For the first time since the program’s rollout, New York City is guaranteeing specific funding for Fair Fares, which offers MetroCards at a 50% discount to low-income New Yorkers.
Mayor Eric Adams and City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams announced Monday that $75 million will be allocated to the program in the upcoming Fiscal Year 2023 budget, which the mayor will present in full on Wednesday.
This comes after the MTA has announced that subway ridership has hit three million commuters for three days in a row for the first time since the omicron surge began in the winter; the last time the MTA saw three days of three million straphangers was December 17, 2021.
Originally, the Fair Fares program started with a $106 million budget but was introduced with very little promotion, so prospective users didn’t know of its existence. The pandemic then forced former Mayor Bill de Blasio to cut funding to $41 million. For the current fiscal year, Fair Fares will cost $68.5 million.
City Hall noted that in previous years “the program was funded a year at a time through negotiations with City Council,” but said now it will be guaranteed, once the Council approves the budget, and the money will also be included in future budgets.
“The Council remains committed to returning the program to its original funding level, and if uptake of the program reaches the budgeted amount before the end of the fiscal year, additional funds should be made available to meet the transportation needs of New Yorkers,” Speaker Adams said in a statement, noting that for the program to be successful, more outreach would be needed.
Currently, Fair Fares is open to people whose incomes are at or below the federal poverty levels, which is $13,950 for one person or $27,750 for a family of four. The Community Service Society, the non-profit advocacy group that helped establish Fair Fares, had previously proposed that eligibility should be increased to twice the federal poverty levels so more people can participate.
David Jones, CEO of the Community Service Society and a board member of the MTA, said he’s glad the city is committing to the program, but also said in his statement, “The Fair Fares program is a lifeline for low-income New Yorkers struggling with transit affordability. Our research shows that awareness of the program is low citywide, with only 35 percent of eligible New Yorkers taking advantage of it.”