Fair Fares program is weeks from launch, but advocates say city is slacking on details

Fair Fares advocates say New Yorkers in need of assistance have no idea how the program works.
Fair Fares advocates say New Yorkers in need of assistance have no idea how the program works. Photo Credit: Jefferson Siegel

Mere weeks before its planned launch, details remain sparse on the city’s new program to offer discounted MetroCards for low-income residents.

A collection of worried advocates and labor representatives have begun pressing the de Blasio administration for details on Fair Fares, as well as pushing for public outreach to make sure eligible New York City residents are aware of the discounts expected to go live in January.

“We write now with deep concern that, with less than a month before the scheduled launch, we have not yet seen a plan to offer all eligible New Yorkers an opportunity to enroll in Fair Fares,” reads a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio written by the collection of more than 30 groups, dated Wednesday, Dec. 12. Among the letter’s signatories are the large 32BJ SEIU labor union and the Community Service Society, an early champion of the program.

Roughly 800,000 New Yorkers living at or below the federal poverty line will be able to take advantage of the program to purchase half-fare MetroCards. But it’s not yet clear how they would apply for the cards. David Jones, an MTA board member and president and CEO of CSS, said he was worried that eligible commuters might not be able to access the cards by the time the next proposed fare and toll hikes would take effect, in March.

“Other programs — paid sick leave, universal pre-K — had a big advertising campaign, telling people about eligibility. We haven’t seen any of that,” said Jones. “We’re getting very concerned about who’s going to be covered initially and how long it’s going to take to reach out to all these different communities — immigrants, the working poor, college students from poor families.”

At this point, “no one knows” how New Yorkers will be able to access the program, according to Jones.

The criticism follows previous disappointment regarding Fair Fares. It became known at an MTA board meeting in November that the city had opted to extend the half-fare discounts only to weekly and monthly MetroCards. Jones and others have argued that the program should cover all MetroCard purchases, because the poorest New Yorkers might still not be able to afford the upfront cost of the time-based cards.

“We hear the advocates’ concerns and are taking them seriously,” said mayoral spokeswoman Jaclyn Rothenberg, in a statement. “We’re prepared to launch the program in January and will have details to announce soon.”