NYC Council Urges Transit Discounts for Low-Income Riders

A Metropolitan Transit Authority subway train operator waits for a red-light signal. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

A new proposal would alleviate some of the stress of paying for public transportation for New York City’s poorest residents. Members of NYC’s Fair Fares Coalition unveiled a plan Wednesday to give low-income New Yorkers half-priced MetroCards.

The coalition of advocates and council members initially released a proposal for the program that would have cost just over $200 million and serve 800,000 residents. Mayor Bill de Blasio said at the time that he liked the idea, but that it would have to fall on the state-funded MTA to fund it.

The new proposal starts at $50 million, which the coalition says was chosen to assuage de Blasio’s concerns while increasing the likelihood of getting the proposal included in the fiscal year 2018 budget. It would be phased in over the course of three years, starting at $50 million in January to reach those in deepest poverty and eventually reaching about $200 million in fiscal year 2020 to cover the full population in need.

The coalition behind the proposal includes Riders Alliance, Community Service Society and Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez.

“This is about being creative in a time of budgetary uncertainty, while standing up for New York values of supporting our neighbors,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “Transportation is an equalizer in our city, capable of uplifting New Yorkers through access to jobs, education, cultural institutions, healthcare and more.”

There is a strong link between transportation access and upward economic mobility, and cities around the country are experimenting around facilitating low and no-income ridership. San Francisco’s MUNI offers a half-priced pass for very-low-income residents. Metro Transit in St. Paul and Minneapolis has a program similar to King County Metro’s that sells discounted tickets for service providers to distribute.

Council Member Mark Levine pointed out that in NYC, the cost of public transit has risen, even as wages have largely remained stagnant. “By funding the cost of offering half-price MetroCards, eligible New Yorkers could save up to $700 annually, dramatically increasing their quality of life,” he said.

Kelsey E. Thomas is Next City’s associate editor.

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Tags: new york citytransportation spendingincome inequality