***Photos and copies of testimony available upon request ***
As Council Holds Hearing on Transit Needs, Proponents Argue Discount Fares Would Add to Paid Sick Time and PreK in Combatting Income Inequality
New York, NY - Members of the Fair Fares coalition rallied on the steps of City Hall today in advance of a City Council hearing to call on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council to prioritize half-priced MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers during budget negotiations. Speakers noted Mayor de Blasio’s progressive record addressing income inequality and said Fair Fares should follow paid sick days, universal pre-K, and housing policies as a signature initiative to reduce poverty and make New York City more affordable.
Immediately after the rally, Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez and the City Council Transportation Committee held an oversight hearing on how public transportation could better serve the needs of the city’s residents. The main issue which emerged was making subways and buses affordable, with dozens of low-income transit riders and advocates testifying in support of the half-priced MetroCard proposal.
“New Yorkers lives continue to change for the better under the leadership of Mayor de Blasio,” said NYC Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. “Now, we’re hoping to take the next step in reducing poverty in our city by supporting those struggling to make it with reduced fares for MetroCards. We can help to transform lives by easing the cost burdens on something that every New Yorkers needs: transportation. By providing this measure, our neediest residents can more easily get to work, school, the doctor and more. We hope we can get this done this year and believe Mayor de Blasio is the champion we need.”
Bienvenida Cabrera, a Riders Alliance member from the Bronx who testified at today’s hearing, said, “I am recently unemployed and I am struggling to get to job interviews because of the cost of a MetroCard. Even getting to the unemployment office because is difficult. I have to make difficult choices like not paying my electric bill to afford a weekly MetroCard. Recently, I had to skip lunch in order to get to the doctor’s office, and even then I still had to ask a neighbor for help getting home. Having to do these things makes me feel very hopeless. I hope Mayor de Blasio amends his budget to provide Fair Fares for low-income New Yorkers.”
“Access to public transit is an economic necessity for all New Yorkers, but especially for the working poor,” said CSS President and CEO David R. Jones, who also serves on the MTA Board. “It’s time to provide relief to low-income New Yorkers who are struggling to afford rising bus and subway fares. The cost is affordable to achieve a worthy goal: expanding physical and economic mobility for New Yorkers who are trying to get to work, school and create a better future for their families.”
Last month, the MTA Board voted to keep the base bus and subway fare at $2.75, but to decrease the value of the bonus and increase the cost of seven and 30-day monthly passes, making fares more expensive overall. In response, low-income riders and advocates announced a petition drive to urge New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to amend his proposed City budget for Fiscal Year 2018 to include funding for half-priced MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers. The mayor’s preliminary budget, released in January did not include funding for Fair Fares.
Sharon Bardales, a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College who testified at today’s hearing, said, "Paying $2.75 or more during the week just to simply get to work and school has created a financial burden in my pocket. There were times where I could not go to tutoring on weekends because I did not have the money for public transit. I am fighting for Fair Fares because I refuse to stay silent on an issue that is going to drive communities of color further into poverty."
The Fair Fares coalition also announced new coalition members, including Council Member Peter Koo, the Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition, New York City Employment and Training Coalition (NYCETC), the Street Vendor Project, Theatre of the Oppressed NYC, and the Workmen’s Circle.
Jesse Laymon, the Director of Policy and Advocacy at NYCETC said, "Our member organizations work directly with hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers each year who are unemployed or underemployed. These New Yorkers face enough hurdles to getting and keeping good jobs as it is; and the high price of transportation is one many cannot bear. For some, this means passing up opportunities for better jobs or the education and skills development that would put them on a path to a living wage. And for our member organizations, it frequently means using their stretched-thin budgets to buy stacks of Metrocards to give away to clients, so that those clients can have a chance at a better life. This is unsustainable. We need Fair Fares to make transportation, and opportunity, affordable for all New Yorkers."
“This would give an extra cushion to thousands of street vendors who struggle to make ends meet,” said Dondi McKellar, a disabled Navy veteran vendor and member of the Leadership Board of the Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center.
Theater of the Oppressed actor and low-income New Yorker Maaji Newbold said, “You have to eat to survive. When there are no jobs and incomes are low, you can’t get on the train. The cost of a MetroCard takes away from putting food on the table. New Yorkers should not have to go to jail for not having 3 bucks in their pocket.”
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.
“Millions of New Yorkers depend on our public transit system to get to work, school, and other activities every day,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “But too many must make the difficult choice between paying for public transportation or putting food on the table. We have successfully fought for many policies to address the economic disparities in our City, but without subsidized MetroCards we will only continue to hurt those already struggling the most.”
