Category Archives: free transit

MTA to NYC: Drop Dead

So, it is the dawn of day 4 of the doomsday service cuts in NYC. My commute has been complicated a little by the changes – I have to leave home for work about 15 minutes earlier than before just to be SURE that I can get the bus to the subway station and get to work on time. 15 minutes is a lot of time, but some commuters are seeing 30 and 45 minutes added to their commutes, so I won’t complain too loudly.

The cuts eliminated two subway lines and dozens of bus lines, changed the routing of one subway line and now add additional wait times for everyone riding the subway or bus. The cuts could not come at a worse time when NYC is trying to drag itself out of the Great Recession and we experienced a heat wave the early part of this week.

Walder, the head of the Transit Authority, promises no fare increases this year. He would have been met with the stereotypical New York attitude if they even tried to pull that move – higher fares and less service? Fagetaboutit. However, fare increases WILL come in 2011. Brace for it. We’ll probably see $100 dollar monthly MetroCards, which is still a great deal for unlimited rides for 30 days. The most important thing at this point is to realize that we’ve been underpaying for the service and allow fares to be collected that are more in line with what rides are around the world for world class systems. The NY subway system is world class in some ways (24 hour service, access to all parts of the city) but in other ways, can use some serious technological upgrades that will improve the riding public’s experience and overall safety.

I don’t want to see a zone fare introduced – especially as someone who travels 32 miles round-trip on the subway each day. Instead, I want to see more realistic fares and discounted passes that really mean the agency can make money. Even in my poor/lower middle class neighborhood, most people I observe using the bus use unlimited cards. On average, that reduces the fare to around a dollar per ride. The agency cannot make money for operations like that.

Additionally, New York State and New York City need to step up and contribute to the MTA; the MTA system is the lifeblood of the city and deserves adequate funding for operations AND capital improvements.

I’ll keep an eye out for other changes coming down the pipe. This is definitely an interesting development going forward in transportation financing and operations.

Are you in NYC? Have you been affected by the service cuts?

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Choose your own fares!

After reading about a taxi service in Vermont that allows riders to choose their own fare, I began thinking – what would people pay if they could choose their own fare on the local bus, subway or commuter rail?

the honor system
Creative Commons License photo credit: conbon33

I know I would continue paying the same fares as before. Nothing would change for me. But what about instances where you had no starting point for what the fare should be? How would people decide what was equitable, given that they had to pay something (no free rides)?

Any thoughts?

Cutting Fares – the Solution to Slow Bus Service?

New York City has experimented with the Select Bus Service in the Bronx, which offers payment at the bus stop while you wait for the bus, and boarding at all bus doors. Sounds great, but it wouldn’t work in Manhattan with its crowded sidewalks that often leave pedestrians walking in the street or competing with bicyclists for bike lanes.

Another solution to the oft-times depressing slowness of a cross-town bus (M23, oh how we love thee!) would be to eliminate fares altogether along the cross-town bus routes. I figure that:

  1. Most people who ride the bus across Manhattan are trying to get to a subway line, whether it is from another subway line or from their starting destination; and
  2. Many people choose to walk because it is faster to walk across Manhattan than to take a bus. Even in the winter. Especially when there’s more than 10 cars on the road and it is winter!

In my unscientific observations, it takes longer for a bus to load passengers who all must pay on-board than it does for the bus to go from one stop to another. This is especially true on busy cross-town routes like the M23.

Obviously, the Regional Plan Association was reading my mind, because they proposed cutting fares on cross-town bus routes to the MTA recently. The main problem at this point is that the MTA is cash strapped, and may see this as giving up valuable fare dollars.

The cash-strapped MTA could speed bus trips and cut expenses – by not charging fares on some Manhattan routes, a respected think tank suggested Thursday.

As all bus commuters know, trips can be agonizingly slow, partly because of the time it takes for riders to dip a MetroCard in the reader or plunk coins in the farebox.

