Press Release

Public and Political Support for Reduced-Fare MetroCards for Lowest Income New Yorkers

New CSS Poll: 73 percent of New Yorkers favor half-price fare; 62 percent say they are more likely to vote for mayoral candidate who backs proposal

 

New York, N.Y. – Today, six months after launching the “Fair Fares” campaign calling for half-price bus and subway fares for low-income New Yorkers, the Community Service Society (CSS) and Riders Alliance announced that 30 elected officials from across New York City (including a majority of council members) and  29 prominent advocacy, legal, labor and community-based groups have joined in support of the effort to remove this barrier to economic opportunity for low-income households struggling to afford the high cost of public transportation.

At today’s announcement, CSS, New York’s premier anti-poverty organization, and Riders Alliance, New York’s grassroots membership organization of bus and subway riders, released a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio urging him to include funding in his Fiscal Year 2018 Executive Budget for a program that would offer half-price MetroCards to New Yorkers between the ages of 18 and 64 living in households with incomes at or below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). The letter was signed by 27 City Council Members, Public Advocate Letitia James and City Comptroller Scott Stringer and 26 organizations. Organizations supporting the proposal include the Straphangers Campaign, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Transit Workers Union (TWU), Working Families, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Make the Road-NY, and a number of other major organizations throughout the city.

“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. “So today we call on the mayor to take action that is consistent with his pledge to address social inequities in our city, and recognize that public transportation is essential in the daily lives of New Yorkers trying to get to work, school and access economic opportunities across the city. It’s time we made it more viable for those who need it the most.”

Norma Ginez, a Riders Alliance member from the Bronx who performed in the newly released video, said, "I have 3 kids and because the cost of living going up all the time, it makes it really hard to get by. I am fighting for Fair Fares because the cost of the subway and bus is an obstacle to getting ahead for low income families like mine. Sometimes I have to choose between MetroCards and buying a snack for my girls. Back in 2012, when I was in the shelter system, there were times when I had to beg for a swipe. Or I had to walk really far. Now, I’ve just finished school and I am looking for a job, Fair Fares would help me get to job interviews. Fair Fares would help me get ahead."

Samuel Santaella, a Riders Alliance member from Queens who was also featured in the video released today, said, "I need #FairFares because welfare and public assistance are not enough right now to cover the cost of four bus-subway-bus trips a day to take my little sister to school so I'm fighting for #FairFares for myself and my community. I don't like that there are people who can't get to where we need to go just because we can't afford a $2.75 swipe."

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 today show that more than seven in ten New Yorkers favor offering half-fare MetroCards to low-income city residents. 

According to a 2016 CSS report, The Transit Affordability Crisis; How Reduced MTA Fares Can Help Low-Income New Yorkers Move Ahead, 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 FPL ($24,036 for a family of four).   

To document growing concerns about transit affordability and access to the city’s mass transit system by the working poor, CSS has been collecting and analyzing data from its annual Unheard Third survey. Recent survey results indicate that the steep cost of transit fares force many low-income New Yorkers to choose between transit and other necessities such as food and rent.

For example, one out of four low-income working-age New Yorkers say they often cannot afford bus and subway fares. A third of working-age, poor New Yorkers say they did not take a job or look for jobs farther from where they live because of the cost of a MetroCard. Because they have the highest jobless rates, African-Americans and Latinos are affected most by unaffordable transit fares.

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. With the price of a MetroCard set to go up again in 2017 by four percent, and with 58 percent of low-income New Yorkers reliant on buses and subways to survive, proponents of a discount fare program are pressing City Hall to establish a half-fare program for low-income New Yorkers comparable to what’s available to seniors and people with disabilities.

Regardless of their incomes, seniors and people with disabilities already qualify for a half-price MetroCard. The city’s public school students also receive limited-use MetroCards from the Department of Education. Meanwhile, the fare structure gives the biggest discount to those who can afford a $116.50 monthly MetroCard. Moreover, middle class and higher income commuters can offset the cost by taking advantage of pre-tax transit benefits under the City’s new Commuter Benefits Law. Ironically, no substantial fare relief is available to low-income riders who depend on mass transit the most and can least afford rising fares. 

CSS survey results found strong public support for a reduced fare program. Seventy-three percent of respondents favor such a program, including 66 percent who strongly favored it. Opposition to the proposal was comparatively low, with 11 percent of New Yorkers opposed to a reduced fare, including only seven percent who were strongly opposed.

Based on the data, a half-fare program has the potential to be a voting issue in the 2017 mayoral contest. When asked whether they would be more or less likely to vote for a mayoral candidate who championed a half-fare program for low-income New Yorkers, 62 percent of respondents said they would more likely to vote for a candidate who promised to make half-price fares available to low- income riders. A reduced fare program was particularly popular with blacks and Latinos who identified themselves as Democrats. More than half (52 percent of blacks and 55 percent of Latinos) said they were much more likely to vote for a mayoral candidate who promised reduced fares for low-income New Yorkers, with 70 percent more likely overall.

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.

 

Public Advocate Letitia James said, "We must include transit affordability in our fight against income inequality. One in four poor New Yorkers is unable to afford subway or bus fares, a strong indication that our city is becoming less affordable for people struggling at the bottom of the economic ladder. In order to truly lift up working families, we must ensure that every New Yorker can afford to move around our City."

Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said, “We need to be a city where everyone has a fair shot – and that means taking simple steps that go a long way to help New Yorkers who need it most. This is one of those proposals. Reducing poverty is, of course, about great schools, great jobs, and great support services. But it’s also about shaking up the status quo with new and innovative approaches. With transit expenses consuming more and more of family budgets, this is a way to help low-income New Yorkers make strides. I hope funding for this initiative will be included in the budget.”

“We have a real opportunity to help close the gap that bred the tale of two cities narrative,” said Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. “As fares for public transit continue to rise, we are leaving those most in need of transit behind. From getting to jobs, healthcare, or school, accessible and affordable transportation is a ubiquitous need. It’s time to come together as a city and lift up those our transit system is leaving behind with their ballooning fares.”

“When a quarter of poor New Yorkers say they often can’t afford the bus or subway fare, it’s clear that we must take action,” said Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer. “Making half-price Metrocards available to low-income New Yorkers is a sensible solution to ease that burden and put money back into the pockets of the working poor. I have long fought for transit access and equity in the City Council, and will continue to push to make half-priced fares for low-income New Yorkers a reality.”

“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, Chair of the Committee on Consumer Affairs. “I am proud to stand with CSS, Riders Alliance, my fellow advocates and elected officials, in urging NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio to implement reduced fares for low-income New Yorkers in our next fiscal budget. This is a progressive and prudent step, that would go a long way to improve the lives of up to 800,000 New Yorkers and address our persistent problem of income inequality.”

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.”

“Subway or bus fare shouldn’t stand between low income New Yorkers and well-paying jobs. Yet, for many in our great City, transit fare has become a significant barrier to a better, more economically stable life. Reduced transit fare for low income New Yorkers is a program that makes sense, and will only help connect even more New Yorkers to the wide array of social, cultural, educational, and professional experiences New York City has to offer. I thank the Community Service Society of New York and the Riders Alliance for their advocacy on this important issue and hope that Mayor de Blasio considers the many positive benefits of providing reduced fare MetroCards to low income New Yorkers,” said Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson.

“For travel within the district that I represent, the only options are the car and the bus. Cars are expensive, and some residents only have the option of taking the bus. Commuting to work or school should not eat up a large portion of a household budget,” said Council Member Barry S. Grodenchik. “I therefore endorse the proposal for Fair Fares to provide low-income New Yorkers with a more affordable commute.”

 “Here in New York, the cost of living is getting higher and higher every day,” said Council Member Corey Johnson. “We need to find ways of retaining and accommodating our low-income residents, and that means making our public transportation system more affordable. For New Yorkers living at or below the poverty line, every dollar counts. A low-fare MetroCard option could make all the difference for low-income New Yorkers who depend on public transit to get to work, see their doctor, and visit family, while helping them afford other necessities like groceries and rent. I’m proud to stand with the Riders Alliance in calling for this much-needed budget item.”