“Access to public transit isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity for the thousands of low-income New Yorkers who are getting priced out of our subway and bus system,” said Council Member Margaret S. Chin. “The half-priced MetroCard is a great idea whose time has come. Now, more than ever, hardworking straphangers need relief from the spiraling cost of living in our city. This budget season, I am proud to join my Council colleagues, the Riders Alliance, and other advocates to fight for ‘fair fares’ for those in need.”
Council Member Elizabeth Crowley said, “For far too many New Yorkers, it is getting harder and harder to afford taking the subway or buses. This is why it is I support half-priced MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers."
NYC’s public transit system connects so many New Yorker’s in all five boroughs each and every day. 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 NYC Council Member Rafael Espinal. “Half-priced MetroCards for low income New Yorkers must be a priority for our city if we are to make meaningful progress toward addressing income inequality. This budget allocation would improve the mobility of up to 800,000 New Yorker's; giving them the tools to get to work, school, and business so that they may contribute to the vibrancy of our city and provide for their families."
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.”
"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 should not have to beg for swipes in front of turnstiles to get to work," said Council Member Ben Kallos."As public transportation costs continue to rise low-income New Yorkers are being left behind; when deciding on this next budget it is important that the City considers all New Yorkers and sets aside funds for half-priced MetroCards for those who need them."
Council Member Peter Koo said, “One of the greatest challenges our city faces is how public transportation can better serve the people who live, work and visit in New York City. New Yorkers need bold and innovative ideas that explore how to deal with the age-old problems of congestion, over-crowding and inadequate infrastructure. Thank you to the Fair Fares Coalition for encouraging this dialogue, and I look forward to working with them now and in the future.”
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.”
Council Member Rory Lancman said, "Millions of New Yorkers rely on mass transit every day to get to where they need to go - whether it is to travel to work, attend school, or see their doctor. Too many low-income New Yorkers, however, struggle to afford the cost of a MetroCard, leaving them with the difficult choice of scaling back basic necessities or forgoing travel. We can and we must do better to break down travel barriers people experience across our city. That’s why I am proud to stand with the Fair Fares coalition in support of discounted MetroCards for low-income 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 Carlos Menchaca said, “It isn’t public transit if the public can’t afford to use it. Low-income New Yorkers can’t afford today’s fares and they face more planned MTA fare increases. When families can’t afford transit they miss employment opportunities, miss educational resources, and lose access to essential services. New York already benefits from offering reduced fares to seniors, students and people with disabilities. We should help low-income residents in a similar way.”
“In too many neighborhoods across New York City, people are struggling to make ends meet while finding ways to simply have the money to commute to work every day,” said Council Member Donovan Richards, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, “Residents in low-income communities in the outer boroughs are often forced to twice the travel time of an average commuter to get to work and we as a city need to do more to help ease their burden. Fair Fares will help families put food on the table and spend money at local businesses more often. As the most transit-dependent and Progressive city in the nation, this would be a great step toward helping to lift up our low-income New Yorkers.”
Council Member Helen Rosenthal said, “We must do more to make mass transit affordable to those New Yorkers who rely on it most. This means questioning fare increases like this one and exploring avenues to reduce fares for low-income New Yorkers. And, perhaps most importantly, it means addressing the MTA’s ever-increasing costs that lead to these frequent fare increases.”
Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives, said, "Affordable public transit is essential for city life, helping New Yorkers access jobs and education without the burden of a car. With MTA fare hikes on the horizon, there is no better time than the present for the City to take charge and invest in our greatest resource - people. Half-price MetroCards for low-income riders would be a helping hand up to opportunity for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers."
"As an organization dedicated to serving the people of the Bronx, one of NYC's most under-resourced communities, we see firsthand the significant human and economic cost inflicted by high transportation costs, from our community members who cannot afford a subway ride to get to work and end up jumping a turnstile, subjecting them to prosecution and potential deportation, to our clients who have to choose between a meal and the bus fare to get to court," said Deborah Lolai of The Bronx Defenders. "Taking bold action to make transportation affordable for low-income New Yorkers is smart policy, and it's also the right thing to do."
Jaqi Cohen, Campaign Coordinator at the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, said, "Public transportation serves as New York City's great unifier, but income should not serve as a barrier to entry. No New Yorker should have to turn down a job, refuse a doctor's appointment, or decline an opportunity to earn a college degree because they cannot afford the cost of a MetroCard. New York City riders are already overburdened, and low-income riders are under the most pressure."
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