(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) The one-day "fun passes" were there at the beginning. Instead of the single-fare ride of $1.50, the "fun cards" cost $4, and were available only in tourist locations. But an outcry ensued, and the fun-cards were sold everywhere, along with the popular $63-a-month unlimited cards, (now $87, soon to approach $100). Those cards, as Second Avenue Sagas and others have pointed out, revolutionized transit.
Used to be we put a token in the turnstile everytime we wanted to ride (there were no transfers from bus to subway, or vice-versa.) Then came the metrocard, just a fancy blue-and-yellow piece of plastic which did the same thing, essentially, as the token, but didn't feel as good in your hand. The MTA resisted offering unlimited rides cards, saying they would be too costly. But shamed by Jim Dwyer, then at the New York Daily News, who exposed the MTA's secret surplus, and Gene Russianoff, then, as now, at the Straphangers Campaign, the MTA (pushed by Republican Governor George Pataki, getting ready to seek re-election) caved, and offered unlimited ride cards.
As it happened, ridership boomed. The MTA did well. Subway trains were on the upswing, Crime went down, stations got spiffy new makeovers. But government funding was drying up, congestion pricing tanked, bridge tolls didn't pass muster with the legislature, the real estate market collapsed. Borrowing that had masked government cuts spurred a big rise in debt service. Transit funding in New York City, and everywhere, entered a long, dark, endless tunnel.
The MTA faced an $800 million deficit, more than the budgets of most U.S. transit systems.
This week, it was leaked that the MTA will likely limit it's unlimited ride cards to 90 rides a month, when it unveils it's fare hike plans Wednesday. Also gone, as WNYC's Matthew Schuerman reports, the one day unlimited ride pass, now $7.
At the MTA, the fun is over.