The other night I attended a talk about the history of Brooklyn pizza at the Brooklyn Historical Society by Scott Wiener of Scott’s Pizza Tours. Toward the end, a woman stated she had a theory that pizza slice prices stay in rough lockstep with New York City subway fares. Of course, this is a well known relationship that even has its own Wikipedia entry, so Scott referred her to a New York Times article from 1995 that mentioned the phenomenon.
Naturally, that night I set off to calculate the current price of a slice in New York City using listings from MenuPages. I used R’s XML package to pull the menus for over 1,800 places tagged as “Pizza” in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens (there was no data for Staten Island or The Bronx) and find the price of a cheese slice.
After cleaning up the data and doing my best to find prices for just cheese/plain/regular slices I found that the mean price was $2.33 with a standard deviation of $0.52 and a median price of $2.45. The base subway fare is $2.50 but is actually $2.38 after the 5% bonus for putting at least $5 on a MetroCard.
So, even with the proliferation of dollar slice joints, the average slice of pizza ($2.33) lines up pretty nicely with the cost of a subway ride ($2.38).
Taking it a step further, I broke down the price of a slice in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. The vertical lines represented the price of a subway ride with and without the bonus. We see that the price of a slice in Manhattan is perfectly right there with the subway fare.
MenuPages even broke down Queens Neighborhoods so we can have a more specific plot.
The code for downloading the menus and the calculations is after the break.
Jared Lander is the Chief Data Scientist of Lander Analytics a New York data science firm, Adjunct Professor at Columbia University, Organizer of the New York Open Statistical Programming meetup and the New York and Washington DC R Conferences and author of R for Everyone.