July 2000 / Looking Back to 1975

N.Y. Fares Raised in Crisis (The Third Rail , July-Sept 1975)
by Paul Matus

Once common in the United States, the nickel transit fare was under attack early in the 20th century. How early? Hint—the "V" nickel being nibbled to bits in this Pittsburgh Railways poster was replaced by the Buffalo/Indian Head nickel in 1913, yet New York's insistence on the nickel fare brought down its two private transit companies in 1940 and the fare itself remained until 1948.

By the time this 1975 article was written, it was the 35 cent fare that was about to fall to New York City's fiscal crisis.

Pittsburgh Railways Fare Poster

Copyright 1975 Third Rail Press. Reprinted by permission.
Copyright 2000 The Composing Stack Inc.

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Year 2000 Preface
If you want to get a New Yorker of any race, religion, political persuasion or even economic class angry, suggest raising the transit fare.
     These same New Yorkers might be surprised to learn that the fare wasn't always a holy grail. Perhaps the first stab at fare regulation by fiat was the 19th century lowering of the fare on the Manhattan elevated roads by order of the Transit Commission from its standard 10 cents to 5 cents during rush hours, still called "Commission Hours" to this day on the city system. But it wasn't until Mayor John Hylan's administration (1918-1925) that low fares were elevated to a civil right.
     The following article describes the circumstances of the 43% fare increase in 1975 in the midst of New York City's famous near-bankruptcy. Many of the issues discussed are as real today as they were a quarter of a century ago, as is the historical background.

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In a fit of "fiscal responsibility" which was widely attacked as irresponsible, New York's Mayor Beame welcomed August by requesting a series of massive fare increases from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the parent organization which now sets fares for New York area transit and commuter lines under its jurisdiction.
     The Mayor, for reasons never adequately explained, asked that the fares not become effective until September 1, 1975, a month after the request, a suggestion which the MTA honored.
     On that date, the basic fare increased to 50 cents from the former 35 cents, giving this historically low fare city one of the highest such fares in the country. The basic fare purchases a ride from any point to any other point on the massive subway system, with a nearly universal transfer privilege where lines intersect.
     Due to the peculiarities of the fare structure, though, this is not quite so liberal as it seems. Despite the fact that the MTA controls the great majority of public transportation services in the New York State portion of the metropolitan region, its fare system is incredibly balkanized, based almost entirely on the policies of a multitude of former operators, combined with resistance to thru-ticketing between modes (subway, bus, commuter rail) for fear of reducing revenues.
      As a result, each change of mode requires the payment of another full fare. Subway-bus transfers (with the exception of a handful of extremely limited cases) are nonexistent. Free bus-to-bus transfers are liberal on the former BMT lines in Brooklyn, and on most routes in Queens and Staten Island, but are rare in Manhattan and Bronx, the result of maneuvering for higher fares by the former owners in the latter boroughs, a policy which was not changed after city takeover.
     Therefore, those living in sections of the city built up after the end of the era of subway expansion often have to pay a double fare for ordinary commutation, or $2.00 per round trip [based on a 50 cent single fare]. This group includes disproportionate numbers of the city's remaining middle class who, coincidentally, are also the largest pool of "choice" riders, i.e., those who have the option of driving rather than taking transit. [Note—The "One City, One Fare" program in the late '90s created a near-universal intermodal fare among buses and subways, but not commuter rail—Ed.]







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