Whether you were ready or not, subway and bus fares went up on Sunday.
You may not have even realized. Maybe you missed the poster at your local subway exit. Maybe you cleverly (or luckily) filled up your card last week. Or maybe the increases won’t break your bank: An extra dollar for a 7-day unlimited or $4.50 more for the monthly unlimited card. The single-ride fare remains the same at $2.75, but the bonus for putting more than $5.50 on a pay-per-ride card was cut to five percent, down from 11 percent.
These increases are fairly digestible for New Yorkers with steady jobs, those with regular hours and travel that make the unlimited card workable. Many of those same commuters have employers required by city law to offer programs to use pre-tax dollars to buy MetroCards, which can result in hundreds of dollars in savings.
The increase is more onerous, though, for lower-income New Yorkers, and a few groups have been sounding the alarm about the new fares this week on behalf of that constituency.
Less than one percent of rides are paid for with disposable single swipe cards, so the iconic base fare staying the same doesn’t necessarily help most New Yorkers.
A 46 percent plurality of swipes are paid for by the lump-sum payment options — whose bonuses are getting cheaper — with the 7-day unlimited fare accounting for another 23 percent. Those options are the two most popular modes for individuals with income below $28,000, according to MTA research.
The price keeps ticking up for those people, without aid from government or employers, sometimes reaching the level of a real hardship.
This is part of the argument that advocacy groups Riders Alliance and the Community Service Society are using to push for a subsidized MetroCard, potentially paid for by some $200 million in city funds. Those groups and a number of City Council members used the fare increases as an excuse to rally once more for the half-fare proposal, which has been called “noble” by Mayor Bill de Blasio even as he says it should be paid for by the state, which largely controls the MTA.
Even more direct: activists continued their Swipe It Forward campaign this week, which encourages New Yorkers with unlimited MetroCards to swipe in fellow New Yorkers when they exit the subway. It’s free for you, and entirely legal as long as you don’t accept payment. According to proponents, it can also keep people from getting a summons if they resort to a turnstile hop, alleviating some of the tougher pressures of Broken Windows policing.
On Monday, a group of Swipe it Forward campaigners congregated above Bed-Stuy’s Utica Avenue A train, preparing signs and assigning roles as swipers, MetroCard fillers, chanters. Some of them explained the Swipe It Forward concept to curious passersby, who may not have been aware of swipe-sharing’s legality.
In the station, though, there were multiple would-be straphangers already asking for a swipe from people exiting, not having time to wait for the activists and their free swipes.
One, who gave his name as Snoop Chad, said he sometimes got fed up with the rising cost.
He said he was in the process of obtaining, fingers crossed, a job at a liquor store wholesaler that a friend had turned him onto. But he said transportation costs really added up when he worked jobs that paid minimum wage or even $15 an hour.
Chad, 23, said that at the moment he was in a program to curtail marijuana use and anger issues. He held up a card with two pre-paid rides already loaded onto it that he’d received for attending. He said sometimes, if he knew he had to go somewhere soon, he’d save a swipe on the card and try to ask for one instead. But it wasn’t easy for him to do.
“I got pride,” he said. It seemed true from the way he asked for the swipe in the end — quietly, next to the emergency exit, almost whispering from the wrong side of the turnstiles. That experience was a far cry from those with plenty of funds packed onto their cards who sped past him onto waiting trains, their citywide movement not constrained by real or perceived poverty.
But eventually it worked, and somebody exiting the station let Chad in, bound back home for Manhattan.