Is the Pizza Principle dead? Today AMNY, using a recent Zagat survey as evidence, argues that the theory—which has for decades shown that the average cost of a single ride on the MTA is always about the same as the cost of a single slice of NYC pizza—no longer applies. We'd like to respectfully disagree.
According to Zagat's survey of 2,000 Americans, the average cost of a slice nationwide is $2.99 and in NYC is about $2.81, both of which are higher than the $2.50 cost of a single ride MetroCard. But there are some problems with saying this means anything to the Pizza Principle (also known as the Pizza Connection).
First off, we don't know exactly how many New Yorkers took Zagat's survey, but we can with quite a lot of certainly say that it could not have been a good economic sample. Zagat's surveyors generally tend to be older and wealthier than the general population, so of course they are going to be buying (and report buying) more expensive slices from the Artichokes of the world rather than the $.99 slice shops that dot the city. When we checked with Zagat, we were told: "The Pizza Survey was conducted through the Zagat Blog, and promoted via the blog, social media, newletters, etc. We specifically asked surveyors to tell us 'how much they typically spend on a single slice of pizza' and then we were able to filter the respondents who were from NYC, which totaled a few hundred people."
Second, it is increasingly hard to define the actual cost of a single ride in the city. When the Pizza Principle was first declared in the '80s everyone paid the same cost for a single token, but that isn't the case anymore! A single ride will cost you $2.50, yes, but in reality the average non-student MetroCard holder pays just $1.629 per ride according to the MTA [PDF, page 4.2]. So one could argue that the Pizza Principle has been dead for a long time (though you won't catch us saying that!).
Third? Historically part of the charm of the Pizza Principle has been its ability to predict changes in fares. In 2005, and again in 2007, Clyde Haberman noted in the Times that the price of a slice was rising and, citing the Pizza Connection, worried that the subway fare might soon rise again. Which it did. To $2.25 in June 2009, and again to $2.50 in 2011. And hey! The MTA still plans to raise fares 7.5 percent next year which, while not bringing the fare up to the $2.81 Zagat cites, definitely will bring them closer to being in sync.
Meanwhile, we find it appalling that 19 percent of those surveyed by Zagat eat their pizza with a knife and fork. Silly Midwesterners, deep-dish isn't a pizza, it's a cheese pie.