What’s the deal with the Fair Fares program?

Kyana Harris | 6/28/2018, midnight
June 11, Mayor Bill de Blasio shook hands on a deal with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to enact a ...
Subway trunstile Pixabay

June 11, Mayor Bill de Blasio shook hands on a deal with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to enact a discounted fare program for low-income MTA riders.

The budget for the discount MetroCard program for low-income New York residents is $106 million. The original request was for $212 million, but the program will begin for only half of 2019 before its full implementation. The program budget has been added to the $89.2 billion city budget. The mayor’s first budget was $4 billion less, but Gov. Cuomo pushed for $254 million more in funding for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The budget for a program of this sort was previously resisted by Mayor De Blasio. He felt that the funding for a discounted fare program should come from the wealthy New York residents. He said, “I believe in Fair Fares as an idea. I think we can get there through the millionaire’s tax, which also is an example to me of fairness. Ask those who are doing the very best in our society to pay a little more in taxes, New York City residents only, so we can fund Fair Fares and provide an ongoing revenue stream to the MTA so they can fix their bigger problems for the long term. That, by the way, I think is more viable than ever given some of the political changes we see in Albany.”

The push for the program began with a report from the Community Services Society in 2015, which found that one in five New Yorkers struggle to afford MetroCard fares. Fifty-eight percent of very-low-income New Yorkers rely on MTA buses or trains. The need for funding also increased because of an increase in the number of city workers. At 300,000 workers, this number is the highest it’s ever been.

Because of the research published in the Community Services Society report, the program had a lot of support from the beginning. The grassroots membership organization Rider’s Alliance has been on the front lines of the campaign. Their mission is outlined on their website: “The Riders Alliance fights for reliable, affordable, world-class public transit in order to build a more just and sustainable New York.”

The campaign manager of the Rider’s Alliance, Rebecca Bailin, offered her perspective on the program. She said, “The people who are affected are the average New Yorker. They are the college graduates, single mothers trying to get their kids to school, the unemployed, the minimum wage workers.”

The program will launch in January 2019 and be fully implemented with its complete budget the following year. Families of four who make under $25,000 a year qualify, which is approximately 800,000 New Yorkers.

NYC public advocate and candidate for attorney general, Letitia James, pointed out that this deal is a victory in meeting the needs of New Yorkers.  “Today is proof that government can work for the needs of its people,” she said. “Fair Fares will directly help low-income working families. I have been proud to stand with advocates and leaders in fighting for Fair Fares. I congratulate Speaker Johnson for his leadership role on this critical issue, and Mayor de Blasio for his work in making Fair Fares a reality.”