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How Subsidized Transit Fare Can Help NYC’s Working Poor

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A new report says reduced fare will help low income New Yorkers succeed

Millions of New Yorkers rely on public transit every day, but for some it's more of an expense than they can manage—and the cost just keeps going up. In 2015, the price of a single ride rose from $2.50 to $2.75. A monthly MetroCard now costs $116.50. A new report issued by the Community Service Society of New York and highlighted by CityLab proposes something that other major global cities like San Francisco and London already have: reduced fair for the working poor.

In the report, CSSNY lays out a case for half-priced fair built on the reality that when low-income New Yorkers struggle to pay public transportation fares, it limits their access to resources like medical care and inhibits them from looking for or accepting jobs farther from where they live, limiting their upward mobility. CSSNY proposes halving MetroCard fares for the working poor. Instead of $2.75, a single ride would cost $1.35.

Similar programs are already in place in New York City for seniors and qualifying disabled residents irrespective of their financial need. Public school students in grades K through 12 also receive complimentary unlimited MetroCards each semester.

By raising the cost of the MetroCard in 2015, the MTA aimed to offset some of its overhead and massive debt. So how can reduced fare for riders in need be feasible? CSSNY proposes raising the state gas tax or extending the state's tax on millionaires. But the coauthor of the report, Nancy Rankin, thinks it could be simpler than all that. At an estimated cost of $78 million in its first year, and $194 million the year after, Rankin thinks the city, with its $80 billion operating budget, can probably find $200 million in there for the program.

After all it would, in the long term, benefit the whole city. Rankin sums it up, "[T]he turnstile should be the gateway, not the barrier, to economic opportunity."