One of the highlights of this year’s balanced City budget is the deal struck between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council to make the Fair Fares public transportation program part of the $89 billion pact.
By Michael V. Cusenza
The Fair Fares public transportation program, in which the City ostensibly provides half-priced MetroCards for residents with annual incomes at or below the federal poverty level, was scheduled to be rolled out this week, but straphanger-advocacy groups and even some elected officials have expressed concerns with the implementation of the initiative.
Last week, City Comptroller Scott Stringer sent a letter to Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks calling on him to provide more information on the administration of Fair Fares.
“The provision of half-priced MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers is a long-overdue reform and I applaud the administration’s investment in making transit more affordable for low-income commuters,” Stringer wrote. “I do, however, have questions about the structure, eligibility criteria, and outreach efforts that will be used to guide the program.”
Last June, the deal struck between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council to make Fair Fares part of the $89 billion Fiscal Year 2019 Budget was widely celebrated. The agreement called for the City to spend $106 million to provide half-priced transit fares for qualifying residents. Approximately 800,000 working-age New Yorkers would be eligible for the program and could save up to $726 dollars a year on the cost of a MetroCard.
However, in the weeks leading up to the Tuesday, Jan. 1 kick-off date, there seem to have been more questions than answers. On Dec. 12, a coalition of advocacy organizations, labor unions, political and civic groups signed its own missive to de Blasio urging him to release a plan/timetable for the roll out of Fair Fares: “As January 2019 fast approaches, all the low-income New Yorkers we promised to help are eagerly waiting to learn how they will be able to sign up for and start benefitting from their reduced-fare MetroCard. Among them are: the working poor, especially immigrants who do not qualify for public benefits or are fearful of accepting federal program that might put themselves or family members at risk; the unemployed searching for work; and low-income college students struggling to get the education they need to get ahead,” the letter stated.
The message also reached out to officials to get them to reconsider the plan to limit the availability of the Fair Fare discounts to 7-day and 30-day unlimited passes. Stringer noted that he’s not a fan of this availability snag.
“Given the high cost of these unlimited passes, even at half-price, I am concerned that many New Yorkers below the poverty line will not be able to afford them,” he wrote.
The comptroller used the letter to Banks to request information on the aforementioned issues:
“Please describe in detail the eligibility criteria the Human Resources Administration will use in awarding Fair Fares MetroCards. Are there specific groups that will be prioritized at the outset? What is your timeline for making it available to all eligible New Yorkers as expeditiously as possible?
“Is there any path for individuals not already enrolled in HRA’s system to apply for and receive a Fair Fares MetroCard? How will we assure that recent immigrants can take full advantage of the program?
And, , “Please detail all advertising and outreach efforts to date and in the pipeline to raise awareness regarding Fair Fares, including budget and staffing allocation.”