Growing Coalition Urges de Blasio to Fund Discount Fares for Poor Residents

Community Service Society President David Jones (podium) speaking this morning alongside Rider Alliance Executive Direction John Raskin (left) and Public Advocate Letitia James. Photo: David Meyer
Community Service Society President David Jones (podium) speaking this morning alongside Rider Alliance Executive Direction John Raskin (left) and Public Advocate Letitia James. Photo: David Meyer

Advocates are turning up the heat on Mayor de Blasio to fund discount MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers.

The Riders Alliance and the Community Service Society led a rally on the steps of City Hall this morning calling on Mayor de Blasio to fund discount fares in his FY 2018 budget, which will be drafted early next year. A majority of the City Council — 27 members — now support half-priced transit fares for New Yorkers between the ages of 18 and 64 who fall below the federal poverty line. Public Advocate Letitia James and Comptroller Scott Stringer are also on board [PDF].

Most New Yorkers agree. In CSS’s annual “Unheard Third” survey, 73 percent of respondents said they support discount fares, though the question did not mention the cost of the program.

Providing half-priced fares to the 800,000 New Yorkers living below the poverty line would likely cost around $200 million, CSS President David Jones said this morning. Jones, whom de Blasio recently appointed to the MTA board, argued that discount transit fares will help de Blasio achieve his goals of reducing economic inequality. “For low income New Yorkers and the working poor, the cost of riding the city buses and subways is moving further and further out of reach,” he said.

The Transit Affordability Crisis,” a CSS and Riders Alliance report released in April, showed that low-income New Yorkers, particularly in black and Latino communities, rely on transit more than affluent New Yorkers. Riders have been asked to assume the burden of rising MTA debt service, pension obligations, and para-transit costs, with fares rising 45 percent between 2007 and 2015 and set for another 4 percent increase next year. Each fare hike is especially hard for poor New Yorkers to absorb.

Chart: Community Service Society
For poor New Yorkers, a monthly MetroCard consumes 10 percent of household income. Chart: Community Service Society

Many low-income New Yorkers are forced to pass up job opportunities or cut back necessities like food or medical care because of rising fares. Some resort to asking other riders for swipes or jumping the turnstile, which is illegal. In 2015, the NYPD arrested more New Yorkers for fare evasion than any other offense, according to data compiled by the Police Reform Organizing Project. Of the 29,000 people arrested for the offense, 94 percent were people of color.

In April, just after the release of the CSS-Riders Alliance report, the NYPD announced that it would no longer make arrests for requesting a swipe, which is permitted by the MTA but violates NYPD rules against “begging or panhandling” and impeding the “free movement of passengers.”

The policy change was made in reaction to Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s decision to no longer prosecute low-level offenses, including fare evasion. Nevertheless, arrests for fare evasion have continued, according to PROP’s Peyton Berry.

“A lot of people think that when you jump turnstiles that it’s just for fun and it’s not,” Berry said. “It’s because $5.50 is really expensive — it’s really expensive to travel somewhere. So by lowering the fares for low-income people of color, hopefully they will be targeted less by the police.”

  • Kevin Love

    “NYPD Rules”

    Also known as “imaginary laws.”

    And a message for Mr. Berry, who said, “So by lowering the fares for low-income people of color, hopefully they will be targeted less by the police.”

    Mr. Berry, this may come as a shock to you, but there are also white people who are poor. Maybe they could have their fares lowered also.

  • Vooch

    A better use of $200 million per year would be to use the money to build 400 miles of PBLs in underserved nieghborhoods. After 5 years, there would be 2,000 miles of new PBLs in NYC. 1/4 of NYC streets would have PBLs ! A real network of PBLs would done more to increase mobility for the working poor than subsidized fares.

  • bolwerk

    Great idea independently of transit, but completely useless at addressing the mobility needs of an aging, fattening population that probably is approaching, maybe even already exceeded, seven figures below the the poverty line.

  • Larry Littlefield

    it makes more sense than keeping the fare down for everyone, and letting the transit system rot.

    The figures above are for one Metrocard. Most poor households have just one adult. Two Metrocards would cost more. I know of a family that shares one unlimited, and uses bikes for the second spouse to get to work.

