Jeff Maclin, Community Service Society
(212) 614-5538 (office), (718) 309-2346 (cell)
Rebecca Bailin, Riders Alliance
Supporters call for phase-in of proposed half-priced mass transit fare for working poor
New York, NY – A coalition of anti-poverty, labor, legal, immigrant and transit advocacy organizations rallied on the steps of City Hall today to thank the City Council for including funds for Fair Fares in its budget response and to call on Mayor de Blasio to get on board. Advocates are urging the City to begin phasing in a reduced fare for the city’s working poor starting with New York City residents living in deep poverty.
Mayor de Blasio omitted funds for Fair Fares – a proposal by the Community Service Society (CSS) and Riders Alliance to subsidize half-priced bus and subway fares for working-age city residents living at or below the federal poverty line -- in his $84.7 billion preliminary budget citing the cost. In its response to the mayor’s budget last month, the City Council proposed a pilot Fair Fares program aimed at college students, or the homeless or veterans, and has proposed that the program be funded with $50 million in the FY2018 budget.
As budget negotiations enter the final weeks, supporters and City Council Members have united behind an alternative approach that calls for a gradual phase in of subsidized MetroCards, the same way the $15 minimum wage law is being implemented in stages. It would start with New Yorkers earning 50 percent of poverty, or roughly $12,000 annually for a family of four, and then rise over subsequent years to include those at 75 percent of poverty and then 100 percent of poverty.
Under such a program, 379,000 New Yorkers would initially be eligible for discount fares. Advocates argue this approach is preferable to covering a specific category of riders. Moreover it provides a logical path to reach the overall goal of covering all New York City residents living in poverty. Further, implementing the phase in program in the second half of the fiscal year allows adequate time for a smooth rollout and reduces the FY2018 cost to about $50 million—the same figure cited in the City Council budget response.
"With so many New Yorkers living in deep poverty, Fair Fares is a lifeline out," said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez. "Providing half-priced MetroCards to those in need is less a transportation issue than it is an effective anti-poverty tool to pull more New Yorkers into the middle class. We have responded to the Mayor's concerns over cost by developing a phase-in program, meant to ease strains on the city budget, while providing time to get it right. I am confident that as Mayor de Blasio has long been a leader in tackling poverty in New York City, he will see the value this can bring and the widespread benefits for the city as a whole. With just weeks left in this process, I know we can get this done."
CSS and the Riders Alliance have argued that Fair Fares would help make essential public transit more affordable for the one in four low-income New Yorkers who say in opinion polls they struggle to pay bus and subway fares now. The mayor has called the proposal a “noble idea,” but suggests the responsibility for funding it rests with the state. However, current law gives the mayor power to subsidize fares, as the city already does for seniors and students, as well as middle and higher income commuters through a tax break. Fully funding the Fair Fares proposal would represent less than 0.3 percent of the City’s multi-billion dollar municipal budget.
“Physical mobility – to get to better jobs, commute to college and provide opportunities for your kids -- is a requisite for economic mobility,” said David R. Jones, CSS President and CEO and a MTA Board Member. “If we can spend billions in subsidies and capital on building a trolley to connect middle and upper-income waterfront neighborhoods and on high-speed ferries, we can dip into that pool of funds to ensure the poorest among us can access public transit. It’s time to stand up and protect the working poor by providing transit affordability to those who need it the most.”
John Raskin, Executive Director of the Riders Alliance said, "Public transit should serve as access to jobs and opportunity, not another barrier. Today, some of the New Yorkers who need public transit the most are effectively shut out because of the fare. It's time for Mayor de Blasio to follow through on his commitment to the most vulnerable New Yorkers and include Fair Fares in the City budget."
"Every day low income New Yorkers, as many as one in four, are having to choose between transit and other daily living expenses. For them, the cost of public transportation is increasingly unaffordable, and they wind up jeopardizing their jobs, their health, their safety, and even their freedom because they can't afford the subway or bus fare," said Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO and Executive Director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA). "By providing for MetroCard purchases at reduced rates for low income people, the City of New York would take a major step forward in its laudable plan to create a more equitable city for all. More New Yorkers would be able to travel to work, to school, to the hospital in the event of an emergency, or to pick up a child without hardship."
Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives said, "New York is the nation's most transit-dependent city, but the high cost of getting around has become more of a barrier than ever to economic advancement -- a problem that gets worse with each fare hike. We urge Mayor de Blasio to adopt the Council's proposed phase-in to make half-priced MetroCards available to the New Yorkers who need them most."
Danna Dennis, a Riders Alliance member from Bed-Stuy said, "Mayor de Blasio needs to fund Fair Fares now because it is harder than ever for low-income New Yorkers like myself to afford New York City. Every day, I have to decide whether it is worth it to walk or beg an MTA employee to let me in. I want Mayor de Blasio to stand up for me because I am sick and tired of struggling to get ahead."
Addressing income inequality, the affordability crisis and risks of deportation
Income inequality has grown in New York City in the recovery from the financial crisis, with those at the bottom losing ground. A recent Independent Budget Office analysis of personal income returns of city residents from 2006 to 2014 found that most of the income gains over the period accrued to the top 50 percent of filers. Total income reported in 2014 by the top 50 percent of filers increased by 14.8 percent compared to 2006. By comparison, total income fell for the bottom half of filers during the same period. Specifically, median income for roughly 1.8 million filers declined from $14,153 in 2006 t0 $12,360 in 2014.
Making New York’s extensive mass transit network more accessible to those struggling economically would broaden opportunities for low income New Yorkers, directly and immediately help address the affordability crisis, and open up a vast labor pool for employers. Advocates also argue that Fair Fares represents the kind of progressive policymaking that can mitigate the harm done by aggressive fare-evasion policing, which accounts for about a quarter of all arrests in the city and disproportionately impacts communities of color and the poor.
In fact, under the Trump Administration’s hardline immigration policies, both undocumented immigrants and legal permanent residents could face deportation for a fare evasion arrest.
“For the 4,000 New Yorkers who’ve been arrested this year for jumping a turnstile, it’s very clear that $2.75 is a prohibitive cost that many in our city cannot afford. And as long as the NYPD keeps enforcing low-level offenses in poor communities, immigrants will be even more susceptible to ICE detention and deportation,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “The City Council’s FY2018 proposal to phase-in half-priced MetroCards is a bold plan that affords much needed financial relief to low-income families and will prove to ultimately reduce turnstile arrests - a deportable offense. If New York is serious about providing sanctuary, we need strong investments from City Hall for these types of forward-thinking initiatives.”
“Brooklyn Defender Services has enthusiastically supported the Fair Fares campaign since its inception because our clients—all of whom are, by definition, indigent—need the support. We know this because thousands of them are arrested for fare evasion every year while going to school, job interviews, or elsewhere in the city. Some of our clients walk great distances to court because they can’t afford the fares. Others are arrested by police hiding on the platforms in the stations outside courthouses, waiting for individuals who have just been released without their wallets or other belongings. Those who are arrested may be detained on Rikers Island at a cost of about $676 per day. We as a city can and must do better. This is urgent, now more than ever, because fare evasion arrests can lead to deportation for our neighbors who lack citizenship. We join the Riders Alliance and the Community Service Society in calling on the Mayor to follow the Council’s lead and fund #FairFares to help make public transit the great equalizer in New York—not a feeder for the criminal legal and immigration enforcement systems,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services.
"The high cost of living already pummels New York’s most vulnerable families, and rising transit costs can be detrimental,” said New York City Public Advocate Letitia James. “No one should have to choose between getting to work and feeding their children. I applaud the New York City Council for supporting Fair Fares, and call on Mayor de Blasio to fully fund this proposal. To truly be on our way to ending the tale of two cities, we must ensure that every New Yorkers has access to affordable public transportation."
“Budgets are about priorities – and giving New Yorkers a ‘fair fare’ means giving them a fair shot,” said NYC Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. “At a time when the gap between those at the top and those at the bottom has never been greater, this is not just the right thing to do – it’s the commonsense economic thing to do. Working families shouldn’t have to choose between using public transportation and putting food on the table. We need to be a City that supports those in need — and helps them get ahead. When we give New Yorkers tools to climb the economic ladder, our entire City succeeds.”
