Who Buys Which Type of MetroCard?

Curious about exactly why the MTA decided to raise the price of the 30-day MetroCard but leave the base fare where it was at $2.25? We got our hands on the MTA’s demographic information about who uses each fare payment method on New York City Transit.

It’s nothing earth-shattering — with regards to the fare hikes, the relevant information is that people who use monthly passes have higher median incomes than people who buy single ride MetroCards or pay for bus rides with cash — but it’s interesting to see the data up close. For example, you can see that senior citizens disproportionately pay with cash or that New Yorkers with high incomes prefer a pay-per-ride MetroCard with the bonus to an unlimited pass.

MTA Demo Info

Anything that jumps out at you? Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that this probably represents a small fraction of the demographic information collected by the MTA. Think of all the data that hasn’t been released — like income levels of motorists who pay tolls at MTA crossings or the income and ethnicity of riders who used bus lines that got cut this year.

To get a better look at this data, you can download the PDF, which also includes some information on how many rides unlimited MetroCard holders actually take. You can also look at the 2008 travel survey from which this information was gathered in these two PDFs.

  • Glenn

    So the median transit user is non-white, making a little over $50k per year and in their prime working years. And these are the people that progressive Democrats give the shaft to pander to motorists? What was the data on motorists again? I believe it was whiter, higher income and older…

  • MRN

    Nothing earth shattering about high-income people using pay-per-ride – they likely aren’t riding (the bus) enough to warrant a monthly pass.

  • This is a horrific way of thinking about fare hikes. Best industry practice is to ignore demographic profiles and instead give large incentives to buy unlimited cards, which have the lowest transaction costs of all forms of payment. In the German-speaking countries, large monthly and annual discounts make unlimited cards ubiquitous, so that people can use them to board all buses and all trains from any door, without any fare barriers. Proof of payment inspections help enforce the fare, and because people have already paid, there’s little incentive to cheat.

    The MTA should stop trying to one-up cities with twice the per capita transit usage of New York and instead start learning.

  • Josh

    How do they obtain this information? (That is to say, how does the MTA have the information, not how did Streetsblog get it from the MTA.) I buy a 30-day MetroCard every month, but I don’t see how they know how much money I make.

  • rhubarbpie

    One question unanswered here is the extent of TransitChek use, which lowers the actual cost of transit and the impact of fare hikes. (And also is a way of reducing the city’s lopsided flow of money to Washington.) Is it possible to significantly increase TransitChek participation, possibly by reducing the cost of the program for employers or making it possible for individuals to enroll easily?

  • Some Guy

    1.) They get the information by survey. If you’re curious about it, I can tell you more.

    2.) The numbers are a little more stilted than the above tables show. Effectively, the primary users of transit are poorer, non-whiter, and less educated. It goes further than that, though, because the poorest people are actually having the most money extracted from them due to the structure of unlimited fares.

    3.) TransitChek does not appear, to the MTA, as a different fare option. It’s also outside of their domain (they aren’t particularly interested in employer subsidies either – although they do generally ask if an employer offers benefits for riding and/or driving).

  • “with regards to the fare hikes”

    It should be “with regard to.” You say “with reference to,” not “with references to,” and “with respect to,” not “with respects to,” so you should be able to remember to say “with regard to.”

    Sorry to be picky, but that error really grates on me.

  • J:Lai

    give my regards to the fare hikes, and let us pay our respects to the service cuts.

  • JK

    Folks should note that these are household income figures — not individual. The chart shows 22% of transit riders with household incomes of less than $25k. I’d like to see the cross tabs here. The MTA should make everything they have on rider demographics public. It is very important information to know during the endless MTA financing argument. Surely some state legislators can speak up about what it means to be hitting very poor people with higher fares while the media obsesses about a modest payroll tax on much wealthier people.
    Some Guy #6, yes, please do tell more. This is important stuff.

  • Some Guy

    Well, I mean. I can’t really share the data per say, but what more do you want to know? If they stayed with the methodology in 2010 that was pioneered in 2008, the survey is much better now than it used to be. The MTA actually used to get the demographics very wrong for the city due to only surveying land lines. Anyway, just telling more is going to be somewhat difficult. I’m not 100% sure that the data above is from the 2010 traveler survey, actually. There are somewhat better methodologies that the MTA collects this data from as well. And far more interesting numbers. Suffice to say, richer and older people are far less likely to have ridden the subway. Not surprisingly, people from the outer boroughs are far less likely to ride, and if you were to look at the peak/off peak splits, you’d be easily convinced that there should be time differentiated fares. If you have specific questions, though, I can try to answer them better.

  • For everyone’s information, in certain parts of the world it’s popular to offer a reduced-price unlimited card valid only after 9 or 10 in the morning. This encourages off-peak ridership, when the trains are underused, and discourages lading the system at the most crowded time.


Toll reform creates a fairer transportation system. Ferry subsidies do not. Photo: Michael Appelton/Mayoral Photography Office

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