"Unfare" Advertising


It's been some time since I've written about my subway sightings and, with my new site design complete, I'm determined to write more. A lot has happened over the past two years. The synopsis: a titanically incompetent banking system allowed the economy to evaporate as the state continued to underfund public transit, causing the so-called doomsday budget threat from the MTA.

This doomsday budget (that's their term, by the way) foretells of a time when we will all pay significantly more for transit while service is drastically cut. Right now, it's a game of political chicken to see who's going to budge first. And, of course, we are the pawns in this game.

In some pathetic attempt to gain rider's support, the MTA has added this ad to their SubTalk series:

In 1986, the subway and bus fare was $1. That's $1.89 in 2008 dollars. Today 30-day Unlimited Ride MetroCard brings the fare down to $1.17. Believe it.

For starters, I've berated them on their grammar before, and here is one more example of poor usage. But, let's focus on the content of the ad. I wondered how they computed these numbers so I did a little homework. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, $1.00 in 1986 is equivalent to $1.96 in 2008, not $1.89. Given that the current fare is $2, that means the fare has increased even after taking inflation into account. If you believe the BLS, it's up 4 cents; if you believe the MTA, it's up 11 cents. This logic seems to defeat the purpose of the ad, but perhaps I'm missing something.

Now, if we consider the 30-day unlimited ride card, which costs $81 in 2008, in order for each fare to cost $1.17 you need to use the card 69 times in 30 days, or 2.3 times per day. For reference, if you solely use the card to commute to and from work, and we assume there are 22 work days in a 30-day period, then you'll use the card 44 times, bringing your value to $1.84 per ride. Still less than $2, but a far cry from $1.17. If you ride twice every day during the 30-day period, then you're down to $1.35 per ride.

As you might have surmised, the MTA can choose any number of rides per 30 days to generate the desired outcome—an exercise in minimizing the per-ride value while remaining credible. Maybe 2.3 rides per day is some systemwide average, but it seems awfully high to me. After all, people do stay home occasionally.

Here's another guy's reaction to the ad, enjoy.