Eliminate that process on routes like the M34 and the M42, on 34th and 42nd Sts., and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority still might not absorb a big loss, according to the Regional Plan Association. Here’s the logic.

For most crosstown bus riders, the trip is just one leg of a larger one that includes the subway. Transfers between the buses and subway trains are free. So, bus riders can simply get on without paying, according to an association report on possible mass transit upgrades.

“Most of the people riding those buses are taking the train, so you capture the revenue anyway,” said Jeffrey Zupan, senior transportation fellow at the association.

Any revenue losses probably would be offset by improved efficiency, Zupan said. Bus trips would become quicker, meaning fewer buses would be needed.

At the least, the MTA – which faces a $1 billion budget gap next year – should study the idea, Zupan said. An MTA spokesman declined to comment.

A concern about cutting the fares on cross-town routes only is, “What happens if demand goes up?”

Some people will walk no matter what, and some people will transfer to the bus. Since the MTA wants advertising on its subway cars, why not put advertising on its buses, too?

How about raising the fare? While raising the fare is not a popular option, the average rider uses a MetroCard, which gives them discounted, unlimited rides for a 30 day period. Why not charge more for MetroCards? As long as the rider is not paying the base fare for each ride, they probably will not fuss too much about higher fares.

How do I get around?

Since I am going to talk about living car free, then I guess I should tell you a little about how I get around without a car.

First things first, I live in New Brunswick, a small (in size) town in New Jersey, which has a connection to the Northeast Corridor and good access to New Jersey Transit and county buses.

I also have Rutgers’ FREE campus bus available for my use when I am not walking. I do think biking is a great idea, but I am deathly afraid of “me vs. a car,” so I do not bike here.

Friends often ask me, “How do you get your groceries?” I get my groceries delivered via Peapod, which is a service from local grocery store Stop and Shop. The fee is about $6.95 to $9.95, and they deliver 7 days a week between 7am and 10pm. You order online, pick your delivery time, and just wait for your delivery.

If I need to do major non-food shopping, I can take either a NJ Transit bus or a county shuttle bus from the train station directly to one of several of shopping centers nearby. I have several options to get coming home – I can either get a taxi, take the NJ Transit bus or the county shuttle home. It really depends on how much I purchased or how lazy I am feeling that day. Taxi rates start at $6. The most I ever paid was $10 and that included a big tip for the guy carrying my bags up to my apartment.

Any other places I like to go – the mall, the movies, dining – I can do with either walking, taking a bus or shuttle, the train or a combination thereof. The train runs pretty frequently during the day and even on the weekends/holidays.

While a less hardy soul would be depressed at being stuck in Penn Station after missing a late night train and having to wait another hour for the next train out of NYC, I take it all in stride. Penn Station is a perfect people watching place and has lots of food options for folks like me who love junk food.

I don’t miss having a car most days, but on those cold, windy and rainy days of winter, I might change my tune!

Colleges offer free bikes for students as long as you are car free!

From the New York Times:

The University of New England and Ripon College in Wisconsin are giving free bikes to freshmen who promise to leave their cars at home. Other colleges are setting up free bike sharing or rental programs, and some universities are partnering with bike shops to offer discounts on purchases.

Some other universities, including Emory, are offering free rentals to students and staff to encourage alternatives to driving on and near campus!

This is a great idea, in my humble transit-friendly opinion. A quick aside here – a friend of mine goes to school in the Midwest, and he’s car-free. Every day, he gets bike off of the community rack, goes to class, rides around campus, etc. then brings it back to the same rack he got it from. Not only is this bike sharing program free, but he feels like he’s in control of his time because he doesn’t have to take his campus transit.

Campus buses are notoriously crowded around here, so I’d welcome a bike rental program or giveaway to go with my uber-expensive tuition!

The only problem I foresee with a program like this is that people may try to steal these bikes because they are expensive, so it might be reasonable to look for less expensive bikes to give away to students.

Bicycle Shop