Downtown

Advocates seek half-fare Metrocards for low-income riders

April 13, 2016 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Riders Alliance member Manuel Aguilar talks about transportation hardships at the rally. Photo by Scott Shaw/Riders Alliance

On the heels of a shocking new report showing that one in four low-income New Yorkers cannot afford to use public transportation, two groups, the Community Service Society of New York and the Riders Alliance, announced the start of a “Fair Fares” campaign to obtain half-fare MetroCards for the city’s working poor. 

The campaign was launched at a rally outside City Hall on April 10 in which transportation advocates called for Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council to create a program that would allow riders below the poverty level to buy half-fare MetroCards.

The two organizations have organized an online petition drive and are urging riders to sign the petition. The petition can be found at www.ridersny.org/fairfares and at www.cssny.org/transit4all.

The rally took place in the wake of the release of an eye-opening report, “The Transit Affordability Crisis,” by the Community Service Society of New York (CSSNY), a nonprofit organization that works to spur upward mobility for low-income residents. The report found that more than a quarter of low-income New Yorkers were unable to afford to take a subway or a bus in the past year.

A half-fare discount program targeting poor New Yorkers would save them an estimated $700 a year, according to the CSSNY. Approximately 800,000 adults would be eligible for the reduced fares.

“Economic mobility and transit affordability go hand in hand. To get to work, pick up your kids from school, go to the doctor, to do almost everything you need to do in New York City to survive, requires riding the subway or bus. Yet one-quarter of the city’s working poor often cannot afford bus and subway fare,” David R. Jones, president and CEO of CSSNY, said in a statement.

“The Transit Affordability Crisis” study found that 58 percent of low-income New Yorkers rely on subways and buses to get around the city, and that for more than 300,000 people the transit fares exceed 10 percent of their annual household budget. “It’s a big bite out of their household income,” Nancy Rankin, vice president for Policy Research and Advocacy for CSSNY, told the Brooklyn Eagle on Wednesday.

The lack of transit affordability has a domino effect, according to Rankin, who said it often keeps a low-income worker from being able to take a job outside of their neighborhood.

A half-fare Metrocard, by contrast would have a positive effect, not only for the low-income individual, but for the entire community, Rankin said. “They would have more money to spend in their communities and that would help the economy in those communities,” she said.

It wouldn’t be difficult to come up with a system by which low-income residents can purchase half-fare Metrocards, Rankin said. She pointed out that reduced fare Metrocards are already available to senior citizens, people with disabilities and students under the age of 18. “We already have the ability to distribute half-fare cards. The Human Resources Administration [HRA] screens people for food stamps and Medicaid eligibility. The city understands the mechanics,” she told the Eagle.

City and state funding could be used to cover the cost of a discount program, according to advocates. Costs could be offset by $48 million that HRA is already spending to fund MetroCards for low-income individuals who participate in job training programs, advocates said.

Elected officials have expressed support for the idea of a half-fare Metrocard.

“This city relies on public transportation, and yet too often New Yorkers are forced to choose between going to work putting food on the table,” Public Advocate Letitia James said in a statement.

“As subway and bus fares continue to rise, far too many New Yorkers are left to choose between paying the rent and buying a MetroCard,” New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer stated. “Half-priced fares for low-income families will put up to $700 a year directly in the pockets of New Yorkers who need it the most.”

Transportation advocates are also on board.

“Affordable housing for New York City? Of course; it’s essential. Affordable health care? Yes, indeed. Access to healthy foods at a reasonable price? Good jobs? Great open space? Yes, yes. But without decent, reliable and affordable public transit, you simply can’t get from here to there to all those things that make it possible to live and thrive in New York City,” said Cate Contino Cowit, an organizer with the Straphangers Campaign.

“The Transit Affordability Crisis” study can be found at www.cssny.org/transitcrisis.