Making the city’s public transit system more affordable and equitable is particularly critical nowadays with low-income New Yorkers struggling to afford bus and subway fares, and the MTA poised to raise fares yet again next year.
To that end, the Community Service Society and Riders Alliance have recruited more than 24 advocacy, legal, labor and community-based organizations to its campaign calling for a reduced transit fare for the city’s lowest income residents.
Not surprisingly, several well-known transit advocacy groups have joined the effort, including NYPIRG Straphangers Association, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and Transit Alternatives. Rounding out the coalition is a diverse collection of nonprofits with a shared interest in addressing social and economic inequities. They include: Community Voices Heard, Fiscal Policy Institute, Make the Road-NY, VOCAL-NY, Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow, Association of Community Employment, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and Bronx Defenders.
Political support for giving the city’s working poor a discounted fare has also grown since we launched the “Fair Fares” campaign in April. Indeed, a majority of New York City Council members have lent their names to the campaign along with Public Advocate Letitia James and City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
Mayor de Blasio, who has made tackling economic inequality and creating a more equitable city a cornerstone of his administration, has yet to take an official position on the proposal. But with the fractious presidential election finally behind us and the mayor ostensibly gearing up for re-election in 2017, perhaps we will find out soon if helping low-income New Yorkers get to work, school and access economic opportunities will be a City Hall policy priority.
If the de Blasio Administration needs evidence of the harmful implications of transit affordability, it need look no further than our latest Unheard Third survey. It found that one out of four low-income working-age New Yorkers often cannot afford bus and subway fares. Moreover, a third of working-age, low-income New Yorkers, including 43 percent of Latinos, say they did not take a job or look for jobs farther from where they live because of the high cost of a MetroCard. Because they have the highest jobless rates, African-Americans and Latinos are affected most by unaffordable transit fares.
We are calling on the mayor to include funding in his Fiscal Year 2018 Executive Budget for a program that would offer half-price MetroCards to New Yorkers between the ages of 18 and 64 living in households with incomes at or below the Federal Poverty Level ($24,036 for a family of four).
According to a 2016 CSS report, The Transit Affordability Crisis; How Reduced MTA Fares Can Help Low-Income New Yorkers Move Ahead, as many as 800,000 New Yorkers would be eligible for reduced fares under this proposal. Financially-strapped New Yorkers, some of whom have been forced to beg for swipes because they lack the $2.75 fare, would save up to $700 a year on transit costs –money they could use for basics like food, rent and other necessities.
Implementation of the program could be done cost-effectively without putting additional upward pressure on MTA fares. Preliminary estimates from the Transit Affordability Crisis find that under this half-fare proposal, the city would have to make up about $200 million in lost fare revenue annually to the MTA. That is a reasonable price to pay to keep the buses and trains accessible for every New Yorker who must depend on mass transit to get to work and job interviews, attend college and job training programs, obtain health care and enable their families to experience the richness of the city’s cultural life.
Making our city a more equitable place to live and work starts with ensuring that our vast public transportation system – and the economic opportunities it provides -- is both affordable and accessible to all New Yorkers and not just the economically-better off.
David R. Jones is the president and CEO of Community Service Society.