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De Blasio Hurriedly Announces Limited, Late Rollout for Half-Priced MetroCards

Announcement Comes After Prodding by Transit Advocates

On Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson belatedly announced details of a half-priced MetroCard program for low-income New Yorkers.

This comes after an intensifying volume of criticism from transit advocates and Comptroller Scott Stringer, who called the mayor’s rollout of the program late, disorganized and lacking clarity. Half-priced cards were originally scheduled to be available on Jan. 1.

According to a release from the Mayor’s Office, the half-priced cards will at available at first only to a fraction of working residents at or below the federal poverty level who are receiving cash assistance or food stamps (now known as SNAP) from the city’s Department of Social Services. The city said it is committed to expanding the program to as many New Yorkers as possible in the future.

The Department of Social Services began to contact the first batch of 30,000 eligible individuals on Friday, according to the release. The city expects to add roughly 130,000 people to the program in April.

Participants will initially be able to purchase only unlimited weekly and monthly passes at MTA vending machines. The city says it is “working with the MTA” to phase in a pay-per-ride option, which it expects to launch in April.

Stringer, Advocates Light a Fire Under Mayor

On Thursday, in advance of the mayor’s announcement, city Comptroller Scott Stringer had joined Riders Alliance and Community Service Society to push the mayor to release details about the program.

“It did not start on time. No one knows how to apply. It is unclear who will qualify or even which subway and bus passes will be offered at half-price,” Stringer said.

Some 800,000 low-income New Yorkers live below the poverty line and were promised access to the cards, Stringer pointed out — far greater than the 30,000 participating in the delayed rollout. Of these, 33 percent live in Brooklyn and 58 percent are female.

On Friday, Stringer said in a statement, “The good news is that Fair Fares is finally leaving the station. The bad news is that after today’s announcement, the price of a MetroCard will remain an obstacle for the vast majority of the 800,000 New Yorkers who were originally promised relief.”


UPDATE: In a radio interview with Brian Lehrer on Friday, the mayor had a response to the complaints.

“Yes, it’s January 4th today. I am precisely three days late Brian. I apologize for that three day delay,” de Blasio said. “It’s a big new initiative. It’s never been done before and I really want to emphasize to all your listeners, this is the first time in New York City that we are going to help low income people pay less to get around and get the opportunity they need to get to schooling, to get to jobs, job interviews – never happened before in the history of New York City.”


Advocates said that making available a pay-per-ride option was of paramount importance because many low-income riders do not “have the means to pay even the half-priced $16 per week or $60.50 per month all at once, up-front.”

An MTA survey showed that households earning less than $50,000 purchased 66 percent of all single-ride tickets and just 39 percent of 30-Day Passes.

At Friday’s presser, Council Speaker Corey Johnson gave credit to the mayor and elected officials, but mostly to advocates like Community Service Society and the Riders Alliance.

Councilmember Stephen Levin (D-Greenpoint, Brooklyn Heights), the Council’s General Welfare chair, said he was committed to “ensuring the Department of Social Services has the tools they need to successfully implement this program citywide.”

Full-priced MetroCard fare is $2.75, making a half-priced ride $1.35.

The city will be providing $106 million for the Fair Fares NYC program in the first year. The poverty line is defined as $25,100 for a family of four.

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