    But to put these figures in perspective, look here, and see that Americans in every quintile of income spend at least 14.5% of their income on transportation. And those in the lowest quintile spend the least.

    Consumer Expenditure Survey

    Original Data Value

    By Quintles of Income

    Download: Download as an Excel File

    Series ID Annual 2015 Annual 2015

    Total expt Transport Exp Percent

    CXUTOTALEXPLB0102M $24,470 $3,559 14.5%

    CXUTOTALEXPLB0103M $35,063 $5,923 16.9%

    CXUTOTALEXPLB0104M $45,912 $8,820 19.2%

    CXUTOTALEXPLB0105M $63,671 $11,330 17.8%

    CXUTOTALEXPLB0106M $110,508 $17,834 16.1%

  • John Gilbert

    Can anyone explain why this would cost NYC $200 million a year and not $560 million? The press release says up to 800,000 New Yorkers could save up to $700 a year each. 800,000 x $700 = $560 million / year. (Don’t know about 800,000 people but $700 is what paying half the cost of a monthly MetroCard would cost if monthly pass is $116.50 per 116.5/2 x 12 = $699.) What am I missing?

  • Vooch

    I’d argue that cycling is free while even subsidized subway fares still cost too much for the working poor.

  • Miles Bader

    Bicycles are indeed great, and a much bigger PBL network would be a great thing, but bikes alone can’t satisfy all transit needs.

    For short trips, bikes rule, but for medium trips, something else is necessary.

  • Vooch

    agreed that trips longer than 5 miles are beyond ‘normal’ cycling range and that 1-3 miles is a cycling sweet spot. Fortunately, 80% of NYC Trips Are 3 Miles or less.

    Cycling will never replace subway service, however cycling can be a mode of choice for the hundreds of thousands of NYs who commute less than 3 miles. For example, there is little reason for regular people to take the subway from 96th, 86th, 72nd stations to midtown. It’s useually faster to ride a bike from 96th to 42nd street. PBLs would offer these poor subway riders a choice that they currently do not have.

    For the cost of one single subway station rehab, We could have a complete network of PBLs serving millions of NYrs

  • bolwerk

    The poorer you are, the longer your trips tend to be. The poorer you are, the more health problems you’re likely to have. And then there is aging to consider.

    I concur biking can be a much more useful commuting mode in NYC, but suggesting bikes to replace transit is, quite frankly, tone-deaf.

  • Ian

    It is unlikely that all 800,000 people below the FPL would take advantage of the program. You would need to take more than ~20 trips per month to make the reduced price “worth it”, so if you don’t take that many trips you won’t bother. It is also likely that a lot of people who are eligible won’t take advantage for various other reasons. $200m would cover around 285,000 people which seems like a decent estimate.

  • As a Riders Alliance member who was in the rally on the steps of City Hall, like the Transit Benefits Campaign, in which I had been proud to be part of, I am cautiously optimistic that the Fair Fares Campaign could be done very quickly. May I remind that this is a major economic inequality issue in NYC, with this issue could possibly sway the next year’s mayoral elections. Let’s hope that Bill de Blasio will keep his own promise in the “Tale of Two Cities” Campaign after all.

  • Vooch

    I use a bike for 95% of my NYC trips. I take subway or bus less than twice a month.

    I am not saying that all people can use bikes all the time – only that a significant percentage of people can use bikes a significant percentage of the time

  • c2check

    I’d be very happy with a network of bike boulevards and traffic calming on many lower-volume streets, in addition to PBLs on other streets.

  • BubbaJoe123

    “Most New Yorkers agree. In CSS’s annual “Unheard Third” survey, 73 percent of respondents said they support discount fares, though the question did not mention the cost of the program.”

    Which makes it a survey designed to elicit a positive response, not an honest attempt to assess support for the proposal.

    I would bet that, if you asked, “would you be willing to pay an extra $3/month for your Metrocard to fund discount fares for low-income households,” you’d see that support drop dramatically. (MTA revenue around $7B, reduce by $200M, that’s a bit below 3%, or about $3 on a monthly Metrocard)


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