Fair Fare proposal would New Yorkers in need a break
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Transportation advocates pushing for low-income straphangers to get a break on the price of a MetroCard had a double dose of activities on Monday. First, protesters held a rally on the steps of City Hall to galvanize support for Fair Fares, the proposal to allow poverty-stricken riders to buy MetroCards for half-price. Following the rally, the City Council held a hearing where the idea was discussed.
The Transportation Committee hearing focused on how public transportation could better serve the needs of residents. But the Fair Fares proposal emerged as an issue at the session, according to advocates, who said transit riders testified.
At the rally prior to the hearing, protesters called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to make half-priced MetroCards a priority during budget negotiations.
The Fair Fares campaign is led by the Riders Alliance and the Community Service Society (CSS).
“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 Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Board.
In January, the MTA Board voted to keep the bus and subway fares at $2.75. But the board’s vote to increase the cost of seven-day and 30-day monthly passes will make fares more expensive overall, transportation advocates said.
Jesse Laymon, director of policy at the New York City Employment Training Coalition (NYCETC), said the high price of a MetroCard can have a negative impact on a resident’s livelihood.
"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," Laymon said.
Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives called affordable public transit essential and said it helps New Yorkers “access jobs and education without the burden of a car."
Jaqi Cohen, campaign coordinator at the Straphangers Campaign, said a half-price MetroCard program is important. “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,” Cohen said.
The mayor stated that the city can’t afford Fair Fares.
“It’s just not something we can get into this city budget. And also I think it’s a state responsibility. I think the state can’t have it both ways on the MTA. They control the MTA. They have to pay for the MTA. So if people believe this is the kind of thing we should do, the state should pick up that responsibility,” de Blasio told the Gotham Gazette.
Several City Council members have endorsed Fair Fares.
“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," said Councilmember Rafael Espinal (Bushwick-Bedford-Stuyvesant).
Councilmember Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) said Fair Fares would give low-income residents a chance to succeed. “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,” he said.
“We should do everything we can to empower families and reduce barriers to getting around our city,” said Councilmember Stephen Levin (Northern Brooklyn-DUMBO-Downtown Brooklyn).
Councilmember Carlos Menchaca (D-Sunset Park-Red Hook) was succinct. “It isn’t public transit if the public can’t afford to use it,” he said.