SOUTH BRONX — Current prices for MetroCards are forcing straphangers to choose between riding the MTA and paying for essentials like food and health care, transit advocates and riders charged in a rally for lower fares on Wednesday morning.
Transit advocate group Riders Alliance launched its #FairFares tour at the 149th Street-Grand Concourse subway stop to urge the city to give low-income New Yorkers MetroCards for half their current prices.
Several commuters joined the group to share their own stories of difficulties affording rides on the MTA, including 60-year-old Marie Whalen, who said she suffers from a bad back but cannot always make it to her therapy or doctor's appointments because she does not always have enough money for a MetroCard.
"If they did it at half price, which it should be, it would make it a lot easier on us, and we’d be a lot more productive," she said, "because to me, it’s counterproductive. If you don’t have the money, you can’t go to the job. If you can’t go to the job, you can’t get the job."
MTA fares are currently $2.75 for a subway or local bus ride, $31 for a 7-day unlimited MetroCard and $116.50 for a 30-day unlimited MetroCard.
Cutting the fares in half would reduce them to roughly $1.37, $15.50 and $58.25, respectively.
"Riders shouldn’t have to make difficult calculations, walk long distances or forego meals just to get ahead," said Riders Alliance Campaign Manager Rebecca Bailin.
A recent report from the Community Service Society found that more than one in four poor New Yorkers said they often could not afford bus or subway fare and that transit expenses can often exceed 10 percent of their family budgets.
Roughly 800,000 riders would be eligible for half-price fares for low-income New Yorkers, the report found.
"Even though they may have a lot of free activities in New York City, how do you get there if you can't afford the ride?" asked Jasmin Jaquez, a 52-year-old Bronxite who said she also struggles to attend family events and visit her 76-year-old mother thanks to MTA prices.
Although the MTA is a state-run organization, Riders Alliance is pressuring Mayor Bill de Blasio to take action on reducing the fares, maintaining that it could be done through social services in New York City.
The Mayor's office said that they had committed $2.5 billion to the MTA last year and that the Riders Alliance proposal would need to be analyzed within the context of the city's budget.
The price of running the mass transit system for New York continues to rise, and while it costs $15 billion per year to operate, fares bring in just $8 billion in revenue per year, according to MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz.
Riders Alliance will travel to subway and bus stops serving low-income neighborhoods throughout the city to promote its campaign and garner support.
"Right now, we have riders who can’t even get on the subway and bus, which means that we have a whole community of New Yorkers who can’t get to work, who can't access economic opportunity, who can't get to medical care and who can't take advantage of New York City's culture," Bailin said, "but it doesn't actually have to be that way."