MTA introduces new reduced fare pilot 1

The MTA has introduced a new reduced fare structure pilot that will take effect March 1, 2022.

To push the new OMNY payment system and entice straphangers to use transit, the MTA has introduced a new fare-capping pilot that will reduce fares instead of going through with an increase it had intended for the end of 2021.

The MTA committed to keep fares off peak for all Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North trains through Feb. 28, 2022, according to the agency. Taking effect March 1, 2022, subway, bus and Staten Island Railway customers will be charged $2.75 per ride for their first 12 trips starting every Monday. Further trips through the following Sunday would be free of charge through OMNY (a tap-and-go contactless fare system) or customers will only pay $33 per week, which is comparative to a seven-day unlimited MetroCard. Transfers between the bus and subway will remain and be considered a single trip toward the 12 journey threshold.

“We’re leaving the basic fare alone for now and rolling out a slate of new pilot fare promotions,” Janno Lieber, MTA acting chair and CEO, said in a statement.

Another offering available after March 1 are 20-trip tickets via eTix, a web-based ticketing service on the LIRR and Metro-North to appeal to riders with flexible work schedules. They are cheaper than monthly tickets and would receive an additional 10 percent discount on top of the pandemic reduction of 48 to 61 percent, according to the transit agency. The $5 weekend flat fare City Ticket will be extended to off-peak trains on weekends, providing a 31 percent price reduction on Metro-North and a 35 percent reduction on the LIRR.

Transit fare reductions on commuter rail have been a goal of Councilman Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) since he started spearheading an expansion to the Atlantic Ticket, which offers a flat $5 fare from Southeast Queens LIRR stations to Brooklyn’s Atlantic Terminal. From its implementation in 2018 to June 2021, the Queens-to-Brooklyn ride has sold over 2 million tickets. At least $17.5 million in revenue was generated from inception until the end of October, according to the MTA.

“Today’s announcement is a good first step in finally advancing transit equity for all New Yorkers — especially those currently priced out from the LIRR and Metro-North fares. Since we began our efforts to address transit deserts in 2014, we’ve made incredible progress and changed the conversation citywide on what transit equity looks like for black and brown New Yorkers,” said Miller in a statement. “It’s especially rewarding to be able to inform my constituents, who have heavily utilized Atlantic Ticket, that they are now able to get anywhere in the City for that flat $5 fare through February during peak times, and off-peak after that.”

A Bloomberg CityLab report in 2019 found that straphangers estimated they saved approximately 30 minutes on their commute.

Census data analyzed by Transit Center, a foundation that works to improve public transportation throughout the U.S., found that two-thirds of 40,400 Manhattan workers lived within a half-mile of LIRR stations in Eastern Queens, but took a longer subway pathway because it was cheaper.

Charlton D’Souza, president of Passengers United, a transit advocacy group, believes that the flat fare for Queens residents should be lowered to $3.75 and that a weekly combined freedom unlimited commuter rail and OMNY pass should be $45 to be affordable for retail and healthcare workers.

“The members of Passengers United feel that all LIRR discounts being proposed during off peak hours are still too expensive with the cost of inflation growing,” said D’Souza, of Queens Village. “We feel that the MTA board should adopt the Passengers United proposal instead and commuters should get the following discounts for it to benefit the frontline workers.”

D’Souza does support OMNY passes becoming unlimited in March, but wants an additional 30 percent reduction for the LIRR.

The MTA’s reversal on fare hikes is a result of the federal government allocating $14.5 billion to the transit system, the largest in North America, according to a Nov. 15 report from The New York Times. The agency received $4 billion of the funds, and the remainder will be spread out through a multiyear process covering operation losses up to 2025. It will also receive an additional $2.9 billion loan.

The fare hikes would have increased the MetroCard’s flat fee to $2.85 from $2.75 and would have upped surcharges to $3 from $1 for replacement cards. There was also the possibility of unlimited weekly and monthly rides being eliminated. The LIRR and Metro-North faced either a complete overhaul where riders were charged based on their destination or a 4 percent increase in single-ride and 10-trip tickets.

However, the lack of a fare hike could result in a $2.5 billion budget gap after 2025, according to the Citizens Budget Commission, a watchdog group.

The MTA will evaluate the impact the new fare structure has on operations, customer experience and revenue.

“I am confident that this development will be a game-changer going forward,” said Miller. “With ridership not expected to reach pre-pandemic levels anytime soon, capturing that lost revenue is a huge benefit for the MTA, and it’s our hope that they will consider keeping this fare structure in effect and expanding it to include a free transfer to subways and buses.”

As of Dec. 16, subway and Staten Island Railway ridership was between 54.6 to 65.7 percent of pre-pandemic levels throughout the week of Dec. 6 to Dec.15, according to the MTA. Local, limited, select bus service and express bus rides were from 57.3 to 64.8 percent. LIRR ridership was as low as 53 and up to 87 percent during the weekend, which is when riders use City Ticket. Metro-North was from 48 percent to 51 percent.

If the pilot is successful the MTA Board can decide to make it permanent, discontinue it or adjust it, according to the transit agency.

“Our fare structure is an important tool we have to win back riders,” said Lieber. “Business logic says it doesn’t make sense to increase the price just as you’re trying to rebuild your customer base.”

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