MTA Chief Eyes Late-Night Discounts

If implemented, reduction would be biggest change to MTA fares in recent years

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    Late-night and weekend discounts? We like.

    The MTA may soon offer somewhat of a condolence prize to all you straphangers out there who are still miffed about the recent fare hikes: How about late-night and weekend discounts?

    The fare reduction will be considered as part of the agency's new "smart card" program, officials said yesterday. If implemented, it would be one of the most sweeping changes to MTA fares in recent years.

    "We might imagine that we offer discounts at later times, or we offer weekend discounts," newly instated MTA chairman Jay Walder told The New York Times. "Time-of-day pricing might be very attractive."

    The objective is to encourage bus and subway use during quieter periods and bring the city's subway system in line with commuter rails, which have off-peak fares.

    "We have an infrastructure that is set for the capacity of the peak," Walder told the Times. "What we really want to do is use that infrastructure all the time."

    While he hasn't officially developed a plan for the discounts, the concept wouldn't be new to Walder, who worked with it when he ran the transit system in London. But he'd have to get the government on board.

    Any change to the fare system needs approval from the MTA board, most of whose members are designated by the mayor and the governor. Walder wouldn't describe his relationship with city and state officials, nor would he talk about timelines and other specifics for implementing the plan, deferring to his 15 days on the job.

    At least one nonvoting board member is concerned about the idea.

    "You really already have some crushed loads at off-peak periods," Andrew Albert, who also chairs the New York City Transit Riders Council, told the Times, citing how packed platforms can get on weekends. "London is not necessarily the same as New York."

    The new MTA chief has already announced plans to introduce a no-swipe fare-payment system akin to the one in implemented in England. 
       
    Walder has said that the new smart card, which could be in effect in five years, would analyze the least expensive route for straphangers based on how often they ride, which is more or less how London's Oyster card works. It could also work as a debit card, deducting fares directly from straphangers' bank accounts, Walder told The New York Post.

    Walder has emphasized the need for major technological overhauls throughout the transit system since he took office two weeks ago. The revamps would include the smart card, in addition to countdown clocks that tell riders when subways are due to arrive, and surveillance of bus lanes to enforce the rules, reports the Post.

    Earlier this year, the MTA bumped up single-ride subway and bus fares by 25 cents to $2.25. But Walder has said he has no plans to charge higher prices for longer trips, a system used in cities like Washington and London.