Mayor Eric Adams wants to better advertise the city’s half-price MetroCard program for poor New Yorkers known as Fair Fares, as only a fraction of eligible commuters have taken advantage of the discount.
“This is one of the failures of New York City. We expect people to come to government to find out about the resources and then we advertise in our own little circles, we talk to each other — those days are over,” Mayor Adams told amNewYork Metro during a press conference at City Hall Wednesday.
Hizzoner highlighted the three-year-old program as part of his city budget proposal released on Feb. 16, and agreed with the City Council to make Fair Fares a permanent part of the annual fiscal spending plan for the first time.
The mayor and the council agreed to partially restore funding to $75 million in the budget, still about 30% below the pre-pandemic allocation of $106 million.
The program allows working-age New Yorkers living at or below the federal poverty line to get MetroCards at half price.
Eligible residents can apply online at the Fair Fares website or call 311 to set up an in-person appointment with the Human Resources Administration.
Currently, 264,635 people have enrolled in Fair Fares, about 35% of the 753,406 that researchers at the nonprofit Community Service Society estimate would fit the criteria.
The city never spent more than $49 million on the program since it launched in 2019 due to low demand, but former Mayor Bill de Blasio also dramatically cut funding for the scheme during the pandemic.
A new survey by the group published Tuesday by CSS found that nearly half of needy New Yorkers hadn’t applied and one-in-seven didn’t know how.
One of its authors urged the city to work better with NYCHA and CUNY to get public housing tenants and public university students signed up.
“Just getting the conversation started was a good step and we’ll see how it plays out, how the recovery works,” Debipriya Chatterjee, an economist with CSS, told amNewYork Metro. “But more can be done.”
Adams didn’t give specifics about his strategy, but said he will tap local organizations to spread the word about the benefit.
“[I’m going] to make sure we go out to New Yorkers and use our partnerships of grassroot organizations to let people know about this and get a better accessibility,” he said.
Chatterjee said that the city should screen applicants for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to see if they’re eligible for Fair Fares too.
Advocates have also pointed out that the federal poverty line the city uses for the benefit is too low and leaves out hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers making above that limit but who still struggle to afford the $2.75 fare.
Raising the bar to the city’s own poverty line could make more than 900,000 people eligible and using double the federal level would expand eligibility to some 1.2 million residents, according to CSS.
When asked about raising the bar, Adams only said he would discuss it with the council in the coming months before they sign off on a final budget at the end of June.
“That’s something that we’re going to evaluate and discuss and that’s part of what we’re going to do in our executive budget,” the mayor said.