By Bill Parry
Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson held a joint appearance Friday afternoon to roll out the city’s fair fare program and its efforts to address poverty through the development of a half-priced MetroCard for low-income New Yorkers.
The program is launching in phases and initial eligibility is open to New Yorkers at or below the federal poverty line who are receiving cash assistance of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance from the city’s Department of Social Services.
“New Yorkers shouldn’t have to choose between a ride on the subway or bus and their next meal,” de Blasio said. “Our partnership with the Council for fair fares will make our city stronger and fairer for low-income New Yorkers whose lives depend on mass transportation.”
The Fair Fares NYC MetroCard will allow participants to purchase unlimited weekly and monthly passes at a 50 percent discount at MTA vending machines. The cards can be used on any New York City subway or non-express bus.
The city is working with the MTA to phase in a pay-per-ride option, which it expects to launch in April.
“Fair Fares is a groundbreaking program that will help New Yorkers who need it most,” Johnson said. “Fair Fares will open up this city and its promise to people who currently are being shut out because they can’t afford a swipe. It will change lives for the better.”
Last spring, the Mayor and the Council announced a plan to fund $106 million for the Fair Fares NYC program in the first year. On Jan. 4, the Department of Social Services started contacting 30,000 eligible working New Yorkers who are receiving cash benefits. The notifications, and subsequent phone calls, will inform the group of their eligibility, and invite then to the nearest Fair Fares NYC location to receive their half-priced MetroCard.
Eligible recipients can also call 311 to assist in receiving their card. In April, and additional estimated 130,000 New Yorkers who are receiving SNAP benefits will receive notifications about how to access their cards.
“Fair Fares is now a reality in New York City,” said City Councilman Daniel Dromm, the chair of the Committee on Finance. “These discounted MetroCards will make bus and subway fares more affordable for thousands of low income New Yorkers who rely upon mass transit each day. Fair Fares has long been a priority of the Council and I’m thrilled to see it come to fruition.”
Critics argue the program leaves out CUNY students, the working poor and some immigrants. Comptroller Scott Stringer released data that shows the city had significantly scaled back initial eligibility leaving out hundreds of thousands of low-income New Yorkers.
“The good news is that Fair Fares is finally leaving the station. The bad news is that after today’s announcement, the price of a MetroCard will remain an obstacle for the vast majority of the 800,000 New Yorkers who were originally promised relief,” Stringer said. “That’s hundreds of thousands of families who will struggle to get to work or a job interview because they can’t afford a full fare. For their sake, we need to make sure this delay doesn’t become a derailment.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr