Activists and lawmakers rallied on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday morning, calling for the city to include funding for reduced-price MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers in next year's budget.
"Fair Fares" advocates first gathered at City Hall in 2016, demanding discounted transit fares for low-income New Yorkers. They returned in February of 2017, joined by several elected officials.
14 months later, the movement reached critical mass, backed by 44 of the 51 City Council members, including, most importantly, the new council speaker.
The "Fair Fares" calls for the bus and subway fare to be cut in half for 800,000 New Yorkers living at or below the poverty line.
"It's been calculated that they would save $726 a year if this was implemented," City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said at the rally. "$726 a year is the ability to pay for childcare, it's the ability to pay for college textbooks, it could be a month's rent for someone."
The rally came just one day after the city council proposed spending $200 million for discounted rides for those living below the poverty line.
But Mayor Bill de Blasio is backing away from the plan.
He said Tuesday that he is not sure if the city can pay for it without a so-called "Millionaire's Tax," which would require approval from the state legislature.
"I understand the city council wants to achieve something noble, but it's gonna be a very straightforward conversation with them about the actual money we have available, and how far it will reach, and I hope to show them that it's not gonna be viable to do that with city resources, that's something that would have to be done with a new revenue stream," de Blasio said.
Transit advocacy group Riders Alliance said reduced-priced MetroCards for New Yorkers below the poverty line would cost only a quarter of one-percent of the city's $90 billion budget.
"The mayor, when he ran for mayor in 2013, talked about a 'Tale of Two Cities,'" Johnson said. "Well, if you can't get on the subway, you're not in either one of those cities. I don't know what city you're in, because you can't get around the city."
Three of the city's five district attorneys, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Public Advocate Letitia James also added their voices to the "Fair Fares" proposal.
But the snowballing movement might be too large now for de Blasio to stop it. With comments this week, the council speaker signaled that the "Fair Fares" plan is one of his top priorities for the new city budget, which the council must negotiate with the mayor.
"The city should not wait on Albany to pass a 'Millionaire's Tax,'" Johnson said. "But we should actually step up ourselves, find $212 million, and fully fund 'Fair Fares.'"
There is still plenty of time for the mayor and the city council to go back and forth over the city spending plan, which is due at the end of June.