Andrew Yang pitches fare-free week on transit; MTA tells him to write them a check

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Andrew Yang at the corner of 110th Street and Central Park West on March 9.
Photo by Mark Hallum

Andrew Yang would like the MTA to coax riders back the subways and buses this summer with a week without fare collection in order to begin the recovery, but the MTA isn’t quite on board.

The mayoral hopeful noted the 60-degree weather on the corner of 110th Street and Central Park West in pitching his Memorial Day proposal that he believes will get New Yorkers going back to Coney Island and the Rockaways as the COVID-19 pandemic ebbs into the pages of history with the introduction of vaccines.

“It’s spring now, two and a half months from now, it’s going to be Memorial Day weekend, and we have to already start thinking about how we’re going to send a signal that New York City is back and open for business this summer. We all ride the subway and can see very clearly that subway ridership is down. And that’s not good for anyone,” Yang said. ”Let’s remember all of the incredible things about New York City, and this will even be an impetus for a lot of the organizations right now that will be on the verge of deciding whether to reopen their offices… this will be a fantastic occasion for them to say hey let’s come back to the office.”

Whether or not the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which just spent the last year on the financial skids, is game for such a free-for-all is another matter entirely.

“If Andrew Yang can write us a check or get the philanthropic or private support to fund this approximately $30 million initiative, we will gladly consider it,” said MTA spokesperson Andrei Berman. “The MTA is committed to leading New York’s recovery just as we have carried New York forward through the pandemic.”

Yang believes that by Memorial Day more than half of all New Yorkers will be vaccinated with the potential of driving a revival in the tourism industry that supports about 300,000 workers. If the city can attract approximately 60 million visitors per year, there would be a faster economic recovery.

“Do you think that there are folks who’ve been outside of New York, who might come back in and they hear that the subway is free for a week and that if they come in they can go explore the city they can get out, check out a neighborhood get back in the subway, and then take it another few stops?” Yang said.

But Yang is relatively confident the state agency will accept the proposal.

“I believe that the folks at the MTA will take a look at it and say, ‘Hey, this is a great idea. We should totally do this,'” Yang said in the Q&A portion of the press conference. “Hopefully when we have this on the news tonight they will look up and say, ‘That’s tremendous idea.'”

By Yang’s estimate, this would cost the MTA about $35 million – a small fraction of the $10 billion in federal aid coming their way in the American Rescue Act. The MTA said fare revenue for last week was about $28 million.