Sunday, January 22, 2012

One Fare Can Get You Anywhere

Telephone conference module installation. Wardrobe runs. Cold calls. Petty cash delivery. Picking up tables in a van in Sketchville, Queens. All part of my average week interning.

See, I run a lot of errands in my adventures as an intern. Errands require moving from one place to another (in urban-speak, we call this "commuting." Typically, "commuting" is a slur, reserved for people who live in *gasp* NEW JERSEY and commute into NewYorkCityOhMyGoshTheWorld'sCoolestPlaceEverDoYouWantToMeetMeAtStumptownCoffee?
In this case, however, "commuting" is a word which means "using public transportation," which is typically an appropriate hipster-ish activity for the Stumptown-sipping crowd). 

I've basically become a professional commuter. I ride the subway like it's my job. I walk around NYC like a tourist. I glide effortlessly through elevator doors. It's awesome.

The sign says "need $$$ 4 pants." Indeed, sir. Indeed.
In my usual life, I don't ride the subway. I live within walking distance of most places I need to go (yes, 3 miles in 20 degree weather is "walking distance"). I don't like the subway - it costs money. It's dirty. It's unionized. It's full of bad street performers - like that guy ------>.

 Since I need to run errands quickly, though, I typically have to take the subway. In the middle of the day. Sometimes between boroughs. I'm commuting during off-peak hours, much much farther than, say, a tourist hopping between 30 Rock and Bryant Park. But the amazing thing is that no matter how far you're going, the ride will cost just $2.25. 

Washington, D.C., does not do a flat price ticket - instead, they charge you based on how far you're going. That actually makes more intuitive sense - people who ride the train from a really far suburb are using more track, more seat, more energy, than 5th graders on field trips bopping around between monuments. New York's system incentivizes riding the subway more - or freeloading. 

Flat subway fare means it doesn't matter if you're coming from your swanky Upper West Side hideout, or some hovel in Queens. So it makes more sense to pay cheaper rent farther away, and freeload off everyone who has to pay a whopping $2.25 to travel 15 blocks. 

Granted, this doesn't account for time spent commuting, likelihood of being mugged, etc, but it's still important. Basically it's a good way to incentivize New Yorkers to spread out - get cheaper rent, and don't pay any more for the subway. The D.C. system encourages people to live close to their workplaces, which is actually cheaper for the city. 

Public transportation is what's called a public good - a good that's shared between a lot of people and doesn't get "used up." People pay for their share, but we don't charge you more to sit on the subway, or to ride in a cleaner car, or anything. It's all just a wash. The D.C. system tries to privatize it a bit more by charging people incrementally for how much of the good they use. This is good in that it saves the city money, but bad if it means I personally have to pay more to travel farther.  

Despite the economic inefficiencies introduced, I like the flat price. This is mostly because I only take the subway to go a long distance, which means it's cheap. I can go to LaGuardia International Airport for the same price as a jaunt up to Times Square ... which is pretty great. 

Lately, though, I've been on the other side of the equation - my inter-office runs are starting to add up. 

I ran errands in:
Zebra sheath dress, black blazer with rolled sleeves, black eight earrings, cream vintage pearl-and-lace brooch necklace, black and silver statement ring, black tights, and black patent pumps.