BY GABRIELE HOLTERMANN
Now that the MTA has put its fare increase plans on ice for the time-being, transit advocates are calling for the restoration of 24-hour subway service, and a statewide tax increase to generate funding for the cash-strapped transit system.
At a Tuesday rally outside the MTA’s Financial District headquarters, members of the Riders Alliance pushed for these changes and others to help the city recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and encourage greater ridership.
Stephanie Burgos-Veras of Riders Alliance felt it was important to keep the pressure on the MTA and Governor Cuomo.
“We are extremely happy that they are listening to us and understand that this is not the time to raise the fares. But we also understand that they are postponing; they are not canceling,” Burgos-Veras said. “What we are here to say is, they need to cancel the fare hikes because the effects that people are facing right now will not get better in two or three months. It will take 2 or 3 years for things to get better.”
Advocates demanded that Governor Andrew Cuomo come up with progressive solutions to finance the nation’s largest public transit system instead of a fare hike that would burden on working-class subway riders who are already faced with financial hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Manhattan Assemblymember Harvey Epstein advocated increasing taxes on the wealthy, especially on the 119 billionaires, which went up from 115 during the pandemic, who call New York State home.
“The reality is, we see people struggling every day,” Epstein said. “We see tenant after tenant not being able to pay their rent. But we see billionaires doing just fine. But the federal government has decided to cut their taxes.”
Additionally, the coalition of activist organizations demanded that overnight subway service be restored after it had been shut down between 1 to 5 a.m. nightly for disinfection in May 2020, leaving essential workers and working-class New Yorkers who work overnight scrambling for transportation alternatives.
Karen Hamilton, a transit advocate with Riders Alliance from Jamaica, Queens, urged Cuomo to reinstate overnight service and was glad that the rally wasn’t a 5 a.m. event. She explained, “I would have had to leave around 1 am, walk 12 minutes from my house in southeast Queens to take a bus to Flushing. Transfer to the Long Island Railroad, and then take two busses.”
She emphasized that the commute she highlighted was the reality for many essential workers.
“It is ironic that the people who ensure New York City residents have healthcare, food, and other important services, travel upwards to three hours to reach work during overnight hours,” Hamilton added.
Zach Arcidiacono, Division Chair of TWU Local 100, reminded everyone that his colleagues are also essential workers who keep the city moving during this crisis, providing services for those who do not have the privilege of telecommuting, the working class.
“This working class can not afford a 4% fare hike or 40% service cuts. Now, we got some good news last night. Pat Foye and the MTA board have committed to postponing any fare hike until the summer,” he said. “But that is not enough. The people need a fare freeze until the end of the COVID pandemic and recession.”
Arcidiacono thinks that MTA is kicking the “can down the road,” and he hopes that they are coming up with a longer-term plan. He said, “This COVID pandemic, the recession, the depression that came out of it, that is not going to end by the summer. Let’s be real. If we don’t stay vigilant, if we don’t stay on top of this, I think we can very well see a fare hike come summertime.”
But he was also hopeful and saw an ally in Senator Chuck Schumer once he becomes Majority Leader of the Senate. He added, “I think the political constellation in Washington is that maybe the funding will be there as long as we have the political will in Albany and here with the MTA to see it through.”
UPDATE: After this story went live, MTA Chief Communications Officer Abbey Collins reached out to us with the following statement: “As the advocates know, the fare increase has been postponed for the time being and the overnight shutdown remains in place as we battle the deadliest pandemic in a century. We’re laser-focused on our customers’ and colleagues’ health and safety, which is why we have undertaken an aggressive disinfecting program that is supported by more than 75% of our customers. We’re focused on results and we’ll leave the theatrics to the advocates.”