Press Release

Union Leaders Urge Mayor to Fund Half-Price Transit Fares for Working Poor

Contact: Jeff Maclin

Community Service Society

(212) 614-5538 (office)

(718) 309-2346 (cell)


Contact: Rebecca Bailin, Riders Alliance

(516) 592-2869


Leaders of the city’s largest labor unions today joined a majority of members in the City Council, the Public Advocate, the City Comptroller, four of five borough presidents, numerous editorial boards and more than 29 major advocacy organizations in calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to back a proposal by the Community Service Society (CSS) and Riders Alliance that would provide discount transit fares to the city’s working poor.

The show of union support for creating a reduced fare for the lowest-income New Yorkers comes after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board (MTA) voted to keep the base fare ($2.75) for the buses and subway the same, while decreasing the value of the bonus and increasing the cost of seven and 30-day monthly passes, effectively making fares more expensive overall. The cost per ride for those purchasing bonus cards will go up 5.7 percent.  According to MTA customer surveys, roughly 45 percent of riders with household incomes under $28,000 purchase bonus cards compared to 19 percent who purchase non-bonus cards at the base fare and single rides.

Citing strong public support and data showing the cost of mass transit consuming 10 to 12 percent of the household budgets of the city’s working poor, Stuart Appelbaum of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), Hector Figueroa of 32BJ, Jill Furillo of New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) and George Gresham of 1199SEIU urged Mayor de Blasio to fund half-priced bus and subway fares in his FY2018 Executive Budget for New Yorkers between the ages of 18 and 64 living in households at or below poverty. Although the de Blasio administration has said the proposal is under review, a preliminary executive budget released by his office on January 25 contained no funding for half-priced fares for low-income New Yorkers.  

“It is outrageous that 25 percent of working-age, low-income New Yorkers often cannot afford the current MetroCard fare,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). “Affordable fares and fair wages need to go hand and hand. I urge Mayor Bill de Blasio to support low wage workers across the city, who struggle to make ends meet. By funding this initiative, we will begin to shrink the financial burden so many low-income New Yorkers face every day, just to get to work.”

"New York's public transit system is the heart of the city and enables millions of New Yorkers to travel through the five boroughs every day," said 32BJ President Hector Figueroa. "But for low-income riders struggling to make ends meet, increasing fares put this vital resource out of reach. We need fair fares so that everyone in our city can get to where they need to be."

"1199SEIU is proud to stand with transit advocates, legal, and community based groups to support the Fair Fares campaign, said 1199SEIU President George Gresham. “The vast majority of homecare and healthcare workers use public transit, and in many cases it is their single biggest expense after rent. Fares are projected to rise next year, and our members will be adversely affected, as would hundreds of thousands of low wage workers. A half price fare for those struggling to make ends meet is an idea whose time has come. It’s an important step in addressing income inequality. Fair fares is already working well in other cities across the country. We urge Mayor Bill de Blasio to fund this worthy initiative in the next city budget."

"Nurses believe that having an affordable means of carrying out essential tasks, like commuting to work, dropping off children and getting to healthcare appointments, is a public health issue,” said NYSNA Executive Director Jill Furillo. “The cost of public transportation is too costly for substantial numbers of New Yorkers.  We wholeheartedly support the "Fair Fares" campaign and recognize it as a very important step to support the health and welfare of New Yorkers and their families."

The Transit Workers Union (TWU) also supports the ‘Fair Fares’ proposal.

According to the CSS report, The Transit Affordability Crisis, 58 percent of poor New Yorkers are reliant on buses and subways for their livelihoods. 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. For example, 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.

CSS President and CEO David R. Jones, who serves on the MTA Board, welcomed the support of unions who recognize that many of their members are struggling to afford transit fares to get to work. “While we can differ on what adjustments to fare types would hurt the poor the least, the real issue is that fares are already unaffordable to struggling New Yorkers and any increase makes it that much harder. Keeping the base fare at $2.75 is not the answer.  We need a meaningful discount, which is why we’ve been advocating for half-fares for New Yorkers at or below poverty. If Mayor de Blasio is looking for a way to widen the doors to economic opportunity for ‘the other New York,’ keeping the bus and subway doors open should be at the top of his list right now.”

Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin said, “Providing half-priced fares for low-income riders would go a long way to keeping New York affordable for 800,000 residents. As Mayor de Blasio identifies opportunities to keep the city affordable, we hope he will see that transit is a non-negotiable expense for New Yorkers and making the cost less burdensome would make a big difference in people's lives.  The growing tide of support from labor, community organizations and elected officials reflects a strong consensus that Fair Fares should be a priority for the city this year."

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.

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

© 2018 Community Service Society. All Rights Reserved. 633 Third Ave, 10th FL, New York, NY 10017
Community Service Society of New York is a registered 501(c)3.  EIN: 13-5562202