New York MTA: Damaging Potential


get used to this...

Today the MTA board voted in favor of increasing the subway fare from $2 to $2.50.  And at the same time cutting back on service.  The fare increases are detailed in this New York Times article.  This is a very unfortunate development to say the least.  And extremely short-sighted.  The New York subway system moves over 8 million people a day.  The prevailing idea it seems, when there is a budget shortfall, is to simply raise the fare rates on all those people.  And what effect will this have?  It will surely diminish the ridership by the amount of people that feel that $2.50 is too much to spend for a subway ride.  They might bike.  They might walk.  But they will not return to the subway.  This will end up reducing the number of daily subway riders and produce a zero revenue growth effect.  Thereby getting nowhere nearer to solving the problem.  To question this logic one need only look back at the last decade of fare increases.  They have all amounted to fixing nothing.

Another way to look at the problem might be to see the 8 million daily riders as an asset to be cultivated instead of reduced.  This would require the MTA leadership to envision the New York subway system as a -forgive the term- ‘mall’.  That’s right, a mall.  Considered from another angle, all those daily subway riders are a captive audience stuck within your system while they are travelling from one spot to another.  And what do you do when you have a captive audience?  You sell them stuff!  Why not look at the ridership as a means to positively monetize the system (get them to spend more) instead of negatively monetize the system (force them to spend more on the thing they are already paying for) and scaring them away in the process. 

As far as ideas go, how about turning all the little subway newsstands on platforms and corridors into mini Starbucks, Jamba Juice and Burger Kings?  Or other similar franchizes. People would flock to them while waiting for their train.  The MTA could charge more rent for those spaces.  Everyone would be happy.  Or how about the MTA selling the rites for a phone company to wire the subway platforms to field cell phone calls?  A phone carrier would recoup the cost by charging other carriers roaming fees.  Everyone would be happy.  Or add more subterranean retail space.  Or add more advertizing.  Whatever they like that will make more money or get the subway audience to spend more money. 

But whatever they do the MTA should be thinking of their system as a giant mall.  A mall where people go to spend money and have a good time.  The subway system should offer more services and higher-quality goods in an effort to make more money.  There are countless ways to acheive this.  But levying higher fees on the rider is not one of them and will only drive people away from the subway.  Let’s hope the MTA sees how short-sighted this decision is and takes steps to develop a more ‘consumer friendly’ approach to making budgetary ends meet.