July 2000 / Looking Back to
N.Y. Fares Raised in Crisis
(The Third Rail , July-Sept
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.
time this 1975 article was written, it was the 35 cent fare
that was about to fall to New York City's fiscal
Copyright 1975 Third Rail Press. Reprinted by
Copyright 2000 The Composing Stack Inc.
Year 2000 Preface
you want to get a New Yorker of any race, religion, political persuasion
or even economic class angry, suggest raising the transit
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
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.
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.
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
© 2000 by The
Composing Stack Inc.
responsible for typographical errors.
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