- New York City will offer half-priced metro cards for low-income residents under a budget deal announced Monday.
- The reduced fares will be available for individuals and families below the federal poverty line — roughly $12,000 a year for an individual and $25,000 for a family of four — and is expected to cover 800,000 New Yorkers.
- The city’s budget will devote $106 million for six months of subsidized bus and train fares starting in January, with more funding expected in future budgets.
The "Fair Fares" program is expected to save riders an average of more than $700 a year, according to Bloomberg. A 2016 report by the Community Service Society makes the case for helping low-income residents get cheaper fares, noting that 58% of the city’s poor rely on subways and buses and are disproportionately hit by fare increases.
The study also found that poor residents are more likely than other groups to say they have missed appointments or have not been able to look for a job farther away from home because of transit costs. Many of the poor could not even purchase monthly or seven-day passes that reduce the per-trip cost, because of the higher up-front cost.
The fare cards will help reduce those barriers for the city’s poor, while increasing ridership. The effort follows similar moves by London and Seattle; San Francisco is also weighing a subsidy for low-income residents, although it would apply to those with incomes at less than 200% of the federal poverty level. Paris has even studied whether to make transit free for all citizens, while Estonia has rolled out such an initiative nationwide.
While there are obvious benefits, the trouble comes in funding. Mayor Bill de Blasio had wanted subsidized fares to be covered by a tax on high-income earners, but funding will instead come from the city’s budget for the time being. A similar proposal was considered last year, but ultimately fell apart over whether the city or state should cover the program. City leaders said they hoped to work with the state to find a more permanent funding source beyond the initial six months, and de Blasio said at an event that he has not given up on a "millionaire's tax" to help pay for subway tickets and repairs.
Seattle offers a potential model — it funds its ORCALIFT subsidy program by raising fares on some other riders, including those who use paratransit. But cities must find a way to balance increasing ridership among low-income residents who need transit, without significantly raising costs or stretching already-thin budgets.