As Fares Rise, Advocates Press City Hall for MetroCard Relief for Low-Income New Yorkers

Riders Alliance member Monica Martinez speaks alongside elected officials yesterday. Photo: David Meyer
Riders Alliance member Monica Martinez speaks alongside elected officials yesterday. Photo: David Meyer

As MTA fares went up yesterday, straphangers and elected officials rallied outside Atlantic Terminal yesterday to bring them down for low-income New Yorkers.

The “Fair Fares” coalition is calling on Mayor de Blasio to fund half-priced MetroCards for the 800,000 New Yorkers living below the federal poverty line. While the single-ride cost is staying flat at $2.75, dollars won’t stretch as far as they used to for anyone who buys multiple rides at a time — the “bonus” on multi-ride purchases is shrinking, and weekly and monthly passes are getting more expensive.

Image: Community Service Society/Riders Alliance
Image: Community Service Society/Riders Alliance

The discount fare program would cost $212 million annually, according to Riders Alliance and the Community Service Society annually, and save someone who buys monthly MetroCards about $700 a year.

“I often skip meals so I have enough cash in hand to make sure I get back,” said Riders Alliance member Monica Martinez. “My family and all low-income families in New York really need this half-priced MetroCard.”

The Fair Fares campaign has picked up support from more than two-thirds of the City Council. While Mayor de Blasio has expressed support for the concept, he has declined to fund it, arguing that the MTA is the state’s responsibility.

Speakers at the rally countered that the city has a distinct interest in keeping fares affordable for low-income residents.“The city should be the one leading this effort,” said City Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez. “This is money that will go back to the community.”

Advocates say the city could save $50 million currently spent adjudicating fare evasion, the top NYPD arrest in 2015.

In addition to Rodriguez, council members Carlos Menchaca and Mathieu Eugene spoke yesterday, as well as Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Assembly Member Felix Ortiz.

“The conversation about Fair Fares is a fair conversation to have,” said Menchaca. “Public transit is not public if the public can’t afford it. This is the kind of concept that drives the future of this incredible city, and we cannot stop short.”

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Advocates say the city could save $50 million currently spent adjudicating fare evasion, the top NYPD arrest in 2015.”

    I dislike this argument.

    It implies that only lower income people take things without paying for them.

    And it sounds like Ronald Reagan’s argument that cutting taxes on the rich would make them less inclined to cheat on their taxes, something that turned out not to be true..

  • Jeff

    I’ve noticed that every time De Blasio tries to do some kind of high-profile anti-poverty program, Cuomo swoops in and does something analogous at the state level to show him up. So maybe if De Blasio just says he’s gonna fund discounted fares for low-income New Yorkers, the state will end up paying for it anyway?

  • It sounds great when you say it as “This is money that will go back to the community”. It sounds less good when you say it as “This is money that will be drained from the MTA.”

  • Colin Wright

    The city ponying up 200 million to fund this program drains money from the MTA how exactly?

  • Right, if the City actually does offset the revenue lost by giving discounted rides, then the MTA wouldn’t lose anything. But the City seems disinclined to do this.

    Calls for discounted fares will not end if the City does not agree to this particular programme. So I suppose that my comment addresses the concept of discounted fares generally. While I am usually in favour of means-testing on prices, I would not be in favour of implementing it in a way that reduces funds going to the MTA.

    (In a sane world, we woudn’t have this problem, as our transit system would be paid for entirely by taxes.)

  • Lawrence Greenfield

    I’m confused why this is better than just giving the $212M directly to the 800,000 New Yorkers and letting them decide what to spend the money on. Yes, transit fares are a significant expense, but so is food and rent and sometimes those are more important.

  • Vooch

    I’ll argue it’s better to delay implementing this program by 1 year and use the $200 million to create 400 miles of PBLs.

    I’ll also argue that adding 400 miles of PBLs would do more to improve mobility for a greater number of the working poor than the reduced fare program.

    400 miles of PBLs might increase cycling trips by 10x vs. today. NYC really only had 50 useful miles of PBL.

    Adding 400 miles of PBLs to the attached map

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/305b259101ced8de04de24d5fc7e0f7b0aebd7cefb031800cc30f6a28c84a977.jpg ap

    would do more to transform mobility than any other program.

