Public transportation is the lifeblood of New York, pumping people through our communities and driving the economic and cultural heartbeat of this astonishing, beautiful city.
But right now, too many New Yorkers are being priced out of mass transit, with ever-rising fares cutting lower-income New Yorkers off from the city.
The most recent fare hike to $2.75 is only the latest in a never-ending series of increases that the MTA says will continue well into the future. With almost 20 percent of New York families at, near, or below the federal poverty line; asking those low income families to foot a $5.50 round trip for a single person becomes incredibly costly when traveling is a part of their daily life.
As of 2016, 28% of poor and 25% of nearly poor New Yorkers reported that, in the last year, they were often unable to afford subway or bus fares. 25% of low income New Yorkers reported that the cost of fares has prevented them from getting medical care, and 34% reported that they have not been able to seek a joab further from home due to the unaffordability of public transit. And it’s simply unacceptable.
Last month, thirty-five New York City Council Members signed a letter stating that, “access to our subways and buses is a basic economic necessity for New Yorkers, who rely on transit to get to work, school, doctors’ visits, and essential services… The city’s own poverty measure shows that commuting costs are pushing New Yorkers into poverty… New York, which continues to face staggering levels of income inequality, cannot be the fairest city in America while hundreds of thousands of our neighbors have trouble accessing daily necessities because they cannot afford to take the bus or subway.”
Their words ring true across the United States, and are especially poignant here. A fast, reliable, and well-run public transit system should allow all New Yorkers to have full access to the economic, cultural, and educational opportunities that New York offers.
That’s why transit advocates and progressives in the City Council have proposed the Fair Fares Initiative, which would create a third category of discounted fares that would allow working-age New York residents living at or below the poverty line eligible to receive half-price MetroCards.
The city already issues similarly discounted cards for seniors, disabled people, and students. The Fare Fairs proposal would simply extend those discounts to all low-income households, bringing the cost of a single ride down and more than halving the cost of a round trip on the subway or bus. Fair Fares would subsidize the cost of mass transit for 800,000 New Yorkers, giving them full access to their city, and eliminating the need to choose between a MetroCard swipe and a meal.
Bickering between the city and state on who would foot the bill is no excuse for pricing hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers out of essential mass transit.
The high and rising cost of public transit is not a problem restricted to New York. Cities like Chicago, Boston and Atlanta have expansive public transportation, but round trips cost upwards of five dollars. For someone working five days a week taking public transit both ways, this adds up to over $1,200 a year. That is a massive cost for an essential service, and the cost falls disproportionately on low-income people. In New York, we can pass the Fair Fares proposal to take care of our own. But we also need a federal program to fund subsidized mass transit nationally, for every individual under the federal poverty line, in every city in this country with mass public transit.
Social mobility and public transportation go hand in hand. Inaccessibility to the MTA in New York, MARTA in Atlanta, Chicago’s CTA and other transportation services across the country harms working class people. Moreover, lack of transportation access in many major cities isolates communities of color, which are already disproportionately affected by food deserts and lack of green space. When mass transit is affordable for lower-income families, the city opens up for them and playing fields are leveled.
Economic justice must be an essential part of urban planning and infrastructure investment. Passing Fare Fairs in New York and instituting a comprehensive federal transit subsidy program would vastly improve economic mobility, and ease price pressures on millions of working Americans.
We refuse to settle for public transit investment that doesn’t include access to transportation for the people who need it the most.