Since last spring, transit advocates have urged Mayor de Blasio to fund a half-price MetroCard program for New York City's working poor—about 800,000 New Yorkers, excluding seniors and the disabled, who live at or below the federal poverty threshold. A joint study [PDF] released in conjunction with the campaign found that more than a quarter of low-income, working New Yorkers were unable to afford subway or bus fare at least once in 2015, impacting trips to work and school. For non-citizen New Yorkers, fare beating increases the risk of exposure to federal immigration authorities.
"Because the MTA is cash-strapped, we're saying that it makes sense for the program to be run by the city," Rebecca Bailin of the Riders Alliance told us last spring.
But the Mayor's Office has consistently dismissed the half priced MetroCard initiative, estimated to cost about $212 million, as cost prohibitive. Now, transit advocates and veto-proof majority of City Council members are pushing for a compromise: fund the program in phases, starting with half-price MetroCards for New Yorkers in "deep poverty" who make fifty percent of the federal poverty level or less: $10,000 annually for a family of three, $12,000 annually for a family of four.
Phase one of the program would cost an estimated $50 million in the FY 2018 budget, advocates estimate. About 379,000 New Yorkers would qualify. A second phase would accommodate up to 75 percent of the federal poverty level, ahead of full implementation.
Bailin compared the proposal to the $15 minimum wage timeline: a gradual implementation over several years. "It both allows the city to work out kinks in the program, and figure out any budget issues," she said.
Rally for Fair Fares on City Hall steps ahead of the mayor's budget release. pic.twitter.com/fMo0Uw6Szp
— Vincent Barone (@vinbarone) April 25, 2017
The City Council suggested $50 million for a half-fare pilot in a response to the mayor's FY 2018 budget draft.
A spokesperson for Manhattan Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who heads the Transportation Committee, said Tuesday that the half-fare program would be part of final budget negotiations planned for the next month and a half.
"It is clear that access to transportation is one of, if not the most, determinative factor when it comes to low-income families escaping poverty," Council Member Rodriguez said in a statement. "We have a prime opportunity to support those most in need and we shouldn't let it pass us by."
A 2015 Harvard University study found transportation access to be a major factor in escaping poverty. Mayor de Blasio has acknowledged this in the past, proposing the Brooklyn Queens Connector as a way to connect New Yorkers to more job opportunities along the waterfront.
Mayoral spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein told Gothamist Tuesday that the city's position on the half-fare proposal has not changed.
"The proposal is a noble one but the mayor has been very clear: the MTA is the responsibility of the state and they should consider funding the program," she said.
The MTA did not immediately respond to a request for comment, though spokeswoman Beth DeFalco has said that the MTA "already makes a substantial commitment to low-income City riders" and will not fund the program.
Transit advocates and elected officials rallied for the phase-in outside City Hall this afternoon.