. Now, SBS riders who want to transfer to the local (because stops are spaced too far for them to walk to) and need to transfer to a third bus require an additional fare to take advantage of SBS time savings. An example would be B44 passengers boarding at Avenue R.

This is what I propose: Unlimited trips for one fare if the time between entering the system and making your final transfer is no greater than 90 minutes (or two hours when service is infrequent). That way no one travels or walks extra distances just to save a fare and the MTA does not have to provide extra bus service due to travel patterns resulting from someone avoiding an extra fare.

Such a system would also allow walking transfers between two subway lines that do not have a physical connection allowing for more direct trips.

When the subways were operated by private companies, extra fares or indirect travel was required because there were no transfers between those companies. Although the fare was only a nickel, there were a high percentage of trips requiring three or even four fares. Each time the fare was further rationalized, that percentage dropped significantly.

Half the riders do not have unlimited passes. Those are the ones who suffer from our present unfair policy and they should not be ignored. Reducing the benefits for those riders pushes more passengers into the pay per ride category, while raising the base fare punishes double fare riders twice as much. Neither of the MTA’s two proposed options is satisfactory. Nor is the long-range plan to increase this unfairness every two years and as additional SBS routes are added.

It is time to eliminate the final barrier to an unfair fare system by allowing unlimited rides within a short time-period for a single fare. Most passengers without unlimited passes still will pay at least two fares daily so this change will minimally affect revenue.


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