Originally published in Issue 17 - December 14, 1997

What's the Cost of a Free Ride?

It's been a heady week for transit watchers. On Monday, Governor Pataki announced that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) would offer unlimited subway and bus ride passes starting next summer. Monthly, weekly, and daily passes would be offered for $63, $17, and $4, respectively. The plan also calls for a reduction in express bus fares from $4 to $3. Finally, the MTA's original plan to offer a volume discount of 11 rides for the price of 10 will go forward on January 1st.

The Governor and the MTA have estimated that the passes and express bus discount will cost $236 million in lost annual revenue. Full details behind this figure have not yet been released, although they are anticipated before the end of the year. So far, the Governor has stated that revenue loss will be paid for by the Transit Authority surplus-which is now expected to be $185 million by year's end-and by administrative cost reductions. Some concerns remain over the possibility that the revenue loss may turn out to be greater than $236 million, the current surplus may not recur in the future, and the unaccounted costs of accommodating an expected surge of 100 million new trips within the transit system might be significant.

At a December 11th meeting of the MTA's Transit Authority Committee, Chairman Virgil Conway noted that he expected that details would be forthcoming at either a December 15th Finance Committee meeting or a December 18th full MTA board meeting at the latest.