After a slow start, the city has announced that more than 50,000 New Yorkers have signed up for half-priced MetroCards through the new Fair Fares program.

The initiative offers reduced fare MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers who, in this phase of the rollout, receive "cash assistance benefits" and are currently working at least 20 hours a week. While 130,000 people qualify, only 6,000 people had signed up by early March, prompting criticism that the city hadn't done enough to promote Fair Fares.

After the city launched an online platform for Fair Fares sign-up through its Access HRA application, participation increased dramatically, and a press release from the mayor's office says that "more than 70 percent of current enrollees opting in digitally, including through the mobile and web applications."

"Using mass transit to get around is central to the lives of New Yorkers—struggling to afford it shouldn't be. 50,000 New Yorkers now have access to a half-priced Metrocard thanks to this innovative partnership with the Council and I look forward to growing the program even further," Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.

In previous years, de Blasio had fought off a proposed pilot program for Fair Fares, citing lack of room in the budget and arguing that "we see people who evade fares and have money." Now there's $106 million set side for Fair Fares.

"Working New Yorkers living in poverty need help. Fair Fares is an unprecedented program designed to ease their burden," City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a statement today. "The Council, which fought hard to enact Fair Fares, is proud that 50,000 New Yorkers have enrolled. We look forward to serving and assisting more low-income families in the months to come because we understand that for some people, the cost of a swipe is unmanageable."

Starting in the fall, NYCHA residents, CUNY students and military veterans living below the federal poverty line can apply for Fair Fares. Then, in 2020, anyone who meets the income threshold—which is about an annual income of $12,140 for a single individual or $25,100 for a family of four—will be eligible for Fair Fares. (See more details about eligibility here.)

The Community Service Society had lobbied for the program's start, today its CEO David R. Jones said, "After years of fighting for Fair Fares and a mass transit system that is more affordable and accessible for the city’s lowest income residents, it’s good to see real progress being made extending half-priced bus and subway fares to more eligible New Yorkers. We applaud Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Johnson for their efforts to advance the program and look forward to marking future milestones in the implementation of this important anti-poverty initiative as it is fully rolled out to the hundreds of thousands in need."

One Fair Fares recipient quoted by the mayor's office noted, "The program is wonderful. I’ve already purchased two weekly cards and will purchase a monthly card next week. It’s especially good because I only have to pay $63.50.

Last month, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. asked Johnson to expand Fair Fares to Access-A-Ride and include it in the upcoming FY2020 budget. He wrote (see his letter here), "People living with disabilities are particularly more vulnerable to poverty and unemployment, with 35 percent of this population living below the federal poverty level. Black and Latino populations with disabilities have even higher levels of poverty, with 38.1 percent and 45.9 percent living below the federal poverty level, according to New York Lawyers for the Public Interest."

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