City council wants more New Yorkers to get discounted subway rides

The City Council is pushing a massive $55 million expansion of a program that funds half-price transit fares for poor New Yorkers – as fare evasion continues to skyrocket.

Speaker Adrienne Adams wants to expand the city’s “Fair Fares” program so that half-off subway and bus fares would be available to 650,000 more residents of the five boroughs, as an estimated 325,000 already get the discount.

“The rising cost of housing, childcare and food is making it difficult for working families to stay in the city they love and build their legacies right here,” Adams said during a press conference Tuesday.

MTA raised fares last August, the first increase in the base subway and bus fare since 2015. Getty Images

Adams said many New Yorkers struggle to even afford even a one-way fare after a price hike kicked in last August.

This latest expansion push comes just one year after the Fair Fares program was last expanded. To be eligible for the program now, applicants would have to be at 120% of the federal poverty level or less. The expansion would increase that number 200%, just a year after it was hiked from 100%.

Although advocates pushed Fair Fares, which launched in 2019, as a program that could provide relief to the fare evasion crisis, it hasn’t helped slow down fare jumpers.

Nearly $700 million in revenue was lost to fare jumpers in 2022 alone. That included $315 million lost in bus fares, $285 million in subway fares, $46 million in bridge and tunnel tolls and $44 million in railroad fares, according to a 2023 PCAC report on fare evasion.

The same report said that more than half of fare evaders are skipping out by simply walking through the emergency exit gates. Another 20% of fare evaders jump or climb over the turnstile.

The largest spike in fare evasion is typically from 3 to 4 p.m. when schools let out, with smaller spikes during the morning rush hour, according to the report. Students are already given free transit passes.

Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala said many fare evaders are just low-income New Yorkers trying to get around in a city that keeps hiking the cost of public transport.

“With minimum wage at nearly $16 an hour in our city, paying nearly $6 to go and from work can be a heavy burden on New Yorkers. A reduced fare provides much-needed relief for low-income New Yorkers bearing the brunt of our affordability crisis,” Ayala said.

Meanwhile, the cost of a ride continues to go up.

After pausing its biannual fare hikes during the pandemic, MTA raised the cost of a single ride on MTA’s subway system by 25 cents to $3.25.

To ride an MTA-chauffeured bus one time, a rider must pay $3.25, also up 25 cents.

Straphangers looking for frequent rider deals weren’t spared from the MTA’s price hikes. A 7-day unlimited MetroCard rose $1 to $34 last summer, and a 30-day unlimited pass increased by $5 to $132.

Even on public transportation it can cost as much as $6 to get to and from work in New York City. J.C. Rice

The $55 million expansion would put the Big Apple more in line with programs in other large metropolitan U.S. cities, according to a report from the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA.

The federal poverty level changes based on the size of a person’s household. For example, for a one-person household the federal poverty level is $15,060. For a four-person household, the federal poverty level is $31,200.

Of the 10 most populous U.S. cities with discounted public transit fare programs, New York City has both the highest poverty rate and the lowest income threshold, according to PCAC.

Most cities offer half-off fares for people living at 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

New York City has both the highest poverty rate and the lowest income threshold among large cities with discounted public transportation programs, according to PCAC. jovannig –

Denver comes in just ahead of New York City. It offers fare discounts to people living at 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

Los Angeles is the most generous city for discounted fares. It offers 20 free rides per month to people making 300 percent or less of the federal poverty level. 

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