MTA and City Screw Working Poor with So-Called ‘Fair Fares’

The exclusion of pay-as-you-go and single-ride tickets from the Fair Fares program makes fare-capping even more crucial to the Metrocard's replacement.

The MTA plans to begin rolling out the Metrocard's replacement next year. Photo: Darny/Flickr
The MTA plans to begin rolling out the Metrocard's replacement next year. Photo: Darny/Flickr

There’s a much fairer way to do “Fair Fares.”

The MTA board will approve a half-priced transit fee scheme called “Fair Fares” on Thursday — but the reduced-price program will only apply to monthly and weekly Metrocards, meaning that thousands of eligible low-income New Yorkers may not benefit from the program.

Transit advocates say “Fair Fares” doesn’t live up to its name — and are pushing the MTA to institute  fare-capping, which allows pay-per-trip riders to qualify for a weekly or monthly pass once they reach the threshold cost. The MTA has yet to commit to implementing the practice, which has been rolled out in cities such as Portland and London.

“Fare-capping, with the new fare payment system, is important if the MTA wants Fair Fares to full succeed,” said Jaqi Cohen of NYPIRG’s Straphangers Campaign. “It assures that riders who can’t afford the upfront cost of unlimited rides are getting the best deal, and aren’t overpaying for the same number of trips that someone who can afford upfront [30- and seven-day] costs would be able to get.”

For New Yorkers, fare-capping would mean that after 44 $2.75 subway rides, the MTA would not charge for any subsequent rides for the remainder of the month. Transit Center breaks down the concept in the video below:

It’s not clear exactly why the city opted to exclude single-ride and pay-as-you-go fares from the $212-million “Fair Fares” Metrocard program, which will be available to New Yorkers with incomes below the federal poverty line. MTA officials yesterday said the current fare payment technology would have allowed for half-priced fares on both pay-as-you-go and time-based Metrocards, but that “other issues” led the city to limit the program to time-based tickets.

“We envisioned that the ‘Fair Fares’ discount would enable people to purchase any fare type at half-price,” said Nancy Rankin of the Community Service Society, which fought for the program’s creation. “People would be able to purchase the type of fare that makes the most sense to them based on their income and how many trips they take.”

Functionally, seven- and 30-day Metrocards offer a discount on what riders would pay for each ride individually, but they’re cost-prohibitive for many people, who can’t put up the full cost in advance.

In 2016, the Community Service Society’s “Unheard Third” poll of New Yorkers living below the federal poverty line found that 52 percent of low-income riders use single ride or pay-as-you-go tickets. Discounted fares would enable more riders to opt for monthly tickets — but 22 percent said they would still not switch over.

“What we would really hope to see is to enable people to choose what kind of fare makes most sense for them, and get it at half-price,” Rankin said. “The question for the MTA and the city is, is that technically feasible? With the new fare payment system, it should be.”

For its part, the city said the program is subject to change.

“The seven- and 30-day options save money, provide flexibility for Fair Fares riders, and they allow us to get the program up and running faster than usual,” said de Blasio administration spokesperson Jaclyn Rothenberg. “As we roll out the program, we’ll examine how the cards are being used and if changes make sense, we’ll make them.”

  • Joe R.

    I generally agree discounted Metrocards should be available for all types of cards but I’m always lost at the idea that 7 or 30 day Metrocards are cost-prohibitive. Even without discounts, if you use the subway often enough for these cards to save you money, it’s more cost prohibitive NOT to buy them. We’re not talking about a large purchase of many thousands of dollars. A monthly Metrocard costs no more than a lot of other purchases. If need be, borrow the money for the first one, then put aside what you’re saving over single-ride cards and use that to gradually pay back the person loaning you the money. Or maybe bring lunch instead of buying it for a few weeks. Lots of ways to save up $121. If the monthly cards are half price if you quality, that’s only $60.50.

  • fdtutf

    You’ve never been particularly poor, have you?

    We’re talking here about people making less than the federal poverty level, which for 2018 is $12,140 per year for a single person and $25,100 for a family of four. With those incomes, after you’ve paid for housing, you’re doing well to be able to buy food for one day. A 7- or 30-day Metrocard is a dream.

