The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is going on the attack against its poor and working class riders. With the public transportation system desperately looking to pay for its mammoth debt, estimated in 2017 at $34 billion, a new MTA campaign warns subway “fare evaders” that if they don’t pay the fare, they’ll be subject to arrest or fine. “We’re stepping up fare evasion enforcement” one ad says. Another ad passive-aggressively reads, “We’d rather your $2.75 fare than your $100 fine.”
The MTA conveniently fails to remind riders that the $2.75 fare has shot up by 38 percent in the past decade. Although the minimum wage in New York has increased to $15/hour, popularized by the campaigning work of Socialist Alternative, workers’ victories to raise wages have generally been outpaced by the overall increase in the cost of living, especially skyrocketing rent. Many working people and those on public assistance simply don’t have the cash to pay for food and rent before covering the MTA’s ongoing fare increases.
“We’re stepping up fare evasion enforcement”
According to MTA officials, fare evasion rose by 0.9 percent between 2017 and 2018. According to them, total fare evasion has doubled since 2011, costing the MTA an estimated $225 million in lost revenue. Revenue is key to fixing the underinvested subway. However, Governor Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic-led political establishment, and MTA officials – afraid of confronting their Wall Street backers to ask for higher taxes – are instead threatening the very same struggling working people and unemployed who can’t afford to pay for mass transportation.
This is not the first time the MTA has blamed riders for its own problems. Recently, a Cuomo-appointed MTA board member suggested public shaming for turnstile jumpers. In recent years, MTA officials have repeated the mantra that delays are caused by people holding the doors. While that’s a real and frustrating phenomenon, serious delays are often caused by the maintenance of the archaic system, cutting frequencies of different lines, and inadequacy of dealing with normal situations such as minor technical problems, or a sick person on a train (which can cause compounding delays on succeeding trains and connecting lines).
In an attempt to stem rising anger at higher fares, the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced the “Fair Fares” program in June 2018, designed to provide low-income riders with half-price rides. While this is a step forward, it has been rolled out extremely slowly and at the moment is very selective. The program helps tens of thousands of New Yorkers, but doesn’t address the overall crisis of public transit in the city.
The MTA would rather plough resources into threatening ads, 500 additional police officers, and potential new video monitoring, rather than improving a dysfunctional system and reducing fares so buses and subways can again become affordable for workers. Every medium-size to large subway station is now reinforced by very visible groups of police officers. This is not merely a financial question. This video shows the method of social control particularly deployed on black and brown riders, as a man who evaded a $2.75 subway fare has been pepper sprayed, handcuffed, and brought to the ground by a large group of cops.
As Socialist Alternative wrote in December 2018:
“The only way to win real change is to build mass struggles and movements that challenge the power of the financial elite who dominate the city and political system. Critical to this is supporting the struggles of transit workers, who have enormous power through their union, the Transit Workers Union Local 100, as was demonstrated in 2005 when workers were forced to take strike action.”
To combat ongoing cuts to services, fare hikes, and escalating police violence against working people, transit riders and union workers should build a massive fightback to demand MTA revenues out of the pockets of the billionaires, not working people.
Ultimately, however, we need to replace this rotten capitalist system with a new socialist system where community and transit workers can plan and democratically decide on what is needed for mass transportation in the city and how to ensure free and high quality mass transportation for all.