A needed break (Mendez)
Fully abiding by a 2008 bailout compact — which we consider written in stone — MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast is seeking biennial fare and toll hikes pegged to inflation, which is under 4%.
Good going, Tom. Now, keep up your end of the bargain and see to it that service improves for all straphangers.
Still, any increase is a tough pill for New Yorkers to swallow, with incomes flat and costs of living rising.
That’s all the more true for those among us who live in poverty and bear the brunt of every increase — not only because they’ve got less money in their pockets to begin with, stretched thinner still by rent and other bills, but because the way MTA fares are structured benefits the better off.
Which is why the time has come to cut the fare dramatically for the lowest-income New Yorkers.
More precisely, the city should, as proposed by the anti-poverty non-profit Community Service Society and the Riders Alliance, step up and subsidize a half-fare MetroCard for people at or below the federal poverty line: $11,880 for a single adult or $24,300 for a family of four.
That focused benefit, for which some 800,000 New Yorkers would qualify, would cost roughly $200 million annually.
The tapped-out MTA is open to the idea, provided the city foots the bill. A majority of the City Council and Controller Scott Stringer thinks it a wise investment. Mayor de Blasio, who wants a fairer city and decries the barriers to full economic participation that keep too many New Yorkers on the outside looking in, should find the money.
The $116.50, 30-day unlimited MetroCards (likely rising soon to $121) and $2.75 base fare take an especially large chunk out of small family budgets, already crowded out by rent, groceries, heating and water bills and the like.
The subway and bus system’s best fare deal is an unlimited pass. But it’s a hefty sum that the poor, living paycheck to paycheck, simply cannot afford. They more often than not have to dig deep and settle for a single-ride ticket, with no bus/subway transfer, at $3 a pop.
Cutting fares in half would save the average family $700 a year.
Before you howl about a special carveout: a host of programs already take the edge off the fare, usually for middle-class workers and above.
The MTA has issued more than a million half-fare MetroCards for persons 65 and older, regardless of income (including a guy named Mike Bloomberg), as well as for people receiving Medicare disability or Supplemental Security Income benefits.
Those with a steady job can use pre-tax income to buy MetroCards. The U.S. Treasury absorbs most of the loss.
Nobody looks out for the poorest of the poor, who have to get to second and third jobs, and job interviews, and more. Which is why a number of cities, from Seattle to Boston, are moving in the direction of means-tested low-cost rides.
Administration would be tied in with existing city and state databases, making it relatively easy to verify income levels. A photo ID would ensure that only the intended rider gets the benefit.
In today’s New York, mobility is economic mobility. Give the poor a foothold so they can climb the ladder.