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City Should Subsidize Half-Price MetroCards for Poor New Yorkers: Advocates

By Danielle Tcholakian | February 13, 2017 4:46pm
 Advocates and elected officials rallied outside City Hall in support of subsidized MetroCards for the city's poor.
Advocates and elected officials rallied outside City Hall in support of subsidized MetroCards for the city's poor.
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DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian

CIVIC CENTER — Mayor Bill de Blasio should use city funds to subsidize half-price subway and bus fares for low-income New Yorkers, City Council members and advocates said Monday.

The move is estimated to cost $200 million a year — a "relatively small" figure, noted de Blasio's appointee to the MTA board, Community Service Society President David Jones, who spoke at a rally on the steps of City Hall and testified at a subsequent City Council hearing on the issue.

In his testimony, Jones noted that he checked with the Human Resources Administration, and confirmed that the city already has infrastructure in place that would allow such a plan to be implemented.

"We already have a unique system in New York, which would make this seamless," Jones said. 

He also pointed out problems with the way the city currently helps poor people, such as a MetroCard hand-out that's only given to people who are jobless.

"It's interesting that when they do get work, then they lose the subsidy," Jones said. "It doesn't really hit the working poor. Once we get people off public assistance, we don't supply them with a needed benefit."

A volunteer with advocacy group Riders Alliance, Norma Ginez, spoke alongside Jones about her struggles as an unemployed single mother of three girls.

"I want to start searching for a job, but after expenses, I can't afford [to]," she said. "Sometimes I have to choose between MetroCards and buying a snack for my girls."

Jones was one of several people at the rally and the hearing who criticized the city's plans to subsidize ferry service and create a $2.5 billion BQX streetcar for riders with "a lot of money to pay for two fares."

Council members and public speakers pushed for the city to foot the bill for the subsidies, but a mayoral spokeswoman said the burden should be Gov. Andrew Cuomo's.

"The proposal is a noble one, but it would create a substantial financial burden for New York City.  As New Yorkers know, the MTA is the responsibility of the state. They should consider covering the cost," City Hall spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein said.

Goldstein noted the city already provides nearly $1 billion annually in direct subsidies and an additional $4.3 billion in indirect annual subsidies to support the MTA, and last year committed an unprecedented $2.5 billion toward the agency's capital plan.

Cuomo's office directed inquiries to the MTA, which has repeatedly said the city should foot the bill.

“The MTA always tries to keep fares as low as possible and still provide safe, reliable service. The MTA already makes a substantial commitment to low-income City riders, including $625 million annually MTA spends to subsidize services primarily available for NYC-only residents (such as elderly, paratransit and schoolchildren)," said MTA spokeswoman Beth de Falco Monday.

At the last MTA board meeting, former chairman Tom Prendergast said that "social services are rightly the role of municipalities in caring for their residents" and not the role of the MTA.

The finger-pointing comes amid a New York Daily News report that Cuomo's recent budget proposal includes cuts to MTA funding.

After the hearing, Jones expressed frustration with the city and state's back-and-forth.

"If [the city] wants to shift the cost to the state, have they made a demand? I don’t think they have, other than as a throwaway [comment]. Why not start a negotiation?" Jones said. "You can’t just toss off and say, 'Oh, the state should do it.' You have to make a demand, and let them say no."