Mayor de Blasio should fund half-price MetroCards

A commuter slides a MetroCard  through the turnstile.
A commuter slides a MetroCard through the turnstile. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

When Bill de Blasio campaigned for mayor in 2013, he spoke often of his desire to focus on the most needy New Yorkers and issues like affordability.

Five years later, he has the perfect opportunity to put money where his progressive mouth has always been. The City Council’s budget includes a “fair fares” proposal that would provide half-price MetroCards for 800,000 city residents who live at or below the federal poverty line — $25,100 for a family of four — and for veterans enrolled in NYC colleges. The nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission backs the idea, saying it can be responsibly funded.

And yet, de Blasio has hedged. He supports the concept, but says the only way to fund a “fair fares” plan is through his oft-derided “millionaires tax.” Never mind that such a tax requires State Legislature approval — and there’s little to no chance of that happening. Never mind that the cost of a half-price MetroCard program, about $212 million annually, represents less than half of 1 percent of the city budget, which has annual expenditures near $90 billion. Never mind that de Blasio has said time and again that City Hall’s priority should be making NYC more affordable. That’s exactly what this program would do.

The city already helps subsidize MetroCards for seniors and students, and partially funds the MTA’s Access-A-Ride service for disabled residents. The city subsidizes housing, and de Blasio describes his oft-touted ferry system as a way to connect New Yorkers in need. The precedent is there.

City residents depend on the subways and buses to get to work. College and graduate students need mass transit to get to school. It’s critical to the city’s economy and to our way of life.

And yet, for many, fares take a significant chunk out of every paycheck. A monthly MetroCard costs $121, a price likely to rise next year.

De Blasio can talk about making the city more affordable, or he can actually make the city more affordable.

He should stop stalling.