"Low income New Yorkers are getting squeezed by record high rents and transportation costs that continue to rise," said Council Member Ben Kallos. "More than half of our City's poor rely on public transportation to get to and from work every day, and the current rate of $2.75 per ride can take up to 10% of a commuter's income. New York City should set aside funds to provide Fair Fares, so that low-income New Yorkers can move about the City without breaking the bank."

“Subway fare is anything but fair for struggling New Yorkers, and more benefits should be available for our city’s lower-income residents,” said Council Member Rory I. Lancman. “Many riders can barely afford to commute to and from work each day but offering a reduced fare card will make the ride much smoother for hundreds of thousands of hard-working people in our city.”

“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. Now, with yet another fare increase around the corner, it is time to stand firmly in support of low-income families.”

"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 NYC Council Member Mark Levine. “New Yorkers who fall below the poverty line already face an incredible struggle to make ends meet, and with the cost of transit fares set to increase yet again next year, it is not going to get easier. By funding the cost of offering half-price MetroCards, eligible New Yorkers could save up to $700 annually, dramatically increasing their quality of life while also making it easier for them to find jobs otherwise inaccessible to them due to the cost of transit. I fully support the Fair Fare initiative, and I commend the Community Service Society and the Riders Alliance for championing this measure.”

Council Member Carlos Menchaca said, "Low-income New Yorkers can’t afford today’s fares and they face years of planned MTA fare increases. Since 2007, subway and bus fares have risen three times faster than inflation and six times faster than NYC salaries. When families can’t afford transit they miss employment opportunities, skip cultural and educational resources, and lose access to healthcare and other essential services. Long ago, New York recognized the benefits of offering reduced fares to seniors, students and people with disabilities. People shouldn’t be forced to choose between food, rent, medicine and transportation. Others cities offer fare discounts for the low-income residents who rely most on public transit. New York should too."

“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 may be forced to travel hours 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.”

“Fair Fares is fundamental to expanding opportunity so that every New Yorker has a chance to succeed. Offering half-price MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers affords them greater options to pursue employment and educational opportunities, so I am proud to support Fair Fares”, said Council Member Rosenthal.

“Families are struggling, and the cost of a monthly Metrocard continues to climb,” said Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Jr. “It’s time we come together in support to make transportation more equitable for the families of our city, and fight for fair fares.”

“Being able to get to and from work and access transportation across the City is a necessity that is oftentimes out-of-reach for the poorest New Yorkers. That needs to change and the City can make a difference by subsidizing MetroCards for residents living below the poverty line. Fair and equal access to transportation can help reduce income inequality in our City,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres.

ACE's serves men and woman re-entering the workforce. Employment is key to self-sufficiency and without access to affordable transportation the clients we serve cannot reach their goals,” said Tawana Jackson, of Association of Community Employment-Programs for the Homeless.

“Every year, thousands of our clients—all of whom are, by definition, indigent—are arrested for fare evasion and face direct and collateral punishment at significant costs to the individuals involved, their communities, and our city as a whole. The vast majority of people arrested for this offense are Black and/or Latino. Many are detained on Rikers Island at a cost of about $500 per day simply because they might not be able to afford a $2.75 subway fare. People can lose their children and jobs, and even be  deported for this crime of poverty. Brooklyn Defender Services is proud to join the Riders Alliance and the Community Service Society in calling on the Mayor to fund #FairFares and help make public transit the great equalizer in New York—not a feeder for the criminal justice system,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services, a comprehensive public defense organization serving tens of thousands of clients in Brooklyn every year.

“Income-sensitive pricing has long been available for housing, food, health care and other basic human needs,” said Mark Winston Griffith, Executive Director of Brooklyn Movement Center, a Central Brooklyn-based community organizing group. “The fight for Fair Fares recognizes the role of affordable transportation in helping vulnerable New Yorkers escape some of the punishing limitations of poverty."

