As budget talks advance, the Riders Alliance and Community Service Society announced an expanded base of support, including 53 elected officials and 68 anti-poverty, transit, labor, homeless, civil rights and other advocates, calling on the City to fund half-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers
City Hall--On Wednesday, April 11, an unprecedented coalition of New York City-based elected officials, including New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who negotiates the City's nearly $90 billion budget, and advocacy organizations called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to include funding for 'Fair Fares' in next year's city budget, to be adopted in June. Other major cities, including San Francisco, Seattle and, just last week, Toronto, have already embraced the policy.
Yesterday, the coalition lauded Speaker Johnson for making Fair Fares a centerpiece of the City Council’s response to Mayor de Blasio’s preliminary budget. In the response, the New York City Council recommended full funding for discount MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers.
Forty-four members of the City Council have pledged their support for Fair Fares. Citywide elected officials Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James also support the measure. So do four borough presidents, and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, who earlier this year announced that his office would stop prosecuting most New Yorkers forced to jump the turnstile, evading the fare they can’t afford. The Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez also signed on to support the campaign this week. Last summer, Mayor de Blasio himself offered qualified support for the program if funded through a new tax on millionaires.
“Fair Fares is one of the most effective anti-poverty measures that the City has the power to take, without action from Albany,” said David R. Jones, President and CEO of Community Service Society, an organization that works to advance upward mobility for low-income New Yorkers. “Affordable transit is what connects New Yorkers to economic opportunity and jobs throughout the city. If the Mayor is serious about creating the “fairest big city” he needs to start by including funding for transit relief for the poor in the budget being negotiated with the City Council.”
Cynthia Kozikowski, a Riders Alliance member from the Bronx said, "I am a single mom of four children living paycheck-to-paycheck. Every month, I have to decide whether I am going to borrow money or pull money out of my grocery funds to pay for my MetroCard. When I am unable to borrow or make those sacrifices, I have had to cancel doctor's appointments and even job interviews. I am not asking for a free ride nor a hand-out. I am asking for Mayor de Blasio to do what he promised and bridge the gap between the rich and poor. For hundreds of thousands of struggling riders like myself, I am asking the mayor to make New York City a fair city with Fair Fares!"
Diverse voices among elected officials and in the advocacy community have identified half-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers as the critical anti-poverty and opportunity measure that City Hall can undertake this year, on its own, to make New York a demonstrably fairer and more just city. Estimated at $200 million, the
program would cost a quarter of one-percent of the City's $90 billion budget and eliminate the cruel choice that one in four low-income New Yorkers regularly face between rent, food, medicine and paying the full subway or bus fare or risking arrest and criminal conviction for fare evasion. An estimated 800,000 New Yorkers would qualify to pay the reduced fare under a policy encompassing everyone living below the poverty line of approximately $25,000 annually for a family of four.
“Our commitment to being the fairest big city is empty without fair fares for public transit,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “Access to basic transportation is a necessity, not a luxury, and New Yorkers should not have to choose between getting to work and putting food on the table. It is past time that we step up and fund this critical program that will help thousands of the most vulnerable in our city.”
“This is a necessary step in ensuring equity and access to opportunity throughout the City, especially for the residents of the Bronx. It’s well known that the Bronx has the highest level of poverty in the City and this measure will greatly benefit the people of my borough, minimizing a financial burden that weighs heavily on their everyday life.” said Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark.
“Our straphangers barely hanging on. For a relatively small amount of funding the city could provide the working poor with real financial relief by making ‘fair fares’ a reality,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. “For $200 million we could make a significant impact on the everyday lives of nearly 800,000 New Yorkers – people from every corner of this city who desperately need a helping hand. I am proud to join so many of my colleagues and advocates from all over the city today to send a clear message to City Hall: ‘fair fares’ is a moral imperative, and it must be funded.”
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. said, “While my Office has largely ended the criminal prosecution of turnstile jumping in Manhattan, our efforts to support New Yorkers who can’t afford a swipe shouldn’t end there: we must address the root problem of transit affordability. My Office’s policy will be most effective – for low-income riders, for law enforcement, and for our city – if it’s combined with Fair Fares. I commend Speaker Johnson for including this critical funding in his budget response, and applaud the Community Service Society of New York and others for their steadfast advocacy.”
