BOROUGHWIDE — A City Councilmember’s proposal to eliminate transit fares and let passengers ride the city’s subways and buses for free is an idea that should be on the express track, according to the leader of Black Lives Matter Brooklyn, who said he thinks the government can afford it.
“I have worked out the figures and it can happen once we prioritize the budget to reflect the people and not pandering for vote projects by the governor, mayor and City Council speaker,” Black Lives Matter President Anthony Beckford told the Eagle in an email on Feb. 14.
Three days earlier, Councilmember Mark Treyger, a Democrat representing Coney Island, Gravesend and parts of Bensonhurst, introduced a resolution in the council that got people talking.
Treyger’s resolution calls on the MTA to institute a Free Fares for All program that would let passengers ride for free.
In a statement issued Feb. 11, Treyger contended that his plan is financially feasible.
“In a state budget approaching $180 billion, why isn’t mass transit free?” he said.
Beckford, who said Black Lives Matter Brooklyn has been advocating for free transit for New Yorkers for years, added that such a system would bring about an end to arrests for fare evasion, which, in his view, unfairly target people of color.
“It’s just like Stop-and-Frisk,” Beckford said.
Treyger’s proposal comes at a time when the NYPD is stepping up enforcement of fare beaters and turnstile jumpers.
In November, hundreds of protesters demonstrated against the NYPD’s fare evasion crackdown by entering the Hoyt–Schermerhorn Street subway station and jumping the turnstiles.
Treyger cited NYPD statistics which found that an astounding 90 percent of the suspects who were arrested for fare evasion in 2018 were people of color.
“In a budget of $180 billion, no one should go to jail over $2.75, just like no one goes to jail for skipping an EZ Pass toll,” he said.
But the MTA immediately poured cold water on Treyger’s proposal.
The free ride plan isn’t workable, according to MTA Communications Director Tim Minton, who said the money generated by bus and subway fares helps keep the entire transit system up and running.
“Farebox revenue from subways and buses yields more than $4.8 billion annually and accounts for a significant portion of the MTA’s operating budget, which is already strained to the bone. Any serious proposal on this matter would have identified alternate sources of funding for the system that serves as the lifeblood of New York city’s economy,” Minton told the Eagle in an email.
Treyger’s resolution is non-binding, meaning that the council doesn’t have the power to implement free rides, only to suggest it
But the idea should be seriously considered, Beckford said.