Monday, February 25, 2013

MTA Fare Hikes...They're Baaack!

How MTA feels about fare hikes

How I feel about fare hikes

And yes, I'm referring to the lil guy on the right.
Animated GIFs from Buzz Feed

I remember when an MTA fare cost $1.00. Yes, in exchange for a dollar you received a token which would give you access to the underground network of tunnels we know as the Subway. Times have changed since the late '80s. Tokens are an afterthought, while MetroCards reign supreme. The cost of travel has increased substantially; "A History of MTA Fare Hikes" provides a list of all fare increases from 1904-2009. After reading this exhaustive list do not forget there have been increases since then. On March 1st 2013, we will experience yet another hike, the fourth one in five years. Single ride fares will increase from $2.25 to $2.50, weekly passes will increase $1 to total $30, and my beloved monthly unlimited ride will jump from $104 to $112. That may not seem like a lot, but money is tight all around.

And what about the Pizza Principle?! Oh God don't let the cost of my slice increase in conjunction with this hike!!!!!!! Ok. Back to the issue at hand...

Two summers ago I remember having real trouble getting to work. I was living off my student loans and part-time income. (Still my life story, but anyway...) After paying my bills I barely had enough to get me to my job and my unpaid internship. So I'd put on my pitiful face and beg for a swipe into the Subway. I got many responses; compassion, from some, but more often I got looks of disgust, especially since I was dressed in business and business casual attire. Their looks translated to "why don't you swipe me in, Miss Thing?" I had to wake up earlier and get to the station and pray that someone would swipe me in so I wouldn't get to work late. Sometimes things went according to plan, other times it didn't. Where was The Sunset Park Peoples' Transportation Program (PTP), the most organized "free ride" project in NYC when I needed them? (This great organization is now defunct, btw.) On top of all this add the disapproving stares from MTA workers and the NYPD. It was a truly humiliating experience, one that many New Yorkers face daily. Imagine having your budget planned out to the last cent then a hike comes along. How do you manage? Ask for swipes (AKA subject yourself to humiliation) or hope the turnstile (AKA become a criminal and pay MTA/NYPD more for money via a summons)? 

Costs are increasing everywhere but wages are not keeping up. We are (unfortunately) too far away from the reality of a living wage, but what about putting some type of restriction on how much and how often MTA can increase its fare? I realize it is expensive to run such an extensive operation, but I simultaneously feel robbed knowing how much money is paid into the system by straphangers, yet we don't even have reliable service. Dare I say it...maybe the fat cats are making too much? Since MTA is a monopoly in NYC boycotting will never work. Too many people depend on this one service and there is no legitimate substitute, unless you live, work and shop near Flatbush or Utica Avenue (insert my Caribbean accent here...wa'gwan dollar van drivas! And no, gentrifiers and new comers, the cost to get in isn't $1, although it used to be when they first came to BK. Their price always remains at the whole dollar amount rounded down from the current MTA fare.)