“No New Yorker should have to choose between purchasing a MetroCard or a basic necessity, such as their next meal. That is why I join my colleagues in supporting discount MetroCards for adults living at or below the federal poverty line,” said Council Member Diana Ayala. “This program would expand access to job opportunities, education, and health care – all of which would benefit low-income New Yorkers. Equitable access to transportation is necessary for a city as progressive as ours.”
Council Member Inez Barron said, “Transportation, like housing and healthcare, is a human right. New York City, which has historically provided financial breaks and reduction of taxes to private developers, should provide similar benefits to those residents at the lower end of the income spectrum. Low income New Yorkers are struggling to balance daily necessities. Families are battling hunger, euphemistically called “food insecurity”; struggling to pay rent, “couched as rent-burdened”; and challenged to meet healthcare costs and provide adequate clothing. Families require basic transportation to get to work, school, appointments, and to visit family members, as well as have the opportunity to frequent and enjoy the parks, libraries, museums and other extensive cultural institutions in the city. We are calling on the City to discount MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers because it is the right thing to do.”
Council Member Justin Brannan said, “No one should have to choose between a meal and a MetroCard. Fancy new stations and WiFi might be nice but you know what really matters? All new Yorkers being able to afford a subway ride. Let’s make Fair Fares a reality this year!”
"When our City's public transit system becomes unaffordable for a staggering 25% of low-income, working age New Yorkers, it causes a dangerous ripple effect on the stability and economic opportunities of thousands of working families," said Council Member Margaret. S. Chin, "That is why I join my Council colleagues and transportation advocates to call on the City to fund half-price MetroCards for low income New Yorkers. In order to build a more equitable City, we must identify the gaps that contribute to the income inequality divide, and take immediate steps to provide affordable access to transportation for the New Yorkers who need it the most."
"Having basic access to public transportation should not overwhelm 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.”
Council Member Ben Kallos said, "New York City's working poor deserve respect. They should not have to jump turnstiles in order to have access to our public transportation system," said Council Member Ben Kallos. "If you make anything close to minimum wage, you have to put around three hours of pay aside every week just to afford to get to work. By funding half-priced MetroCards in the 2018 budget, we would bring much-needed equity to our City's transportation system and increase opportunity for struggling New Yorkers."
"Healthcare, education, and economic opportunity are often a MetroCard swipe away,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “We should do everything we can to empower families and reduce barriers to getting around our city. With yet another fare increase around the corner, I am all the more committed to standing firmly in support of low-income families, especially during our city's budgeting process.”
Council Member Keith Powers said, “Fair Fares allows low-income New Yorkers the chance to make a living for themselves and their families, getting to and from work without worrying about the cost of the commute. New Yorkers confront this crisis every day on their daily commutes when they are asked for a swipe. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the City Council to support and fund Fair Fares.”
Council Member Antonio Reynoso said, “I am proud to join the Community Service Society and Riders Alliance in urging Mayor Bill de Blasio and Speaker Corey Johnson to fund discounted metro cards for low-income new Yorkers. The cost of a metro card should not inhibit New Yorkers from taking advantage of the economic opportunities our city has to offer. Furthermore, our current system penalizes those who can least afford it, charging more to riders who can’t cover the up-front cost of an unlimited metro card which would save them money in the long term. The Fair Fares Initiative will ensure that our transit system is equitable and accessible to all New Yorkers.”
“If New York is going to be the fairest city in the nation, access to our transit system should exemplify that ideal,” said Councilwoman Carlina Rivera. “Our system no longer works for a quarter of New Yorkers who can’t afford the rising costs of public transportation. If we look at recent studies, the time is now for Fair Fares that would help low-income residents travel quickly and conveniently to work, medical appointments, and educational opportunities. City Hall often has to go to Albany to make critical change but we already have the legal authority to subsidize MetroCards and bring us closer to equity in our neighborhoods.”
