What should the subway fare be? What should the road fare be?

25 Jul

Those who follow the local news in New York have no doubt heard of the MTA's plan to raise subway fares next year and again in 2011. People and politicians in the city and suburbs love to whine about the fare hike and how it will hit working people the most. Honestly, I don't mind that much. A few extra bucks a month is not a big deal to me and to most people. I still no car-related travel expenses and I still know that the subway here is cheaper than smaller and less useful mass transit systems in many other cities, both in the U.S. and the rest of the world.

My only request is that this time, they raise the base fare at least as much as they raise the monthly unlimited fare. Everyday commuters like me are the ones using the unlimited cards, while tourists and occasional riders use the pay-per-ride cards. Do we need to hit the city residents before the tourists?

And while I don't mind paying a little more to keep the subway working and well-maintained, I just wish the media and the politicians more adequately acknowledged just how much we subsidize roads and cars. We've developed this notion, over the last century, that roads are a public good and should be paid for entirely out of public funds and provided free to everyone, like parks and schools. Fine, but then, why isn't the subway free too? Part of my subway fares pays for the salaries of the train operators and the electricity to turn the train wheels, but part of it pays for the upkeep and land rights of the tracks themselves. Why, then, shouldn't there be a direct use fee for all roads?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting some twisted libertarian paradise where everything is privatized. We all agree roads should remain a public commodity, like the subway. But if the subway can be a public good where a nominal usage fee is charged for each ride (or each time period of ridership), why not the same for roads? This was the philosophy behind the congestion pricing plan that was killed by the state government earlier this year. This should be made more clear when we discuss things like fare hikes.