New Yorkers living in poverty and representatives from the broad coalition of legal, labor, human services, economic justice, transit and worker rights organizations supporting half-priced transit fares for the poor gathered at the Fulton Street Station in Manhattan today.
They celebrated an agreement between Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to fund “Fair Fares” – a proposal that will promote a fairer public transit system and, given the scale and influence of New York, will have a ripple effect across the nation, with New York City offering a roadmap for a more equitable urban America.
Under the agreement the city will spend $106 million in the FY19 City budget to provide half-priced transit fares to New York City residents with annual incomes at or below poverty, which is about $25,000 for a family of four. About 800,000 working-age New Yorkers would be eligible for the program and could save up to $726 dollars a year on the cost of a MetroCard.
At Fulton Street Station, low-income bus and subway riders shared their stories about struggling with the cost of public transportation:
Darlene Jackson, a Riders Alliance Member from Bronx, said, “I am a struggling single mother who lives in Bronx. I work part-time and I am college educated and I still can’t afford my MetroCard. With Fair Fares, more of my money can be spent towards groceries. I might even be able to send my 14-year-old son to computer classes this Summer. Thank you Mayor de Blasio for making this a reality. And thank you to Speaker Johnson and the entire City Council for fighting so passionately for Fair Fares and keeping struggling New Yorkers like myself in mind.”
The release in April 2016 of the Community Service Society’s (CSS) ground-breaking report, “The Transit Affordability Crisis: How Reduced MTA Fares Can Help Low-Income New Yorkers Move Ahead” coincided with the official launch of the `Fair Fares’ campaign, led by CSS and Riders Alliance, a grassroots transit riders membership group. Working in partnership the two groups built a broad coalition of organizations and elected officials that included a majority of City Council members, the Public Advocate, City Comptroller, four Borough Presidents, three District Attorneys and more than 70 organizations. The growing public and political support for Fair Fares generated supportive editorials in nearly all the city’s mainstream newspapers.
From its inception, the effort to establish half-priced transit fares for the city’s working poor was conceived by CSS as an anti-poverty initiative. Drawing data from its citywide scientific survey, The Unheard Third, CSS documented the heavy burden that transit fares place on low-income city residents and public support for a policy of reduced fares for the poor. The Transit Affordability report, which examined the consequences of high transit fares on the poor and measures taken by other cities to alleviate transit costs on low-income riders, found that more than a quarter of low-income New Yorkers struggled to afford the subway or bus, limiting their economic opportunities and, in many cases, forcing them to choose between transit and other necessities.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said, “I am proud that my first budget as Speaker is one that strengthens the social safety net and champions a New York for all. Fair Fares will open up this city to New Yorkers living in poverty and allow them to take advantage of professional and educational opportunities that would otherwise be closed to them. This is an investment in our friends and neighbors who struggle between paying the rent and commuting to work. I thank the entire City Council for their hard work, advocates like the Community Service Society and the Riders Alliance for their tireless efforts, and Mayor de Blasio for his support in making this a reality.”
“We started the fight for Fair Fares two years ago and today we can celebrate a significant victory,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Council Committee on Transportation. “I am proud to stand by the Community Services Society and Riders Alliance as a longtime ally in celebrating this win for New Yorkers for whom the choice between a MTA fair and a necessity just got a little easier. Thank you to the Mayor for his commitment to fund Fair Fares every year. I congratulate my colleagues in the Council who under the leadership of Speaker Corey Johnson never lost sight of the importance of making equity in public transportation a priority in this budget.”
David R. Jones, President and CEO of CSS said, “With yesterday’s budget agreement to fully fund “Fair Fares” New York took a major step toward making our public transit system more accessible and equitable for New Yorkers who rely on it the most, the working poor. CSS developed the proposal for half-priced fares based on our research. We recruited Riders Alliance and other advocates to help argue its merits and grow political and public support. But it took Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Johnson and the City Council to make it a reality, and to ensure that our public transportation system is a gateway to economic mobility instead of a barrier. For that we are grateful.”