“Making mass transit affordable to the New Yorkers who rely on it most should be our top priority. This of course means exploring ways to reduce fares for lower-income residents. And just as important, it means seriously addressing the MTA’s ever-increasing costs, which lead to frequent fare increases. Let’s get the MTA’s costs under control so we can focus on what truly matters – excellent subway and bus service that is accessible and affordable to all," said Council Member Helen Rosenthal.
Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel said, “I join my colleagues in the fight for ‘Fair Fares’ as part of this year's budget. Half price bus and subway fares will be extremely helpful to low income New Yorkers who are generally most affected by Fare Beat arrests. This funding will alleviate that issue to some extent.”
“People shouldn’t have to decide between their subway fare and their groceries,” said Council Member Van Bramer. “All New Yorkers, especially those living below the poverty line, need to be able to take the bus or subway to appointments, work and school. As lawmakers, we can make Fair Fares a reality, guaranteeing half price MetroCards and ensuring access to transportation to some of our city’s most vulnerable.”
"I end up spending so much of what I earn just to get to and from work. A half price metro card would offer some relief in my tight budget," said Fast Food Justice Member Elaina Boone.
Rabbi Michael Feinberg, Executive Director of the Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition said, “Fair Fares are an essential part of addressing the affordability crisis facing working and low income New Yorkers. It is one important step toward economic justice in our city, making transportation accessible to all--- and thus assuring all New Yorkers the means to reach their work and earn a livelihood.”
"I am tired of seeing black and brown people in my community of Crown Heights and around the city being fined and arrested just because they cant afford to pay their fare," said Vaughn Armour, member of New York Communities for Change. "We demand Mayor de Blasio and the City Council fund Fair Fares now and stop the criminalization of poverty.”
"The NYC Employment and Training Coalition stands with our allies for Fair Fares because we know that it's hard enough already to land a jobseeker in a new career, and it can be downright impossible if they can't afford the cost of transit to their interviews, training sessions, and new job," said Jesse Laymon, Director of Policy and Advocacy for NYCETC. "Dozens of our non-profit member organizations face exactly this challenge, and many have taken to dipping into their already-overstretched budgets to buy Metrocards for their clients just to help them make it back for their next class. This is not sustainable - unemployed and underemployed New Yorkers need Fair Fares now!"
"An overwhelming majority of commuters who rely on the public transit system are from communities of color and low-income. 75% commute by bus and 66% rely on the subways. The cost to take public transportation keeps increasing, while wages remain stagnant. The Fair Fares program would alleviate the economic burden currently impacting vulnerable communities by cutting metrocard fares in half and allowing for better economic access through increased mobility,” said Eddie Bautista, Executive Director, New York City Environmental Justice Alliance.
Jill Eisenhard, Executive Director, Red Hook Initiative said, "Red Hook Initiative supports the call for Fair Fares, access to transportation for low income New Yorkers. In Red Hook, lack of adequate transportation options, paired with the rising price of a Metro Card, makes public transit inaccessible for many. We call on the Mayor to implement a program to offer reduced rate metro cards to low-income residents and increase access to school, employment, and other key resources for the community."
"New York City transit riders are overburdened, with low-income riders under the most pressure to pay ever-rising fares. There is no simpler way for Mayor de Blasio and the City of New York to bridge the gap and expand access to public transportation for all New Yorkers than by funding Fair Fares in this year's budget,” said Jaqi Cohen, Campaign Coordinator for the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign.
“Access to transit means access to economic opportunity, and with the gulf between rich and poor in New York City larger than ever, offering low-income New Yorkers half-priced Metro Cards is one of the smartest – and fairest – steps we can take to address inequality. Mayor de Blasio and the City Council need to provide for Fair Fares in the next city budget,” said Eric McClure of StreetsPAC.
Letitia Bouie of Theatre of the Oppressed NYC said, "Being a single parent is already an expensive task, without having to pay an extra fare for your child's transportation, like doctors' appointments and other personal issues that are mandatory in a child's life."
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. Visit us at www.cssny.org
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