MTA Fare Hikes Renew Calls for Low-Income Commuters Subsidy

Riders, activists and elected officials demanded a fair transit fare for New Yorkers. (Photo by David Ramírez via El Diario)

On Sunday, advocates for public transit users asked Mayor de Blasio to amend the budget proposed for fiscal year 2018 to include funding to offer half-price MetroCards to New Yorkers living under the poverty line.

The Fair Fares Coalition, alongside elected officials and community activists, stood in front of the Barclays Center subway station in Brooklyn to call on city authorities to challenge the proposal.

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The new fares for the city’s public transit system took effect on Sunday. Although the cost of the one-way basic ride remains at $2.75, the hike affects 30-day unlimited MetroCards – which went from $116 to $121– and the weekly MetroCard, which will go up one dollar, from $31 to $32. “The city must find funding for transportation, but without hurting the working class,” said Augusto Celaya, a Mexican-born commuter who works at a restaurant and said he was unable to pay higher fares.

After the demonstration, the activists marched through the station encouraging commuters to write notes they said they would deliver to the mayor as part of the Fair Fares campaign.

“Poor people should not have to make sacrifices just to go to work,” “fares increase, but our salaries don’t,” “the working class deserves a break, not to be suffocated” and “we need a city that looks after its citizens” were some of the phrases subway riders wrote on small pieces of colored paper.

“My husband and I struggle to survive. I have three children, which means that they depend on the subway and the bus to go to school. I have to plan my budget carefully to make sure that I have enough money to go to PTA meetings, sometimes even cutting down on groceries or walking to my children’s doctors’ appointments because we cannot pay for the train or the bus. Approving the fair fare would be really helpful to us,” said Mónica Martínez, a member of the Bronx-based organization Riders Alliance.

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Council member Carlos Menchaca condemned the fact that low-income New Yorkers are unable to pay the ever-increasing transit fares.

“Other cities offer fare discounts for lower-income residents who depend on public transit. New York should do the same. Public transit is not public if the public can’t afford it,” said Menchaca.

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“We have friends, families and neighbors who must refrain from going out to look for a job opportunity, to school, to doctors’ appointments and more, just because they cannot afford a MetroCard. It is our duty to provide half-price MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers,” said Ydanis Rodríguez, chair of the City Council Committee on Transportation.

Rodríguez stated that he will continue to fight for the Fair Fares proposal to be included in the 2018 budget “because MetroCard expenses are blocking many New Yorkers.”

Honduras native Alfonso Soto did not know the details on the new fares, and was surprised.

“I had heard that it was coming, but I didn’t expect it to be so soon. Oh well, we’ll have to eat less, go out less…” he said.

For his part, Council member Antonio Reynoso said that low-income New Yorkers are already struggling with the increasing cost of rent, food and other essentials.

“Access to public transit is crucial for workers and their families. With the fare hike, getting to work and school gets even harder. The fair fares proposal is something we can make happen to ensure that everyone can get to where they need to be without sacrificing other necessities,” insisted Reynoso.

According to a report by the Community Service Society (CSS) on the affordability crisis in transportation, 58 percent of New Yorkers living at or below 100% of the federal poverty level depend on buses and the subway to commute to work and get around the city. The cost of transportation in New York City has increased consistently over the years in a higher proportion than the earnings of low-income households.

“We see the half-price MetroCard for low-income New Yorkers as the next step the mayor needs to take in his effort to make this a more equitable city where all New Yorkers have access to economic opportunities,” said CSS President David Jones.

Another worrying fact: Between 2007 and 2015, bus and subway fares increased 45 percent, six times faster than average salaries in New York City did, according to a September 2016 report published by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

“When each dollar counts, the burden of additional transit costs is harmful to New Yorkers who are struggling. With fares increasing more and more, it is more important than ever for the administration to provide funding for the half-fare MetroCard for low-income New Yorkers,” said Public Advocate Letitia James.

Lastly, Brooklyn resident Jason Piñeiro said that he favors the approval of a transportation discount for poor New Yorkers, but added that the coalition’s work is not enough. “We need a deeper vision. The opinion of activists is somewhat incomplete. They need to go further, they need to live the drama of poverty.”

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