2015-11-11 / Front Page

MetroCard Undervalued

By Larry Penner

To The Editor:
The recent Subways Report Card issued by the New York State Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) was interesting, but missed some key issues. Their “Best to Worst MetroCard Ratings” for what they believe the value of a ride on each of the 20 subway lines was incomplete. They used the fare of $2.75 as a base line with various factors to determine the value of a ride. The Flushing No. 7 line was #1 in value at $2.15, while the B line came in last at $1.45. This analysis did not include a number of factors.

In 1996, the MetroCard was introduced. It included a free transfer between New York City Transit and New York City Department of Transportation franchised subsidized buses with the subway. A significant number of riders saved money by elimination of the two-fare zone. Clearly the value of their subway ride is worth more with a free transfer from a bus. A growing majority of riders use either a monthly or weekly MetroCard which reduces the cost per ride significantly below the Subways Report Card base line of $2.75. More and more employers, including the federal, state, and city government, along with various private employers, offer Transit Check to their employees. This provides major savings for the cost of anyone’s monthly MetroCard. Again, this significantly reduces the cost per ride of anyone using a MetroCard, clearly increasing the value of each ride.

Another issue not factored in is the value by distance per trip. A resident from Staten Island riding either a local NYCT bus riding the Staten Island Rapid Transit commuting to Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx or Queens would take the Staten Island Ferry. The ride from St. George, Staten Island to Whitehall Street, Manhattan is free. Upon debarking the boat, they could board the subway with a free transfer and travel up to one hour more to their final destination. A rider boarding the R subway line at Forest Hills, Queens could ride one hour to 96th Street in Brooklyn. Ditto for a rider on the A subway line from the Rockaways to midtown Manhattan. Trips on any of the 20 subway lines easily range from 30 minutes to 60 minutes or more, especially for those between boroughs, depending upon the origin and final destination. Isn’t a longer ride worth more to the rider than a shorter ride?

Frequency of service is also dependent upon cost and funding sources. Reduction of waiting times between trains especially off-peak and late at night would require running more trains. This can only be accomplished if both New York City and New York State provide millions of dollars more in operating assistance. Additional funds are needed to pay for engineers, conductors and maintenance employees. Some lines have no capacity to increase service during rush hour. This is due to either the tight spacing of trains or the need to upgrade antiquated signal systems to increase capacity for the number of trains that can run per hour. Communication Based Train Control (CBTC) has increased capacity on the BMT Canarsie L line. NYCT is in the process of installing CBTC on the 7 line. NYCT has future plans to install CBTC on the Queens Boulevard line, including the E, F, M, and R lines. Future Capital Programs from 2020 - 2024 going forward may add even more. Both CBTC projects are dependent upon the MTA 2015 - 2019 Five Year Capital Plan being fully funded and approved. CBTC can cost hundreds of millions per line.

It is common sense that seating is dependent upon the station one boards. During rush hour, riders who board at the first stop have the best chance for seats. As the train progresses in the morning, stop after stop from the Bronx, Queens or Brooklyn into Manhattan, seats become more and more difficult to come by. Sometimes for those riders willing to put up with a longer trip, using the local versus the express increases the odds of obtaining a seat. The closer the outer borough stop is to Manhattan, the odds of obtaining a seat grows slimmer. Historically, generation after generation, many riders have been accustomed to standing rather than sitting. This is nothing new. There will never be the capacity to provide seating for a significant number of riders.

Reliability of subway service on each line is also impacted by the mean distance between failure (when a car has to be removed from service for unscheduled maintenance) and average age of each fleet assigned to accommodate riders. Newer cars with less mileage usually have less frequent mechanical problems versus older cars which may have more frequent mechanical problems due to excessive mileage and service life. Maintenance of equipment may also be impacted by both age and capacity for each line’s yard. Under the Five Year Capital Program, it is always a struggle for the MTA/NYCT to have sufficient funding in place to replace older subway cars as they reach the end of useful life. It can average five years or more between the design, procurement, construction, delivery and acceptance of new subway cars before riders reap the benefits.

New York City is one of the few subway systems around the nation which runs 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. As a result, many maintenance activities and capital improvement projects have to work around active right of ways. It is frequently like asking a doctor to perform heart surgery on a jogger who at the same time is running a 24-hour marathon.
Managing the New York City Transit subway system is the equivalent of a Fortune 500 company. It has never been easy. At the end of the day, the success of NYCT, including successfully meeting all the goals as outlined in the Subway Report Card, is dependent upon adequate funding. This includes a combination of farebox revenue, and city, state, and federal financial assistance. Unless all four partners carry their respective loads, service will never reach the optimum level millions of daily customers desire. Riders and the federal government are pulling their weight; Uncle Sam pays for about 35 percent of the capital program, not counting even more provided under the New Starts program for such projects as the 2nd Avenue Subway. It is both Albany and New York City who are not contributing their fair share.

Based upon the original 1951 Master Lease and Operating agreement, it is the City of New York who actually owns the buses and subways. The MTA is really managing the system under contract to City Hall without adequate financial support. At the end of the day, subway riders are dependent on Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council to do the right thing and significantly increase the city’s financial contribution.

Larry Penner
Great Neck

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