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In New York City, a Progressive Solution to Transit Woes

Connie M. Razza

Prospects are grim for passing through Congress a progressive federal infrastructure spending plan that prioritizes direct, public investment over corporate giveaways, considers racial and gender equity, and addresses the needs of disadvantaged communities. Trump has yet to put forward a real plan, but has been clear that any scheme he supports will strip the public of its control and, in some cases, ownership of infrastructure assets (such as bridges, roads, water systems) in order to enrich billionaire investors and developers.

In light of this, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal for a “fair fix” tax is an exciting development. Announced on Monday, the proposal would tax the wealthiest New Yorkers in order to invest in the city’s transit infrastructure and enable the system to charge half-price to low-income riders. While the new tax would apply to fewer than 1 percent of the city’s taxpayers, it is expected to raise $700 million in 2018. The bulk of this money would be used for signal improvements, new cars, and track maintenance. Roughly $250 million will allow the system to provide half-priced fares to the 800,000 New Yorkers who live below the federal poverty line.

This innovative proposal will create a much more equitable funding pattern for the city’s transit. Typically, fare hikes are among the tools used to meet the transit system’s budget needs—fares have risen every two years—on the logic that riders are the main beneficiaries of the service. This proposal lays bare the fact that the city’s wealthiest benefit from and should contribute to the transit system that reduces traffic on the streets while getting employees to work, customers to businesses, and students to schools.

Although the proposal depends on state approval, it represents the kind of innovative policy that cities across the country will need to implement in order to provide progressive solutions to the problems their residents face.