De Blasio says responsibility for funding should fall on state, not city
By Michael Garofalo
A months-long campaign to include over $200 million in the city’s 2018 budget to fund half-priced MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers appears to have fallen short, prompting “fair fares” advocates to refocus their short-term efforts on a more modest transit subsidy proposal.
City council members called for a $50 million pilot program to fund half-priced MetroCards for low-income residents in their response to the Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget. The pilot program is a pared down version of an earlier $212 million plan that would have covered each of the roughly 800,000 New Yorkers living at or below the poverty level, which was staunchly opposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
De Blasio has consistently maintained that he supports the concept of a fare subsidy, but believes the burden of funding such a program should fall on the state and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who controls MTA board appointments, rather than the city.
The lower cost of the city council’s pilot plan did little to soften the stance of de Blasio, who is scheduled to submit his executive budget to the council by April 26. “The 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,” de Blasio spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein said in a statement, adding that the city already contributes $60 million annually in subsidized fares for elderly, disabled, and student riders.
The MTA board voted to raise fares for weekly and monthly MetroCards in January, but kept the base transit fare of $2.75 in place. The push to secure subsidized fares for low-income New Yorkers gained considerable support in recent months from city lawmakers including Public Advocate Letitia James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and a number of city council members, including Ben Kallos, Margaret Chin, Mark Levine, and Ydanis Rodriguez, who chairs the council’s transportation committee.
The pilot plan touted by Rodriguez would fund half-priced MetroCards over the next fiscal year for an as-yet-unspecified subset of New Yorkers living below the federal poverty level, which is approximately $24,000 for a family of four. The City Council suggested that the $50 million program could fund subsidized fares for more than 70,000 low-income CUNY students, but said it could alternatively target other populations, such as the homeless, veterans, or welfare recipients. The plan calls for funding to increase to $100 million in fiscal year 2019, and then increase again in fiscal year 2020 to subsidize fares for the full 800,000 New Yorkers covered in the original proposal.