Fair Fares supporters stage fake ‘meet the mayor’ event after de Blasio snub

Advocate Alex Low serves as a stand-in for Mayor Bill de Blasio at an event outside City Hall on Sunday calling on the city to fund Fair Fares.
Advocate Alex Low serves as a stand-in for Mayor Bill de Blasio at an event outside City Hall on Sunday calling on the city to fund Fair Fares. Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz-Gordon

New York City’s mayor wouldn’t show, so advocates brought their own.

Supporters of Fair Fares, a proposal to institute half-fare MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers, staged a fake “meet the mayor” event with a stand-in mayor outside City Hall on Sunday.

The move came after Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office failed to respond to a recent request for a meeting to discuss funding the policy and as the de Blasio administration works to finalize the city’s next fiscal budget.

“If [de Blasio] heard us, if you heard low-income New Yorkers explain that we’re jumping turnstiles, skipping meals, begging for swipes or walking long distances just so they can get to where they need to go . . . maybe if he heard these stories face-to-face, he would understand that low-income New Yorkers can’t wait,” said Rebecca Bailin, campaign manager at Riders Alliance, which began advocating for Fair Fares alongside the Community Service Society of New York in 2016.

The proposal aims to reduce inequality in New York by improving mobility for those struggling to afford MetroCards, which cost $121 for a monthly pass. Advocates estimate that the proposal would cost the city $212 million annually and could be available to as many as 800,000 residents who live at or below the federal poverty line.

Park Slope resident Alex Low stood in for de Blasio at the event along Broadway, shaking hands of attendees and listening to those who said they’ve had to sacrifice meals for MetroCard swipes or risk arrest by jumping turnstiles. Low opted for a gray suit instead of de Blasio’s preferred blue, though he wore a button over his lapel reading “Mr. Mayor” and some tourists walking by did a double take.

“I’ve been a big supporter of the mayor’s agenda for a number of years,” Low said. “But I’m also a supporter of Riders Alliance. This is about real opportunity and how we can create equal opportunities for everyday New Yorkers.”

Mohamad Addia, co-director of the Street Vendor Project, joined other groups like the Bronx Defenders and Picture the Homeless on Sunday to call on the mayor to fund Fair Fares in the city’s $89 billion budget.

“There are about 20,000 street vendors in the city and the majority of them are low-income,” Addia said. “I know people who cannot afford to get on the subway whenever they need to and instead choose to walk 30 to 40 blocks every day to save that transit fee, which is just ridiculous and so unfair for these people.”

Fair Fares has gained widespread support among advocacy groups and elected officials in the City Council. Corey Johnson, the council’s speaker, has made the policy a top priority during this year’s budget negotiations.

“The mayor has said he wants New York to be the fairest major city in the country and has proclaimed himself a leader on income inequality,” Johnson wrote in a recent opinion piece he co-authored in The New York Times. “It’s time to make good on those words, and make the turnstile the gateway, instead of the barrier, to progress.”

So far, the mayor has refused to budge. De Blasio has said Fair Fares has merit but the state should be responsible for its funding. He included the policy in his millionaire’s tax proposal to fund transit, though the plan would require state lawmakers’ support.

“The mayor proposed a plan for fair fares that would send the bill to the wealthiest New Yorkers, rather than forcing another state responsibility onto riders and low-income New Yorkers who pay into the city’s general fund,” Eric Phillips, a mayoral spokesman, said in an email.