Brooklyn Boro

Free subway rides for all? Brooklyn pol says it’s time.

February 13, 2020 Paula Katinas
Protestors mass outside Long Island University on Flatbush Avenue. Eagle photos by Todd Maisel

New Yorkers would be able to toss their Metrocards into the trash and ride the city’s subways and buses for free under a new proposal by a Brooklyn lawmaker.

Councilmember Mark Treyger introduced a resolution during the City Council’s stated meeting on Feb. 11 calling on the MTA to institute a Free Fares for All program that would essentially eliminate transit fares.

The resolution is non-binding, meaning that the council doesn’t have the power to implement free rides.

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But Treyger said he’s serious about his proposal.

The plan would help poverty-stricken residents gain a foothold in the economy by allowing them to avoid having to pay for bus and subway rides, according to Treyger, a Democrat representing Coney Island, Gravesend and parts of Bensonhurst.

Treyger also contended that getting rid of fares would help reduce racial inequities in the transit system. He pointed to troubling statistics from the NYPD which found that in 2018, 90 percent of the suspects who were arrested for fare evasion were people of color. The data also showed that 65 percent of riders who were issued summonses for not paying the fare were people of color.

“There is a real opportunity to reimagine mass transit in New York. In a state budget approaching $180 billion, why isn’t mass transit free? In a budget of $180 billion, no one should go to jail over $2.75 just like no one goes to jail for skipping an EZ Pass toll. Let’s help people get where they deserve to be,” Treyger said in a statement after he introduced his resolution on  Tuesday.

Treyger’s proposal comes at a time when the NYPD is stepping up enforcement of fare beaters and turnstile jumpers.


In November, nearly 1,000 protesters demonstrated against the NYPD outside the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center stop and then entered the Hoyt–Schermerhorn Street stop, charging that cops were engaging in selective enforcement and targeting people of color. Hundreds of demonstrators jumped the turnstiles during the protest, Gothamist reported.

Treyger, whose Council district is served by the D, F and N subway lines, said there are many reasons the MTA should consider a fare-free transit system.

“With a single measure, we can take a big bite out of poverty, income inequality, mass incarceration and our impact on climate change. It would force state leaders to budget more responsibly around priorities such as transportation rather than raid transportation funds,” he said.

Brooklyn residents riding a Manhattan-bound D train in Bensonhurst on Wednesday morning were a bit skeptical of the idea of free rides.

“I like it. I do. But will the MTA go for it? No way,” said Nancy, who asked that her last name not be published.

Another passenger, who was riding the train with his daughter, said a fare-free system would be good for working people but expressed concern that some would take advantage.

“If you’re going to your job, that’s fine. But I think some people will use it as an excuse to ride the trains all day long for nothing,” the man, who spoke no English, said through his daughter, who served as his interpreter.

Free transit is an idea that is catching on in cities around the world, according to Treyger, who pointed to research by TransitCenter, a foundation that works on the improvement of public transit, which showed that 97 cities provide free public transit to their passengers.

Paris is considering it as a way of dealing with growing traffic congestion and encouraging residents to use mass transportation and leave their cars at home to reduce their carbon footprint, Treyger said.

Treyger’s idea isn’t workable, according to MTA Communications Director Tim Minton.

Bus and subway fares are needed to help keep the transit system up and running, Minton said.

“Farebox revenue from subways and buses yields more than $4.8 billion annually and accounts for a significant portion of the MTA’s operating budget, which is already strained to the bone. Any serious proposal on this matter would have identified alternate sources of funding for the system that serves as the lifeblood of New York city’s economy,” he told the Home Reporter in an email.

Besides, said MTA officials, New York City already provides assistance to low-income New Yorkers through the highly-touted Fair Fares program in which low-income riders pay half the fare.

“The ‘Fair Fares’ program provides access to half-price Metrocards for New Yorkers who cannot afford to pay the fare, and we encourage a faster enrollment process from the city.” Minton said.

Danny Pearlstein, spokesperson for the Riders Alliance, a group advocating for better transit services, called Treyger’s proposal “bold and ambitious,” but said it isn’t likely to be adopted.

“The Riders Alliance holds political leaders accountable to provide reliable, accessible, affordable public transit. That’s why we’ve campaigned for Fair Fares, congestion pricing, better buses and more. The MTA is already staring down a budget gap of several hundred million dollars. The governor, who controls the agency, needs to find the money to close that gap. Councilmember Treyger’s proposal is bold and ambitious and would be extremely difficult to win. In New York, free transit would cost upwards of 10 times what the MTA already needs, at least several billion dollars,” Pearlstein told the Home Reporter.

“With Albany facing its own budget gap, even with major new taxes, free transit would be a very, very heavy lift,” he added.