John Raskin, Executive Director of the Riders Alliance, said, “The Fair Fares program is a huge achievement, not only for the hundreds of thousands of people who will benefit directly but for every New Yorker who cares about living in a fair and inclusive community. In our city, geographic mobility is economic mobility too. New Yorkers can get ahead, but only if they can get around. For too long, our transit system has been priced out of reach for the New Yorkers who need it most, and our entire city has suffered as a result. Fair Fares is an enormous step toward addressing that problem. Thanks to Speaker Corey Johnson for his dogged determination in fighting for this program, to members of the City Council for their overwhelming support and to Mayor Bill de Blasio for making this proposal a reality.”
“I typically spend three to four hours on the train every day and most weeks, I worry that I won’t have enough money to afford the subway fare. It’s embarrassing asking strangers for swipes to get from my shelter to my daughter’s school to work and then back again. The subway should not be a barrier, but a path to opportunity in New York City so we can be reliable workers, responsible parents and engaged citizens. I will benefit from this program, as well as other low-wage workers across the city. I am excited that I shared my story and by coming together with other fast-food workers we are making our city stronger. I want to thank Mayor Bill de Blasio, Speaker Corey Johnson, the Riders Alliance and the Community Service Society of New York for their leadership,” said Shani Rahman, Fast Food Justice member.
“$120 for a monthly metro card is costly. That’s why fast-food workers support Fair Fares because some of my coworkers can’t eat and others can’t support their kids on our tight budgets. I know of people who have had to sleep outside the store or in the breakroom, because they couldn’t afford the commuting costs. Working people need to know they can get to their jobs on time. I’m proud to be speak up about this issue with other fast-food workers and Fast Food Justice members to make a change. This program will make a big difference thanks to the leadership of Mayor Bill de Blasio, Speaker Corey Johnson, the Riders Alliance and the Community Service Society of New York. A half-price bus and subway fare for the poorest New Yorkers is a start towards making transportation more affordable for all,” said Justin Peprah, Fast Food Justice member.
Alaster Williams, Leader at Picture the Homeless said, “I would just like to say that my partner and I will not have to flip a coin to determine who is going to ride the bus or train; we’ll be able to ride together now. This move is long overdue and Speaker Johnson the City Council and the Mayor should be applauded for finally realizing that a lot of New Yorkers are in need of this program and will greatly benefit from it.”
“Fair Fares is an important first step to ending the criminalization of the poor. New Yorkers shouldn’t have to choose between putting food on the table and paying their fare. We applaud the City Council and Mayor’s office on helping almost 800,000 New Yorkers,” said Vaughn Armour, member of New York Communities for Change.
“Everyone should have access to public transportation. I live in Flushing, Queens and many of my neighbors are struggling just to get by. New York City is a big place and I have to use the train to get around. I actually already have a discounted MetroCard that I receive because of my disability. It’s helped me and more people should have access to this benefit. I use the train and buses to go to doctor’s appointments, visit my daughter and grandkids in Bronx and to go to VOCAL-NY to build power for change. If it wasn’t for my reduced fare MetroCard, I wouldn’t be able to do any of these things,” said Carl Stubbs, Community Leaders at VOCAL-NY.
Johnny Rivera, member of WE ACT and resident of East Harlem said, “I applaud the Mayor and City Council for demonstrating leadership on an equity issue disproportionally affecting low-income residents struggling to pay a subway fare. As a city, we win on two fronts: minimizing expense in the justice system and unleashing the higher productivity of our community member.”
Maaji Newbold, member of Theatre of the Oppressed said, “Every day when I enter the subway it is a challenge: should I get something to eat or should I get on this ride? It’s a cost to me either way. So the support we’re getting from the Mayor and the city is very important, because we work hard, the rent is too high, and we need help to balance it out.”
Mohamed Attia, Co-director of the Street Vendor Project said, “Street Vendors are low-income New Yorkers who are struggling with the Unfair Fares every day, and finally the city has agreed to support low-income New Yorkers and fund Fair Fares and make NYC the fairest city for everybody. We would like to thank the city council for the great work and The Speaker for the phenomenal support!”