    80% of NYC trips are less than 3 miles. Let’s solve subway & motor congestion by building a true PBL network.

  • MO

    Income-based reduced fare does sound like a good idea. However, how do the supporters propose to make sure thatthe people who are low-income receive the reduced fare? People wouldhave to submit some kind of income verification. Some paid staff wouldhave to be hired to review those documents. How often would people have

    to re-qualify? Once a year? Once every other year? So, this proposal implies a bureaucracy with additional costs.

    I think we can get at the goal–enabling a lower cost of travel for people who need it–in a way that will not add the extra cost of validation.

    Since we know already that people who travel outside rush hours get less service (FasTrack), why don’t we push for lower fares in non-rush-hour periods?

    This will also have the effect of lowering fares for office cleaners, restaurant workers, many healthcare workers, and other working folks who do not travel during rush hour–and, not incidentally, earn lower wages. Yes, some other folks would get the benefit, but they also would be paying for what they get.

  • Joe R.

    We could use people’s tax returns. If you didn’t need to file a tax return (because your income was under the filing threshold) then that’s also proof.

    Or as an alternative, maybe you could give a refundable tax credit. Even those who don’t need to file federal returns would have to file NYS returns in order to get the tax credit. The tax credit wouldn’t be given as a check. It would be given as a personal MetroCard with a one-year expiration date pre-credited with the amount of the tax credit. In theory the amount should equal roughly half a year’s worth of transit fares, assuming you ride 5 days per week. This would be about $715. When the card expires, any money left on it is automatically reimbursed to the state. In order to use the card, you would still need to add money to it. Each time you used it, half the fare would be paid for with the money you put on the card, and then other half would be paid for with the tax credit. If/when the tax credits ran out, you could still use the card, but you would be paying full fare.

    This has several advantages over any other plan:

    1) No need for more bureaucracy at the MTA beyond that needed to issue the fare cards (although the state tax bureaucracy might be able to handle this).

    2) Those who use the card more often than 5 days per week would only cost the state the $715 maximum. Without this limitation, the cost could in theory be a lot more than that, especially if the person loans their card to friends. The idea here is to encourage the person to use it for needed travel like work or school, but to foot the bill themselves for any extra recreational travel on their days off.

    3) You can also make this benefit available to those with incomes over the federal poverty line. Perhaps have it start to phase out at the federal poverty line, and completely phase out by the time your income is twice the federal poverty line. Households like that still need help, but less than those who are really poor.

  • Colin Wright

    I understand. But in this case no one is calling on the MTA to lose out on $200 million in revenue without offsetting annual appropriations by the city. Though it is a fair question to ask whether the city would actually keep up its commitment annually.

  • Vooch

    This is friggn brilliant. So simple and effective, for example:

    $2.75 during rush hours ( say 0700-0930 & 1545-1845 )

    $2.50 all other times

    The it should be trivial to adjust the turnstiles to manage this simple fare structure

  • Larry Littlefield

    Groups are now encouraging fare evasion. Vandalism next.

    Which is a great reason to cut transit service.

    Which is a great reason for more fare evasion.

    Remember, Generation Greed’s tax exempt debts and retroactively increased tax exempt pensions get paid first. Public services are provided with whatever money is left.

    This is all a matter of fairness. If the generation that left the cities in the 1950s and 1960s drained it, abused it, and left it in ruins, and then did the same to the suburbs, shouldn’t next generations be allowed to do the same thing?

  • The public-sector workers of the midcentury generation did exactly what they should have done: they obtained through collective bargaining the benefits that were necessary for them to have a prosperous life and a comfortable retirement. This not only benefitted them themselves, but it attracted high-quality workers to public-sector work, thereby benefitting the entire society. Another word for this arrangement is “civilisation”.

    It is unconscionable to repeatedly hurl spiteful verbal volleys against people who did things the right way and who made unprecedented contributions to the general well-being. That generation set a good example; it is not their fault that subsequent generations of workers failed to follow this example and instead elected unwisely to turn their backs on the unions that had been the bedrock of our economic democracy.

    More fundamentally, every generation should be expected to pay for the retirement of the previous one.

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