De Blasio Launches $325 Million Ferry Service While Poor New Yorkers Struggle to Afford MetroCards

Despite having campaigned on addressing the city's affordability crisis, the mayor maintains that the "Fair Fares" discount MetroCard proposal is not "strategically important" enough to receive city funding.

Toll reform creates a fairer transportation system. Ferry subsidies do not. Photo: Michael Appelton/Mayoral Photography Office
Toll reform creates a fairer transportation system. Ferry subsidies do not. Photo: Michael Appelton/Mayoral Photography Office

Mayor de Blasio’s citywide ferry service launched its first two routes today, with more set to start in the coming months.

“I often talked about the tale of two cities, well here’s an example of a tale of two cities that for too long was tolerated: the Rockaways weren’t as connected as they deserved to be, it’s as simple as that,” the mayor said yesterday at a ceremonial first ride in Rockaway Beach.

The city has budgeted $325 million over six years to launch and operate the ferries, which de Blasio has billed as an “affordable” addition to the city’s transportation network. The new service will stop at various locations along the East River, and yesterday the mayor emphasized that the prices for single ferry rides and monthly passes are equivalent to those of single-ride and monthly MetroCards.

But ferry riders hoping to connect to other points in the city will have to pay twice — for the boat ride, and then again for the subway or bus. And most stops are in neighborhoods where the annual income is above the citywide average. While the ferries can help out on the margins, they’re fundamentally limited (how often do you make a trip that starts and ends near the water?) and will never move large numbers of people.

One person whom the ferries won’t help is Monica Martinez, a Riders Alliance member from the Bronx profiled today in the Village Voice. Martinez is one of the 800,000 New Yorkers who would benefit from a proposal to provide half-priced MetroCards to New Yorkers living below the federal poverty line.

She describes having to pass up on food, holiday celebrations, and more in order to save money for fares: “There’s so many things we don’t do because we can’t afford it, or there’s so many things that we don’t have because we always have to put the rent, the cable, the MetroCard, first.”

At full enrollment, the Fair Fares program would cost the city $212 million each year, according to advocates. The City Council recently proposed a smaller, “pilot” version budgeted at $50 million annually. The benefits in the form of increased mobility, lower rates of fare evasion arrests, and more income in the pockets of people who need it most, would be substantial.

Despite having campaigned on addressing the city’s affordability crisis, the mayor told reporters last week that the Fair Fares proposal is not “strategically important” enough to receive city funding, and that subsidized transit as a social service falls under the jurisdiction of the MTA, not the city.

But de Blasio has promoted initiatives like citywide ferry service and the proposed Brooklyn-Queens streetcar, which would also require city operating subsidies, in terms that are similar to the benefits Fair Fares would confer — as ways to expand access to affordable transportation for more New Yorkers.

The MTA may not be under de Blasio’s direct control, but for a mayor who ran on a platform of reducing economic inequality, that seems like a small obstacle to overcome relative to the huge impact Fair Fares would have.

  • Vooch

    $325 million would build 650 miles of PBLs.

    Imagine the increase in mobility with 650 miles added to the existing 60 miles of PBL.

    Imagine this map with 650 miles of PBLs added

    650 miles is still only 10% of NYC streets

  • kevd

    PBLs should be privately built and financed.
    Nothing like the genius of market-based solutions!

  • Vooch

    great !

    I’ll gladly pay 5 cents a mile toll

  • kevd

    I just don’t think that those not directly benefiting should have to pay for PBLs!
    Shouldn’t private companies be doing it though?
    Would state sponsored and financed PBLs be government overreach?

  • Vooch


    let’s privatize the streets, seriously

  • kevd

    I’m sure you’re serious.
    I’m also sure its 100% completely untenable and would be an absolute disaster.
    But no libertarian ever let that get in the way of their extended juvenile thought experiment masquerading as a political ideology.

  • Keith

    I have an economics degree, and know of not one economist who would support this plan.

    Reducing costs for specific things is not the most efficient way to help poor people. Instead, why not just put more money in their pocket overall, and encourage working at the same time, by reducing the NYC tax rate on the first $12,000 of income from 2.9% to zero? If you want to make sure millionaires don’t get a discount, raise the rate on them to make up the $349 a year everyone earning over $12,000 would save.

    I am proud that our Mayor doesn’t just jump into every proposal offered, without studying it more. My hope is that he decides instead to encourage poor people to work, and give them $349 yearly at the same time, by eliminating the city income tax on the working poor.

  • Vooch

    I’m not some wishy washy minarchist. 🙂

  • kevd

    they may be loons, but they still possess a modicum of common sense 😛

  • Vooch

    you must believe Eric Garner deserved his fate

  • kevd

    oh good, a wild non-sequitur!

  • Vooch

    eric garner was stranguled to death because he failed to pay 50 cents in involuntary taxes.

    you support involuntary taxation and a all powerful state

    hence you support the killing of Eric Garner

  • kevd

    seriously go fuck yourself, vooch.

  • kevd

    being in favor of some state taxation does not mean I’m in favor of strangling people for all infractions.

  • kevd

    I’m done with your idiocy
    have you fuckin respect.

  • Vooch

    but you support the state killing people if they don’t pay taxes

  • kevd

    fuck off.
    you don’t know shit about me or my beliefs so stop making deeply offensive shit up and putting it in my mouth.
    tickets do not equal killing
    but that is not the sort of nuance I would expect a libertarian to understand.

  • Joe R.

    Just as a minor point the working poor already pay no state or city taxes on the first $7,950 of income. They pay no federal tax on the first $10,400 of income. Unfortunately, they’re hit with the regressive 7.65% FICA tax on the first dollar of income. The self-employed are hit with double that on the first dollar of income.

