11:28 am Sep. 12, 20121
M.T.A. chairman Joe Lhota said today he is considering reducing MetroCard bonuses, as a way to garner more resources for the agency, while also reducing the size of next year's projected fare hikes.
"I think we need to have a very big public discussion about the fare price and the discounting that goes on," said Lhota to reporters, following a panel about the M.T.A. hosted by Crain's New York Business at the Plaza Hotel.
Right now, when a subway rider buys a MetroCard, she gets a 7 percent bonus. So a $10-purchase yields a card worth $10.70.
Users of unlimited ride cards also get a bonus of sorts, which varies depending on how often they use the card.
If a rider buys a 30-day unlimited card for $104 and uses it 50 times, she pays $2.08 per ride, rather than the full $2.25 fare. If she uses it 60 times, she pays $1.73.
"Right now the stated fare price is $2.25," said Lhota. "The average revenue we receive per rider is $1.63. So it shows the depth of our discount system that goes on. And I think we really need to have a discussion about, do we need a discount that deep, and how does that interplay with the fare price. Now I got to tell you...the discounts aren't enough not to have a fare increase."
Rather, the idea is to reduce the size of the anticipated 7.5 percent fare hike, which is to go into effect March 1 (following public hearings in November and a board vote in December).
The M.T.A. will issue its formal proposal about fare hikes, complete with details about bonus reductions, in October.
If the M.T.A. does decide to reduce bonuses, it won't be the first time.
In recent years, "they've alternated between raising the base fare and reducing the bonus," said Gene Russianoff, a rider advocate with the Straphangers Campaign.
For example, in 2010, the M.T.A. kept the base fare the same, but raised the price of unlimited MetroCards and raised the threshold after which a rider could get bonuses, while also reducing the size of the bonus from 15 percent to 7 percent.
"It's like this unique New York concept of, you buy 12 bagels, you get 13," said Lhota today. "I can't figure out when that started. But we had that same theory going on when you bought tokens. You buy 10, you got one free. So the thought was, if you buy $10, you gotta get something additional for it."
But as Russianoff pointed out, on some level, it's just a question of semantics. Whether it's a bonus reduction or a fare hike, subway rides will cost more.
"Making the bonuses less generous is a fare hike," he said.
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