“Mass transit is essential to well over half of low-income New Yorkers. By providing 50 percent discount fares, we can reduce the growing gap between fare hikes and wage hikes and immediately improve the household budgets of the working poor,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer.
“We must do everything we can to provide low-income families and individuals with the resources they need to help them improve their lives. That’s why I support the “Fair Fares” campaign, which would allow those struggling to make ends meet to obtain discounted MetroCards. It is cheaper and better to help someone pay for their public transportation than to limit their opportunities of getting a well-paying job. I will continue to tirelessly advocate for true equity and prosperity for all New Yorkers,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.
The Fair Fares coalition also announced new coalition members, including Council Member David G. Greenfield, Council Member Debi Rose and Council Member Alan Maisel bringing the total to 39 of the 51 members as well as the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA) and the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.
Council Member Costa Constantinides said, "All New Yorkers deserve affordable transit options, including low-income residents. The savings from reduced-fare MetroCards would help working men and women support their families. It would also encourage use of public transportation and help build sustainable habits. I stand with my colleagues as we work for reduced-fare MetroCards to be a part of budget negotiations."
“Access to our subways and buses should never be a barrier for low-income New Yorker’s who have so much to gain from the opportunity of mobility” said Council Member Rafael Espinal, Chair of the Committee on Consumer Affairs. “I am proud to stand with this coalition in urging NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio to include funding for half priced MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers in the FY18 budget.”
Council Member Mathieu Eugene said, “As elected officials, it is our moral obligation to help our city’s low- income residents maintain access to public transportation. It is not right when the hard working men and women of New York cannot afford the exorbitant fees of our transit system. We must do more to ensure that residents who rely on the subway and bus system as their primary mode of transportation are not excluded from it due to affordability.”
"Having basic access to public transportation should not eat up a large portion of a household budget,” said Council Member Barry S. Grodenchik. “The Fair Fares proposal to provide low-income New Yorkers with half-priced MetroCards offers a significant step toward increasing transit affordability.”
“New Yorkers in poverty already face rising rents, rising food prices, and a rising cost of living,” said Council Member Corey Johnson. “Half-priced MetroCard’s will give them much-needed financial relief in these increasingly expensive times. This is an important initiative that can make a real difference in many thousands of lives, and I’m proud to support it. I thank the Riders Alliance and all the advocates who are amplifying the voices of these New Yorkers who are just looking for fair fares.”
"Nearly 9,000 people in my district would see their lives improved if 'Fair Fares' is funded in this year's budget," said Council Member Ben Kallos. "Whether you are a working New Yorker struggling to pay for transportation to and from work or unemployed and looking for work 'Fair Fares' will bring equity to transportation in New York City and give more residents access to their City."
Council Member Karen Koslowitz said, “For far too many New Yorkers, the cost of public transportation to and from work represents a significant dent in their budgets. For them. the savings realized from reduced transit fares will be spent on basic necessities such as food and clothing for themselves and their families. I enthusiastically support half-fare MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers.”
"The rising cost of public transportation in New York City is at the heart of our affordability crisis. When New Yorkers cannot afford the cost of a MetroCard, they forgo job opportunities, family gatherings, doctors’ appointments and more. If the Mayor is serious about addressing this crisis, then he must make the fair fares proposal a reality,” said Council Member Rory Lancman.
"With the cost of public transit rising but wages remaining stagnant, it is critical that the City give impoverished New Yorkers a much need break in their commuting costs,” said Council Member Mark Levine. “New Yorkers who fall below the poverty line already face an incredible struggle to make ends meet, and with the recent fare increase, it’s only gotten more difficult. By funding the cost of offering half-price MetroCards, eligible New Yorkers could save up to $700 annually, dramatically increasing their quality of life. I fully support the Council’s proposed $50 million budget allocation to begin phasing in this program, and thank the Rider’s Alliance and Community Service Society for their invaluable leadership on this issue.”
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.