Pizza Prices Surpass Subway Fares, Upending Decades of NYC Economics

By Amelia Pollard | BLOOMBERG

The “pizza principle,” a mainstay of New York economics for more than four decades, states that a slice of cheese pizza will always be the same price as a subway ride.

The rule has largely held true since first conjectured in the New York Times in 1980, with any increase in pizza prices tending to predict a matching hike in public-transit fares.

Not anymore.

Prices for plain slices are soaring above $3 throughout the city along with commodity and labor costs. With the Metropolitan Transportation Authority freezing fares at $2.75, the gap between the price of riding downtown and satisfying late-night hunger pangs is growing quickly.

“Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop!” shouted Paul Giannone, the owner of a Greenpoint, Brooklyn, slice shop that bears his nickname, Paulie Gee, when asked about the pizza principle. “I’ve been talking about that for forever. And now there’s a divergence.”

The MTA initially planned to keep transit fares unchanged for six months, a period ending in July, while waiting to receive billions of dollars in aid from President Joe Biden’s federal infrastructure bill. But New York Governor Kathy Hochul took things a step further: Her proposed state budget includes funding that will avert fare hikes for the rest of this year, according to an MTA spokeswoman.

Pizza provides an affordable bite in an expensive city. Of course, some prices have stayed almost impossibly low, with 99-cent slices still scattered throughout Manhattan, and some pizzerias keeping their cheese slices at $2.75—at least for now.

But the average slice of cheese pizza—known locally as a “plain” or “regular,” depending on whom you ask—costs far more today in the city: $3.14 on average, according to Slice, a New York-based online ordering service for independent pizza parlors. This year, prices in all five boroughs are above $3 for the first time ever, the data show, with Manhattan clocking in with the highest average, at $3.26.

Over the past year, inflation has put more and more pressure on pizzerias and their slices. During that time, the average price for utility gas, which often heats eateries’ hulking ovens, has surged 24% for urban consumers nationwide, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.