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At his State of the City address in February, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “Threats to our democracy are growing across the nation and it's our mission to define what a fair and just society looks like, to show it through our deeds and in our everyday lives."

Now the mayor has a chance to put those words into action—an opportunity to improve the lives of low-wage workers by making it easier for them to get to their jobs without putting their finances in danger.

A quarter of working-age poor New Yorkers—those with an annual income of $12,752 for a single person or $19,749 for a family of three—regularly cannot afford bus and subway fares.

On top of juggling the rising cost of rent, health care, child care and food for their families, New Yorkers in low-wage industries should not have to struggle to pay for travel to and from work. For some families, transit expenses can eat up over 10% of their household budget.

This hits blacks, immigrants and women—who are disproportionately represented in low-income jobs and reliant on public transit—hardest. A third of working-age women in poverty say they struggle to pay bus and subway fare.

A rapidly growing coalition is calling on de Blasio to include “fair fares” in the 2019 executive budget. It would cover the cost of half-fares for city residents’ aged 18 to 64 in households at or below the poverty line. Other riders already get a break on transit costs: People who are at least 65 years old or have a disability pay $1.35 per ride or less, students can get three free trips on school days and commuters get pre-tax benefits that are worth the most to employees with high incomes. Yet low-income New Yorkers pay full price for MetroCards. Fair fares could save 800,000 of them $700 a year.

The campaign now has the support of more than 70 economic justice, transit, labor, legal and social-service groups throughout the city including my own organization, ALIGN. Council Speaker Corey Johnson and more than 50 other elected officials are on board. It’s high time the mayor gets behind this proposal too.

If the mayor is serious about making New York the country’s fairest big city, this is an important step, one that cities including San Francisco and Seattle have already taken. Existing law allows the mayor to secure discounted fares for a class of riders as long as the city covers the costs—without a fight in Albany.


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