In a perfect world I'd like to see the following list of requests met with MTA funds.
  1. Stabilization of fare hikes. You know, comprehensive legislation that prevents these all too frequent increases in transportation costs for NYC. Increases are understandable, but not so many of them. Four in five years? It sounds like the MTA needs to learn to manage its money better.
  2. All stations need to comply with ADA standards. The Subway was first opened for service in 1904 and here we are 109 years later and handicapped individuals don't have access to all Subway stations.  I find it disgusting, offensive and exclusionary that we even have to use the phrase "handicapped accessible" in reference to Subway stations. They all should be accessible to EVERYONE.
  3. While our transit system is rivaled by many cites across the globe for the expanse it covers and for being a 24 hour system, we must admit that we've lost our shine and push for bring on the cutting edge. Countries such as X, Y and Z are on the bleeding edge of transportation technology.  For us investment in green technology is imperative. While there are sustainability initiatives such as the installation of solar panels in a Brooklyn train station and   water recycling, we can do more. Even if the environment isn't enough motivation to make the change how about ego? Americans, specifically New Yorkers are big on ego. Other countries are incorporating new technologies to make their systems more efficient and less expensive, which reduces environmental externalities. How about using some of these ideas from "6 Ways to Harness Wasted Energy of Trains (and their Passengers)"?
  4.  Countdown clocks are mandatory in all stations, for every train line. They should be installed near the kiosks, visible to customers before they swipe their cards, and also inside the stations in major walk ways and also on platforms.
  5. There should be a reusable MetroCard by now. This would reduce litter in the Subway and also save the MTA money on card production. A pilot program with unlimited users would be a great place to start. Instead, MTA is planning to rely on other technologies, such as rely on tap and go payment systems that banks will provide. MTA, suck it up and create a sturdier card.
  6. At least one escalator should be integrated into high traffic stations. This will help clear smaller platforms more quickly by channeling strap hangers away from the platform.
  7. We need cleaner Subways. Trash and recycling receptacles need to be available for waste disposal. Platforms and seats need to be scrubbed down. While I always see this happening at the Union Square station on the Q line, I wonder how often it is done throughout the system.
  8. We also need an underground that is well sealed. It is quite unfortunate when you need to use your umbrella underground on rainy days. No one likes strange fluid falling on them. This goes for inside the trains as well. People console each other when they get dropped on. "Oh. It's just some rain water,” or ” It's anti-freeze.” I don't care what it is. With my luck it will be some radioactive substance that will give me a superpower my personality and body can't handle. I have too much going on in my life to be turning green and busting out of my clothes every time I am upset or frustrated, let alone underground with rude straphangers. Please fix the leaks!
  9. Rodent brainer. I can't tell you how big of a tourist attraction this is. Do we want to be known as rat city? I guess we already are known as that, but you get my gist. MTA can begin the initiative at the Bedford Avenue stop on the L train. That station becomes a zoo at night, and the critters aren't afraid of people, either. Maybe they've been swimming thought that radioactive water?
  10. Kiosks must accept cash and cards at all times. You can't expect people not to jump turnstiles when your machines (and people) don't accept their form of money. No, I don't want to go back above ground to find a bank to feed into your monopoly. Take it as a loss! 
  11. Improve service on all trains, especially the G, since it is the only train that connects BK and Queens, without having to leave the island they are on. The G is the must pitiful line that exists, so undesirable that someone decided to croon "The G Train Blues." Hilare! When people ask me questions about moving to NYC I advise them to not live where this is the sole line. Poor "G"randma needs to be revived with trains that run faster and further.
  12. Create a vibrant and welcoming space with Subway art. The historic tiles and mosaics (in some stations) are beautiful and provide an aesthetic of beauty underground. Also, there is the possibility to include art in tunnels, as well. Check out "Masstransiscope" by Bill Brand. This moving art is visible on the B and Q train lines between Dekalb Avenue and the Brooklyn Bridge (in the direction of Manhattan.) Isn't it beautiful?  
While I realize these improvements will require capital to make them realities, MTA makes money off an average of 5,284,295 individuals who ride every weekday alone (2011 statistic.) You do the math plus add income from advertising and city and state subsidies. Something has got to give.


  1. i hear you...a) when MTA unleashed an ad campaign demonizing the swipe i was surprised citizens did not suit. i know in Philly (base fare $3 and transfer 60 cents) this happened and because its a public transportation if you don't have the fare and ask for a ride workers have to let you through. b) revenue from advertising is way down and the state share has been stagnant since 2003 despite rising upkeep costs, and given the cost of environmental factors (ie: Sandy, et al storms) upkeep costs are going to way outstrip anything the rider can forkover. c) The best policy prescriptive Bloomie has ever had .... is the congestion pricing (similar to London's) which would have created a new revenue stream for MTA because let's face it...the city needs public transportation without business just doesn't happen in a meaningful way.

  2. Many of your ideas are under some sort of testing. Thew new Second Ave stations are being designed to be handicap-accessible. Unfortunately, engineering concerns prevent this from happening everywhere. Your MetroCard is reusable. In fact, you now have the option of adding either additional value or "time" (i.e 7 days, 30 days unlimited) on to the same card. And hold on to that MetroCard, $1 surcharge starts next week.

    There is/was a pilot program at some N/R stations where trash cans were removed, in hope of reducing the amount of trash "brought into" stations and thrown on tracks - reducing the rodent problem. (Port Authority does not provide trash cans in its stations.)

    The plan is for fare hikes every other year through this decade. And believe it or not, fares could be higher. Mass transit receives subsidies from the state and federal government as well as the MTA's toll bridges and tunnels, which are also going up.