Don’t Fix the MTA’s Budget Problems Off the Backs of  Those Who Can Least Afford It

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The MTA recently announced it would delay increasing transit fares for “several” months. According to MTA Chairman Pat Foye, this decision was made because “people are suffering and cannot shoulder even a modest fare increase right now.”

Of course, Foye is correct– those who rely on the subway, or on the MTA’s buses and Access-A-Ride, cannot afford an increase in their daily expenses. With hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers still out of work, and with economic insecurity at its highest levels in recent memory, now is not the time to ask those who depend on public transportation to pay more.

But “several months” from now also won’t be the time. Later this year, New Yorkers will still be struggling, as they were long before the COVID pandemic. We should not be asking New York families and those on fixed incomes to shore up the MTA’s finances, when there are more practical and more equitable ways to do so. Instead, the federal government must continue to provide additional funding for the MTA, and our state’s ultra-wealthy must pay their fair share.

Elections have consequences, and thankfully, New York’s future looks a little bit more hopeful than it did before November. One of the reasons countless New Yorkers campaigned so hard for Democrats to gain control of the White House and Senate was to make sure the federal government would invest in the things we care about, such as public transportation. One of the reasons our party worked so hard to gain a supermajority in the New York State Senate was to make sure we could enact progressive legislation at the state level.

Now that Congress has allocated billions to help the MTA address its fiscal challenges, and will likely allocate more, the ball is now in the state legislature’s court. If the Assembly and State Senate can ensure the MTA has the funding it needs, the MTA can take fare increases off the table, this year and into the future.

Here are the facts: New York City has more billionaires than any other city in the world and more than almost every country in the world. The reason New York attracts so many extremely wealthy people is because New York works so well for them. During the pandemic, for instance, New York City billionaires saw their net wealth increase by over $80 billion– nearly five times the annual operating budget of the MTA. Despite fears last year that the wealthy would permanently abandon New York, there has been no exodus, despite COVID. 

By contrast, this pandemic has laid bare how difficult life can be for those who live paycheck to paycheck, and who are one life catastrophe from financial ruin. The thousands of New Yorkers who work in hospitality, in the arts, and in other industries hit particularly hard by COVID need all the assistance New York can give them as we claw our way back. As the unemployed and underemployed struggle to get back on their feet, we need to find every avenue to give them a helping hand, and not penalize them for the state’s financial woes.

Like all of us, the wealthiest New Yorkers want their City to bounce back. This is their opportunity to help make it happen.

Abigail Martin is a social worker and an adjunct professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work and a candidate for City Council in City Council District 11. Her website is abigail4thebronx.com. 

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