Fare Hike Coverage: We Know the Effect, But What About the Cause?

Ben Kabak at Second Avenue Sagas is on a roll critiquing media coverage of the MTA fare hike, which went into effect yesterday. Last week he questioned the coalition-building skills of transit advocates. Today he goes after the reporters:

Instead of focusing on the whys and wherefores of the fare hike,
instead of explaining how Albany has left the MTA out in the financial
cold, it’s far easier to find people outraged than it is to educate.

Take, for example, Irving DeJohn and Stephanie Gaskell’s piece in the Daily News about rider reaction to the fare hike. It is chock full of quotes bemoaning the price increases, and the statements of the riders are, frankly, ignorant.

Take the first one in the article from Emmanuel Louis of Brooklyn: "You shouldn’t raise the fare if you’re not going to increase service.
It’s just not fair." This is where a reporter should challenge Louis
and ask him how he feels about raising the fares if the alternative
means worse service and significantly less of it.

You really can’t overstate the significance of the vicious cycle at work here. The person-on-the-street MTA bashing echoes the MTA bashing you hear from legislators every time they’re asked to make a tough decision on how to fund transit. If this is a co-dependent relationship, there’s no doubt that the press plays the role of enabler too. Rare is the story that mentions the root causes of the MTA’s financial woes. Common is the hatchet job about executive salaries or personal commuting habits.

The Daily News editorial board held Albany’s feet to the fire for months during the last round of debate about transit funding. We’ll be going through all of that again, very soon. Can newsrooms figure out how to keep up the heat?

  • What’s more fascinating are the comments underneath the Daily News article. Unfortunately, it’s not just a few riders that the reporter found who blame the MTA directly for the fare hike – it’s every average New Yorker who skims headlines and swipes their Metrocard.

  • Take the first one in the article from Emmanuel Louis of Brooklyn: “You shouldn’t raise the fare if you’re not going to increase service. It’s just not fair.” This is where a reporter should challenge Louis and ask him how he feels about raising the fares if the alternative means worse service and significantly less of it.

    So THAT’S what Webster is up to these days.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The only “solution” is armageddon, and anyone who plans on being here more than five years will be better off if it happens.

    Let the system go broke and shut it down for a month. Then restore service only on those lines that can pay for themselves. I’ll bet there’d be a lot less taxpayers complaining about taxes, TWU members whining about their jobs, and riders whining about service in five years.

  • James

    I watched a piece on the fare hike last night on Channel 4 news and was aghast at the incredibly shallow depth of coverage given to the root causes of the hike in the segment. The piece more or less consisted of man-on-the-street interviews with straphangers who were caught totally off-guard by the fare hike, but zero context as to why the MTA is raising fares to begin with. Media outlets are milking the BS “open the books populist” angle for all they can get and the result is that we have a city populace that is largely ignorant as to why we are in the situation we find ourselves in with transit. Sad and frustrating, but I should have known not to expect better.

  • “It’s ridiculous,” Trimette Roberts, also of Brooklyn, said. “It’s bad budgeting and bad management. To have a fare increase every year, year and a half – that’s the part that’s frustrating.”

    You’d think she’d know better, being originally from Portland…

  • Someone help me out here with the new subway/bus fare. I’m lousy at math. No, seriously. I have trouble calculating tips in restaurants. What I want to know is how to buy a pay-per-ride card that I can exhaust without leaving a balance on the card that’s less than a full $2.25 fare.

    I know the basic rules, as given on the MTA site: “Put $8 or more on your card and receive a 15 percent bonus. For example, a $20 purchase gives you $23 on your card. 10 trips for the price of 9, with $.50 balance. Refill your card to use the balance.”

    If I want to buy a pay-per-ride Metrocard, want to get the 15% discount, and don’t want to have a balance when the card is exhausted, how much should I spend for how many rides? I don’t want to refill a card with a balance. I want a new card each time which I can spend down to $0.

    When the fare was $2, I could satisfy this requirement by paying $40.

    I emailed this question to the MTA and got an automated response that failed to answer the question.

  • i think this is what you want:

    http://www.metrocardbonuscalculator.com/

  • Mark:

    Short answer: $45 will get you 23 rides.

    Long answer:
    http://www.metrocardbonuscalculator.com/

  • Of course, almost literally giving away their assets (Vanderbilt rail yard) to Forest City Ratner doesn’t help the MTA’s bottom line, either:

    http://atlanticyardsreport.blogspot.com/2009/06/mta-approves-deal-10-2-despite-warnings.html

  • Ian Turner
  • The smallest round number to add which will give you an even multiple of $2.25 is now $45.00. But use AirTrain or PATH and all bets are off.