 


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12 Comments

  1. FlatbushFred

    A political stunt. It’s very easy to say free fares for all, just like free college tuition for all, etc. without identifying where the lost revenue will come from. Personally, I’d love to see gasoline taxed at a much higher rate and used for transit. But that and most all taxes would have to rise significantly to make up the shortfall from free fares.

    • Free for all, just like free college tuition and free health care?
      Sooo un-American!
      In the richest country in the world we should provide that – amd more– to our people.
      For right now we have socialism for the rich, provding them with tax breaks, benefits
      subsidies, a rigged system, and the freedom to do whatever they want to the rest of us, both polically and economically.
      Money doesn’t only speak, it swears, it demands and it gets what it wants, at the expense of the rest of us.
      Time for a change, way past time.
      And speaking of things free, and demanding something more, something better,
      I am reminded of some lyrics from “Bird on the Wire” byLeonard Cohen classic:
      I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch
      He said to me, “You must not ask for so much.”
      And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door
      She cried to me, “Hey, why not , whu not, ask for more?”
      Like a bird on the wire
      Like a drunk in a midnight choir
      I have tried in my way to be free.
      We have become drunk on the economic hype that they feed us,
      instead of exercising our freedom….
      Instead of begging for the crumbs-
      why not get off our knees and ask,
      why not demand,
      why not fight for more?
      Just like these fine people are doing for all of us.

  2. So these child mentality adults think that free mass transit is a RIGHT? These people are so stupid they don’t even deserve to vote. In fact, I think there ought to be a new law where if you don’t pay federal taxes then you should not be allowed to vote in any elections. They have no skin in the game.

    • No skon iin the game?
      Their own skin, as people, is the only skin they need to be in the game.
      Years ago people were told that they did not have the right to Social Security, to a minumim wage,
      to unemployment insureance, to Medicare and so many other things.
      Things that people demanded & fought for as a human RIGHT, and won for all of us.
      That struggle continues today, with demands to cap how much the greedy grab from the needy
      …in housing, in health care, in tuition, in transit and in society in general.

    • No skon iin the game?
      Their own skin, as people, is the only skin they need to be in the game.
      Years ago people were told that they did not have the right to Social Security, to a minumim wage,
      to unemployment insureance, to Medicare and so many other things.
      Things that people demanded & fought for as a human RIGHT, and won for all of us.
      That struggle continues today, with demands to cap how much the greedy grab from the needy
      …in housing, in health care, in tuition, in transit and in society in general.

  3. CRAIG ROBEY

    Who pays to have the trains driven, maintained and cleaned? Does the average guy who works pay higher fares or is the tax payers flipping the bill? Higher gas taxes make sense cause its a luxury in NYC and of course car owners would disagree but whos going to go up against big buisness when we can bully the working person. Im all for equility and helping out but we have become a society of complainers and people who are so sensitive. Its called hard work and pay your bills and taxes.

    • Complainers? There is a a lot to complain about my friend.
      Speaking of transit, the average hard-working working person is literally being taken for a ride nowadays,
      with few benefits and pensions and wage increases m and a lot to complain about.
      And to add insult to injury they make that worker pay thru the nose for that ride to his or her workplace,
      while the ompany boss profits from that transit system that bring him workers every day.
      They are the ones who are really getting something for nothing. The rest of us are just getting screwed/

    • No inequality? Hmmm, I see we have a real scholar here.
      Who do they think they are?
      They are men and women with dignity and vision,
      striving for something better for all of us,
      instead of accepting a status quo that all too often stinks,
      except for those at the top of the heap.
      Con-man Trump tells us we never had it so good,
      while half the people in the US can’t afford a $400 emergency.
      We need more people like these activists,
      with the courage, vision and guts to fight for us and with us.
      For without that vision the people perish.

  4. Those entities who profit the most from the daily influx of millions of people into & out of Manhattan need to step up and take more responsibility ( i.e. by that I mean both public and private institutions & businesses, Wall Street, the Manhattan-based centers of commerce, entertainment and retail).

    In other words, share the wealth. Otherwise it’s just another form of corporate welfare, where those commuters who can least afford it, are made to pay the price and shoulder the burden with ever-increasing fares.
Of course this would need to be combined with other transit funding streams, with both the State and Federal government recognizing and responding to the importance of maintaining a vibrant economic engine like Manhattan.

    And as the article states: Paris is considering it as a way of dealing with growing traffic congestion and encouraging residents to use mass transportation and leave their cars at home to reduce their carbon footprint.

  5. It’s an interesting idea, as it can help those in the city, especially when it comes to commuting. The question is, how feasible will it be in the long term? Someone will have to pay for it, so I wonder how that will play out. Can’t say it’s not intriguing, though, and it’s a story that companies specializing in train, bus service, and the like should focus on.