Photo by Richard Brome from www.nycsubway.org
My story about the idea of flattening BART fares provoked a thoughtful response from transplanted New Yorker Meg, who e-mailed these observations regarding BART board member Joel Keller’s reference to New York City as an example of flat-fare mass transit:
As a Bay Area resident who has lived in New York, I can tell you that there are a few factors which make the flat fare workable there. BART administrators ought to consider some of these when making their decisions.
1. Very few people in New York have cars. So most of them don’t have the option to drive. In the Bay Area, by contrast, many if not most people have access to cars, and therefore have an alternative to BART. People grumble about a subway fare increase in New York, but ultimately they more or less have to pay it.
2. In New York, most people who use the subway regularly get a weekly or monthly pass, where you pay a fixed amount and then get unlimited rides during that time period. For example, right now a 30-day pass costs $76. So if you ride more than 38 times a month (17 round-trips), you save money. Commuters – and, in fact, most people who rely on public transit – easily make that many trips a month.
3. The New York subway has special deals on pay-per-ride tickets too. I had to laugh when I read the proposal to have smart cards which give you a free ride after forty rides. FORTY rides? Are you kidding? In New York, you get an extra $2 on your card when you purchase a $10 ticket. That’s six rides for the price of five. If you buy a $20 ticket, you get $24 on your card. Now THAT’s an incentive.
4. In New York, the bus and subway systems are owned by the same company, so the same MetroCard works for both. This is especially good if you get an unlimited weekly or monthly MetroCard, which you can then use on both the bus and the subway. But even with just a regular pay-per-ride MetroCard, it’s very convenient to be able to use the same ticket for both. Here, on the other hand, you have multiple different transportation companies (e.g. BART, AC Transit, Muni), so you wouldn’t have that level of convenience.
In my opinion, all of these things make a flat-fare system less workable here than in New York. Some of these could be remedied – for example, BART could offer unlimited cards and better deals on pay-per-ride cards (which, frankly, I was really surprised not to find when I moved here. And how is it possible that “high-value” BART cards, which aren’t even that much of a savings, are not sold at BART stations? That’s just weird. But I digress.) Several transportation systems could get together to collaborate on a joint flat-fare system with a common card. But unless some of these things happened, I think a flat-fare system would create a lot of problems.
I must say I, too, was shocked at the paltry discount offered for “high value” BART farecards. I mean, 6.6% on a $60 commitment? Come on! And, as I said to Bob Franklin, do I really want to put that much money on that flimsy piece of paper that all too often ends up getting “lost” at the drycleaners?
Others Latched onto the NYC subway example, like David V, who left me a voice mail this morning:
New Yorkers don’t really pay $2. Yes, that’s the single-fare price, and a few people actually pay that, but the average fare paid in New York last time I knew was $1.37 because most people buy passes of one sort or another. And, that $2 fare … buys you ride on buses to and from the subway as long as it’s a single trip.
So, a $2 fare would be just fine if it meant you got on AC, got to BART, got off BART, got on Muni and all paid a $2 fare. That would be cheap.
Cheap, indeed. On the other hand, if you’ve already invested in a computerized fare system that allows cheaper fares for short rides, and vice versa, do you necessarily want to chuck the whole system?
Hopefully, the great thinkers at the nation’s mostly efficient mass transit system will come up with ways to charge fares that make it more attractive to take BART when, unlike in the Big Apple, driving will do just fine, thank you.