Fair Fares transit discount program finally compatible with OMNY for trial period

OMNY machines where a select group of Fair Fares users will be able to tap payment
A rider uses OMNY to pay the subway fare at Fulton Street in 2019.
Marc A. Hermann / MTA

MTA riders using Fair Fares can finally start tapping into the discounted system using OMNY, with the transit agency and the city’s Social Services department launching a pilot program this week for select users of the low-income transit program.

Fair Fares users, who are eligible for a half-price discount on transit fares if they make less than 120% of the federal poverty line, have thus far been shut out of the tap-to-pay system that will ultimately replace the MetroCard on the city’s subways and buses.

But for the next 90 days, a select group of 50 Fair Fares enrollees will be able to load their benefits onto an OMNY card — for sale at vending machines in 25 stations — in a trial to study riders’ reaction to the loading process, which is more complex than for regular riders, ahead of a full rollout for all 330,000 users.

“Fair Fares has serious potential to be a game-changer,” said NYC Transit President Rich Davey. “And with OMNY now in the mix, the potential to substantially grow the program is highest it has ever been.”

Pilot participants attended an orientation in March where they learned how to load their benefits and money onto their card, an MTA spokesperson said.

Overall, OMNY’s system uptake among riders is at 55% on the subway and 34% on buses, the spokesperson said. OMNY has been available to seniors and disabled riders with half-priced MetroCards since 2022, but the MTA has struggled to attract those riders to make the switch; uptake is much higher among those who pay a full-price fare, and is highest in neighborhoods with large populations of young, affluent people like Williamsburg and the East Village.

Elected officials, advocates, and even the MTA have also called for the program’s income threshold to be raised to twice the federal poverty level, up from the current 120%, but have faced resistance from the Adams administration. As such, the income limit tops out at $18,072 for an individual and $37,440 for a family of four.

Nonetheless, hundreds of thousands of enrolled, still well short of the number of eligible New Yorkers.

“Fair Fares is a lifeline that is not yet long enough,” said Danna Dennis of the Riders Alliance. “Along with OMNY access, Mayor Adams should expand eligibility for the program in his June budget so New Yorkers earning up to 200% of the federal poverty line can save up to $1,500 each year.”