Three days into 2019, and the de Blasio administration has still not announced how low-income New Yorkers can sign up for half-priced MetroCards under the City's Fair Fares program, which was expected to launch on January 1st.
In the meantime, the MTA has told New Yorkers to contact 311 for more details.
"I dunno what they are doing with this. They haven't been doing it very well so far," a discouraged-sounding 311 dispatcher told us when we asked how to sign up for the program on January 2nd. "Everything's kind of up in the air."
The dispatcher added, "There was a gentleman who called about it last week, he said he heard about it on the news. I read it on the Daily News the other day; everybody is just kind of confused right now."
As many as 800,000 New Yorkers could benefit from Fair Fares, which is supposed to offer half-priced 7-day and 30-day MetroCards to those living at or below the federal poverty level, which represents an annual income of $25,100 for a family of four.
Mayor Bill de Blasio initially refused to fund the program, but reached an agreement with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in June for the City to pay for the $212 million initiative, $106 million of which is budgeted from January until July, the end of the 2019 Fiscal Year.
Both the Mayor and the Speaker said that the program would begin on January 1st, 2019.
"There is a commitment from the Mayor and the Council to as the Mayor just said, we are budgeting for the implementation is January 1st, we are budgeting $106 million because that’s half the fiscal year," Speaker Johnson told reporters at the press conference announcing the budget deal.
"But as the Speaker said that’s what we are going to work on now for the next six months preparing to make this launch January 1st," de Blasio said. "And I’m confident we can work out the details in that time frame."
At a press conference on Wednesday morning, the mayor insisted that he hadn't broken his pledge.
"Everything I said, I meant. And everything I said, we followed through on," de Blasio said. "And it is January 2nd, and I’m telling you in a few days we’ll be launching and I think New Yorkers understand that if you have an ideal goal and it takes a few extra days, the good part is people are going to benefit starting right away."
The mayor noted that "this has never been done before. This is a brand new way of addressing income inequality, a brand new way of empowering low-income New Yorkers." (Seattle's King County rolled out discounted transit fares for low-income residents in 2015, and allowed them to sign up for it a month in advance.)
While the 311 dispatcher told us that eligible New Yorkers would receive a notice about Fair Fares, and that each borough would offer a place for them to sign up, it was unclear how people would find out if they are eligible.
"You don't even know how to apply and find out if you're eligible yet. All they have said so far, is that the program is gonna start in January of 2019, and that it's under HRA [Human Resources Administration]."
Eric Phillips, the mayor's press secretary, told Gothamist in an email on Thursday morning, "No details to share yet."
In a statement to Gothamist, Breeana Mulligan, a spokeswoman for the New York City Council, said, “The Speaker is working to make sure that Fair Fares is a success. The Council has always believed that this program is for all New Yorkers living at or below the federal poverty line, and is committed to making sure that vision becomes a reality."
On Thursday, City Comptroller Scott Stringer sent a letter to HRA Commissioner Steven Banks, asking him for details on the program.
"It's really disappointing to see an administration not on its game, to be frank," Danny Pearlstein, the policy and communications director at the transit advocacy group Riders Alliance, told Gothamist.
Riders Alliance spent years advocating for Fair Fares, and stood with Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Johnson when they announced the deal in June.
"I think that [the de Blasio administration] bit off more than they could chew, but really they didn't put the resources in, and the proof of that is that it hasn't happened on time," Pearlstein said. "They've been in office for five years, they know exactly how long it takes to get things up and running."