As you may have heard, the MTA raised fares yet again on Sunday, increasing unlimited 30-Day MetroCard rates from $116.50 to $121, while leaving the base MetroCard rate at $2.75. With this increase, I started wondering whether it still made sense for me to get an unlimited 30-day MetroCard.
Doing the Math
The math is actually rather simple - you either pay $121 for the monthly pass or $2.75 per ride. If you purchase more than $5.50 at a time, you receive a 5% bonus, essentially making each subway ride $2.62 ($2.75 / 1.05).
In order to come out ahead on the monthly pass, you have to use your subway card at least 47 times ($121 / $2.62).
Will You Actually Ride the Subway 47 Times a Month?
On average, there are approximately 22 weekdays per month. Assuming you ride the subway to and from work every weekday in a month, that's 44 rides (2x22), which is three short of the breakeven of 47 rides. So, in this case, you'd have to ride the subway three more times on the weekends to break even on the monthly subway pass or ride more than two rides a day on some work days.
You may not actually ride the subway to and from work 44 times a month because of:
2. Sick Days
3. Work-From-Home Days
5. Work Travel
6. Days When the Subway is Just Plain Broken
Taking a closer look at holidays, we can probably safely assume that most people get the following holidays off from work:
1. New Year's Day
2. Martin Luther King Day
3. President's Day
4. Memorial Day
5. Independence Day
6. Labor Day
7. Thanksgiving Day
8. Christmas Day / Festivus
Eight holidays spread across 12 months is, on average, 0.67 days per month. For simplicity, we'll round this down to 0.50 days per month or essentially a half day.
Assuming that the average person works from home one day per month, takes one vacation day per month and gets a 1/2 holiday per month, you're probably more likely to average just 39 rides from your daily commute, which means, you'd need to ride an additional 8 times to break even on the monthly subway pass.
Other Factors to Consider
While trying to push out an additional 3 to 8 subway rides per month outside of your daily commute doesn't sound insurmountable, consider these other points.
uBerPOOL charges just $5 for rides on Monday through Friday from the hours of 7-10am and 5-8pm. On hot, scolding days in the summer, when it feels like 125 degrees on the subway platform, $5 isn't a lot to pay to avoid being uncomfortable for the rest of the day.
Another ride-sharing service, Via, charges just $5 per ride Monday through Friday from 6am to 8pm. Best of all, both of these services accept your Commuter Benefits card, which means you can use pre-tax dollars to pay for them. That makes it especially enticing to opt for a nice, comfortable car ride in lieu of the subway on hot summer days, rainy days, or blistering cold days (do we ever have good weather in NYC?!?).
Unfortunately, the easier it is to take these ride-sharing services, the more likely you won't achieve your breakeven rides for the month.
So Now What?
After going through the analysis, I decided to cancel my unlimited MetroCard pass moving forward and to load my Commuter Benefits card with $100 of pre-tax money per month. While I used averages in my above analysis, I know for my particular situation, I could be traveling for work for several days out of a month and taking one or two week-long vacations a year. Plus, the ride-sharing services tipped the scales as well - I'm weak and fragile, and need the comforts of air conditioning.
For everyone else, it seems reasonable to pay per ride rather than get the unlimited pass if you:
1. Only use the subway for your daily commute
2. Travel often for work or vacation
3. Work from home a lot
4. Want an excuse not to take the subway
It may make more sense to get the unlimited pass if you use the subways for your daily commute and on the weekends or if you are consistently taking several rides a day.
Please note that this article is by no means financial advice. You should go through your own analysis before taking any action.