    I personally try to just refill a single card and not worry about any odd amounts on it, because they’ll stay there after the next refill.

  • Thanks, Ian.

    I tried the online calculator. With a “starting balance” of $0 and a “maximum to add” of $80 (the most MTA allows), I got these results:

    Add $15.65 to $0.00 for a bonus of $2.35
    and a total of $18.00.

    Add $29.35 to $0.00 for a bonus of $4.40
    and a total of $33.75.

    Add $31.30 to $0.00 for a bonus of $4.70
    and a total of $36.00.

    Add $45.00 to $0.00 for a bonus of $6.75
    and a total of $51.75.

    Add $60.65 to $0.00 for a bonus of $9.10
    and a total of $69.75.

    Add $74.35 to $0.00 for a bonus of $11.15
    and a total of $85.50.

    Add $76.30 to $0.00 for a bonus of $11.45
    and a total of $87.75.

    It looks like the answer is to pay $45, get a 15% bonus of $6.75 (three fares), total value $51.75.

    None of the other bonus values given by the calculator is precisely divisible by $2.25.

    Since I always have two cards — because I don’t want to get caught out on the bus, where you can’t buy a card — this means I may be carrying as much as $90 in fares in my wallet (up from $80 under the last fare). I wish there were a way to get that number down.

  • Ian Turner

    None of the other bonus values given by the calculator is precisely divisible by $2.25.

    How do you figure? 15.65 + 2.35 = 18, which is 2.25 x 8.

    I wish there were a way to get that number down.

    Well, there is always EasyPayXpress.

  • Unless my calculator deceives me, 15% of $15.65 is not $2.35, but $2.3475. That is not quite a full ride, unless we can safely assume that the MTA rounds up.

  • Mark: They’re rounding up. $15.65 will get you an extra $2.35. The machines can’t handle not rounding up.

  • Right. And in any case, what matters is that the total (outlay and bonus) is divisible by $2.25. As I said, I’d be the world’s worst accountant.

  • “To have a fare increase every year, year and a half – that’s the part that’s frustrating.”

    Someone should tell these people to look up “inflation” in a dictionary.

  • Mark, you don’t have to put the whole $45 on at once. You could put $20 on each of two cards and then after a while add $25 more to get them “back on track”.

    Of course, with Albany starving the MTA for cash, it might be a good idea to throw them some spare change now and again, anyway.

  • vnm

    Mark, I think your website forgot one:

    Add $58.70 to $0.00 for a bonus of $8.80 and a total of $67.50 or 30 rides.

  • vnm

    @Mark Walker said:

    Since I always have two cards — because I don’t want to get caught out on the bus, where you can’t buy a card — this means I may be carrying as much as $90 in fares in my wallet (up from $80 under the last fare). I wish there were a way to get that number down.

    There is, as Ian noted. EasyPayXpress. It is by far the best kind of MetroCard. You will never have more than $40 on your person, you will never have to worry about getting caught empty-handed on a bus, you will never have to visit a vending machine. (You’ll also never have to calculate how much money to put on to get an even discount.)

  • VNM:

    58.70 * .15 = 8.805

    That rounds up to $8.81 which gives you an extra penny.

    (I’ve tested the machines before on half cent bonuses and found that it does round up; if you find otherwise, please take a picture.)

  • vnm

    Good point. Thanks Steven.

  • Thanks everybody!

  • lee

    why do you want to get a new card each time anyway?

    just refill it and save a bit of plastic too.

  • al oof

    i don’t ride the subway much, but today i noticed there were ads on the -turnstiles- at union square. how much do they charge for that? i’ve always wondered about the ad prices and how much that pays for the trains. and how often they raise those costs. anyone know?

  • Ian Turner

    al oof,

    The MTA advertising program is run by a contractor, who bids out the space for whatever advertisers will pay and takes care of actually changing the ads. If you look at the NYCT financial statements for 2008, you will see that advertising brought in roughly $108m, or 3% of operating revenues, or 1% of operating expenses. These numbers are pretty typical for transit agencies. by the way.

    –Ian

  • M

    While I agree that ultimately Albany must be blamed for the lack of funds and support, sometimes the MTA asks for their PR problem. Telling everyone that the service cuts won’t be noticeable because they’ve already been in effect isn’t exactly what I call quelling the flames.

    I get it, they didn’t have enough time to switch the machines to logical card increments because of how late Albany acted. You could still take some basic measures to remind people of what’s going on.

  • mark

    Hey

    I found that http://www.nycmetrocardcalculator.com is another good site for figuring out how to even up an odd metrocard balance.

    Mark

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