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The city’s program, which offers half-price MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers known as Fair Fares, had more than a quarter of a million sign-ups this fall, after state transit leaders pushed for more awareness of the program.
Enrollments in the city-funded service had risen to a record 255,000 in October after recovering from a pandemic cut, and proponents said successful recent advertising flashes should encourage officials to spread awareness of the program even more.
“There needs to be a lot more to expand the network,” said David Jones, leader of the Community Service Society, a nonprofit organization that advocates for low-income New Yorkers. “This should be something that a lot of people should get to use.”
The enrollment number has again dropped slightly to 248,455, according to the latest figures from November 3 on Fair Fare’s website.
This is likely due to the expiration of some people’s memberships, according to Debipriya Chatterjee, an economist at CSS, who has been following the program’s recording.
The researcher found that enrollment increased in early 2020, but fell and dropped to around 230,000 after Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council cut funding last year before partially restoring it in 2021.
Launched in 2019, Fair Fares offers New Yorkers ages 18-64 living at or below the federal poverty line a 50% discount on subway, bus and Access-a-Ride fares.
The city’s Department of Social Services administers the program by purchasing MetroCards from the state-controlled Metropolitan Transportation Authority and reselling them at half price through the Human Resources Administration.
About 700,000 would meet those criteria in the five boroughs, according to estimates from CSS based on 2019 U.S. Census data, meaning only 35% of eligible New Yorkers have taken advantage.
The mayor and council agreed to cut their $ 106 million grant to Fair Fares by 62% over the 2020 budget amid crater revenue due to the pandemic.
They restored it back to half pre-pandemic levels by 2021, reflecting the still low number of passengers on subways and buses, and de Blasio said he would increase funding if demand rises from riders, promising an “aggressive outreach effort” ” in July .
Jones sits on MTA’s board and said the agency’s new acting chief Janno Lieber has been a big booster for the grant since taking over this summer.
“There has been something of a breakthrough when Janno took up his position,” Jones said.
Lieber has said fair strategy is a priority for him and has urged the city to double enrollment over the next year.
“If a New Yorker cannot get to a job, to health care, to education, he or she does not have the opportunity to improve their situation,” Lieber told reporters during a Oct. 27 news conference on MetroCard deals.
While someone who can’t afford to ride the train may not see many of the signs in transit, Lieber said it will still help get the message out.
“People ride the subway and they have family members riding the subway,” the MTA big said last week. “The principled problem here is that they do not know they are entitled to a trip at half price and we have to get the floor.”
The city’s HRA bought an eight-week ad campaign on digital screens at stations in late August and another for physical signs on subways and buses and at bus shelters on October 11, also for eight weeks, according to MTA spokesman Eugene Resnick.
The city was able to double enrollment before from about 100,000 in January 2020 to more than 200,000 in July of that year, and Jones said the recent increase this fall was again thanks to efforts to raise awareness.
“There is no doubt that there is a link between the renewed advertising and a constant increase,” he said. “HRA has done an extraordinary job of enrolling.”
An easy way to get even more people on board would be by patching advertisements on the CUNY and NYCHA campuses, Jones said, adding that the city should expand eligibility for people living on double the federal poverty line.
With an annual income of $ 25,760 for a one-person household that would still be below a full-time minimum wage in New York City of about $ 31,200.
Currently, the city has budgeted $ 53 million for Fair Fares, which is only 0.05% of the city’s massive $ 98.7 billion budget this year, but Jones said the relatively small allocation is a boon for those who need it most. .
“It’s so modest,” he said. “This is really a small size that has a huge impact on a quarter of a million people, potentially going much higher.”
To check your eligibility for Fair Fares, apply or renew your membership, go to nyc.gov/fairfares. You can also call 311 to get in touch with HRA for a personal appointment.