Despite months of lobbying efforts by transit advocates and public officials, Mayor de Blasio declined to fund a $50 million program for half-price MetroCards for low-income riders. The mayor has previously said the city could not afford the pilot program, and also shifted the responsibility for funding the program to the state, since Governor Cuomo oversees the MTA. As the Gothamist reported, a study released by the Community Service Society of New York and the Riders Alliance, the NYPD arrested 5,137 New Yorkers for fare evasion between January and mid-March of this year, 90 percent of whom were black or Latino.
Chart courtesy of the Community Service Society of New York and the Riders Alliance
Advocates say providing low-income riders with cheaper MetroCards would reduce the number of arrests the NYPD makes for jumping subway turnstiles. Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, the chair of the City Council Transportation Committee, pledged to continue fighting for these reduced subway fares.“For those that choose to jump the turnstile because they can’t afford a ride, they put themselves at risk of entering the criminal justice system, or, if undocumented, at risk of deportation,” Rodriguez said.
The “Transit Affordability Crisis” study (pdf) by the Community Service Society of New York and the Riders Alliance also found that more than a quarter of low-income New Yorkers were unable to afford transit fare at least once in 2015. Less fortunate New Yorkers depend on the transit system the most, according to the advocacy group, with 58 percent relying on subways and buses and just 15 percent relying on personal vehicles.
Council Member Rory Lancman from Queens announced legislation this week that would require the NYPD to regularly report data regarding fare evasion arrests and summonses, breaking down the numbers by race and by the subway station. He hopes the mayor will move low-level nonviolent offenses, like turnstile jumping, from criminal code to civil code. Lancman told Gothamist: “I think it will paint a very unflattering picture. Overwhelmingly fare evasion is a crime of poverty. People don’t risk arrest for not paying a couple dollars [for] fare, unless that couple dollars really means a lot to them.”
De Blasio had been adamant about the city not funding the council’s proposed program, and Freddi Goldstein, a spokeswoman for de Blasio, said in April: “This pilot program, like the original proposal, is a noble one, but the mayor has been very clear: the MTA is the responsibility of the state and they should consider funding the program.”
The MTA rolled out a pilot for a new initiative in February called the “Freedom Ticket,” which would connect bus, subway and Long Island Rail Road service under one ticket, making it more affordable for residents traveling from the outer boroughs. The agency also offers free fare to students, as well as the Access-A-Ride program, which provides transportation for people with disabilities.
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