    Also, many people at that income level are paid weekly (and their paychecks essentially disappear right away), so they can’t scrape together the kind of money a 7-day or 30-day Metrocard costs.

    If need be, borrow the money for the first one,

    From whom? From the people you know who also don’t have it? From a bank that will laugh in your face (and isn’t interested in making such small loans in the first place, obviously)?

    In practice, this means you’re pushing people toward the notoriously abusive payday lenders.

    Or maybe bring lunch instead of buying it for a few weeks.

    At this income level you’re already doing that every day, every week.

    That said, why doesn’t the MTA just run the half-fare program like they run the senior citizen half fare program? If you qualify, you get a reusable Metrocard with your name on it. You get deducted half the regular fare each time you use it. You refill it using cash or credit whenever you want, for as much as you want.

    That’s what was asked for, although it’s the city that’s running this program, and the city opted not to do it. The MTA probably can’t spare the revenue that this would cost. (Although an argument could probably be made that many people in this situation currently fare-beat out of sheer necessity, and reduced revenue is better than none. I don’t know what the exact figures are on that, though.)

  • Larry Littlefield

    It would be more fair to see the city is screwing the non-working poor. Those who go to work every day would benefit from these cards, while those who do not will not see a benefit.

  • JohnBrownForPresident

    Well said. Another in a long list of reasons to swipe in people who are waiting outside the stalls for a ride.

  • Larry Littlefield

    So, you want the MTA to have less revenue? And respond by cutting what?

  • djx

    Thank you fdtutf – well said.

  • djx

    is there legal risk to oneself in swiping in other people? I’m frankly afraid to do so (I’m a black guy in Harlem).

  • TacoKnight

    No. As long as you do it for free, there is nothing wrong with swiping someone in. The law is against selling swipes.

    For the asker, the difference is they are panhandling by asking for swipes, as opposed to theft of service by jumping the stile, and giving someone a free swipe is legally looked at the same as giving someone a dollar in a coffee cup.

  • TacoKnight

    The MTA having less revenue is just a byproduct of preventing poor people from having their poverty criminalized, not the goal itself. Could you be more obtuse?

  • Larry Littlefield

    Perhaps we should reverse past fare increases, cut off that extra “emergency” MTA funding, and demand the MTA use the hidden $billions from the two sets of books again.

    And cut federal income taxes again and assert that the federal debt would not increase by because economic growth would soar to 4 percent per year?

    Why not allow everyone to retire five years earlier with full pensions, and say it costs nothing?

    Very popular policies, proposed by saints, heroes and geniuses. Only debt scolds point out that perhaps, in the long run, there will be unfair consequences.

    Fair fares were sold as reducing the incentive for fare evasion. One of Reagan’s justification for the massive 1981 tax cut was reducing the incentive for tax evasion. Let’s just all beat the system until we beat it to death, and then slink away laughing as we go. Leaving others to determine who the losers are, and exempting ourselves (we somehow think).

  • fdtutf

    When I lived in Brooklyn (the Franklin Avenue IRT station was my home station), I frequently saw people just outside the turnstiles gesturing for swipes, and I always swiped them in for this very reason.

  • fdtutf

    So the MTA would get more revenue if these people jumped the turnstiles?

    Some people simply cannot pay the fare.

  • Larry Littlefield

    You mean the half fare.

    This post, the politicians and the advocates, are in effect calling for the MTA to absorb the cost of this program — presumably with maintenance and service cuts, since wages have to continue to rise and productivity is not allowed to increase. No problem if you have a placard.

    That is what I expected all along. “Fare fares” is what it currently is presumably because that’s what the city agreed to pay for. The end game is what I said it would be.

  • Joe R.

    Just to clear things up, I grew up in a housing project. And for much of my adult life I made under 5 figures. When I had to take public transit to work I walked over 5 miles a day to avoid paying double fare for the bus to the subway. I also ate Ramen soup for lunch every day. I’m well aware of what these people go through because I went through it myself.

