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.
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.”