The passion of new MTA chaiman Jay Walder in New York is infectious. I also admit that I have a bit of transit nerd man crush on his use of subway token cuff links. However, his idea for price restructuring on New York City public transit leaves me a little baffled. It may just be that the New York Times did an insufficient job explaining the benefits of the policy.
“We might imagine that we offer discounts at later times, or we offer weekend discounts,” Mr. Walder said in an interview on Wednesday. “Time-of-day pricing might be very attractive.”
The goal would be to encourage use of buses and subways during traditionally quieter hours. And it would bring New York’s subway system in line with local commuter rails, which charge a range of fares.
“We have an infrastructure that is set for the capacity of the peak,” Mr. Walder said. “What we really want to do is use that infrastructure all the time.”
The chairman ruled out charging higher prices for longer trips, a system used in cities like Washington and London, saying such a move in New York “would be a mistake.” But he said a frank discussion of changes to the pricing structure “will be an important part of what we’re doing.” A transit spokesman said later that Mr. Walder was not considering higher peak fares.
I understand the desire to have more people riding at non-peak hours in order to make the system run as efficiently as possible. This is especially true in New York City subways which almost never shut down. However, I do not follow the logic of reducing prices so people ride more.
In New York there are two types of people who travel at night and weekends, permanent residents and tourists/visitors. The commuters, who constitute a huge number of MTA’s ridership are avoiding the MTA on nights and weekends if possible.
For the residents and tourists/visitors to ride at night or on weekends requires someplace to go, which is the expensive part in New York, not the subway ride. Once traveling, though, the only other real option is a taxi and the regardless of the price of an MTA fair, it will almost surely be cheaper than a New York City cab fare which is $2.50 just for getting in the cab. City residents on the other hand probably own monthly passes which means each additional ride they take, regardless of when they take it, is essentially free.
If anything, it would make more sense to tax certain hours of travel, say 8am-10am and 4pm-7pm to encourage people to take the subway and bus at off peak hours, hence increasing demand the and helping to reduce congestion during rush hours. However, I like the fact that a transit administrator is excited about transit and trying with innovation to get more people to use it at all times.
Perhaps I am missing something logical and important here. If one of my readers recognizes it, please inform me and other readers with a comment.