The MTA wants to double enrollment in the city’s program for half-priced MetroCards, known as Fair Fares, over the next year, the agency’s chief announced during a monthly board meeting Wednesday.
“We’re teaming up with New York City to double enrollment in the Fair Fares program in the next year,” said MTA acting Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. “In the wake of COVID, we learned just how dependent our low-income communities, communities of color, are disproportionately essential workers — how dependent they were on mass transit and it really underscored the need that they benefit from this.”
Fair Fares allows any New Yorker aged 18-64 living at or below the federal poverty line to get a 50% discount on fares for subways, buses and Access-a-Ride. Currently, 241,910 people have enrolled, according to its website.
The 2019 program is entirely a city initiative, but Lieber said the MTA, which is run by the state, will work with Big Apple officials to boost advertising on public transit in the coming months so more people know about it.
“The problem was that it wasn’t known to a lot, to most of the people who are low income and might qualify,” Lieber said. “[City officials] are developing the advertising media and we’re going to be running it on the system, starting very soon, sometime this month or maybe early next.”
Through the Fair Fares program, the city buys MetroCards in bulk from the MTA and then sells them to eligible New Yorkers for cheap through the Department of Social Services.
About 700,000 New Yorkers could be eligible for the program, according to researchers, and MTA board member David Jones, one of the chief supporters of the program, in July said the city could “easily” pick up another 250,000 if officials gets the message out — which would meet Lieber’s goal to grow the program to twice its current size.
Fair Fares suffered a dramatic $65.5 million funding cut at the early height of the COVID-19 pandemic during the 2020 city budget process down from $106 million, but Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council quietly agreed to restore funding to $53 million, or half the original allocation, for this year’s spending plan.
The city closed dedicated Fair Fare enrollment centers during the pandemic and moved the application process online, but people can call 311 for help or to make an in-person appointment at one of the 10 branches of the Human Resources Administration.
After criticism from MTA officials and rider advocates, de Blasio pledged an “aggressive” outreach campaign for Fair Fares, but indicated that he would only increase funding in response to more demand.
A City Hall spokesman did not immediately indicate if the city would increase funding for the program due to Lieber’s announcement.
Advocates hailed the announcement by the transit guru, saying the two government agencies should market Fair Fares far and wide.
“Fair Fares provides access to opportunity that New Yorkers need now more than ever. The MTA and City should absolutely, aggressively promote the program to all who are eligible,” said Danna Dennis, an organizer with Riders Alliance. “As enrollment grows, City Hall should consider how even more New Yorkers can take advantage and how the City can invest more in people and infrastructure alike.”