City to launch "Fair Fares" program

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (right) celebrated the inclusion of a transit subsidy for low-income New Yorkers in the city budget June 12 with Mayor Bill de Blasio at the Fulton Street subway station. Photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office
Budget allocates $106 million to fund discounted MetroCards for New Yorkers in poverty

Beginning next January, low-income New Yorkers will be eligible to purchase MetroCards at half-price through a transit subsidy included in the $89.2 billion city budget deal struck earlier this month by the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The so-called Fair Fares program, long championed by transit advocacy groups, will fund discounted transit trips for about 800,000 low-income residents. The budget dedicates $106 million to fund the program, which will be open to those with annual incomes at or below the federal poverty level, which is roughly $25,0000 for a family of four. The city projects annual savings of over $700 for individuals who participate in the program. Eligibility is also extended to some 12,000 veterans enrolled in New York City colleges.

“Fair Fares will open up this city to New Yorkers living in poverty and allow them to take advantage of professional and educational opportunities that would otherwise be closed to them,” Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a statement on the budget agreement. “This is an investment in our friends and neighbors who struggle between paying the rent and commuting to work.”

The program’s inclusion in the city budget is a significant victory for Johnson, who just completed his first go-around of budget negotiations as leader of the Council.

Johnson made Fair Fares a top priority during budget talks. The 51-member City Council overwhelmingly supported funding the measure but faced resistance from de Blasio, who said he supported the program in concept but believed that funding should come from the state through a new tax on millionaires. The mayor, who since his first term has lobbied Albany lawmakers to enact the tax to fund a variety of measures, including transit improvements and universal pre-K, vowed to continue fighting for the tax at a June 12 press conference announcing city funding for Fair Fares.

Johnson said the mayor supported the idea of Fair Fares throughout negotiations but had “very rightful concerns about not wanting this to be a subsidy to the MTA, given the broader MTA picture that we’re looking at.”

The budget also includes $254 million in additional city contributions to the MTA to fund improvements to the subway system. But Fair Fares, de Blasio said, is “not a subsidy to the MTA.”

“We have done enough subsidies to the MTA,” the mayor said. “The people of New York City pay and pay and pay for the MTA, it’s time for the state to come up with a real solution for the MTA and that’s what we are going to fight for next.”