Riders Seek Help from Mayor de Blasio to Make Transit System Affordable for All
The poor pay more: low-income riders bear brunt of fare increases
New York – In response to today’s announcement of impending fare hikes at the MTA Board meeting, Community Service Society of New York (CSS) and the Riders Alliance renew their call to Mayor de Blasio to implement half-priced MetroCards for low-income riders.
As part of its plan for regularly-scheduled fare hikes, the MTA announced today a 4% fare hike, to take effect on March 19th, 2017. Options under consideration include the possibility of raising the price of a single ride to $3 and the cost of unlimited cards to $32 for a weekly and $121 for a monthly. In 2009 the MTA established a plan to raise fares by at most 4% every two years in order to keep pace with inflation and other costs. In December, the MTA will begin its public review process and hold public hearings on their fare hike proposals across the city before the increases go into effect.
According to a 2016 report from CSS, The Transit Affordability Crisis, 58 percent of poor New Yorkers are reliant on buses and subways for their livelihoods. At the same time, however, 1 in 4 low-income New Yorkers are unable to afford the cost of a MetroCard. Proponents of the discount fare program are pressing City Hall to establish a half-fare program for New Yorkers at or below the poverty line and are calling for a program comparable to that which already exists for seniors and people with disabilities. Currently, no substantial fare relief is available to low-income riders. Additionally, low-income riders do not benefit from discounts available to middle and high-income commuters: pre-tax transit benefits or a cheaper unlimited monthly MetroCard require an upfront cost that is prohibitive for many poor New Yorkers.
“Making the city a more equitable place to live and work starts with ensuring that our vast public transportation system is both affordable and accessible to all New Yorkers, and not just the economically better-off,” said CSS President and CEO David R. Jones. “Higher bus and subway fares will have a disproportionate impact on low income residents and the working poor whose incomes have not kept pace with the rising costs of bus and subway fares. That's why we are calling on the mayor to step in and address this inequity by funding a discounted transit fare for the city's lowest-income residents.”
The cost of riding the city’s buses and subways has steadily increased over the years, proportionately outpacing earnings for the city’s lower-income households. Between 2007 and 2015, bus and subway fares rose by 45 percent—six times faster than average salaries in New York City, according to a September 2016 report from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
Rebecca Bailin, Campaign Manager at the Riders Alliance, said, “Fare hikes are a burden on everyone, but are especially hard for low-income New Yorkers. While we push for greater investment from Albany to keep our subways and buses running, our Mayor has a unique opportunity to help hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who are currently locked out of job opportunities, affordable housing, and community life in New York City. Other cities around the country are doing it—New York City should too.”
The Fair Fares campaign comprises 28 Council Members, Public Advocate Letitia James, City Comptroller Scott Stringer and 30 social, economic, transit and labor justice organizations. In addition to the growing support from a broad coalition and elected officials, the Fair Fares campaign is gaining traction with the public; new CSS Unheard Third poll findings released in October showed that more than seven in ten New Yorkers favor offering half-fare MetroCards to low-income city residents. 62 percent of respondents said they would more likely to vote for a mayoral candidate who promised to make half-price fares available to low- income riders.
According to CSS’s report, as many as 800,000 New Yorkers would be eligible for reduced fares under the proposal. Financially-strapped New Yorkers, some of whom have been forced to beg for swipes because they lack the $2.75 fare, would save an estimated $700 annually on the cost of monthly MetroCards – a significant savings for families at or below the federal poverty line, which is $24,036 for a family of four.
Income-based fare discounts are already in place in San Francisco and Seattle, among other cities. Proposals to establish half-price fares for low-income residents are under consideration in Boston and Denver. Adopting such a program in New York, the most transit-dependent city in the nation, would have an immediate and positive impact on one of the city’s biggest socioeconomic challenges: narrowing the income inequality gap.
“New Yorkers are facing rising rents, rising food prices, and a rising cost of living. It’s simply not tenable to keep raising the cost of transportation as well,” said Council Member Corey Johnson. “If we continue to let prices spin out of control, it’s going to create an economy that leaves too many hardworking New Yorkers behind. That’s not something we can tolerate. I thank the Riders Alliance, the Community Service Society of New York and all my fellow elected officials and advocates who are on the front lines of this crucial issue.”
“As the ‘city that never sleeps,’ millions of New Yorkers commute daily by train, bus, or rail. Despite the increased ridership, we have experienced consecutive fare hikes that have outpaced critical upgrades to our transit system. Our workforce is economically diverse – many of whom are struggling financially and deserving of an affordable, reliable way to travel to and from work. The MTA’s anticipated fare hike will put an undue strain on women who are already underpaid, represent the majority of minimum wage earners and single head of households, and yet contribute the most to our city’s economic growth and development,” said Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo.
Council Member Vincent Gentile said, “In this City we work hard to ensure that low-income New Yorkers have access to affordable housing, food banks and health insurance. Yet, our public transportation system has not been a part of this equation. Reduced fares would enable those in need to travel to that job interview, get to that professional training class or go to the public library at an affordable cost. Fair Fares would simply give our most vulnerable individuals a better opportunity to succeed.”
"A transportation fare hike in 2017 will only make things worse for the many New Yorkers who already struggle to pay for a ride on our City's subways and buses," said Council Member Ben Kallos. "No New Yorker should have to face the daily dilemma of choosing between money for food or money to commute to work or school. We should make the investment and provide funds for reduced-price MetroCards for low income New Yorkers."
"Subway and bus fares are already a burden for thousands of New Yorkers, and with this planned increase, ensuring we have Fair Fares will be a vital part of supporting residents in need," said Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. "We need to push back against the widening gap between transit riders and those who cannot afford these rising prices. Transit is a public good and New York needs to begin treating it as such with investments that make it accessible to all."
For more than 170 years, the Community Service Society of New York has been the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers and continues to advocate for the economic security of the working poor in the nation’s largest city. We respond to urgent, contemporary challenges with applied research, advocacy, litigation and innovative program models that help the working poor achieve a better quality of life and promote a more prosperous city.
The Riders Alliance is a grassroots organization of subway and bus riders pushing for better service at affordable fares and a stronger public investment in mass transit. Visit us at ridersny.org