All aboard the struggle bus. A “Fix the MTA” legislative package promises a smoother ride across town by funding increased transit service, making buses free over time and freezing fares at $2.75 on both buses and the subway for a short term. The spending bill specifically seeks to reduce intervals between subways to six minutes or less and increase bus service by 20%. But the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is not so sure the agency needs fixing.
“Most transit customers are benefitting from better than 6-minute headways on subways already and on-time performance just hit a 10-year high,” said an MTA spokesperson. “The mission to provide faster, cleaner, safer service is dramatically improving customer satisfaction and will benefit from Governor Hochul’s budget that provides relief from looming deficits.”
Recently, MTA CEO and Chairman Janno Leber welcomed suggestions to increase the transit service when asked about the “Fix the MTA” proposals during a WBAI Radio interview. However, he added the agency needs to prioritize raising enough funds to maintain the current level of service. Six minute headways for the subway system and a 20% increase in bus service would cost $788 million a year.
Proponents of “Fix the MTA” like Rep. Jamaal Bowman (NY16), from the Ridership Alliance and legislative sponsors State Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris and Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani rallied in the Bronx last Friday, Feb. 24.
“For years, New Yorkers have been coping with the breakdown of our public transit system, and it’s long past time to get serious about fixing it,” said Bowman. “One of the best ways we can improve the MTA for working families in our city is by making our buses free. New Yorkers have been struggling to afford the necessities of life, and we can and should ease their burden with free, more frequent buses.
“We need a realistic plan to stabilize the agency’s finances, because continuing to hike fares while service deteriorates is simply not an option for working class people.”
Mamdani told the Amsterdam News he believes the “Fix the MTA” package would particularly benefit Black New Yorkers, who rely on public transportation the most. If passed, the buses would first be free in the Bronx, then in Brooklyn. Those two boroughs boast the highest percentage of Black populations in New York City.
“Black New Yorkers suffer from the fact that our transit system was built around Manhattan,” said Mamdani. “The further that you get out from Manhattan, the more you tend to wait on the platform. And waiting on the platform has many consequences. It means that you’re late for work, which can often mean a financial penalty. For so many working class New Yorkers. It can also mean that you feel less safe because you’re waiting 10-20 minutes.”
Three fatal stabbings on New York City public transit were recorded within a 10 day span last October—the victims were all Bronx or Brooklyn residents.
Mamdani adds free buses would reduce hostile encounters while enforcing fares for bus operators—many who are Black themselves. The MTA found 46.89% of the agency’s workforce was Black in 2017.
And the proposed 5.5% fare hike could lead to an increase of fare evasion. 91.5% of those arrested for the crime are New Yorkers of color, according to NYPD watchdog Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP).
The MTA currently offers a reduced fare of $1.35 for straphangers 65 and older or with a qualifying disability. But Mamdani says less than half of eligible New Yorkers are applying.
“If we are not able to provide efficient relief actually reaching people in their pocket, and not simply in their mailbox as an application for a bureaucratic system of thresholds and eligibility, [then] we know that we are failing Black New Yorkers,” he said.
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.