I grew up in East New York Brooklyn, and there were days that we were so broke, you had to make the choice of buying food to eat, or having train fare for one day. Most times we chose the food. Today’s decision to provide half fare metro cards to people living in poverty is a game changer, decisions like this will improve lives. I am proud to live in a city that puts it’s most vulnerable people first. Said Stanley Fritz, Campaigns Manager at Citizen Action of New York.
“This victory has been many years in the making, and we are pleased that the City will finally make Fair Fares a reality for hundreds of thousands of low-income New Yorkers. For too long, poor New Yorkers, especially black and brown individuals, have been criminalized because they could not afford the price of a MetroCard. Thank you to Speaker Corey Johnson who pushed for this from the moment he became Speaker, as well as the rest of the City Council and the entire Fair Fares coalition who never gave up the fight,” said Bertha Lewis, President and Founder of the Black Institute.
“Fair Fares are a key piece of the puzzle for helping impoverished New Yorkers expand their opportunities and climb the ladder out of poverty. Mayor de Blasio has always spoken eloquently about the need to end the ‘tale of two cities,’ but our public policy hasn’t kept up with the Mayor’s vision. Today’s victory is a big step in the direction of policy that not only makes the cost of living in the city a little more bearable for those living in poverty, but makes it more possible for those New Yorkers to seek out the education, career skills, vocational training, and eventually interviews and higher-wage jobs which constitute the pathway out of poverty and towards self-sustainability,” said Jose Ortiz Jr., Executive Director of the NYC Employment and Training Coalition.
“Thank you to the Mayor, the City Council, and especially Speaker Johnson, for fighting alongside this great Fair Fares coalition to achieve this victory for 800,000 people striving for a better life here in our city.” Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services, said: “I thank Speaker Corey Johnson and Mayor Bill de Blasio for offering this critical support to New Yorkers in need of reduced fares. Brooklyn Defender Services has strongly supported the Fair Fares campaign because so many of the people we represent are arrested and prosecuted for fare evasion when they simply cannot afford the fare. While we continue to urge an end to the policing of poverty, we applaud the City’s decision to make this investment in helping New Yorkers who otherwise cannot afford to get to school, work or doctor appointments. I am very pleased that New York City is taking this groundbreaking step to make our transit system truly public and alter the lives of hundreds of thousands of residents.”
“Today we are taking an important step forward for transportation justice! Thanks to the organizing of directly impacted transit riders and the leadership of Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Corey Johnson and the City Council, Fair Fares can begin to alleviate the burdens of our inequitable transit system and provide greater access to opportunity.” said Elena Conte, Director of Policy at Pratt Center for Community Development.
“With transportation making up a large share of the household budgets of low income families, Fair Fares will bring much needed relief to poor New Yorkers and provide them improved access to economic opportunities,” said Alex Matthiessen, founder and director of the Move NY campaign. “Now we need to focus on passing congestion pricing and other new revenue sources needed to not only fix our subways and buses but fund other fare discount programs like ‘CityTicket-7’ so that all New Yorkers can more easily afford to use our public transit system.”
“Fair Fares will make our City more affordable and equitable by ensuring that low-income New Yorkers have access to mass transportation. I commend Speaker Johnson, my Council colleagues, and all the advocates who worked to make this landmark achievement a reality,” said Council Member Rory I. Lancman.
“In a city where mobility equals opportunity, and with the cost of public transit rising but wages stagnating, the inclusion of Fair Fares in this year’s budget is a historic win for impoverished New Yorkers,” said Council Member Mark Levine. “New Yorkers who fall below the poverty line already face an incredible struggle to make ends meet, and having an affordable way to get around the city could mean the difference between having a job and not, being able to take your kids to school and not. By funding the cost of offering half-price MetroCards, Speaker Johnson just guaranteed that eligible New Yorkers could save up to $700 annually, dramatically increasing their quality of life.”
For more than 170 years, the Community Service Society of New York has been the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers and continues to advocate for the economic security of the working poor in the nation’s largest city. We respond to urgent, contemporary challenges with applied research, advocacy, litigation and innovative program models that help the working poor achieve a better quality of life and promote a more prosperous city. For more information, please visit here.
The Riders Alliance is a grassroots organization of subway and bus riders pushing for better service at affordable fares and a stronger public investment in mass transit. For more information, please visit here.