    How about we have universal local and federal standard deductions in the area of $20,000 to $25,000? You pay no taxes whatsoever on the first $20K to $25K of income, including no FICA tax. That includes the self-employed. You can make up the difference by bumping up the tax rates on those with more than, say, $200K of taxable income. You can also bump up the amount of earned income subject to FICA taxes to make up for the fact people earning under the threshold will no longer be paying those taxes.

  • nanter

    The cable? And I’m supposed to subsidize her subway rides? Enough with the shakedown.

  • Joe R.

    Just implement a VMT charge based on some combination of space taken and vehicle weight, perhaps even time of day. That effectively gets people to use the lightest vehicle which can do the job. It also gets them to switch travel times away from the most congested hours if it’s at all possible.

  • Joe R.

    That drew my ire also. Granted, there is a good case to be made for cable internet, especially if you have children. Nowadays schools often give assignments which require internet access. But if it’s cable TV then it’s not necessary. Sure, network TV mostly sucks but if you’re passing on food to pay for cable TV then your priorities are seriously warped.

  • Note: the ferry does not go to Far Rockaway.

  • Vooch

    London did a version of this. I think it reduced congestion by 50%.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    A basic internet cable package is like $60/mo after the intro offer expires isn’t it? Thats over $700 a year, nothing to sneeze at for low income people.

  • Larry Littlefield

    There is this whole history in the Northeast of the affluent hiding behind being “progressive” but actually serving themselves.

    For example, the difference between regulated rents and market rents is far greater in affluent neighborhoods in Manhattan than in middle class or poor ones. While rent regulation does limit displacement in cases of gentrification and allow people who don’t own to feel a long-term part of a neighborhood, over time the benefits end up going t the better off.

    The huge increase in spending on schools went mostly to increased retirement benefits for former teachers heading to Florida. When DeBlasio pushed universal pre-K, an actual increase in services, the UFT proposed.

    “Planning” and “environmental” regulations, everywhere in the Northeast, were captured by those seeking social exclusion, with the future and the environment pushed to a low priority.

    The “living wage” is only for those connected with the government. Having a lower living wage for everyone else keeps the cost of living of the connected down.

    Etc. Etc.

    Over time I have come to be less irritated by selfish people who don’t pretend otherwise than by selfish people who do pretend otherwise. I even wonder if those in favor of illegal immigration really just want a group of people with no rights they can force to provide a better deal.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Maybe. But just having a telephone cost more than that not long ago.

  • Jeff

    Presumably they’re referring to internet access, which I do believe is a necessity in today’s world.

  • JK

    I’d love this if I was Governor Cuomo — the guy who controls the MTA and essentially controls the cost of Metrocards. If I was Cuomo I’d give a medal to the Fair Fare campaign for hopelessly confusing the issue of who is responsible for the subways and buses — which most New Yorkers already incorrectly believe is a City service controlled by the mayor. I’d love seeing the attention of transit advocates aimed at the mayor while subway service is melting down and bus ridership collapsing— and, painfully, more fare hikes are on the way.

  • Lawrence Greenfield

    I agree with Keith: this is a generous but misguided proposal.

    We can make a negative city income tax at the lower levels (like the EITC). Then we benefit people who walk or bike or get around however.

    Having each government bureaucracy have another way of certifying low income and provisioning specifically is much less efficient than having our tax authority just do it in one fell swoop.

  • Andrew

    Who controls the MTA has no bearing on the question of who subsidizes discounted service for the poor, unless you’re proposing that the subsidy come out of the MTA budget itself (i.e., that other subway and bus riders subsidize the discounts for the poor while letting anybody who doesn’t personally ride the subway or bus off the hook).

    We subsidize groceries for the poor, but it isn’t the grocery stores themselves that subsidize the program – the subsidy comes from an outside program, and the grocery store simply needs to accept debit cards to participate. The grocery store doesn’t have to raise its prices for everybody else in order to pay for the discount for the poor.

  • Erin

    It’s pretty much impossible for children, even elementary schoolers, to succeed in school without the internet. All teacher communication goes through the online portal. School assignments and grades and messages to parents, all through the online portal.

    I’m a librarian at a NYPL branch in the Bronx. When we opened up the free wifi hotspot program (which offers only enough bandwidth for text-based sites), the 5,000 hotspots “sold out” in less than a month.

    Beyond children, how are adults going to increase their earning potential without the internet? Getting an office-type job requires basic knowledge of Microsoft, email, and internet searching, and maintaining those skills requires regular use of the internet. Plus, just trying to job search, regardless of what kind of job, requires filling out endless applications online.

    So, no, I don’t begrudge her allocating budget dollars to the internet bill.

  • Andrew

    Internet is fine. TV is a different story. It’s not clear which she was referring to. At least in my circles, the word “cable” on its own typically refers to TV.

  • nanter

    Everybody keeps making the fundamental assumption that when someone says “cable” she is talking about a straight internet plan. I interact directly on a daily basis with this demographic and I have lost count of the number of times people have told me about their cable budget being > $100/month. I have a straight internet subscription without TV and pay ~$40/month.

    There is a reason she used the word cable.

  • Andrew

    Was this supposed to have any connection whatsoever to the upthread comment, which was purely a geographical clarification?

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Who controls the MTA has no bearing on the question of who subsidizes discounted service for the poor, unless you’re proposing that the subsidy come out of the MTA budget itself.”

    I’m waiting for a free transfer for the ferry riders, with the MTA ceding the fare revenue to the ferries in both directions.


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