Very few of the 30,000 New Yorkers who are currently eligible for the city’s half-priced MetroCard program have signed up. Only 107 Manhattan residents have registered since the first phase of the initiative launched earlier this month, according to the Community Service Society, which only saw the Manhattan numbers.
The first phase of the program makes half-priced weekly or monthly MetroCards available to New Yorkers who have received “cash assistance benefits” and are currently working at least 20 hours a week. Qualified residents were notified by mail.
“This initial phase leaves out hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers in poverty—in fact it leaves out the majority of people who would be eligible for Fair Fares,” said Nancy Rankin Vice President for policy research and advocacy at the Community Service Society, the organization that created the idea of Fair Fares.
The de Blasio administration wants to expand the program in April to include 130,000 more people who currently receive SNAP benefits.
The Community Service Society estimates 700,000 New Yorkers live at or below the federal poverty level—which represents an annual income of $25,750 for a family of four, or $12,490 for an individual—and should qualify for Fair Fares. That number is down from earlier estimates of 800,000, likely due to increases in the minimum wage.
The city’s Human Resources Administration department administers the program, and was not able to provide the total number of New Yorkers who have signed up, or a comment on the lackluster rollout.
The mayor cites Fair Fares as one of his initiatives that makes the city more fair, like universal pre-K and paid sick leave. Rankin admitted these large efforts take time to reach full operation, but said the administration has had six months to get Fair Fares launched.
“We’re not seeing the kind of robust outreach and great implementation we saw with other of the mayor’s priorities,” Rankin said.
The city has budgeted $106 million for the January to July phase, and is still working out the details for the rest of the year. It remains to be seen how much will be allocated in the mayor’s 2020 preliminary budget, which will be released in February.
[UPDATE / 3:11 p.m.] This afternoon, Mayor de Blasio was asked about the slow rollout of Fair Fares at an unrelated press conference in the Bronx.
"This just started there's no question in my mind there will be a huge amount of take-up on this, we expect a huge amount of participation," the mayor said. "We'll be doing bigger advertising as it grows.You're going to see a lot activity quickly on this."
The City has yet to provide us with any participation numbers.
Additional reporting by Jessica Gould.