New York City's poorest riders badly need our help. It's only fair.
The “summer of hell” has passed, and transit riders from across New York City did their best to weather the ongoing storm of our public transit system.
Over the past few months, various proposals to finance the rebuilding of our transit infrastructure were put forward by elected leaders. Congestion pricing was revived by some, while others floated a new tax on the wealthiest New Yorkers. Some have even suggested the return of a commuter tax.
Our physical infrastructure certainly needs an upgrade. But we cannot lose sight of the real needs of our social infrastructure, specifically those New Yorkers who use the subway every single day, despite not being able to truly afford it. We cannot forget the need for “fair fares.”
The most recent data from Community Service Society’s 2017 Unheard Third survey shows just how necessary the “fair fares” campaign’s proposal, which would provide half-price transit fares for the working poor, really is.
The CSS poll found that one in four poor, working-age New Yorkers are often unable to afford subway and bus fares.
The survey also found that 20 percent of working-age New York City residents living below the poverty line have been unable to run important errands such as doctor’s appointments due to subway fares, and that 31 percent could not look for a job further away from where they live because of the high cost of transit.
In the Bronx, we have taken great pride in our job creation and economic development efforts over the past eight years. Last year, our borough saw an incredible $3.27 billion in total development, 37 percent higher than 2015 and the most of any year since I’ve been borough president. In 2016, the Bronx also saw more than 14.2 million square feet of total development, 41 percent more than 2015 and, once again, the most since I took office in 2009.
Since 2009, the Bronx has been home to nearly $13 billion and 70 million square feet of total development. Over 110,000 more Bronx residents have jobs today than did in May 2009, and unemployment has been cut in half.
But that success is for naught if not all Bronx residents are able to share in it. If more than 30 percent of Bronx residents cannot afford to take the subway to a job interview, we still have a great deal of work to do. We should be doing things to make it easier for our neighbors – not only in the Bronx but in communities like Far Rockaway, Bay Ridge, West Brighton and others that are more distant from the city’s Midtown core – to find jobs and climb out of poverty. “Fair fares” will help us do just that.
Already, other cities such as San Francisco and Seattle have income-based discount programs for transit riders, with similar proposals being discussed in Boston and Denver. CSS’ research has found that a discount fare would save working-age city residents living in poverty, measured as a $24,339 annual income for a family of four, up to $726 annually on the cost of monthly MetroCards.
Such a program would cost roughly $200 million to implement, a pittance when compared to the overall budget of New York City. However, for that relatively small investment, we could make a significant impact on the everyday lives of nearly 800,000 New Yorkers – people from every corner of this city who desperately need a helping hand.
In the coming months, our city and state will debate the way forward to replace and repair our aging transit infrastructure. But no matter what path we take, we cannot leave behind the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who rely on our public transportation system, but need a helping hand to pay for it.
A “fair fares” program is a moral imperative for our city. We must make it a reality.
Rubén Díaz Jr. is the Bronx borough president.