    The problem you describe seems to be how to get money for the first weekly or monthly card. After that, it’s simply a matter of putting aside what you would normally spend on daily cards to buy the next one. I’m saying that’s it’s certainly possible these people at some point in their lives could have put away enough money for that. Even putting away a lousy quarter a day gets you enough to buy a regular priced monthly card in about 16 months. No, you don’t borrow from payday lenders or anyone else charging interest.

    If I’m doing my math right a half-fare weekly card is $16. Not hard to at least put that much aside. That will save you $11.50 a week over 5 round trips at full fare. In two weeks you can pay back whoever you borrow the money from to buy a weekly card. I’m sure even in poor neighborhoods there’s someone you can borrow a lousy $16 from (unless you have a reputation of borrowing money from people and not paying it back).

  • Joe R.

    This is the same NYPD which pulls over cyclists for leaving the bike lane to go around the police car of the cops doing the ticketing. So yes, even though swiping other people in without charging them is technically not illegal, the police will invent some BS excuse to stop you, maybe something along the lines of impeding pedestrian traffic.

  • Joe R.

    The primary justification for the Reagan tax cuts, along with all those that followed, is that the money the wealthy save on taxes will supposedly trickle down to the little guy. The problem is it never worked out that way. The money ended up in offshore bank accounts, or buying up condos as investments, not to live in. Same thing with the recent corporate tax cuts. Nobody I know got a raise beyond whatever they were going to get anyway (i.e. usually not even enough to keep up with the cost of living). Apparently all the money saved is going to the CEOs and other people on top.

    The best tax cut we could give in terms of economic stimulation is to take the lower 1/3 of wage earners completely off the tax rolls. No income taxes, no payroll taxes. That money will be pumped right back into the economy. Not so when you give the already wealthy massive tax cuts.

  • Larry Littlefield

    New York City doesn’t maintain the sidewalks.

  • JohnBrownForPresident

    Well, with a caveat that all black men should think carefully about their own safety (physical and legal) when dealing with the racist garbage infrastructure of the US and especially the NYPD…

    No there isn’t. It is 100% legal to swipe somebody *in* as long as they don’t ask for it verbally. These guys explain it well: https://twitter.com/swipeitforward

  • Joe R.

    They don’t even maintain the streets, at least not to reasonable first-world standards.

  • jcwconsult

    Long run affordability and current cash flow are DIFFERENT things. A fare cap fixes the different issues for many low income people. The same sort of issue could happen with single toll fares versus monthly or automatic billing systems like EZ Pass.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • kevd

    no.

  • fdtutf

    You mean the half fare.

    The reduced fare is also a fare.

    This post, the politicians and the advocates, are in effect calling for the MTA to absorb the cost of this program — presumably with maintenance and service cuts, since wages have to continue to rise and productivity is not allowed to increase. No problem if you have a placard.

    That is what I expected all along. “Fare fares” is what it currently is presumably because that’s what the city agreed to pay for. The end game is what I said it would be.

    You’re missing my point entirely, which is that the MTA is currently getting zero revenue from a large segment of this population because they are evading a fare they cannot afford to pay. Wouldn’t it be better to gain some revenue from them by reducing the fare for them?

  • Larry Littlefield

    I thought “fair fares” would fix that. So now we have fair fares plus fare evasion?

    Perhaps you don’t know just how high fare evasion was back in the day. I hope we aren’t going back there.

  • fdtutf

    *sigh* Are you deliberately obtuse? The point is to modify “Fair Fares” so that it also applies to pay-per-ride fares.

    Obviously “Fair Fares” cannot “fix” fare evasion if it leaves some people still unable to afford to pay a fare.

  • AMH

    That said, why doesn’t the MTA just run the half-fare program like they run the senior citizen half fare program? If you qualify, you get a reusable Metrocard with your name on it. You get deducted half the regular fare each time you use it. You refill it using cash or credit whenever you want, for as much as you want.

    I was under the impression that this was exactly how the program would work. The infrastructure is already in place; the program could start tomorrow. It’s shocking to me that it’s going to exclude pay-as-you-go customers.

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