“Affordable transportation helps to make New York City affordable and helps to keep lower-income New Yorkers in their homes and communities,” said Community Actions for Safe Apartments (CASA) Leader Fitzroy Christian.

Michelle de la Uz, Executive Director of the Fifth Avenue Committee, said, “FAC and NHN serve thousands of low income people annually, including many working poor New Yorkers who rely on the

 

MTA to get to work. Fair Fares would ensure that all New Yorkers, regardless of income, can access the
MTA at half price and access the opportunities that public transit links people to. Please support this important effort.”

Ronald Deutsch, Executive Director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, said, “Affordable and accessible transportation is a necessity for low-income families. Too often struggling families have to make the choice between paying for transportation or paying for other life necessities. Given that the cost of a Metro Card is scheduled to rise next year, now is the perfect time to take steps to ensure that al of our residents can afford to get to work by supporting this common sense proposal.

"Access to affordable transportation options is critically important to the working poor, and especially to Latinas and Latinos whose network of job opportunities are already limited. Getting to work should not be an obstacle to any New Yorker who is prepared to work and contribute to our economy. So we urge the Mayor to provide the funds necessary to make transportation affordable,” said Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

“No one should have to choose between paying rent, buying food, and being able to get to work. An extensive transit system means little if it cannot serve the people who need it the most. Creating a discount system that provides greater transit access for our lowest income neighbors is a critical step toward transportation justice, one that the City can take this as part of the next upcoming budget,” said Elena Conte, Director of Policy at Pratt Center for Community Development.

Robert Gangi, Director of the Police Reform Organizing Project, said, "Farebeating arrests are now the highest number of arrests by the NYPD. Most people jump the turnstile not for the thrill of it, but because the $5.50 cost of a round trip is a financial burden for them. Instead of punishing poor people who have to use the subway and buses, the city should have a supportive response and find a way to help low-income people of color make a better life for themselves."

Catherine Barnett, Executive Director of ROC NY, said, “Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York is proud to stand with this broad coalition to support fair pricing for low wage workers. Restaurant workers, some of the City's lowest income workers, are unduly burdened with the rising cost of public transit. To alleviate this burden, we strongly urge Mayor de Blasio to reduce fares for low-income workers. This along with state action to eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers would help thousands of New Yorkers get ahead economically.

"Mass transit is a great equalizer, connecting New Yorkers to schools, libraries, jobs, civic centers, and other critical resources. Yet too many New Yorkers, including thousands of college students, can't afford the cost of a MetroCard swipe. Mayor de Blasio must prioritize access to transit for all New Yorkers, regardless of economic status,” said Jaqi Cohen, Campaign Associate at NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign.

"New York City is the nation's most transit-dependent city, and lower-income New Yorkers rely more than anyone on our subways and buses. But the high cost of transit has become more of a barrier than
ever to economic advancement, a situation that's going to get worse with more fare hikes on the way.

We urge Mayor de Blasio to support the Fair Fares initiative that the Community Service Society of New York and the Riders Alliance have proposed, and include funding in the Executive Budget to make half-price MetroCards available to the New Yorkers who need them most,” said Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives.

"Folks who rely on public transportation should not have to sacrifice basic needs to travel to and from work or school," said Kelley Williams, Executive Director of The West Side Commons.

The Unheard Third is scientific survey CSS conducts annually in collaboration with Lake Research Partners using Random Digit Dial (RDD). The survey was conducted using both landlines and cell phones from July 5 to August 10, 2016 and sampled 1,717 New York City residents ages 18 or older with a margin of error of +/- 2.36 percentage points.

For more information on the Unheard Third survey go to www.cssny.org/campaigns/entry/transit4all#data. To view a new CSS video featuring Riders Alliance members portraying public transportation hardships faced by low-income New Yorkers, go to https://youtu.be/J8oN0Z0Htp0.

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

 

 

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